on the bad days…

I was thinking of my life 10 years ago. Just 10 years ago. Another lifetime.

I was just past 50 years old. Felt very young. Felt like I was on my way.

Life was full. Lots going on.

My kids were (oh!) 8, 10, 12, 15, 16, 19, 22, and 27. Only one was married. My grandkids were so young. Some weren’t even with us yet.

I was moving full-speed toward a future I thought I knew. I had my wagon hitched to two stars, both men, both unreliable toward me, as it turned out.

One was on the homefront saying he loved me. Saying he was sorry. Saying we’d make it through. He was my lover, my husband, the father of all of those kids. I’d been with him 28 years at that time.

One was on the workfront saying he had a plan to get me tenured. Saying we might be business partners. Saying let’s write books and articles. He was my friend and my boss, essentially. His wife was my friend.

What was I thinking? Entangling myself so totally with two devious men?

I was thinking life was pretty sweet. Mostly. All of those “I’m sorry’s” were being said for a reason. That part was not so sweet. But I shoved that part aside, each time.

There were challenges. But I was used to challenges. There was deception. I was good at denial.

What did I really want 10 years ago?

There was a future I thought I could see that I wanted.

Minus the deception. Minus the bullshit. Minus the little clues I might have noticed, and chose to ignore, pushing on. I cushioned myself with my denial.

When did the facade really begin to crack? Not little cracks that I could easily patch, but the big cracks that ended up bringing it all down?

Which indiscretion, which affair was the breaking point at home? None. None, until the very end.

And at work? At work it came in stages too. Deep disapproval of my PhD program. That set me off-kilter. The words, “you’ll never be full-time” began to put an end to my denial at work. What finally pulled the comforting blanket of denial away from me was being summarily let go from the work I’d trained years to do. Oh, and being so easily replaced. My heart failed, literally, and I was shoved out into the cold on my own. No need to keep me around. No need for any of my skills. No need.

My judgments were so skewed.

At home things moved with subtlety. No, that’s wrong. Things were subtle and shocking at the same time. At home the apologies stopped. The current affair accelerated. Wrapped in my useless sense of shame, I thought I was stupid to miss the progress of a covert affair of four or five years duration. Believe me, that sense of shame is dissipating. It’s useless and not productive, not even attached to reality. Women sometimes feel we have to know everything that’s going on in our relationships even when we couldn’t possibly. I’ve been shamed by a few people who think I failed in my marriage because I didn’t see it coming. Let those people try raising eight kids, working from home, working from work. Let them try finishing two graduate degrees and begin a new sort of work direction. Let them try, let them work at sorting it all out, and then let them go fuck themselves.

At home, the coldness leaked out of his words, his attitudes, his eyes.

I was desperate.

Desperate how? To leave and to not leave. To make things right somehow. All at once.

There was the night he stood in a restaurant and insulted every person in my PhD program including my dissertation chair. That’s a story in itself.

Sure, I should have expected it.

And then there was the night he walked away. Away from me. Away from the kids. He let me go to work and he left, refusing to talk to the younger kids who were at home.

Eyes that were icy blue. Ice cube eyes, I thought. Ice cubes surrounding black holes.

I should be glad I escaped a black hole. Only part of my soul was sucked away into that void. Part of me was left here. The hoped-for future of a certain kind of happy family life, work worth doing – all stripped away.

But. I’m still here. Still standing, as we say. Still able to move into some kind of a future.

Some days I feel the shift. The adjustment to this new life. Sure, so much to be thankful for. And some days I feel lost. That’s the kind of day I woke up to. So much water under the bridge.

People say: let it go. I do that.

I don’t think about going back. But on the lost days, I stand here, puzzled.

Sure I have plans. I’m moving along. I’m loving. I’m letting it go.

These days, that’s the worst of it.

What’s the worst of it? Feeling lost. Being financially scared. Being vocationally disillusioned, deeply. Being older. And not much wiser but with a peace I had only rarely known as a married woman.

