Writer moves to desert, learns to co-exist
In 2002 I moved from an irrigated grass yard with grapefruit trees and rosebushes in east Phoenix to a 1 ¼ -acre piece of land with natural desert landscaping in Pinal County. It’s about 40 miles in terms of paved roads, and many more in terms of the distance to learn to live easily with the desert during a drought.
We moved some cactus and succulents, but left behind the rosebushes and soon found it was hard to keep any potted plants on our porches due to birds, rabbits, and roundtailed and antelope ground squirrels.
As with our home in Phoenix, we continue to compost and use no insecticides, herbicides, fertilizer and only biodegradable laundry detergent for our sensitive 40-year-old plumbing system and septic tank. I have help pulling weeds, thank goodness. I had no problem with the compost in east Phoenix until we went to sell the house and a Realtor criticized it on the Web site created to sell the house. My husband removed the compost, but the Realtor refused to take down her comment.
We have lost a cat and a dog to coyotes and a rattlesnake, and now keep one fish. I enjoy feeding the birds and giving them water, especially when it is very hot. Goldfinches and house finches, flickers, ladderback woodpeckers, bats, nighthawks, red-tailed hawks, sparrows, quail, pigeons, orioles, doves, cardinals and others grace our yard.
On occasion, we have seen migrating geese as they fly north from Mexico along the San Pedro River, to Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park where I have volunteered. The flocks have disappeared from our area during a long drought.
Here I have really learned the boom and bust patterns of the desert, and we have lost non-native trees that were in our yard before we moved here including a golden ash with beautiful yellow blooms on its top.
It is a constant struggle to determine how much hand watering to do to keep desert plants and trees alive as the water table drops due to development in the area and private wells. Our water company relies on pumped groundwater, so it’s a wash as to whether we are causing more problems.
A bobcat occasionally visits the roof at night and the yard in the early morning, and we see hoofprints from deer and javelina who wander at night and chomp on aloes and cactus. Marigold plantings haven’t helped repel the hungry creatures.
As a neighbor has put out poison, I notice the population of ground squirrels has gone down. We use a solar-powered buzzer embedded in the soil to repel the critters who dig lots of holes around cactus and eat the roots.
Mesquite beans and other natural food supply desert cottontails and jackrabbits as well as ground squirrels and rock squirrels.
I miss not being able to walk or ride a bike to the library, movies, post office, grocery store, coffee shop and park, and continue to lobby for public transit and a lower speed limit on our heavily travelled rural road so that bikes would be a safe option.
A home office has made it possible for me to work online for newspapers, magazines, Web sites and a community college. A light rail line that now is about 15 miles from our home makes it easier to visit a college and other professional activities.
The move was made so that my husband could commute one mile to the school where he teaches instead of the 80-mile roundtrip he had made for 17 years. Freeway construction made the commute untenable, but now that the roadway is open we can more easily visit friends and attend our favorite church.
A strip of Bureau of Land Management property across from our house is a lovely place to hike after infrequent storms and we are glad the fencing now helps to keep out hunters and off-road vehicles. When they do visit, police usually are cooperative in pointing out the signs and asking them to leave.
Although we thought the air pollution would not be a problem, it is actually worse here due to wind patterns that flush emissions from the Phoenix area east to the Superstition Mountains where we live. I counteract with small measures such as sweeping with a broom instead of using a blower, having our daughter use a hybrid to go to college and consolidating trips.
In addition, we adopted a section of our road where we pick up trash and recycle as much of it as we can. We have recently had curbside pickup of recyclables begin but still haul bottles and some plastic to another site when I am making other trips.
I am enjoying watching the saguaro grow arms as I learn more each day, chasing away a roadrunner who has come to eat small birds, and learning more about how all things are interconnected and how I am affecting the fragile desert.
Food production is difficult despite engineering to keep out critters who eat seedlings as soon as they sprout. After several attempts at netting over vegetables and buried in the ground as well as a raised bed, my daughter went on to other projects.
I eagerly await the blooms on our San Pedro and golden torch cactuses, which bloom one time each at night if there’s been enough rain. The blossoms are as big as my hand and attract bats.