Clever, Clever God–Part 1, The Pond

The monsoon season is tapering down to a close. It has been a good one for some folks around here, but many of the good downpours seemed to have missed my little corner of the high desert. There were, however, a few good rains in July that did allow my recent earthworks of swales (trenches on contour) and silt traps (water catchments that fill up with silt) a chance to show their worth. Notice I didn’t say ponds. Ponds are generally not practical in the desert, since they are such a big source of evaporation (loss) of precious water to the hot, dry air. There are ways, however, to get ponds to be more compatible with arid environments; for example, one can shade a pond with trees, man made structures, or aquatic plants to minimize evaporation from both the sun and wind. And a small wind protected and shaded pond can provide much needed drinking water for animals of all kinds. I have a small drinking basin set on my property for wildlife that is connected to my roof system, so it fills up every time there is even the slightest rain. Maybe some day I will expand this into a larger system, but I have to be careful not to create something that the wildlife learn to depend on, only to have it dry up in a lean rain year.

So at this stage of things, I am focusing on the simplest method of capturing water in a desert–encouraging it to slow, sink and spread into the soil. But sometimes things happen that we don’t expect.

Swales with water
Some swales below the house after a good storm.

For a short time after these rains, I did have pools of precious water dotted around the property. But what surprised and delighted me was that the night after the first major storm, I heard the sounds of frogs! What? This is a desert! Where did frogs come from?

Well, it turns out that God had many examples of Her cleverness to show me this season. Apparently there are a few species of native desert frogs that can survive long periods of dry conditions by burying themselves and hibernating in the mud, even as the surface soil completely dries up. And when there is enough rain to re-saturate the soil and create pools of water, they come out and start croaking in order to attract their mates. They then mate and lay eggs in one of these ephemeral ponds with the chance that the water will stay long enough for their eggs to hatch into polliwogs and then into mature enough frogs that can again bury themselves into the soil for the next suitable rain events. What a system!

So as all the other swales and silt traps slowly seeped into the thirsty earth, one pond remained. I knew that this particular site had lots of sticky clay to help seal it up, and it had captured some water last year too, even before I had work done to its berm this year. And sure enough this is where I first saw the polliwogs.  What a delight!

pond full
The pond after the July rains.

But I wondered, what could they possibly have to eat? I researched and found that they generally eat algae, but there was no algae in the pond. There was nothing—just mud. So I had the thought to throw some things into the pond to possibly provide a source of food or at least habitat for the new residents. I had a few particularly healthy weeds in my Watson Wick that I let grow huge because I didn’t know what they were, and they seemed like a cross between Alfalfa (lucern) and Amaranth—both nutritional plants—so I let them grow to see if the native jackrabbits and bunnies would like trimmings for a treat. Sure enough they gobbled up my periodic offerings. But it was time to actually cut down these weeds because they were starting to go to seed, and as robust (and seemingly nutritious) as they were, I had other plans for these locations in the Watson Wick.

So I cut them down and threw them into the pond. The polliwogs did start nibbling on the leaves. And the plants that I threw in fresh stayed green! And algae eventually grew on them too. So the polliwogs were very happy. The little greenish-brown ones quickly grew legs, and I started to find little tiny frogs in various places around the house gardens. And there were some big glossy white ones that have been slower to develop. I am doing some research into what these white ones are. And I will do my best to keep at least a little water in the puddle until they too grow legs and crawl out.

weeds in the pond

~

Meanwhile, there was something else stirring in this little vernal pool…

I had just been told by a young man working for me about a strange prehistoric creature that occasionally shows itself in our high desert monsoonal ponds. He thought it emerged about every 50 years or so, and his ancestors (natives of this land) believed it to be a good omen. Apparently these creatures are a crustacean that have survived with little genetic change in 300 million years (120-200 million years before the the dinosaurs). Then he called me over to the pond—he had just seen one! What? Ok, now where did that come from?

This so-called ‘living fossil’ he had just spotted in my pond is called a Triops which means ‘three eyes’, also known as a Tad Pole Shrimp. It looks similar to a small horse-shoe crab. Here it is in the pond (the greenish colored shelled creature with the two big eyes—its third eye is small and not so visible). It also has a tail as long as its body, but you can’t see it here.

Triops

So how does it end up in my pond?

