Our first major earth-works projects began this week. “Mars-works” seems a more apt description, given the epic amounts of red clay Bob, an excavating rock star, uncovered from the depths of our rolling country hillside. Between a four-foot-deep trench cut into the hill behind our house to bury the electrical cables, to the giant cargo-container-sized cavern cut into the center of the hill to hold the solar panels and batteries, to the now leveled 26’ X 13’ plot for our permanent greenhouse. Oh, and with a brand new sloped-entry hilltop pond to gravity-water our vegetable gardens, our property has been transformed into something unrecognizable from just a few days ago.

Whatever else you might say about fossil fuel, it’s undeniable that when put in the gas-tank of an excavator, it can really tear shit up. It would have taken Matt and me months to get to this point with our shovels and our high ideals. Despite the fact that we are installing solar panels to minimize our dependence on fossil fuels here at the Reluxe Ranch, after seeing what Bob did with an excavator in a day, I am a newly converted advocate for the conscientious use of heavy equipment in creating our sustainable sanctuary (emphasis on conscientious).

I spent a couple hours playing with the excavator, digging out the pond. Sitting in the cozy, safe cockpit using the convenient bank of controls to make this giant piece of equipment behave like an extension of my body felt a lot like playing video games - except that it gave me the capability to do both good and evil to our land. In this particular scenario, I had limited destructive abilities working in a marked-out zone. I also had someone to clean up after me if needed. Still, having all that power at my fingertips made me deeply aware of the importance of having a clear understanding of your purpose before you start, if you choose to use big equipment.

When I turned off the ignition and called it a day, I stood over the gaping hole that will be our second pond and realized that for all that fast-tracking, it would still take years for nature to make a hole in the ground into the pond in our imaginations. It will probably take months water to fill the hole and make it a pond. Then plants need to grow and aquatic creatures need to move in, and a whole symbiotic self-sustaining system will hopefully take root. It was good to be reminded that Nature has its own time frame. We can speed things up here and there, but if we want to see the real benefits of our work, we need to be in this for the long-term.