Evening Desert Walks

In the evening, when the sun is not as intense in the hot desert summer sky, I take my dog for his walks.  I really should say “our” walks because I need them just as much as he does, sitting inside the house with cold air blowing on me all day gives me a case of cabin fever.  Once I see the living room clock point at 7pm I know it’s time to break free from my air-conditioned prison and go outside in the not-so-hot fresh air.

Our favorite place to walk is along the dirt road that begins a quarter a mile from my house.  Once we go past the small cabins along the dirt road it’s open desert and Bo gets to go off his leash.  Bo is a tailless but handsome German Shepherd we got from the Desert Hot Springs pound and his stumpy tail wags as he voices his impatience to go for a walk with his yips and barks, seeing me put on my sneakers and pressing the buttons of my Garmin GPS watch.  He’s jumping and turning circles when I finally get down his leash from its place by the door.

When we go outside Bo pulls at the leash, he knows where we are going, and he could probably take us to the dirt road himself.  We walk along the dirt road with its small vacation cabins  tucked in among cactus gardens and palo verde trees.  They’re empty most of the time, looked after in the owner’s absence by an old couple in a green jeep, their cocker spaniels leaning out of the windows as they circle the driveways of the cabins, leaving tire tracks to make it look like people frequent the cabins.

We finally walk by all the small cabins and came to what I call the Cross Roads, where the  dirt road makes a junction with other dirt roads and depending on what I feel like I could go down to a wash, through hilly terrain, or toward a main road where a church sits on the corner.  I opted for the church road as it’s not used often by dirt bikers and Bo hates dirt bikes.  A dirt bike came from behind us one time and I heard the distinctive whine of the motor too late over the blowing desert wind.  Bo saw it and gave chase to the dirt bike and when the dirt biker saw he had a big dog on his heals he kicked it up into high gear and gave Bo his dust.  It didn’t detour my dog from having a good chase after that dirt bike, finding his way back to me a half mile down the dirt road with his tongue hanging, a doggish grin on his face from the good chase.

It’s only a half mile from the Cross Roads to the Church, a mile round trip, and Bo spends the time searching out rabbits, lizards, and peeing on creosote bushes, trotting contentedly from one location to another.  He must run around twice as far as I do, maybe even three times as far.

An idea came to me and I took of my Garmin GPS watch and looped it through Bo’s collar.  It stayed at the top of his collar, right by his pointed ears, I pressed the start button to begin recording the trip and took off Bo’s leash.  Let’s find out just how far he runs.

Immediately Bo started making his rounds, peeing on a bush here, sniffing a branch there, standing at attention with his ears perked looking intently at a creosote bush where a lizard was hiding.  Meanwhile I continued to walk toward the church.  I reached the church and made the u-turn back toward the Cross Roads with Bo a few feet from me trotting off the path, tongue hanging.

He saw something in the distance toward the Cross Roads and took off after it and for a while I didn’t see him.  I kept walking and noticed that there was a slow moving green Jeep coming down the hill path approaching the Cross Roads.  Where was Bo?  The Jeep slowed down and paused for a moment out of sight behind a swell in the desert.  Uh-oh, I’ll bet Bo is saying hello, I hoped he wasn’t bothering those cocker spaniels.  I started to call Bo and after a few minutes he finally came into view.  I told him what a good boy he was and patted his head all the while continuing to walk to the Cross Roads.  I leashed him when we got there in the middle of the fresh tracks of the Jeep and that was when I saw that Bo was limping a little bit in his front right paw.

Later on, after performing home surgery to remove the cactus thorns lodged in Bo’s front right paw, I took a look at my Garmin watch to see how far Bo went.  There was a film over the watch and I used my finger nail to scratch it off.  What did that come from?  Oh, it’s Bo’s drool, yuck!  The watch settled to the bottom of his collar as he ran and he drooled all over it.  I took a scour pad from the kitchen sink and scrubbed it off then synced the watch with its app on the phone to see the results.

I know that it’s a mile round trip from the Cross Roads to the  church.  Bo went 1.5 miles during that walk.  So does that mean that Bo runs 1.5 times further than I do?  If I did 3 miles would he go 4.5 miles?  Surely more data is needed to make a sound conclusion.  I could also tell from the map on the app that Bo did in fact go and see the old couple in the Jeep.  But he turned around and trotted through the desert when I called.  What a good dog!

