What on earth?

“Look! There’s a farmer riding down the road.”

In a bulky Carhartt coat. And leather gloves, work jeans. And … a flashy speedo helmet. “Where did Spandex go?,” said Helmut.

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Why, it’s …

This story has its origins in an era long ago, 34 years ago, to be exact. I was pregnant with my daughter and living in a 14-foot travel trailer parked next to a public restroom, located next to a small bungalow “house” on the outskirts of Grangeville, Idaho. I’d just spent the winter living on a remote ranch on the Joseph Plains without electricity, or phone, or TV, or … you name it, I was without it. Travel to the 30,000 acre ranch took 4-6 hours via dirt road or 4-6 hours on a jet boat coming up the Snake River from Lewiston. Did I say remote? If you know anything about that part of the country, you know it’s the place that time forgot. It isn’t a popular designated wilderness area. It’s wilder than that. And emptier. Along that 4-hour-dirt-road-drive, there were probably 20 old, crickety, barb-wire gates you had to stop and open, stop, shut again. These were unimproved, bumpy, SLOW, dirt roads. You knew to travel with a saw in case you came across a tree that was down. That’s the 6 hours part of 4-6 hours. We did have “neighbors,” about 10. Total. All of us living hours apart. The 4-hour trip up the Snake River was made 6 hours not because of trees that were down, but because the operator of the boat stopped every few miles to check his traps and toss a dead beaver or muskrat into the boat.

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  1. Elizabeth says:

    You sound like the best kind of neighborly~neighbor, with a heart the size of Idaho! I love these stories of how you became…well, you. I often try to imagine different events/scenarios which you describe in some of your book’s ( & what you share with us here). I find your life story, engaging & thought provoking & can honestly say that you are probably the only woman I know personally;-)…through your written words…who lived this John Muir~ish kind of life.

  2. Winnie Nielsen says:

    You lived an amazing life back in your earlier years! Where did you find the courage and fortitude to be so settled without modern amenities? Weren’t you scared? Or is it so beautiful and peaceful that you feel empowered? I marvel at your stories and courage to seek that life and then flourish. That in itself is the miracle to me! Somehow I think I might be missing the girl grit to do the same.

  3. Karlyne says:

    I think that somehow, you, Maryjane, just didn’t get caught up in the day-to-day living that most of us do. We think, when we feel we have time, about getting out and doing things, but we put it off. It’s never the “right time” to make such huge, life-changing decisions, and so we’re content to make smaller, more (in our minds) do-able ones.
    Kudos to you for telling us that we can do it, that if we look deep inside we might just find that “girl grit” Winnie mentions!

  4. YOU are and will forever be AMAZING to ME! Love this story and what a LOT of WORK! Work of an Angel for sure!

  5. Terry Steinmetz says:

    WOW!! You must have “just went with the flow”, as we say here in the U.P. You do what has to be done. And besides the work,I’m sure you enjoyed the companionship. Plus the added bonus of knowing you were just helping a neighbor. So my new song to you is “And like a good neighbor, MaryJane is there!” (tee, hee, hee)

  6. Judy Acker says:

    We had the pleasure of passing through your part of the country in 2011. We stayed in Lewiston State Park. Nothing like our East Texas, even 30 years ago we did not have any area as remote as you are talking about. We loved our 9 weeks on the road. One of our favorites was Hwy 12 from Lewiston to Lolo. Keep writing your post for everyone to enjoy.

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Ready for a good cry?

You know I’m passionate about transforming waste into wonder,

but here’s a story that goes beyond anything I’ve ever dreamed possible …

and left me with tears streaming down my face.

It begins in Cateura, Paraguay, a shantytown that’s built upon a landfill where the water supply is dangerously polluted and rains bring floods of refuse.

More than 1,500 tons of solid waste arrives each day, according to UNICEF, and Cateura’s 2,500 families, young and old, survive by separating the garbage underfoot for recycling.

And yet, amid squalor beyond most Americans’ comprehension, beauty is blooming from the most unexpected places …

An old coffee can.

Bottle caps.

Discarded kitchen utensils.


One person’s trash,

it seems,

can become another’s …


“A violin is worth more than a house here,” says Favio Chavez, director of the Landfill Harmonic.

A few years ago, one of the garbage pickers, “an untutored genius of the slum,” joined forces with Chaves, a local musician, to make instruments for the children of Cateura using what they had—trash.

Like magic, violins and cellos emerged from oil drums,

flutes sprung from water pipes and spoons,

wooden packing crates became guitars,

and garbage-picking kids were transformed into musicians.

The Recycled Orchestra was born.

As the dream continues to flourish in the hearts of blossoming musicians, the orchestra is beginning to take tours around the world, stunning audiences with the quality of music that can be produced from “waste.”

At the same time, filmmakers are working on a new documentary, due to be released in 2014, which tells this tale of trash and treasure. Take a peek:

In the coming month, Landfill Harmonic is trying to raise over $113,000 to support their ongoing effort and complete the film. If you’d like to help make it happen, visit their Kickstarter page to pledge as little as a dollar.


Photos courtesy of Landfill Harmonic


Photos courtesy of Landfill Harmonic


Photos courtesy of Landfill Harmonic


Photos courtesy of Landfill Harmonic

  1. Winnie Nielsen says:

    Amazing! I am so impressed at their talent and creativity. The most painful thing for me to keep reading is how so many people of this planet do not even have clean drinking water for their daily needs. I take clean water for granted when everyday people die from water born illnesses that we have the technology to eradicate. Thanks for sharing!

    • MaryJane says:

      Winnie, I LOVE our morning “conversations” and your wisdom. It’s a great start to my day! Thank you.

      • Winnie Nielsen says:

        Thank-you Mary Jane for such a sweet compliment! I very much enjoy your blog and the opportunity to “chat” directly with you too. I love how you find so many interesting books, words, trends, healthy life style, and meaningful ideas to share with all of us. Checking in with your blog is a daily pleasure I look forward to each day. Oh, and those photos you post are so interesting and beautiful. Do you take all of the pictures?

  2. Shery says:

    The Arts are so healing and so is creativity. Amazing and humbling to see such real joy and a healthy kind of pride on their faces.

  3. Karlyne says:

    Do you what I find the most horrifying? It’s that Paraguay has “conspicuous consumption”, just like we do. They are overflowing with plastic junk, too. And yet… Look what blooms from it: initiative, work and beauty!

  4. Toni says:

    Love wins the day…

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