And when the bad day passes, how does this all shake out? Feeling found, feeling newborn. Knowing I can make it through somehow. Being older is just what it is. Maybe not much wiser but with a peace I had only rarely known as a married woman. Knowing when I’m happy, I’m not being resented.

So it could be worse, couldn’t it?

That desert moon, was it just last week?

That desert moon, was it just last week?

Posted in disability, family, gratitude, gray divorce, Life changes, resilience | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

thoughts on gardening in a desert in drought

Today I gathered and spread pine needle mulch for some of my plants that are surviving drought-in-the-desert.

Pine needle mulch helps the soil in some places in my yard retain moisture, protects plants and their roots from the intense sunlight, decomposes slowly releasing nutrients. I’ve heard the needles called pine straw when it’s used for mulch. It makes the soil a bit acidic which is a plus to any plants in this part of the desert. It makes a nice protective mulch in the winter too. I have a moderate supply because stone pines grow pretty well in this part of the high desert. I don’t have enough to spread it over the vegetable gardens, so I earmark the plants that it helps the most. Today that would be the Desert Wild Grapes, Roger’s Red grapes (they are still experimental here), and young elderberry shrubs. Tomorrow I’ll put the mulch around as many strawberry plants as I can manage. The rest of the strawberries will get more as the pine needles accumulate. Later in the season, I’ll give another dose to my woodland violets. Yep, I know they shouldn’t thrive here but along with several lilacs (possibly my favorite flowers, lilacs and violets), I’ve found ways to create microclimates that make them happy. And that makes me happy.

Desert Wild Grape

Desert Wild Grape

Roger's Red Grape, Vitis californica

Roger’s Red Grape, Vitis californica

Asian Pear

Asian Pear

Mission Fig, still surviving and bearing fruit.

Mission Fig, still surviving and bearing fruit.

As for vegetables, I’ve changed my thinking about how I’m going to grow them. Next year (unless I change my mind) I’m putting garden veggies into 5-gallon buckets with holes drilled in the bottom. Those I’ll gather around the patio. I’m devoting my prepared raised beds to herbs, my friend Bonnie’s high desert-adapted cherry tomatoes, and certain experiments. I’m going to continue planting chiltepines under mesquite shrubs/trees. In the small orchard, I’ll replace trees that die off in the cold winters and the hot, dry summers with native shrubs, shrubs or trees from similar semi-arid parts of the world, or only trees that have a proven track record for thriving here.

Elderberry, finally flowering this year.

Elderberry, finally flowering this year.

Manzanita flowers.  Maybe some fruit this year?

Manzanita flowers. Maybe some fruit this year?

The drought, if nothing, else, is pushing me out of my comfort zone with my gardening. I have always felt like an experimental gardener. In fact, that’s what I’ve been since I moved inland to the mountains and desert. But until this point in the drought, I was able to maintain confidence in regular (but water-saving) food gardening. The needle has clicked over into a new zone here. Did someone say hotter, drier, and windier?


garden kitchen window

I’ve got a garden/farm journal that was depressing me a bit over the summer, until today. Today I realized just how many plants are doing quite well in the harsh Mojave conditions. That’s what I need to build on. The drought has forced me beyond my thoughts about “how we can grow food in a semi-arid land” into a place where I am happy to consider a different kind of growing altogether. A different growing paradigm, as we used to say in grad school. And, you know, it isn’t necessarily a different paradigm at all. Most of the time it’s a different paradigm from east-of-the-Mississippi gardening but gardening informed by wiser, more ancient, very local traditions. Indigenous traditions. All the respect for anything that grows well here is due to those farming/gardening traditions.

Finally germinated, better late than never, chiltepine growing well under honey mesquite tree.

Finally germinated, better late than never, chiltepine growing well under honey mesquite tree.

And just because we like zucchini, we’ll do it differently than my friends in the Midwest do it.

Last year, 2014, zucchini in December.

Last year, 2014, zucchini in December.

Posted in agroecology, climate change, dryland restoration, ethnobotany, Nature, resilience, sustainable agriculture | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

emotional violence

Apparently we women aren’t talking about the devastation of being played as much as we could.

