Lucy’s Trailer

The property on which the Encanto Cabin lies is surrounded by wire fencing strung between metal poles that are about three feet high. The property includes a second dwelling, a camping trailer manufactured in the 1950s. As it happens, this trailer belonged to Lucille Ball of I Love Lucy fame. I am told that it was the main prop in her movie, The Long Long Trailer. People who rent the cabin may also rent the trailer for other guests.

During my stay, I was given a brief tour of the trailer, which has been refurbished and has every modern convenience. Its water supply is the same as the cabin’s, three large storage tanks, shown below.

If she were still alive, my maternal grandmother would be pleased to see this trailer, I imagine. When I was 12 years old or so, my brother and I visited my grandparents every Friday evening to watch I Love Lucy and other shows on a small TV set in their parlor. During the visit, we would each be treated to a bottle of Jack Frost orange soda pop, which incidentally matched the color of Lucy’s hair. — Jer

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Road Trip 2018: Planer Configurations

[Email to Jer, sent to him long after the stated date, ’cause no electricity, no wi-fi, no contact except texts from the Experimental Living Cabin of AZ West in Wonder Valley, California.]

Good morning Luv,

It’s March 4 and I’ve now been at the Experimental Living Cabin since the afternoon of March 1. And I may or may not be getting the hang of the experiment. Yesterday I broke the globe from the tall oil lamp that sits on the elevated rectangle on the art pad.

I have two other small globed lamps for the counter area but this tall one is both the most elegant and most perfect for its space. Sigh. It’s a good esthetic design but a bad functional one — top-heavy. Thank heavens it fell in the kitchen space (shattering on the concrete into a thousand pieces) and not on the wood art platform itself. And only the globe, not the bottom with its oil, fell. Small comforts for a sorry loss.

The “art platform” is, perhaps, 6-8 feet by 12 feet, and two inches off the floor. As you can see, I tried to read on it. But the getting up and down, and then actually sitting on it, was a trial. It would make a grand yoga and meditation place, if only one were 35 rather than  75. The wooden pieces of which it’s composed (There are 12 pieces; you can see some of them if you look closely) are perfectly proportioned and balanced; it should be [it has been] a gallery exhibit, like a Bauhaus creation. And yet, and yet, it lacks comfort.

I imagine you sinking into a soft armchair, at exactly the right height for getting in and out of, reading away at Hilary Mantel, and maybe falling softly to sleep. One does very little sinking softly in these quarters. The bed is a futon, good and firm, with a wonderfully warm comforter, but it’s not what I would call “soft”. The two stools that fit the counter so well are just right in height and size, but as wooden stools — they are not soft. The big cushions on the art pad are foam, so alleviate the wood-on-bone effect a bit, but are awkward to move and, being on the sacred art work, awkward to use. I realize I have gotten soft, a knowledge gained from surrounds that are not.

This sounds all complaint, but I don’t mean it to be. The windows, on all sides of what is essentially one 400 square foot room, make me feel as if I’m fully in the desert without its discomforts. And the moon, full when I moved in, has continued to fill the place with light. I’ve discovered an unexpected delight  in getting up at night. I remembered Pine Station PA outhouses in the winter and camping facilities in the Wyoming Tetons, so the thought of having to use the outdoor composting toilet here would be, I was sure, uncomfortable. I was concerned that no electricity would light the way. I knew I would freeze my tookus. But the moon, through the cabin’s all-encompassing windows, lit the way; southern California, it turns out, is decently warm at 4 AM, even in March. And going out into that star-shine bowl of the desert, with no trees to distract from the sky — well, a bit rapturous, in fact.

I’m also waking up at dawn, just as the eastern sky starts to lighten. The futon bed, behind the black room divider seen in the kitchen, is open to the eastern windows. There’s a short wall between the “bedroom” and the art platform room, and so the windows on the east wall are completely available to the sleeper. “Available” is an interesting term — what I mean is — sleeping in past 5 AM becomes difficult.

The photo above is  dawn as it displayed itself on the western wall of the cabin. The sunrise reflection shows in both the windows and in the mirror between the door and the windows. Glory be for the mirror.

The mirror is decorative (Sunrise! Desert! Rounded form!) but also serves other functions. Aesthetically, it adds to the light and sense of being outside while being protected from the sun and wind (a comfort equal to sinking softly). More functionally, it allows me to braid my hair, not a small thing in the dry windy climate. As you know, I get desert hair quickly, and the only way to keep it from driving me screaming into the wind is to get it under control with a braid — and I never learned to braid without looking.

The mirror is the only decorative object on the walls, if you discount the total of five hooks. These hooks hold a broom, a dustpan, the desert hats, and, for my use, two clothes/towel hooks in the futon space. The hooks are functional, of course, but the hats and cleaning items are oddly esthetic, providing the vertical relief of the broom and the circular form of the hats.

