Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The morning news

We’d been away for a few days, and rolled in long after midnight. We were weary from the drive so went straight to bed.

When we first moved to the Mojave a year ago we were dumbstruck. First, we had that new homebuyer’s daze, “My God, what have we done?” But there was something else, on top of that. We were overwhelmed by the beauty and the space. Every morning I’d awaken around 4:30 or 5:00 a.m. I’d throw a blanket around my shoulders and walk down the driveway, the sand crunching beneath my feet. There’s a point in the driveway where a creosote bush obscures the single light burning across Highway 62. At that point there is only dark, pure dark, and I can imagine what it was like to live in the 1880s or the 1620s when people lived more gently on the land, when people expected there to be land to live on, when people weren’t scrapping for the crumbs of tiny houses, and small lots, mixed use, urban infill developments on high density transit corridors.


I awakened before dawn for a year, getting up and walking down the driveway before the sun came up. Now I sleep until the sun crests the tiny guest dome east of the house. It bursts into our bedroom like that frog in Bugs Bunny, the one that sings show tunes. It’s enthusiastic and loud and hectors me relentlessly until I rise.

The morning after the long drive the sun woke me up. I made coffee and with cup in hand walked slowly down the driveway. The sun hit the sand and cast long shadows, easy to read. I scanned the patch in front of me. In that sand I could see the traces of several creatures: the chain stitch of a quail, and perhaps baby quails; a long, thin, continuous wave, perhaps a snake? I looked for footprints along the side that might indicate a lizard, but seeing none, think yes, perhaps a snake. I tease apart a tangle of bird footprints and find a larger deeper track. Could it be a roadrunner? I see tracks of a heavier bird, three toes in front, one in the back. It’s not as big as a raven, but if one of the toes was obscured you could mistake the track for that of a roadrunner. I note the larger bird. I see another track that I believe is a roadrunner; the distinctive ‘X,’ italicized as if the track itself is in a rush. My heart beats a little faster. A roadrunner seems like a good omen. If a roadrunner makes your land its home, you’re doing something right.


I walk farther down the driveway. I see fingertip-sized depressions in the road. The sand looks like the top of a focaccia, dimpled and browned. These are the prints of cottontail rabbits. They are tiny and light. I see a heavier track marked with back feet about four inches long: a jackrabbit.

I walk on. I see my husband’s footprints from days before: the complicated cross-hatching that could represent the corporate structure of a company that makes athletic shoes, and strives to give the illusion of horizontal, egalitarian management structure while maintaining an iron-fisted and hierarchical feudal governance. The wind the past days has softened the prints and they’re on their way to disappearing altogether.

I walk to the road. No one has turned into the driveway in the last few days. No one has been on the road at all. That’s good. I slowly turn, raising my gaze to take in the mountains, the trees, the humanless expanse before me. I feel that this is how people should live, with plenty of space. I breathe, slowly and deeply, and I feel sorry that as people we bought the promise of big families instead of big close communities, and I’m sorry that the world is overpopulated and people are forced to live on top of each other.

Somehow I’ve escaped, to a different place and time, a place where a woman can wake up in the morning, have a good, strong cup of coffee, and read her driveway in peace.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Pony season

It was 104 degrees on Saturday, which in the desert is nothing much to write about, but it was humid, too, and that makes it difficult to bear. In the morning I shut the windows, the blinds, the curtains and the doors. With the fans on it stayed around 90-95 inside. Tolable. At four the heat began to break and the wind picked up. I threw everything open again, because even though it was still hot, fresh air makes the heat easier to weather.

Wonder Valley sunset 
Later we drove to Wonder Valley to have dinner with friends. Wonder Valley seemed hotter though the temperature was the same. At times it was so hot it was hard to catch my breath. Nevertheless I stayed outside as the sun set and took these pictures.

Ken and I become more like Ma and Pa Kettle every day.  I watched the Kettles in the early 60s with my grandmother, in glorious black and white. The Kettles were hicks clashing with modernity. The down to earth common sense of Ma and Pa K. took the wind out of the sails of manufactured need, and hilarity ensued.

Yesterday our neighbors came by and when they heard we didn’t have network television they relayed to us how cheap and easy it would be to get 12 channels, more than enough by desert standards. We listened politely but blankly. Why would we want television when there’s a perfectly good sunset outside? That’s not to say that we’re complete Luddites. We are saving up for a Crosley portable record player. We can take that out on the porch and listen to records during the sunset, and we can pick up used records for a song.


At 104 it’s too hot to use the blow dryer anymore. I won’t wear my hair down again until October. I don’t care for the heat. Hair on my face, neck or shoulders holds enough warmth to push me toward panic. I’m sporting a low pony for the rest of the summer – high enough to keep it neat, but low enough to wear a hat. Yep, it's pony season.

Makeup is out, too. It just melts off. Summer is when you learn to love yourself for who you really are – not coiffed and styled, but without pants and glowing like a horse.  You learn to love yourself in motion, the way everyone else sees you, not surgically perfected or frozen in selfies, arrested in the moment.

“Why would you want to stop yourself in time?“ Ma Kettle asked.

