The Living Desert

Mountain Lion at the Living Desert Zoo in Palm Desert

Not to worry: There was a thick layer of glass between me and that mountain lion. I took this picture ten years ago when I went with Martine to one of my favorite zoos in Southern California, the Living Desert in Palm Desert. (The other one is the small but otherwise perfect Santa Barbara Zoo in the city of the same name.)

This was before my brother and sister-in-law moved to Palm Desert. Martine and I had just done an overnighter, staying at the local Motel 6. J know it wasn’t exactly ten years ago because I can’t see myself visiting the lower desert in the Coachella Valley in the heat of July.

Martine and I will be taking something of a risk visiting the Owens Valley next week, as the daily temperatures are expected to range between 60º and 98º Fahrenheit (16º to 37º Celsius) with the humidity hovering around 20%. The only thing that will make that bearable is that, if it gets too hot, we can always drive to higher latitudes and relax. There are only a few things we want to see in the floor of the valley, but those are all things we’ve seen before.

We will have a large cooler with us filled with block ice and plenty of water, along with a few goodies in case we feel like roughing it at high altitude. After all, for most of our trip, we will be in the shadow of the highest mountain range in the contiguous forty-eight states.

 

Home from Abroad

British Poet and Writer Laurie Lee (1914-1997)

I have just finished reading a wonderful book of Laurie Lee’s travels in Spain during the mid 1930s, when he walked out of his Gloucester village, wound up in Spain, walked for hundreds of miles across Spain to Andalusia—at which point Spain erupted in its Civil War. He was evacuated by a British destroyer in July 1936. His book, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, is a travel classic and gives a better picture of life in Spain than I have ever read. Doing further research on him, I discovered that Lee also wrote poetry, among which was the following poem about his travels:

Home from Abroad

Far-fetched with tales of other worlds and ways,
My skin well-oiled with wines of the Levant,
I set my face into a filial smile
To greet the pale, domestic kiss of Kent.

But shall I never learn? That gawky girl,
Recalled so primly in my foreign thoughts,
Becomes again the green-haired queen of love
Whose wanton form dilates as it delights.

Her rolling tidal landscape floods the eye
And drowns Chianti in a dusky stream;
he flower-flecked grasses swim with simple horses,
The hedges choke with roses fat as cream.

So do I breathe the hayblown airs of home,
And watch the sea-green elms drip birds and shadows,
And as the twilight nets the plunging sun
My heart’s keel slides to rest among the meadows.

For all his travels, Lee ended up in the Gloucestershire village from where he started. How curious!

 

Serendipity: “The Great Orgy of Universal Nihilism”

British Writer Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)

I have always loved the work of Aldous Huxley and have been reading him almost worshipfully for over fifty years. While I admire his fiction, particularly Point Counter Point (1928), I like his essays best. Several years ago, I dished out a couple hundred dollars to buy a clothbound six-volume set of his collected essays. Today I picked up one of his essays, “Revolutions,” written in Do What You Will in 1929, where I found the following:

The revolution that will then break out will not be communistic—there will be no need for such a revolution, as I have already shown, and besides nobody will believe in the betterment of humanity or in anything else whatever. It will be a nihilistic revolution. Destruction for destruction’s sake. Hate, universal hate, and an aimless and therefore complete and thorough smashing up of everything. And the levelling up of incomes, by accelerating the spread of universal mechanization (machinery is costly), will merely accelerate the coming of this great orgy of universal nihilism. The richer, the more civilized we becomes, the more speedily it will arrive. All that we can hope is that it will not come in our time.

Huxley was lucky. It came well after his death in 1963. It started with the Tea Party movement around 2009 and reached an apogee with the election of Donald J. Trump in 2016. Whether that particular individual lasts, we still have the revolutionaries in their Southern or Midwestern fastnesses.

 

 

Eastern Sierra Road Trip

The Alabama Hills Near Lone Pine

The Eastern Sierra Road Trip is now a definite go for next week. Today, Martine managed to get a few of her healthcare scheduling issues taken care of, so I went and reserved accommodations for our trip. I just have to do a little shopping, like getting good AA alkaline batteries for my little Canon rangefinder.

