In Her Words: Heather Culp

6 years ago by

Photos Kate Berry

You might have seen last Friday’s feature that highlighted Lynette’s move from London to New York and all the growing pains that came with such a move. We thought we would follow that piece up with Heather’s account of learning when New York became too much for her and she needed time to retreat… to an earthship to be exact. What is an earthship? Read on to find out!


Although for some reason I’m hesitant to admit it, perhaps for fear the conscious admission will manifest more, I’m often experiencing (and I guess therefore creating) circumstances in which I’m suddenly immersed in a landscape which not only is completely foreign and exciting, but also somewhat unnerving or even risky. Most certainly this is a form of drama, perhaps externalizing inner chaos in the physical (so my long term friend and intuitive says) but I prefer to see it as having a quotient for adventure and the will to surrender to the whim of intuition or sudden opportunity. And as I near 40, only looking back is this pattern emerging. And of course as I write this, I’m on the big island in Hawaii just a few miles from the newly active volcano. However, the manifestation of this principal that I’ll focus on here is my move from NYC to an earthship 10,000 feet up in the Sangre de Cristo mountains above Taos, New Mexico.

After living for years in NYC I was restless. I had gotten to a point where I wasn’t as interested in participating in cultural happenings or the night life in which NYC is the best city in the world for. Instead I found myself opting to stay home, I got a pet bunny, learned about natural medicine, collected house plants and occasionally went upstate, or out to the beach or to Long Island to forage spring water. I started fantasizing about moving to New Mexico, looking up land online. I had also been day dreaming about living off the land in a handmade house, collecting books and imagery from 60’s and 70’s farms and communes. One night I went to stay at a friends house at the beach in Long Island. We had been gifted some psilocybin mushrooms, which was something I hadn’t experienced in years but called to me in that moment. I think that kind of medicine can be really positive and powerful but isn’t something I often engage in. The message I received was that it was time to get out of the city and live closer to nature. Synchronistically, the next morning I heard from a childhood friend who owned an off grid, mountain home in Taos, New Mexico and needed someone to look after it. I jumped at the chance and within a month my boyfriend and I had sold everything, traded in the Scion for a 4X4 and moved, sight-unseen, to an earthship.

An earthship is a home designed purposely for self sufficient living, created out of affordable, available natural and recycled materials —ours was literally built into the Sangre de Cristo mountains out of wood and adobe with recycled tires and glass as insulation. It had huge slanted panel windows that looked out over the valley -the most amazing view – and shone sunlight into an interior vegetable garden where we grew food all through the winter! The special construction kept it cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Purposeful windows (even over the bed for star watching) supported air flow and there was a wood burning stove for the rare times we had multiple grey days. The earthship had a rainwater catchment and greywater system. Ours even had a quirky but beautiful bathroom cistern with a crystal stocked waterfall that oxygenated the water supply.

There are as many different types of off grid living situations as there are on grid. Ours had a fairly minimal solar system which in some ways was challenging as we had to be mindful of how much energy we used but really it’s only difficult if one is expecting to live a life akin to NYC (staying up until 4am, unconsciously using multiple power sources at one time -washer, dryer, television, computer, hair dryer, etc.). And certainly if someone wants to live this life off the grid it’s entirely possible, they’d just need a more powerful solar system than we had or a generator.

Our situation was unique even for an off-grid earthship because it was part of the very first earthship community called REACH, developed by experimental architect, Michael Reynolds. Now there are larger earthship communities were built out on the mesa but REACH is special because all the homes are built into the steep mountainside, high up at about 10,000 feet. You have to drive up a windy, dirt road for a few miles to a landing where the road becomes even steeper and from there 4×4 is required. And you must be a skilled 4×4 driver because it’s a treacherous road, akin to driving up a dry waterfall bed at certain points. The first time I drove up I was really nervous, my friend’s dad taught me but you really have to get it right straight away and it’s no time to be timid. You also have to be aware of mud when it rains and when it snows the only way up to the house is to hike the last mile up in the snow!

Upon arrival I didn’t fully understand the scope of the situation —and it was terrifying at first! But what happened was really a huge transformation via the slow, breakdown and restructuring of my entire way of living. Moving into deep nature caused my rhythms to shift pretty instantaneously. There were plenty of challenges of course but also so much magic in living slow and connecting to the earth. I naturally got into sync with circadian rhythms and started going to sleep and waking up with with the sun. There was no reason to rush around so things that would’ve been annoying or a chore in city life became meditations. Walking a mile up to the house at night in the snow because a beautiful night hike in which I connected to the starts and night sky like I never had. I fell madly in love with Taos, the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the piñon pine trees and the beauty and solitude of living in harmony with the land. I finally began a serious, daily meditation practice and I took on an herbal medicine apprenticeship.

Through this experience I realized how dependent I had been on such an unsustainable system – that was doing more harm than good to the planet and how much money I spent on things I didn’t really need and didn’t really make me happy. I found out how easy it is to be self empowered and live in alignment with nature, and how much peace and joy that brought. Living there I was instantly made aware of the footprint I was making on the earth and my day to day life was easier when I took steps to reduce it. By that I mean, no one picks up your trash so it’s easier if you make less. If you only have rainwater from your rainwater catch you are tuned in to your usage and conserve when necessary. I believe that as a culture we can shift into a paradigm of a more connected, self sufficient life —having our own power sources, growing our own (or some of at least!) food, and relying on each other to help instead of the system which mainly exists to make money off of us and does’t often have our best interests in mind. I’m concerned when I see that the political vision of a “sustainable” future includes the harmful 5G internet network and a smart grid we’d all plug into. I don’t believe we need any of that and that we can look to nature for the best examples of how to live. I’ve found that simple is better and less is more.

Stepping back from my former life and stripping down really gave me an opportunity to take inventory and only reintroduce what was truly important -it was a valuable opportunity to reconnect with my values. For me that is my personal relationships and community, connection to source and the earth, and to peace and joy and to only engage in work that is meaningful and in alignment. I had a background in photography and art, but also always had a deep interest in natural medicine and spirituality. I had always been a seeker.

I lived in the earthship for little over a year before I started going back and forth between LA, eventually settling in Topanga Canyon.

After Taos I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I was no longer passionate about my former professional pursuits. In a way, the research and framework for what became Mercado Sagrado was already there in the ether so when Carly and I came together in Topanga Canyon, magic ensued and the project emerged. It felt like an alchemical product of our combined experiences plus idealistic hopes and dreams for our lives and the building of our dream community. And a way to support artists and healers who shared our values. Of course part of the medicine in all of this is in the continual surrender to experience and process. Once projects such as Mercado Sagrado are birthed they become an entity to themselves and all one can do is stay present, moment to moment to guide the process in the highest way possible… which is what I aspire to do.


Add yours
  • Love this ? Thank you for your sharing, it reflects so much of what I have experienced and see in others… this incredible recalibration and healing that can happen when immersed in nature and her natural rhythms. ??

  • Bonnefon June, 23 2018, 3:36 / Reply

    Passionnant ! Quel changement de vie !
    (Attention la traduction en français est approximative).

  • Cher Atelier, merci beaucoup pour ces parcours très inspirants mais la traduction française est mal réalisée ces derniers temps et gâche le plaisir de découvrir tous ces jolis articles…

  • Veronica June, 25 2018, 12:39

    thank you for this note! we are working on getting the french translations up to speed! apologies for any frustrations in the meantime. xxV

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