Profiles: Homesteaders Doing Work They Love

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Gail Eames' commute to work is 600 miles. Gail flies back and forth everyday from her homestead in West Virginia to her work at Kennedy International airport where she is an airline stewardess.

Airborne Earth Mama: Gail Eames

In February 1975, Swedish-born airline stewardess Gail Eames saw an ad in THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS for a small farm located in the hilly southwest corner of West Virginia … a farm that came with a house, running water (most of the time), and several acres of tillable land. So Gail decided to fly down to the Mountain State from her home in New Jersey and look the place over. When she got there, she inspected the six-room farmhouse (a bit dilapidated on the outside, but cozy inside and surrounded by tall trees) and met her prospective neighbors (some old mountaineers, plus a few young back-to-the-landers) … and it was love at first flight!

Gail was able to muster the money for the down payment … that was no problem. Her biggest hassle — the one she most needed to solve before she could make her dream of living in the country a reality — was how to commute a distance of 600 miles from the remote hills of West Virginia to her job in New York City (where her real travels just begin).

“I found,” Ms. Eames recalls as she mixes together herbs gathered from the surrounding countryside, “that I could drive from here to Huntington, West Virginia, then take Allegheny Airlines to Pittsburgh, hook up with TWA to New York, and check in for work at Kennedy International.”

Although Huntington — the nearest “big city” — is 40 minutes of winding road away from her mountain home, Gail doesn’t mind. “It’s a beautiful drive!” she says. And while all the flight connections may sound like a lot of trouble, Gail — being a stewardess — gets specially reduced fares. So life on the farm is not only logistically possible, but actually quite economical.

A mystical blend of old-time mountain life and international, cosmopolitan influences permeates Gail Eame’s West Virginia home. And it should. For it’s here that Gail’s fast-paced lifestyle blends with the serenity and harmony of nature.

“The place isn’t fancy,” Gail remarks as she pours more herbal tea into her cup. “But it’s mine, and I love it. And it’s always good to be back.” — John Fanning.

Artist on the Move: Pat Putzke-Spencer

Several years ago, artist Pat Putzke-Spencer (who friends like to say has “talent pouring from her fingertips”) realized she’d have to do more than just dream if she wanted to see that long-hoped-for craft shop — a clearinghouse of supplies and finished objets d’art for local artisans-become a reality. So Pat — armed with near-overdose levels of enthusiasm — fired up some of her friends … and founded the Endion Station Craft Shop in Duluth, Minnesota.

Happily, the combination retail outlet/ gallery/meetingplace is doing brisk business … perhaps because Pat sets such high standards for goods sold in the store. “I accept an article on consignment,” Pat explains, “only if it possesses outstanding design quality born of an original idea. It has to have a professional appearance and/or special appeal. As for the raw materials we carry, you won’t find any kit-type craft items here.”

What you will find in the Endion Station Craft Shop is a captivating display of fine necklaces, bracelets, rings, earrings, wall hangings, mats, leather goods, and other items … and the materials needed to make them. (Crafts people — always eager to answer customers’ questions — can often be found working in the shop, too.)

When the young Ms. Putzke-Spencer isn’t busy helping husband Michael run the craft store, chances are she’s working at the fiber studio she set up at the new St. Louis County Heritage and Art Center in downtown Duluth … or teaching at the University of Wisconsin in Superior … or turning out commissioned art at home … or tending to her cats, rabbits, chickens, pigs, and horse … or embarking on a new project of some kind.

Talent pouring from her fingertips? That’s putting it mildly … too mildly! — Gail E. Johnson.

John Meeker and Mary Jane Boren

Step right in, and meet the happy proprietors of Sunspot Solar Products, Incorporated … Carrboro, North Carolina’s newest solar energy hardware store.

Mary Jane Boren is in the corner talking to a solar panel salesman. John Meeker is busy pounding together some new shelves for opening day. Both are eager to discuss their new venture.

“We’ve gone into business,” John explains, ” because — having worked with environmental groups and kept up with the energy situation for quite a while — we’ve grown tired of talking about energy problems … and decided to do something for a change.”

But why a walk-in retail store? Can people be expected to come in off the street and shop for solar collectors the way they would for, say, a pair of shoes? “You have to understand that people are as reticent as they are about solar energy only because they can’t see the hardware that makes it happen,” John says. “Folks like to be able to touch a sheet of glazing, for instance, or feel how hot the water in a solar heater gets. They want to be able to look at components close up, rather than mail away for them “blind.”

Accordingly, the Sunspot shop is a veritable “show and tell” of collectors, pumps, automatic controllers, storage tanks, water heaters, etc. Along one wall of the store, for example, you’ll find a solar collector standing beside an arrow-filled poster showing how the sun’s rays impinge on the panel, warm the coils of copper tubing inside, and thereby heat the water that flows through the tubing. Jotul stoves rest in one corner of the room next to a stack of Steve Baer type nightwalls (polystyrene insulation boards that fit inside windows to prevent heat loss at night). Everything’s out in the open … for customers to see, touch, and smell.

“Of course,” John remarks, “we had to touch and see before we bought, too, which is why Mary Jane and I spent several days checking out forty-seven different product lines at the Solar Energy Industries Conference in Washington last June before investing a single penny in inventory.”

Now that Sunspot is well and truly launched, John and Mary Jane hope to be able to make their small establishment into something of a center for alternative energy information (complete with library), in addition to a wholesale/retail solar equipment outlet.

“We’ve got a big job ahead of us,” Mary Jane says. “Namely, we want to get more solar power into more people’s homes as quickly — and as inexpensively — as possible.” — Johanna Seitz.