 

 

Needing Silly

I couldn’t find my black flats.  They would go with my skirt and red blouse and I was running late for work.  I went around the house looking in all the usual places where I kick off my shoes.  No, they’re not by my bedroom chair. Not by the couch and they’re not by the front door.  Where are they? I have to be leaving to work right now. Well, when in doubt, look where they belong.  I went back to my bedroom and looked in my closet where my shoes are supposed to be kept when I’m not wearing them.  Not there.

My eyes fell on my pair of skull shoes set on the top shelf of the shoe rack.  They were black, like my missing flats, but unlike my missing flats they had bright colored skulls all over them like the skulls for Dia de los Muertos.  I caught myself smiling at the idea of wearing these bright casual shoes with my professional teacher outfit. I needed to wear these shoes today. I needed silly.

The previous Saturday afternoon, scrolling through Facebook, I saw a post from my principal sharing news that one of my students in my second period class passed away.  I stared at my phone in disbelief. I gave him a hard time Friday morning in class for not doing his assignment and copying off of a neighboring student. He gave me his slow grin and started working on his assignment like he was supposed to.  Monday morning I had his paper to return to use for his quiz and he wasn’t there. I see his name on my student withdrawal list on my grading program whenever I log on to complete my class attendance.

My second period was boisterous and quick to laugh but now they are quiet and subdued.  I dreaded my second period class Monday morning because I didn’t want to see the empty desk that I knew would be there.  The school offered grief counselors that morning and I spoke to one, seeking advice on how to address my class after a death of one of their own.  I’m running class as usual now, but I know my students are hurting.

I found a pair of no-show socks to wear with the skull shoes and put them on.  I looked at myself in the mirror. Not something I usually wear with a skirt and blouse but I liked that it was silly.  I took myself to the living room to say goodbye to my kids before I left for work.

“What do you think?”  I asked, modeling my outfit before them.

The kids barely glanced at me from the couch and returned to watching their Pokemon cartoons.

“Wow, tough crowd!” I said.  I tried again, striking a different pose, “What do you think?”

My daughter tore her attention from her cartoon and looked me up and down.

“Your shoes don’t match.” She said and gazed back at the television.

“Yeah, they’re a little different” I said.  I went over to my kids and kissed each of them, telling both that I loved them and to have a good day at school.

At work a couple of hours later, in second period, one of my quieter students happened to look down and see my skull shoes.

“I like your shoes Mrs. Adams” he said “They’re cool.”

The Snow Day

We experienced a first since we’ve lived in Twentynine Palms.  We had a snow day. With actual snow. I heard rumors that it snowed in Twentynine Palms in 2008 but assumed that it was the stuff of legend.  A myth that was started by those hopeful children who want a day off of school.

I heard the television in the living room while still in bed this morning.  My daughter got up earlier than me and turned on her cartoons. Despite her keeping the volume down it still woke me up before my alarm went off.  It had to be before 5 am. I rolled over and tried to get warmer under the covers. It’s cold this morning. The alarm finally went off, signaling me to start the day.  I had to get ready for work. I began to think about my day, because it never snows in Twentynine Palms.

I shuffled down the hallway and requested no TV before 6 am.  I opened the sliding glass door to feed the dog. As I stepped outside, my jaw dropped in surprise.  Through the dark, I saw large fluffy snow flakes falling from the sky onto the soft white snow-covered ground.  I heard the sound of snowflakes landing on the ground and bushes.

I poked my head back in the house “It’s snowing outside!” I told my daughter.  She paused the cartoon she was watching and came outside. Pure delight and wonder were on her face.  She had never seen falling snow before. She went outside in her robe and pajamas and sock feet.  

“Go inside and get on your slippers, at least” I told her.  I went inside with her and woke up my son Logan who has never seen snow either. He jumped out of bed and went to the window.  

“Wow!” he exclaimed.  He got his slippers on too.

Both kids went outside with the snow.  They couldn’t stop touching it and I couldn’t blame them one bit.  It’s 5:10 am and it’s still dark.

Slippers needed to be upgraded to shoes and coats.  

“Walk on the snow, Chloe, it’ll make a cool sound” I told her.  She looked at me with her mouth open and eyes wide at the thought.  

“Really?” she asked.  She stepped off the patio and listened to the snow crunch as she stepped on it.  She looked over at me and her whole face radiated pure pleasure. Soon my son joined her and together they made footprints in the one-inch layer of fresh snow.  