As you can see from this photo, I have not only shattered the vertical punctuation of the high globe in the art platform space, but here I’ve added two boxes of tea, a candle, and my blue flute holder, mucking up the perfect arrangement of objects, aesthetically speaking. And so lesson one of experimental living might be: it’s only sometimes that one’s aesthetic needs can be matched completely with one’s functional needs. Alas. On the other hand, it’s seldom that one (or at any rate, this one) lives inside an art space.

See you for dinner tomorrow. Hope tuna will do. Bring your own eggs. — jou

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Encanto Cabin

My desert cabin of about 500 square feet consisted of three rooms: a kitchen, a bathroom, and a bedroom that doubled as a living room. Big enough to accommodate two people, it was perfect for one. After a few days, I imagine, two people would collide and knock each other’s toothbrush into the toilet. I had no such trouble.

The cabin had everything I needed: a kitchen with a refrigerator, four-burner electric stove, microwave, blender, pots and pans, plates and bowls, knives and forks and spoons. Three 5,000-gallon tanks outside the cabin provided all the water I could possibly need. The hot-water heater worked well, and the shower was perfect.

Equipped with a large-screen TV connected to the DISH network, the bedroom also had a DVD player and a large collection of video discs. The cabin’s Internet connection did not work; this was lucky for me since I could not search the web for news about the latest antics of the Buffoon-in-Chief.


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Road Trip: Planars

[Ed note: these are entries from my stay at the Experimental Living Cabins, off the grid, in Wonder Valley, California. Off the grid meant a lot of things, including no internet access. So these notes are from that time, written later in motels further south and east, as Jer and I continued our Road Trip 2018]


March 1, 2018. So here I am, in Wonder Valley, California, in one of the Experimental Living Cabins run by AZ West, artist Andrea Zittel’s experiments in minimizing life. Jer has retreated to his more modernly equipped cabin, also in Wonder Valley, about 20 minutes west, after helping me lug my two bins of food, two smaller containers of art materials and books, a suitcase, two camera bags, a laptop (just in case), and my “Red Bag” which contains all kinds of miscellaneous materials, including my backlit Kindle eReader, into my approximately 16 x 20 foot space.

I’m alone, in the Mojave desert, with 18 gallons of water (6 jugs of 3 gallons each), a camp stove with plenty of fuel, a Coleman cooler full of ice, a bottle of wine, and the Mojave desert.


Wonder Valley is a place of legend. North of 29 Palms, it is the result, mostly, of the US government’s Small Tract Act of 1938, a “baby homestead” act that allowed people to prove up on 5 acres of land if they built or developed a house or business on their acres. Various ideas about Wonder Valley’s popularity float around — the GIs returning from WWII had flocked here for free land and a new start; people from LA and hippies in the 60s came out to the desert to be free on the cheap; and/or people needing the desert air for health reasons found relief in Wonder Valley — all these reasons for habitation are postulated but what is clear is that by the early 70s, many of the 5-acre lot cabins were abandoned. And the further east you travel in Wonder Valley, the more abandoned structures you find. I was far east.

Many of the abandoned cabins appear to be “jack rabbit” built, constructed by local entrepreneurs who knew how to build quickly, cheaply, and without worrying about the details.



Andrea Zittel is all about details.

Zittel, whose compound is 40 minutes south and west of Wonder Valley, bought some of these cabins and turned two of them into concrete black structures, finely finished outside and in, no telephone poles or water tanks to interfere with their perfectly planar lines. But I get ahead of myself.


The Experimental Living Cabins echo the ten Planar Pavilions that Zittel constructed on the slope in front of her studio and residence in Joshua Tree in 2016. Jer and I had checked these out earlier in the day.




The Pavilions stand firm and stark, anchored into the sandy soil, sometimes providing a zen view down and out into the Mojave, sometimes enclosing just you and a clump of grass, rooted in the sand, alone inside the black concrete. We were a bit awed by the structures, perhaps puzzled by them, or, more likely, unable to get our mouths, our language, around them. But they made an impression, these rectangular forms, each having its own configuration, clearly made through human effort, painted perfectly black, with the concrete block lines performing their own commentary outside of language.


For more about June’s Solitary Excursion, check additional blogs, coming.

Published 3/9/18, from Gila Bend, AZ. jou

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Oops! Catching Up

Foiled. Our plans to publish a blog installment every day during our trip have not worked out, as you may have noticed. June knew she would have no Internet connection during her week at the experimental cabin. We thought that I would have a good Internet connection at my more upscale cabin, but that proved to be incorrect. We were both off-line for seven days.

To get us back on track, I thought I would do a brief roundup of the first few days of our trip, before we got to the desert. That will give us time to work on our collection of desert photos and on our thoughts about the two cabins.

This is what our front yard looked like the morning we left town on February 21.

This is what our motel’s front yard looked like in Ashland on February 23.

