DESERT TRIP

It’s been two weeks since my short but intense trip to Joshua Tree National Park, a desert reserve a few hours east of L.A. (or if you’re really unlucky, 4 and a half grueling hours from L.A.).

The California desert is about as far away, climate-wise, as you can get from where I live.  If you only have a few days and a limited budget, it’s a welcome, dramatic change of scenery. And it’s only a quick plane ride to L.A. followed by that (rather nasty) drive.

I was lucky with the weather on the flight south – skies were clear and I was treated to an iconic West coast punctuation: major mountains of the Cascade Range. First up was Mt. Rainer, our lovely, clear day companion, then Mt. St. Helens, the rascal volcano, followed by Oregon’s severely sculpted Mt. Hood, and many more.  Geological drama! I love it. (phone photos below are Mt. Rainer & Mt. Hood)

 

Eventually, L.A. sprawl took over. After landing I made my way to the rental car counter. I had brilliantly secured my GPS in the very bottom of my bag, so I rummaged around and pulled it out.  Touching “CA” for state, and then typing in my destination – “Joshua Tree” – I was ready to roll.

Quickly the drive became tedious; at only 2:30 in the afternoon it was too early for rush hour, but it was stop and go traffic with nothing to look at but ugly walls and suburban malls.

After a few hours of that I HAD to stop!  The choices were limited but I noticed a sign for In ‘n’ Out Burger. That rang a vague bell. It would be fast. I went for it.

Pulling off the freeway, I found myself at not just any In ‘n’ Out Burger joint, but at one sharing a lot with – are you ready? – the In ‘n’ Out Burger University!   How cool is that?  I caught the sign reflected in my windshield, California palm trees included free of charge.

And the In ‘n’ Out University! How irresistible!  Gotta get a shot of that.  It turns out that the original In ‘n’ Out was just down the street.  That’s my order sitting on top of the car…

Back on the road, burger in my lap, I suffered through more traffic.  But it was made bearable by a fabulous, crunchy-on-the-outside, juicy-on-the-inside burger.

Traffic finally improved as I came to a narrow section of highway between mountain ranges, where the wind whipping through the pass has prompted the building of innumerable wind turbines.  For $35.00 you can treat yourself to a windmill tour of these monsters and learn all about them. Amazing, huh?  But I had other ideas…

By the time I cruised into Joshua Tree on scenic Rt. 62, the sun was setting behind the mountains.

I grabbed a bite to eat at a Mexican restaurant in town and found my airbnb, a low slung home on a dirt road a few miles from the park entrance.

OK, that’s not the airbnb, it’s one of several outbuildings on the property. I like those simple structures.

And I’m not a fan of angels but this one, secured to the fence that surrounds the property, was pretty photogenic, I thought:

Not to mention that outdoor tub, seen in an earlier post. Altogether it looked like a decent location, and after exchanging pleasantries and discussing breakfast with my host, and I collapsed into a clean, firm bed.

Indoors.

The next morning I was eager to get into the park but first, my host took me on a quick walk around the property – her cacti were just beginning to flower:

A big Jimson weed (Datura stramonium) plant bloomed next to the shack. This is the plant indigenous people used medicinally and ceremoniously to contact dream helpers.

On to the park, after a quick stop at the local gas and grocery store for snacks and water.

Joshua Tree National Park is a large desert basin that encompasses both Mojave Desert terrain and the hotter Colorado, or Sonoran Desert lands. I entered on the northern side and spent my first day exploring the Mojave. What struck me most powerfully were two things: the Joshua Trees and great piles of monolithic rocks.

The gritty, dry surface of the rocks makes them ideal for climbing.

Joshua Trees are not trees – they’re overgrown yuccas with deep roots and trunk-like, fibrous stems. Some live hundreds of years.

In spring, they bloom:

Wildflowers at Joshua Tree are scattered about and best seen while walking amongst the rocks. This tiny Wooly daisy is easy to step on; the pretty desert dandelion is taller – enough to sway in the slight breeze, but I put a stop to that!

Flowers can blend into the arid landscape, but a closer inspection often reveals intense color. Desert globemallow:

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A pretty red flower blooming on a cactus was reason enough to climb up for a closer look…I climbed up,

…and found the gorgeous Claret cup cactus, Echinocereus triglochidiatus.  (Echino- means prickly or spiny, like the Echinoderms, or Sea urchins).

