A Glimpse of Death Valley
Almost every evening, we sit on the edge of our wading pool and watch the sunset. Summer in 29 is brutal, but the end of the day is magical. To the south we see the Pinto Mountains of Joshua Tree National Park in layers the light plays off. To the north are the Bullion Mountains, lower, browner, and off limits because they belong to the Marine Base. Basically, it’s a bombing range.
Beyond the Bullions, several valleys further to the north and east, are the Mojave National Preserve and Death Valley. We had never been that way, but last month, before our road trip was cut short by illness, we plunged in. It was amazing.
Driving in the Mojave in summer is lonely—there are almost no cars on roads that float like thin gray rails above an ever-changing desert landscape of brush, rock and mountains. Every turn brings new vistas that shock: crags of black, red and white, conical volcanos, diagonal layers of frosting that look like earthquakes and colliding continents thrust them skyward just yesterday, vertical stripes, horizontal stripes, flat valleys, and, every now and then, a green oasis. In the National Preserve, one side of the road was skeletons of burned Joshua trees for miles, while on the other side a lush forest grew, with dense undergrowth. We were lucky in our timing—summer monsoons have now washed out many of the routes we just traveled.
We stayed at the Amargosa Opera House in Death Valley Junction, on the east edge of the Park near the Nevada border, to see the murals of ballerina Maria Beckett. She was neither a great dancer nor painter, but her vision and drive produced something impressive. It was worth the uncomfortable room, with a very hard, hot bed and window AC unit from another era (I was frozen on top and sweating on bottom). Heartbreaking to realize the entire building is adobe, and her murals can’t be saved--the walls are slumping into the ground. But wild horses come every morning to feed behind the hotel, and you can feel the ghost of the artist and her lovers burning in this god-forsaken little junction.
In the morning, we decided to peek inside Death Valley before traveling on to mining towns in Nevada (where we would contract Covid). Driving to the border of the National Park, we were stunned by how grand it is. Like Grand Canyon grand. Our little Joshua Tree National Park is a child compared to this place. We will return with better planning since we are not campers, and need a decent mattress, AC, and a dog-friendly policy.
Death Valley also got hit with monsoons, and the Park is completely closed now. We are enjoying rain in 29 about three times per week, after several years of almost nothing. Make your plans now for spring wildflowers, it’s going to be a bumper season in 2023. As for us, we are figuring out how to get back to Death Valley.
How can it already be May?? Someone mentioned to Ted that they were disappointed I've not written lately. I sometimes forget that other people read these mini essays.
What's on my mind? Mental health. Not mine, although there's always room for improvement. I'm very happy for the most part (and doing yoga again early mornings at the Inn). Still keen on the desert after four years. Still happy to get up each morning, and go outside and watch the mountains, cacti, vultures...
No. I'm worried about our guests. I had not thought that people who come to stay here, for short or long visits, may not have my desert-centric calm. They may work themselves to the point of exhaustion without realizing it. Or have a panic attack. Forget to drink water. Or react badly to some of our critters. I am not prepared for these strong emotions, how could I be? But I need to develop a plan when there's an issue. Or be proactive, post warnings.
There is a frenzy when people visit, that they should have wild experiences, do drugs at music festivals, party naked on the sands, buy houses and flip them, or get rich quick off of Airbnbs. That the art/music/creativity should flow effortlessly. None of it is true. Everything is risky.
Last month three different acquaintances lost their leases. There's a brutal order here, and no way to absorb excess population. We are trying to help, and hopefully won't be sorry, later.
Ugh, that's pretty bleak.
We had a great opening of our new Palm Springs studio yesterday. Mland is still chugging along, although the City is on me, blah blah. And I got into the Mexicali Biennial, my first! That felt good! We will build a portable corn maze golf hole. Fore!
How the Farmhouse Looks Now
Blogging through the Years
Reading my entry from March 2021 of this blog, about the one year anniversary of Covid isolation, it seems so much has happened in the past year.
