“Homestead is where the art is.”

September 24, 2010

Starry Starry Wonder

Filed under: Art, Culture, Literary, Press — magicgroove @ 3:36 am

The humble homestead cabins have found their way into this year’s Annual Desert Writers Issue of The Sun Runner.   Included is an uncharacteristically sober verse and drawing by recent Morongo Basin transplant Rik Livingston, as well as the above charming pastel and water color “Starry Starry Wonder” by Lisa Maher.  We’ve written about Lisa and her 3rd-generation homestead before.  You can read about her latest trip to Wonder, which inspired this painting, on her blog.

There’s lots of good desert writing in this issue, so be sure to pick up a copy before they run out.  Find out where at thesunrunner.com.

December 2, 2009

“Jackrabbit Homestead” Book and Lecture

Filed under: Art, Culture, Events, History, Literary — magicgroove @ 5:52 am

Kim Stringfellow has announced the release of her long-awaited book, Jackrabbit Homestead: Tracing the Small Tract Act in the Southern California Landscape, 1938-2008.  Per the JRHS Website:

The 136-page hard cover book with dust jacket includes sixty-one color photographs by the author with an accompanying text by Stringfellow:

  • Discusses the largely underrepresented history of jackrabbit homesteading; its historical and theoretical underpinnings, and the participants and boosters of this popular mid-century phenomena.
  • Examines the Public Land Survey System (PLSS) and other U.S. public land policies that form how we perceive, use, and manage the California desert today.
  • Shares the stories of a diverse cross-section of stakeholders and micro-communities who historically and currently are located within this geographically defined area.
  • Examines the shifting/conflicting cultural values within this High Desert landscape.
  • Discusses the architectural legacy of the homesteads and how study of the shacks can inform sustainable and green design practices.
  • Considers why the homesteads become a catalyst for various human projections including how the shacks serve as a source of creative inspiration for the many artists and other creative types drawn to this area.

You’ll find lots of  the Wonder Valley community (including yours truly) in Kim’s book.  To learn more and to order signed and inscribed copies by the author, click here.

Kim will also be giving a lecture on the homesteads at the 29 Palms Old Schoolhouse Museum on Friday, December 11, at 7 p.m.  $5 at the door.  Click here for more information and directions.

November 24, 2009

“Old Odd Balls” in Ratany #3

Filed under: Art, Culture, Literary — magicgroove @ 6:13 am

The latest issue of Wonder Valley’s own Ratany is out and to be found about town in the usual places.   Included are articles on artist Bob Arnett; the ladies who meet at the the Church on 3rd Saturdays; an excerpt from a 1994 article on the desert as visionary space by yours truly; and a few words about new neighbors Mythical Bird, a musical group to whom we say, Welcome! 

The feature article for the issue is an interview with artist Ellie Dosier about her “Old Odd Balls.”   Ellie has found that Wonder Valley is where old balls seem to go to die.  She’s amassed a collection of every kind of derelict orb, from golf to soccer to whiffle, in every stage of decay. 

Ellie performed her story of the balls in the Homestead Obsession show of the Homestead Cabin Festival in February 2008.  She also created a striking art piece for the Show ‘n Tell at The Palms during the Festival, titled “The Sites of the Visitation of St. Bouncing Ball and Disciples”.   The piece is an assemblage that includes a found homestead window frame and a ball remnant of great venerability.  The piece still hangs at The Palms and may be viewed there, but without the ball that formed the centerpiece because at some point it disappeared – stolen, we regret to say. 

Of what use was this utterly ruined ball to anyone?  So now the light shines out of an empty socket instead of illuminating the cracked carapace of an ancient orb.  Sigh.

Dosier submits that, after all, the piece wasn’t meant to be lasting.  “That ball is gone now on another part of its journey….It was buried in the sand for who knows how long, sat around in a bucket for two years and missed a trip to the dump; it got resurrected and now it’s onto something else.  It’s impossible to control the destiny of these balls.”

When asked by the Ratany if the balls gravitate toward her, Dosier responds, “Well, not to me, but they gravitate to Wonder Valley which I think is their final resting place.  Probably that ball that got liberated at The Palms was on its way to its final destiny.  I mistook the art piece as its final resting place.  I was wrong – I have the hubris of a human and I misinterpreted what was going on.  So its final resting place might be a dresser drawer, or a backyard or the trunk of the car of whoever took it.”

Life rolls on in Wonder Valley.

August 28, 2009

Homesteads in The Sun Runner

Filed under: Literary — magicgroove @ 2:47 am

The August/September Sun Runner is out, and it’s the Third Annual Desert Writers Issue.   Our homestead lifestyle is the background for more than one story, so check it out!

May 29, 2009

Ratany Issue 2 – get it now!