Another cactus, which is more common in the southern part of Joshua Tree, is the very photogenic Teddy Bear Cholla, Opuntia bigloveii.

There’s my car in the distance, on the main road through Joshua Tree. The rocks were really fun to clamber around on – you can see that rough texture – very grippy!

Off in the distance, a snow-capped mountain made me think about climate extremes. Here in the desert, annual rainfall averages 4.5 inches/yr. Where I live it averages about 37 inches/yr. It must be cold up on that mountain, but it was pretty hot in the sunny dessert, even in March.

On the way out there were more crazy-beautiful rock formations. This one had me thinking of dough, or potatoes :

 

 

I drove back into town for a break from the sun, picked up a brochure about the area, and learned that only a few miles away there was a vast sculpture installation. It’s the work of artist Noah Purifoy, who died at his home out here from a fire in 2001.

It definitely sounded like something I would like. I set my GPS for the coordinates of two named roads near where the installation was supposed to be. Around and around I drove on dirt roads in the desert, until I finally came upon this sign:

Turning down the dirt road, I located the site, and spent the next two hours spellbound by this man’s work – but that’s a story for another time!

Well OK, just one:

After a dinner in town I saw this on the way home: the full moon rising over the desert: a fitting end to the day.

WATERS of MARCH

We’re almost into April,

but before we leave this month behind I want to mention

the waters of March –

They have been plentiful

here in the Pacific Northwest – in fact,

too plentiful.

Many of you have heard about the mudslide in Oso, Washington

which has claimed

24 lives, and counting.

Some people will probably never be recovered –

the waters of March

having swept them away.

Images from past years,

of water

in March:

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I heard one of my favorite songs on the local jazz station today –

Susannah McCorkle’s rendition of  Jobim’s “The Waters of March.”

Susannah was a musician’s musician, known for her sensitivity and her exacting work ethic.

For many years she sang in Manhattan,

and one spring day

she jumped out of her window there

and killed herself.

We can talk about despair, suicide,

and song.

But maybe it’s best to

let Susannah

do the talking:

Susannah McCorkle’s The Waters of March

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A good article about her was published in New York Magazine, if you are curious about her life.

NY Times obituary.

 

Photo locations:

Stream – Washington Arboretum, Seattle, March, 2013

Icy Branch – Long Island, NY, March, 2010

Sandy Beach – Topsail Island, NC, March, 2009

Rocky Beach – Camano Island, WA, March, 2013

City Street – Manhattan, NY, February, 2011

Desert Reflection – Joshua Tree National Park, CA, March 2014

 

REFLECTION

Looking into a pool of water, branches with new leaves are reflected as they dance on the wind.

The WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge is “Reflection” and more images of reflections can be found here.

 

GOOGLE, ART, and the DESERT

I went to google today to do a search and came upon a field of pale stripes in place of the word “Google.”  Who are we honoring today, I wondered?  It’s Agnes Martin, a 20th century American desert-dwelling painter of sublime abstracts. Her 102nd birthday would have been today.

Agnes Martin’s work is hugely respected; though her very minimalist canvases aren’t to everyone’s taste, I’ve always liked her work. I clicked on her name floating over the wash of colored stripes, and then on the youtube video that came up.  Yes, I remembered watching that a few years back.   I clicked on Images on the search page which, being a visual person, I often do.  Martin’s work is compromised on the screen, I thought.  In person and close up, the pale washes of color and careful tracings of pencil line across the canvas are very sensual.

Close up of an Agnes Martin painting at Seattle Art Museum

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I just returned from a few days in the desert myself.  I stayed in Joshua Tree, California, just outside Joshua Tree National Park, and I spent most of my time exploring the park and taking pictures.

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I love how a google search can open up new paths to unseen realms.  This morning’s search meandered past Agnes Martin and stalled at an amusing detour through the odd world of Pataphysics.  I eventually settled in to an essay from the Brooklyn Rail (an excellent Arts journal) that I want to share.

It’s about the importance of eating culture.

