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Â©Photograph by Sant Khalsa. Bristol Dry Lake, Near Amboy, CA 1
Issue 1 - Summer / FALL 2016
“Once I loved a man who was a lot like the desert, and before that I loved the desert. It wasn’t particular things but the space between them, that abundance of absence, that is the desert’s invitation. There the geology that underlies lusher landscapes is exposed to the eye, and this gives it a skeletal elegance, just as its harsh conditions – the vast distances between water, the many dangers, the extremes of heat and cold - keep you in mind of your mortality.” - Rebecca Solnit, ‘A Field Guide to Getting Lost’
Editor’s Note We seek to live perpetually in the light. But out here in the desert wilds, up in the higher altitudes of the Mojave, both light and darkness are cherished. Light plays and dances, communes daily with his subjects, offering nuances of heartbreaking beauty, interspersed with the harshest of glares. Enchanting and blinding. Then darkness descends. The desert darkness challenges us to dive deep into her, into the realms of the unseen within and without until we are conscious of no such lines of demarcation between the two. Countless ancient stars wink at us knowingly. Even when she is new, Luna, Queen of the Night is a palpable presence. Darkness, like breathing in, asks us to go inward, to embrace the unseen. And as Luna commands the tides and biorhythms without, so too within (within, without, what a notion! A trick of light and shadow perhaps). As autumn approaches, the transition from the relentless heat of summer begins. We remember the unforgiving blaze of the desert sun when we retreated indoors. Summer days in the desert are an ebbing: into our homes, into ourselves, to discover those hidden places within. And as the light starts to fade, we emerge, seeking the cooling comfort of dusk and the sanctuary of nightfall’s shadows. On summer evenings, in the darkness of her new face, Luna draws us out to explore this vast kingdom of shadows that is her domain. And when she is full, Luna lights up the dark corners of this dusty wilderness, within and without. Mysteries reveal themselves, if only for a moment, until all is hidden again. The fleeting blink of an eye. Rohini Walker Editor: Rohini Walker Creative Directors: Martín Mancha & Rohini Walker Art Direction & Graphic Design: Martín Mancha, www.martinmancha.com For all inquiries, please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org Printed locally by the Hi-Desert Publishing Co., Yucca Valley, CA. Cover illustration by Martín Mancha Stalk us on Facebook by searching for ‘Luna Arcana’ • Instagram: @luna_arcana With thanks to our collaborators & contributors: Anastasia King Jaress Benjamin Goulet Bill Dahl Bon Nielsen Caryn Davidson Catherine Svehla Cynthia Anderson Hilary Sloane Kate McCabe Keith Kelley
Kim Stringfellow Molly Bella Moore Monet Blair Peter Parnall Phil Klasky Rick Rodriguez Sant Khalsa Taso Papadakis Toby Verhines Teresa Sitz
All material © 2016 Luna Arcana, unless otherwise stated. 3
snake and the secret of life by Cynthia Anderson; photo by Bill Dahl
High above a steep rock face, a skeleton tree holds the secret of life. But no one goes there. The climb is too arduous, the country too desolate, the lure not enough for the trouble. One day Snake hears the rumor and laughs, “That’s easy.” He lifts his body straight up the desolate height. The tree opens its arms. “Almost there!” Snake cries. At that moment, he turns to stone. You can hear his dry rattle on the wind. In the end, he finds what he is looking for.
Bill Dahl and Cynthia Anderson began their photo/poetry collaborations in 2005 after a trip to the Alabama Hills. Their first love has always been spending time with rocks and discovering their stories. This image and poem are from their latest book, Mythic Rockscapes: Barker Dam Trail, Joshua Tree National Park, available locally at The Raven Bookshop and Rainbow Stew—or online at blurb.com. More images from the “Mythic Rockscapes” series can be viewed at www.billdahlphotography.com 4
art talking and astronaut entertaining. I haven’t seen my Spiny Lizard front door security pal and wonder if the roadrunner was here not listening to early metal, but picking up a snack. The evening is enchanting. There is nothing better than a summer desert night. All those who are affluent enough to leave have forgotten. They’ve forgotten that what the day takes away, the night gives back. The desert is not for the unrad.
Words & artwork by Kate McCabe May 22nd The mourning dove nesting on the air conditioner by the back door has been wrecking havoc on my nerves. When I open the door to go out, she startles and flies away and I get startled and can’t fly away. Adds a difficulty level to being Snow White of the Desert if the birds are scared of me. A friend says they will eventually take no notice of my comings and goings. I think: “Ah, the story of my life.”
June 18th Three hawks fly over Melissa’s house swooping in for gulps of water. I race to the Integratron to be Annemarie’s last minute sound bath date. Sonically immersed, I stare out the window with ears popping, contemplating being born a cloud. The earthquake keeps coming to mind and his face in the night. Then the button of my jeans pops open making me giggle. I’m either having one hell of a sound bath or I must really like him.
May 26th It’s the coldest May on record! We don’t take it for granted. I’m amused to find a Weather Diary from last year stating: “It’s the coldest May on record!” Apparently, my June 20th diary represents the perfect weather amnesia almanac. It’s 106. The doves follow my car, cooing, “Summer’s here!” They’ve finally noticed my comings and goings. The Snow White feeling I imagine is real! The ausJune 2nd June doesn’t disappoint, it rolls in like the hot bitch we picious strawberry moon and solstice coincide for some know and love. A new lizard lives by the front door. He’s championship moon bathing. I promise the doves this a tough little dragon dude. We make a deal: he can rare moment won’t go to waste. reside there if he works security. It’s my first verbal contract with a Desert Spiny Lizard. June 9th I’ve been painting non-stop for my show at Taylor Junction. I hang the show and finally relax with a man who’s enrolled in my Antigravity Astronaut Home Training Program. At midnight, the wind is cold and a cup of tea outside slowly turns into clothes discarded in the sand and the exploration of heavenly bodies. We didn’t notice the earth’s heaving. The earthquake came and went and we were only aware of each other, happy and entwined, goosebumped and naked in the wind, under the protective gaze of the half fallen pine and the crescent moon. June 12th The roadrunner runs by and I assume it’s because my stereo is blaring DUST on vinyl. I’m sad and tired from all the 5
Desert Voices The Picture Books of Byrd Baylor & Peter Parnall By Benjamin Goulet
In the early 1970s, author Byrd Baylor and illustrator Peter Parnall began a collaboration with the southwestern deserts as their muse. Their medium was picture books, introducing thousands of children – and adults – to a land of jackrabbits, cacti, dust devils and ‘Desert People’. And over the course of seven books, Baylor and Parnall’s partnership created a new children’s literature.
Illustrator Peter Parnall was born in Syracuse, New York in 1936, but grew up in the Mojave Desert. In an interview with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, he recalled his upbringing.
Born in San Antonio in 1924, Byrd Baylor was raised in Tucson, Arizona. Now at the age of 91, she lives in Arivaca, Arizona in an adobe house that’s mainly off the grid. She continues to write – in longhand – and lives with little, if any, modern technology. After a start in local journalism, she began writing for children. Many of her thirty-plus books are still in print.
“It was a little place called Willow Springs,” he said. “It was an old stagecoach and ore wagon stop. There were four adobe houses, a tavern, and a corral and that’s it,” Returning to New York in 1954, Parnall attended Cornell University (followed by a stint at the prestigious Pratt Institute), and for a short time pursued a career in advertising until he “got tired of convincing people they should buy stuff they don’t need.” (Cornell Lab) Turning instead to freelance writing and illustration, Parnall was just five years into his art career when he illustrated Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire in 1968.
