Remote, separated by miles from any development, Vista Redondas silence is so complete that you hear nothing but the wings of passing birds.
Looking at the unmarked entrance and the wash-board dirt roads you would not think that one of the residents here is a tropical bird that sings the Marine Corps Hymn--- although, truth be told, his owner admits that the bird mumbles when he gets beyond the "shores of Tripoli."
Mark Shepard, former chairman of Texas Instruments, owns a house here. So does Ali McGraw, the former movie actress who now designs clothing. Most of the homeowners, however, are neither Fortune 500 corporate leaders nor movie stars. They have simply enjoyed the financial success needed to be part of this small community.
Until recently, a major movie star lived here, and he is still remembered.
In fact, he was remembered at a recent gathering even though none of his seventy movies were mentioned. Not a word about the movie largely credited with starting his career. No mention of a more than a dozen blockbuster hits or his two Oscars.
No, the movie star was remembered for his role as a water consumer.
The story: shortly after buying a house and becoming a member of the association that maintains the six wells and two large water tanks needed to supply homeowners with water, the actor did major new plantings. Then he started drawing water from the community wells at a rate of one million gallons a year.
I asked an association member to put a million gallons in perspective.
"It's a great deal of water. The association members who are only here part time might use 50,000 to 60,000 gallons a year. People who live here full time--- like my wife and I--- typically use about 160,000 gallons a year." (According to the City of Santa Fe water department typical household consumption, including apartment dwellers, is 6,300 gallons a month for a family of 2.8 people, or just over 75,000 gallons a year.)
"We use about 400,000 gallons a year," the owner of the Marine Corps Hymn bird said. This was necessary, he explained, to sustain their plantings and an aviary for tropical birds. After building the aviary they had quickly learned that they were consuming too much water from the association wells. To avoid conflict, he and his wife had drilled a well of their own.
"What needs a million gallons of water a year?" I asked.
Both men shrugged. All they knew was that the actor and his family, in one house, had consumed an enormous amount of water.
The movie star was asked to reduce water consumption.
But the high consumption continued.
The request was made again. The issue wasn't price. The issue was the community water supply.
The actor sold his house and moved to another area of Santa Fe.
Sadly, it won't be that easy for the rest of us. While few are movie stars, all of us are water consumers. We don't think about it very much because it hasn't been necessary to think about water consumption.
But that time is ending. Sometime soon it will be necessary for all of us, wherever we live, to think about something we've taken for granted even more than the air we breathe.
The need to think about water will also bring a broader change in how we think. Today, we assume we should be able to buy and use whatever we want, whenever we want, provided only that we can pay for it. We live in a world where the entire vocabulary of experience is based on markets and market pricing. The marketplace is the air we breathe.
If you can afford it, you can water the dessert. Just buy the water. The only limit is the size of your bank account.
That is about to change. Silver, Gold, Platinum and diamonds will always be commodities, whatever their price. But water is different. It is the substance of life.
Is it really this serious?
It could be. So it may help to remember what novelist Tom Robbins wrote. "Human beings were invented by water as a means of transporting itself."
For tomorrow, we need better directions.
Want to watch where the politics of unrestrained markets and citizen rights collide? Check the broadsides being delivered against George W. Bush by cartoonist Gary Troudeau.
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