Thursday, July 29, 2004

Notes from July 28

Yesterday I was able to make another trip out to our site with friend and artist Julie Williams. I needed to finish supplementing gardens #1 and #2 with water and to continue feeding the dormant (or dead trees) with more water and DriWater. After a leisurely journey to the site with stops at my studio for supplies, and to Lenwood for a late lunch, we began to work around 4:15PM. The air temperature was again over 100 degrees, but it didn’t feel as hot as Sunday. There was a gentle southwest breeze that helped cool our bodies when we periodically sprayed our clothing down with water.

A day earlier we purchased two rolls of bamboo fencing each measuring 6’x15’. I cut each to 3’x15’ sections to be used as shade and windscreen around the trees. Last winter I painstakingly wove dried Atriplex through the chicken wire cages around four trees. I liked the effect as it blends perfectly with the environment while providing a shade boost to the plants. However, each cage takes 2 or 3 hours to complete, and there is no way I was going to torment myself, or any guest, to sit in one spot in over 100 degree weather.

We had discussed using the bamboo fence material earlier in the project but decided against it because of the cost. Now I am willing to invest more personal funds if there is a small possibility in saving all theses little trees. Julie cut the bamboo material to fit around the southwest side of each tree cage. Then she tied the sections on to the chicken wire with baling wire.

We removed small strands of bamboo every 5 inches or so, to let the wind easily pass through. The golden color of the bamboo contrasts with the natural dried shrubs at the site, but we understand that it will quickly patina in the intense desert sun. For now the shade coverings look like bales of hay from the road, and that is a much better blend with the site than the green shade cloth we (Mike Barnes and me) tried last Sunday.

Julie is an experienced gardener in Los Angeles working with Native California plants on her property. She was a great partner who really helped our distressed shrubs and trees along to recovery. She loved the desert site but hated the drive out from LA. I am still not sure if I am use to it. Hopefully she will be coming out again in a couple of weeks to help out with the continued recovery and maintenance of the project.

We left the site around 8:45PM after we watched the sunset and the moonrise. It never ceases to amaze me how many magical moments occur in the Mojave.

We took our time driving back to Los Angeles, stopping in Victorville for a late night dinner, then to the studio to drop off the equipment. We finally arrive back in LA just after midnight satisfied by the work we were able to accomplish.

--Deena C.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Notes from July 26,2004

Yesterday I made a trip out to our site with my friend, Illinois based artist, Mike Barnes. It was his first trip out to the Mojave and though he had only 4 days in Los Angles, he was interested in helping out with the project. I have always enjoy bringing new folks out to the site, and this trip proved to be fun and productive. The Jeep was loaded with 59 gallons of water, two bales of neutralized bark mulch; some recycled green shade cloth, and one case of DriWater. We arrived around 4:00PM to work at the site as the day cooled down. At the time of our arrival the air temperature was over 100 degrees with a good breeze blowing in from the southwest. Our walk though the project location was a relief as I found the state of gardens to be exactly as we left them on our last visit, July 17th. The newly placed DriWater containers were undisturbed, and the plants that had received the feeding were coming back to life. The piles of empty DriWater containers and sleeves, which last weekend we spent some time collecting, around the property, were exactly as we left them, waiting to be brought back to LA for future composting and recycling.

As I began to unload the car Mike took a walk around the property to become familiar with all of the project elements. As he walked around he collected more of the scattered empty DriWater containers that we had missed last weekend. There were quite a large number that were resting fairly far from the project. I checked the levels of the DriWater quarts we replaced last week and found that half of the material was already used up by the plants, meaning that during the summer they will need to be replaced every 25 days rather than 60-90 days.

I also noticed that the shrubs receiving no new DriWater, but were fed a small amount of water to the roots, were quickly to coming back to life. I was able to look more carefully at the trees that seemed to be dead, and discovered that many had half the root balls eaten by some sort of rodent. The total number of plants missing is 8. This number is not as bad as we had initially thought.