Filed under: Culture, Literary, Press — magicgroove @ 4:19 am

 The Wonder?Valley Ratany Issue 2 is out, and Suzanne Ross tells me you can find it at the 29 Palms Library, the Creative Center, 29 Palms Gallery, the Inn, Wonder Garden,  and various Joshua Tree establishments.  And The Palms, of course.  It’s a jumbo edition at 8, count ’em 8 pages, and, I must say, I’m impressed.   

This issue asks, “What’s the strangest thing that happened to you in Wonder Valley?”  Personally, I didn’t know how to answer that question.  Everything in Wonder Valley seems, well, normal to me, to be honest.   But I must admit, the crack Ratany team came up with a couple of very interesting stories!

As well, there are some REALLY nice poems, including Oh, Lonesome Cabin In The Desert by Russ Kohn and some thoughtful verses from Dudley the Corgi Poet.  And, to whet your appetite, without permission I will reproduce the following unattributed anthem:

Wonder Valley Anthem

Wonder Valley we love you
Love your hills of dry blue hue
Wells of water, floods that flash
Rusty cars and trailer trash
Empty cabins dot the plain
Half the neighbors are insane
Lizards, bugs sing our refrain
Hang around & wait for rain.

April 11, 2009

“Out of the Mouth of Boards”

Filed under: Festival, History, Literary, Shack Attack — magicgroove @ 7:16 am

Twentynine Palms resident and member of the Desert Writers Guild Nancy J. Knight contributed a story to the Homestead Cabin Festival Show ‘n Tell in February 2008 at The Palms in Wonder Valley and has kindly agreed to let us reprint it, below.  All rights reserved.

Out of the Mouth of Boards

By Nancy J. Knight

 Homesteading in the High Desert – Morongo Valley, Joshua Tree, Twentynine Palms, Wonder Valley , and other outlying areas probably began in the late 1800’s, but really began to pick up after WWI and WWII, when veterans hoped the dry climate of the desert, would be a cure-all for the many affects they were suffering from the wars.  There were a lot of conditions that had to be met to qualify as a homesteader, and if you did, the government gave you a one quarter section of land – 160 acres – for about $16.00.  Later, there was some five acre parcels of land called the “Small Tract Act of 1938,” which was, as I understand it, free.  All you had to do was to make the required improvements on the land, and it was yours.

He said:  “Listen, Martha baby, I know you don’t want to leave your family and friends (cough-cough).  And I know you’ll miss the shopping, your garden, and the morning newspaper, but Baby (cough-cough), with all that clean, fresh air in the desert (cough-cough), and the natural beauty to behold, I know this move is the right thing to do (cough-cough).”

The cabin-to-be-built-someday said:  “Why people want to leave their nice, warm homes, beautiful landscapes, comforts and conveniences, beats the heck out of me!  After they get here, there may not be any material to build me, so they may have to live in a tent, an abandoned cabin, or maybe even a cave.  I don’t think the missus is going to like that one little bit, but I can say it is beautiful , and there is a lot of clean, fresh air in this here desert!”

Homesteading was not a piece of cake.  You had to build a “livable” house, and usually an outhouse, in the first year.  There was no electricity, no plumbing, and no running water. Then other improvements had to be made in the following years.  Some committed souls survived, but for most others, the harsh desert life just was not to their liking, and they left.

She said:  “I swear Harold, when you told me the desert had clean, fresh air, I didn’t expect hurricane force winds and sand blowing all over everything!  Why just today, I washed clothes and laid them on some boulders to dry, and that mean, old wind blew them away!  They’re probably – probably…well who knows where by now.  And…and you told me it was beautiful.  What’s so beautiful about sand and rocks? And there aren’t even any trees, except those ole spiny things if you want to call them trees. I just hate this awful ole place!”

After WWII, little by little, growth began to blossom, and by 1947, Joshua Tree had a whopping population of about 550 people!  Small cabins dotted the landscape in the Morongo Basin. I understand there were many turkey ranches in the Sunfair area.  According to some sources, it was estimated almost 500,000 turkeys were there, and it was even suggested the area be named “Turkey Town, USA.”  Well, I guess that didn’t go over, and for unknown reasons, the turkey ranches faded away.  Some say an occasional wild turkey can be spotted.  Gosh, I think I’ve seen some at Wally World in Yucca Valley!

He said:  “Well, Martha, what you think of your new digs?  This sure is a lot better than “tenting” huh?  You were such a sport to put up with it; especially after little Harold Jr. came along, and then later, the twins.  Now I know the outside walls look a lot like the roof, but Bill from down the hill gave me a good price on the stuff.  And look, if you put some yardage up inside, you can partition off three or four little rooms!  How about that?  And look!  You’ve even got a wood   cook stove and little windows so you can look out and see the younguns!  Don’t ya just love it Martha?  Say, I don’t seem to be coughing as much anymore do I?”

