Friday, October 31, 2014

Monday, October 27, 2014

Zane Grey

"The lure of the sea is some strange magic that makes men love what they fear. The solitude of the desert is more intimate than that of the sea. Death on the shifting barren sands seems less insupportable to the imagination than death out on the boundless ocean, in the awful, windy emptiness. Man’s bones yearn for dust."
For a couple of years we boogie boarded in the ocean, at Manhattan Beach, and I loved the blue green water and the way the light played through it. The ocean felt like a mother or father who would throw you up into the air and when your feet touched the ground you'd cry, "Do it again. Do it again," all day long, until you were too exhausted to move.

I did it until my knees were too disabled to spring from the sand before the next wave smashed me down again.

Far North Joshua Tree, Summer Storm (This image is not photoshopped.)
I thought I'd lost that feeling until we moved to the desert and I realized we were living on the bottom of an ancient ocean - the panthallasic sea. The sky in the desert is so vast and overpowering, the colors so deep and shifting and ocean-like. I can easily see how Zane Grey could easily compare the two.

For any who might start at his statement, "Man’s bones yearn for dust," let me tell you what this means to me. In the ocean or in the desert I've felt such completeness that the idea of death ceases to have any meaning to me. Survival is a different issue, but death loses its hold. The beauty in the ocean or the desert holds a promise that one day you'll be pulled into its bosom and held there, to become one with it. It's not morbid. It's a bracing and loving promise.


I've heard a lot about black brush (Coleogyne ramosissima) but I'm not sure I've ever seen it, though every time I see rhatany (Krameria grayii) I think this must be it as the stems are so black and dead looking. But I've learned that this is rhatany.

The fact that there's a creosote (Larrea tridentata) growing out of the center of these verifies that I've made the right ID as rhatany is a parasite on creosote. You can see the yellow green branch of creosote growing out of the top left hand bush. I know in the spring this plant has the most beautiful purple flowers. I've seen them in the monument. The root is used in herbal medicines.

I'm embarrassed to say I may not be able to tell a true black brush from a creosote and in the spring will make a point to count the petals on the blossoms that each plants bears. The creosote has five petals while black brush has only  four.

Far North Joshua Tree Crime Report

There had been a row of five (5) local campaign signs lined up across the road from the parking lot of the community center. Sometime between late Friday night (October 24, 2014) and Sunday afternoon (October 26, 2014) a person or persons unknown went on a rampage and pulled up all the signs, flinging two of them into the road and leaving the rest lying helter skelter on the ground.

If anyone knows the whereabouts of these vandals please contact me as I would like to reward them.

Burro Bill and Me

This is the sign Kip made for his roving book club. The club will meet next Monday (Nov 3, 2014) at the Copper Mountain Mesa Community Center. I can't make it but Ken got the book, Burro Bill and Me, out of the library and I'm half way through it. It's an amazing little book about this married couple who trek across the west with a string of burros just before and during the depression. So many great stories, lots of laughs, and very heart felt. If you have the chance and want a romping good read, check out Burro Bill and Me.

UPDATE: Wow! I just finished the book and I think we'll have to cancel our Monday so we can go to this book club meeting. This is the best autobiography I've read since Malcolm X.

"Nevada?" [Bill] murmured, "Why, it's just like all the West -- where no man fences his neighbors out, nor himself in. It's a land of deserts and bare hills, of skies and stars -- millions of stars -- and the moon is so bright you can see to pick up a pin. You can walk for days and never meet a soul."

I know I've mentioned this before, but what really resonates with me in the desert is the darkness. When you can look to the horizon and see no artificial lights whatsoever and the sky runs into the ground like water color, I feel safe and complete and completely at rest.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Wild Geese

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

- Mary Oliver

A piece of Wild Geese was dropped in my lap by herbalist Darcey Blue of Shamana Flora. It reminded me of a quote by James Baldwin, also having to do with place and being,

"It took many years of vomiting up all the filth I'd been taught about myself, and half-believed, before I was able to walk on the earth as though I had a right to be here."
- James Baldwin (Collected Essays)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Four Wing Salt Bush

When you first drive through Joshua Tree it looks like it's all creosote, and in a way, it is. Creosote, or larrea tridentata is the dominant plant for the area. As time has gone by and we've driven the same back roads over and over again other plants have delineated themselves to my eye. First was desert willow and palo verde. Then I discovered cat's claw acacia and I've loved watching it go through its annual cycle - bright green in the spring, darker as the summer turns to fall.

There's been one lovely soft/bright green bush that I haven't been able to identify, until now. We planted a little atriplex canescens from Theodore Payne in the spring and it's grown from a tiny sprig into a foot high show off, in full bloom. Getting to see it close up helped me to identify it in the vacant lots that rim the highway and we stopped to snap a picture of the large bush above. It was so bright I couldn't really see what I was snapping but it turned out well. I love how the leaves turn brown as the air cools at night.

I studied up and was happy to see that the plant is edible, though salty. It's one of the only plants the bunnies never touched. We planted two others a few weeks ago and another version of it - quail bush, atriplex lentiformis breweri which is supposed to grow as high as eight feet. Right now everything we planted in the spring is still short, though hardy, except for the desert willow and apricot mallow which are easily two feet tall.

It will be interesting to see our place filled with dense bushes in the years to come - kind of hard to imagine but I see it happening other places so look forward to it happening here, too.

