At the close of a long weekend on the property, I sat down in the sunroom with some of my reference material to find images for my new paintings. I'm cannibalizing books we found on the property, outside in the sand--ten volumes of an encyclopedia, published in 1930, the year the Dairy was built. They are bound in embossed leather, with priceless spine text like "Proverbs to Tapeworm." Diagrams of mathematical structures, measurements, and architectural drawings are perfect for my developing series based on sky surveillance and military menace in the desert.
Anyway, I was looking through one of the books, and it slowly dawned on me that this is not only an encyclopedia, but also a home-schooling manual. Although I still have to research our original homesteaders, they probably came with young children, and there may not have been a school in 29 Palms yet (in fact, the City of 29 wasn't incorporated until 1987). Now I can picture the mother, leading lessons (highly gendered in these books), and the father, working the kids on the land. Less that 100 years ago, and so very, very different.
I'm super happy to be spending five nights in the desert. The weather is perfect and there's nothing pressing to do. Of course I always have a list going of things to fix/clean/improve, including painting more walls and ceilings, gardening, and the ever-present trash collection. Am getting ready for our second family Thanksgiving--the kids loved our paella last year, and called for a repeat. I hope everyone will appreciate a year's worth of work on the place.
I'm experiencing less and less desert despair. It helps that it's lovely and warm during the day and cool at night without being too chilly. We brought out the small fireplace that I'd originally purchased for my condo, but the HOA outlawed them, so took it to the Huts, but we never used it. It's for one or two people, and a lot safer than our big bonfire area.
I'm hosting an artist this weekend who is doing a project about how women deal with physicality as they age. She will film me sweeping. As I get older I fight against my body wanting to do less and less with chores. Sweeping is always one of the first things I do upon arrival.
I spent several afternoons with my neighbor, Abe, chatting about the history of our Desert Dairy. I've yet to be here on a Wednesday when the 29 Palms historical archives are open, so don't have formal research yet. But I now understand that only one family owned this property for almost 90 years. Teri, the woman we bought it from, said she came here as a little girl, and that's why I thought there were two families involved. But she came to live at her grandpa's house.
The major characters:
Grandpa, the dairy farmer who built the house and barn in 1930.
Miner Mike, his son, who turned to mining when the dairy dried up.
Teri and her brother Mike, who inherited the property from their father.
A single family explains why we found items related to the dairy in the sand, and books from the 30s. Miner Mike brought rocks to the property from mines across Southern California and Arizona. According to my neighbor, father and son snuck into the abandoned Bisbee mine, bringing back loads to the Dairy. Somewhere on the dune there is a contraption that tumbles the rock apart.
During a dispute between one of the Mikes and a neighbor, they burned down a structure. Brother Mike spent time in prison, and both he and Teri's son died of heroin overdoses.
Abe is convinced there's gold under the sand. He also said there was a large pile of valuable rock near the house, and a few months after we bought the property someone drove through our fence, knocking it down, probably looking for this rock pile. It's long gone.
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.