A miniature snowman was made.  The kids were having a blast and were shouting and playing in the snow.  I tried to shush them, after all, it wasn’t even 5:30 in the morning yet.

I heard a voice in the distance.  The neighbors a couple of doors down were outside too, exclaiming over the snow.  Lights were on in the houses around us. The neighbors seemed to be already awake.  Besides, this was snow, the myth has become truth!

“Ok, you two, go ahead and play” I said.  

Snow balls were thrown into the desert and then against the shed.  Then, of course, snow balls were thrown at each other. After establishing the rule of no snowballs to the face, our first snowball fight commenced.  Snow balls were everywhere, as fast as we could scoop enough snow from the ground, we threw them at each other. Logan slipped a snowball into my coat pocket without me realizing it.  I’m glad I caught it before I went inside and put my coat away. Chloe and I made a miniature snowman family out of the snow.

My children soon learned something about snow:  it’s cold. It’s especially cold if you don’t have gloves on. My son had enough of the cold and went inside very upset “I can’t bend my hands!”  He didn’t warm up until after a hot shower and fresh clothes.

All through this time I forgot that the kids had school and I had work.  I checked Facebook for news and I saw school was canceled. An unexpected day off.  What a gift!

All three of us were giddy with happiness.  There’s snow on the ground and there’s no school.  Oh happy day!

Chloe suggested we should have snowman pancakes for breakfast.  She had a great idea and I had the know how.  As I was flipping the first snowman pancake over in the warmth of the kitchen, Chloe asked me if I had ever tasted snow before.

“Oh sure, lots of times” I replied.  “Why don’t you go outside and taste some snow?”

Chloe’s smile lit up her whole face as she turned around and went back outside.  I smiled as I put the snowman pancake onto a plate. Today was going to be a good day.  

Wait, I didn’t warn her about yellow snow.

The Lear Avenue Lights

I was driving the 20-minute commute to Joshua Tree from my home in Twentynine Palms. There was a meeting for work that I had to attend.  Most of the ride is on Highway 62, a four lane highway with a turning lane in the middle. It’s an uninterrupted cruise of 70 mph until I reach Joshua Tree and make a right on one of the light signals.  A traffic light turned red and I slowed to a stop. I looked around expecting to see the familiar landmarks of Joshua Tree. Instead I saw that I was still in Twentynine Palms and was stopped at Lear Avenue.  Lear! The stoplight that was approaching mythic status because of how often it’s installation kept getting pushed back was working. And I was stopped under it.

As I waited I looked at the house on the northwest corner of Lear and Highway 62.  It’s been freshly painted a terracotta shade and its bordering oleander plants have been cut back.  This house has been on the corner of Lear and the Highway for as long as I’ve been coming to Twentynine Palms.  My parents would take us kids out to our cabin in the boonies of Twentynine Palms in the 1980s. Dad drove on Highway 62 with the three of us crammed in the back seat of our 1984 Toyota Tercel for what seemed like an eternity.  The only thing to look at through the windows was desert and an occasional abandoned homestead cabin. When I spotted the house on the corner of Lear and Highway 62, the first sign of civilization since Yucca Valley, I knew we were finally turning off the Highway and were almost to our cabin.

This house is a landmark for the turn-off onto Lear from the Highway.  The owners mounted a pole wrapped with white lights on the top of their chain link fence .  It was the only beacon that marked the intersection of Lear and the Highway in the dark desert night.  It served as a marker for all the Marines turning left onto Lear towards MCAGGC in their caravans at night and a lighthouse for those who turn left on Lear to go home.  Lear is well-traveled both by civilians and the military.

Cars travel fast from Joshua Tree into Twentynine Palms.  Lear is the first major road in Twentynine Palms and cars must slow down from 65-80 mph to make the left turn towards MCAGGC.  The berm on the corner of Lear has many scuff marks and gouges from vehicles over turning the left and hitting the berm instead. A fender or a bumper might be resting over the berm in the dirt as a testimony of an accident.  As the population of Twentynine Palms grew so did the amount of accidents on the corner of Lear and the Highway. It was good when the city announced plans to put up a traffic light. Months turned into years as one obstacle after another got in the way of a traffic light on the intersection of Lear and the Highway.  Wrong parts were ordered and the correct safety equipment such as warning lights weren’t installed. For a long time the lights were erected but they were just there, looking at the oncoming traffic with a blank stare.