We decided to begin our garden revival methodically, starting at the southeastern end with gardens #6 and #7. Mike worked on watering and then supplementing with DriWater the shrubs in garden #6 while I worked on the trees.

We only had enough DriWater to supplement 15 shrubs and trees. The rest of the plants we fed water through the empty plastic sleeves that touch the root systems. We fed every tree and shrub whether it appeared dead or alive. I brought along my spray tank so we could spray ourselves with water as we watered the plants. We discovered that within 5 min you could go from soaking wet to dry as a bone. What did that mean for the plants we just watered? We needed to retard the evaporation rate of water around the plants by adding more mulch to cool the top layer of soil and build more shade around the trees might help hold more moisture.

We placed the wood mulch around the trees only covering the top 2”. We hope that between the wood mulch and the rocks, that were placed earlier, the ground will stay a few degrees cooler than the rest of the desert surface.

Mike finished off the two bales of Mulch between gardens #7,#6,#5,#4,and #3. We suspect the wind will redistribute much of it over time. As Mike was working with the mulch I was tying the green shade cloth around the south side of the tree cages to try to cool down the growth area as much as possible. However, a brief visit to the car for some water changed my plans to use the cloth. As I looked towards the projects area, the green shade cloth looked like a beacon from the road, and after the disaster we found at the site last week I don’t want anything that will attract unwanted attention. So, off came the shade cloth.

The site had cooled down by 20 degrees by 8:30 PM just in time to finish loading up the Jeep for the long trip back to Los Angeles. The desert heat pulls not only moisture but energy from your body, so by dusk it is was a joy to sit on the ground and soak up the effects of twilight on the desert. As we headed out to Victorville for a quick supper on our way to LA, the satisfaction of leaving the site cleaned up, the plants watered, and the hope that we had saved as much of the gardens as possible was a very satisfying feeling.

---Deena C.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Notes from July 18,2004

We were bound to have a trip out to the site filled with disasters and this trip was it. All the wear and tear of driving on desert roads was taking its toll on the Jeep, so we brought it in to our mechanics for a detailed safety check early in the week. Two days later our Jeep was ready to go with new breaks, a full transmission service, cooling system flush, all hoses and belts replace. It set us back over $2,000.00, but you can’t take a chance breaking down in the desert when it is many miles to the nearest human inhabitant. Little did we know that all the care and precaution we took to catch problems, before they arose, would cause the type of situation we were desperately trying to avoid.

Our long-made plans to take our friend Connie Samaras out to visit the site started off with a few little bumps. On drive out to our studio in Rancho Cucamonga, Connie realized that she had not packed up her tri-pod and was forced to return back to Silverlake to pick it up. Even with that turn around, she arrived at the studio within our target departure time. The decision was made to take 2 cars since our Jeep was packed out with 28 gallons of water, 2 cases of DriWater, some new DriWater covering ‘lids’ we constructed at the studio, tools, dogs and clothing. Connie was driving her Honda CRV packed with her camera gear, a case of water and an ice chest. We asked Connie if she could take an extra 8-gallon container of water with her. She had plenty of room in her car so she happily obliged.

The plan was to have Connie follow us out to Barstow, get an early dinner, and then head on out to the site with an ETA around 5:30PM. We spoke to Jim Perkins in the morning, and he told us that it had already reached over 100 degrees. Obviously we weren’t anxious to work in that kind of heat, and besides, Connie came out to take some long-exposure night shots, and we knew we would be out there until 11:00PM or maybe longer.