Here is what Wikipedia has to say:

Triops eggs enter a state of extended diapause when dry, and will tolerate temperatures of 208 °F (98°C) for 16 hours[!] The diapause also prevents the eggs from hatching too soon after rain; the pool must fill with enough water for the dormancy to be broken… they may remain in a state of diapause for up to 20 years [some claim even longer].

Apparently the eggs can blow around in the wind during these many years, and can even survive passing through the gut of a bird or animal that may have eaten the mature triops.

Our Creator sure provides many options for life to proliferate. Awesome.

~

About a month later, I was observing the polliwogs and triops, since I could see them more easily now in the smaller (now 1 square meter) and somewhat clearer pond, and I couldn’t believe my eyes, but I swear I saw fish! What? In this little mud puddle?

Here is how small the pond (puddle) had become by this time, about a month after the rainstorm. This is the same shot as the second picture in this post.

puddle
All that’s left of the pond, but still enough for critters.

There was indeed a school of little 1 inch long little ‘fish’—some white with orange tails, some all orange—swimming amongst the remaining tadpoles. This was crazy!

At first I thought they were baby triops, but it turns out they are Arizona fairy shrimp—another very ancient and adaptable creature. God was really working hard to encourage life in this challenging desert environment.

According to an article I read, Arizona has 13 different species and the most colorful of all the world’s fairy shrimp. They live for about 8 weeks, and, like the triops, lay eggs that can withstand extreme dry and harsh environments because they too are protected by these amazing ‘resting eggs’ or cysts in diapause. And when enough rain comes, they too hatch into these ephemeral pools.

Fairy shrimp

All this activity and life going on in this short-lived pool of water. Even today, with only a mud puddle left, I saw the triops and some last remaining polliwogs–the white ones. What a fun and interesting experience this has been. I am still going through my inner challenges, but I am discovering lots of fascinating things going on around me. God is good. And very, very clever.

Hope for the Desert

I am on the 17th week of a 20 week Permaculture Designers Certification Course given by Geoff Lawton of Australia, a highly experienced and passionate teacher who has helped to transform some really degraded landscapes, even deserts. Continue reading “Hope for the Desert”

The Latest and The Land

So much of my energy this past year has been consumed by inner challenges and establishing a loving home for myself out of the partially-built, neglected remains of previous owners. But it feels like this coming year is going to hold some new energies. The big dose of truth I received in November seems to be humbling me emotionally. I spent the last two months feeling all kinds of painful emotions. And it seems that some unloving spirits around me were enjoying my long history of openness to attack—dropping one negative, attacking thought into my mind after another. I even got to where I felt that I was going completely insane—desperately lost and confused.

Its been a rough time, but I let myself feel a chunk of it, with mountains more to go. It helped to keep reminding myself of two things related to God: 1) the faith that, even though I don’t feel it much lately, God loves me deeply and is guiding me towards Love and Truth, and 2) the faith that even though my prayers are tainted by errors in my soul, God knows my underlying desire is to one day be free of errors and align fully with God.

A few weeks ago, I said to God, “Ok, so my longings for you (prayer) are filled with addiction. (Otherwise I would be feeling God’s love and truth in response to prayer). Can you show me the error?”

A flood of emotions came up around how much I desperately, obsessively want approval and care from my dad (and therefor projecting that demand onto all men). I stayed with the pain as long as I felt a genuine desire to feel it. (I have a tendency to push myself against my will, so I am learning to let myself stop when I feel the pushing begin). I will keep working on the many facets to this issue, as I feel it is a major root of the inter-gender emotions Jesus pointed out to me and one of my biggest blocks to God.

Staying focused on blocks to God, and opening to experiencing the sin in me feels really important. The feedback from Jesus and Mary has helped me to be more honest with God in this process. And honesty is essential for God to be able to show me truth about myself, so my soul can heal.

So that’s a glimps of the inner stuff. Some of the outer things are more clearly coming together, and all of it feels better as we come out of the darkness and cold of winter and back into the light and growth of Spring…

My house is becoming more supportive to my well being, and feels more like a home. I now have most of the modern amenities I have been longing for all year: a flush toilet, a hot shower, solar power, rainwater catchment, my beautiful new kitchen,

insulation, fireplace and fuel for a cosy winter, clothes washing machine, refrigeration, and I even finished sandstone floors!

