Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmastime in Venice Beach

By the way, have you read the Placebo story?

I find it interesting that the placebo was allegedly helpful to IBS patients even when they knew if was a placebo--the Ritual of Pill Taking is powerful beyond its material warrant. It called to mind old National Geographic photos of southwestern Navajos sitting in the center of elaborate sand paintings during shamanic healing rituals, and stimulated my ongoing theological ruminations about the modern assumption that material reality is ultimate reality;  perhaps ultimate reality for humans is always anchored in a faith system, whether or not this faith system is conscious.  Such as: people know and believe that material reality is final (the placebo is zilch), but their faith is that medical consultation and prescriptions (pills for our ills) will help. So they do, even when patients know the pills are zilch. I am interested in this study as a tidbit for the Catholic discussion of the relationship between material and ultimate realities encapsulated in the code word: "transubstantiation." 

Bait and Switch, sorry. Here's more photos from the Boardwalk:

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Round Valley Pastures in Early Winter

Mules and horses are being moved from high corrals in mountain pack stations to winter quarters in low valley pastures. My favorite photo of a horse is out-of-focus, but I have posted it anyway -- since in winter, the landscape here appears blurry, streaked, brindled and blown, or has a stark, still, abstract quality to its natural forms.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Winter Colors in Horton Creek

Late in November I visited my summer camp ground, Horton Creek Recreational Refuge -- now in winter closed to people and open to deer. Silent and all the green riparian creekside thickets turned over to red: oranges, russets, purples, lavenders, aqua and iron blues, and fools gold, cold stones and ice.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Smoked Turkey in "The Pit"

I met more of my neighbors in "The Pit" campground when I was unexpectedly invited to a smoked turkey Thanksgiving feast on the morning of the day! No questions asked. My host is the fellow scratching the backs of two dogs at once, he cooked the perfect BBQ-smoked turkey, and Annette made a stringbean and corn casserole in the classic Dutch Oven (coals on top). All the trimmings in a an old washstone quarry. I am blessed with generous neighbors, good food and fellowship for the Holiday!

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Beautiful Afternoon in Baker Creek, Big Pine

Walking the roads through the ranches around Big Pine, in an afternoon so lovely I felt almost frightened: what happens to people who live in a place this beautiful? 

My photos cannot capture the transcendent quality of light, air and space that make the Eastern Sierra my "foretaste of heaven," that drew me here and has given me the endurance to stay.

TRAILER LIFE: Learning to Tow

An abrupt lesson cut short my nervous procrastination. My teacher, a fellow camper named Ben who wanted me to move out from under those four willow trees because a storm was forecast and he prophesied falling branches thrashing my trailer. He promised to help me move.  I had already bought the equipment: Perry Motors had installed the Toyota hitch and a helpful clerk at Kragen chose the correct ball mount combination for me. Now Ben walked over with a huge wrench to screw the parts together.  He rolled around in the dirt showing me how to hook it all up, supplied some small missing doo-dads, and turned me loose on my own for the lurch into the lanes. 

You drop the hitch on the ball (after several backing-up-the-truck-and-checking re-positioning trials), fiddle on the safety chains, plug in the vehicle-to-trailer electrical connection, remove the wheel blocks, get back in the cab, crank the ignition key and step on the gas. Easy!

Some nice guys at the Firestone Store got the directional lights blinking again, greased the bearings, and salvaged a propane tank mount for me off an old trailer bed ("It rolled," he said, "I am going to fix it up to transport cars, so it won't need the propane mount."  --- It what!???) 

So I towed it out of the meadow at Pleasant Valley, to Baker Creek county campground in the gray trees, and then to the bleak, stony "Pit," a BLM campground, where it snowed this pastv weekend, lightly.   Fortunately, I got the separate Mr. Heater array in good order, and am warm inside. Frustradedly, I am still working on the propane lines in the trailer itself, for stove and lamp -- needs professional (safe) help. (coming soon)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Skid on the Kandinsky Banana Peel

Browsing through the catalogue of a Kandinsky retrospective it seemed obvious to me that the painter started out with fairy tales and ended up in colorforms; an illustrator gone rogue. This past weekend I apparently channeled some of his process while overpainting hasty and unconsidered work: my corrective daubs of paint piled up (or pilled up) into the clots and blobs in what I have come to call the "lozenge" effect.