She said:  “Yes, Harold I do love it, and I love you for not giving up when I wanted to.  Who could deny the desert beauty … sunrises, sunsets, the little wildflowers in the spring; the little critters that scurry around, and yes, even those spiny old trees have beautiful blooms on them sometimes.  And this land has taught us all to appreciate nature and one another, and many more things that money cannot buy.  Yes, Harold I do love it here.”

Homesteaded cabins were many things to many people.  They were a step up from what they had previously lived in i.e. tents, caves, lean-tos, etc.  As they could afford it, some people added more rooms.  They improved the construction of the cabin to adobe or concrete bricks, or a better quality of wood.  They put in a well, and added indoor plumbing, which also meant not having to go outside to the old “two-holer” anymore.  Others either moved to “larger digs,” or simply left the area.  Believe it or not, some people still live in them, and wouldn’t live anywhere else.  Some folks use them as a week-end retreat to get away from the city.

 But some people were surprised to find that Grandma Martha (on Dad’s side) had left a dilapidated, old, run-down cabin to them in her will … in some god-forsaken place known as the High Desert of California for gosh sakes!  Not only that, but either they had to fix and repair the disgusting mess, or, as deemed by San Bernardino County officials, the most unsightly and more visible by often traveled roads, were going to be leveled and demolished.

The county officials said:  “Look at these ugly, weather beaten, ramshackle shacks.  They’re nothing but eyesores.  What will people think when they come to our area and see these old things?  We must get rid of them, they give a bad impression. And what good are they anyway?  Let’s mow them all down!”

Over one hundred cabins, deemed to be the most unsightly, were razed.  And, although a few of the owners of these cabins did comply with the county’s requests to fix and repair them, most did not – and over 300 cabin owners flattened their own.

As of this writing, only a fraction of the infamous homesteaded cabins were destroyed.  Many still dot the land. Some beaten over the years by sun and wind have only their frames left.  Some are more intact, perhaps a window or two has been broken, and the front door is wide open, and if you look quickly while passing by, you may see an old sofa or a bed.  Sometimes the faded curtains are fluttering in the breeze.   There are still some, who if they had their way, would “mow them all down.”

The cabin said:  “They say that I have outlived my purpose – that I’m no longer needed.  That may be so with some of my fellow cabin mates, but not me.  What?  Am I not entitled to having feelings? I am a part of history.  If only my walls could talk, you would learn so much.  If only you would try to see the beauty in me.  If only you would wonder what happened here.  When was I built?  Who lived here?  Were there children?  What kind of lives did they lead?

If you dispose of me and others like me, what will artists have to paint, or photographers have to shoot, or writers have to write about?  Sure, there are the occasional cabins that though no fault of their own, become involved with some not so nice things.  Sometimes people hang out in them and do drugs, some even make drugs in them, and then there are those who just decide to live there for a while and leave an unsightly mess when they move on.  I can understand why people don’t want these things in the area, but not all of us are like that. Sometimes when people stop to take my picture, I hear them talking, “Mary, it is so peaceful and quiet here (this shouted loudly over the noisy three wheelers that just roared by).  I just love this old cabin.  Why, with a little fixing, we could retire here and get away from the rat race down below (this shouted over the roar of the two four wheel drive trucks that just flew by leaving them in their dust).  And we could sit out at night watch the stars (not really folks, all these houses around here have bright lights on their property that they leave them on all night). Look over there, they’re building more new houses, and look behind us – two more.”  It has really built up around here hasn’t it?  But from the looks of this, they’ll probably tear this old cabin down soon and put up another new house.  Wow, this is getting to be like Orange County huh?”  That’s only some of the things they say.  Some things I can’t repeat.

I only hope that the upcoming generations will have places to go to and to look at, walk around, and wonder what took place there.  It’s too bad big cities and greedy people had to ruin things for us.  Why, I can’t even see my old friend with the pink tiled roof anymore.  I don’t even know if it’s still there.  You’ve heard the expression “out of the mouths of babes …?  If only they knew what could come “out of the mouth of boards.”

March 18, 2009


Filed under: Festival, Literary — magicgroove @ 11:10 pm

When Marilyn Collier of the Desert Writers Guild told me she was preparing a “vampire story” for the Cabin Festival Show ‘n Tell last year, I was definitely intrigued!   And though Marilyn unfortunately broke her leg and was sidelined for the event fellow Guild member Nancy Knight kindly pitched in by reading Marilyn’s story for her at the Palms.  Now you can read Surreal Sunrise, too, at Marilyn’s Website.

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