Janelle, shining with enthusiasm and positivity, is a force at the ranch. I remember her pulling up on her bike, dusty and flushed from having ridden down the dirt road to drop her son off at school, shaking out her hair, and saying “Sometimes I have to pinch myself, is this really my life!?”.
She and her husband manage Rancho Sol y Mar, and among many projects, are developing the EEP (Environmental Education Program), the participatory learning program that I took part in.
My goal is to create a place with [my husband] where people can come and learn a very hands-on approach to living in a more low-impact way. You can’t just read a book or a magazine article and change your life that easily. It’s like learning a language: you can learn a little [in school] but it’s when you’re fully immersed in it that it truly becomes a part of you.
I want people to be able to come and be fully immersed in this low-impact lifestyle, even if it’s just for a week or two at a time. Just to give them the chance to experience how this life makes you feel so good and clean.
My life philosophy is very much in line with my mission. I’ve been living in and out of Mexico for eight years, and I realize how much I’m in touch with the cycles of life and nature while I’m here in Mexico. That’s not to say everyone is, it’s just my personal experience, but it has just become my philosophy to live with [nature] and not against it.
One example is that it doesn’t make sense to me anymore to eat packaged things and stuff that comes from far, far, away. I’m right here. I can reach out and enjoy what’s local and what’s part of the seasons and the cycles.
On Rancho Sol y Mar
I think of it as an island, as a very serene place where you can go away from all that noise and all that sensory overload that’s happening all the time in civilization. Mexico was originally an escape, and then it became a place that really felt like home. It feels so comfortable, and I feel like I know more who I am here. When I am back in the States, I’m trying to keep up with the Joneses and trying to be someone rather than just trying to be me.
On being American
I struggle with this more and more all the time because I’m married to a Mexican and my son is half Mexican. And when I’m back in the States…. well, for example, when I was at Evergreen State College there was a Latino group, it was a student group, and I went, and people were like “Hell no. You’re not Latino” … I was feeling really ostracized because I relate so much more to Mexican culture at this point.
I think in Spanish, I dream sometimes in Spanish, and so it’s this weird place because on the outside, I look totally white girl, and folks assume that I don’t speak Spanish or I don’t know where I’m going. Then I start talking and people are like “Wow you sound like a local”. So I think ever since I’ve really started speaking Spanish, I’ve been in this gray space between Mexico and America. Even though I’m from one place, I just don’t relate to that anymore. Yes, it’s home because I grew up there, but I get this sense of home when I’m in Mexico.
What’s one amazing life experience you’ve had?
Years ago, I went traveling in Mexico, and it felt like it started this chain reaction of amazing stuff happening all the time. Those moments of… Am I really doing this? This is my life? It was for our one year anniversary of being married … we started in Seattle, got a ride all the way to San Diego, took a bus down to the mainland of Mexico, and hitchhiked from San Blas to Oaxaca. Somewhere along the way, we had a bunch of money stolen from us, and we were really broke, making little bracelets and selling them at the bus stop to try to get enough money to get a ticket to the next place.
We made it all the way to the Caribbean coast on like 30 dollars. And there was this sense of… we really have to make it, we have no other choice. People treated us so well. Folks offered us a place to stay, a spot to hang our hammock, people cooked for us, offered us showers. People who had literally so little. Homes that didn’t even have four walls were like ” yeah come have dinner with us”.
It was so crazy for me to see that we are from this ‘land of abundance’ and people are like “Ugh, I dont want to share with a stranger”. And here I am, this white girl backpacking through Mexico, and families with five kids say “Yeah! Come on in and have corn and watermelon for dinner with us”. That’s all they had, and they wanted to share it.
It was quite the epic adventure. It wasn’t one event, it was seeing the generosity of people that was so moving. It was a huge catalyst in me changing my ways too. Like, if these people have so little and they can share it all, my prior life philosophy is perhaps a little messed up.