Desert Street Trees

…dates…food…life…

The founder of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed, understood the hardships of the sand desert landscape. His intent for trees along all major routes of travel was eminently practical–his selection of drought tolerant, evergreen and fruit bearing trees more so.

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     The 23 Club

Immersed in the contemporary culture of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, against the backdrop of the Empty Quarter, The 23 Club tells the inside story of how an iconic project gets built in the oil rich, Gulf region of the Arabian Peninsula.

Table of Contents

  • Desertification
  • It’s 2AM
  • Spike Lounge
  • The Walk
  • Rub Al Khali Coastal

               Desert Street Trees

The weather in combination with the landscape, overwhelmed. Winds and sand swept continuously. Urban development anomalies in this desert were embarrassingly exposed in this kind of weather. Driving along Sheik Zayed Road in the Emirate of Dubai, Chalmers observed a noteworthy absence of any trees, any street trees, anything green. Nothing impeded the winds and sand flowing across the road.

After he and Jean-Claude passed the signs marking the end of the huge empty Waterfront site, they entered the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. Immediately street trees began–actually a planting thicker than street trees, more like a shelterbelt planting began–two rows of trees up the median and four rows on either verge.

The big infrastructure of irrigation water provision–hundreds upon hundreds of kilometers of pipes, valves and tubes with emitters, with controllers, with electrical supply, with pumps, pump stations, reservoirs, desalination and sewage treatment plants–always broke down at the lowest common denominator, the last meter before arriving at the plants. Chalmers looked carefully. He could see irrigation lines–the thin tubes of generic poly pipe running between the trees.

Poly pipe tubing may be UV resistant. It may be buried at the time of installation–but the incessant blowing sands always uncovered it–and the value engineering often saved money by suggesting a supplier that did not provide the best rated tubing. The flexible tubing looked like a snake rising up out of the sand and going down into it again and again. Sun exposed brittle and splitting pipe–then partially clogged outlets–both and more contributed to an irrigation of impossible efficiencies and irregular applications–wastage everywhere.

Recalling having seen these problems for more than twenty five years, Chalmers sighed with disappointment–as if he had just been kicked in the gut. At the same time, Madge’s comments about the quality of local contractors’ work and materials came searing back into his memory. Before he could sigh again, he looked hard at the trees, trees obviously straining under the wind and drought conditions.

Chalmers roughly estimated 90% of the trees were alive–that could only mean two things:  that drought tolerant tree species were used, and that laborers were regularly walking these lines to assure delivery of water to the trees. Spaghettis of pipe ran for kilometers to drip out that life giving fluid–so fragile was life for plants in this region.

On previous projects, Chalmers had seen tens upon tens of huge water tanker trucks rumbling 24/7 to supplant failed irrigation water infrastructure–causing untold stress on resources, on transportation networks and on the plants themselves. This issue would be a major point that he must control on his new project.

Offering historical background, Jean-Claude interrupted Chalmers’ thoughts, “When you mentioned Electra and New Dubai, you hinted there might be some kind of competition between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Well, that’s true. On every level there’s competition between the two emirates, even street trees.

“Listen, throughout his life, Sheik Zayed of Abu Dhabi, the very same Emirati who united the Emirates in 1970, was a major supporter of the practical benefits of shade trees and fruit-bearing trees, especially the date palms. So he chose the most useful and tough trees, Phoenix dactylifera, Ziziphus spina-christi, Prosopis cineraria…and with supporting irrigation, planted them for desert shelterbelt buffers, along all major highways. And that, that’s what we’re seeing out there right now.”

Chalmers said, “It’s pretty clear Sheik Zayed not only had common sense, but also the wealth, resources and will power to apply it.”

“Exactly, he was special. He and those around him have been quoted numerous times on the subject of trees, saying things like…farmers grow date palms in hareems…a date palm must have its feet in the water and its head in the fires of heaven…dried dates and camel milk on land–dried dates and black tea for the pearlers. C’est vrai, it’s clear Sheik Zayed had the intelligence to demonstrate the better of human qualities–humans caring for plants that in turn themselves serve humans.”

