Every year, it seems, there is another addition to the farm. Another task arises because of a discovery or an adaptation to surroundings and events. Of course, 2020 was a spectacular shit show for so many people. It put many in danger and it exposed how completely inept people are at governance. It also showed how resistant folks can be to being resilient in the face of adversity and change. My whole life has been something of a fight. This hasn’t been difficult. In fact, I found it pretty interesting. I will post a bit more about how it all affected me in a different post, but suffice it to say that I have been affirmed in all that we do and all that we’ve done to get to this point in our JAZ Farm life. Last year tested the farm and her inhabitants’ mettle. From a major power outage around this time last year, to coming home from school and work and having to work and study at home, to a farmer man who tried to keep all these cats herded when it affected the returnees pretty badly for awhile (Perhaps a more precise phrase would be “disoriented them for awhile.). A crisis will expose the cracks in one’s character pretty explicitly and ours were no different. However, We are all here. We are all still alive. We are all much smarter for the experience; and I must say that if this Bat Bug were to go away, my life wouldn’t change much. We are so fortunate to have had foresight into the fragility of our society – from a medical stand point, a failed economic standpoint, and from an environmental one as well. We were able to not only feed ourselves, but carry on with our lives and also provide for some time down the road (which by the looks of things will be needed). The JAZ Farm homestead and farm did it’s job and we know that we can continue on pretty much indefinitely if we keep on tweaking the issues we find simply from the experience of living it.
The Bat Bug and Economic crisis not withstanding (which we have yet to fully experience), one of the real lessons learned, which is becoming more and more urgent here, is the use of water and how to acquire it. As well as the fires in California, thousands of acres burned here in Colorado this year because of a most severe drought (which continues currently and, of which, climate models show could turn much of the Southwest and Mid-West into a Sahara). This was particularly sad because most of the fire damage was in my old backcountry stomping grounds when I was still able to be a modern Jeremiah Johnson. The devastation is unreal. It will be decades before those scars (if they ever will be – we could see it again this summer) can be healed. We had almost no snow this past winter, virtually no rain this past summer (which included the first recorded “Haboob” dust storm in Colorado and decided to go straight through our place) and so far this winter has only seen dustings of snow. Every footstep here makes a dust poof and larger winds now brown the skies out because of the bare dry topsoil blowing away. All this means that industrial farmers will have to pump more and more water from the aquifers and with all the new homes going up in Colorado, wells are now having to be dug down to 900 feet. On top of the drought, the heat has been climbing with 2020 being the hottest year on record and I mean to tell you, weeks at a time in heat north of 100 degrees F is no picnic if you are out every day trying to keep your food source (garden) productive. As I read in one of my desert agriculture books, a farmer in New Mexico said, “The rain is dying”.
So that is where the title for this posting came from. The Corona crisis instilled it even further for me. It is a realistic understanding and a coming to grips with the fact that all has changed permanently. Nothing is ever going to “go back to normal” so that everyone can continue on with Walmart TV’s and plastic crap, consuming as though it was the only real reason to exist. You either adapt or you suffer and I pity those (which seem to be most) who cannot see it, will not see it, or choose to ignore it. Mother Earth is in charge and I think that only those involved with trying to heal her have any hope for longevity (Understanding full well that it might be way too late). The world is in hospice and living with a species with no Erete (Greek for Virtue) or Wisdom, seems pretty much destined to continue to become an orbiting cinder. Now some may agree with this idea or not, but despite it all, one needs to live. Evidently, the energy vibrating this dream state into existence seems to have me be doing this farm project to the exclusion of much else. So that is what I do. In the end, it might all end up being but one scene in a cosmic play, but if that is what I have to do that is what I have to do. I guess I will continue on until all of me is used up. At least I will be able to say unequivocally, that I tried. That might not matter either, but it gets me up in the morning when not much else can.