When a painting loses its architecture of reference to a source — such as a crisis moment in a story or depiction of a subject for a portrait, landscape, or still life — it's painterly qualities tend to bead uncertainly into blobs of light and dark that don't amount to much; it's physical properties begin to return to nature, and to the muds and mottling of fractal patterns intrinsic to nature. While engaging the inherent challenge in abstract painting to impose an architecture of human significance on the continuous generation and decay of natural forms, Kandinsky moved through his early timid, derivative and lozenging folk tale illustrations to energetic non-figurative 'scapes of plotted muds and mottling, and finally adopted the depiction of unnatural forms, of geometric ideas such as perfect circles, straight lines, triangles, checkering, etc, arranged in pleasing clusters just complex enough to command attention for a longer time than a snapshot of nature's customary chaos -- in short, eye candy.

While trying to paint from photographs of nature, and to transfer what I find so fascinating in them about grasses and branches with daylight shining through the mass of them, I fell once into fairytale and once into eye candy. (see the two pairs of photo/painting above).

Distracted by the the wind, or rather by my anxiety about the wind ("breezy" according to local weather announcers, but always a hurricane to me) and determined to keep painting even unprepared and unfocused; I imagined that I would be 'free" and paint "playfully," and my results slipped into their common shortcomings. And although I have painted up some nice stuff by vagrant process, these wayward productions become meaningful to me only when I assign a story to the swashes and blobs, no matter how interesting the forms are in themselves.

I conclude that only my paintings that contain solid composition and human pathos can inspire and support the painterly expression that is so pleasing in itself (regardless of the order of application), but only rarely can be separated from picture and story to stand on its own; I could only be an abstract painter if I relied on simple or complex geometric forms, as so many abstract painters have done. I must continue my work to develop bracing diagrams, human stories and pleasing brushwork — the traditional stuff of "representational" painting. 

Back to the drawing board.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Goodbye Horton Creek, Hello Pleasant Valley

When I returned from a visit to Pasadena to Horton Creek on Monday 25 October, I found my trailer nose had been pushed sideways about 6 feet off its levellors up against a boulder and a tough little desert bush--one more foot and it might have gone tumbling down the slope. My neighbor came over and told me about the 80-90 mph winds that had blown the previous night. I was not inside during the slide, ThankYouJesus!

I re-levelled as best I could, digging the tires into the ground (jack'em up, dig out under 'em, lower 'em down.) Then I got another tow from Winfred (handyman at the place I bought my trailer) and his buddies, down out of Horton Creek across 395 into Pleasant Valley, an Inyo County campground maintained on the Owens River as it leaves the Dam and meanders out of the Gorge towards Bishop. (see the Gorge wall bluff in photo). It is a designated Native Brown Trout Restoration Zone, catch-and-release only, barbless hooks and other restrictions.  It seems to attract guys who wannabe fly fishermen and have bought the outfits and the stuff, but aren't up to the hikes, rapids and bears of more pristine habitats. No, haven't seen a woman doing it. No, haven't seen a mis-matched, muddy, used-looking outfit. If you want to eat fish for dinner, you get a chair with a clip-on umbrella and sit by a lake or reservoir with a cold drink in hand until the nice hatchery rainbow jerks your line.

Winfred and buddies levelled my trailer in such a way that the door stuck.  At first I assumed it to be wind-slide damage, but the next day on my own I learned an important levelling lesson: the floor of the trailer is flexible and can skew as well as tilt; experimentally I had raised front right and back left corners about one inch, and lowered their opposites -- and it worked! The door fits its frame again. I also bought a 5-foot long bubble level from Ace Hardware, a truly necessary tool.

