Sunday, April 30, 2006

April 22

March may have been a difficult month to schedule work at the site, but April developed into a very productive time for the project. Earlier this year Emily Scott, from UCLA, organized with me a trip to the Moisture site for a small group of her students. We discussed a couple of trip options, and decided to make a plan. She wanted adequate time for the students to explore The Center For Land Use Interpretation’s Desert Research Station and the Moisture site, with a final stop being at Harper Dry Lake before ending the day with dinner in Boron.
I left Altadena around 7AM with Lambchop and Zoe in tow. We headed to the studio to load up supplies and plants. Emily and her students were planning on leaving UCLA around 9:30AM with an arrival at the DRS sometime around noon.

I wasn’t sure how many people would actually make the trip since it was an optional field trip. I had faith, though, that enough students might make the trip to complete a good amount of work. There is always so much to do at the site that sometimes it is hard to plan for the numerous activities we hope to accomplish before the end of Spring. I decided to bring enough plants and material to finish planting the trees around gardens #7 and 1. Next on the list was to replenish the Nutri -packs on the trees that were fed last year and if there was enough time collect more rocks to be used as mulch and weights for the dri-water lids. Selected to make their home at the moisture site were 2 Acacia smallii, 3 Acacia greggii, and one Prosopis pubescence all grown at garden lab 2004. With all these trees planted, it would make the total trees grown at garden lab and transplanted at the moisture site a total of 19. Not too bad.

The car was packed up and on the road to Hinckley by 9AM. The usual Las Vegas traffic along I15 was missing as was the wind. I arrived at the DRS by 10:15 AM. I had packed my tree clipper just incase I had time to thin out the blue Palo Verde while I waited for Emily and her group. As I was thinning out the trees, Lambchop and Zoe were running around the site smelling every corner of the lot. I noticed that Zoe was drinking from one of the drip lines of the irrigation system that waters all of the DRS trees. I realized that there should not be enough water coming from that line for her to be lapping it up.

A quick walk along the tree plantings revealed that an animal had chewed through several lines around 5 of the trees. Fortunately, there was some old drip line in the shed that was used to feed the downed large blue Palo Verde tree after the big monsoon last August. I was able to recycle and fix all the destroyed lines. Hopefully the animal that discovered the water has moved on to another location.

The group arrived at the DRS around 12:15, and they appeared ready for their desert adventure. Emily’s students were Stacey Capoot, Joshua Cheng, Joanne Chiu, Colleen McHugh, and Stefan Waldschmidt. It was clear that they were a friendly bunch, and everyone seemed eager to participate with the Moisture project. We took a quick tour of the projects at the DRS site, with the highlight being the discovery of an owl pellet (?) on the top of a mysterious concrete block structure. We then sat down for a little lunch before heading out to the site. After that, the group investigated the CLUI exhibition in the main trailer while Emily helped fill nine, 7-gallon containers with water and loaded them between our two vehicles.

By 1:30PM we were on our way to the Moisture site.
The weather was good: the air temperature was around 70 degrees with a cool breeze. A few of students were expecting much hotter weather and some felt under dressed. We arrived at the site around 2PM. Although the desert was cooler than expected, a good amount of sunscreen was passed around. We then took a tour of the site as I did my best to discuss the project with the group.

As expected, there were changes from our last visit just 2 weeks before. The site appeared browner, but to Emily, who had visited a year ago last May, the site seemed very green. She was excited to see how lush the Baccharis appeared.

Stefan and Joshua unloaded a good deal of water from both cars and the ladies carried the tools to the work area. Everyone was on board to work. The group divided into teams, working on different projects. Stacey, Joshua, and Joanne spent a good deal of time digging and preparing the holes for planting at garden 7, while Emily, Colleen, and Joshua and Joanne, prepared holes for garden number 1. Stefan helped replace the Nutri-packs and then ventured out to collect rocks for the mulch. I spent some time fixing the small cages around the Agave plants. Animals were beginning to eat around the fleshy leaves so I packed the cages with dried saltbush to camouflage and protect them.

When working with the land, people often open up and reflect on their lives. And based on conversations overheard, this group was connecting to each other and to the site. Stephan came back from his exploration both frustrated (by the difficulty finding rocks) and excited by a near-miss experience. As he was wandering near the site he happened on the open mine. At first he thought it might be another component of Moisture and thought about jumping in, but as he approached the hole, he realized that it was something much bigger and deeper than anything our Moisture group might have prepared. Stephan got as close to the edge as was comfortable and discovered an owl burrowed half way down the shaft. Its large gold eyes glowed from inside the mine. Stephan reported his find to me and I set off to confirm it. It is exciting to think that an owl has found a way to use the abandon mine as a safe burrow.

