I spent the morning raking the sand for trash, first in rows, then pushing it into piles, then hand sifting. It’s going to take years to get all the plastic and metal out of this dirt. If we can ever get it done. It’s like some kind of bad dream where we are farming for human junk.
Found this perfect little hammer in the toolshed. The handle is hand-carved, probably a blacksmith tool? Don't know, but it'll serve as a metaphor for our work here. Because nothing can be forced here. We have to be careful, tapping away lightly. We have to know when to push and when to wait. The desert is not our place. We didn't grow up here, we must respect what has been here before us.
T has had this romantic idea that if we found a perfect place abroad, we could move there and our lives would be idyllic. Having lived abroad, I can safely say it's never easy living in a foreign place. My old blog, Kloe Among the Turks, tells the stories of my lives in Turkey. It was a tremendous experience. But if I got one thing done per day, I learned to be happy about it.
So here we are, at the start of this huge, amazing project, to heal this desert property that has been badly treated, to deal with a city that is conservative in every way, to make our few dollars stretch, and to enjoy the journey. We are not young. How many years will it take, how much frustration? We have to be calm and not expect too much. We have to enjoy each day and weekend.
Thanks for reading this, we love to have you along for the ride. xox
We spent a fourth weekend on the property with no water. Why? Because the electricity to the well has been cut. BUT! We were informed last week the electric company "found" the paperwork which will grandfather in our property to host two electric meters, one for the barn and one for the house. Otherwise we would be forced to run a 220 line hundreds of feet (=$$$$$). And we were going to be charged for the utility to remove electric poles. We were on the point of getting bids to go totally solar. We may still do that in future.
Anyway, we called everyone we knew in 29, everyone who could help. Even the City was incredulous that the electric company was doing this to us. In the end, someone got through.
Now we'll wait for yet another inspection to restore power to our new meter, so we can get our well repaired and working again.
In the meantime, we did more fence decorating, and went to openings at Scranch in Wonder Valley and the Mojave Desert Land Trust. Lots of artists from LA out here. One day pop-up installation below is by an engineer from Seattle.
This is Ted. I thought it was time for me to add something to this blog. First, let me say that I am excited about this project, but it's all Anna’s idea. It was the same with the Moon Huts (www.moonhuts.com), our place in LA. I would most likely still be living in my rental loft at the Brewery Arts Complex if Anna hadn’t pushed me to invest in a space that we couldn’t be priced out of. She made the right choice on those crazy huts, and I am sure she made a good choice on this desert property. Plus, after living in an old quonset for the last year a place with windows must be an upgrade, right?
As for it being in the desert… I went to school at ASU and I remember how much the heat got to me. In the morning I would ride my bike to class and my ears would be ringing by the time I got on campus. In the afternoon I would cycle home and ride right into the pool because it was so hot. My body doesn’t work well in high temps, so I am worried about that. I'll be one of those people that dies of heat stroke with people standing over me saying, "But it's a dry heat. Get up!" Living in Arizona I remember thinking that if there really is a hell, it wouldn't be full of devils and fire but it would be me stuck in traffic in my underpowered Dodge Colt with the broken AC on a hot Phoenix afternoon for all of eternity. Day after day, stuck on Grand Blvd. in 112 degree heat. I swore off the desert and left that place the day I finished college, so I am totally shocked that I would be anywhere near a desert again now.
Last week a friend from college saw my Facebook post about the place and tagged the photo, “You know you hate the desert, right?” She added, "I'm just sitting here laughing."
Even as a part time home, it will be an adjustment for me. I am a city guy. There are few art openings and museums in the desert. I love LA and my 7-day-a-week social schedule, but I admit waking up in 29, even in our still trashy, junk all over the place, place, where it's nice to have nothing but roadrunners and lizards around. There are no other homes around us. It is calm and relaxing unless the winds are blowing and the sand is swirling around. There are 2 cats that live in the attic that came with the house. They are yet unnamed and seem 100% ferrel.
Right now the disorganization of the desert place is overwhelming to me. Anna is able to focus on one task a day when she is out there, while I am taken aback by the visual clutter of it. I cope by making hourly appointments with contractors and utility people. I try to focus on the big stuff, or at least hiring other people to deal with the big stuff.