So now that these wonderful, never-to-be-taken-for-granted-again modern amenities are in place, I am starting to think about the land. I have been taking many walks on the land to become more familiar with it and get a sense of what I can do to help God return its vitality. I am contemplating hosting workshops on erosion issues and holding water on the land. I had two big loads of organic matter delivered for future compost and mulch, and there will be many more to come:

And I want to bring some changes to this blog/website as well. I am thinking of creating new pages to make it more informative. (It may take me some time to learn how to do that, so bear with me.) On these pages, I can add information like videos, articles and links that I specifically find supportive to both my inner spiritual work as well as activities related to the restoration of this land and the creation of a loving, efficient, self-responsible lifestyle. A photo gallery of the current state of the land, its critters, and its plant life will be showing up eventually.

As you may have noticed my last post was simply a video that I thought had some useful information about how important deciduous trees are to restoring soil and therefor the ecology of the land. It was centered around the home garden, but really I want to bring more and more deciduous trees to this property. When I arrived here there were…none! I have since planted three—all near my Watson Wick septic system (a whole other subject in itself). There are only a few shrubs here that are deciduous either. So there is almost no leaf matter to help the soil. I would really like to see that change.

But there are steps that I need to take before planting trees can happen. The biggest one is improving the water holding capacity of this land so it can support new species of trees and plants as well as animals. That will need to be done with some earthworks like:
1. seep ponds (that only hold water for a short time),
2. swales (on-contour ditches that slow and spread the water),
3. soil sponge ladders in the gullies (straw bales arranged across gullies to slow and absorb monsoon flows and ease erosion)
4. rock dams (again to slow and spread water and ease erosion during monsoons)

Yet before all that, I want to have some kind of a plan. I want to gain clarity on what I want to do here, brainstorm how I might do it, assess the assets and issues I have, and create a basic, though flexible design to fit that future. I want to have a schematic of where I want roads, buildings and earthworks to go before I start digging trenches or planting trees.

An opportunity for that came in perfect timing. Geoff Lawton, an Australian, who I feel is one of the world’s leading teachers of land restoration and ecological systems, was offering a 20 week Permaculture design course over the internet. It started the last week of December, and I enrolled. And it is hugely informative. He is such a gold mine of knowledge about nature. I love that many of the methods he teaches about land restoration are the same kinds of things Jesus has taught over the years during ‘Environmental Days’ at the Cushni Learning Center in Australia. And even the Permaculture Foundation Principles beautifully reflect the Foundation Principles of God’s Laws that Jesus only recently spoke of at the Education in Love Series: Love and Truth, Life and Development, Economy and Function, Permanence, and Scope. Truth has a way of revealing itself—if we desire to know it.

So if I come across any videos or articles or good reminders that strike me as interesting, and are related to what I am doing here, I will put them onto a new page based on the topic like Healing the Land. Later I may separate them by more specific topics.

Along this restoration theme, just the other night I ‘scarified’ some black locust tree seeds that I collected last fall from a tree in town, and planted them in pots. Scarifying is basically helping certain hard seeds to become permeable to water and air, so the germination can begin more easily. There are several ways to do this: rub them between two pieces of sandpaper, use fingernail cutters to clip the end of the seed, but in this case, I boiled the hard seeds for about a minute until I saw some of the seed coats start to swell (the unswollen ones I will put out in the ground for nature to handle).

For those of you unfamiliar with black locust trees, they are one of the few trees that are very drought tolerant, handle freezing temps, need no irrigation once established, can thrive in alkaline soils, provide bee fodder when they flower, seeds for the critters, and Nitrogen and carbon for the soil. They are very good, generous workers. This land need lots of those.

When these locust seedlings are about a foot tall, I will plant them in three Growboxx’s which are a relatively new invention that provide little growing cocoons that you only have to fill once with water and that’s it. They were designed for deserts, and do a great job of capturing rain water and dew, and keep the area moist for the seedling to get established. After the first year, the seedling has a well rooted start, and you can remove the Growboxx and use it on another seedling. I imagine some mulch and some fish-scale swales wouldn’t hurt either.

Till next time, may God be in your thoughts and heart.

Fun and Informative Composting Info

Even though I have been gardening and successfully composting for decades, there is always more to learn. I love what he says about deciduous trees. I look forward to planting as many as I can at my place. At least I have a start on the red worms. They are just about the only ones I have cultivated that are doing well at this point.

If video takes too long to load, it can be viewed at youtube: https://youtu.be/n9OhxKlrWwc