We would do well to share this kind of pain more, lest we think we’re alone when we are not.

To this day, I don’t know just how long I was deceived and used. I have a better idea than I did four years ago, but, really, I suppose I’ll never know for sure.

The article above is about as visceral a description of what it can feel like as any I’ve read. It certainly fits my own experience.

Here you go. What one woman said: “He created a fantasy persona for himself: the little boy lost. He uses it to trick women. And he targets the clever ones. He uses his looks to deceive women – not a good look but a hurt, vulnerable look. I used to think there was something more to it with him but now I think he’s just a piece of rubbish.”

I’ve experienced the little boy lost more than once. One man I lived with for some years and another I was married to for decades. I’ve seen this apparition in the workplace as well.

I’ve done my best to sidestep these individuals in the workplace and, honestly, I’m not seeing anyone these days, four years on from the moment my world was shattered into a million pieces. I suppose I’m forever going to hold a piece of my heart and myself close and away from any person I chose to see. I think that’s probably okay.

Think about it.

If someone made unilateral decisions that affected your health, financial security, and children’s well-being, if they deceived you (even in the presence of colleagues, therapists, children, grandchildren), if they physically and emotionally abused you over the course of a long relationship, if they exploited you sexually, if they left you and then began living with another lover, and then they proceeded to claim they were the victim of a divorce “they never wanted,” and they told a very mis-matched set of stories to some other people, including your own children, would you be content to say relationships are complicated and slather on the forgiveness for the gaslighting and other abuse?

I’m up to my eyeballs with people saying “forgive.”

Whatever I’m doing is helping me recover from a long term situation of abuse. If someone wants to call it forgiveness that’s fine. I call it living life. I’m quite done with people telling me that forgiveness is for me, not for him. I don’t need to forgive. I don’t even need to let go.

Fact is, I’m not all that angry anymore.

The water has gone under the bridge and it’s been flowing on downstream for quite a while.

20 Oct 04 013

It feels good to NOT define myself in terms of a partner. Through my entire life, I’ve rarely given myself the space to look at myself outside of some kind of primary relationship, aka “a partner.”

Life as a mother doesn’t define me completely either. Our relationships with our offspring are so dynamic that change in those relationships feels normal.

All of the “shoulds” encapsulated in my marriage became a trap. It may not be that way for you. I’m glad for you.

By the time I was able to end my marriage, I was living on a daily basis with disrespect, deception, and cruelty. I could see power being wielded over me by all kinds of expectations, including sexual expectations.

Coercive sex takes many forms in a woman’s life.

What’s life -affirming can get lost.

That water flowing downstream? I’m there. Plenty of debris has been left behind. I’m still here. I’m flowing on.

Posted in family, gray divorce, Life changes, resilience | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

drought, wildfire, and burning (freeway) bridges

The very dry summer of 2014 turned into the dry fall of 2014, just as the very dry summer of 2013 became the dry winter of 2013.

The very dry winter of 2014 became the dry spring of 2015 and now we’ve hit the very dry summer of 2015.

California’s in a severe drought. That’s news that isn’t news anymore.

Almost a decade ago, The UNIPCC predicted increasing and more severe wildfires for all of the western states. They also predicted unpredictability. What does that mean? The upshot is that climate forcing is going to bring extreme weather situations everywhere. Their most recent report talks about severe climatic events across every ocean and on every continent. Urban, rural, everywhere, all environments seem to be dealing with something horrific. Of course, poor people are going to feel the impact more and more suddenly than anyone. Deaths up; food security down. Coastal flooding is a fact of life in many parts of the world now, even creating “climate refugees” in some parts of the world.

We can already see differences in weather-disaster impacts upon rich and poor, young and old (and very young), healthy and sick, and men and women.

We have seen killer heat waves in Europe, terrible and widespread wildfires in Australia and the United States, severe droughts around the world, with associated drying up of Pleistocene aquifers, Earth’s precious groundwater.

We’ve seen flooding across the globe with parts of Asia and Africa extremely hard-hit. Record-breaking and often unexpected flooding has been occurring in the United States as well.

