Sunday, July 28, 2013

Lawn Order

The first thing you notice about homes in the desert is their lack of lawn.  The yards may indeed have lawn furniture, but these are deployed over the coarse grained desert sand or crushed rock, or some sun-bleached conglomerate that is reminiscent of cremated human remains.

The next thing you notice is the similarity of desert front yards with neighborhood front lawns in more conventional areas such as the neighborhoods through which you often pursue your evening stroll in Santa Barbara.  You see lawn furniture, bird baths, active or no longer running fountains, bird houses, and the occasional piece of sculpting ranging from the more sophisticated examples of sculpting to statues of birds or dogs or jungle animals, the most popular specimens (regardless of their geographical locale) being pink flamingos and gray or white long-beaked birds such as egrets, ospreys, or herons.

Whether desert or oasis, some front yards have tendencies toward used washer parts, boats in various stages of repair, either on towing trailers or suspended above two or more saw horses.

Yet another similarity between front yards in high desert locations such as Yucca Valley or Joshua Tree or even Palm Springs  are whimsical mailboxes, some on the more commonplace wooden support, others more complex constructions involving quarter-inch iron rods, bricks, gnarled tree trunks, and the more generic stamped metal, spray painted a matte black.

There are numerous ways you may deconstruct an individual.  Not the least of these ways is the individual's front yard or the individual's choice and presentation for all the world to see of a mail box.  In keeping with E.B. Whites observation that the individual who sets pen to paper is creating a form of self-portrait is the acquired wisdom that a lawn or its condition, or a rock garden and its design, or such extremes as finely raked Zen gardens, or flocks of concrete or plastic birds is a kind of personality fingerprint, in effect a true and authentic manner for an individual to mark and define personal territory and to present an image.

You've spent the last several hours driving through neighborhoods that had, so far as you can see, no tangible reason for being where they were, scattered about desert equivalents of metropolis.  The most affluent of these was Palm Springs.   Yucca Valley and Joshua Tree were among the more diverse and difficult to classify.  A common thread running through these neighborhoods was the fact of their residing under the blazing, bleaching summer sun, relentless from about six-thirty in the morning until close on to eight at night.  

The summer sun wants to bleach out color.  The home owner wants to somehow stand his ground against the sun, accomplishing his goals by the application of numerous coats of pastel, celebratory, and often patriotic color schemes, each capable of holding the bleaching desert sun at bay for another year or so before surrendering into the appearance of leftover vegetables and wilted salads.

Large numbers of individuals demonstrate their preference for desert living, claim to have established some form of mystical bond with the sand, the heat, the dust, the almost constant heavy breeze.  In the same way their home yards demonstrate their stubborn independence, their posture and squinty presence seem to radiate a defiance against the wind, the alkaline dryness, and the sheer persistence of the desert.

Sometimes, when you are at writer's conferences or programs and lectures, you have from your view of the audiences a sense of their stubborn, often misguided persistence, their stubborn presence before their writing implements, the sense of the distance in their eyes that match the far-off gaze of the denizens of the desert.

Such conferences or programs are splendid in practical terms.  Individuals wishing to learn how to set down their dreams and fantasies in defiance of the cynical human tendency to question the validity of story are filled with the same flinty stubbornness as those who spend their days and nights facing down the desert, even to the point of sensing themselves making progress with the stubbornness.

Prowling through these spots in the desert, you noted any number of bookstores, some of them pointed in their announcements of having only used books in stock, others a surprising combination of the brand new and the read-to-the-point-of disintegration hardcover and paperback editions.

There appear to be fewer things to do while living in the desert than while living in places where the lawns tend more to the green.  Numerous saloons, pubs, taverns, and liquor stores speak to the popularity of drinking the spectrum of massmarket beer, designer beers, wines, and the certifiable hard stuff.  Numerous TV satellite dishes advertise the potential for watching dramas, realistic encounters, sports, and dueling chefs.  The book stores speak to reading.  

You'd be surprised to the point of incredulity if sexual interactions were not thought of as valid pastimes, nor would you rule out the potential for dynamic and vigorous differences of opinion at various establishments where liquor was sold, served, offered to guests.  The message here is that persons in the desert would do these things with a greater stubbornness and flinty disconnect than persons with grass in their front yards.

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