Passions run deep in Manitou Springs. From world views collected from near and far. Through creativity that pours out in all forms imaginable. In governing and preserving the integrity of this historic town. In simply living.

Becky Elder, 64, has been part of that ebb and flow of effort and emotion for 34 years in Manitou. She has raised a son, Wesley, and daughter, Autumn, here. She is involved. Deeply.

Becky contributes as a writer, an advocate for the environment, and a councilwoman. She is a business owner (Blue Planet Earthscapes) and educator.

It’s clear that Becky has opinions. But not overpowering ones. She listens. She is quick to smile and laugh as we talk about her history in Manitou, the value of poverty, city governing, activism, sustainability and permaculture, and some other things.

Permaculture in Manitou Springs, CO

Humanitou: You’ve lived in Manitou a long time. What change have you seen in that time?

Becky Elder: You’re going to get me in trouble. (laughs) To me, when I first moved to Manitou, it was an artist’s community. Everybody was an artist. All this stuff was happening. Now it’s a tourist town. There were always tourists here, and now it’s just like tourist central.

I’ve lived here more than half my life and there’s a lot of things that I’ve witnessed. I’ve watched friends move away, and people who can’t afford it and they slide out. It keeps gentrifying more and more. It’s a touchy issue.

A lot of people would say, “There’s nothing wrong with Manitou.” That’s not the same thing. Manitou might be the Manitou it is now, but we’ve lost something.

Humanitou: That’s interesting. You say it used to be an artist’s community but, to me, how much it’s an artist’s community today is so much more than what I’ve experienced anywhere else. It’s a big part of what I love about Manitou.

When I first moved to town you could rent a place for 90 bucks a month. My husband and I bought the place at 1124 on Manitou Avenue west of Tubby’s. I raised my kids in that house. We bought that house for $76,000. I think the last time it sold it was almost a half a million.

So people flush out and new people come in. That’s all great but who had to leave to make room or what had to happen? Who slid out? It’s happening everywhere. It’s not just in Manitou.

HumanitouWhere did you move from to Colorado?

Becky: I grew up in Eastern Kansas. I went to school in Wichita and I spent my summers in the tallgrass prairies, the wilderness. I graduated in Indiana and came to Denver and lived in Denver. Kansas is really my childhood home, but I left Kansas when I was 16. Colorado is now my home and my kids are natives.

Becky Elder | Writer, Permaculture Educator in Manitou Springs, CO

Humanitou: “Native” bumper stickers have been a thing in Colorado for a long time. I’m not native. I’m very aware we are part of this influx to Colorado. But I had no say in where I was born, that I wasn’t born here. As adults, my wife, Becca, and I have made this choice for us and our sons. How do we decide who belongs somewhere?

Becky: It’s not your fault. And it’s not just here. It’s everywhere. We have to plan this, how does it look? Legally, we can’t stop anybody from coming in or stop somebody from selling their house to the highest bidder. To me, that’s the first thing: We’re either humans or we’re all about money.

Humanitou: What is your art? I know permaculture is important to you. But if we talked about what is the art of your life, what comes to mind? Where is your heart?

Becky: I’m a writer. That’s my art. I used to do stained glass. I used to make feathered earrings back when everybody was an artist.

My heart is in nature and the fact that we’re losing the game on the planet with our devotion to capitalism, having more, doing things that aren’t sustainable, cutting down so many trees and not planting — trees are low-hanging fruit for climate change because it takes the carbon and does something with it.

Humanitou: In a culture so steeped in consumerism, it seems it’s a safe bet that you’re in the minority with your depth of knowledge and attention to these things.

Becky: I am in the minority about that. People think recycling is sustainability. Recycling is the bottom rung. I would say that’s what I’m all about. That’s what I write about. I write about nature, and I try to write about nature so that people can actually see it, too. So many people go through their lives and they don’t see nature.

Where I grew up very close to Missouri, I grew up in the least populated county in Kansas east of the turnpike, and birds were everywhere. When I first moved here there were birds everywhere.

You look out the window there (outside Create Cafe, where we are sitting) and there aren’t birds. What’s happening to them? Scientists will say we’ve lost over 50 percent of the population. Most people don’t even know that, and do they care? This is a difficult thing. We lose these things in the environment and people coming on don’t miss them.

Environmental Stability and Permaculture in Manitou Springs

A writing that I wrote was in the area where the ziplines are now. Me and my husband were up on a hill just enjoying the afternoon, and I had this image of Manitou a hundred years previous, and then the Manitou of the future. I wrote this piece to the woman of the future, a hundred years from now, and the fact that it’s still a beautiful world.

The world is always going to be beautiful, but it’s not going to be as verdant and abundant as it could be if we don’t take care of it.

Humanitou: You became a councilwoman in Manitou a few years ago.

Becky: I was appointed. I was Ward 1. I switched to at-large when we had a vote, because I wanted the whole community to have a say on whether I sit on council, because I’m not the normal person.

I’m the in-your-face activist. I do weird things. I smoked pot before it was legal, people, because it’s a medicine. Anyway, I wanted to give the whole city a chance to vote for me, and they did. They voted quite lovingly, I thought.

I’m on ’til 2020, and I said I’m not going to do it again. But if we got to a point where we could see stuff actually start to happen, I’d consider it.

Humanitou: Is it a matter of bureaucracy or politics or …

Becky: It’s the bureaucracy. I mean, we don’t have a very political– I don’t even know who the Republicans are, and I don’t know who the Democrats are. I could guess. And I’m Green Party. But that doesn’t really come up, because Manitou is a small community.