I think about this stuff a lot…maybe because I’ve studied it most of my adult life. I don’t particularly want to think about it. Maybe I’d rather think about beautiful fields of wildflowers or the sunset or the ocean with tides rolling in.

Even when I was doing lots of field archaeology, I had to consider it. As a paleoethnobotanist, I had to look at human subsistence patterns. How can you do that, write about it, and not extrapolate into what’s going on today? Or what the future may look like?

This weekend wildfire has been on my mind.

At the risk of exaggerating a bit, my town is on fire. The photo below was taken several miles from my place.

My son's friend's backyard, yesterday.

My son’s friend’s backyard, yesterday.

My town isn’t exactly a town, yet to anyone who lives here, well yes, it is. It’s the town we live in. It’s not incorporated; it’s a large tract of semi-rural county land in the southwestern Mojave Desert.

This happened on Interstate 15, less than 20 miles from my home.

Be sure to watch the video of the fire jumping Interstate 15, complete with exploding gas tanks and at least a score of burned out cars and two burned up semis. I couldn’t get it to embed in this post; it’s worth watching, it says a lot about the era of wildfires we’ve entered. Hollywood couldn’t improve on the imagery.

All of that action was less than 20 miles from my little farm. At one point, the fire looked like it was in our backyard. We could periodically see flames until the smoke covered everything. The fire line, I think, was maybe 10 miles away by yesterday evening.

View from Rainshadow Farm by Erin.

View from Rainshadow Farm by Erin.

My property was not in danger, but people near me were packing in case of evacuation. We were on the north side of the evacuation zone.

North fire sun

This was a very, very fast moving fire.

It was in chaparral which is a plant community that is specifically fire-adapted. Chaparral burns by nature. It needs to burn to keep growing. Some of the most beautiful places in southern California are covered with chaparral plants. People want to build houses there. We’re in a severe drought. Stands to reason that this might happen.

Still, it’s horribly fearful and tragic.

Another photo by Erin.

Another photo by Erin.

The UNIPCC continues to say increasing wildfires in the US West and other arid and semi-arid parts of the world are part of our new normal.

Continual wildfire.

I’ve been wondering since this current drought became apparent whether we might not enter a time of continual wildfire. Will fire season spread across the calendar and just become an ever-present risk in parts of California?

The place I’ve been calling home for over 30 years is seriously understudied. I’ve seen that as an archaeologist, as a drylands farmer, and in every way I could possibly see it.

Those of us who have been drawn, for our various reasons, to live here find one another and cluster. We may have nothing in common beyond living in this rather wild place, but we look at each other and already feel like we know something about the other person. It’s probably an illusion, but we entertain it.

We live in the midst of some huge presence. 25,000 square miles of endless sky, blowing dust, continual wind, wildfire in the hills, weird plants, and howling coyotes.

At night the stars spin over us.

The night sky can make me delirious, even after all of this time.

In the daylight sometimes it can feel as though there is nothing but us and that huge bowl of a sky. And the ravens.

Erin's raven.

Erin’s raven.

Sometimes the winds trouble me. I say it. Some of my older kids say it. Other old timers say it. (God, when did I become an old timer?)

The winds have increased. They blow more often and they are stronger. There is a new normal for the winds in the southwestern Mojave. New residents can’t see it. Meteorologists and climatologists don’t often talk about it.

What is this tiny piece of knowledge worth, really? The winds in the Mojave have increased in strength and duration? Not much, unless you deal with them in a hands-on way on a daily basis.

So that’s that.

I’ve spent nearly 35 years living here and I’ve gained nearly 35 years worth of local knowledge.

I continue to wonder whether I might want to leave.

I’ve said it before. A lot.

I tend to say it a lot during the hot months. During fire season.

It’s not an easy choice. So much of my life has been here. This indecision reminds me of my marriage. In this case, there’s a big difference. I doubt the desert will make the decision for me. I’m going to have to decide.

The desert is honest with me, that part is different, too.

I’m not very good at voluntary endings. I’m not inclined to be a bridge burner.

But the desert isn’t asking me to burn any bridges.