By the way, if you didn't know, this is not my first rodeo... you can read my blog from Turkey, Kloe Among the Turks, the year I had a Fulbright (and to be honest, the year my marriage fell apart). And then the aftermath of that time, Kloe Survives the A World, when I raised my kids as a single mom and tried to make it as an artist. Not always pretty. (But here's one of my favorite posts, from France.)
The past years have been awful: Trump, Covid, and now war in Europe. It is most unfair to my kids--I don't remember this kind of trauma when I reached young adulthood. But on a personal level, I've never been happier: living the in the desert, running an artist residency, making art, and creating Mojaveland. Something about letting go of expectations, and not caring the slightest what people think of me. Having a super supportive partner helps. When I look back at my coded Kloe entries, I remember the tremendous pain of that time.
1. Opened a big show at Mesa College with my desert buddy, Ben Allanoff.
2. We just signed the lease for an art studio in Palms Springs.
3. Got non-profit sponsorship for Mojaveland through the San Bernardino Arts Connection.
Hwy 62 Art Tours are Back!
The Hwy 62 Art Tours are back after a two year Covid hiatus. We are participating with lots of work in the barn, and lots of it outside the barn, so people don't even have to go inside at all. Looking forward to showing people the property again!
Upcoming Fall Season
Summer is finally finishing up and we are coming alive again.
My sister project, Mojaveland Mini Golf and Art Experience, will open for a popup weekend Sept 25 and 26. Then Ted and I are showing our work in the Desert Dairy Barn for the Hwy 62 Art Tours, October 9/10, 16/17, and 25/26.
In between we will host artist residents at the Desert Dairy, starting with Oshri Hakak. Can't wait to see what this innovative artist creates out here!
Well, global warming is a bummer.
Extreme heat arrived with a bang, much earlier than normal. The first week of severe bad temps was in June, and we're just finishing up another bad week in July. By bad, I mean afternoon highs of 118, with nighttime temps not going below 90. Of course, it wasn't just the High Desert. Palms Springs hit 123 several times. It's worse "down below" because the Coachella Valley has so much vegetation, therefore humidity (how can there be so many lawns in the desert???) But Oregon, Washington and Canada, places that are not as prepared as we are, hit the teens in temperature. The only good thing is that the normal highs of 105 seem much less severe in comparison.
The Desert Dairy plants and trees are alive, mostly. New trees we've planted are doing well: two mesquite, a desert pine, a willow. Birds keep eating the new growth on the palo verde. The pepper tree died. We are nurturing a pomegranate and common fan palms in pots under the patio. Am also trying several native bushes to plant later to support wildlife. I have to hand water in the yard every three days, and every day on the patio.
Otherwise, to beat the heat we joined the gym in 29, hang out in our two rooms with AC (swamp cooler is basically useless in severe heat), and soak in the pool at dusk. And we plan escapes to the coast to break up the long hot stretches. Dreaming of affording solar and an electric car. Sigh.
Pilgrimage Site, Corral, and Pink
Just about every weekend this Spring we've had visitors come to see the Desert Dairy. Yesterday we hosted three groups, for tours, drinks and snacks. I guess I'd hoped this would happen, but I'm shocked it's taken so little time. Doesn't hurt that Joshua Tree is "hot" right now.
We had a short residency with Dylan Mortimer, an artist from Kansas, in which he painted a dead tree by the corral pink. (Side note on pink: Cindy Zimmerman's "Rain Grotto" is strongly pink, the barn is pink, and the house...) His work is about how trees look like bronchial tubes–he's had two double lung transplants.
The sculpture looks great but made us realize how messy the corral still is, clogged with metal, wood, trash and construction material from the previous owners. The space has the potential to be gorgeous with the two rows of weathered posts framing views of the Bullion Mountains. We're getting a bid from some local muscle to dig it out, but today Ted and I were inspired to wake up early and start the process. I have this idea that adobe bricks could help hold back the dune and create a flat space. We'll see what happens.
