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Our trip to Bisbee was wonderful. Marcia is an amazing woman with so much creativity and life. She grew up in Chicago, moved to southern California and farmed dates organically for 30 years. Now she lives outside of Bisbee in a beautiful light orange earth dome.
Bisbee is about 80 miles southeast of Tucson and roughly 2,500 feet higher in elevation. It was an incredible journey, the landscape was constantly changing during the ride. We quickly left the giant saguaros and began driving through yellow grasslands, scattered with yucca and agave, but no cactus in sight. We drove through a small town where everyone had a pond in their yard and we passed about 10 different farm stands selling pecans. After about 50 miles we entered a lush mountainous region that reminded me of the jungle. Then after about 10 miles everything dried up again and returned to yellow grassland and rocky cliffs. We turned a corner and there was Bisbee, spread across the side of a bright red mountain. Bisbee is a quant old western town that was founded in 1880 as a copper, cold and silver mining town. The copper mines are unbelievably massive and surround the small town. I almost drove off the road trying to look down into one, but you can not see the bottom. We stopped for a moment and walked around Bisbee to see what it was like.
Marcia’s place is about 7 miles from downtown Bisbee. The land has been seriously degraded from centuries of over-grazing by the cattle industry that moved to Arizona from the Mid-West. The grasslands of the Mid-West sustained grazing cattle year after year because there was enough water. However, in the Southwest rainfall is scarce and the grasses were eaten faster than they could grow back. The grasses disappeared leaving the topsoil loss and susceptible to erosion from the monsoon season that occurs in the summer. Years of top-soil erosion caused all the plant biodiversity to disappear from the landscape. The cows spread the seeds of the honey mesquite tree in their manure and the land transformed into a mesquite jungle.
It is really unfortunate what has happened to this land. When Aubrey and I entered the mesquite forest we were taken back by how bleek and dead the landscape looked. We have been learning all about native food sources and how many edible plants are growing in the Sonoran desert, but this landscape only had Mesquites that did not even look edible. Normally the mesquites would have leaves through the winter, but because they were in such fragile condition from the poor soil and lack of rain they loose all of their leaves during the dry winter. Mesquite was the main food source of many native cultures in the Sonoran, it is a leguminous plant that produces edible beans and pods. It is extremely nutritious and also tastes really nice. The pods are ground up and used as flour in baked goods. However they have to be healthy to produce food.
At first the land felt very harsh and inhospitable, but after hearing its story and being there for while my feelings changed. I felt like all the life that had existed before was still in the land and with proper care it can recover and regenerate. The land felt special and hopeful. Marcia is planning on building the soil and building swales to prevent erosion from the monsoon season and replenish the land with water. Marcia wants to take an arial photograph of the land every year for a ten year period to document its recovering and vegetative growth.
If pruned, watered and fertilized all the mesquite could revert to a high yielding and nutritious food sources. This mesquite is on the road to recovery.
A short movie tour of the desert pumpkin dome…
We arrived in the afternoon and spent the evening with Marcia in the dome, which is soo cozy and nice to be in. She told us all about date farming, which turns out to be a fascinating and complex crop that I never new anything about. I will share more on a later blog. The next day we helped Marcia start to build an earth bag closet adjacent to her dome.
Marcia is planning to make a closet that is the exact form and size of her doorway. When that is done she is going to build a bathroom and possibly another small bed womb dome for sleeping. Marcia is an amazing person and truly inspiring. It was a wonderful trip, I hope I am able to visit her again.
Check out her website http://marciagibbons.wordpress.com/
For more on earth bag building visit these websites: