Dinosaur Bones, Dead Bodies & Treasure


Today, Chelsea and I spent a good part of the day making a giant Hügelkultur.

What is an Hügelkultur? Well, I’m glad you asked.

According to Wikipedia, also known as simply a Hügel, it “is a horticultural technique where a mound constructed from decaying wood debris and other compostable biomass plant materials is later (or immediately) planted as a raised bed. Adopted by permaculture advocates, it is suggested the technique helps to improve soil fertility, water retention, and soil warming, thus benefiting plants grown on or near such mounds.”

Chelsea, Olivia, Milo and I spent our very first weekend as a family in New Mexico at The Roadrunner Motel in Tucumcari, a run-down roadside town off of Route 66, nearly three hours from our new home.

We we’re invited by the land conservationist, Jan-Willem Jansens, to come dig holes and ditches and then fill them with a ton of stones and branches, as part of a Soil Health Workshop.

The end result we’re multiple berms, Hügels and one-rock dams, which all serve to sway and conserve water in order to regreen the land and restore soil health.

That was a week short of nine months ago, and we’ve been applying what we’ve learned ever since.

But today, was by far the biggest application, because this huge Hügel, which is using branches from about three full trees and 75 cubic feet of excavated dirt - that’s a hole’s worth of earth that is 35’ x 15’ x 6’ deep.

We’re building terraced gardens upon the Hügel that will hold our first agave plantings.

The foreman who were working with, Gino, has been digging holes for projects like this for thirty years and told me he’s found everything from dinosaur bones, dead bodies and treasure.

If it’s human remains, he says your work is done for the next three months, as the state will bring in forensic experts, archeologists and indigenous representatives to weigh in on the matter.

That said, he said he’s been surprised that when fossils or old relics are discovered - no one seems to care but him.

“I found a big ass dinosaur bone sticking out of a rock I was sitting at during lunch one time; another time I found a collection of jewelry stashed in a tiny crevice in the hillside. Each time the land owner simply shrugged his shoulder and essentially said ‘So, what?’”

I told him if he found anything - we’d care and expressed that I would find it just as exciting as I find the sunset every day around here, an amazing show that may only last about 15 minutes, but one that is well worth the gander every time.

Tonight, although I was utterly exhausted after cutting and moving branches for six hours straight, which included another mercy killing - a 30-foot tall bark beetle infested pine tree that I chopped down over two hours with a chainsaw - I climbed up the hillside at sunset and walked home from 48-B up and down the arroyos, till I came across the Mesa to Grandma Delia’s Cactus Garden.

One of the more exciting and satisfying parts of the work today for me was when I climbed higher than I’ve ever been in a tree, all the while wielding a buzzing saw. I had a good assortment of stumps to brace myself by, and in a weird way I felt secured by all the sap that was oozing from the trunk and branches that was sticking to my boots, the bottom of my pants and my gloves.

At 5ish or so, I was trying to finish the felling feat fit for Paul Bunyan, but the chainsaw kept running out of juice. I was hoping to leave by 5:30 so I could arrive home for our special duck dinner by six.

Luckily, I had some awesome music to keep me company, motivate me and pique a bit of nostalgia. Inspired by his Super Bowl performance, my listening repertoire included the instrumental version of Dr. Dre’s Chronic 2000 album, a collection of 70s and 80s rock songs, a disk of my favorite rancheras, and an amazing collection of Brazilian music a friend compiled for me back in 2007.

I capped off the day around 5:00 with disk one of Frank Sinatra’s Capitol Records hits. Accompanied by the invigorating orchestration of Billy May, Ol’ Blue Eyes echoed magnificently off the cliffs behind the house and the coup de grace was the final song I played around 5:35 in honor of both Valentine’s Day and our awesome neighbors, the Hausmans, who we’re celebrating their 40th Anniversary today as well - “Love and Marriage.”

Although I well knew I was running late and my exhaustion would slow me down, I took the not-so-long way home, a long shortcut really, up the cliffside and over the hills.

Alas, I was compelled to stop on occasion to take some of my all-time favorite sunset photos at Hacienda Dominguez & Chelenzo Farms, since our arrival in Cerrillos 271 days ago.

I walked in the door at 6:07, apologized for being late, kissed my wife, kicked off my dirty boots and jumped in the shower, so that I might sit at the supper table respectfully nice and clean.

Our family dinner was delicious and topped by some tart-yet-tasty homemade yogurt.

In sum, doing the things we love - working hard; outside, among the majesty of nature; surrounded by family, united by our efforts to build a dream homestead - was a wonderful way to spend a day that is dedicated to love.