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Origins of the Ranch, Part XXXIX


The ProfessorThose “off the grid” days…and various other burning experiences

By Peter Jensen

Early days at the Ranch saw Edmond and Deborah (and their guests) literally camped under the most rudimentary conditions. Bathing was done in the river behind a small rock and silt dam piled up by a worker with a sturdy mule. Electricity was barely established in “downtown” Tecate (400 residents at the time) about 3 miles away, so the Ranch was off the grid, even though that term was unknown in those days. Water came from hand-dug wells.

And so…as the day ended, and the sky purpled above Mt. Kuchumaa, the Ranch fell into a wonderful darkness. The Milky Way spilled across the heavens in a great swath. It truly was a dark sky environment (star-watching here is still very good today). Out came the kerosene lanterns and lamps—the only form of illumination available.

There was also a mysterious light on a mountainside, noticed by guests at certain times of the month, recalls Deborah:

“We had the equivalent of Moses’s burning bush. That’s the only way I can explain it. On the hill opposite the Ranch there was nothing but brush. No manmade light anywhere. An unusual natural rock arrangement was up on that hillside, and when the moon hit it, it was as if it caught on fire. We called it our burning bush, very sotto voce.

“Some of us felt it was like Kuchumaa talking—a spiritual sign. The Prof did nothing to dissuade anyone from thinking it was a burning bush, after all, in those days we were the “Essene School.” Some guests hiked up to try and find it, but never did—it was so elusive! We felt it blessed the place. There we were, former city dwellers looking at a cold fire on the mountain.”

In hindsight today, Deborah feels it might have been crystals in a large boulder that caught the moonlight just so…

Everyone had kerosene lanterns, and a lamp in their tent or room. We had no money for flashlights. Guests took their lantern whenever they went to the outhouse, which had a lantern hook. At night they kept their lantern wicks turned low to maintain good “night vision.”

And then disaster struck.

“We’d only been there 4-5 months when one night I was ‘charring’ lamp wicks,” recalls Deborah, explaining an unlikely and almost fatal chain of events. Trimming and charring the wicks involved keeping a small open flame going, and Deborah had it safely (anyone would think) stowed under the sink, where she was chopping meat for the first time in her life.

Chopping meat? And for the first time ever? Well, yes: she’d just been give a chihuahua puppy, and needed to feed it meat.

“I had never in my life chopped or even touched raw meat, and was having a terrible time. The Prof said let me come over and help. He was wearing a long white robe and as he stood there it brushed against the flame and went up like a torch. He didn’t panic. He quickly lay down on the bed and I smothered the flames with a quilt. He was severely burned and we went to the hospital in Tijuana. It was the start of 14 months of bandages and healing.

“I gave the dog back: I had a man fighting for his life, and there was no time for a dog.”

None of these challenges struck Deborah as particularly unusual, accept for the Prof’s burns, of course. In her 18 years she’d already lived in Tahiti, Rio Corona, Uruapan.

“I truly with all my heart and soul know I was doing what I was supposed to do. There was no way that I, with my skills, could have been more suited to the life we found ourselves living. I had already done everything: pumped and carried water, and lived without electricity for seven years…it was nothing new! We were well equipped, not in money and goods but in experience.

“It was always a lark for the first five years because it was temporary. We were just waiting for the war to end, and we would go to Europe where I would attend college and the Prof would direct an institute. It was like playing house, in a Robinson Crusoe kind of way, but we weren’t on a desert island and we found ourselves in a country of wonderful friendly people.”

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