How would you define success? If you’re Daniel “Ryno” Herrera, prosperity is measured by the good you send out into the world. 

“My biggest success?” Herrera paused a moment before responding. “Well, 20 years ago I was a 420 pound drug addict facing a 26 year sentence. I thought I’d die in prison without ever coming home to my family again. Now I’m sober and free and grateful to be alive and healthy.”

“I’m a grandfather and a hard worker who’s found my heaven on earth in the community I was born in, right here in Hondo.”

After turning from a life cycle of crime, incarceration and addiction, Herrera is now a peer counselor, community organizer, and wisdom keeper. For the last four years he has worked with close friend and ally, executive director Todd Wynward, to lead TiLT, the Taos Initiative for Life Together. 

Together through TiLT, Herrera and Wynward embody a “place-based, earth-honoring, people-dignifying, despair-crushing way of life,” which they call the Watershed Way: Do unto those downstream as you have those upstream do unto you.

Through the social-spiritual framework of the Watershed Way, Herrera and Wynward have launched a number of initiatives and seasonal ceremonial events such as “A Feast of Courage in the Heart of Winter” (Feb. 1) and the blessing of the waters on San Isidro Day (May 15).

In response to the ongoing recycling dilemma in Taos they also launched the membership-based Repurposing Plastic Project. Collected plastics are compressed and used to construct storage buildings, privacy walls and, in their first year, even a horse barn.

A YouTube video of the process “TiLT’s Plastic Shed” was produced by Jesse Moya of the Taos News. The five-minute piece won “most innovative” at the national Radically Rural Conference last year, and the duo hopes it will inspire other DIYers to reuse, recycle, and innovate.

The inspiration afforded by Herrera’s hard-lived path toward wisdom, passion, and visionary servant leadership has received attention on both the national and international stages. 

Along with local heroes Pat McCabe and Dr. Gina Perez Baron, he was interviewed by internationally-renowned Dr. Gabor Mate on the “Wisdom of Trauma,” part of a ten-day video series that attracted millions of viewers worldwide. And their work with TiLT was likewise featured in a nationally acclaimed book released this summer entitled, “Believers: Making a Life at the End of the World,” in which author Lisa Wells searches for examples of grounded hope in the face of climate change and oppressive systems.

Herrera and Wynward were also interviewed this summer in “The Path to Restoration,” a five-episode podcast series discussing how settlers might humbly learn to become people of place; walk in the Watershed Way; and restore relationships with themselves, others, and the land. 

Busy year, indeed.

Herrera is far from done. He dreams of transforming his family’s Questa property into a family-friendly conscious village that supports neighborliness, interdependence and place-based living. 

His plans include:

  • A restored adobe ceremonial space and colorful murals alongside picnic areas;
  • Shade structures;
  • Community meeting rooms;
  • Greenhouses and raised planting beds; 
  • A corn field; 
  • Protection of the acequia and the property’s two ancient apple trees. 

To this village, he hopes to attract families and individuals seeking to live sober, healthy lives. 

“For too long, we’ve been living disconnected from the land, each other and ourselves.

Maybe we can work together to achieve this dream I have and help our community conjuntos: together,” he concluded. 

Herrera credits his parents Dan and Mildred Herrera; Michelle Herrera Cordova; Todd Wynward and Peg Bartlett; Dr. Gina Perez Baron; and his wife, Audra Herrera, and kids for supporting, guiding and trusting him on his path. “And, my right-hand man, Enrique Herrera.”

Visit Herrera and Wynward most Friday mornings in Questa, to lend a hand with the Repurposing Plastic Project and to get a mini-tour of the property. Contact taostilt.org for further information or to make a donation or email tiltcoordinator@gmail.com

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