What? Well, the essay ends with a Rumi poem titled “Eating Poetry” and focuses on what art is, art’s place in our lives, and whether it’s OK to like or dislike the art that you do like, or dislike.  The author, Phong Bui (publisher of the Brooklyn Rail) asks us to bring our “honest experience” to each work of art we confront.

As simple as that may sound, I think that an honest reaction stripped of the accumulated ideas we have absorbed from media and placed on top of our own heads can be elusive these days.  But it’s well worth the effort – as Agnes Martin said in a 1997 interview, you need to know exactly what you want:  “I paint with my back to the world” she explained.

The desert seems well suited to the act of turning away from the busy world and returning to one’s own honest experience.

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I will post more photos from the desert soon, including a number of pictures of Noah Purifoy’s fascinating outdoor sculpture installation in Joshua Tree.

When Inside moves Outside

In Joshua Tree, California, the warm desert climate makes eccentric dreams possible:

This week’s WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge is to post a photo that conveys the idea of “Inside.” I’ve probably done the opposite here, but it was irresistible.  I have always enjoyed the idea of blurring the boundaries of inside and outside, especially in homes.

Last week it was too cold to use this tub next to a home in Joshua Tree but it must be lovely on hot summer nights. Across the road, another resident has plunked her bed outside, 30 yards from her house amidst desert flowers, cactus and shrubs. The rumor is that she keeps the animals away by peeing in a bucket and pouring the contents in a circle round the bed…

More photos of things inside are here!

(My apologies for the poor quality of the photo – it was taken with a camera phone in the evening.)

Daffs and Cherry Blossoms

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I’m in the desert now, in California. Soon I will have photos of a place that couldn’t be much different than where I live. But until then, here are a few  photos from last weekend of daffodils at a botanical garden and cherry trees that have just begun to bloom near Seattle. Oh, and the dangling white flowers are on an early blooming northwest native shrub, Indian Plum or Osaberry (Oemeria cerasiformis).

NOTHING TO BE CAPTURED

There is nothing to be

captured,

really.

There is a moment,

color,

a sparkle inside my head – then,

the black box talks in my hands

of the unity of time

and its loss.

Of moments present

and past.

Of pretty things;

of love.

Having no idea what will come of it,

I wander home

to translate light.

Light that was

and is

and will be

free.

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Red Osier 1

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Red Osier 2

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Red Osier 3

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Red Osier 4

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Red Osier 5

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Red Osier 6

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Red Osier 7

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Red Osier 8

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Red Osier 9

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Red Osier 10

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Red Osier 11

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Red Osier 12

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Red Osier 13

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I saw a bed of red osier dogwood planted in front of tall evergreens at Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle the other day. The deep blue-green gloom of the evergreens was a perfect foil for the warm colors of the stems.

(Also known as red twig dogwood, or Cornus siricea, the shrubby plant is an American native, used extensively in landscaping for its “winter interest.”   Its slender stems can be various shades of red, magenta, pink, and in some cultivars, yellow-green. It’s known as Cornus stolonifera, too, just to keep things complicated.)

The haze of warm color was inviting in the drab winter landscape. I remembered a photograph I took last year of a stand of red osier in another Seattle park. I had the camera on shutter priority and set a long exposure, then moved the camera up and down, following the growth pattern of the branches. It resulted in a brilliantly colored curtain of softly blended vertical streaks, included here in a previous post about Color.

So I tried that again and experimented with different ways of moving the camera while the shutter was open – up and down, right and left, in arcs, forward and back, while walking around the plants…it’s a pleasure to get your body into camera work once in while! Then I returned home and got to work, to play. I processed the images with a variety of adjustments and effects in Lightroom and OnOne Perfect Effects, in a few very enjoyable hours…

There was freedom in it, and pleasure.

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Abandoned and Overgrown

Somewhere along Washington State’s Mountain Loop Highway, in the foothills of the Cascade Range, a little shack sits off the side of the road, abandoned and VERY overgrown.

Travel east, north or south from Seattle and you’re sure to come across abandoned structures and vehicles. The region’s abundant rainfall and temperate climate keep the green machine running, quickly enveloping abandoned buildings, cars or trucks in thick layers of moss, fungus and ferns.

This week’s WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge is to post a photo of something abandoned. More here!