Saturday, March 15, 2008

Joshua Tree and environs

BETWEEN TWENTYNINE PALMS AND AMBOY the road runs quite straight, east-west at first, then turning north to rise easily to Sheeps Hole Pass, after which it changes direction to skirt Bristol Lake (dry), finally running due north again to cross it and then meet the old Highway 66.

Somewhere on that first stretch, heading east, we stopped at what seemed a new community park. "Community" seems to me a fugitive notion thereabouts. Every now and then on these desert roads — Amboy Road, or the road to Adelanto — you'll see a cluster of mailboxes, perhaps half a dozen, perhaps twenty; and you'll understand that out that unpaved road into the desert there are houses, or cabins, or prefabs or trailers, hidden by imperceptible rises, lost among sagebrush, old cars and pickup trucks, now and then some aging plastic play apparatus.

Some of these houses are nearer the main road, and newer, and generally surrounded by Cyclone fencing; and you wonder how long it'll be before they in their turn deteriorate into the careless decay of those older shacks which seem unchanged from my first view of such habitations, in the summer of 1944, when we drove through the desert on these roads.

I wonder, too, who the hell lives here, and why. What do they read, what music do they hear. Are they as struck as we are by the fragrance of the desert bloom we've come to see. Do they think about world affairs; do they vote; are they concerned about the economic situation.

In Joshua Tree we stopped at a nursery to ask where Lou's house might be found. A couple in their fifties or so were in the office, lounging and conversing. Thin, tanned, muscular, good-looking desert people. The woman had a faint German accent: she was from Nurenberg, but had "moved to Paradise" many years ago. Their greenhouse had been damaged a week or two ago by a sudden storm, and there would be work to do and repairs to make, but they didn't seem put out about it. They told us where to find Lou's house.

In town we stopped at a Salvation Army thrift store: Lindsey's on the lookout for a roasting pan. The usual evidence of our consumer culture: lots of synthetic-material clothing, worn a few times and then discarded; videotapes and CDs (but not for me); a few banged-up kitchen appliances; dishes, pots and pans whose age suggested they'd been left behind by the dead, the dead who'd died in the full course of their lives. It's nice to browse in such places: we found a rectangular Pyrex baking-dish, long missing from our own kitchen battery, and it'll remind us of Joshua Tree every time we use it.

Lou and Bill built their straw-bale house toward the end of their own lives and fortunately lived to enjoy it. (Not that they didn't enjoy planning and building it.) I wish I'd visited it during their lifetimes; I'd love to see it lived in, with music sounding — the vaulted ceiling must provide wonderful acoustics. As it was, we pulled into the driveway and took a couple of photos, then drove off. A little further up the road, the fellow at the nursery had told us, was another remarkable house, a concrete palace with a roofline that reminded me of the Sydney opera house, perched on the side of a hill and looking out away from the roads.

But we weren't on an architecture tour; we were looking for flowers. We turned up Amboy Road, driving a mile or two north, then via a country ninety-degree corner east. The mailbox clusters appeared less frequently, but before long we came to that improbable community park, a country firehouse next to it. There was a ramada, a thinly planted desert garden, and a miniature half-basketball court, freshly built and apparently yet to be initiated. It even had a desultory three rows of low bleacher benches, in case a crowd ever turns out to watch.

I will wait until tomorrow or next day, though, to continue this. Today, after getting this far here, I spent three or four hours gardening. Unusual for me: perhaps those wildflowers inspired me. Then we went to the gym for an hour. Then, on the way home, we were tail-ended, our car pretty well totaled. Neither of us was hurt. The other driver was drunk, poor man, and marched off in handcuffs. Lindsey rented a car while I escorted our poor Camry home. Tomorrow will be spent on the telephone, no doubt.

And here's Friday's twilight. The Eastside View is beautiful.twilight.jpg

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