Thursday, April 24, 2008

Desert Tales

Rally in the Desert

It’s been a while since I went to an Airstream rally, and I chose a good one. The San Diego Unit, and the El Camino Real Unit had a joint rally out in the Anza Borrego State Park, in the desert. There were 55 trailers there, which is a big turn out, and there were a number of people that I haven’t seen for a while there. There were also some people who I’ve been emailing for years that I finally got to meet face to face. This is a tricky moment, since we all have very different personas on line than we do face to face. Either that or without actually seeing a person, we are all flying blind about them. Maybe I tend to invent a body and way of being to go along with the e-words, and most of the time I am not nearly close to reality. I can tell that other people must do something similar, because when they hear my name they look a little shocked at seeing what I really look like.

There were some amazing trailers there, many polished to blinding mirror shines, and many decked out with great interiors and wonderful period props. They had an open house, which is terrific because then you get to go inside and see what other people have done. I was most impressed with the really old restorations that had the original appliances and furnishings. It takes a lot of work to get a really old trailer, like 1950’s or even a 1949’er, back to useful condition. Most people just replace the appliances, so when someone takes the time to get a 50 year old stove back to beautiful and working , I am all kinds of jealous and amazed. My trailer was much admired for its comfort, the cork floor, and various other improvements, which was gratifying.

I love the desert, and was thrilled to get more time out here in the big dry windy nothing. We hiked up to see some morteros, holes in the rock where the Indians ground their food up, and to another place with pictographs painted on the rock.

We also hiked up to Yaquitepec, the site of the homestead or perhaps more accurately camp belonging to a very odd man. Marshall South was born in Australia as Roy Bennett Richards, in 1889. He was an extraordinary writer, and his mother early took him to California to escape life on a sheep station. He struggled with writing and living in the real world, and then in 1930, took his second wife and went off to live primitively a mile up on a mountain in the desert. They build an adobe house, caught rainwater or toted it from far away, and lived a spare existence in a gorgeous place. He wrote a column for Desert Magazine which has lucid and lovely descriptions of the desert, but are laced with his romantic attachment to primitive( and nude) clean living and high thinking, and completely ignore the difficulties of boondocking in poverty. The Army needed to use the place for target practice, so they were forced down in 1944, and soon after his overworked wife took the three children back to civilization, and divorced him. He died in1948 of congenital heart problems that the rigorous life in the hot sun seemed to have kept under control.

A prophet in the desert? Thoreau among the agave? Camille in the Cactus ? More likely yet another casualty of the world that expects you to “ amount to something”, implying wealth. His wife took her thoughts about their life together to her grave, an honor of sorts since there would have been plenty of room for bitter complaints, or at least a dose of reality. His children seem to have turned out well, another vote for home schooling. Part of me admires and secretly envies such determination, but another part shakes her head over idealizing such a struggle for life.

The desert does an amazing magic trick in the spring. Where there was only sand and rock, dried up sticks and stubborn prickly shrubs, becomes a carpet of flowers after the January and February rains. It looks like the cover of a seed catalog. In the distance the rocky forbidding mountains are misted with green, and the floor of the desert is lush with magenta, yellow and white, sand verbena, desert evening primrose, poppies, desert sunflowers and marigolds. We stand sort of shocked by it, and take way too many pictures that can’t begin to explain it. In some places it is mostly yellow, in others a thinner spread, including the juicy and very incongruous desert lily. Hiking up to Borrego Spring, the path is littered with smaller flowers, different around every turn, and standing like elephants the untrimmed palm trees around the spring. Deep shade and gushing water, it is very strange, almost certainly haunted.

All this color and green is a glorious sight, and in another month or two, all gone back to a bleak dry nothing, suitable only for prophets.