And... we filled our pool for the upcoming season. Ready, set, summer!
We purchased this property about this time three years ago, so this is our fourth Spring in 29 Palms.
Our first Spring was a blur – we didn't interact with our land because we were trying to clear it of tons of trash. Below is a photo a friend shot from inside our "cottage" from that time. Outside the window, you can see the devastation.
Our second winter and spring brought flash floods in our Basin, and we had a stream going through our property. The biggest change was the wild (and invasive) mustard that covered almost all the desert.
Last year, our third spring, had light rains, and for a few weeks the ground was carpeted with green grasses, also invasive. These dried to a yellow that is slowly blowing away. For a few weeks the light yellow dandelions, orange mallow and desert lilies were gorgeous.
This spring we've had one light sprinkle. It snowed in the mountains, but the moisture didn't reach us. There are no wildflowers at all, and the cactuses are blooming only where we have watered. Already, the creatures are starting to eat our plants, and I'm caging everything we want to save. What will be birds, rabbits, squirrels and rats eat? Our cars, our cacti, every stitch of green...
Just like probably everyone in the world, we are thinking about our year of hibernation. Isn't it amazing that everyone is experiencing similar feelings? Has there been another period in my lifetime where that's happened... 911? Moon landing?
I am very, very lucky. I haven't lost anyone close to me to the virus. We have lost income, lost time in our careers, and missed friends and family, but that's nothing compared to the suffering going on around us. Neither of us qualifies for the vaccine yet, so we are waiting, not that patiently.
Mostly I stay in the desert, but getting away, even for a few days to LA or SD, is important for my mental health. I'm still shocked that I, who always thought my goals were connected to the big city, am living in such a rural place. I don't find it lonely, but rather overwhelming. My eyes actually occasionally hurt looking at the distant mountains, rolling dunes and ever changing sky. It's visually exhausting.
But there are good things on the horizon. We are in a show at the Loft at Liz's--I have a whole room for my work! We are hosting residents again, which means every two or three weeks the atmosphere here changes. And I'm breaking ground on MLand, even though it's not a business, just an art project right now. But moving forward helps me stay positive (it was a tough winter, being told I had no access to the land).
I'd like to buy a plane ticket somewhere for August, but between guilt at traveling and hurting the environment, and fear that the virus will again take a bad turn, we will probably stay here. My sister and I will meet in the middle of California for a weekend soon, I haven't seen her except briefly this whole year. My kids are coming out occasionally to stay, and I'm thankful they seem to be proud of our accomplishments and actually like it here.
But I certainly hope I won't be writing the same thing in March 2022. I was right about the coming of the pandemic, and now hope I'm right that it's ending.
Ted and I are finishing up a big fall project: a mini apartment in our former "cat room," where Ted's two cat's lived and he had a temporary office. We had never fixed up this part of the house, which was originally an eastern facing porch. Its biggest asset are sunrise views. The past two months have been a flurry of workers, masked and not (arggghh)--spending our small savings to create a separate space for friends, family, and residents to safely stay with us--near us, but separate from the main house. The idea is that we can interact with guests outside, where it's safe, but not share indoor space.
Arthur and Ted created a fantastic accent wall of found wood. Our contractors, true desert characters, were supportive of our crazy ideas, and even contributed some wood from their karate dojo. Nothing is square in this house, so the job was tough. Ted found a horse door at a second hand store, and it took several days to frame it in. Cheap door, expensive install, but worth it!
We hope the artists who stay with us will be inspired and comfortable. I remember every single room I stayed in at artist residencies, and it makes a difference to be in a place that is magical. You wake up each day in beauty, and get to work. Seriously, there's nothing better.
Moving Forward While Waiting
It's the day after Election Day and we are in waiting mode. The Pandemic still rages in most of the US, but here in rural California it is quiet. We wear masks when we go out, which is rarely.
