In the city, we had a gardener. Jose arrived on our cul-de-sac in his beat-up truck and trailer on Friday mornings at 9:00 a.m. sharp. After mowing, edging, and trimming our yard, he walked across the street to his next account and so on until the yards he tended were immaculate by noon.
We chose a tropical theme for our city oasis. Queen’s palms surrounded our loosely Mediterranean-style tract home, interspersed with Birds of Paradise, Jasmine, and Lily of the Nile. Our grass, smooth like a putting green, had borders of pansies in the winter and marigolds in the summer. Our focal point was an impressive grove of Sego Palms that grew underneath our living room window, and we sold their pups.
Located in a high desert climate of sagebrush, natural grasses, oak, and pine trees, Cook Peak looked fancy, set on a hill with a sloping lawn while most of the neighbors sprayed their yards into barren moonscapes. Others utilized drought-resistant plants interspersed with river rock and wagon wheels for low maintenance. With the outrageous cost of water and the threat of wildfire, greenery was kept to a minimum and gardeners out of a job. As newbies transplanted from the city, we could not live without grass. Embracing our hubris, we purchased lawn equipment and mowed on Fridays like Jose.
In the backyard and side yards around Cook Peak, thick ground cover bloomed with purple flowers in the spring. Worried about rattlesnakes with so much foliage to hide, we killed the ground cover out of fear and blamed it on the high cost of water. Meanwhile, our thirsty fescue lawn demanded water three times a day. We planted bushes and flowers we knew from the city, but they died in the soil as hard as concrete. Afraid of fire, we cut down the wall of Junipers that surrounded Cook Peak. Eventually, deer discovered the hedge out front, and the mistletoe choked the oaks. During the California drought in 2013, we killed the lawn. At first, we felt empowered for doing our part to save water, but after the Erskine Creek Fire in 2016, we longed for green again.
June marks our 16th year at Cook Peak. It was only last fall that we embraced drought-resistant plants and built a privacy fence in the front yard worthy of Sunset magazine. Flowers now grow in terracotta pots. Just last week we hauled truckloads of rock from the river to replace our once grassy knoll. Creating a mountain oasis takes time. Some might say the only thing missing at Cook Peak is a wagon wheel. Don’t worry; we’ll probably get there someday.