On the drive to Barstow, Connie followed us closely so she wouldn’t loose us in the continuously busy I-15 traffic. I noticed that on numerous occasions she was engaging her windshield cleaner. I thought that was odd since not even a bug hit our windshield. We happily progressed to Barstow, over the Cajon Pass and into the Mojave, moving at a good speed of 70mph. We were pretty loaded down so I didn’t want to drive much faster than that. Occasionally I looked at the gauges and everything seemed fine so we progressed easily to our Barstow destination point. When we arrived at parking lot of the Denny’s off of Lenwood Rd. we immediately saw smoke under the Jeep. The horrible burning smell also signaled trouble. Connie told us that the Jeep was smoking since the beginning of the trip, and that some kind of fluid was spraying out the exhaust onto her windshield. It looked like the smoke was coming from the area around the transmission so we decided to call AAA. The Jeep was in big trouble. We moved the car to a shady spot near a Carl’s Jr. with great trouble engaging reverse. Connie spotted a family towing several very well maintained off road vehicles and asked if they might take a look at the Jeep to offer us some advice. The fellow she asked happened to be a mechanic. He took one look at the Jeep, and told us that we probably blew your front transmission seal. He told us that a tow back to LA seemed the best option.

With an easy fix out of the question we realized that we only had 2 choices: go back with the car and accomplish nothing, or, have the car towed back to LA and try to pack as much as possible into Connie’s CRV and proceed to the desert site. We opted for the latter. So, we managed to fit most everything except our water into her small SUV, with Claude comfortably in the back seat with the dogs. I was surprised how much MORE room that little Honda had over our Jeep.

After a terrible dinner at Carl’s (the dogs got more of the food than we ate) we made it to our site without further incident. The plan at the site was to have Claude run out to the project area and return with the wheelbarrow to unload the car quickly since we didn’t have much time to work before dark. We had a report from our friend Jim that there was some damage to the site. Maybe some animals got to the some of the driwater but it did not sound too bad. However, after Claude ran down to the project site he just stood there for a good number of minuets, moving very slowly. It was then I knew that something very bad had happened. I approached him quickly and he told me that our project was over. I looked at the gardens and saw plants pulled out of the ground, DriWater containers scattered all over the lot, and much of what plants remained seemed dead.

Garden #4 was completely destroyed, not a plant left in the ground. At Garden #3, all the DriWater had been pulled up out of the ground, yet all the Atriplex Canescens managed to survive without the water supplement. Two of the Cercidium Floridum were still hanging on but the rest of the trees were dead. The fence around Garden #2 was pushed down and the grasses were chewed up, yet most of the plants on the terrace were intact and struggling to survive. The Artemisia Tridentate has the greatest chance of surviving in the Garden #2 disaster. All the DriWater was completely used up, and we suspect that this has happened after only 30 days. It has been 45 days since we last visited our site.

Our hearts were broken. All of our hard work and care seemed for nothing. Out of the 20 trees, only 4 survived without the water supplement. The Baccharis in Garden# 6 is doing much better than expected without supplement, and most of the Creosote is managing on it’s own. We were only able to tend to the 4 trees with what we were able to bring out in Connie’s car. The rest of the time we were trying to find evidence as to what had happened.

We suspect a number of failures leading to the death of much of the gardens. We noticed that red-ants had eaten their way into a half-case of DriWater Stored on the site.

We found hundreds of them drown inside a broken gel container of supplement. They had already finished off several of the other stored quarts in that case. Coyote scat was all over the site and fresh paw prints (not our darlings) everywhere. Burrowing animas, Kangaroo Rats, had tunneled their way to the fresh root systems of many of the trees. It is hard to account for what happened to Garden #4 without thinking that it was done by human hands. It is pretty hard to pull up all the DriWater containers and cases without digging around them. The plants were not only pulled up out of the ground, they were missing completely. One entire garden, and its radiating area, was wiped out without a much a trace. We believe that a visitor to the site had a bit of “fun” at the project’s expense.

Now is a time we need to rethink our plans and hopes for the project. We are still committed to MOISTURE, but with this set back we don’t know at what scale we wish continue on with our plans.

---Deena C.
Sunday, July 18, 2004

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