drought in the desert

The very dry summer of 2014 has turned into the dry fall of 2014.

It’s the desert, it’s supposed to be dry, they say.

When you’ve lived in the high desert for decades, you begin to think in terms of dry and then dry.  And then even drier.

In my yard, the figs are drying up. Last year, so many figs!

It’s been a bad year for the orchard. It started out well.  Plenty of apricots and the other fruit trees looked good. A good start.


Then came the winds. And more winds — winds that knock the young fruit off the trees and nothing to be done about it. As the trees get older, they’ll shelter the fruit more.

The apricot that yielded so much fruit is my oldest fruit tree, besides the nectarine. The nectarine fed the birds this year because the fruit was plentiful but very dry.

There’s only so much water I want to use in a drought. When that fails, I move on to planting new plants. More herbs.

Note to self: begin extra heavy mulching of all orchard trees and fruiting shrubs.

I’ve noticed that as the hot, dry days are turning into cool dry nights, some of the plants in my yard are having a second springtime. We haven’t had rain, but with some irrigation and the cooler nights, the seasons become confused.


The Lycium berries may come back. The bushes dropped many of their leaves in the dry summer but they are re-spouting.

It’s all terribly unpredictable. It’s always been unpredictable, so this is whatever is beyond unpredictable.

What’s going on outside of our conservatively watered small acreage?

Look what happens in the mountains when it’s dry.


Our southern California mountain forests are overcrowded with trees. We’ve been confusing unhealthy and overcrowded forests with good resource management.

And drought increases the activity of bark beetles in pine forests.

These pines. Bark beetles kill the trees and turn them into flash fuel for fires.


Above, that’s part of the forest close to my house. We go there sometimes.

It’s depressing. So many pine trees are dying.  The dead fall is being cleared out. I suppose that part is good.  And it’s better to look at a clear ridge and the sky than dead trees.

san gabriel hike hillside

I miss the ridges with their trees standing like sentinels.

So farm failure and drought and bark beetles.

I’m working on restoring the greenhouse with the help of some friends. The metal frame was wonderfully constructed by farm day people. It stands, but the plastic has been completely shredded by high desert winds.

The new plans involve cement blocks, mortared with desert adobe, plastic shrink wrap (industrial size), and corrugated roofing panels. Maybe this will stand through more than a season.

Barley is next.

barley grows

There’s a hopefulness in planning any kind of new garden. Maybe the desert will get it. Maybe something beautiful will happen. Maybe there will be some food.

What are you planning this winter? Or planting, if that’s your thing?

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not my friend

I was reading someone’s blog today and she set off a spark that’s turned into a fire of agreement.

She talked about deep betrayal in a way I have only edged up to.

She addressed something out loud that I’d only kept inside the deepest part of my heart.

I suspect it’s because friendships on so many levels mean so much to me.  Friendships with my peers and with their parents, in some cases, got me through my childhood, my adolescence, and beyond. Friendships are still helping me though.

Burning a bridge of friendship is a serious thing for me. I have never done it lightly or easily.

Friendship is sacred. Except when it’s not.

And the “not” is what I have to acknowledge.

I’ve hit a point in my life where I’m not going to mince words. All of the airy fairy, so nice, and so compassionate words aside, someone did this.

I know what someone says.  I didn’t fail someone. Someone made some choices and did this.

If you are related to someone, I can exclude you from this rant. That’s different and I get it. You’re related, it’s okay. I can still love you.


If you aren’t related to someone and chose to be friends with us when we were together and now want to be friends with both of us, forget it.

Ain’t gonna fly. When you made that choice, I lost a friend. That’s all. It’s just that simple.



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I’m looking at master’s students’ course plans. I have two master’s students right now.

They are lovely course plans and I’m looking forward to working with these particular students.

Both students asked about changes of direction in some part of their initial plans. It was nice to let them know that the school and their individual departments are open to those kinds of changes.

So I began to think about my own recent course corrections.

I’m actively downsizing.

I don’t seem to be able to do it quickly enough. I’m impatient about it and being too hard on myself. I suppose I need someone to tell me that these kinds of changes are okay and all happen when the time is right. Or something.

Mostly I hope my course corrections will work themselves into a decently functional life plan.

Does it look like I'm downsizing?

Does it look like I’m downsizing?

Does it really?

Does it really?

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one more long shot

I applied for a job that’s a long shot.

Another one.

It’s a good fit but a long shot.

Best case scenario: full time work.

Worst case scenario: about the same.

Some told me, basically, I’m damaged goods as an archaeologist because of my heart issues.

Someone else has told me that due to my progress I can still work in the field. Don’t worry. Be happy. Be safe.

shovel test pit and stuff

shovel test pit and stuff

My cardiologist thinks we’re all nuts. So. That. But he does think my beautiful, beleaguered, and hard-working heart is recovering nicely. He’s not counting me out for anything.

As the kids say haters will hate. It’s more like mean people will be mean.

The long shot seems as safe and secure as anything.

If the long shot fails, then I hope for more part time work.

Who knows. Maybe that’s the actual best case scenario.

As I submitted this application, I told myself it’s the last one.

The. Last. One.

I told myself I’m done looking for full time work.

I told myself that I’ll cobble together part time jobs somehow. If I have to move to do it, I will.

I doubt I’ll listen to myself.

I don’t doubt that circumstances will move me in some direction. Of course they will. They always do.