Speaking to the Arizona Desert Star in 2009, Baylor credited much of her inspiration to simply walking in the desert. “I have learned so much [just] by walking,” she said, “[My books] reflect all the things I love. I love the land [and] the animals.” 7
Baylor and Parnall’s first children’s picture book together, Everybody Needs a Rock (1974), tells the story of a young girl who rejects fancy toys in favor of a simple desert rock. The girl goes on to create ten rules for finding the perfect rock of your own; indeed, many of Baylor’s protagonists are smart, inquisitive girls.
And it’s for strong brown Desert People who call the earth their mother.
Stylistically, Baylor’s writing is sparse and its tone instructive, with clipped lines and poetic phrasing that is deceptively simple. You could miss the wisdom in a blink.
They wouldn’t leave even for rivers or flowers or bending grass.
They have to see mountains and have to see deserts every day… or they don’t feel right.
They’d miss the sand too much. They’d miss the sun.
Parnall’s pen-and-ink line drawings for the book capture the spirit of Baylor’s minimalist style, but their first collaboration was a muted approach.
So it’s for them. Alongside other picture books of the 1970s, the desert books of Baylor and Parnall are distinctive in both voice and image. Baylor’s skeletal nature writing differs from other masters of the genre (such as Robert McClosky’s dense evocations of Maine) and her work, essentially free verse, is a radical departure from tradition. Parnall’s intricate line-work and rich, Southwestern color palette draw the reader into Baylor’s evocative world. Switching from the people to the animals, Desert Voices (1981) explores the wildlife of desert places. Each chapter is spoken in the
voice of an animal, not as anthropomorphized cartoons, but as real survivors in a landscape that affords few missteps. It is arguably the duo’s masterpiece, achieving their highest goal: bringing the desert wildly, gorgeously, to life through the lens of children’s literature.
In their next book, The Desert is Theirs (1976), Parnall’s artwork became brighter and more expansive, earning him the first of four Caldecott Honor Medals he received working with Baylor.
Benjamin Goulet’s writing appears in local and national publications. He holds a Master’s of Library and Information Science and worked as a children’s librarian for many years. A Rhode Island native, he lives with his wife Melissa in Twentynine Palms, California.
In The Desert is Theirs, Baylor writes of the desert as a sacred place bursting with life. Her themes, such as the value of quiet, the rejection of materialism and respecting nature all carry the tonal weight of myth. Describing the ‘Desert People’ through the prism of the Tohono O’odham Native American tribe of the Sonoran Desert (she refers to them as the Papago, a now-obsolete term), Baylor speaks for anyone who cherishes desert life:
Illustration by Peter Parnall, taken from ‘Desert Voices’, published with his permission.
O f A P e r s o n a l N at u r e Words and image by Sant Khalsa
I relocated to Joshua Tree seeking a life of simplicity with minimal impact on natural resources and a deeper connection between self and nature. My current artworks (photographs, mixed-media sculptures and installation works) visually articulate my contemplations on time and place, nature and culture, and self and community. The work is inspired by my experience of this vast, beautiful and serene yet fragile and threatened ecosystem. Of course water (and lack of it) is a dominant subject in the work.
My ideas for artworks develop from a passionate inquiry into the nature of place and the environmental and societal issues present and visible in the landscape of the American West. My works are intended to create a contemplative space where one can sense the subtle and profound connections between themselves, the natural world and our constructed environments. Photographing is an integral part of my art and meditation practice (being still, alert, and present in a moment of mindful observation) and a means to organize and make sense of what I perceive as a chaotic, conflicted and complex world.
It seems apparent that the destiny we have manifested in the American West is riddled with quandary and contradiction. Everyday, I awake feeling fortunate that I live in paradise, although all too often I am reminded of humanityâ€™s unconscious actions and the scars left on the land and our psyches. I have come to believe that our individual and collective societal unhappiness comes from our belief and misperception that we are separate from the natural world and each other. This dissatisfaction with ourselves (and others) fuels our consumer-based economy and our consumption frenzy continues to destroy all that is required to support life on our planet. The awareness that we ARE nature can profoundly transform our lives. When we realize that the water in our streams and rivers is the same water that flows through our bodies, and the air we breathe is given to us by the forests and plants on the earth and in the oceans we become partners with the natural world and are grateful for the gift of life and live as conscious and compassionate beings.
Water has been a central focus of my research and creative work for more than three decades. Many say that I am obsessed with water. I say, how can I not be? I live in the desert. I need water to survive. Water is beautiful, refreshing, and miraculous. We consume water to sustain our lives and immerse ourselves in water to cleanse our body and soul and awaken our spirit. Pure water is life giving while polluted water is the carrier of disease and death. Water became the primary subject of my artwork because it serves as a natural conduit between the human body and water body (planet Earth), a connection between the scientific and the spiritual, and that which ultimately determines our survival. Today, water quality and availability is one of the most important issues facing our community and our planet. Our dependence on natural water sources such as rivers, aquifers, and wells is being tested daily and we search for innovative solutions to provide water to meet our most basic human requirement. 9
Words and painting by Monet Blair
The best of us arenâ€™t here in the world to become complacent, indifferent or bored. There is a language in our soul that has yet to be known by any scholar of our time. In this tension, we write the book, we seal the envelope, we strike the chord, throw the stone... We dance with mad fever and crippled feet through the promise in its ripple. And as the Hopi elders and wise ones before us knew: WE are, as actor and scribe to our own mythos, (though stumbling fool and damsel in distress will do all they can to avoid it) the ones we have been waiting for.
ISABEL AND THE DREAM OF HORSES Words & photos by Hilary Sloane
Off the back roads of Old Woman Springs Road in Landers, CA, to the north of Joshua Tree, is the White Rock Horse Rescue. A smallish, rustic house flanked by five acres of dry, dusty land that is home to a fluctuating number of horses, goats, llamas, chickens, birds, cats and dogs most of them rescue animals. In spite of energetic horse activity and the squawking of farm animals, this is a place of peace, rest and rehabilitation for those drawn here. Horses come to live for a while until they can be placed in loving homes or spend the rest of their lives at the “Villa”, the separate five-acre ranch, dedicated to animals that can’t be ridden.
at 17, Megli says the difficult experiences in her life have given rise to a passionate need to help others. In 2007, when Isabel and her then husband, Jerry, moved to Landers for a slower paced life, she knew she had a mission. The couple bought one small house that has grown into three, and the original five acres has multiplied to seventeen.
Isabel Megli, Founder and CEO of White Rock Horse Rescue, is a high-energy, determined and heartfelt woman who is the power behind White Rock. With help from Carole Ray Davison and a cadre of volunteers, Megli runs the expanding Rescue. The Villa, part of White Rock, is located a couple of blocks away and run by Davison.
Rush is one of the volunteers who have been drawn to the Ranch. She feeds the animals every weekday morning and works at the Villa. Her horse, Rebel, an Appendix, a mix of Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred, is housed at the Villa. Rush is comfortable in the midst of the horses and her quiet and easy manner makes them feel safe.
“Hi Louie,” Isabel says to a Thoroughbred as she walks around the property she owns across from her house. “He’s been sick.” Isabel greets every horse in the yard while still talking about Louie. “They brought him to me sick. They told me they thought it was a tooth, but he has a guttural pouch infection. So he’s on antibiotics.”
White Rock has been incredibly successful in caring and finding homes for more than 500 horses in the last eight years, and the ranch’s ongoing work with young people provides a nurturing environment and an opportunity for healing through volunteer programs as well as community-based programs. The ranch has also long been a sanctuary for Marines and Megli works with San Bernardino County and the Wounded Warrior Program.
Nineteen-year-old Heather Rush, a recent arrival from Tacoma, Washington, says of the ranch, “This is a place with a lot of people with open arms. You get as much as you give.”