Now the lights are working.  On the intersection of Lear and Highway 62 I wondered how long the red light would last.  The light was red but there were no cars on Lear anymore. Why am I still waiting here? The light turned green and as I accelerated I reminded myself that I am not in Joshua Tree but in Twentynine Palms still and I have about 15 minutes travel time to get to my meeting for work.

Winter Winds

The winter winds bring us our version of cold-weather living in Twentynine Palms.  The wind brings character into our otherwise predictable and sometimes boring winter days of endless sunshine.  When the winds blow it is not with gentle breezes but with consistent gales. It rushes through the palm trees with a distinct rustling sound.  Flags flap and flutter, furling and unfurling, as the wind whips them around. Open trash can lids hit against the side of the can in an inconsistent rhythm.  It whistles through the holes in the stop sign poles and hums through the electrical wires. It is a cacophony and not a symphony of sound.

Being outside in the cold wind for any length of time is tough but doable.  At a park and rec flag football game during a recent windy evening, the sidelines were filled with parents wearing beanies, sweatshirts, and their biggest jackets.  Some had blankets over their laps as they were watching their sons and daughters play. A few even had a kerosene heater set up in front of them, cranking out heat at the highest setting.  These were the people who have lived in Twentynine Palms for a while. Those who just arrived to Twentynine Palms from much colder climates were watching the game in a sweatshirt and baseball cap.  

When the winds blow we prep our house for them.  Windows have to be shut throughout the house otherwise a layer of dust will be on the windowsill and surrounding furniture.  Garden flags need to be brought in because the wind will work them off their pole and blow them east to Wonder Valley. We had a shade umbrella for the children’s small outdoor picnic table but lost it because we didn’t bring it in and the wind lifted it and took it somewhere over night.  When setting out trash cans for the trash truck to get them the next day we learned from our more experienced desert-dwelling neighbors to put a large rock on the lids so the wind wouldn’t blow them open and carry our trash all over the desert.

Windy nights make for good sleeping weather.  The sound of the the wind blowing outside in the cold makes me thankful that I’m inside my warm home.  It makes me appreciate my blankets that much more. My young daughter doesn’t appreciate the windy nights.  The wind whips especially loud passed the corner of the house that forms her bedroom. She can’t sleep while the wind blasts past the outside corner of her bedroom.  My daughter usually ends up sleeping on the floor of my bedroom on those cold and windy nights when its windy chaos outside and warm peace inside.

Roses in the Desert

My Dad would give my Mom a dozen roses throughout their marriage.  All of them would be red to represent “love” but there would always be a lone yellow rose to represent “friendship.”  The only yellow rose blossom contrasted against the sea of red. Both my mother and her mother had rose bushes in their backyards.  I could see my mom’s yellow roses through the living room window, the blossoms swaying in the wind from my favorite armchair. I’d sit back and watch them.  My Grandma had a much larger variety of rose bushes. She had all sorts of colors and would display large bouquets of them on her kitchen table.

Roses can even tolerate the scorching desert heat with enough water.  Yucca Valley has a lovely rose garden by their community center with a surprising variety of roses.  I enjoyed walking among them when we first moved to the Morongo Basin, being very watchful over my 18-month old daughter as she trotted among the thorny bushes trying to find the biggest and prettiest blossoms.  She’d point each one out to me before burying her little nose into the blooms, inhale deeply, and say “Ummm, is good!”

When I finally got my own home with a yard I knew I wanted to have some rose bushes.  Walmart was selling bare-root roses and I splurged one day and bought two of them There were no leaves or flowers on either of them.  They were just a couple of sticks with roots wrapped in plastic wrap. The label on one of them promised a yellow rose and the other a red rose.  I read the directions on the wrappers carefully and planted them in my backyard. The yellow rose was planted underneath my dining room window. I hoped that in time I would be able to look out my window and see the yellow blossoms swaying in the wind.

They both quickly had leaves and soon blossoms but the red rose didn’t seem to be doing was well as the yellow rose.  It’s blossoms were shaped weird and it didn’t bloom near as much as the yellow rose bush did. My dog discovered he enjoyed the taste of rose bush and chewed up the red rose so much that I put the poor bush out of its misery and uprooted it.  The yellow rose survived the mauling and my husband put stakes and a chicken wire fence around it for protection against our fury rose-killer. When my husband was installing the stakes he discovered why the yellow rose bush was doing so well.  He drove the stake right through the washing machine run off pipe. When ever my washing machine drained, my rose bush got watered. What a happy accident!