But... we are moving forward! This weekend we have an artist retreat (all outdoors) for the Feminist Image Group from San Diego. Former resident Linda Litteral is creating a labyrinth in a field of our property, with the help of members of FIG. "The Walk" will contain multiple ceramic sculptures that are designed to help induce a meditative state.
And, we are starting to host artists again! We have created a safe room for residents to stay separate from us, while enjoying our outdoor spaces and barn studios. Susan Roden, from Albuquerque, will come in early 2021. Her work is gorgeous!
Meet our new baby, Pancito. Or if he turns out to be female, Panchita. Or just Old Pan. He's a Sulcata (African, not endangered), may live to be 80 and grow to over 150 lbs.
Pool, Show, Fall
Fall has officially arrived, and the weather is getting better. August was survived, that's all I can say about that.
Pool got finished and it has been a savior. Matt made a beautiful work of land art, glowing light blue. We eat dinner out there, with our feet dangling in the cool water (and yes, it stays cool!). We lie on the edge at night and star gaze. If guests stop by for a drink, we either sit under the misters on the patio or lounge around the pool. Ted is obsessive about keeping it clean, and the filter/pump is a steep learning curve. But so worth it!
I finally had my solo show at the 29 Palms Art Gallery. Video here. I even sold a few pieces! I've also become the Coordinator of Youth Education there, convincing the board to buy zoom and hold all classes online. This is an all volunteer non-profit that has survived since 1952, so tradition looms large and I can't push too hard.
We are hoping to again host residents at the Desert Dairy, but first need to solve some logistical problems about how to keep separate and safe. Stay tuned on that. The Moonhuts is slowly getting back to business, although only about 50% at this point.
We wait for November with bated breath and grinding teeth.
Report from 29, MAHB
An essay I wrote for The Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere at Stanford:
Report from Twentynine Palms, Morongo Basin, Mojave Desert
Well, it was 120 degrees here the other day, still the first half of July.
Although we bought our wreck of a property two years ago, we only moved here full time as it became apparent the pandemic would make city living unbearable. It was the right decision. When my partner and I go back to Los Angeles or San Diego to get supplies, or check on family, the loss is palpable. Here in the desert we go for days without putting on a mask or seeing anyone. But it’s 120 degrees out, and leaving the swamp-cooled house is not a great idea.
We’ve become avid comet-watchers. The first time, we got up at 4am. Waiting in the darkness, our eyes adjusting, the warm night was silent. And then I saw a star with a streak, very faint, a reminder of how insignificant we are.
In the heat of midday, a baby hawk sits in the bird bath. Quail and roadrunners chirp and beep. A bobcat occasionally sleeps in our oasis. Nature continues, mostly.
We artists are trying to find a way forward. Continuing to paint/photograph/sculpt/perform as we did before Covid seems… stupid? futile? decadent? Those of us who are privileged should perhaps stay silent, and let other voices speak. Listening to these stories deserves almost all our attention. Or, maybe we continue to make work and hide it away for another time. Our calendars are filled with crossed out shows, non-existent deadlines, and canceled travel. There’s nothing but time, how should we use it?
For many years I assuaged my guilty painting-and-object-making lifestyle by teaching. My community college students needed me; I cared about them and their aspirations. I believe art saves lives, that I was helping. But as the years passed teaching became burdensome, and I felt I wasn’t doing enough. Perhaps getting older I could no longer relate to my young adult students. I gradually let the college jobs go, one by one. The nail in my teaching coffin was having to finish the spring semester remotely. I zoomed with students who couldn’t leave their houses because they were caring for a mentally disable sibling, a brother who had been shot, a granddaughter who was in an unsafe group home. It was traumatizing to us all. Teaching now belongs to a younger generation of academics, and I wish them strength.