I keep reminding myself that last year, when I was on Santorini, I spent a number of days speaking to no one and really enjoyed the solitary experience. I’m hoping that this place will have the same effect on me. The blue waters of Greece are more agreeable to me than the browns and tans of 29 Palms, but maybe tan will be my new blue.
The work here is brutal. I find the days are emotionally fraught. It starts well: make coffee, drive to the visitor’s center to fill up the water jugs, then get to work cleaning, sorting, and hauling trash. At a certain point I get very discouraged. Important is to do one fun thing each day. Above was the fun today: attaching all the metal rings we find to the fence (our friend Lynn suggested it).
We spent about six months looking for the right property in Twentynine Palms. We seriously considered two different motels, but they had zoning and code problems, making them too expensive (I'm on first name basis with the planning person at the City). When we saw the Dairy online, we initially didn't consider it because it looked so completely broken down. But those are often the interesting properties. We went out to see it, several times, and then made an offer which was eventually accepted.
When we arrived at the property for the walk through, the previous owner was still there packing, with half a dozen “friends” helping themselves to her stuff. The owner had never known another home—she lived there since childhood and is probably in her late 60s now. Her parents willed her the property, and now she and her four lame, blind, and grizzled dogs and one cat are moving into an RV (we don’t know what happened to the parrot). We are trying not to get involved.
Let’s just say, she was traumatized. As anyone would be.
But that was no excuse for not being out of the house after closing. Anna was the bad cop, refusing to let anyone inside, and Ted played the good cop, helping them load Uhauls of stuff from the patio and parking lot. And still they were not done, so we gave them three hours the next day (after that, vehicles would be impounded).
And then they were gone. Hopefully for good, although I have my doubts. These were not people who have a lot of options. And the property is basically a trash dump of all their stuff.
Below are screen shots of their photos from the real estate website. Looks enticing, right? The photographer used the hoarder's technique--no ground or floor shots:
This place we bought is trashed. Literally. At best it's a junk yard, and at worst it's a dump. There's actually a hole where they dumped trash. For years. Which we found out from locals is not that unusual. It goes along with the home-dug well and the home-dug sceptic system. And the jumper cables to the electric lines. Yup. Anyway, there has probably been no trash pickup at this property, in ages.
We spent the first two weekends out there sifting through it, picking out a few great things to keep (old milk crate from the dairy days! a few useable chairs and tables! sets of china!) Then we had metal pickers who thought they had gone to heaven, and spent four days loading up truckload after truckload. Finally a bulldozer and crew has arrived to clear it all away.
Did we mention this place was cheap? That's why, and now we're paying to clean it up.
But this land deserves it. It's wild and beautiful. I mean, it will be beautiful.
And now we can finally see the barn!
When we bought the Desert Dairy we were told that the bees on the property were "aggressive," so getting them out of there was a high priority. There was a hive in an old outhouse and one in the barn wall. Ted oversaw local bee keepers who came out and picked them up. It turned out they were not bad bees, and hopefully most were saved.
Then there was this:
I've never really watched the weather, except maybe the surf report. Hey, I live in San Diego, which has the best weather, anywhere. We know it, but we also take it for granted.
So, enter the desert. I now know not to fully believe the weather forecast, because 85 in San Diego and 85 in 29 Palms are not the same beasts. Firstly because of elevation (I live basically at sea level, and 29 is at 1800'), and secondly because of humidity. The desert is DRY. DRY and the sun BURNS. I will never go out for yard work or a walk without a hat and covering.
So how will I deal with 100 degree, 110 degree, maybe even 120 degree weather? I do expect to get used to some of it. But also, we just have to learn not to do anything outside between noon and 4pm. We have to get up early and take advantage of the sunrises (which are gorgeous), work for a few hours, then head inside. Then go out at dusk and at night.
I will learn.
Anna does most of the writing. Ted does most of the photos. But sometimes we switch. We are repairing a distressed property in 29 Palms, California, and eventually hope to run an artist residency there.