I’ve learned how to take care of my surviving yellow rose bush.  Youtube and Google directed me how to prune it. When I noticed the blooms weren’t frequent and unimpressive I asked for the advice of a more knowledgeable rose-grower.  My Mom told me that roses are heavy drinkers and feeders. Well, I had the watering down but my rose must be hungry too. I started fertilizing with rose food and my little rose bush has flourished.  

My yellow rose bush is doing well surrounded by its protective fence.  It’s watered by the washing machine and the leftover water in the dog’s water dish.  I write on my calendar when it’s time to fertilize it with rose food. It’s not big enough for me to look out of my dining room window to see its blooms but I think it will be with time.  I’ve enjoyed harvesting it’s blooms and displaying them on my kitchen table. When I sit at the kitchen table I get whiffs of the roses perfume and it smells sweeter than the other roses because it came from my own backyard.

How Living in Twentynine Palms Has Changed Me

Living in Twentynine Palms has changed me in some ways.  I’ve adapted to quiet and non-chaotic desert nights. I’m accustomed to limited store selections to choose from when I shop.  The wide open desert spaces have welcomed me and I am confined in big cities with large buildings sneering at me from above.

It’s very quiet at here at night with the only occasional evening sounds being an adventurous off-road vehicle or the Marines blowing stuff up in the middle of the desert.  So when my husband and I exited off the 15 freeway and headed to the Las Vegas Strip for a weekend getaway, our mouths dropped open and our eyes bugged out, dazzled by the Strip at night.  We looked at all the shiny and flashy lights and were mesmerized. The sidewalks were teaming with people. It was all so busy and chaotic with the sidewalks being a rushing river of people and the lights continuously flashing above them.  We felt like country bumpkins out to see the big city. “Look at all them thar purty lights, honey!” I said to my husband with a hillbilly twang.

“Wow! Look at all them thar people!” He replied.

Living in Twentynine Palms has also changed my level of contentment.  I have become used to limited choices when it comes to shopping. The closest Walmart is 30 minutes away in Yucca Valley and the closest Target is 90 minutes away in Palm Desert.  Going to the store has become a big deal because of the amount of time involved and the cost of gas to get there. Our shopping trips have become very purposeful and I learned to be content with what choices we have.

I recently went to the Westfield Mall in Palm Desert.  Walking through the mall I suddenly realized how bored I was with window shopping.  I wasn’t interested in their products despite all the attractive displays in the many stores.  Now, I’m not sure how much of my contentment is from becoming older and wiser verses living in Twentynine, but living in Twentynine certainly helps.    Living here has helped me be more content with what I have because of the lack of choices and the hassle to drive to a shopping center.

One of the things I love about Twentynine Palms is the wide open spaces.  I didn’t realize how much I appreciated the open space until my husband and I took our kids to the California Science Center in Los Angeles.  We had a fun day at the Science Center and the adjacent Exposition Park Rose Gardens. It was getting late and the sun was setting so we decided to start the journey back home.  My husband was driving and I was trying to navigate him through the labyrinth of freeways to get out of the city. I told him to take a freeway exit that took us toward downtown Los Angeles.  I noticed my mistake as our van came off of the freeway exit and positioned itself in line with the Los Angeles skyline.

“This is the wrong exit!  You have to turn around!” I said.

“I’m trying to!” My husband replied.

The Los Angeles skyscrapers came closer and closer until we were right in the middle of them.  Large buildings towered on either side of us. Traffic zoomed around us and people in suits were walking on the sidewalks.  Everyone knew where they were going except for us.

“Take a right turn at the next street”  I said, looking at the map app on my phone.

“I can’t!  It’s a one-way street!”

I fought down claustrophobia and tried to ignore the buildings pressing down on me as I frantically tried to have my map app give me a new route to take out of the city.  We finally made it out of downtown Los Angeles and my husband and I both breathed a sigh of relief as we pulled back onto the on ramp that would take us eastward toward home.

The lifestyle in Twentynine Palms grew on me and I’ve adapted to it.  After my travels it is good to be in Twentynine Palms again where there are quiet nights, lack of shopping malls, and wide open spaces.  My travels have shown me how living in Twentynine Palms has changed me and for that I’m thankful as it means I’ve been able to see a variety of different places.  There’s a wide, wide world outside of our little desert city.