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.
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.
As you all might assume, water is somewhat important out in the desert. There is the drinking, and the watering of plants, and the house cleaning, the flushing, and cat hydration. All of those are things we have not been able to do since almost the day we got this place. It is a funny story…..
So, the woman that owned our place was stealing electricity from Edison. She had jumped power from the electric pole into her fuse box, bypassing the meter with car jumper cables. Besides a possible fire hazard we didn’t want to get tagged for being electric thieves, so as soon as we got the house we called Edison and they cut the power. Good citizens us.
Being city folk we didn’t realize that our honesty and fear of fire would come back to bite us in the ass... like a scorpion hiding in your shoe, which would actually bite your toe and not your ass, but anyway... it seems that that power line worked the well pump and that there were two fuse boxes. One for the house and one for the barn/pump. So by doing the right thing we cut our water supply and sealed our non-watery fate.
The guy who cut the power told us it would take about two weeks to get a new electric panel, but he assured us this was simple and we could have things up and running after that. That was 10 weeks ago. Since the house is so old and pre-records, there is no paperwork showing that we had a legal meter and Edison doesn’t like having two meters on a single property anymore. Well, that took seven weeks to get sorted out. Still no water.
Each time Anna and I went up to the property we had to drive to the JT tourist center in 29, fill up our single and 5 gallon water bottles, bring them all back to the house and then water plants, flush toilets, put out water for the two cats that live in the crawl space below the roof. Then we would drive back and do it all again before they closed. Two trips a day for water just for the basics, like pioneers. I actually had to drive out to the desert once just to make sure the cats had water. A five hour round trip.
Last week we were told that the power was fixed, so we had the well guy come and update the well. Once that was done we flipped the switch only to find that the meter was never turned on and we still had no power. So our weekend was once again filled with trips to get water and no way to wash the dishes that have been piled up in the sink, or anything else. We were getting tired of driving to the tourist center for a working toilet.
Yesterday, after calling Edison again (I've called every 2 days for a month), begging for someone to come deal with things, some guy came out and said, “Oh, no one turned on the meter. They could have done that from the office. I'll turn it on." He flipped a switch on his tablet and amazingly, power was on. Finally.
So now we have water. The cats have a four gallon tank on the patio just for them for when we are gone. All is right with the world, except for the scorpions and the remaining trash. But that will be gone soon. The trash, not the scorpions, I mean. Oh, and the snakes. We're waiting for them to show up.
Below are photos of the old well, and the new well. Neither of which look very well-like. Ideas to improve?
We spent a fourth weekend on the property with no water. Why? Because the electricity to the well has been cut. BUT! We were informed last week the electric company "found" the paperwork which will grandfather in our property to host two electric meters, one for the barn and one for the house. Otherwise we would be forced to run a 220 line hundreds of feet (=$$$$$). And we were going to be charged for the utility to remove electric poles. We were on the point of getting bids to go totally solar. We may still do that in future.
Anyway, we called everyone we knew in 29, everyone who could help. Even the City was incredulous that the electric company was doing this to us. In the end, someone got through.
Now we'll wait for yet another inspection to restore power to our new meter, so we can get our well repaired and working again.
In the meantime, we did more fence decorating, and went to openings at Scranch in Wonder Valley and the Mojave Desert Land Trust. Lots of artists from LA out here. One day pop-up installation below is by an engineer from Seattle.
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.