Having grown up as a foster child, married and pregnant 11
Issue 1 - Summer / FALL 2016
The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries awarded Verified Status to White Rock Horse Rescue & Retirement on December 16, 2012, According to the GFAS website, “verification means that White Rock Horse Ranch Rescue meets the criteria of a true equine sanctuary/rescue and is providing humane and responsible care for their animals.”
Cooper, the baby goat and his girlfriend Paddy, a slightly older goat, hang out together unless they are on a mission to get fed chips from Isabel in the house. Cooper is a bit shy and resists getting his picture taken, but it’s hard to resist his adorable face and people can’t help but coo as one would to a child.
Megli knows every horse by name, including its particular circumstance and needs. She greets them like old friends and introduces them, outlining detailed histories to any newcomer or interested party. Her jovial and welcoming demeanor cracks when the subject of the mistreatment of animals arises and she is unable to conceal her indignation. Caring for these animals is clearly her purpose in life. She is determined enough to try and single-handedly right some of the wrongs of the world; it can’t be done alone, but she is committed.
Three horses, Malachi, Paluso, and Misty, group together in a corner of the ranch. Heather, the young woman from Washington, sits near them. You could swear they were having a conversation, but the horses are protecting each other; and Heather, having won their affection, is considered safe. As one would imagine with rescue animals it often takes time and patience to get a horse to feel comfortable. As part of the training, Isabel teaches the volunteers to read the horse and anticipate its needs. As dedicated as Megli is to the horses she is equally dedicated to the people, and particularly the children who come to the ranch. It hosts events annually, such as Easter Day at White Rock, the five-day camp outing in the fall, a Rodeo, seminars, classes, and a trip to Bogart Park in Cherry Valley. Children respond well to the horses, and a genuinely nurturing and healing exchange takes place.
Morongo Basin residents, Sierra and her thirteen-yearold son, visit the ranch several times a week. “We like to come to Issy’s because it’s peaceful,” says Sierra. Pointing to her son, Isaiah, she continues, “He wants a horse and I would like to get back into riding.” According to Sierra, Isaiah is not only learning to ride, but also learning responsibility and community building with the other children that come to the ranch.
“Once a relationship is made,” says Isabel, “horses, give unconditional love.” And they certainly get love back.
Among White Rock’s horse residents is Delia, a well-apportioned Quarter Horse from Oklahoma, who follows Isabel as she walks around. Fonzie is a 24-year-old Arab who, according to Isabel, acts “like a kid”, and is as “wild as the wind”. He’s fast, and he throws his riders. Not an easy horse to place. Jack, a 24-year-old Peruvian Paso, has a mate in Sugarfoot, a 16-year-old Paso Fino. Although the two horses came to the ranch at separate times and from different homes, they found each other here.
White Rock Horse Rescue is a 501 (c)(3) or nonprofit organization. Funding for White Rock Horse Rescue comes from grants and donations. Isabel Megli is grateful for all the support she and the ranch have received, but much more is needed in order for the work to continue. To volunteer or donate, call White Rock Horse Ranch on (+1) 951- 532-2417 or go to the website at www.whiterockhorserescueCA.org 12
Rick Rodriguez, Untitled. Spray paint, acrylic and pastels on wood panel. 13
TRICKSTER RAVEN by Dr. Catherine Svelha
In the creation mythologies of the Pacific Northwest, the Trickster called Raven was present when the floodwaters that covered the earth first receded. He strutted up and down on a beautiful beach. The ocean waves glittered like diamonds with light from the sun that Raven had placed in the sky. It was pretty but lifeless. Raven sighed. He was lonely and bored.
The Common Raven, corvus corax, is ubiquitous throughout the American West and the Mojave Desert. These shiny black birds are not exactly Trickster Raven. Trickster Raven is a timeless cosmic dynamic, an amoral demi-god that embodies change and paradox, not a mortal animal. But you can learn a lot about Trickster Raven by observing the ravens that wing their way over the dusty desert hills, and Trickster is someone you definitely want to know.
A muffled squeaking sound caught his attention and led him to a giant clamshell half buried in the sand. Raven peered into the crack between the halves of the shell. There were some tiny creatures inside, cowering in fear. Delighted by this break in the monotony of his day, Raven crooned to the creatures to come out. They didn’t. But when he presented them with berries plucked from a nearby bush, the first human beings tumbled out, frail and hungry. Humans quickly became Raven’s favorite playthings.
Like Trickster, the common raven is a conman, charismatic, talkative, and highly intelligent. His prodigious appetite for food and all types of stimulation leads him to invent new tools, traps, and games. He looks for openings and plays all the angles. Like Trickster Raven, corvus corax doesn’t lose sleep over the half-eaten hotdog he snatched from your picnic table or the baby tortoise he devoured. Niceties don’t concern him although he occasionally does a human being a good turn. Whether this is by design or accident is a mystery. The peoples who first told Raven’s stories speak of a The possible significance and meaning of these acts are mythic time before our time, a time when anything was left to you to decipher. possible and the rules that govern us had not yet settled into place. The Creator gave Raven special powers and As the world that we know neared completion, Trickster asked him to act on behalf of all the animal and human Raven’s lust and appetite smothered his common sense peoples of the earth. Raven brought important gifts like more and more frequently. He was more Fool than Hero, fire and light and a variety of foods. He killed monsters. more malicious than benign. The stories of his exploits He taught humans how to hunt and cook and laugh. There illuminate the limits of this present-day world and were a few mishaps, like the time that he let death enter remind us of the need to respect them. Like Raven, the world, but all in all he got a good start. humans have an assigned role to play in the ongoing creation of this place, and we learn the same lessons That time is over and the earth has changed. The an- over and over again. We chatter and squabble, invent and cient sea that once covered Southern California reced- tinker, bring light and darkness into the world. For better ed into mile-deep sand centuries ago. Today the Mojave and for worse, Trickster Raven is our patron. The reflection bears little resemblance to the damp, green forests and you see in his glittering black eye may be your own. beaches littered with driftwood, where the story of Raven and the clamshell is still told. Many things are Dr. Catherine Svehla is passionate about the powgone, including some of the old gods. But Tricksters like er of myth to teach and transform. A cultural mytholRaven occupy the middle ground between past and pres- ogist, storyteller, artist, and activist, she is based in ent. They are perennial travelers, drawn to edges and Joshua Tree. To learn more about Dr. Svehla’s work, visit borders, simultaneously erasing and creating boundaries www.mythicmojo.com or listen to Myth in the Mojave, her as they stroll around the world they are still shaping. Ra- bi-weekly storytelling podcast, at www.mythinthemojave. ven the Trickster is still here. com. Happy myth-making and keep the mystery in your life alive. 14
As it is in Heaven by Anastasia King-Jaress
Once upon a time, wandering the country barefoot in long white robes and sharing the Gospel with whomever would listen, Garth Bowles experienced a divine vision: the Lord’s Prayer was not just a simple mantra, it was a command; humans must create Heaven on earth.
