Monday, February 25, 2013

Marta Becket's Amargosa Opera House

I've still got a few blog posts to go from our October trip! On our way from Rhyolite to Tecopa, we stopped in Death Valley Junction to see the Amargosa Opera House. We were in luck: even though it was mid-afternoon, we were able to pay a small fee at the hotel registration desk and get an impromptu tour.

Above: the stage where Marta Becket danced for 35 years, usually three nights a week, starting in 1968. Becket was a trained dancer from New York City who found her calling, by chance, in the desert. She restored the rundown opera house, turning it into a cultural oasis in the middle of nowhere. She is no longer dancing, but sometimes attends evening performances by others.

In the early days, there would be nights with no one in the, Becket was inspired to paint herself an audience. The paintings are glorious, covering all four walls plus the ceiling, below. You can learn more about the Marta Becket and the Opera House by clicking here.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Chris Clarke on the Old Growth Desert

On Friday night, we attended a lecture on the "Old Growth Desert" by Chris Clarke, an environmental writer, editor, photographer, and long-time desert advocate. His talk turned out to be a revelation. Clarke spoke mainly about the ordinary plants you see everywhere in the desert. It turns out they can be incredibly in, many hundreds to a thousand years or more...older than most Joshua trees, which usually top out at a few hundred years. (Above: a once-tall, fallen Joshua tree in our yard with youngsters beside the broken-off trunk.)

Here are other pictures from our yard of examples he talked about: above, pencil cholla, which Clarke says can live up to 600 years and occasionally even over 1,000 years. Based on the images he showed, I would guess this specimen (which is one plant with multiple trunks) could be a couple hundred years old.

Clarke says that Mormon tea, or Ephedra, can live 700 to 900 years or more. It grows in a "clonal ring" like creosote bushes and Mojave yuccas--which means the original parent plant, at the center of the ring, eventually dies off. I've written about the King Clone before on this blog--the famous creosote ring that has been dated to 11,400 years.

Even the humble buckwheat, with its rust-red, dried-up blooms, is a potential oldster--Clarke says up to 1,100 years! Really?? I admit, I don't understand the science behind how these calculations were made. (Clarke has citations available.)

The kicker is the decidedly unbeautiful blackbrush (also known as blackbush) which can reach 1,400 years or more. Clarke showed a photo of an area of solid blackbrush in the Mojave Preserve and said that an area like that could date back 15,000 years.

Clarke also talked about desert pavement--tamped-down stretches of gravel and rock that serve to trap sand and dust, creating the soil below. He says desert pavement can be thousands of years old, too. The implications are staggering...especially when you consider the current push to tear up the desert for solar farms.

Clarke frequently writes for, and he is currently working on a book on Joshua trees based on over a decade of research. He is also co-founder of Solar Done Right. You can read his blog, Coyote Crossing, by clicking here.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Ojai: Going Home Again (Sort Of)

I was lucky enough to live in Ojai from 1977-81. Those were the days...young and fancy free, hiking in the foothills, eating (and growing) healthy food, hanging out with people interested in Krishnamurti and going to his yearly talks at the Oak Grove. During those four years, I lived in some very picturesque places. One of them was a stone house at the end of Blanche Street downtown, where I rented a room. That stone house is now part of the Emerald Iguana Inn. I've always wanted to stay there and revisit that part of my, on my way to Santa Barbara recently, I stopped off for the night and did just that. Except for the new front steps and the skylights, the 100-year-old facade of the original stone house, above, is basically the same as I remember it.
I stayed in the "Toad" room, which was built onto the right rear of the stone house...a very short distance from the room I rented so long ago. Everything at the inn is well appointed and comfortable. There are lots of new bungalows around the pool area (behind the wrought iron fence in this picture), and breakfast is served every day by the pool.
It's easy to walk downtown from the inn--I used to work in the Ojai Bookstore and walked to work every day. I also walked to Shelf Road Trail every morning, above. One thing that's new is the warning sign. Things in Ojai were definitely kinder and gentler 35 years ago.
The very first place I lived in Ojai was a cabin behind this stone house in the East End. That flat area just beyond the stone wall was my vegetable garden--a tenth of an acre! And Gridley Trail was at my doorstep. Dare I say it--life in Ojai was good in the days before gentrification. There's no end of designer boutiques and wine bars on Ojai Avenue now, but back then the town had more soul.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

William Stafford Workshop and Reading, Santa Barbara, January 26, 2013

The seventh annual William Stafford poetry reading in Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara County, took place on January 26th. This was a special year: in addition to the afternoon poetry reading, there was a morning poetry workshop presented by Paulann Petersen, Poet Laureate of Oregon; and, the dedication of a plaque honoring Stafford at the reading site off Paradise Road. Above: the beautiful backcountry setting is the exact location of the Los Prietos Civilian Public Service Camp, a work camp where Stafford was stationed during World War II as a conscientious objector.

Paul Willis, Professor of English at Westmont College in Santa Barbara and a fine poet, is the organizer of the event. Here he is discussing the plaque, which was funded by contributions from many donors and officially sponsored by Westmont and The Friends of William Stafford. The plaque describes the history of Los Prietos and includes a Stafford poem written during his service.

Here Paulann Petersen discusses and presents some of Stafford's work. Mark Sargent, Provost of Westmont College, also gave a presentation, and members of the audience were invited to read a favorite Stafford poem. The morning workshop, held at the nearby ranger station, was by far the best poetry workshop I have ever attended.

For me, it was a special treat to spend the day with old and dear friends. Above: poets Enid Osborn and Sojourner Kincaid-Rolle. Abiding thanks to Perie Longo for the pleasure of her company, and to all the other poets who made the day so memorable.

For more information about William Stafford, visit the Friends of William Stafford website. January 17, 2014 will mark the 100th anniversary of his birth. He wrote daily throughout his adult life and produced approximately 30,000 poems. The poem below was featured during the workshop and was written two days before he died.

You Reading This, Be Ready

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life--

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

William Stafford