Back to the question of what artists should be doing… perhaps continuing to make work during the pandemic, the racial unrest, and the disintegration of our democracy is simply an act of mental self-preservation. Does responding creatively to present circumstances, even if no one will ever see the work, give us reasons to get up each morning? For me, yes.
I’m now designing a big project in the desert--an arts center disguised as an entertainment park, to reach multigenerational families. I considering it a large-scale, long-term performance, and it feels more right that continuing to make objects (although I still do that, when the studio is not a body-melting temperature). As an artist, will businesses take me seriously? I do not know, and I really don’t care. It’s possible I’ll crash and burn, spending every cent I have in the process. I also don’t care.
The desert is fierce and merciless. The land has been mistreated--I will do my best to repair it, in the small ways available to a woman past her prime. The people here have been ignored, the rural children have little to look forward to. I want to help. Perhaps that’s what will be remembered about this horrible season. That art can still save lives, even if it’s just my own that is salvaged.
Time has Slipped By
I can't believe it's been over two months since I last wrote. My life used to be lived at 70 miles per hour, between San Diego and Los Angeles. Last spring it slowed to 50, then 40 miles per hour, as I finished my final semester online, and we adjusted to the Covid lifestyle. My solo show in June at the 29 Palms Art Gallery was postponed, of course, and I lost my painting mojo. I continued work on my big conceptual project, MLand, and finished lots of little projects around the house and garden. I was actually thrown out of two online exhibitions because I didn't follow the "rules." WTF.
August came, the dreaded month, and the gears of my life ground down to 20 miles per hour. We rushed to get AC installed--mini splits in the living room and bed room--all we could afford. The AC guy loved our property, and remembered riding horses on our dunes as a kid. The AC units are probably the nicest part of our house, so professionally installed. And in the nick of time. The weather turned humid, and hit 119 a few days in a row (Death Valley, relatively close by, hit 130, hottest in recent history). The nights don't go down below the mid 80s. We watched the Comet Neowise, and the Perseid Meteor Shower. A big fire in Banning threatened to jump up to the Morongo Valley, but was stopped. Sky is still smokey, but that may be from the other fires that are consuming the state. This year has just been so terribly hard.
Now we live in the living room, all the doors and window shades closed so the AC forms a cool box. In winter we do the same thing to get warm. I've never lived in a place that has affected where I can be in my house. Expand in spring and fall, and constrict in winter and summer. No exercising outside, no venturing outside except right at dawn to water. The doves have started to eat the plants, even though we put water and food out every day.
We had bobcats in the oasis again, a mother and two kittens. We saw them live only a few times, but caught them on our motion sensor camera at the water bowl. I've always thought the oasis a bit spooky, and now we see how many animals move through there night and day: coyotes, hawks, rabbits, rats, owls, cats.
I'll try to write about MLand soon, but I'm discouraged right now. We just need to survive the heat, the fires, the political situation, the coming homeless crisis, and the diminution of our lives.
First Snake and Other Critters
A red racer/coachwhip under the oven tarp, Gambel's quail under olive, more bees removed by friends in the barn, and barn owl in the oasis.
I haven't been writing much. Weebly has been scrambling my photos when I upload from my phone, which has discouraged me. But in reality, we are living here now, so the DD has become something less, at least for the time being. It's our 10th week in lockdown. Although we've ventured back to LA and SD for short trips, this is home, at least for now. We are grateful to be in the country, where we don't have to interact with people who are not being safe.
Emotions have run the gamut, like for everyone, I'm sure. Mental health is so important, trying to trick yourself into feeling excited about the future, and not scared, or frustrated with the economics and politics of the US. We are strategizing on how to restart the Moonhuts, which may include getting a portapotty and outside washup area. Then there's the residency, which will be harder. We are looking into a separate entrance and living area for residents. The outdoor work areas aren't the problem, it's the indoor part that doesn't add up. Sigh.