These types of relationships are some of the most interesting in a healthy eco-system and they are most powerful when appreciated within the severity of the desert. When I checked out the mine, not only was there owl scat dripping down the walls but also a good number of big burrows constructed down the mine. This is a recent development because in January the mine was as it had been since someone set the wooden walls on fire 3 years ago. All living things on the site seem to be manipulating existing elements to create a desirable habitat.

Back at garden 7, Lambchop and Zoe kept watch over Stephan and Stacey who teamed up to plant Acacia smallii trees and dispense DriWater while Emily supervised the rest of the crew in planting 2 Acacia greggii at garden 1. Colleen prepared a hole with a trowel since there were only 4 shovels spread out between 7 people, and Joanne & Joshua floated between digging, making root cages, and planting between gardens 1 and 7. We had hoped to finish up at 5PM so that the group could visit Harper Dry Lake but we decided to stay on to finish our plantings. The students were great in spirits.

We discussed how & why the project was art, and how their participation was a large part of the art. Ultimately, I hope that they experienced a connection to the desert that will bring a new understanding to how they look at their own environment. Every person that visits contributes to the development and richness of the Moisture project.

As we were finishing up, I was impressed with the helpfulness of the entire group in gathering tools and cleaning up the site. We managed to load up our cars and hit the road by 6:30PM. After a short stop to photograph the solar plant at dusk, we arrived back at the DRS around 7:30 PM to drop off the empty water containers. Despite the later time frame, I decided to go ahead and lead our group to Domingo’s Mexican restaurant, our dinner destination in Boron. Domingo’s is a hopping place for such a small town. We had a great time dinning and conversing. Our waiter had a thing for Joanne and enjoyed playing games with her. It was a great end to a fine day in the desert. I thank Emily for bringing her students out to the Moisture site, and I thank each one of her students for their valuable contribution to the project. I enjoyed meeting with all of them, and I hope that their experience will become a good memory in their first university year. If any of them has the desire to check out and visit the site they have an open invitation.


Sunday, April 09, 2006

April 8, 2006

Getting out to the site in March proved much harder than Claude and I ever anticipated. Three weeks in a row we had planned and then canceled trips due to extreme weather conditions: last week was stalled traffic on the I-15, the week before high winds, and the week before that heavy rains. Fortunately for us, the weather yesterday was beautiful and perfect for working.

Time has been running out for planting in the desert so my hope to plant two large trees, that I have been nurturing, was exchanged for the planting of three small trees from the Garden Lab project of 2003. We were worried that if there weren’t enough cool days, and a few more rainy days, the larger trees would not make it through the summer. Claude wanted to take our dogs, Zoë and Lambchop, out to the site before it got too hot for them. This was the first trip in many months that we were able to fit the dogs in the car with all our supplies. They were happy not to be left at home.

We arrived at the CLUI DRS around 12PM and were greeted by a cute red dog locked within the DRS compound. It was nervous around us, but curious about Zoe when it saw her in the back seat. It growled at her though the open car window so we decided not to let them out while we filled our water containers. The trees planted last year at the DRS look great and the drip system is up and running again.

With the car loaded up with water, DriWater, dogs, and tools we headed out to the site. It was clear by the condition of Santa Fe road that it had rained within the past week. The grooves and dips were deep and damp. Much of the terrain was green but we missed the first spring bloom sometime in March. Not much in the way of annuals were blooming along the dirt roads, but there were a few spectacular desert verbena scattered along the 11-mile stretch.

We arrived at the site around 1:00pm. The dogs ran around the site smelling all of the familiar and unfamiliar smells. All of the existing tree plantings looked good. Although it is too early for the trees to leaf out, the trunks had grown in diameter and looked even bigger than what I remembered from the January trip. Claude started replacing DriWater on the existing plants, and I started to plant the three small trees: 1 Cercidium Floridum, and 2 Acacia Greggii.

The plantings from January looked great and I was able to use holes that Michael had prepared from that trip for the trees I planted. Claude replaced all the DriWater in record time, and was able to help me put up the rodent cages around the new plantings. The dogs pooped-out around 3:00, and Lambchop relaxed in the car, waiting for us to finish up and take him back to Altadena. Although Zoe was tired she continued to follow us around the site until dusk.

We left before sunset and stopped off at the Hinkley Market for a snack. There we meet a fellow who had just moved to the area from Newport Beach. He had never experienced a Hinkley August. We told him he would not be prepared for the coming temperatures, but he really had no idea what he was in store for. We made it back to the studio in Cucamonga just as the sun was going down, and we made it back to Altadena by a reasonable hour.


