Monday, July 28, 2014

Labyrinths and Medicine Wheels

The landscape out here is big. Out in our desert boonies land is usually sold in five acre tracts, with even the smallest lots selling at an acre and a quarter. Some of this is arable or at least host to desert flora and fauna. But some of the land is just parched dirt and sand with rocks given to the imaginings of man in the form of labyrinths, medicine wheels, and other marks on the land.

My friend Laura Sibley just formed a labyrinth out by a little cabin she recently bought.

This one was hand-raked and is a spiral. Its form does not detract from the rugged beauty surrounding it. It seems that the plants did not extend into this area so I'm quite certain no plants were bladed. The borders are not high enough to prevent desert creatures from crossing the landscape.

Laura's labyrinth is beautiful and in a world that scoffs at walking this serves as a tribute. We walked about 200 feet from our car to get to the labyrinth and about half way there I stopped to make sure we had enough water. It was easily over 100 degrees and the heat flattened us. We sheltered in the shade of her cabin and took pictures. It would be an ordeal to walk this labyrinth in the heat and that fact confounds the stated purposes of labyrinths of reflection and meditation. The purpose of this one, at least at this time of year, would be of persistence and endurance.

I searched for other desert labyrinths and medicine wheels and found these:

At the Joshua Tree Retreat Center, 59700 Highway 62, Joshua Tree, CA

Near 34.689312, -111.900107, The Sanctuary, Yavapai County AZ
This property - the Sanctuary - has two medicine wheels and a labyrinth.

Near 33.373170, -114.173597, Palm Canyon Road, Yuma AZ

I really like how this one, a spiral, forms a moiré pattern and becomes in essence a quartered medicine wheel.

My dear friend Annelies has a beautiful medicine circle on her property and it was she who gave me the idea of building a medicine wheel rather than a labyrinth on our desert floor. I'm not sure yet. Labyrinths have a long European history, though originally Greek, so I wouldn't be appropriating anyone's culture but my own. I would need to study and to partner up with others to do a medicine wheel right, and it's too hot right now to study or partner on projects.

Plus, I have an aversion to messing with the landscape. When I first went camping and discovered that people were arranging and stacking rocks, I had fun with that. But I quickly realized my error and stopped doing it. Few come to the desert in search of the hand of man in the landscape.

My friend Paloma De Los Angeles sent me this picture from Hawaii. Ignoring the slur against my peoples (Yes, I am descended from Vandals.) I do appreciate the sentiment.

But I have to admit that I don't have a problem with this configuration in Kendall Yards:

This space of true waste and abandonment cries out for the hand of man, for a shadow of humanity. That bridge traverses the lower Spokane Falls, a former gathering spot for native peoples. This is Kendall Yards, a development in Spokane, Washington. Their slogan is, "Urban by Nature." What an amazing slogan to describe the mystifying effects of gentrification and an extraction economy! And here peoples unknown have humanized the destruction of nature and the negation of man by building a small, mystifying, and a little bit spooky, response. Yes, we want to see the hand of man here, not just the invisible claw of a corporation manufacturing and filling need.

I'm hoping that by the time the temperature drops in October I will have worked out some of these issues and come to a resolution. At least in October it will be cool enough to walk Laura's beautiful labyrinth and see for myself what it means for these marks to exist in the landscape.

High Desert Drama, Part 2

Friday night Kip set up a movie screen outside the Copper Mountain Mesa Community Center, out back against the 40' cargo container near the abandoned baseball diamond. Four of us sat there in lawn chairs, drank hard cider and watched the 1953 movie INFERNO, with Robert Ryan.

INFERNO is a movie about desert survival, and though we weren't watching it in 3D watching it in the same environment being depicted made it all the more real. We were under a sky dark enough to see the Milky Way amid the stars and a warm desert breeze swirled around us, as if in apology for the punishing heat of the day. Above the distant hills heat lightening flashed among the clouds.