“It’s like a little death,” I said, “like a pre-death. You avoid the wait.”

The desert is indifferent to humans, hell, the whole planet is, but when the environment is easier we can imagine the Earth exists just for us. To the desert you’re just one more living/dying blip on the wind. The desert doesn’t care if you’re body conscious or beach ready. That freedom to be who and what you are in space and time is why I’m here. Heat is the price of the ticket.

The humid weather makes for beautiful clouds and incredible sunsets, the payoff for the day’s discomfort. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Smith Ranch Drive-in

Smith Ranch Drive-In Theater
The credits were rolling about 12:45 a.m. when I woke up, and the waning moon was rising. We were parked at Smith Ranch Drive-In Theater in Twentynine Palms.

Our friend Kip, or "Rudyard" as he is known in some circles, joined us. Ken and Kip sat in front of the car and dutifully watched San Andreas and Mad Max: Fury Road. We were parked next to a truckload of Marines. They were parked backwards, sitting on the tail gate. The one closest to me sat board straight and jogged nervously in place through the entire first feature. He 'bout drove me nuts, bless his heart, so I moved to the car, and about halfway through Mad Max I fell asleep.

To be fair, I'd seen both movies before and it had been a very long day.

My favorite part about going to the drive in is the wildlife. While we waited outside the gates to pay, scores of lesser nighthawks crisscrossed the skies catching bugs in the gloaming. Skyscraper palms and fully laden pomegranate trees lined the road to the theater.

Once the movies started I could see bats darting through the movie light looking for snacks and I could hear a coyote singing nearby.

Where else can you go these days, for $5.00 each and get such a slice of life?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

13 security tips for weekenders and other desert dwellers

At last night's Morongo Basin Municipal Advisory Council (for the 9 unincorporated communities) the Sheriff's Department addressed the recent rash of burglaries in the area. These 13 tips should help. (I'm linking some of these things to my Amazon affiliate account. I hope you don't mind. They're not paying bloggers like they used to and a girl's got to buy lipstick, right?)

1. Facebook and social media
Keep your city and desert social media accounts separate. Do not announce vacations or side trips. Post about them after the fact. People following you on social media should be under the impression that you’re at your property 24/7. Vary your schedule. Try to come out in the week sometimes.

2. Know your neighbors
I know. You bought your desert cabin to get away, to get you some peace and solitude. Still, take some time and get to know your neighbors. Most of them want peace and solitude, too. You may only ever talk to them once, but because they know who you are they’ll probably keep an eye on your place.


3. Don’t antagonize your neighbors
Keep a low profile until you know your neighbors well.  Keep the loud music, parties, OHV-riding, pot smoking and nudity on the down low. Be a jerk and your neighbors may turn a blind eye when the scrappers come by.

4. No trespassing signs
Post “No Trespassing” signs on your property – some say every 150’. You may also want to post signs for “No Hunting” and “No OHVs” (Off Highway Vehicles).

5. Steel doors
If you have a rickety wooden door, or some shabby chic glass panel vintage door, replace it with a steel door and casing, and a deadbolt. Apply a faux finish if you must.

6. Timers
Use static and random timers on your lights and radios. Just let your neighbors know you’re doing this so they don’t call the sheriff because a light is on and you’re not there.

7. Motion detectors
Leaving an outdoor light on may seem like a good idea but desert dwellers like their dark skies. Install motion detector flood lights at key points on your property. Do this before you buy your cowboy bathtub and you may get to keep your cowboy bathtub.


8. Lay tracks
If you’re not going to be around much, ask friends to drive by and “lay tracks.” Make it look like people are there on a regular basis.

9. Decoys
Consider leaving a broken down car near your house. (Remember though, you will have to get rid of it eventually.) Buy extra large work boots at a thrift store and leave them outside your door. Put a rock in each one so they don’t blow away. A dog house with an anchor and a thick chain attached can be intimidating. On the other hand, don't advertise what may be inside your cabin. Don't leave vodka bottles in the trash, rolling papers in the ashtray, or boxes for electronics behind the trash can. Especially pick up your shell casings. Lawbreakers like to steal guns and that could be a tragedy.


10. Be smart. Lock everything up all the time.
Get window locks and dowels so you can leave your windows and sliding doors open a bit at night when you’re using your swamp cooler.

11. Keep your inventory in the cloud
Take pictures, record serial numbers, of your belongings. Keep these in the cloud (like google drive). They won’t do much good if they’re on the hard drive of your stolen computer.

12. Get a club and a locking gas cap
Auto crime is up. Be a hard target, and for pete’s sake, don’t leave your laptop, tablet or cell phone in your car. I read about this all the time. Peoples, don’t be stupid! If a lawbreaker doesn't get it the heat will probably kill it.

13. Alarms
If you have WIFI consider installing an alarm system. Some systems will call you on your smart phone if they’re tripped. You can check your place through the cameras and can call the sheriff if you see a crime in progress. Don't forget to lock your electrical box or the lawbreakers could just shut you down.


Your best line of defense is your neighbors. Get to know them. Look out for them. Take notes and call the sheriff if you see something suspicious. Do not confront a possible burglar.