Fresh Ideas: Finding a new piece of paradise

Not often does a person stumble upon Eden in a desert. It’s a rare, wonderful thing, and I never supposed I’d find it.

The miracle happened, though, and my partner and I have lived here for 15 years now.

It’s an ideal spot I’ve pictured most of my adult life: A cabin in the mountains, water flowing through the yard. Here, the Flowery Range’s foothills rise on the north, then spread out to flank us on the west and east, before they drift south to surround American Flat. Geographic perfection, says the Feng Shui text I consulted.

The Flat is remote, two miles of dirt road from a state route connecting Silver City and Virginia City. Our single neighbor dwells quietly out of sight behind a ridgeline. The view extends about 10 miles south to the Pinyon Range and Flowery Range’s extension behind Dayton. An undimmed Milky Way stretches brilliantly across a black sky. The stillness is palpable, huge, all-encompassing. Towering clouds flow solemnly east, and giant poplars and cottonwoods shade us.

Water rising in a spring box in the desert! In the concrete ponds, pink, gold, and white water lilies, watercress, and reeds share space with frogs and goldfish that glint and sparkle, flashing through ever-moving water. Our summer evenings in the swing or hammock, lulled by murmuring voices of water falling into itself, crickets’ songs, croaks of amorous frogs. Soft winds stir the perfume of lilacs and blooming locusts.

And a garden: concrete footings, wood framing, and chicken wire protect raised beds and ground level plots teeming with tomatoes, onions, garlic, potatoes, as well as a row of espaliered fruit trees. All are the product of abundant surface water we’ve diverted.

Paradise is complete with chickens and eggs: dense, rich, red-gold yolks both beautiful and delicious. The full circle of chicken manure composting the garden’s soil lets me feel harmony with all life. Two dogs delight in perfect freedom, as do we.

Why would we leave this piece of heaven?

The fall from grace was really always there. Mining claims overlie the Flat, and a sporadic operation in the early years slowly grew a small “heap leach.”

Four years ago a large, ambitious conglomerate arrived. They surface-mined hugely, moving a mountain from near Devil’s Gate into our front yard. Our low-key neighbor fled, the Flat’s mining claims were acquired, and now we find ourselves surrounded. An enormous, naked dirt pile now blocks all but the mountain’s crests.

And, it’s no longer silent. Backup beepers, thumping crusher, and rattling conveyor belts are industry’s music by day. Water pumps throb all night.

Paradise’s own downside has enveloped us as well. The hand-made water system fails regularly. Plants quickly reclaim ponds. Aphids and mold plague the garden, chickens lay only two years. Dead frogs plug the spring box, herons love goldfish. Wasps suck the cherries dry. Magpies strip the pear tree in an afternoon. Mint clogs the creek, which has flooded the garden. A rattlesnake took one dog, a mountain lion the second. This winter, water pipes were frozen for three days.

The reality of a high-maintenance home coupled with the mining presence has forced a decision. Nature isn’t particularly tolerant of dabblers, and our earthly paradise has become a chore. Business is powerful, and corporate management has dangled a carrot so crisp even lifelong dreams change. Despite grieving, we’re moving on. Perhaps we’ll find paradise elsewhere.

Susan Stornetta is a retired archaeologist and a long-time Comstock resident.


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