Trenches and Benches, Basins and Berms
We woke up this morning before dawn to rain coming in our open window. Soft drops had dampened the carpet and we enjoyed the falling water more than we can tell. With humidity in the 20% range, we knew the carpet was not in trouble…it would dry quickly. But to feel the rain on our faces after days of blazing sun was a treat from heaven.
Immediately our minds turned to the gardens we are putting in at Rancho de Sus Ninos, an orphanage in the countryside where Tecate meets Tijuana. Much of our work has been done preparing for a morning like this, a morning when life giving water falls from the sky to open the seeds and start the cycle of birth, growth, and death all over again.
The pile of manure the size of our living room has been nibbled on by pitchfork and wheelbarrow and moved into windrows of growing beds curving across the field with dirt paths between them. The curves were carefully marked out by our first volunteer, Tim Colton, who knew how to trace the lines with a tall triangle made from salvaged boards, some twine, and a hunk of old rebar we found.
e used the same tool in the steep field of the orchard to lay out the path for the Bobcat with it’s scoop to form trenches and benches, or basins and berms as he called them. With those in place now, erosion can stop.
Water landing on the dry earth, which is not able to soak rain in as fast as it falls, will flow into the bowls and pause there to soak in slowly. It then will, if there is enough, flow through the soil under the berm and water the trees we will be planting on the downhill side of the berm. A marvelous, natural system to gather water and use it for creating food, not deep gullies as it rushes to the rivers and the sea
We are on the western edge of the Sonoran Desert, in an ecological convergence zone where the dry sand meets the very occasional winter rain from the Pacific Ocean. This translates into sagebrush and scruffy grasses and weeds with long, long tap roots. Except where man has gone. There the dirt roads of even an occasional passing disturb the soil enough plants can’t grow and erosion can set in. Like our lives, this is a fragile environment.
It is not hard to see the parallels in our lives. When left to grow naturally and easily, we are filled with life, with the sagebrush and ground squirrels of friends and neighbors, with the lizards and ants of children and parents, all adding color and character and quality to who we are and what we do.
But when the “world” with it’s ways of walking through our lives uninvited shows up our lives can erode like the soil of the desert. All the goodness we’ve gathered can be rapidly eroded by the call of the television and advertisements and pressures of a commute. It does not take long for the beauty of our lives to become polluted by the footprints of the greed of commerce, the insanity of lust.
So the question comes up, what are the trenches and benches, the basins and berms of your life? Who put them there and when? Was it a kindly grandfather who patiently showed you how to ride a bike or prune a grapevine? Was it a loving parent who listened to you tell a childish joke over and over and laughed with you every time at the silliness it reflected? Perhaps there was a teacher who opened your mind and your heart to the wonders of the wilderness or the beauty of a good book.
Whoever it was, it is never too late to thank them. Call them now or even if it is only with a look up at the sky toward where they have now gone, let them know you appreciate their gift of being a basin and bench for you so the rains of life would not wash away the goodness of your personal soil.
And don’t be surprised if they ask you about how you are doing at being a basin and a berm, a trench and a bench for someone else. It’s a great job, doing that. One that will bring life to others and to you as well. A life that is not being washed away by the harsh rains of the world.
Happily Hoeing in Mexico for a season,
Jon and Elaine, you traveling farmers and all their pets who are home on the island building benches and berms for all their friends.