  • Rub Al Khali Inland
  • Liwa Qsar
  • The Nursery
  • Finding Majlis
  • Library Majlis
  • Villa Majlis
  • Long and Short
  • Pilgrimage
  • Wanderweg
  • Appendix 1:  Berner Oberland Back Story
  • Author’s Notes
  • Plant List
  • Colophon

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(to be continued)

© 2015 Edward Flaherty

**Blatant Plug: If you find this writing about humans and landscape intriguing, please share it with your like-minded friends. Thank you.**

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Chalmers’ Lenses

…can you feel me…

Arid sand, salty sand, sand blasting winds–all under this sun–all day every day–underestimate its strength at your peril.

The 1950s–World War II was over, the modern West was recovering and going forward full tilt into modern life, cities, technology, everything. Meanwhile in the Arabian Peninsula, Maha Gargash, in The Sand Fish, tells that Noora al Salmi was living a life where her people were still defending their tribe against other tribes. And that beast of a sand desert was then, a half century ago, no different than today–perilous.

Chalmers knew how essential were his broad explorations of cultural and natural landscapes on this project. He knew that without those extra facets of knowledge, his expected success could be compromised and irretrievably undermined.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The 23 Club

Immersed in the contemporary culture of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, against the backdrop of the Empty Quarter, The 23 Club tells the inside story of how an iconic project gets built in the oil rich, Gulf region of the Arabian Peninsula.

Table of Contents

  • Desertification
  • It’s 2AM
  • Spike Lounge
  • The Walk
  • Rub Al Khali Coastal

               Chalmers’ Lenses

Despite the last minute circumstances around which Chalmers normally received requests to fix projects, he always endeavored to understand the larger landscape context of those projects. To Chalmers, this included understanding the regional geography, both natural and cultural. Knowledge imparted strength.

To broaden his understanding of the Rub Al Khali, Chalmers would vary his perceptions of a subject, through a variety of questions, then, with each question, he would consider a variety of options. He called each option, a lens–each different lens varying in its magnification. He would then sieve the varieties of information he discovered, to end up with the nuggets, the nuggets that could elevate project quality, assure project success.

For example, he asked himself, exactly where does the Rub Al Khali start and end? Do you measure it on a map of the world…a map of the Arabian Peninsula…a map of the Abu Dhabi Emirate…a map of the Abu Dhabi Municipality? Or, on a map of oral history, as told by a Liwa Oasis resident? Is it a question of natural geography, or, cultural geography? Is it a question of geographic space, or, geologic time?

Chalmers used all resources to understand the landscape, to filter information, to gain knowledge, to enrich his project. But despite all his calculated lenses and such, deep down Chalmers had a sense that this sand desert around which, over the last decades, he had built many projects–this sand desert had dimensions he could not measure.

  • Rub Al Khali Inland
  • Liwa Qsar
  • The Nursery
  • Finding Majlis
  • Library Majlis
  • Villa Majlis
  • Long and Short
  • Pilgrimage
  • Wanderweg
  • Appendix 1:  Berner Oberland Back Story
  • Author’s Notes
  • Plant List
  • Colophon

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

(to be continued)

© 2015 Edward Flaherty

**Blatant Plug: If you find this writing about humans and landscape intriguing, please share it with your like-minded friends. Thank you.**

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Arabia Felix

…enigma…

Arabia Felix…some call it the Yemen–but, why felix? Because it gets rainfall…it is happy. But it is the Empty Quarter, the Rub al Khali, the arid, tropical sand desert that is the true enigma.

There is no Arabia Felix without the Rub Al Khali.

Straddling the Tropic of Cancer and, known in English as The Empty Quarter, the world’s largest contiguous sand desert…has always been, and still is, for humans…an enigma…throughout millennia…a massive natural and cultural enigma.

Wet and Dry

Wet and dry can describe a lot of situations in life.

the joy of wet

Wet: These snow flakes can not wait to reveal their moisture–it flows.

efficient nourishment

Dry: These dates protect their moisture–they shelter it.

Lots of ways to understand wet landscapes from dry landscapes–the landscape of the humid temperate northern slopes of the Berner Oberland from the arid tropical sands of the Rub Al Khali.

