Key To Life

July 20, 2023


The key to building a sound dam is the trench beneath it.

We are building a 400-foot dam to create a small lake for wildlife and irrigation. Mike, our contractor-artist, explains a dam needs to have a "key" of clay beneath it to arrest percolating water. Water has a mind of its own, and will find the weak spot in a structure sooner or later, unless the seal is foolproof. So, a key is excavated about 3 feet deep to make sure no lenses of sand are lurking underneath the dam. It is then refilled with packed clay, layer by layer, to the height of the dam. This dam will be about 15 feet tall at the lowest point of the topography. It tapers off at each end, as it ties into the two hills it is connecting. 

Topsoil is scraped off in search of clay, which is painful to witness. We have invested so much effort to build topsoil over the years, that it is counter-intuitive to remove it. But all is not lost, as it will be spread over the top and backside of the dam. 

We are also hauling dirt from the nearby streambank for the backside of the dam. We are embarking on another effort to renovate more streambanks on the property. This involves taking out the trees, hauling them away, pulling dirt back from the vertical bank to a 45 degree slope, hauling that dirt to another location, and finally replanting the streambank with willows and sycamores. Previously we hauled the dirt to a nearby hillside. We are currently hauling it to the backside of the new dam just across the field. The picture below shows topsoil and bank-fill being inventoried before it will be pushed forward to join with the dam.
We can see the dam taking shape, as the streambank supplies much of the dirt. This represents about a week of work so far, involving multiple pieces of equipment. 
Pictures of raw dirt are not becoming in themselves, but we are adding another compelling dimension to the vision of our landscape. This lake will be the deepest body of standing water on the property, serving purposes a wetland does not. It will harbor fish year around and will have enough capacity to provide drip irrigation for growing vegetables. 

Several young Mennonite families will be moving to our property in another year or so to grow vegetables. That will be a new and welcome enterprise, and this lake will be central to their success. 
In contrast, below we see a handmade dam of willow stakes and branches. This has been installed by Gary Stauffer and his team, in less than a day. It will impede flow in one of the tributaries to our larger creek, hydrating fields to either side. It will be interesting to see how this holds up under heavy flows of water.
Recent reading is of Wendell Berry's new and epic tome: The Need To Be Whole, Patriotism and the History of Prejudice. This is magnificent in every way. His prose is so precise and spare, that no sentence is wasted. Reading his words is like listening to beautiful music; the effect is so sublime the content seems secondary. 

This content, however, is extraordinary, in that he stares at and reflects upon the root of prejudice in our culture. What a quagmire, about which he does not hesitate to opine. His underlying thesis is the great ills of our society, whether prejudice, global warming, or political divide, reflect upon one basic phenomenon: a lack of community. And no force has been more responsible for dismantling small communities over the past 50 years than industrial agriculture. This has had all sorts of unintended consequences, which we are only now beginning to understand. His eloquence on the subject is breathtaking.

His thesis sets the background perfectly for Chris Smaje's recent book A Small Farm Future. Smaje makes the case that the only way to establish sustainability on the planet is for much of the populace to return to small-scale, agrarian living. Such culture is where cost of living is low and quality of life is high. This too is a compelling presentation, that is hard to dispute.
We recently enjoyed a gathering of young entrepreneurs and their families at our farm. They brought their adorable children and we talked about the opportunity of turning the larvae of Black Soldier Flies into commercial products of: fertilizer, animal protein, and oil. To stimulate conversation, we fed them smoked leg of lamb and mango chutney, among else, as above.

Bob will be delivering to Madtree this Sunday the 23rd, from 10 to 11 AM. Remember to place orders by Friday midnight.

We recently decided we have to bring our delivery of food to conclusion, reluctant as we are to do so. Thus, October 1 will be our last day delivering to Madtree. This, of course, is not something we are happy about, but it is inevitable, as it is time for our next step.

We will have more about that next step later, but we will make every effort to stay in touch with you through periodic blogs. I will be sending them from the website for our wetlands:

any of you would like a tour of our evolving farm and wetlands, we thought we'd set one up for Saturday October the 7th. Let me know if that is of interest.

We still haven't explore the "key to life", but we do know something about the key to a dam. Given the depth of the topic involving the key to life, let's save it for a subsequent round of discussion and attention. In the meantime, we can now feel assured that none of our dams will leak.

In the clay,
Drausin & Susan
Drausin Wulsin

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