I prefer the cold to the heat. I don't like heat and was worried how I'd survive out here in the summers. I did panic for a moment on Friday morning when the temperature in Wonder Valley reached 112. Ken brought me water and a big hunk of ice which I rubbed over my head and neck and arms to cool down. It made me appreciate the Copper Mountain Mesa's breezy 90s. Still, as days go by this kind of heat wears on one and even the local desert rats were a little ragged and complaining.

On Saturday afternoon I was napping in the cabin when Ken called me out to hear the thunder. There was a storm somewhere between Highway 62 and the mesa and we could see the rain falling hard. A few minutes later it started pattering on our tin porch roof. Then it started pounding.

It was a spectacular sight to see and brought to mind the furies. It was excessive. It was difficult for my mind to piece together two such disparate elements - the arid forest and water, which made it all the more wonderful to see.

The rain continued for about an hour, with lightening flashing and thunder cracking. Then hail the size of ceci beans. We kept waiting for the stringers and washes to run but only toward the end of the storm did enough water accumulate for this to happen.  We'd argued since the spring about which way the washes ran, whether the flat landscape tilted one way or the other. Our guesses were wrong and what we learned really fast was that everything runs to the road. We marked the spots where we might build swales or dry pools to catch the water the next time.

As the rain subsided I ran down our driveway through a stream of water about 3" deep, and followed it down to the road which had become impassible. I was barefoot and the cool water and shifting sand felt just like the beach. Our neighbor to the north met us at the street and we introduced ourselves and chatted. Some people keep to themselves out here and it took this kind of event to bring the three of us together.

The road outside our house.
We missed the Copper Mountain Mesa Community Association potluck which I heard was a little miserable without power to run the coolers.We also missed another neighbor's birthday party. We're still new to the desert and didn't want to risk getting the car stuck. (This introvert is glad to have two new excuses to add to the excuse list - "The power went out," and "the road washed out.")

The sun came out and the heat climbed quickly. Steam rose off the desert and the humidity joined with the temperature to knock us back inside the cabin, though it was only marginally cooler in there. When it cooled outside we came back out to the porches to watch the clouds and the sunset.

Sometimes I feel like I'm living on the bottom of the ocean.
We have a little TV in the cabin and WIFI so we can get anything out here that we can get in the City, but we rarely watch it. We position and reposition our chairs to watch the clouds in the sky, or the play of the light on the land, or the Milky Way, or the satellites, or the Marines flying over in their helicopters, jets or ospreys. These are the dramas that hold our interest, that we have not tired.of.

Later in the evening the ground termites hatched and swarmed across the mesa in the millions. We did straggle over to our neighbor's party around 8:00 p.m. Everyone was annoyed by the termites until one of the kids suggested turning the lights on in the bathroom and turning all the other lights off. Out of the mouths of babes - problem solved and a much better party atmosphere.

The next day there were dragonflies everywhere, dispatching the last of the termites. I stood still in the driveway amid the dragonflies and listened to them frrip past my ears.

I want to say that we were blessed to be here when it stormed, but being an a nontheist I have trouble with the favoritism inherent in the word "bless." Still, how do I describe my wonder and happiness at being present? "Fortunate" doesn't fit, either, as it suggests luck and though luck had a part it was accompanied by other attributes. "Gratitutde" doesn't fit, as it fosters the ideas of debt and separateness. Perhaps as Americans we have no word to describe the deep and filling sensation of being one with nature, and perhaps that's the idea - to prevent us from even being able to describe what we're missing and instead throwing at us the shiny beads of blessings and gratitude, suggesting that the oneness we seek is not always there for us to have but something given by the state, corporation and church, something which must be paid for in gratitude, rather than claimed as a birthright.

So I'll say that this ability to be here in a place, to be one with a place and recognize the importance of that, has a deeply calming affect on me and the strength it brings me gets me through the days living in the City, moving amid - not sylph-like dragonflies - but a sea of possessions owned and those that will never be owned by me, though not for the lack of others trying to convince me of my need.