This is what the front yard of my cabin looked like on March 6.  — Jer

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Road Trip: Noah Purifoy

Outside of Joshua Tree is the magnificent Outdoor Desert Museum of Assemblage Sculpture, created by artist Noah Purifoy. You can read about the Museum here, because I find myself unable to explain it. But I took a lot of photos, and I had notions about what the sculptures meant to me. Purifoy documents our histories, and because he overlaps in time (1917 — 2004) with some of my time, I understood his assemblages on a personal level.

Bicycle racks? Bedsteads? Whatever — I found this sculpture beautiful. Made of junk and placed against the desert sky, familiar junk reassembled into something strange and wondrous.

Another beauty, not easily seen in this photo, but arcing pieces of aluminum, with the desert floor, all dirt and dust, below.

A roller coaster or sliding board — made of 65 aluminum trays. I laughed.

I imagine this as an old bar or bawdy house — wooden — with these plaster pieces stuck over the wood to make it “fancy.” The kind of thing one finds hanging around derelict desert towns.

And here’s one he calls “Gallows.” The desert sun contains darkness — or perhaps is so bright as to blind us to the dark.

We have all seen the burnt out cabins, with past lives partially spread out for all to see. However, this is also a kind of homage to a past artist too — or perhaps it’s a flick in the face: here’s to you, Marcel, and your dissolute ways. One can’t help but think of Duchamp’s Fountain:

But Fountain appears in many of Purifoy’s pieces, such as this one:

The signs above the objects (sorry that I couldn’t make them visible) read Whites and Colored. You may be able to guess which is which.

And perhaps you have to be a westerner to reference this street sign: Hanford is not just a fine stretch of landscape along the Columbia River but is also the failed nuclear waste repository, still not cleaned up with its nuclear poison creeping toward the water; Yucca is not merely a town down the road a piece (Yucca Valley) but also Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository

The 10 acre site is too large for any short piece of writing; the Noah Purifoy Foundation,  the non-profit that preserves the Outdoor Museum, says in its brochure that a catalog of works and writings designed by Noah Purifoy but not published in his lifetime “will be published by Gerhard Steidl” I have found no other reference to this publication, but would hope it was or will be accomplished.   june

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Road Trip: The Night Before

Tonight I find myself nervous. Well, perhaps more accurately — a tad anxious. Oh hell, I’m just plain shaking in my boots.

We are very well prepared. I am very well prepared. All contingencies have been accounted for. And yet…

So — we are Joshua Tree, California. The landscape is, well, desert. Very desert. Very very desert.

This rocky bit is behind our motel, which lodging will be abandoned tomorrow for more stark territory. These rocky bits surround the more stark territory.

Jer will be going out Encanto Road in Wonder Valley:

I will be in Wonder Valley also, but further out, in an Experimental Living Cabin run by artist Andrea Zittel, who is secretive about the location of the cabin, but carefully explicit about its, um, lack of amenities. No Mod Cons included, including no running water, no electricity, no internet and no people. A camp stove, a propane heater and candles, along with some gallons of water are provided. Jer will be on alert in his cabin-with-amenities, sitting by his cell phone. But I will spend the week, by myself, off the grid, communing….

Why, you may ask, am I doing this — going out in the desert for a week with only a roof over my head, a roof which shelters art forms and one human being, and not much more. Why, when I am shaking in my boots, would I continue to walk down the scary path? Well, I have asked myself that too.

I like the think that this week will allow me be not-somebody — no name, no questions, not even a pleasant how-de-do. I will have to decide what I want, all on my own — a task not as easy as it sounds. (And likely after a week, I may want company.)

Or –maybe I want to be that transparent eyeball that Ralph Waldo Emerson speaks of. As Wikipedia puts it: “To truly appreciate nature, one must not only look at it and admire it, but also be able to feel it taking over the senses. This process requires, according to Emerson, ‘absolute solitude, [so] a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society, [going] to uninhabited places like the woods where— We return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, — no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite spaces, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God.'”

There won’t be any woods in Wonder alley, so maybe I won’t be able to lose all mean egotism. And not being male, I have my doubts about part and parcel of god. But, I sort of like being uplifted into space, so perhaps that’s my motivation.

Or, maybe one day when I envisioned the end of winter in Portland Oregon, and imagined more ice, more sleet, more slush, I just took a notion, told Jer I wanted to be alone in a warm desert, he said “find the place and we’ll go,” and here we are.

So here I am, the night before Jer drops me off at my Experimental Cabin (with lots of food and water, of course), to live out a week with nature — the desert in March where my transparent eyeball (covered with sunglasses, of course) thinks about things. I have my pen and journal, my wire for sculpting, and my kindle for reading after dark (George Sanders’ Lincoln at the Bardo.) Also my cell phone, so when panic sets in and the coyote howls and scorpions and snakes appear in my dreams, I can call Jer. There is cell phone service, even in the Experimental Cabin.

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