Gilbert Velasco, retired construction worker at Big Bend State Park east of Presidio, built most of the roads in that huge park. Which meant moving a lot of yuccas and other desert plants. He knows instinctively, for instance, not to take a soaptree up by digging all the way to the bottom of its taproot. Seen here, ’97-’98 maybe, digging up a soaptree yucca a friend and I were responsible for planting at my old home in Presidio, and moving it across town to be set out at my new home was no big deal to him. Although the sight a bit strange, yes. (DMT photos)
By Dan Bodine
Don’t ever dig up a nice-size soaptree yucca tree. In case that’s ever crossed your mind. As a way, say, to alleviate boredom. One, it could be illegal. Depending on the location.
Also, neither you nor your kids nor your grandkids will ever get to the bottom of the damn taproot, in order to bring it up in one piece. If that’s your game, that is. Never! Tell your wife you’ll buy her a huge silk palm for the yard instead.
Trust me! I’ve some experience here. Me and a county judge down in Presidio County attempted it once. Over 20 years ago. We finally threw in the shovels and broke it off. The tap root. Probresito!
Monroe Elms and I did, yes. Any of ya’ll remember that yáhoo? Our runnin’ days in those years right before (and after) he and Ali married?
Runnin’ with him was like being sandwiched between two dry martinis someone didn’t shake well — A scholarly jurist at sunrise and a tightfisted Mexican patrón at sundown.
The slow transition from one to the other many considered a libertarian work of art. Right out of a Big Bend snapshot!
It was ’92 or ’93, seems like. I was a new JP; still publishing The International Presidio Paper, too. Maybe about a year after I’d moved out of the Housing apartments into my little mobile home, seems like.
Needed landscaping plants, of course. Monroe had a section of land he’d just purchased southeast of Marfa, maybe 23-24 miles.
He and I started just before mid-day on a Saturday it seems, some time in April or May, after picking out this particular beaut.
I’d spent my growing up years working for a nursery back in Cleburne (D-FW area). Balling trees and shrubs up out of the ground for sales and replanting later was old hat. I’d convinced Monroe it shouldn’t take but a half hour or so.
Well, hours later, with the sun lowering in the west, we were exhausted near the end of the ordeal, needless to say.
My first lesson on desert plants was well on its way after we hadn’t gone down but a foot or so. Balling the roots was out the window; strange roots, this plant had.
Normal tree roots branch off every which way, almost like a web. That’s why you can dig down in a deepening, concave bowl around a trunk and come up with a good amount of roots intact. They hold their dirt. The “web” keeps things together in a ball shape.
Never, NEVER, had I seen those short, coarse “bedhead” type roots that stick out from a desert yucca’s lower spine before, however!
Maybe 8-10″ long, they’re like crumpled, hardened siphoning straws sticking out from around the lower trunk–their job to suck up moisture when it rains, and send it into the tree’s belly for storage.
A cooling system in place naturally, long before someone ever invented the electrical fan to modernize things.
But not being able to bring the soaptree up in a ball changed the whole game plan. My norte gringo experience with plants told me, instead, we were going to have to bring this baby up taproot and all. I was sweating profusely, yes.
“Dan, you sure you know what you’re doing!?” Monroe began to ask.
Was he questioning my expertise?
“Keep digging, keep digging, we’re closer.”
At one time Monroe might as well have been at the bottom lifting the dirt up to me in a 5-gallon bucket by rope and pulley. I couldn’t hardly see him he was so deep.
The sounds of the pickax and shovel seemed to be going thru 3-4 times zones before ever reaching my ears.
Hee, hee, don’t laugh! We were way-y-y beyond the point where a good fisherman says cut bait and skedattle! Grudgingly, I finally threw in the towel.
“Naw, we’ll never find it,” I said. “Let’s break it off and hope for the best.”
It took a few twists and jerks, but we finally heard the snap. And it came loose! I had my first soaptree yucca.
We took it to my little place in Presidio, and laid it on the ground overnight. The next day I sat it out in front of the mobile home, a true sentry if there ever was one.
After Noemi and I married, we later moved over on Millington Avenue. Naturally, I had to take Soap with me. Gilberto Velasco was kind enough to tackle moving it for us.
I asked if he had an extender on his backhoe that went halfway to China. Where I’d planted the tree, it turned out, was adjacent a small leak in my underground water line. Ol’ Soap discovered it and grew in leaps and bounds the few years she was there because of it.
But Gilbert didn’t know all that yet. He looked a little perplexed about needing an extender, taken aback that digging up these trees could be anything but a snap. Even this one by now, long-waisted as it was.
“I know how to take up yuccas,” he answered.
Sure enough, he went down a few feet with the large scoop and snapped the root. Another communication line to China broken in two, I thought. To him, a piece of cake. Soap came up without problems.
(About photos: That’s Gilbert driving the backhoe in the photo at the top of this story. Carrying it over to our new house. Hee, hee. That scene there is on F.M. 170 in front of the high school right after passing the Big A Mart. He continued that direction several blocks more, on what was then that unpaved street that began at the ol’ red hotel curve, the second photo. The scene at right is Gilbert in our backyard preparing to lift Soap over a
From the backyard, Gilbert had to lift the big yucca (top photo) over a fence to place it in the front yard, into a hold I’d already dug for it. This photo directly above shows an employee guiding the big soap down into the hole. When we moved from Presidio to El Paso in 2010, the night before, sitting on the patio after going around one more time and looking at my plants, saying goodbye to them (especially the long-waisted lady), I actually started crying. When Noemi asked why, I told her: “These plants are my kids, and I feel like I’m walking out on them.”
chain-link fence to a spot at the rear of our house’s west wall. The next photo shows an employee guiding the soaptree down into a hole I’d already dug for it. )
Memorable, yes, these experiences were.
Next month will be four years since Noemi, Kareli and I moved to El Paso. My continuing health problems along with that long drive underscored the wisdom in our deciding to move here.
But, indeed, this soaptree yucca was special to me, readers. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t bring Soap with me.
She was always ready to begin another story.
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