Trash Removal 2.0
Today another trash bin was delivered! A local crew will start to remove more of the remaining trash by hand (no tractors). Our San Diego contractor won't work in such hot weather, so we found some great guys who will start at 4am and work until temps get too high.
I know it's hard to imagine the extent of the trash, but the property was used as a dump FOR YEARS. Healing this place has become my #1 goal.
On a side note, the beach is definitely signally me that it doesn't want me. Last year the one time I went into the ocean I swam with a large shark, and today I stepped on a sting ray. Painful! I can't wait to get back to the desert.
Our First Guests
Up until now, the only people who have been on our property have been friends who have stopped by to see the mess. I haven't even offered them iced tea. Last weekend, between hot spells (meaning it only got to 109), we prepared for our first houseguests. Meaning, we needed another working bedroom, and for the toilet to flush. The bathroom was not working because the pipes were galvanized steel, and during our three months with no water, they rusted solid. Our local handyguy came to the rescue and soldered copper pipes in the basement while we ran to home depot for a new vanity. And a bathroom of sorts came together!
In celebration we had our first dinner party, Turkish mezes, kofte and imam beyildi. Success! I now understand the importance of people using the place, to see where they want to hang out and what needs to be more comfortable. Our friends had lots of ideas of how to use the property to full advantage.
We also tried a hike in Indian Cove with Toulie, but he quickly pooped out. Short legs and dark fur are not the best for the desert. Galant effort, though!
Caging the Cactus
As I mentioned in the last post, rabbits and ground squirrels eat just about everything living in the desert. Our first go-round with planting was a total waste of time--all the little cacti we put in were annihilated. Now wire cages will protect all new plants, until thorns are long enough to thwart the hungry critters.
I'm getting a kick out of imagining the rabbits staring longingly at the new prickly pear growth, unable to get at it.
The desert is war!
Our property has mature trees on it, but they are mostly tamarisk, or salt cedar. I was always taught these trees, which are not native and were planted for wind breaks, should be taken out. That is easier said than done. They have very long tap roots and each drinks up to 400 gallons of water per day. They are sucking our well water up. Recent research, however, says that tamarisks are better than no trees at all. Other trees can grow at the edges of the groves, and they provide shade for birds and animals in the desert.
So our tamarisks will have to stay for now.
We have two dwarf olive trees that were extremely stressed by our lack of water the past three months. Now that the well is flowing again, we are watering them and they are starting to come back. Yesterday in the later afternoon I needed a simple job for my heat-addled brain, so I crawled under one of the olives that is more like a big bush, and began to prune all the small growth off so the main trunks and branches can flourish. Pruning trees is very satisfying, because you can quickly see the difference in the shape of the tree. I imagine the tree thanking me for pampering it, and making it stronger.
While I was pruning I remembered sitting under another olive tree at my grandparents' house, and having difficult conversations about the end of life. The tree is still there but my grandparents are not.
I'm researching other trees to plant in the fall. We have gray water that runs from the kitchen, so I'm planning a couple of shade trees nearby, possibly desert willow and mesquite. I may also try a pomegranate and a pepper tree. As with everything else here, gardening has a heavy learning curve. Rabbits and ground squirrels ate almost all our first attempts at cactus planting. Now we are caging everything that goes into the ground.
Oh the Highs, Damn the Lows
The desert is not a neutral place. I either feel intense happiness and wonder, or I'm pretty discouraged.
I'm learning to wake up early, in the 5am hour, both to see the sunrise, and to begin working when both the house and outside are relatively cool. Getting up so early makes for a very long day. I can get lots done in morning. (See cross-offs on lists below--I live by lists.)
Then around 11am, I begin to wander in circles and get overwhelmed. Because I'm heating up and don't think clearly when hot, it's time to crank up the AC in one of the rooms and rest. The afternoons are not usually good. I get crazy and feel like we'll never get the place in any kind of shape. The trash still on the property weighs on me. The large projects we can't seem to get started (electricity repair, for example) hit wall after wall. At least we have water.
Besides psychological highs and lows, there are the physical ones. Earlier this week we created a temporary outdoor shower, using a table top (found on property), garden house and sprayer. We set up some old metal doors (found on property) for a bit of privacy, but in reality, there's no need. We are totally alone, and could run around all day naked if we wanted to--not a pretty picture! It's so beautiful to shower under cool water and puffy clouds!
The day's true low... when do you install a window AC unit? At night when it's still 102 and you're sweating, and a biblical swarm of bugs flies in the open window, landing all over your bed, that's when.
Next day is a new day, though, and I'm high again, and looking forward to my midday shower under the tamarisk trees.
The pipe broke 4 times and had to be capped once. If there had been one more break we would have said forget it, the entire system has to be replaced. But then it held! Water began to flow to the kitchen sink, after 14 weeks dry. Obviously, the pipe is not buried deep enough (probably crushed by our bulldozers), and it will have to be rebuilt at some point. The toilet and bathroom sink still don't work (that problem has yet to be diagnosed). But it's amazing to have water flowing to the kitchen and bathtub. I'll flush with buckets for now, no problem.
I mopped the floors!
I scrubbed the toilet!
I watered the trees and cats!
And I ran the dishwasher. Just about everything about this property is crap, but the dishwasher is f--in' amazing! The previous owner had told me it worked well, and they found it across the dirt road. The desert giveth.
Anna does most of the writing. Ted does most of the photos. But sometimes we switch. We are repairing a distressed property in 29 Palms, California, and eventually hope to run an artist residency there.