Monday, November 17, 2014

Check dams and erosion control


We were fortunate enough last summer to be at Saturn Sands during an epic rain storm. The land there is flat and being greenhorns we hadn't been able to tell which way the washes and stringers ran. Now we know, of course, that they all run to the roads. 


The dirt/sand roads, after a time become rutted and washboarded and need to be graded. Grading lowers the road a bit each time so the roads are as deep as a foot below the desert floor in some places. They make perfect channels for rainwater, washing out roads and depriving the desert of the sitting/standing water that the flora and fauna need.

Swales might work here, but berms will not. Water cuts through them like a hot knife through butter. A check dam, however, paired with swales, may work.


From what I understand a check dam, made of brush in these instances, is not to stop the water, but to slow it. Slowing the water allows for infiltration and diversion. Swales, channels and pools can provide enough water for desert plants to survive and thrive.


Any water that is prevented from channeling to the road slows erosion, desertification and flooding. We'll be bringing brush from our Wonder Valley property to Saturn. It's mostly athol pine so we'll use brush that has been weathered for many years, to prevent the brush from sprouting.

Another benefit of check dams, channels and swales is that they make it difficult for off road vehicles to tear up the delicate surface of the desert.

The first place we'll do this is on the west side of the house where we've planted desert elderberry (which I'm not certain is any different than regular elderberry) and manzanita on the banks of the shallow wash that runs to our driveway. Photos to come as the work progresses.

More on erosion control:
Erosion Control Field Guide

More on desertification:
How to fight desertification and reverse climate change

Monday, November 3, 2014

Through a child's eyes


Our son would resent being called a child because he's a 19-year-old man, but he'll always be my child and I'll always love seeing the world through his eyes. I watched him walk across the parking lot of the Copper Mountain Mesa Community Center in north Joshua Tree shortly after 6:00 a.m. He couldn't hide his wonder at the beauty of the sunrise. That's the old fire house in the distance.

We were there to work the monthly pancake breakfast. It was great fun - so many different people to visit with, so many different people working together. It doesn't matter here if you're a liberal or a conservative, or in my case a radical. Every person knows the value of their opinion (close to nothing) and seems to skip past all of that to the meat of a person - the humor, the compassion, the courage and creativity.


I took this picture of our son at our house in Wonder Valley looking for rocks to do landscaping. He had been averse to even traveling to the desert for a weekend. He thought it would be boring and depressing, especially without wifi, but this time the desert seemed to fire his imagination and in no time he had a list of future projects.


Later that day I ran into our neighbor, Glenda and her dog Shiloh. They just arrived last week, being smart enough to winter here and not to attempt living here year round. We are the only houses on our block, both set far back for privacy. Glenda filled me in on the local gossip and gave me tips about the wells and the roads - which were public, and which, if we took them, might get us shot at.

We stood and watched the shadows lengthen and the horizon turn to gold. More than ever I felt bit by the desert bug, perhaps because my son for the first time considered living here and moving here permanently didn't carry the possibility of breaking up our family.

On Sunday we drove back to Saturn and we sat on the north porch watching the clouds cast deep blue shadows on the mountains.. I told my son it was my favorite place to sit and I thought I could sit there forever.

He asked me if it made me lonely. I said no, it made me calm. And so he sat beside me and I hoped he might re-imagine loneliness as something inherent in the expectations of a city, and the big empty as a place of possibility.

Leaving the city for the desert is fraught with existential issues. We would be losing many privileges, and because of our age there would probably be no turning back. The losses lead the possibility, which is probably advantageous as the benefits are overwhelming and seductive.

The next book for Kip's book club is William L. Fox's The Void, Grid & Sign, Traversing the Great Basin. The description of the book resonated with my sense that our identities are half about who we are and half about where we are. To move here permanently would be a massive gamble on different possibilities of life but perhaps massive gambles are the only way that those kinds of possibilities can exist.