I’ve known (at-large councilman) Gary Smith since as long as I can remember. We pretty much hold different views on stuff. We’re always pretty much opposite, but I don’t hate him for it, he doesn’t hate me. It’s good-natured. I think the council, for the most part, is good-natured.

Humanitou: Would you consider going to the state level or elsewhere?

Becky: No. (laughs) I’m not a political person. I never have been. I’ve been an activist.

Humanitou: What’s the difference for you? The two things often go together.

Becky: There are political activists, you’ve got to work with the system. I’m deep green resistance, if you see the way to go that’s what you do, and you don’t wait for proper protocol. An activist, to me, you’re a bell-ringer.

I was an environmental activist, “That is bad, this is good.” You don’t get anywhere with that. You’ve got to look at the whole thing. Basically, we all have the key to fix things, but is there the will to fix them?

Learning permaculture really changed my life.

Humanitou: You teach permaculture. How did you come to that place, that interest and commitment?

Becky: I’ve always been a nature buddy. In 1980, I was 22 years old. I was reading a “Mother Earth Journal” and I read an article about David Foreman and Howie Wolke, “Earth First! No Compromise in Defense of the Planet.”

I got kind of pulled into that direction of being a warrior for the Earth, and I participated in a lot of things. It started me along the path of being an environmental activist.

Permaculture stands on three principles: care for the Earth, care for the people, and share in the abundance.

I became active as a mother (after having a son in 1980 and a daughter in 1983). That’s when I started writing, as I matured and I was reading “Mother Earth” and “High Country News.”

Around ’89 or ’90 I became the Earth First! contact for this area, and for three years I worked with really edgy, radical, outside-of-the-box activists. We didn’t do anything radical. We did street theater. We did posters, “Love your Mother” and all that stuff.

From there, I started gardening with one of the local gardeners, because we were both raising kids. She started a business and I started working with her. I went to a master gardener program and then went on from there, and then was turned onto permaculture.

Permaculture, taking the course can be expensive for some people. It was expensive for me, but if you want to do something you do it. I read all that stuff about permaculture and said, “This is everything I want to know. I don’t know what a food forest is. It sounds great. What is it?”

So, I manifested my way there. I sent a letter to everybody I knew and said I was going to take this course and “if you will help me get there, I will give you a consultation on permaculture and will apply what I’ve learned for you.”

The garden club gave me money. The independent newspaper gave me money. It was amazing, money came in from everywhere. I actually got all the money I needed. I was a single mom. I needed to get someone to watch the house, because I had kids in it. I had to pay my mortgage, and I wasn’t going to be able to work on my business for two weeks and I needed to plan for that.

Humanitou: And now you teach and certify others.

Becky: Yes. It’s one weekend a month for eight months. We have a place in Old Colorado City, we have a place up at 9,500 feet, we have a place that is an underground house on 80 acres. You have each site twice.

About halfway through the course, you split up. You choose your design team.

If you want to do the one at the underground house, you go down there and camp and do some design work as a team. And you meet outside the course as a team. Each person participates in a design, because that’s what permaculture is.

The world is always going to be beautiful, but it’s not going to be as verdant and abundant as it could be if we don’t take care of it.

You never really asked me for a definition of permaculture, but what permaculture is is a designing system that’s based on the principles and patterns of nature and how nature does things.

How does nature build a tree? How does nature deal with flood waters? How does nature deal with rock slides? After a forest fire, everybody is worried about landslides, but how we know landslides aren’t the cure for what just happened?

Permaculture stands on three principles: care for the Earth, care for the people, and share in the abundance and reinvest the surplus.

Humanitou: How do you reach out and connect these ideas — sustainability, permaculture, “devotion to capitalism” — with people who would consider them to be extreme?

Becky: This is a very conservative area, historically, the Pikes Peak region. Permaculture would say that’s an edge, it’s an overlap and a lot more can happen. People say, “How can you live there?” Because this is where the work is. This is not the reality, this is just the reality of this place.

I am not the best educator. I will tell you that. I curse, I make people mad. On council I say, “I’m just planting seeds.”

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When I said to council to consider the economy of enough, how much is enough, how much tourism do we need, how many cars do we need, how many people can we accommodate, how much is enough, another person on council said, “I never want to hear that again.” They don’t want to hear it. (laughs)

Humanitou: I imagine that represents what a lot of people think about these issues across the country.

Becky: That’s where the danger is. Should the worst be realized, for us it’s not going to be a hurricane. It will be something different. It might be– this has happened before, it might be 20 feet of snow. My husband, they had a snowstorm up south of the (Air Force) Academy, the snow covered the house. People aren’t ready to survive that.

Permaculture is a beautiful designing system that you can apply to your life. You can apply it to your life and household economy. I run my business by permaculture ethics.

Humanitou: Back to the concept of enough. That’s a topic in my house. What advice do you have?

Becky: There’s worse things than poverty. That’s what I tell people when they have kids, “Don’t give up your kids for money.” If you study it, people that live in poverty tend to be much happier than people who live the yuppy life, because we’re all strapped to the wall and don’t even know it.

There’s a certain aspect — and here’s where the foofoo-woowoo comes in — there’s a certain aspect that is manifestation, which is quantum physics or “The Secret” or whatever you want to call it. You just put the energy out there on what you want and don’t look back.