Monday, June 9, 2014

Prescription for desert life

There's a Luckie Park in Twentynine Palms - a little patch of green with a swimming pool in the middle of the sandy town. You realize the park must honor someone named "Luckie," probably someone from the 50s or 60s, probably pictured in a simply framed, low contrast, black and white photograph just inside the door of the pool house.

If you're fortunate, you'll find out something more about Dr. James Buckner Luckie.

He served in World War I and had a medical practice in Pasadena. He served a lot of veterans who returned form WWI with asthma, TB, lungs damaged from mustard gas and nerves destroyed from warfare. Back then they were referred to as "shell shocked." Now we call their malady PTSD. After the war the government sent Southern California veterans to the VA hospital near the ocean, and they did not get better.

Dr. Luckie traveled around California looking for a place where his veteran patients could heal and live their lives as freely as possible. When he arrived at the Oasis of Mara (now Twentynine Palms) he knew he'd found the place he was looking for. The elevation, the dry air, the peacefulness all contributed to the health of his patients.

He later wrote his thoughts in this note to the author of Sand in My Shoes, Helen Bagley.

From Dr, James B. Luckie.

The prescription reads, "The thought that came to me when I first saw the valley, 'If scenes like these thy heart can share, Then bide a welcome pilgrim here.'" Dr. James B. Luckie *

During Dr. Luckie's career he sent hundreds of suffering young men to the desert and many of them stayed and built a life for themselves. He wrote that if there were ever a monument built to him he wanted these lines from Mozart's The Magic Flute to grace it:

Here far from noise and turmoil
May brotherly love prevail.

It's difficult for me to write of the people here. The desert is full of secrets and those entrusted to me I will not share. I will not betray my friends by writing about them even in generalities. But I can write about myself. Never have I felt so able to be myself in any place, among any other people. Never have I been the recipient of such lavish generosity. Never have I felt so inclined to give.

I feel a swell of understanding and affinity when I read Dr. Luckie's words. I feel I know exactly what he meant and I feel fortunate to step into, along with others who live here, the continuing line of his legacy.

Should you have what it takes to live in the Mojave: the ability to withstand the elements, the crazy insects and snakes, the bombing in the nearby hills, the dirt roads, the tenuous utilities, the vast and looming space, the inky and still darkness, and the ability to take people as they are, you will in time, become the recipients of desert's secrets, too.

Dr. James B, Luckie, in full color.
A short history of Dr. James B. Luckie.

* Song. From B. Beresford