As we approach a group of Australian women drinking beer under an ancient juniper, a pack of brown dogs coalesces and dissipates around us, a flock of earthbound starlings. The women don’t know where we can find Garth, but suggest we check the teepee. A trim woman emerges from it with a stooping teenage boy, her son, Inspired by this celestial directive, Garth set out to find land whom she has brought to see “Garth’s amazing place.” that “was still a paradise.” He envisioned working with a Clearly, this is a joyous homecoming for her. I watch and small group of like-minded people to build a place where wait, but the hug never comes. The old man who had visitors could learn and share immersed in the raw beauty materialized beside her is pleasant but unmoved. of Nature. Long before sustainability became a buzzword, Garth vowed “to set an example of how to live with Creation But he’s not old. He’s…timeless? without destroying it.” A thick, sandy grey beard and 70’s length hair drape a Through a series of disappointments and persistence, he head hewn from the boulders. It sits on an imposing came to own a large parcel of Mojave high desert. Some frame. My stomach flips. I hadn’t expected to be nervous. would see barrenness here, the antithesis of paradise. Oth- Am I star-struck? Legend-struck? ers might see a blank canvas begging to be filled with life. Before we can speak, a 30-something photographer, all I first heard about Garth’s boulder gardens years ago. Mag- manicured scruff and $300 sneakers, leaps from a dusty ical plants bursting from parched granite. A Wise Old Timer BMW. His clients are looking for a location to shoot their dispensing insight from a remote perch. Cosmic seekers next catalogue. Garth seems a bit baffled but sends him and wily drifters flowing in and out. I knew that these im- gently onto the land with a few vague suggestions. ages were born of well-worn myths and stories told by enraptured Angelenos in love with their own romantic version When we explain that we want to do an article about his of The Desert. Still, the promise of Garth’s story was infat- gardens and permaculture practice, Garth chuckles and launches into a story about one of his epic struggles. uating. After many, many years, he and his helpers coaxed “He doesn’t have a phone. You just have to go out there…” a plum tree to fruit - “big, gorgeous plums like this.” (Garth’s massive hand is aloft, ready to pick a grapeIn a far-flung corner of the massive mesa that overlooks fruit.) But the birds ate everything. Next, they fashYucca Valley, a tiny sign is the only indication we’ve arrived. ioned cages out of chicken wire and attached them to Near a large yurt full of dusty pillows, a man tanned Brazil the branches. When Garth finally had a chance to pick nut brown informs us that “all the good stuff” - the pool, the a plum, it collapsed in a cascade of beetles. sauna, the gardens - lie beyond a ridge towering off to the west. In the beginning, Garth would wait for a rain and then burn all the debris he had collected from High above the road, a pick-up truck and a tent are barely the land. After an expensive false alarm, a firevisible, half-hidden in the boulders like Anasazi scouts. We man suggested that he use the branches and pass a building, soft curves and round windows cloaking it leaves to create weirs, or small dams, in the in the rocks. Then, a giant teepee reaches for the sky from washes that carry rainwater over the granite a flat-ish depression. An elaborate outdoor kitchen, a bank landscape. He hauled old limbs, leaves, dirt of solar panels and a fire ring encircled in old couches, sit and compost in wheelbarrows, layer by layer. nearby. Eventually, the weirs slowed the water, allow15
ing some of it to sink in. After 20 years, the mini-dams have finally become fertile planting areas, staying moist after a rain for months like a hugelkultur.
houses out by the yurt, the retreats and garden projects, his smoke-like vagueness and stubborn naïveté, Garth might just have figured out how to manage the tide of drifter-helpers, wisdom-seekers and soul-suckers that “It gets to a point,” Garth sighs, “where it starts to turn, flow through his haven. where, all of a sudden, you have to do less and less work and you get more and more stuff for your labor.” When I ask him how he carries on with the arduous heaven-building after years of ruinous labor, missteps Managing the flow of water is a top priority because it and heartbreak, he simply points out: “Anytime you’re is both essential to life and a destructive force, able to creating something, you’re destroying something else.” wash away roads, drown plants and cripple foundations. Humans are similarly dual in nature. The events and photo shoots might piss off the neighbors, but Garth needs the income that they bring; the dona“People come and they go. And they come and they go. tion box at the gate does not attract enough to pay the Some are real helpful. And some are totally worthless. property taxes and his beat-up old mini-van can’t run on But I see their hearts and they… I have a hard time throw- love. More than that though, there is the Vision and God’s ing anybody out into the cruel hard world.” With the tiny command. “I could very easily live here alone. Making a place for people to come is hard work… But if I don’t create it, if I don’t do It, then I don’t have an effect; I don’t have a voice to affect any change.” Garth’s corner of the desert is not the permaculture showcase I had expected but I was wrong about his mission too. Garth isn’t attempting to grow a Garden of Eden on Earth, he’s trying to plant one in the heart of every visitor; work that is divine, when and if he succeeds. Photo by Michaela Mokrosova
Mixed media artwork by Toby Verhines 17
COMMUNION INTANGIBLE ABSTRACTIONS FORM IN A GRAIN OF SAND, TO BE TOUCHED. C O E R C I V E U N D E R C OV E R O P E R AT I O N S , A M A N DAT E . I C O L L E C T S E E D S I N A PA P E R B AG , K E E P T H E M S A F E F O R A R A I N Y D AY. A TRUSTING GLANCE, ADMINISTERED LIKE MEDICINE. THESE ROCKS AND STICKS WILL REMAIN HERE WITH THEIR SECRET MAGIC. - SERAFINA MOON
Musings on Creosote
Words & photos by Teresa Sitz
Mojave, I swear that near our cabin, one tree among all the others testifies to there once being a red-headed mailman who rode his pony out this far. It doesnâ€™t look like any of the other plants. It looks like another species entirely.
In our little pocket of the Mojave Desert, north of Joshua Tree, our dominant plants are larrea tridentata (creosote) and its nurse plant, ambrosia dumosa (white bursage). We also have hillaria rigida (big galleta grass), bladderpod, apricot mallow, senna, various cholla, and beavertail cactus. I can type the Latin names ambrosia dumosa and hilaria rigida from memory because they conjure in my mind exotic Italian burlesque dancers.
The first creosote tree that I loved I named Terpsichore, after the muse of dance. She is about 10 feet tall and has three main branches with many lacy fingers that reach up and sway and frame the sunrise. I love her most because Our cabin is ringed with about a dozen lovely deep green she taught me that creosote trees share with cats the creosotes trees, and beyond this ring exist the small- ability to extract from sameness a limitless variety of perer, yellowed foot soldiers that populate the mesa floor. sonalities. I realize, of course, that in saying such a thing Creosote trees in areas disturbed by humans thrive and I am applying human conceits to something that exists seem to respond to the human need to observe and in nature, that existed before me and will exist after me, describe. They offer in big print and simple pictures the swallowing my observations with no care whatsoever. processes the plants employ to survive in an arid environTerpsichore digs swales beneath her canopy, as do many ment. other creosote trees, which makes them permaculturalWhen I first laid eyes upon the mesa I perceived a waste- ists. Her broken and fallen outer branches are raked back land of indistinguishable, oversized and dried weeds, and forth across the ground, day after day, by the fierce acres and acres of creosote, a plant no one cared about winds that try the mesa. The most brittle creosote twig enough to dub with a better name. I thought there must be can dig a swale four inches or more across, a foot or more many species of creosote because I noticed that two trees in length and three inches or more in depth. In the dry next to each other could look completely different. Still to- season these swales collect fuzzy white creosote seeds, day, knowing as I do that there is only one species in the called trichomes, attracting small animals and insects. 19
Some of these animals tunnel through the softer earth in the swale and build their dens among the creosote roots. In the wet seasons the swales draw water off the stringers and washes and divert it to the roots of the plant. This is seriously ingenious.
be undermined and they will drop, catching and holding organic materials blown across the desert, and providing cover to small animals who will shelter under them, leaving nitrogen-rich offerings of their own and perhaps digging more burrows to catch and hold more water when it comes.