I finally know what a burned bridge looks like. I’m beginning to understand what it feels like. Well, more or less. And maybe I’m ready to leave.

I can’t really say right now.

Talk to me when the fire’s out. Better, talk to me when summer is finally over.

Posted in climate change, community, fire season, Nature, resilience | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

farming the desert?

No. Not really.

Yesterday I received a couple of messages on Facebook about “farming the desert.” I think it may have been because I have been posting internet links concerning California’s current and long-lasting drought. More than one inquiry that is suspicious of my activities out here in the wilds of the southern Mojave was enough to get me writing.

I am not any kind of typical farmer. I do not “plow up the desert.” I do not have an income stream from this place. I do not waste precious resources, knowingly or wantonly. Some nights I may be in the shower too long, but, hey, am I the only one? ;)

When it comes to the land I’m living on, I take as much care as I can. What I do is experimental agroecology.

We use the least amount of water that we can. We make changes regularly. I often think about leaving this land because it’s not easy. Maybe some day I will, but for now I’m here and this is what I do.

I’ve lived in this region for 34 years, in the high desert for 25 of those years. Before that I lived in a small southern California mountain town and before that the South Bay stretch of southern California. Before that, I was embedded in various landscapes east of the Mississippi. I’ve been a gardener nearly all of my life. I’ve been an extreme gardener for 25 years.

The Mojave Desert cannot sustain farming in any sense that most Americans think about it. In my part of the desert there is one operation that uses sound ecological approaches to grow organic meat commercially. Those folks do more with less than anyone I know and they produce a phenomenally healthy, ecologically friendly, and healthful product.

What I do is experiment, along with provide small amounts of food for myself and my family. I don’t raise any meat, but I do raise chickens for eggs. I have open-house farm days to discuss and sometimes experiment with ultra-small-scale food production. And we do other things at rainshadow Farm that are detailed on the Rainshadow Farm Facebook pages.

You could call what we do small-scale (or micro-scale) household gardening with some extras…in an arid place.

Like many of my friends, I have created and nurtured land spaces that do not invade the desert. In fact, we seek to maintain as much of the high desert ecology as we can. Here, at my place, I’m engaged with exploring the small scale use of desert native plant foods. I also do native plant restoration.

Vitis girdiana, desert wild grape: these used to grow along the Mojave River bed, probably do still in some places.

Vitis girdiana, desert wild grape: these used to grow along the Mojave River bed, probably do still in some places.

Elderberry:  grows wild all around us. Asian pear and apple in the background. In the far background, a cactus food garden.

Elderberry: grows wild all around us. Asian pear and apple in the background. In the far background, a cactus food garden.

Arctostaphylos glauca, Bigberry Manzanita:  a chaparral shrub we grow here.

Arctostaphylos glauca, Bigberry Manzanita: a chaparral shrub we grow here.

Honey Mesquite: part of our mesquite cluster. Planning a mesquite grove and hoping for a Vitamix blender to process the pods and seeds into flour.

Honey Mesquite: part of our mesquite cluster. Planning a mesquite grove and hoping for a Vitamix blender to process the pods and seeds into flour.

I have a few garden plots for seasonal vegetables, medicinal herbs, and flowers I love, including flowers that can also provide food (sunflowers of all kinds, nasturtiums, and in a microclimate woodland violets).





I keep a micro-scale orchard, experimenting with low-water fruit trees from arid parts of the world. I plan to do some tree grafting with native California fruit tree rootstocks. I use very little water in these endeavors. This is a problem for some plants and when it is I replace those plants with something else until I find varieties that thrive in the high desert with very little water.

Asian Pear: grows well in semi arid regions with some altitude in parts of Asia and happy here.  I've been growing Asian Pears for 25 years in this part of the high desert.

Asian Pear: grows well in semi arid regions with some altitude in parts of Asia and happy here. I’ve been growing Asian Pears for 25 years in this part of the high desert.

Mission Fig: best fig I've found for  our hot, dry summers and cold winters.

Mission Fig: best fig I’ve found for our hot, dry summers and cold winters.