I can’t go anywhere until B is done with his soccer years. Everyone here is in agreement about that. Then we’ll see.

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And the mountains.

The Sierra.

Monumental. Legendary.

Land crumpling upon itself.

Folding back, then reaching the sky.

Carrying the ocean up to the sky, its very body transformed.

I’m amazed at the unimaginable pressures that have formed the body of this land. Transformed it from ocean floor to masses of rock in the sky.

This is what I’m seeking, really, every August. This transformed land, resting in shrouds of water vapor. Ocean born.

It’s from the ocean, in every way.

Even those mystery forests beneath their cool and silken mists.

From my land of warm and dry air, scented with sage and pine and creosote, I can sometimes feel the chill breath of a hidden forest pool.

Tiny ferns overhang. Tiny leaves damply transport earth’s cycling waters from the open sky back to the rough substance of the planet. And back to the ocean. Endlessly.

That’s all I want.

hermosa dark

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this heat…

Sometimes I think of the land as it stretches around me, as it spreads across this desert , up across the Tehachapis, down the incline into Bakersfield and beyond.

I can feel it extend itself toward northern California.

It ripples across the gentle hills and those agricultural plains at the center of this land.

I sometimes feel like a bird floating northward, looking down at rough, rocky edges of those hills, at knotted oaks and shrubbery and traces of water, unseasonable. Usually it’s dry stream beds.

It’s the water I like to imagine.

I can feel it, even hear it.

Waters moving soundlessly across the valley floors, dark, through central California. Waters seeping under the ground.


spring and algae

spring and algae

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of wild grapes

Trying a new grape in the back. It’s called Roger’s Red. It’s a hybrid between California wild grape (Vitis californica) and our everyday grape of commerce (Vitis vinifera).

I have already planted the wonderful Mojave wild grape (Vitis girdiana). It has lovely woolly gray-green leaves and the fruit is a small black grape. Any plant with wooly leaves like this is well-adapted to conserving moisture.

desert wild grape

desert wild grape

Foliage of the Roger’s Red is supposed to turn red in the fall. Also may not be the best eating grape since the skin is supposedly bitter.

Still, I imagine the ground squirrels and birds should love it…

And I will find something to do with the fruit.

Roger's red grape.

Roger’s red grape.

I have begun to see RSF as an experiential station as much as an educational center. The workshops are for drylands growing and for all kinds of re-skilling presentations. It’s all practical work.

The experimental stuff is my passion. Talking and writing about it brings me some joy.

I have experimented in the garden since I was nine years old in Ohio.

It’s in my blood.

High desert gardening has become more challenging over the years.

Is it because I’m getting older? Maybe, but I don’t think that’s all of it.

I’ve blogged a lot about climate change. I think that’s what’s happening. Remember the wind? I talk about the wind a lot. It’s a big factor out here.

One thing the wind does is dry out the plants.  And in the high desert, drier plants are not happier plants.

I used to count the plants and fruiting trees that died from our unpredictable hard freezes. I still have to do that. And now I have to count the wind-desiccated plants as well.

I’ve lost two young manzanitas this last year from either/or wind and cold. I’ve had to replace a fig due to the cold. A few other fruit trees in the orchard have been replaced.

I tried propagating trees from branches. You cut a smallish branch and peel back the bark. Then you coat it in rooting hormone and stick it into a pot with soil and vermiculite or peat moss. After several weeks little rootlets should begin to grow. Eventually you can plant these very young saplings in your orchard. I planned to give mine a good start and keep them in that structure I lovingly call a greenhouse (it’s not but that doesn’t stop me from calling it that).

This. Is. My. Greenhouse.

This. Is. My. Greenhouse.

Sadly the wind tore my plastic cover to ribbons over the winter and early spring. That can be fixed.

Sadder yet, ground squirrels ate every single one of my tree starts. See them poking up there in the background before they were devoured?  Apples and apricots and peaches.

One of my friends is a local rancher. She said her success rate with tree starts was about 50%. I felt happy to have a 60% rate of sprouting. Freakin’ ground squirrels took me down a notch. I’ll do it again in a month or so. Meanwhile I’m trying it with manzanita right now.

I’d like to try using our local desert wild almond, Prunus fasciculata as a rootstock for cultivated Prunus species, saving water in this dry climate.

Local desert wild almond.

Local desert wild almond.

RSF apricots.

RSF apricots.

Can you see these grafted?

I’ve heard there’s a wild plum in the Sierras that might work as a rootstock also. Maybe someday, that.

Meanwhile these desert and California grapes. If they flourish, I will incorporate them into a living windbreak for the patio.  Even if they appear to be doing marginally, I will plant some in to my patio windbreak. It’s a different microclimate and the soil is somewhat different. It will be worth a try.

Here’s the plan.

On the south and southeast sides, I want a cover/arbor with grapes and wisteria. I have plenty of commercial grapes and now the local grapes. I have multiple wisteria vines and they transplant very well.

One idea:  4X4s sunk into cement with lattice.

The other idea: use what’s on hand: t-posts woven with creosote branches to support grape and wisteria vines. This I could begin immediately and it would cost less.

Designing and building it will be very therapeutic…Not sure what I want do with the top but I’ll think of something.

This whole production could be turned into an art installation with plants.

Right here. This is the start of the green windbreak.

Right here. This is the start of the green windbreak.

What’s been growing in your world?

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