One of my other favorite creosotes Iâ€™ve named Melpomene, for the muse of tragedy. She has an upright aspect but each branch takes a circuitous route, creating elegant and graceful curves, and the generous spacing between the branches creates an almost diaphanous affect. The branches reach up to the sky dramatically and because they are so thin they curve back downward under the weight of their trichomes, which hang and sway like pearl earrings. Because her aspect is upright she cannot collect the detritus that would build community at her crown and nourish her. She has no hips â€“ she springs from flat ground scrubbed clean by wind and sand. Recently, though, I noticed a fair-sized hole beneath her, about three inches across, housing some kind of creature with powerful hind legs that kicked the dirt out in a mound behind it.
I have named another creosote Cleo, after the muse of history. Her aspect is horizontal, her outer branches have dropped and her central branches are beginning to grow upwards. Cleo is a favorite of the house finches, being closest to their nest. The finches have stripped the bark from some of her branches leaving them to whiten in the sun. Cleo has many snags that serve as perches for the finches that gather and consume her seeds. I wonder if this whitening of the branches allows the finches access to her seeds without getting oil and soap from the leaves of living branches on their feathers. Or perhaps the transferred oil and soap protect or serve the finches in some way.
These are just some of the things Iâ€™ve learned observing larrea trees, which reveal themselves more as communiSome people theorize that the mounds, the hips on ties than as independent plants. When I look now across which many creosote trees sit throned, are caused by the this arid forest I am now able to distinguish the plants, one wind blowing sand up against the crown. I believe that in from another, and spot aberrations that make me wonder addition to the wind the mounds are caused by animals about their purpose and marvel at their effect. I consider that dig down among the roots of the larrea, pushing dirt the adaptive processes exploited in this harsh and indifup under the canopy. I can see this process beginning ferent environment, and I map them back to my own huwith Melpomene. If the burrowing becomes a trend, her man life and community. Everyone survives alone in the outer branches, aided by the spitting of her crown, will desert, but we live together in unexpected community. 20
Illustration and poem by Bon Nielsen 22
That High Desert Sound by Benjamin Goulet
Like many first-time homebuyers, when Dan Joeright and his wife Zoe came out from L.A. in 2011 to find a high desert home, they had a wish list. But one item on Joeright’s list was a little bit harder to find. As a musician and studio engineer, he had long dreamt of building a recording studio of his own. Nothing fancy, no high-end hallways plastered with framed gold records. He just needed a plot of land.
The studio, with its barn wood walls and concrete floors, is part of a long tradition of American audio recording; rustic, repurposed spaces focused more on sound than amenities. “There’s so much air, the ceilings are so high, there’s not a lot of surface for sound to be bouncing around,” he said. “The old barn wood is porous, so you dial into a [warmer] sound.”
“Originally, we were looking for a property that had land to build on,” he said. The rural location is a big draw, as well. Unlike many of the urban studios Joeright recorded in (“dark caves where you After many disappointing houses, one afternoon they don’t know what time it is”), he was careful to allow the came to see a home with a big red barn on the property. It desert inside, as natural light pours through the tall glass had good bones, a spacious floor plan and thirteen-foot doors and windows. With few neighbors and a landscape high ceilings. dotted with saguaro cacti and Joshua trees, Gatos Trail feels like a genuine retreat. Up-and-coming artists like “We saw this place and once I saw the barn, it was a done Iva Dawn, Burning Palms, and Behold! The Monolith all deal,” Joeright recalls. “There was no question. We went recorded here. right back to the realtor’s office to sign the paperwork.” Two years of dust and demolition later, not to mention For the Los Angeles bass/drums duo Big Business, some architectural ingenuity and a big leap of faith, recording at Gatos Trail inspired them to explore many of Joeright was setting up his drums, adjusting the mics their ideas in relative isolation. The result, a thunderous and teaching himself the Neotek Elite, a massive vintage 2016 release called Command Your Weather, received recording console once owned by Polygram Records in critical acclaim. The band’s drummer, Coady Willis, Nashville. Gatos Trail recording studio was born. credits part of that to the studio’s setting. 23
“With the [quiet], expansive minimalist landscape, you feel like you’re the only people in the world,” Willis said. “It’s really easy to beat the claustrophobia of the control room when you can step outside right into the desert.” I was inspired by Dan’s love of bb guns, bonfires and Peter Criss, too,” he added. “A man after my own heart.”
microphones, and the Neve outboard. But the sounds Joeright reaches for - the reverb of the Led Zeppelin records, the home recordings of Beck, the experimental madness of the Flaming Lips - all have a quality that’s crafted, handmade and honest.
One piece of gear, a vintage Studer 24-track tape Joeright wants his clients to have fun and experiment, machine, sits off to the side. It still needs some work, as he embraces a strong DIY ethic in nearly everything Joeright said, but the goal is to offer musicians the he does. A longtime drummer (he drums for an ethereal experience of going way back, to the source, recording on project called Earth Moon Earth) he is largely self-taught, reel-to-reel tape. learning through practice and being a quick study. During a session with Alexander Hacke, founder of the legend- With vintage gear come occasional headaches. Through ary German industrial band Einstürzende Neubauten, location and circumstance, Joeright has forced himself to Joeright soaked in the lessons of a genius in action, as become a repairman of sorts, unafraid to stick his hands Hacke rushed from the recording space to the control into guitar amplifiers, tearing open console boards to room and back again. troubleshoot or climbing up ladders to rewire a ceiling light. He has no choice. “It was crazy,” he said. “I realized I was watching a true artist.” “When you’re out here, you’ve gotta be the guy,” he said. “You can’t just call someone to fix the gear. So I’ve learned The equipment of Gatos Trail reflects Joeright’s tastes: to maintain a lot, just by necessity.” function over flashiness. Studio staples like Shure SM57 microphones, a VOX AC-30 guitar amplifier complement- Yet the desert provides. We walked out of the studio, ed by a hollow-bodied Epiphone Casino electric guitar, into the magic hour, as the sunlight melted into the a Ludwig drum set from the 1960s and a genuine Ham- mountains. Joeright looked over the landscape in silence, mond organ with a rotating speaker, are all battered by as if listening for the next perfect sound. the road and their ghostly histories. He’s got the pricey Photos by Martín Mancha stuff too: the ProTools with digital plug-ins, the Sennheiser 24
PRIMA MATERIA by Rohini Walker
Caitlin Deane is an old soul. In human terms she is still young, embodying all the youthful beauty and vigor of her twenty-six years. But she exudes a quiet wisdom, a sense of imperturbability that brings to mind the deep roots of an ancient tree. It’s no wonder that she has been drawn to make her home in the remote high desert canyon country of Pioneertown, California. This area of the Mojave high desert is unique. In winter, temperatures regularly drop to well below freezing. The landscape teems with a vegetation you wouldn’t expect from a desert, including the beautifully gnarly old Piñon pine trees rising up from the boulders and scraggy rock faces. If the Mojave high desert has its own unique color palette, its higher altitude canyonlands take this one step further.
rather than seek out the bustle and energy of a cosmopolitan city in which to establish herself and her art, presumably like the majority of her peers.