I whipped the office into better shape, and it's turning into one of my favorite rooms in the house. When we got the property, the owner was using it as storage, because it doesn't have a window to the outside. But slowly it's become very comfortable to hang out in, do zoom meetings in, watch videos. Now I've got my desk set up to keep all our businesses organized properly. Feels good. See? I'm tricking myself into happiness.
Oranges and Pinks
I always wanted a pink house. There was a perfect house I passed everyday on the freeway in San Diego: light pink, with white and gray trim. My grandmother loved the color, and I inherited many of her pink cashmere sweaters. And now that I think of it, her house was pink.
Anyway, my other houses were gray-blue, yellow, gray (now green), and gray again (at least I haven't had to live in many tan houses). When we got this house I didn't like the pink, it seemed the wrong shade somehow. But with my new green base, and brown trim (which I'm going to freshen up as soon as the birds finish nesting under the eaves), I think I've achieved my own pink perfection.
These are our bloomers against the house, very happy!
I haven't written about these apocalyptic world events. Yet. This is our seventh week here. We started with four, myself and T, my younger son, and a resident. For two weeks, it was a lot of cooking and gardening, and some socializing, but things didn't seem that un-normal. When Linda left we had another three weeks with A here, doing projects, and I was still cooking because he eats a lot. Then he returned to the city to finish his senior year online. In our family high school has never been the big thing, but I still mourn for him, missing all those milestones.
Now we are alone. Although we've been together now for about 11 years, we've never lived together. We need to preserve those private hours, to keep sanity and politeness alive. Of course the Moonhuts are closed so we don't have money coming in, but we are savers, so are not panicking. Yet.
I've been down, with reason. This was always going to be a transition time for me. Finishing up teaching. Moving from the city to the country. Trying to find a new career (big project on paper, but right now far from possible). Releasing my identity as "Mom," now that both my kids are moving away into adulthood. That's a big one. But all the things in our lives right now are huge: our environment, our politics, our health, our livelihoods.
My girlfriends and I meet on the hated Zoom once a week for HH. It's not the same, but better than nothing. We've decided next time to have five things we are looking forward to, because last week I told them there was nothing coming up in my life.
So, a realistic list:
1. Summer storms
2. Our pool getting finished
3. Hearing back from advisors on my big project
4. Getting back to my indoor exercise routine
5. Receiving a mail art project back from a friend in Sweden.
A list that is less realistic:
1. Art openings
2. Iceland next January
3. Downtown Los Angeles, coffee and restaurants
4. Residents at the DD
5. Hugging my family, seeing my sister, having dinner parties, going thrift shopping, wearing nice clothes, traveling, hearing live music, hmmm I'm making myself worse with this list.
James Cagney's House in 29
From our front door we can see a single lonely house up on Campbell Hill. We finally took a hike up to inspect it late yesterday afternoon. It belonged to James Cagney (1899-1986), who came to the desert in the 1950s thru the 1970s when he needed a break from Hollywood. Read about it at the Historical Society here.
A friend who has lived in 29 since he was a child remembers it and also John Hilton's house, who started the 29 Palms Art Gallery. Luckily the Hilton house is being well cared for (@johnhiltonhouse), but Cagney's is abandoned. Apparently the family refused to sell it. There's no fence or protection, so looks like homeless have moved in and out, and part of it has been burned. It's a lovely site, with killer views. The bones of the house are beautiful, wish it wasn't looking like this.
Cactus door murals
Well, maybe not madness, but encouraging spring growth. We've been having brief rains and almost everything is growing. Especially encouraging are buds on the ocotillo and desert willow (which we thought had not made it through the winter freezes), and the palo verde and mesquite. It would be discouraging to lose trees when we've put so much time into them.
We are sitting out the craziness of the times here, it's a relief to be out of the city. Stay safe.
DD Donation Board
Toulie invites visitors to check out our Art Donation Board, where residents can donate small works to be for sale to benefit future artist residents. The idea, and first donations of polaroids, came from resident Lori Lipsman.
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.