And from a few months back…

Jan. 7, 2006

Over the holidays, my sister in-law Kathy, suggested that I bring my nephew Michael, now a freshman at UC San Diego, out to the site while he was on winter break. We made plans to drive out on January 7th. As the day drew near, Kathy suggested that Mari, a foreign exchange student that she and my brother are hosting from Japan, join Michael and I. A trip with three people suggested that a good amount of work could be accomplished at the site. Mari had never seen the desert and I had not spent any quality time with my nephew in a good number of years so I was pleased that Kathy was able to inspire Michael and Mari to volunteer their hard labor and good sprits to the adventure.

The plan was made. I would drive up to Moorpark on the evening of January 6th to pick up Michael and Mari, and then proceed to drive out to the studio where we would spend the night. In the morning, we would load up the Jeep with plants, DriWater and the tools necessary for an ambitious day of digging and planting. I was anxious to show Michael the site, and plant more of the trees grown at the Garden Lab over a year ago.

The high winds were a problem.While driving through the valley into Moorpark I worried about the high, boxy profile of the jeep, knowing that I would be responsible for the safe transport of these much loved family members back to the studio and then through the windy Cajon pass the next morning on the way to the Mojave. That would be the least of my concerns as I arrived to Moorpark to pickup M&M.

Just as I walked in the door, Kathy received a call that my father was being transported to the hospital after his heart rate dropped to a dangerously low level. The hospital is close in distance to my studio so we decided to drive out as planned, only now I would drop off M&M to get some sleep at the studio, and I would meet up with my mother at the hospital ER. I arrived at the hospital around mid-night and stayed with my father while he was being stabilized. There was talk of transferring him to Kaiser hospital as soon as he could travel and a bed became available. My father had convinced my mother to go home earlier so after an hour I left to check on my mother. My mother doesn’t sleep well and I knew that she would be up trying to keep herself busy. I stayed with her until 3:30am when we got word that sometime around 8:00am the hospital planned to transport my father to Kaiser. I knew then that he was stable, and my mother could sleep. She encouraged me to continue with my plans and we made arrangements to check in by phone in the afternoon.

I got up around 8:00am, woke up Michael and Mari, and started to load the Jeep. It is funny with family, but you never really know them when your contact is only through the traditional family functions. Michael is quiet and normally keeps to himself during family gatherings. I knew that he makes good choices for himself but I didn’t know how helpful or interested in our project he was. Mari is sweet and enthusiastic for any adventure. Her favorite movie is Holes so she really wanted to dig in the Mojave. Perfect. As it turned out, Michael was a great help. He helped load and tie down DriWater to the roof, and, as we drove off into the wind, asked questions about the project that he had researched online. Although he didn’t find our site on the greenmuseum he found some old interview on another site that gave him some understanding of the project.

We arrived in Barstow for breakfast and ate at one of the many chain restaurants located on Main St. It was great getting to know both of them before embarking on a day of digging. After breakfast we drove to the CLUI Desert Research Station to fill up on water and show M&M around a little before we headed out to the Moisture site. The plan for the day was to dig as many holes as we could for planting the seven trees and three Agave packed into the Jeep.

Once at the site, I took them through the steps of planting: dig a very big hole 3 feet deep, fill it with water, and, while the water is being absorbed, amend the piled dirt with gypsum. Then build a cage for the root ball out of chicken wire, add dirt on top of the root cage, set the plant on the dirt and position the DriWater tubes. Back-fill with dirt around the tubes, and then set the rodent cage around the newly planted tree.

Michael and Mari took turns digging holes, cutting down the rodent cages (from past failed plantings), and making root cages. Michael must dug six holes and helped with the plantings of four Acacia Smallii trees and three Agaves plants. Mari and I dug 3 or 4 holes each, and by the end of the day Mari and Michael were planting as a team while I finished planting some of the trees we started earlier in the day. Michael and Mari were some of the hardest working visitors we ever had at the site. I was impressed by both, and very proud of their generous, hard working nature. At the end of the day, despite the shaky start of our trip, it was one of the most productive in my memory.

Late in the afternoon Kathy called Michael on his cell phone and gave us an update on my father who was improving in the hospital. She reminded us to enjoy the cookies she sent along with them. We left the site after admiring a beautiful sunset and headed back to the studio for dinner and a movie. Michael and Mari were gracious enough to stay over one more night so I could take my mother to visit my father at Kaiser in the morning. We headed back to Moorpark after a late brunch with Michael, Mari and my mother.


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