Caitlin’s apprenticeship at the California Institute of Earth Art & Architecture (Cal-Earth) initially brought her out to the desert, when she visited Pioneertown during a weekend trip to the area. The couple made their move there incrementally, living close to downtown Joshua Tree at first. Caitlin had already been working as a production potter at the family-owned MazAmar Pottery on Main Street in Pioneertown since first moving to the desert. Increasingly, the need for more space, where they could both have studios, and where Caitlin could have space for her wheel and for making a pit-fire, compelled them to Generally devoid of cellphone service, with little to no start looking further afield at more secluded areas. internet connection to speak of, many of the residents in this area have lived here for generations: ranchers who And the move has made a definite impact on her work: are understandably protective of their secluded lives “I’m noticing more of a sensitivity happening in my body and a close-knit community of long-standing friends and in my work. Kind of realizing the quietness of this and neighbors. It’s a bold move then for a young artist, place and really deepening into my sensory body and just originally from the outskirts of Philadelphia, along with being present more.” her partner, Toby Verhines, also an artist, to move out here. Of course, it’s not uncommon for artists to seek out Disconnected from the relentless and intrusive distracrural environments in which to live and work and create. tions of social media and text messages, and no longer What’s interesting is that, given Caitlin’s youth, and the able to just drive into town on a whim created a more profact that she had just graduated from the Maryland In- found connection with this ancient landscape, bringing a stitute College of Art in Baltimore with a BFA in Ceram- deeper presence and inspiration to her work and her art. ics, she chose to spirit herself away to the Mojave desert 25
With minimal intrusions, there is a seamless connection between herself, her environment and what she creates. Indeed, Caitlin’s work with clay is a meditation on the material as an extension of her own body, which further connects her to her physical environment, to the earth from which the clay is harvested. Hers is a relationship with the wider world not as conceived of as ‘out there’ and separate but as an inherent part of herself. A deeper inquiry into what moves this quietly reflective creatrix reveals a conceptual framework around the ideas of permanence and impermanence, and her exploration of this through the medium of clay. Her jumping-off point came when she started to think about “how clay can exist in these multiple states, and how it can be raw or powder or liquid or solid and all of a sudden it’s this permanent thing when you fire it.” This inspired her to start the practice of making pieces that were intentionally impermanent, of “letting pieces kind of recycle, making sculptures and leaving them out to the elements, and “I feel a lot closer to the landscape and the history of this seeing what happens.” place. One of my neighbors said that this used to be the Serrano tribe camp area back here. And there are some As part of a college assignment, Caitlin enacted a perforsprings actually, where natural water comes in from. I like mance piece where she buried a three foot tall urn she to think about the history of this place and what it used had made from clay she had harvested herself, “I started to serve as before we came here. I think just seeing all thinking about death and the body and the clay body.” the colors too, there’s a whole different plant kingdom There is a sublimity to this, giving her creation back to up here as well, the pine, and taking inspiration from the the material from which it was formed, and allowing it to become a part of what it once was; the inseparability of color palette.” form and formlessness as two sides of the same coin. Talking to Caitlin, it’s clear that she is deeply connected to her surroundings and not merely paying it lip service. Caitlin’s sculpture and sustainable earth- architecture work with Cal-Earth continues to explore the nuances around the themes of permanence and impermanence. Alongside this, she has also launched a beautifully elemental line of pottery, Urthen. She makes these pieces from her home studio, nestled amongst ancient rocks and boulders, objects imbued with the energy of their environment, channeled masterfully through the artist at her wheel. “Nature is wiggly,” observed the philosopher Alan Watts. She offers an abundance of roundedness, of non-linear forms. Unlike linearity, this roundedness is hard to copy or replicate, it has a life of its own, a movement and form of its own. To pay it homage through art, it needs to be felt, intuited. Caitlin Deane has cultivated a fertile silent space within and without in which to allow it to move through her, and pour itself into her creations. Photos by Taso Papadakis, tasophoto.com 26
by Caryn Davidson My porch faces east, so in the morning, when the earth turns toward the sun and presses its terrestrial face into the horizon, the sky is too bright to face head on. It is probably in the afternoon then, that I find myself looking across the empty lot when I notice a cactus wren darting through the sky, squawking its harsh call. Cactus wrens build their nests in cholla cacti. What they lack in musical subtlety they compensate for with their stunning agility: they carry fibers into the space between the cholla branches and build a deep, padded refuge within the impenetrable spine-studded arms of the desert’s most unforgiving cactus. Each spine is a devious spear. Brushing lightly against a cholla gets you a hooked ball of tenacious needles in your skin or clothing. Extracting the spines is an agonizing exercise in patience and pain tolerance. There are many tried and tested techniques for removing cholla spines: tweezers, combs, duct tape, glue, or small pliers may or may not exorcise these spinal demons. Constructing a nest within the daggered fortress of a cholla is a stunning architectural and balletic achievement. I’m sitting in a chair on my porch and a cactus wren is flitting sporadically from a large cholla to my spot under the plywood awning. The bird seems agitated. Maybe it is performing a mating dance, as it flutters its wings as if to impress me. I look for another cactus wren, but see none. Now the bird is clearly flying back and forth repeatedly, from me to the cholla. Annoying, really. What the hell…? That bird is acting weird. Why doesn’t it stop dive-bombing me with its awkward flapping and slapping at the air? I feel impatient. The bird persists. OK, I think, I’ll play your stupid game. Nothing else is going on. I stand up and walk towards the bird. It does not fly off. In fact, it allows me to approach, then turns as if to indicate that I should follow it. I do.
I find myself standing next to one of the tallest chollas in the open lot. The wren hovers in the air and continues its agitated display. It occurs to me to look around, connect the bird’s behavior to something in the landscape. As my gaze lowers, I see that, just inches from my feet, a long, yellow-brown gopher snake is slithering into the cholla. Immediately, I understand that the cactus wren’s nest is here. Suddenly the wren’s alarm makes impeccable sense, so I search for a long stick, find one, and use it to urge the snake away from the cholla. The snake expresses its own instinctual resistance by lifting its head and circumventing the stick. But I insist, and soon the snake slides across the gravel in another direction, accepting its failure. Meanwhile, the cactus wren has settled on a branch of the large cholla in which the nest is located. As I walk around the south-facing branches, I peer into the smooth, delicately woven cone and discover a clutch of spotted pale-blue eggs. The bird continues its vigil on the cactus branch, looking in the direction of the snake’s line of retreat. I move away from the nest, drop the stick, and walk back to the porch, allowing the wren to regain its sense of safety. I feel an impulse to transmit my respect from an unthreatening distance, and tell the wren of my gratitude for its generous trust in me. As I sit down again, I silently sing: Thank you for believing that your language could penetrate the dense forest of my doubt, for having faith in me, and for drawing me into the deep logic of your will to survive. Now every cholla glows with a radiant geometry, every cactus wren holds the promise of a thought exchanged. And maybe some hope remains for us to recover our rightful place in nature. Illustration by Bon Nielsen
THE MOJAVE PROJECT K I M
S T R I N G F E L L O W
Ward Valley: An Extreme & Solemn Relationship by Phil Klasky
Ward Valley is located in the southeastern corner of California. This remote valley, ancestral home to the Mojave, Chemehuevi, Cahuilla, Cocopah, Quechan and other desert peoples, became ground zero in the fight over nuclear waste, endangered species and sacred lands during the 1990s. A company by the name of U.S. Ecology (formerly the Nuclear Engineering Corporation) proposed to dump long-lived radioactive wastes in shallow, unlined trenches above an aquifer that connects to the Colorado River, a habitat considered critical for the survival of the endangered desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii). The dump was part of a larger strategy to bail out the nuclear power industry and place the burden of radioactive waste disposal onto the taxpayers. Native American lands are targeted as repositories for the nation’s wastes as a form of toxic colonialism. Low-income populations and communities of color are considered to be the “paths of least resistance,” and the desert is conveniently characterized as a wasteland. The fight against the dump became a protracted showdown between a handful of antinuclear activists, indigenous and environmental groups, idealistic attorneys, renegade scientists, local residents and the five Colorado River Indian tribes against some of the most powerful corporations in the nation in alliance with the federal and state governments. This corner of the Mojave Desert became contested territory. Would Ward Valley remain a pristine desert landscape, protected habitat for an endangered species and a sacred site for the Colorado River Indian peoples, or a nuclear wasteland, poisonous for the next 12,000 generations?
