Saturday, September 26, 2009

Nature, Poetry, and Art

I’ve found the flora and fauna of the desert to be a great comfort, as well as a great inspiration. All we have to do is look out the window to enjoy a continual parade of bunnies, lizards, antelope squirrels, and birds of all sorts—especially quail, mourning doves, jays, and thrashers. Coyotes are often about, and our neighbors have seen a bobcat recently.

Here’s one of our more unusual recent sightings. At three inches long, this is the biggest moth we’ve ever seen—at first, we thought it was a bat! If anybody out there can identify it by name, please let me know!

In August, I had a couple of poems published in The Sun Runner Magazine’s annual Desert Writers Issue. I’m including them at the end of this post, along with related photos. The Sun Runner has an excellent local events calendar and is full of interesting articles about desert life, past and present—for their website, click here.

In the Morongo Basin—which includes the communities of Morongo, Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree, and Twentynine Palms—there are artists and art galleries everywhere you look! One of them is The Purple Agave in Morongo, located on the grounds of The Cactus Mart—the go-to place for cacti and succulents. They have a juried show up now through November on the theme of, you guessed it, cacti. Bill has this black-and-white photo in the show, which he calls “Spine Forest.”

The Morongo Basin Arts Council publishes a weekly e-newsletter about local art, theater, and music happenings. To check it out, click here. If you can make it out this way on the last two weekends in October, you’re in luck—that’s the time for the annual Open Studio Tours. Over 100 local artists open their home studios on those weekends.

Desert Tortoise

With the stillness
and patience of stone,
a tortoise waits
by the dirt road.

Drawn into himself,
he appears nearly round,
his carapace
a prehistoric ball.

We take him by surprise.
He will not move
until we are well
out of sight.

A burrower, he holds
knowledge of earth
we can only dream—

a crust covered
by desert dandelions
this juicy, redolent spring.

We call him threatened.
But maybe it’s the other
way around.

He could wait
as long as it takes
for this epoch
to finish—

Until the dirt road
and the humans
who walk here
are forgotten,

And his progeny
move freely
above and below
the ground.


At twilight,
dust kicks up
and creosote shakes
like one possessed.
An orange glow
lights the underbelly
of a long, thin cloud—
a torso orbited
by smaller clouds
that drift closer, closer
until, at last, they touch.
Across the space
of the sky, cleaving it,
the windswept mass
stays suspended
in the window
for a short eternity.
Soon it will be too dark
to see the end.
But then we have
the story of the stars.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Our Summer, Part 2: Arizona & a Blast from the Past

In August, Bill and I headed east on Hwy. 62 to visit my parents in Arizona. We took back roads all the way and loved the open spaces, peace and quiet. Came back the same way and just missed a giant monsoon storm. Bill took this photo of the wild signpost just off Hwy. 62 at Iron Mountain road. I took the picture of the abandoned boot along the same road--I call it "MIA."

We helped my parents pack up for their move to a lovely senior community, and in the process, ended up bringing home some family memorabilia. This included the copper tub my grandmother used to boil sheets, which inspired the poem at the end of this post. We also got reacquainted with the story of my great-grandfather, Walter Macomber, who came out to California in 1899 to work as an engineer at the mining town of Johannesburg (near Ridgecrest). He spent the next ten years in that area, working in Ballarat and Randsburg as well. My grandmother spent her growing-up years in those remote mining towns.

Great-grandfather Macomber made it into the history books for inventing a rotary engine that was successfully tested in a plane and a car. You can read more about the engine here. This photo shows him in the car (he's the fellow with the mustache). He took a cross-country trip in 1917 to demonstrate the car, and we have his photos from that trip. Several of them are included here: the first was taken on the road to Amboy, the second shows a view of "the Needles" for which Needles, CA is named, and the third shows sandstone formations in Arizona's Petrified Forest.

One other interesting note: the road he took through Arizona and New Mexico was originally surveyed in 1857 by Edward Fitzgerald Beale, a 19th century superhero (read more about his amazing life here). Beale used 25 camels as pack animals on the expedition. Descendants of these camels roamed the Southwestern deserts into the early 20th century--another amazing link between prehistory and the present!

Next week--more desert poems!


My mother asks if I want
the old copper tub
that her mother used
to boil sheets.

Wash day was Monday.
The tub sat on the stove,
covering two burners,
its load bubbling.

Then Nana would wrap
the sheets on a stick,
lift them to the washer,
hang them on the line
behind her rose garden.

My mother says,
It was a different time.
The sheets had to be white,
and they were white.

I imagine
how fresh they smelled,
how clean they felt,
how their brightness
made the neighbors blink—

and I say yes,
though I’m not sure
where to keep
this piece of the past.

Discolored but intact,
down to the lid
and three smooth
wooden handles,

the tub ends up
by the fireplace,
ready to hold logs
for winter.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Our Summer, Part 1: Landscaping & La Brea

Thanks to all of you who got in touch after the first post last week. It’s great to hear from you!

We spent most of this summer settling into our new home—which included removing lots of plants from an overgrown yard. These photos show some of the clay

sculptures we inherited from the former owner (a retired English teacher-turned-artist). We love his work—his sculptures have an organic quality that fits right into the desert landscape.

In August, we took a day trip to the La Brea Tar Pits to explore one of my recent obsessions: camels. They were native to the California desert during the last Ice Age—in fact, this is where they first appeared on the planet! There were multiple species, from small to extra-large. Many of them literally got stuck in the Tar Pits. (Also, camel fossils have been found throughout the desert, including Joshua Tree National Park.)

This photo shows a panel that's above the entry to the Tar Pits' museum. The camel in the front is mired in the tar. I'm not sure what the animal to the right is, but I'm guessing a bear. In the right rear are a couple of giant sloths. The big bird is a teratorn, which had a wingspan of around 12 feet.

We had a great time at the Tar Pits. They have skeletons of saber-tooth tigers, mammoths, dire wolves, etc., plus you can watch people cleaning new finds. (They were working on a new mammoth skeleton nicknamed “Zed.”)

You can walk around outside and watch methane bubbles rise to the surface on the pond above the pits. It's definitely surreal, what with the billboards and traffic all around. We ate lunch and saw a few exhibits at LACMA, which is right next door.

Next week: a trip to Arizona that uncovered some fascinating family memorabilia.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

First Post:: Krblin Jihn Kabin

Dear Friends,

So much has happened si
nce Bill and I moved to the desert a year ago! Recently I've been feeling the need for a way to keep up with you all better and share what's going on in our lives. I hope this blog does the job.

My plan is to
post something new once a week, on Saturdays. There will be lots of photos, occasional poems, and plenty of stories about our life in the desert.

These photos were taken this spring at the Krblin Jihn Kabin in Joshua Tree. The what, you may ask? Maybe the best way to descr
ibe it is an art installation that presents an alternative/fictitious history of America, aka "Kymaerica."

The creator is Eames
Demetrios, who calls himself "Geographer-at-Large." He has created similar installations all across the country, but the first was this one in Joshua Tree.

Note the writing covering the walls behind us. There is also a map on the ceiling and a compass embedded in the floor, as well as a historical plaque.

To learn more, visit

Thanks to Karine Swenson, the high-desert artist whose blog inspired me to create this one. Visit Karine's blog at

Next week: What We Did This Summer, Part 1!