So the wake up of 2020 had to do with awakening to the desert dogging my heels (as Derrick Jensen said). According to many, many desert dwellers I have researched and read about, it is all about basically two things: Earthworks (the shaping of the land being used) and, of course, water. The earthworks are designed to slow down water flow and keep it on the property in useful form for as long as possible. Every drop of water should be caught as high up on the property as possible (in our case mostly roofs), diverted to the growing areas and then infused into the soil through the use of swales and waffle pattern gardens all using mulch, cover crops, trees and grasses to hold the water in place. Catching the water involves plumbing. This means water catchment systems to hold water until needed that come off of the roofs of the Garage, Barn and House, as well as the horse run-in shed that will be built in the future. All of this gets plumbed to ponds, large water barrels, as well as simply into the swales where the actual vegetation is planted. Through a combination of earthworks, water catchment, proper “guilding” of plant groups to utilize the shade from trees and bushes and the water retention of leafy ground cover, a veritable “Food Forest” to coin a Permaculture term can be built in a semi-arid climate. By using perennial plants as much as possible, as long as moisture can be used efficiently, the land can be healed not only to produce food for the homestead inhabitants, it will also create habitat for the non-human species that are being displaced as we continue to destroy our only living planet. So if the universe is saying that this is the rock that I must break myself upon…. at least I’m not in Bermuda Shorts on an electric tricycle at some human Romper Room or wearing a pink polo shirt with Khaki’s riding around on a golf cart while white pebble smacking myself into oblivion. In other words, trying not to add to the problem, even if there is no real fix. You have to draw your line in the sand somewhere and mine is in real sand. The picture posted at the beginning of this blog is the area where we will be working. This is just east of the conventional vegetable garden and greenhouse and on the south side of the house. It is a bit over an acre, dry as a popcorn fart, and has the perfect slight slope to aid in water flow. As this is now the Permaculture/Regenerative Agriculture part of the endeavor and we are pretty self-sufficient in most other respects, this will be the painting I hope to create on the canvas that all of the other farm structure building created. It is now time to be able to do what I was born for – biology, husbandry, growth, and being in nature – even if I have to get her to accept the invitation. Trust me when I tell all you easterners, you gotta really turn on the charm to get anything to grow here. Mother Nature needs to be enticed. I gotta be on my best flirtatious behavior otherwise all we will have is weeds and thorns. The ultimate ambition is to go from hell-scape to Oasis, then sit and watch the bees. While not knowing the future of course, this is likely to be the last project of my life. I say that because there is literally no end to it and as I see it, there is no other real reason for me to do anything else. I could spend all my time hand wringing about the collective insanity that everyone sees on those infernal techno-devices, but, in the end, what does that actually accomplish other than allowing sociopaths to invade your psyche and ultimately your peace and your life? Go do something. Don’t let them steal your life. You see, JK Rowling knew this: Dementors exist and they will steal your soul.
The next lesson that was learned had to do with proper land management; the positive and negative effects of grazing livestock. Our donkeys and female goats have about a 3 acre pasture to roam around on and munch on. The goats love to go after the weeds and the donkeys are primarily grass eaters. So it makes for a good combination. Over the past few years that worked out fine. They would keep the field from being overgrown and the prairie plants and weeds would come back strong in the spring. This past year that was not the case. The pasture went brown almost immediately in the spring. Donkeys and goats graze virtually all day. The result this past summer was a pasture that was grazed down practically to dirt. In a regenerative model this is pretty bad. For instance, the roots of grass only go as deep as the plant is tall. If it is grazed down to a nub the plant gets very weak and, in many cases, can’t recover. I fear that this is the case here. Because we don’t have a huge flock of critters out there it didn’t seem that it would be an issue. Then of course, we plunged into drought and smoke filled skies and voila….. something new to deal with. What we need to do is to be able to “rotationally graze” the animals (Oh ya, our boy goats have another pasture that was originally our old vegetable garden – about an acre or acre and a half – and it is on it’s way as well). Rotational grazing means only allowing the animals onto single divided paddocks and then moving them to other paddocks so the previous ones can grow back. The animals graze and poop. They are often followed by poultry that scratches the poop about, and the paddock provides food and fertilization thus helping to improve the overall health of the land.
I am afraid that this year, that whole pasture is going to have to be reseeded in order for it to not become a thistle field. That means buying seed, borrowing a friend’s seeder and then keeping the animals off of the pasture for most of next summer. There-in lies the rub. We don’t have another pasture to run them on. We have plenty of land to accommodate them, but not the fencing to hold them. Sooooooooooo, this winter’s project (again) has been, you guessed it, fencing. I have set to task of fencing in another 4 acre pasture on our north field. It will look really cool when completed and provide all sorts of room for grazing (It won’t have a barn in the middle of it.). But it is still 1500 feet of wooden posts, metal T-posts, H and Corner Braces, fence pulling, blisters, exhaustion, and yes…. cussing the likes of which navy sailors haven’t heard. Of course I am having to hand pound the posts in because the fancy gas powered pounder I got for Christmas destroyed itself after 6 posts. So it remains to be seen if I get the rest of the posts in before it gets back from whence it came for repairs. I make really nice fences but I can’t say there is anything more that I hate doing. It is painful, time consuming drudgery…. and yes, it is all apart of that whole “This seems to be what the universe is telling me to do” rot. So fences be going up. I am now just seeing it as part of the whole Oasis project. The fences need to exist so the land can stop being degraded. But damn does it hurt.
There it is. Discovery and necessity become the mother of construction. Improvise, adapt, overcome and even when you think you will wind up in a wheelchair, revel in the accomplishments and don’t be afraid to feel proud. I think we will name this the Sam Todaro memorial fence. Zina’s dad passed on this last week just while I was getting the fence project underway. We will miss you Sam…. the old Sicilian farmer would have loved this place. “That Jonathan…..”
Let the last great project of my life commence. If anything, I don’t have to go to the city – Too much to do, too many idiots. I think I am quite ready for the painting to finally begin. Nothing could be any weirder than 2020 right? 2021 said, “Oh ya….. hold my beer.”
Go plant something.