Activists with Rev. Jesse Jackson, December 1995. Photo: Phil Klasky
for a nuclear-waste dump in their ancestral lands. “Who will speak for the Desert Tortoise, the Red-Tailed Hawk, the Golden Eagle, the Rattlesnake, the Raven and the Bobcat?” he asked. I did not know at the time that this meeting was the beginning of a decade-long struggle that changed the lives of everyone involved. Hot Enough to Fry an Egg on the Sidewalk One impossibly hot afternoon a group of activists were hanging out in Bill and Billy Gorby’s double-wide trailer on the shores of the Colorado River. The Gorbys, longtime Needles residents, graciously opened their home to a motley crew of activists. Along with other local residents, they too had been fighting against the dump. We were in town to testify before a panel of the National Academy of Sciences, tasked to evaluate the dump proposal at the request of the Secretary of the Interior who had called for another hearing. Dr. Howard Wilshire, a government geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, risked his career by identifying the subsurface pathways by which plutonium, cesium and other long-lived radioactive waste would eventually reach the Colorado River. Former nuclear engineer Ernest Goitein testified that the tests performed by U.S. Ecology on the migration rates of the nuclear wastes leaking from the site were deeply flawed. My job was to prove to a hostile panel of scientists with ties to the nuclear industry that the removal of the desert tortoise population from the dumpsite, as proposed by the dump contractor’s paid “biostitutes,” was contrary to the recovery and conservation of the species and would directly result in tortoise mortalities.
Over My Dead Body In 1989, while on a solo camping trip at Hole in the Wall in the Mojave National Preserve, I retrieved a call from two activist friends, Ward Young and Rachel Johnson, inviting me to join them in a meeting with tribal leaders at a place called Ward Valley. They explained that, unbeknownst to anyone, the government and the nuclear industry wanted to build a radioactive waste dump in the Mojave Desert. That next evening, I set off. As I arrived, I made out a cluster of cars and trucks and a group of people seated around a large bonfire. My friends introduced me to members of the Mojave and Chemehuevi Indian tribes. A Chemehuevi game warden by the name of Chance walked around the fire with his shotgun slung across his shoulders as he talked about the plans 29
The Naked Truth Steve Lopez is a former council member of the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe. On a trip to San Francisco, Steve met with the Environmental Protection Agency to assert that the Agency’s advisory committee had no choice but to declare that the proposed dump would violate the federal government’s mandate to promote environmental justice. He rolled into the meeting in his wheelchair and proceeded to cite the law, executive orders, demographic and economic studies and related court cases in an Photo: Bradley Angel, greenaction.org argument to persuade the advisory committee that dumping nuclear waste in the ancestral lands of the hands. He sang his Mother Earth Songs as we danced lower Colorado River Indian tribes was a clear abrogation of slowly around him, beginning a day of political organizing with a spiritual foundation. On one of the mornings, a environmental justice regulations. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) ranger, tasked to “The government has stolen our lands, marched us onto patrol the protest camp, asked Corbin if he could join the reservations, robbed us of our resources, punished us prayer circle. Corbin readily agreed and I can recall the for speaking our languages and practicing our religions, curious image of the ranger with his signature hat and gun forced our children into boarding schools to learn your belt holding hands with a green-haired protester on one language and your religion and impoverished us. Now side and a native elder on the other as the sun rose above you want to contaminate our lands with the worst poisons the Mojave Desert. ever made,” he exclaimed with a powerful delivery. Sacred songs were offered at Ward Valley to protect After weeks of deliberation, the EPA’s advisory committee the land and I became fascinated by the history and meaning of the songs, their ability to bring people issued a rare proclamation against the dump. together and their power to defend the sacred. Mother Earth Songs We organized a number of gatherings at Ward Valley. Headquarters for the Desert Tortoise Meetings held in huge olive-green surplus military tents As I began to investigate the status of the desert torlasted for days. Hopi spiritual leader Thomas Banyacya, toise in California’s Mojave Desert, I found out that this Sac and Fox activist Grace Thorpe Diné and Mdewakaton relative of the dinosaurs had been listed as an endangered Lakota, environmental activist Tom Goldtooth and local species, and that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had tribal elders and leaders visited our encampments. The failed to designate the critical habitat needed to conserve elders spoke about the interconnectedness of all life and and protect the tortoise within the mandated time frame. In my experience, the Fish and Wildlife Service often has the historic fight against the desecration of their land. to be forced by the courts to list threatened and endanWestern Shoshone spiritual leader Corbin Harney was gered species and take the prescribed measures to proknown for his tireless advocacy against the proliferation tect them from extinction, especially when there are comof nuclear weapons. His people’s homeland, promised to peting corporate interests. The agency had contracted them in the Treaty of Ruby Valley in 1863, turned apoc- with a group of conservation biologists to prepare a study alyptic as the United States and Great Britain released of the areas that should be protected as habitat essential the fury of over 1,000 nuclear weapons above and below to the survival of the species. The Fish and Wildlife Serground at what has become the Nevada Test Site. Corbin vice refused to provide access to this report, so I decided testified before the United Nations about the prolifera- to try to track down its authors. tion of nuclear weapons and traveled to Kazakhstan in solidarity with Russia’s indigenous people whose land One by one, the university biologists who had contributed was used for that country’s nuclear tests. One morning, to the document refused to provide me with the locations as I emerged from my tent and joined over 500 people at of areas that would be candidates for the designation of Corbin’s daily sunrise ceremony, it felt like something had critical habitat. They were afraid that they would lose their government research contracts, tenure or funding for their changed, that we actually had a chance of succeeding. projects if they revealed the results of the study. As the sun rose over the desert mountains to the east, Corbin heated the skin of his drum on a small fire and Finally, I visited the office of the chair of the group of massaged its face with large, coarse, hard-working scientists to deliver an impassioned personal appeal. 30
camp began to show up at the campfire at night to talk to the elders. They welcomed him and explained why they “You are a biologist, you study life and have a responsi- were willing to risk everything to protect the land. The bility to protect it. We need that study to prove that the government announced that they would arrest nuclear-waste dump would be located in the midst of crit- anyone who defied the order to leave. The night before the ical habitat for the desert tortoise. If this dump is built, it evacuation order, the head agent announced to us that will severely threaten the tortoise’s chance for survival,” I he could not carry out his orders to remove us and was being transferred to a post in Alaska. He explained that pleaded. his teenage daughter planned to join our protest and he The biologist made a phone call to his secretary, who en- was not willing to arrest her. tered the room a moment later with a brown paper bag. “If you tell anyone where you got this, I will deny it. It will be The elders informed us that they were planning to hold a ceremony at the entrance to the camp and would sing all your word against mine,” he warned. night and all day to protect the land. The next morning, The study found that the proposed dumpsite was deter- 50 BLM rangers in riot gear with plastic handcuffs stood mined to be in an area essential for the survival of the in formation facing the elders who were surrounded by tortoise and a candidate for critical habitat. A few days concentric circles of about 500 Indian and non-Indian later our attorneys and I were in federal district court with activists. We had invited the major television stations an injunction against the dump armed with the protec- and newspapers to witness the confrontation. We asked tions of the Endangered Species Act. The court action a White House official if the government really wanted the established 6.5-million acres of critical habitat for the major news channels to show federal police handcuffing endangered desert tortoise. Following the court decision, and hauling off native elders in the midst of a religious we thought that we had finally defeated the dump project ceremony. A few tense minutes later, the new commandwith one of the most potent laws on the books, but we did ing officer barked out a command and the rangers pivoted not anticipate an act of Congress that would change the on their feet and retreated. Ward Valley was saved. rules on us. Here was my last chance.
