Altamira

Discussion in 'Members' Systems' started by altamira55, Feb 14, 2014.

  1. altamira55

    altamira55 Junior Member

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    I was talking about my place Altamira on another thread earlier today and ever since then have been thinking about it. It was (and is) a 160 acre tract located on a high ridge of land known by different names, including the Iron Mountains, the Sandhills, and the Carrizo Sandstone Ridge. I was told by old-timers in the area that there was a Spanish silver mine on the land. I never found it and assume it caved in long ago. In addition to silver, there's a lot of iron ore, which gives a bright reddish color to the soil. Stacked flocks of wild geese used to circle over my land for hours. One of the weirdest things I've ever seen. There'd be maybe 10 flocks stacked vertically like planes in a holding patterns over a busy airport. Perhaps their navigation systems are magnetic, and the high iron content of the land confused them. Eventually, they'd move out, either north or south, depending on the season.

    I named the land Altamira, because the north side of the land was the highest point around. From there you could look out over the lowlands all the way to the Texas Hill Country 45 miles away.

    The Carrizo ridge, which extends across the width of Texas roughly parallel to the Gulf of Mexico coast, is supposed to have been a barrier island when the coast line was about 150 miles inland from its current location. The soil is coarse beach sand with red clay and multi-colored sandstone underneath. Peach trees loved the soil, which made me happy, because peaches are one of my favorite things to eat. The flora on the ridge is completely different from that of the surrounding area, which is blackland prairie with heavy black clay soil. The formal name of the bioregion on the ridge is postaok savannah, and if you look just at the climax canopy it is certainly savannah, with somewhat widely spaced blackjack oak, post oak, and hickory. But there's a very dense growth of smaller trees and shrubs underneath -- predominately pawpaw, farkleberry (aka tree huckleberry), and yaupon holly. When you're walking around in it, it feels like a jungle.

    I didn't cut the existing climax trees, only cleared out some of the yaupon. Also, I slowed down the flow of water off the land and added mulch to the soil. We used to compost everything. Copying the general idea of cat litter trays, but adapting it for compostable materials, I made a human toilet from a bucket to which we'd add high-carbon material after each use. I built a rather attractive (if I do say so myself) frame for the toilet, lned with tile inside and out so it could be washed down with by throwing a bucket of water it in; it had a door that opened to the outside of the house, so I could include emptying the toilet bucket as a normal garden chore. Cleaning the toilet became a very pleasant job, because it added to the volume of our compost pile. Later, I was delighted to find that this same idea of a bucket toilet had occurred to someone else, and he did research and found that the compost heated up enough to kill pretty much any pathgen that happened to be present, even worm eggs. He wrote a book called *Humanure*. I love his book, especially the Tips From Mr. Turdly; but I have to say, I prefer my cabinet design to his.

    The land around our house became very lush, as you can see from this photo, one of the few I still have (there was a forest / brush fire started on neighboring land when a transformer fell from an electric company pole; the fire spread to my place and burned it down, taking a lot of my stuff, including computers and photos). This photo was taken from the area where I would sit and plant seeds into flats and seedlings into larger containers. At the time, I was making a little money by selling herb plants at farmers markets.

    View attachment 2334 I would cover the shed with greenhouse plastic in winter to keep the seedlings warm (it was built onto the bathhouse, which produced warm, humid air during winter) and open it up in summer. I still have the Altamira land but now use it only for research and hunting. My house is now down the hill on land that has been very badly used in the past. Right now, it's not nearly as beautiful as Altamira, in fact in many places it's very ugly. But I'm having a lot of fun restoring it, and one day it will be beautiful. Meanwhile, I can visit Altamira, walk there, see what's going on, collect firewood; and I have a friend who hunts there and gives me some of the meat. We lost a lot of oak trees in the drought, so there's a surplus of firewood.

    It's been interesting to see which of my trees survived the fire and severe drought we've had. The mulberry and pear trees are doing fine. Rosemary grew HUGE. Shrub roses lasted for 2 years of drought, then bit the dust the 3rd year. Peach trees didn't make it. Anaqua tree burned to the ground and came back. Cassava didn't make it. Asparagus survived. Bamboo survived. Carrizo grass survived (FWIW, the Carrizo grass [giant reed] I planted at Altamira has stayed put and has not been at all invasive). Apple trees didn't make it. None of the frost sensitive stuff, such as citrus, hoja santa, and taro made it, without me there to take care of them.

    You can see some of the Carrizo grass at the upper right edge of the photo.
     

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  2. eco4560

    eco4560 New Member

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    Really sorry to hear about the fire. It must be hard to bounce back from that.
     
  3. altamira55

    altamira55 Junior Member

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    Fire

    It could have been a lot worse. My daughter and I and all our domestic animals had already moved away when the fire happened, and we had also moved a lot of our stuff. The buildings that burned were my first attempts at building houses and were learning expriences, so it wasn't a great tragedy to lose them, and only a couple of acres of my land burned. We have a wonderful volunteer fire department. My neighbor to the north saw the smoke and called them out right away. They brought bulldozers and cleared a fire break, and luckily it was not a terribly windy day.

    With advice from a friend who does insurance law, I got a very nice settlement from the electric company's insurance company, part of which I used to buy the land down the hill where I now have my house.

    I learned a lot from the experience with the fire and am building more fire protection into my current design. Fires are not that unusual in central Texas during dry seasons, so in retrospect I made a bad choice in locating my house in among the trees, especially since there were pines nearby. They tend to burst into flame explosively when they get hot. I was once standing next to a pine when this happened in a small forest fire (didn't seem that small when I was in the middle of it, it was really scary).

    A very large forest fire in 2011 that started in Bastrop, about 20 miles from my place, spread to within a couple of miles of Altamira but didn't reach it.
     
  4. adiantum

    adiantum Junior Member

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    I too have had the interesting experience of going back to places I once lived at or worked with after varying degrees of absence to observe what had survived. With a few surprises, generally the older and more established a plant was when the period of neglect began, the more likely it was to survive and/or thrive beyond. Certain annuals (Mexican sunflower in particular comes to mind first) went through a period of abundance verging on quasi-invasiveness, before subsiding to low numbers after a few more years. Surviving into a productive maturity is quite a different thing from persisting into multiple generations.....there are comparatively few plants that can keep going into the vigorous stages of succession as the ecosystem proceeds forward. Places that are periodically disturbed in one way or another are actually easier for exotics to persist in.
    The other huge lesson for you in observation is having to do with fire ecology.....which plants facilitate the spread of fire, and which hinder it; which plants perish outright, and which grow back so vigorously as to not notice. Here in CA fire is of such a frequent and ancient occurrence that quite a few plants actually depend on it, with flowers appearing suddenly after a burn which were not noticed for years beforehand, and seeds germinating afterwards which do not otherwise germinate. This is of course an excellent adaptation, ensuring these species (manzanita comes first to mind) of a relatively competition-free, nutrient rich seedbed.
     

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