Cactus Garden

cholla garden

As we left Joshua Tree National Park, we stopped slightly north of the south entrance (Cottonwood) to take a short hike through cactus “gardens” consisting mainly of cholla, which it is better not to embrace. A cactus first-aid kit placed near the trailhead evidently held tweezers to pull out cactus spines. I say “evidently” because we did not look inside the metal  box containing the kit. That would only become necessary, we reasoned, if we fell upon a cactus or grabbed one, thinking it a handhold; we did no such thing.

Aside from cholla, the garden contained other kinds of cacti and desert vegetation, a lot of sand and rocks, and, navigating the trail, quite a few tourists. None of the latter appears in my photos, alas. — Jer

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Road Trip 2018: The Desert Beyond

Good morning love —

Last full day of living out the Experiment here in Wonder Valley.

I have spent the last five days filling out the light. That sounds like an odd way of putting it but these last few days, coming and going alone, living without responsibilities or human contact or needs, it feels like I’m filling out the empty light. It waits for me in the morning. Then, during the next 12 hours, I give that light some form, which vanishes when I blow out the candle at night, only to reappear with the dawn.

One of the forms that living the light always takes (after I’ve drunk my tea and braided my hair, of course) is walking through the ruins of Wonder Valley. The Valley has had some documentation, but really needs boots in the dusty gravel to be lived.  And the eastern end of the Valley, north of The Palms restaurant, is perhaps the least touched by newer inhabitants and tidying forces of community. So the old fragments of derelict, long-deserted cabins, archaeological remains, have come to form some of each day’s design.

Look closely at this photo and see the three deserted cabins I can see from my northwestern windows.

Here’s what can be stumbled across wandering around the Valley.


This last cabin was meant to make stories from — there were three remains of beds — one regular sized and two small ones — a family space. And it had had electricity, which most of the cabins I checked out didn’t seem to. The windows were spacious in the cabin — it must have been special built, not a jack rabbit structure.

And of course, Jer, I have been forming the light by making chains. Many chains. Hanging chains in the windows. Looking at the chains with the light, giving and taking them away. Trying to refine my chain process. Taking them down from the windows and putting up different ones.

What I settled onto at last were the chains dropped casually on the art platform. It was the most satisfying to my eye. The chains were too fussy in the windows and against the walls, too few, or too many, or, most often, too much in the way. My eyes needed the whole window space, without interruption. But on the art platform, in ever-increasing numbers, they became a pleasing attribute, totally without function, adding to the art while making a rounded statement about its relationship to my own senses.

And so, my love, I fill out and make the lighted hours, drinking tea, reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog, walking in the deserted desert, and making chains for some future design. And missing you, of course. The tuna fish the other evening was delicious, your company most desirable, the candle light romantic, and I’m looking forward to returning to our joint existence, light after dark, sinking softly into things that curve with my body. But of course, this being the last day, I’m also contemplating what I will miss. Wondering what I know now that I didn’t before. But that will have to wait, until I’m away from the Experimental Living Cabin and back with you. See you tomorrow, packed and tidied, and ready to continue with Road Trip 2018. With indoor toilets and light that stays around even when the dark sets in. –jou —


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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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