Wet is not equally distributed on the Earth’s surface. Wet and dry have to be managed. Please permit me to offer a tenuously linked digression, just for fun.

In the big picture:

Wet: water, if you just measure surface coverage, makes up 70% of the Earth’s surface or 70% wet.  Ignores the underground water table wetness.

Dry: the land surface coverage makes up 30% of the Earth’s surface or 30% dry. Includes the land permanently covered by snow and or ice.

If we generously average the area covered by a standing human, averaging babies and adults, we can say each human covers 0.5 square meter. The number of humans in the world is 7 billion, therefore humans, standing shoulder to shoulder cover much, much less than 1% of the Earth’s surface.

Is there truly a shortage of water on the planet? Plentiful water or water paucity? I wonder…if someone, in the Berner Oberland flushes the toilet with less water, will more dates grow at the edge of the Empty Quarter?

Summary of numbers:

  • 510,000,000 square kilometers=total surface of Earth
  • 350,000,000 square kilometers=wet surface of Earth
  • 160,000,000 square kilometers=dry surface of Earth
  • 2,600 square kilometers=7 billion human shoulder to shoulder surface of Earth
  • 500,000 cubic kilometers=rainfall per year on surface of Earth, or 70,000 cubic meters per human per year.
  • Each human uses an average of 200 cubic meters water per year.

Shortage? Hardly seems like there should be a shortage of wetness does there?  Am I on the edge of an enigma here? Or is ‘water shortage’ just another nuanced imperialistic push by the globalizing Western world on others…they won’t find me…I am tucked away in an enigma.

!!!Ah–but the population growth projections! Ah–but the climate change projections! Ah–but the software programs that are without fault or human error or human political influence! Ah, yes, we are sure we can control climate and weather, right?

Another glass of water, please…I know a place where the tap water is really good!

An ancient saying comes from Bharat Varsha, known these days as India–‘austerity is the wealth of the brahmanas’.

That is an intriguing concept–a lack of material possessions as a source of wealth.  It does indeed respond as a balance to the obvious excesses of material acquisition, does it not?

Hejaz, Tihama

Not every desert in the Arabian Peninsula is sand.

Hejaz, Tihama

The house, the human shelter in this photo sits where the Hejaz mountains fold down onto the flat Tihama coastal plain. The house’s position in the landscape tells the story of: water–there is life; and no water–no life.

In the mid 1980s I lived on the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia,  in the Western Region. The area is known historically as the Hejaz after the mountains running north from Jeddah, parallel to the Red Sea coast. This is the region of Mecca and Medina. And the Hejaz mountains divide the Tihama, the coastal plain influenced by the Red Sea from the inland deserts, Nafud, and Nejd.

The first time I heard the phrase in the above image caption, ‘no water–no life’ was in Morocco in the early 1970s. I was sitting with a group of people including a young Moroccan man, from Meknes, whose family originally had been farmers in Taza. He said, “Without water there is no life and no cleanliness.”

Between Nejd and Nafud

Nejd Nafud

In the Nejd and Nafud deserts, it was these sand dune beauties that called…that seemed to be the emissaries of the Empty Quarter, the Rub Al Khali, the world’s largest contiguous sand desert, located in the southern Arabian Peninsula, to the south east of the Asir Mountains and north of Yemen and Oman.

In the 1980s, while living and working in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, I travelled the triangle from Jeddah to Riyadh to Medina, touching the edges of the Nejd and Nafud deserts, and then via the Red Sea coast back to Jeddah.  There were always somewhere in the landscape…sand dunes–not always continuous but amongst rocky plains and stony mountains, sand dunes tucked here and there.

Somehow these sand dune emissaries had moved north on their own from the Empty Quarter, and I must say–they began as magnetic attractions for my eyes.

But also their landscape stories, their landscape reputations became magnetic attractions through the ears as heard by St. John Philby, Bertram Thomas, Richard Francis Burton, Wilfred Thesiger, Gertrude Bell and T.E. Lawrence–all authors, all travelers, all mesmerized into their own Arabian Peninsula sand dune desert explorations.