In the movie INFERNO Robert Ryan is eventually saved by Elby, an old desert rat. Ryan opens his wallet and pulls out a sheaf of bills. He smirks at how useless money was to him in the desert and offers the handful of bills to Elby. Elby looks at them and gingerly peels off one bill and tacks it to the wall. He says dispassionately, "It's handy if you happened to get to town."

Sunday, July 27, 2014

High Desert Drama, Part 1

We were lucky enough to be here in Far North Joshua Tree yesterday when it rained. It had promised to rain for weeks, and yesterday the promise was fulfilled. Lightening, thunder, torrential rains, and hail. The hours before and after the rain brought out animals I hadn't seen before so before I describe the weather I want to write about the animals.

First, I thought I saw a baby king snake - all white with black stripes. I'm always a little shocked when I see a snake - I can't quite believe what I'm seeing and often do a double take. This one was very small - maybe eight inches long and not moving. I thought perhaps it had had its head bitten off because I didn't really see one. That observation allowed me to later identify it as a full grown Mojave shovel-nosed snake.

From the blog Cannundrums, a post on shovel-noses snakes
This morning, in the loo, I moved one of the buckets and under it, in the moist sand, was a full-grown hairy scorpion - white and etiolated. We looked at each other, it turned and snuck out under the edge of the tent. Nature was calling and she didn't give a fig about scorpions.

In the evening the larrea (creosote) trees turn on with a cricket-like sound. I've searched for the source of the sound and until last night had not found it. But last night one of the creatures moved and I saw it - a perfectly camouflaged green bush grasshopper (Bootettix argentatus). It was most impossible to see and I only saw it because it moved.

Also in the loo. I picked it up and immediately regretted it as I thought I'd killed it. I found out later that it was playing dead.

Just before dark last night I saw what looked like a huge butterfly moving erratically through the air, tight turns and bolts, very fast - only in silhouette as it was getting very dark. I didn't know it at the time, but the rain had awakened the termites and millions were flying through the air. In the morning the ants were carting off the last of the remains of the night's post deluge orgy.

I found this on a creosote bush and got some help from a reader there says it looks like a mantid ootheca. I'll try to get a closer shot next week, if it's still there.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

How to get there from here

A simple yet accurate depiction of the landscape between the houses of two friends.
We're not going to the desert this weekend, for the first time this year. It feels strange, but relaxing, too. We do so much when we're there. We're missing the Copper Mountain Mesa Community Association board meeting today, at which we were going to pitch an event. At least three board members are unable to attend so they might not be able to vote anyway.

Things are winding down for the summer. The Glass Outhouse Gallery is closed until September. People are "summering" elsewhere.

We're staying in LA because I have a dentist's appointment and we're having the car serviced. Chores.

I am a different person when I am here than when I am in the desert and the desert me makes the city me possible, so I will miss the trip. See you all again next week.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Independence Day 2014

It was very hot in Far North Joshua Tree last weekend, and humid - 100+ degrees and 50%+ humidity. It was quite miserable. The swamp cooler does nothing but mock, "You're hot? How about a little more humidity, Scarecrow?" The one consolation is the incredible clouds that traverse the sky all day and night, and the play of the light on the landscape, a spectacular drama for a city girl celestially deprived.

After sunrise, Friday, July 4
The cabin does not cool off when the sun sets, even with the wind whipping through the windows. I could not bear to be in there at night so pulled a bed out to the patio. I no longer cared about snakes or scorpions or anything else that might crawl across me in the night.

A warm desert breeze grazed across my body as I lay on my bed. I watched the half moon set, dipping occasionally behind a cloud. For its finale the moon appeared deep orange just above the horizon, lighting the edges of the clouds.