UPDATE: Yesterday I was at the flower mart in downtown LA and found Atriplex for sale. How did I live all these years not knowing that this exists?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Desert Rat Scrap Book

"When you've been here in the Desert a few years you find yourself talking to yourself... After a few more years you find yourself talking to the lizards... Then in another couple of years you find the lizards talking to you... When you find yourself stealing their amazing tales you are about ready to start a Desert paper."
Harry Oliver, 1948

No Burro -- No Gold
Sandy Walker, Desert Rat, says that in the desert a Ford lives 3 years -- a dog 3 time the age of the Ford -- 9, a horse 3 times the age of a dog -- 17, and a man 3 times the age of the horse -- 81, and some say a burro 3 times the age of a man -- 248, at least this is 4/5ths true.

Sandy Walker says you can't find gold with Fords -- have to have burros. Says he's been out here in the desert 26 years, six years hunting gold and 20 years hunting burros. He didn't find his mine while hunting gold. He found it while hunting the dad-burned runaway burros.

Many propectors will tell you that no one has ever seen a dead burro.
Printed first in "The Gold Miner," 19??

Monday, October 13, 2014

Wonder Valley View

West of the sunrise, Wonder Valley, CA
West of the sunrise, Wonder Valley, CA
This is the view from the driveway, looking to the west, in the early morning as the sun is rising. There haven't been many clouds in the sky lately so sunrises and sunsets have not been spectacular. I've grown fond of looking away from them to see what is happening in the other direction. Subtle glows and ranges of colors, as seen here, pinkish purple at the top and blue below, characterize the view. 

These are the Pinto Mountains south of Highway 62. Shelton Road goes out there. I want to explore a little. Google map shows some shallow canyons.

My favorite thing to do in Wonder Valley is to wake while it is still dark and to walk down the driveway and look toward the mountains. If I stand in just the right spot the bushes block lights across the highway and all I can see is darkness. I can imagine what it was like to be in this place before the white man improved it. And each time I see this darkness I cherish it because I know it is the nature of capital to seek the unspoiled to improve and one day the lights of a casino, or a quarry, or a hospital, or a gas station, or a hotel, will spoil this view and I'll say things like, "I remember when we first moved here and you could look across the highway and see no lights at all."

It was just 100 degrees yesterday. Just. At the beginning of the year that would have been an anomaly for me. Now it's a promise of cooler days ahead. At 3:00 p.m. yesterday Ken put two Little Johns (Callistemon citrinus) into the ground and I filled in a big hole that the previous owners had dug for a new outhouse. We did this in 100 degree heat and it was no big deal. I'd say we've acclimated.

The Little Johns are bee forage. Bees love them. Ken's donning his bee suit on Saturday and will help Kip relocate a hive from the wall behind his water heater. I already put the frames together and we moved the boxes from LA to Joshua Tree.

 Afterwards I sat on the north porch. It's shadier and the wind kicks up in the afternoon. It was cool and breezy. I looked at the distant hills and thought:
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
Psalm 121:1 
I'm not religious anymore, but from time to time these verses come back to me with their poetic resonance. I see more clearly that "where" is as important as "who," that who we are is also where we are.

Bench. Wonder Valley, CA
Bench. Wonder Valley, CA
Kinda cool story:

Monday, October 6, 2014


Yep, I got my camera back.

Witness, a photograph by T Sitz
Witness, by T. Sitz

Glass Outhouse Gallery reception

We stopped by the monthly reception at the Glass Outhouse Gallery last Saturday night. We've never thought about buying art as we'd always thought it was out of our price range.

I paid off our parking tickets last month and was shamed by the amount of money down the drain that was. Addressing the causes I feel certain that we can avoid such future charges, and perhaps in a convoluted sense of economy I feel compelled to pay a similar amount, or a portion thereof, on worthy causes. I'm not talking charities, but investments in the people around us. One way is buying art. Considering how much I paid on tickets $70-80 for a lovely small painting or print seems..., well, wonderful.

We were taken with two artists in particular: Sandra Litch and Eric Saks. We're buying Sandra Lytch's "Early Morning in Wonder Valley," below.

Early Morning Wonder Valley, by Sandra Lytch
Early Morning Wonder Valley, by Sandra Lytch
Of course, it's worlds more beautiful in person, luminous and true to the landscape.

And Eric Saks', Giverney, a color transfer print on wood.

Giverny, Eric Saks
Giverny, Eric Saks
Again, much more beautiful in person. I hate to even post these pictures because they fail to convey the beauty.

We may, in the future, offer our cabin as an AirBNB vacation rental and I want to showcase local artists, so we're off to a good start.

The next morning, on Sunday, we ran into Laurel and Frank, who own the Glass Outhouse Gallery, at church and by church I mean breakfast at the Palms Bar and Restaurant in Wonder Valley. Laurel and Frank are both artists in their own right and have built a community treasure in the gallery. If you haven't been, you've got to go. It embodies the spirit of the community and is a full-fledged joy to visit.

Laurel and Frank from the Glass Outhouse Gallery at the Palms Restaurant, Wonder Valley, CA.
Laurel and Frank from the Glass Outhouse Gallery at the Palms Restaurant, Wonder Valley, CA.
We'll be picking up our artwork next Saturday, and there's more to buy. It was hard to choose, so if you're interested, stop by the gallery, and bring your checkbook.


bird, fallen, wonder valley, california
Fallen, by T Sitz, Wonder Valley, CA

Does this cactus make my ass look fat?

Trouble sneaking up on the little people?

h/t Erik Knutzen, Root Simple