Stay-at-home . . .
I listened anxiously a couple days ago as Arizona’s Governor Ducey extended the stay-at-home order for the Coronavirus pandemic through May 15. For the past 30 days, this has been a familiar piece of legislation limiting the number of people in a building, social distancing, and leaving home only for necessary items.
I’m 62-years old, and I’ve never seen anything like this. The past few months have been eye-opening. Certainly, I’m not the only person re-thinking life.
As a community of people, we tend to get stuck in everyday living—work, school, church, and friends, forgetting that life can turn on a dime for any number of reasons. A pandemic, war, or ecological collapse. “That is not possible,” we tell ourselves.
Now, we know it is.
So, what do we do about it?
For me, the pandemic brings up old familiar feelings of displacement I’ve had all my life.
“I don’t belong here, in the city.” So, I move to acreage outside of town and plant an organic garden.
“I don’t belong here.” Now, however, I don’t mean this place. Instead, I should have been born in another time— some earlier century, perhaps. So, I join a historical re-enactment group to help me connect with the past. I might discover ancient methods of weaving, cooking, or how to make mead.
Many of my feelings of displacement also center around the desert I see from my back door and the fearful changes that continue to take place.
When I moved to my land thirty years ago, my objective was to learn how to grow vegetables in my garden. This sounds simple but was a struggle from the start. Arizona is a low desert with routine summer temperatures in excess of 110 degrees. Plants stress and die, even if they have water.
Six years ago, I took a series of classes leading to the Certified Master Gardener Program with Maricopa County. It was an information-packed 17 weeks of learning that certainly did raise my knowledge level. I’ve been volunteering with this delightful group ever since.
But I still struggled with getting my vegetables to grow. My home is located only a few miles from the Gila River Pima Reservation. I wondered, “How did the ancestors of these people grow crops?” I soon learned they had special arid-adapted seeds passed down from one generation to another. But that wasn’t all.
Through my research, it became apparent that the ancient ones lived in an entirely different physical environment than the sparse desert I see from my back door 200 years later.
The Gila River no longer flows across the land. Marshes once thrived along the riverbank, providing refuge to a wide variety of water birds. Great mesquite forests, called bosques, also ran for miles on either side. The roots of the trees reached directly into the water table, allowing them to grow to gargantuan size. In fact, one of the most expansive bosques in the world grew in the Southwest Valley near Tolleson situated behind Monument Hill beside the current raceway.
Vast stretches of six-foot-tall grass ran for miles on each side of the river. Sonoran antelope fed and played among the tall tufts.
There was so much vegetation around the river that pioneers, traveling by horse, often could not find the bank to cross.
Ground water bubbled up into thousands of springs, each supporting its own unique fish and snail population.
All these are gone.
Ground water that was once a few feet below the surface is now 500 feet down…1,000 feet…1,500 feet…or more. Sometimes the porous aquifer collapses, never to hold water again.
I’ve never been involved with ecological issues or a political activist. Instead, I’ve sought a quiet life on a hobby farm. But even I can see something is terribly wrong.
And developers continue to build houses. Farmers must feed these new residents, so more virgin land is converted to irrigate fields. To supply homes and fields with water, the groundwater is pumped. There are few laws regulating this practice.
The damage they are causing is called desertification. It is not a sign of bad things to come but a sign that bad things have already happened, and the situation continues to worsen.
When the average person looks at the Gila River bed, they often don’t understand the problem. They see a dry gulch with flood-stripped sides, overgrown with non-native Tamarisk. They often think this is normal. “Arizona is a desert, right?”
What’s going to happen to my grandchildren?
How will they live?
So, you see how trying to answer a simple question:
“How do I grow vegetables in the low desert?”
has led to the more fearful one of:
“How am I going to feed my family without water?”
Not to mention the ethical issue of what is right and wrong when it comes to good stewardship of the desert.
Those of you that know me, are aware that I’ve been working at a slow pace on another book. This one is a fictional story about life as we know it coming to an end as a result of an ecological collapse. (An entirely possible scenario.)
A group of people travel back in time to save the world. It’s set along the Gila River during the time of the Hohokam. Their task is do things right this time: get along with the tribes who are already there and set up a settlement using methods that are sustainable. It’s funny, lighthearted, and informative. In the future, I hope to share excerpts.
Going forward with my website, I’d also like to answer this question: “What are we going to do if the world comes to an end? … or even if it doesn’t.”
I plan to share many methods of living that are self-sustainable, nearly lost or forgotten, or just plain useful.
While you are staying at home during this pandemic, you might check out the following websites and articles:
Arizona Master Gardener Program
Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). (Non-profit. Historical re-creation.)
Ground Water. As you read, be aware this article talks about the past 50 years. Two-hundred years ago, the water level was only a few feet below ground.