Vitis californica "Roger's Red": not as study at our altitude as Vitis girdiana, but it still can do well.

Vitis californica “Roger’s Red”: not as study at our altitude as Vitis girdiana, but it still can do well.

Many of my friends do the same thing. We collaborate because it’s the best way to learn about growing a bit of food in a harsh landscape. I can understand why I might be suspect because I live in one of the most arid parts of drought-stricken California and some people want to find “who’s to blame.”

My friend Bonnie's high desert adapted cherry tomatoes.  Grow these using Bonnie's technique and you may have tiny, delicious cherry tomatoes that grow almost like perennials.

My friend Bonnie’s high desert adapted cherry tomatoes. Grow these using Bonnie’s technique and you may have tiny, delicious cherry tomatoes that grow almost like perennials.

So that’s our story.

Those of us who do this are searching for what works and what is the most ecologically sound way to do these things. Many of us began farming/gardening searching for ways to enhance our food budgets and to eat home-grown in ways that don’t damage our environment. If I lived in the Midwest or Mid-south for that matter, no one would bother to question me about my potentially wasteful water use. I’m not offended, really. It’s more like — if you trip my switch I’ll talk about this forever. So, please, trip my switch.

Posted in agroecology, climate change, dryland restoration, Nature, resilience, socioecological intelligence, sustainability education, sustainable agriculture | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

small losses

So I mourned the loss of my marriage. And maybe even more, I mourned the loss of my hopes for the marriage.

On and off, over the last couple of years I’ve thought about how much loss there has been in my life.

It’s hard to talk about it without feeling as if I might be inviting my friends and family to a pity party.

That’s not exactly what it is. It’s more a realization that, yes, my life has contained an awful lot of loss. I don’t know why. I’ve stopped trying to figure out if there is a why. It is what it is. And it was what it was. From childhood on into old age.

That’s where I live now, right? Old age? Even if 60 is the new 40.

Really. Come on. It’s best to call it what it is.

And loss. Grief. It’s universal. The Buddha told a grieving mother to bring him a handful of mustard seeds from homes where there had been no loss, no grief. We know how that ended.

Sorrows, fear, distress, they’re real. We all deal with them. We are all in this together.

Lately, I’ve been feeling a strange sense of emptiness wash over me. Emptiness with something warm and hopeful inside.

In fact, maybe it isn’t emptiness at all; maybe it’s that sense of wide-open freedom I keep talking about.

If I sit quietly with it, listening, I know it is certainly not going to drown me. I’m so certain of this.

At the beach yesterday, I felt as if I was being lifted up by all the elements around me. Floating above the wide and storm-washed Pacific.

Moments like this, I sense that there is something so delicious around the corner.


Posted in disability, gray divorce, Life changes, resilience, spiritual ecologies | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

running its course

I see that walking away from my marriage, although I didn’t want to do it initially, is completely in my best interest.

Really, it was my ex who walked away.  He wanted a new life, in a new place, with a new person.  And even with all of that, he didn’t want a divorce.  He was resolute in that, mainly for his own financial reasons.  My own act of  “walking away” turned out to be the act of filing for the divorce.  He was angry about it.It was scary for a while. And now it’s done.

During the last four years, I’ve spent plenty of time thinking I’d failed or we’d failed.  That is beside the point.  The relationship is gone and  I’m still here.  I have to apply strength and courage to my walk into the future. And at my age, in my circumstances, the future I’m talking about is close. It may be next year, next week, or it may be the next twelve hours.

Whatever the relationship was that formed my marriage – it’s run its course.

That trail has ended.

“Trail’s End,”  I saw a ranch high up in the Marianas with a big sign saying that.

That trail has ended.  Now, I feel like I’m standing in a meadow with an expanse of flowers all around me, after a long climb up a pretty steep trail. The sun is warm. The wind is fragrant. It’s a living dream. I’m ready to move out into that field.

field of yellow  flowers and yucca and rocks

field of yellow and purple flowers2

Posted in gray divorce, Life changes, resilience, spiritual ecologies | Tagged , , | 6 Comments