The Mojave Project is an experimental transmedia documentary and curatorial project led by artist and educator Kim Stringfellow. It explores the physical, geological and cultural landscape of the complex and surprising Mojave Desert.
Ground Zero Few people realize that Congress legislature can exempt specific projects from environmental regulation. After we won an injunction against a federal land transfer for the purpose of the construction of the dump, senators who benefited most in contributions from the nuclear industry introduced a rider on a budget bill that would exempt Ward Valley from the Endangered Species Act. We held an encampment on the land to determine our next steps. In consultation with the elders and tribal leaders, the coalition of grass-roots groups fighting the dump decided to occupy the land and prepare for the worst. We established a permanent camp at the proposed dumpsite and planned for direct action. The BLM had established a camp of their own with a number of trailers parked near the entrance to the camp. Rangers with cameras with gigantic telescopic lenses took photos of everyone who entered and exited the camp and set up listening devices and other surveillance equipment.
The Mojave Project reconsiders and establishes multiple ways to interpret this unique landscape, through the association and connection of seemingly unrelated sites, themes and subjects. Stringfellow, a Joshua Tree resident, was one of the beneficiaries of the 2015 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. The Mojave Project is also supported by and has received funding from San Diego State University and a California Humanities Documentary Project grant— the latter awarded annually to documentaries about California. Stringfellow began production on The Mojave Project in August 2014. An inaugural exhibition will be launched in March 2017 at the Museum of Art & History (MOAH) in Lancaster, CA. The Mojave Project focuses on eight core themes: Desert as Wasteland; Geological Time vs. Human Time; Sacrifice and Exploitation; Danger and Consequence; Space and Perception; Mobility and Movement; Desert as Staging Ground; Transformation and Reinvention. F Dispatches around these themes will be shared throughout the production period, including some by notable guest contributors. Luna Arcana is collaborating with The Mojave Project to publish a field dispatch in each issue.
American Indian Movement (AIM) activists controlled the entrance to our camp—no drugs, alcohol or weapons allowed—and helped to patrol the perimeter. Every night around the fire at the camp we named Ground Zero, we made plans to mount a sustained resistance to the federal government. The federal law-enforcement agent in charge of the growing detail gathering for a siege of our
This article is co-published with KCET Artbound. More at: mojaveproject.org.
Local musicians “When I first started going to open mic nights they weren’t nearly as packed. It’s just saturated now. And it’s not demanding for the musician. You only play three songs, and some people play the same songs every week. In a show, you’re forced to play a lot longer. If you’re not working hard, your forty-five minute set isn’t gonna be impressive. And that’s the difference.” Nigel Roman has been playing music in the High Desert since he was a high school student in Yucca Valley. “As a musician, by default you end up getting involved in some aspect of running a show.” Promotion, set up, sound production... “I wanted to see how much I actually knew. I wanted to test my knowledge of running a show.”
For the Sake
Nigel organized a show at the Beatnik Lounge in downtown Joshua Tree to test the waters. He got a few musicians to play and the place was packed that night. “Since that went well I thought, ‘What’s the difference between throwing one show and throwing eight shows?’” The JT Harmony Tour was born.
Words and photos by Keith Kelley
Nigel set out to find local businesses to host each show. He learned how to get sponsors “that was really nerve-racking”, including local radio station z107.7. He then booked 31 local bands and musicians to play over eight weeks, one show a week. “I guess a lot of inspiration came from watching other people do entrepreneurial things, and I thought, ‘Why the hell can’t I do that?’ So I just found an area that needed to be filled, and I filled it.”
Music has a unique power over the human soul, a mystery that has been spoken of throughout history. The term ‘live music’ is relatively new. Before recording was possible, music was only live. Making music involved getting together and playing for those who gathered to hear it. Music was community. These days, it’s rare (I imagine) to find an experience as intimate as those gatherings of old, but the music scene in the high desert comes close. In this strange, arid place, musicians often come together just for music’s sake. Anyone present becomes as essential to the music as the instruments in the hands of the performers.
Each show on the Harmony Tour was big enough to not feel awkward, but not so huge as to be intimidating. Just right. “People helped at the shows a lot, and at every show the viewers were helping pack up!”
Open mic nights are a big part of the High Desert music scene. Five nights a week there is an open mic somewhere. Local musicians sign up and wait patiently for their name to come up. They play two or three songs, then watch others take their turn. The biggest open mic by far is at Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown on Monday nights. Until recently, real shows came along less often, and usually featured one or two musicians. These days, shows are occurring more frequently, and music in the desert is blossoming again.
One of the biggest reasons Nigel’s tour succeeded is that he knows everybody. And I mean everybody. “I make a point to pay attention to everybody and think about how they’re feeling and what they’re doing.” The desert has always been a place of wonder, and this communal approach to music plays a huge role in that. If you find yourself passing through, take the time to seek out and experience the beauty of community. For us locals, we have to remember that we are all part of this tight community. We are the ones who determine just how beautiful it is.
So while open mic nights are still popular, this new growth of the music scene here is inevitably looking for a more challenging platform. 32
Feeling Gravity’s Pull:
n i ng e f Introdu d e i r r a B A ction to Lunar G by Benjamin Goulet
Since ancient times, farmers and gardeners have looked to the moon as both spiritual guide and practical bellwether. The moon’s four key phases: new moon, second quarter, full moon and fourth quarter, have long informed tenders of the land. Each phase, and its varietal effects on the gravitational pull of the Earth, is believed to have an influence on crop production. This process has a few different names, such as ‘lunar gardening’, ‘agricultural astrology’ or ‘moon planting’, but the approach is all the same: gardening by the phases of the moon. Lunar gardening is one of those ancient practices that are steeped in delicious superstition, while thinly backed by science. Even with its detractors, lunar gardening is becoming more and more popular with advocates of permaculture (the practice of sustainable agriculture). The idea is that, like the ocean that swells during high tide (when the Earth, sun and moon are aligned), each phase of the moon influences the moisture in the ground, resulting in higher levels of moisture near the surface of the soil. The belief is that this pull of moisture translates to better germination. Therefore, with the ebb and flow of moisture through gravity’s pull, the success of specific crops can vary during different phases. For example, shortly after a full moon – when gravitational pull is high – moisture in the soil increases. These conditions are favorable to root crops, such as vegetables, and this phase is advantageous for planting. A second quarter moon, when gravitational pull is less (but the light of the moon is prevalent,) is beneficial to leaf growth. Some followers of lunar gardening get into the weeds (no pun intended) of waxing and waning moons, developing intricate processes that align with each detailed phase.
In arid landscapes like the desert, this reliance on the natural ebb and flow of water for planting and growing seems intuitive, even necessary, during a drought. Yet beyond practicalities, lunar gardening forces us to slow down, pay attention and be patient, habits that seem to be crumbling in our age of hyper-distraction and immediate gratification. The desert might be the best place to practice this form of gardening. A slower way of life already feels wired into its magnetic forces; its thirst pulsates to the surfaces, and the moon, even when it emerges as a sliver enveloped by the surrounding constellations, feels ever-present, like a comforting beacon. To be sure, the average busy gardener might find the complexities and nuances of lunar gardening overwhelming. The best bet is to purchase a lunar gardening calendar and experiment. The Farmer’s Almanac (and other publishers) offers calendars that match crops with their complementary moon phases. Even if the approach turns out to be bunk or the success varies, there’s something beautiful and meditative about planting to the phases of the moon. As with any type of practice, we’re all – in the words of the R.E.M. song – ‘gardening at night’: finding our way, experimenting on faith, looking to the past for guidance, and searching for unique ways to remember our connection with the natural world. Watercolour illustrations by Molly Bella Moore
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Arts & Cultural Print Journal from the Mojave High Desert