Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A proper hat

Years and years ago I worked as a waitress in downtown San Francisco, in a restaurant that catered to the business crowd. Every day a bevy of young secretaries and receptionists would step up to the podium to confirm their lunch reservations and Frank, the maitre d', would escort them to their tables.

San Francisco is usually chilly and these young women did not want to hide their stylish dresses and suits under sweaters or coats so they'd fold their arms across their chests to keep themselves warm. Shivering, they'd shuffle unsteadily across the room atop three inch heels, bobbling a little like penguins. It seemed unprofessional to me to wear three inch heels and not be able to walk in them properly. I was determined to do better, and I did. It didn't take me long to learn to glide smoothly across a room, to walk up the steep San Francisco stair streets, and to even run a short distance in them, but even I could not walk down the hills in heels. It's bad physics. I would take them off and walk barefoot. It seemed something Holly Golightly might do while saying something offhand and clever.

All these many years later I live in the desert and the thought of walking in sand in high heels is flat out funny. It should probably be a race at the county fair. I'd pay to see it.

Now I'm telling you all this because it came to mind when an acquaintance gave me the side eye about my cowboy hat. Of course there are very few cows out here, and certainly no real cowboys, but this is the west and the cowboy hat is a western hat.

Last year, when we first arrived, we bought the same expedient hat that everyone buys from the Valero gas station - the big straw garden hat with the security strap and the drawstring bead. It served its purpose but one year later the brim is starting to tear off. It does not seem particularly suited to the landscape. I decided this year to invest in a proper hat, a serious, no-nonsense hat, and I chose the hat I'm wearing above at a western store in Phoenix.

The reason it reminded me of my experience with high heels is that you also have to learn how to wear a cowboy hat. If you're self conscious in it, you might as well go back to the Valero.

It's windy out here and my cowboy hat has no security strap, no bead to draw the string through, no training wheels, so right out of the gate that hat expects something from me. How do I keep it on my head?
  1. I bought a hat that fit - this is no one-size-fits-all nonsense.
  2. I wear the hat low and snug on my brow, not pushed back like a beauty queen.
  3. I've learned to tilt my head into the wind so the hat won't blow off.
My little sister, wearing her
cowboy hat professionally.
I've learned to wear the hat professionally.

A cowboy hat is practical and in that sense it fits the landscape. Because the sides are higher my peripheral vision is preserved, and I can hear better. The big drooping brim on the garden hat cuts the sounds and makes it impossible to see to your side without lifting your head, not the best option when drinking with the other animals at the watering hole.

A garden hat is on again off again. You can't wear a garden hat in town. Well, you can. People do, but it's not professional. It's only because they don't have the confidence, or haven't been here long enough, to wear a proper hat.

The cowboy hat hearkens back to another time. When I was a kid my sister and I wore cowboy hats every day. So did my grandpa. It's nice to be back in a desert with a good hat on my head. The desert is not so much about who or where you are as when you are: and when an acquaintance questions your decision to wear a cowboy hat, you've got to have the confidence to re-evaluate that relationship.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Brave Cowboy, by Edward Abbey

The film Lonely are the Brave reads like a love letter from the past to all the desert rats living in the Mojave. In the opening scene Douglas is camped out and awakened by jets flying overhead. The modern world encroaches on all of us here in Joshua Tree and Other desert cities, as close as we are to the Marine Air Ground Combat Center with the jets, helicopters, troop transports and osprey they harbor tagging the skies.

Aldous Huxley wrote of the stillness in the desert, "Jet planes, for example - the stillness is so massive that it can absorb even jet planes... Jet planes are already as characteristic of the desert as are Joshua trees or burrowing owls; they will soon be almost as numerous." - Essays: The Desert Boundlessness and emptiness

Our little homes, many of them no more than 200-400 square feet, are perched on the edge of the world, at the end of nature, and at the beginning of where dragons be. The fire and smoke of bombs and artillery rise above the ridge behind us and punctuate our mornings, rattling the glass in the windows and shaking the pictures on the walls by their shoulders.

Edward Abbey, the patron saint of desert dwellers, wrote the book The Brave Cowboy. Daltron Trumbo wrote the screenplay. The studio gave the film its enigmatic title, Lonely are the Brave, chosen from many much worse. They didn't want to make the movie and when the critics loved it, they didn't want to distribute it.

Kirk Douglas and Gena Rowlands are straight up hot and their relationship is as complex and frustrating as it is beautiful. The fight with the one-armed man is brutal and raw. I knew exactly how the movie would end and so before the ending commenced I left. I could not bear to watch what I knew was going to happen. Technically I haven't seen the ending of the film, though I've seen it in my imagination and that was bad enough.

My imagined ending of Lonely are the Brave recalls for me the night. a little more than a year ago. Driving past the Cabazon monolith I glanced southward and saw a man's body stretched on the hot pavement of a frontage road, lighted by the headlamps of police cars. He had been hit twice and killed. His body was broken and crushed. The Highway Patrol and the papers described him as a jaywalker, a retronym that describes a walking man in relation to a murderous automobile. He was doing what man does. He walked, on the edge of the world, at the end of nature, and at the beginning of where dragons be.

Horror floats to the surface of desert sands and pokes through like bones that won't stay buried. Sometimes it feels too much to bear but the horrors here are nothing compared to the those of living in the city. The desert gives you beauty and love to bear the horror. The city gives you another punch on your punchcard.

The Copper Mountain Mesa Community Center will be screening Lonely are the Brave after dark on June 20, out behind the cargo container. There will be lots of hearty food. Bring a chair and your beverage of choice. Watch this film as it was meant to be watched, under the desert stars with other desert rats, and a warm wind gentling through the creosote.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


Hammerstones are smallish, fist-sized rocks that fit comfortably in a human hand and were used as hammers or other crushing tools. There will usually be damage on one or more sides of the stone: flaking, cracks, pits, or crushed areas.

These four stones were found on our property. I presume that a previous resident collected them from different areas in the Mojave desert and placed them throughout the property, afterwards forgetting about them, and leaving them behind.

Rocks rate high with desert rats. We search for them, collect them, save them, cherish them and even gift them. I imagine they were equally important to native peoples who may have selected these stones for their unusual beauty.
I could imagine these stones being passed down from generation to generation. It's unfortunate that these tools, if tools they be, were not documented so more of their history could be determined. I'm happy to have found them and am happy to be able to freely touch and hold them.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Mysteries solved

I love my new book, Plants of the East Mojave, by Adrienne Knute. Some day I'll be an expert at identifying native plants of the Mojave, but until then please feel free to call "bullsh*t" on any of my IDs that you disagree with. I do expect extra credit, though, for stumbling forward in my efforts.

I never thought I'd find the ID for this one - above, especially since it is a scarce 1/2 inch in diameter. And honestly, I did think it might be a buckwheat due to the compact ring of rounded leaves underneath it. Plants of the East Mojave calls it chorizanthe rigida, the  perfect name for "rigid spiny-herb" or a Italian stripper turned politician ." It is in the polygonaceae (buckwheat) family. It grows under very harsh, hot conditions," which should tell you something about our property. It also grows among the black lava rocks near the Kelso Dunes, or so says, "Plants of the East Mojave."

I had previously, and erroneously, identified this (above) as desert lupine. Nope. It's not. It's astragulus layneae - layne locoweed - makes the cattle cray-cray when they eat it. But it's SO pretty and it grows on our property.