Most people don’t know much about the Eastern Sierras. They’re usually familiar with the National Parks along the Western Sierras, places like Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite—but the eastern edge of the range is steeper and the base is, for the most part, desert. In fact, we will have to drive through a good chunk of the Mohave Desert between the town of Mohave and Olancha, where the interesting sights begin, right near the turnoff for Death Valley. (Mind you, we don’t intend to visit Death Valley in July: That’s the sort of thing that only German tourists do for some reason.)

If you want to get an idea of what there is to be seen along Highway 395 as it wends its way along the eastern slope of the mountains, click on the California Through My Lens website, which does a fairly good job of enumerating what is to be seen along the way.

As I mentioned elsewhere, our three main destinations are:

  • The ghost town of Bodie
  • The Devils Postpile National Monument
  • The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

I have been to Bodie, though Martine has not. Neither of of us have seen the other two places. All three are on high ground off Highway 395, somewhere around the 10,000-foot (3,000 meter) elevation mark.

The great thing about traveling through the desert is that there are always a ton of minor destinations that amuse you without eating up too much time. One such place is Pearsonville, the “Hubcap Capital of the World,” where you can find a 25-foot-tall statue of a young woman:

On the Road to Olancha

 

Nostalgie de Banlieu

Recent History from L.A. Northern Suburbs

If you’ve ever seen Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974), you have some idea of how the City of Los Angeles annexed most of the San Fernando Valley after William Mulholland’s aqueduct brought water several hundred miles from the Owens Valley to L.A. In the period of the movie, the Valley seemed to be mostly orchards. Today, some two million people live there. Its period of greatest growth was in the immediate postwar period when aerospace was king. Today—well, today much of the gloss has vanished. During the summer, the Valley is almost as hot as the floor of the desert: Today the temp reached 91º Fahrenheit (33º Celsius) as we left in mid afternoon.

The reason we were there was to visit the Valley Relics Museum at Balboa and Stagg in Lake Balboa. The museum pays homage to the Valley’s glory days during the 1950s and 1960s, when it seems everyone was buying property there because it was cheaper than the more liveable parts of L.A. adjoining the Ocean.

Ash Trays from Bygone Restaurants and Clubs

The Valley is still an interesting destination. For one thing, there are many excellent restaurants, both ethnic and American. (Today, for instance, we discovered a great place on Ventura Boulevard at Burbank called Hummus Bar & Grill that we will no doubt be visiting again.) There are several interesting historical sights such as the Leonis Adobe and Los Encinos State Historical Park, plus museums like the Nethercutt Collection. So the Valley is still a target-rich destination, though it is no longer the fashionable locale it used to be when I first moved the Southern California in 1966.

The museum had fight posters featuring Mohammed Ali and Cassius Clay, film stuntmen memorabilia, old restaurant menus with pre-inflation prices, neon signs from clubs and restaurants like the Palomino, and even an interesting selection of working pinball machines—particularly one featuring Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, a former TV horror film hostess.

 

An American Heroine

Megan Rapinoe, the Star of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team

She was nowhere near the biggest bruiser on the field (that honor goes to France’s Wendie Renard, who at 6’ 1” was the biggest in the entire tournament). But when there were a few inches of daylight between her and the net, Megan Rapinoe found a way to corkscrew the ball between the defenders and past the goalkeeper and onto the scoreboard.

I don’t watch sports on television much, but I have a soft spot in my heart for what the world calls football and we Americans call soccer. That is because my Dad played for a Czechoslovakian club in the 1920s and for various nationality teams in Cleveland during the 1930s. When I was a child, he would occasionally take me to Moreland Park, where he was widely recognized by the old hands at the game. Elek and Emil Paris were the Terrible Twins of the Cleveland clubs. I heard all the stories about the players whose legs were broken by my father’s powerful kicks. These stories may have been slightly embroidered, but I ate them all up with a feeling of family pride.

The fact that Donald Trump is highly critical of her makes me admire Megan Rapinoe all the more. When asked by a reporter whether she would grace the White House with her presence, she replied that “she was not going to the f—ing White House.” That set the Donald off, he being rather thin-skinned by any kind of criticism.

There was a follow-up to that, however. “I stand by the comments that I made about not wanting to go to the White House with exception of the expletive,” Rapinoe told reporters. “My mom will be very upset about that.”

Still, during the Star Spangled Banner, all her teammates stood with their hand to their hearts—except for Megan, who had her hands at her sides. I like this girl: She’s a rebel!