I’ve lived in the desert my whole life in one shape or another. Growing up in Venezuela i grew up in one of the few states that was arid, though we had the ocean as well and it’s something i deeply miss. Since moving to the US i’ve lived in Nevada and currently i’m in Texas. Austin is definitely more green.
I’ve never truly lived off the grid or close to it, but i get that deep connection to the desert landscape. It’s beautiful in a way that’s hard to explain to those that arent used to it. If given the chance i think i would enjoy living in a small community almost in the middle of nowhere
That was such a treat to read. I haven’t read anything I enjoyed as much in quite some time. Please write more.
Years back I met someone living like this. She had a caravan of some sort in the middle of the Joshua Tree and was hitchhiking the fifty miles to 29 Palms (I hear the heat of your desert heart…) intending to buy a big bottle of drinking water and hitch back with it. Late sixties. Seemed nice, if a bit mad. She was quite convinced that I was German. Or Austrian. Then horrified that she’d insulted me on finding out that I was British.
I’m in the Sonoran Desert and we’re familiar with the creosote-before-the-rain smell. Growing up, I used to think that was what rain itself smelled like. Love it.
Also - vegetable gardening even in Tucson is a highly challenging yet rewarding endeavor.
Lots of work. Worth it.
It is doable, but yes there’s inherent challenges. The article mentions mesquite and i wanted to expand on it… Mesquite grows pretty happy in the desert and provides a really good source of shade and can help conserve moisture because of it. Plus it’s a wonderful source of timber and firewood, and in Venezuela in colonial times the wood was used as a natural filter for drinking water.
You can also grow agave and aloe. I’ve heard that repeated consumption of Aloe can cause leisions in the stomach lining that can become cancerous so that’s something to consider, however its’ still good for external use.
I also had a neighbor grow a grape vine real easy, the damn thing took over the shaded garden it was in and grew onto a large tree and started to smother it. So it’s possible to grow some more unusal crops out there.
Trying to think of other handy crops i’ll come back to it…
To be clear, I don’t mean we can’t grow food in the desert. We are growing pomegranate, almond, persimmon, goji, grapes, pistachios, mulberries, aloe, mesquite, prickly pear and more on the property right now. We also grow tomatoes, hot peppers and other conventional garden foods seasonally. With watering (and critter cages), many plants can thrive here.
I just question whether it’s more sustainable for us to grow food here than to buy it from regions that have more water.
I found this article so endearing that I was moved to signup as a blog participant, just so I could comment.
This story, the writing style, and the encapsulated ideals are both inspiring and inviting. Although the author was gentle is her description of the routine hardships of this life, she makes it clear that the process of overcoming these hardships is what makes it all worthwhile. It is a life lived at the edge of uncertainty and always vital. It is the virtual antithesis of urban affluence and soul-eviscerating easy comfort. Good on ya, Reanna. Please keep writing.
My great grandfather, or my great-granduncle or someone on my dad’s side actually squatted out near Yucca Valley near the turn of the century. I’m not sure what happened to that property, but my family has always had a soft spot for the Mojave as a retreat from the big cities.
It’s so beautiful out there, despite the pale-brown first impression it gives.
Just moved back to the NW after living east of phoenix for three years, in a smallish town. What amazed me was the wildlife–ive lived with deer/skunk/racoon all my life, but bobcats, roving packs of javalina, scorpians, tarantulas, great horned owls, and serious packs of coyotes?!
I’ll never forget the time i took my dog for a night walk and we ran into 13 javalina. Even my normally barky dog did not utter a sound.
If you are serious about your carbon footprint, go vegan. By one simple dietary change, you have a bigger impact than not driving a single mile.
The amount of energy used to cook that animal in a conventional oven is infinitesimally small compared to the huge waste of water, grain, fossil fuels and land that went into raising that animal. I don’t mean to be rude, just hoping you look into what I am saying, it’s a fact. You seem to want to live simply, I commend you, I value that and am striving for that too, the best way to make a difference is to stop wasting resources raising animals to eat just because we like the taste.
North facing with a touch of water, roses can grow great in the desert. I also had a ton of the usual herb suspects, and similar to you a grape that wanted to eat my house
I also dug out a small caliche pond and planted iris and grasses. They loved it. The lotus and Lily’s, not so much.
From Across America by Motor-cycle by C. K. Shepherd
I had by now become so used to my own company
that the sense of loneliness almost disappeared, and
I felt as perfectly at ease here as anywhere else. I felt
that the great wastes had a charm, nay, even a lure,
that eclipsed all past sensations and gave a mental satis
faction that no other phase of Nature could ever reveal.
I cannot describe the ineffable something which made
me love the great solitude and the mighty spaces, but
it is there nevertheless, and, like the greatest of passions,
it gives extremes. After one has lived but a few days
in the desert, either he loves it passionately or he loathes
it. There is nothing in between.
Hibiscus grows really well, it’s pretty hardy and while the flowers can be eaten and made into tea you can apparently also make use of the leaves. Which i didn’t know until recently.
I would recommend keeping bees as well if one wanted to be a bit more adventurous. They’ll keep your plants happy with the pollination and you’d get a good source of honey as well. You’d just have to make sure not to let the bees bake in the sun, i’d keep the hive shaded or partially shaded.
Well if you really wanted to get as much protein as possible one can also turn to eating insects. Usually the conversion of food and water directly proportional to protein is excellent. 1 gallon of water and 1-2 lbs of feed will equal to a pound of insect protein, compared to raising animals to eat the conversion there is pretty inneficient.
If you foraged for wild insects then your carbon footprint is even lower, but if you raised some type of bug you’d be able to produce larger quanities and more reliably.
Personally if i lived out in the desert outside the grid i might consider it. Also i must point out that i’m vegetarian so i’m ok just eating plants for protein, but i’ve always been fascinated by the idea of insect consumption.
Becoming an apiarist is near the top of my things to do. Since I am in a colder climate now I worry less about them baking, and more about committing to a new hobby. On the plus side I could dress up in my Sherlock outfit as I tended the bees…
I couldn’t live somewhere excessively hot like that myself, though i don’t think i’d mind the small trailer setup in a more temperate climate.
Regarding the too hot during the summer, too cold in winter thing: wouldn’t hefty insulation help with both? Build up the dirt up the sides and a bit on the roof to stabilise temperatures a little maybe?
Reanna, what do you use for Internet out there?
I live in Tucson, and when I was 10 years old, our family built a geodesic dome in the foothills of the Tucson mountains. We lived for a year with no power, half a year with no toilet, although we had a water faucet. It was not bad, although the lens of old age may have warped my perceptions. I definitely remember walking barefoot through the cholla-cactus-strewn desert regularly.
The part about too hot and too cold is definitely true. We had outdoor shade in the daytime and preferred to sleep outdoors; the winters required burning mesquite logs in the fireplace. (un)Fortunately, there was enough housing development that enough mesquite trees were felled during land clearing operations to keep us warm.