My son came outside for a minutes and found a baby banded gecko by the door. The gecko must have been ill or distressed for we found him dead in the sand the next morning.

The change in light awakened me about 5:00 a.m. The sun was beginning to rise. In the west lightening flashed and the air smelled of creosote. At 7:00 a.m. I could see it was raining over Big Rock and the Marine training center. The smallest sliver of a rainbow hung off a distant telephone line, like a dish towel.

I tried to take a picture of a mockingbird in one of our creosote bushes but just as I was about to snap the photo the mockingbird jumped down to the driveway, where I saw a red racer snake that it had been dogging. I followed the snake for awhile and did catch a video, which I may post later. I take it as a very auspicious sign to see a snake, especially a non-poisonous one.

At one point in the day, when skies were dark, I took the opportunity to take pictures of the larrea trees (creosote). This is from my favorite, whom I named Terpsichore after the muse of dance. I had never seen a green gall, only the dead brown ones. These are formed by parasites, the Creosote Gall Midge (asphondylia). They chew into the branch and the tree responds with a gall of deformed creosote leaves.

On Friday night a bunch of us went to the Palms for Eden's birthday. I hadn't met Eden (formerly Peggy) but know she's associated with High Desert Test Sites, and she seems like a swell gal. There was a spectaclular sunset.

 The Sibleys played with Leslie Mariah Andrews who later rocked the house with incredible bluesy tunes. I love the ambiance of the Palms. It's not a restaurant or bar in the regular sense. It's more like a cooperative run by truly benevolent rulers. It really feels like home.

Laura Sibley (of the Sibleys) and Leslie Mariah Andrews
The next morning was the Monthly Pancake Breakfast at the Copper Mountain Mesa Community Association. I worked the door, taking money and giving tickets. We served 65 breakfasts and then ran out of food. Steve and Kip cooked, Annelies and Patrick served and Mary Helen did the dishes. Incredible volunteers. Annelies also made everyone a 4th of July cocktail - a rum and piña colado mix over ice and strawberries and blueberries. Way to drive traffic to the community center, Annelies, with fabulously delicious cocktails!
Steve Tuttle and Kip Fjelt cooking breakfast.
Stevie gave us all free blood pressure tests in the back of the room - helping to keep us all heart healthy.
Stevie (right) testing Kelly Gazlay's blood pressure.
When breakfast was over, the dishes washed and the receipts counted, all who worked the breakfast congregated on the patio and watched the rain fall over Joshua Tree Park. At once everyone's phones blared an emergency signal and we were all warned of flash floods in Twenty-nine Palms. No one was headed that way so we just sat awhile and watched the lightening and listened to the thunder.

Looking south over Copper Mountain and the rain over Joshua Tree Park
Looking north past the center gazebo and baseball diamond toward the Marine training center
As you can see here, we all marveled at the six inches of rain that fell on the mesa.

The ruler from the Field Guide to Desert Holes shows we had six inches of rain.
Saturday night we walked the wash over to Gloria's house where Kip set up a movie screen and projector to test for an upcoming movie night at the Community Center. We watched Ron Ormond's Mesa of Lost Women as dry lightening flashed in the night sky over Twenty-nine Palms. It was a pretty bad movie with what Ken described as a punk flamenco soundtrack. Still, great watching it outside, and a dreamy walk home across a dark desert.

Shot off the screen at a private screening on Saturn Street, Far North Joshua Tree
Before we left yesterday I checked on our gecko. In the course of 24 hours the ants had stripped him to a skeleton, which I then removed and placed under a larrea tree. The gecko's fragile beauty was broken down and reclaimed by the teeming and largely unseen life of the arid forest. This place, the Mojave, at first seeming so barren and lacking in distinction, is full of beauty and love and surprise and drama for all who take the time and make the effort to see and feel it.

Two more cloud photos gleaned from hundreds that we took over the weekend.

Mammatus clouds
Clouds on the west side of the sunrise