Then I got sick with winter's first nasty virus. I was all-over-again Grateful to Be Indoors during this ordinary event. The first night I was sneezing my brains out, some giant River Racoons seemed to think my little trailer was just an especially large cooler, and if they could push it over, all the goodies would tumble out. Resident Magpies and Crows conduct an ongoing intimidation match over campground leftovers, and they relay-perch on the roof of my trailer, not quietly. 

Tommorrow I get a hitch installed on the Tacoma. Next blog: Learning to Tow a Small Trailer. 

Friday, October 15, 2010


New to me, anyways. Made in 1974, one of my favorite years. Just in time -- see the snow on Mt. Tom in the background? Fourteen feet long (includes hitch), nine windows and a door. Dinette, bunk, closet, stove, ice box. No bath, no toilet, no running water, no electricity.  Plenty propane for heat and light in cold dark winter. Vintage. SpamCanCute. Price $750.00 plus $25 to tow to Horton Creek and level. I love it!!

Shady Rest Trailer Heaven sold it to me off their storage lot. On the way out of Bishop on 395 the old tires ripped to shreds on the rims and Jimmy and Winford in their giant 4x4 double axel diesel pickup truck swerved into Chevron/Firestone where the rims got repaired and I bought two new tires. Then the interior closet door pulled out its hinge screws due to a large heavy industrial mirror that had been bolted onto it--a 20 pound  5/8 inch thick glass with steel case! I couldn't get a match on the hinges but a very helpful hardware store clerk hammered the twisted hinges in a vise to straighten them and sold me putties with instructions to fill the holes -- I reinstalled the light, hollow, veneer-on-a-frame door and it now swings sweetly open and shut. I bought a fire extinguisher and screwed it to an overhead kitchen cubby. I reconstructed the strangely arranged bunk bed system to be one bottom twin bed and one large top storage shelf.  Now I need to mastic the ceiling vent and rebrace the front window storm cover (note bungee bandaid). Etc, etc. 

And so I am initiated into Trailer Life, which is Trailer-Fixing-Life. Even with its limitations and repair demands, it is so comfortable after just a crate, a picnic table, and the great outdoors. I still have the great outdoors, but now it really is outdoors, and I am indoors: cozy, comfy, sheltered from the wind. Yippee!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Duck and Cover Snag and Fall Color

First weekend in October opens to clouds, rain and cool, balmy air in Bishop. Friday by cellphone I killed my chances of renting a trailer in the Elms Trailer Park (cheapest rent in town) by complaining to an Owens Valley Slumlord that I was worried about an industrial-strength chemical odor lingering in one trailer and a burnt-black stove and crud-black shower stall in another.  She told me I'd probably be happier in a an apartment, wouldn't I?  I think her tone meant that I had failed the tenement-material test and could just sashay my snooty self off to Mammoth Mountain Resort and rent a ski condo if I thought I could afford it so there.

Oh well, I will have to sashay myself out of Horton Creek by November first and possibly into Pleasant Valley, a county campground open all year down by the Owens River, or boost off to Tecopa Hot Springs on the other side of Death Valley for the winter ... meanwhile it is gorgeous out here, clouds dusting snow on Mt. Tom, canyon creeks blazing gold with quaking aspen, and the Round Valley pastures glowing in the early evening light.

A fellow camper at the Wellness Center instructed me on how to insulate a tent for the dry cold of high desert winter:  Set up one big tent, stake, tie, and weight it down to earth. Set up a smaller tent inside of it. Both tents must have somewhat congruent mesh ceilings. Stuff old sleeping bags and comforters into the air space between the tent walls and on the floor of the inner tent. Keep the air-flow area in the mesh "chimney" clear of insulation at the top, then cover the whole thing with a sturdy rain fly. Place a portable propane heater in the tent and fire it up for a few minutes, shut it off, and zip up tight for the night. A sort of Pillow Igloo.

So, blog re-namers, I might be led back to "InnaTenting395" by the end of the season! 

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Two Cents Opportunity: Name That Blog!

Well, the new name "Wasteland Wastrel" for my blog now seems a bit melodramatic, and furthermore misleading, because I am not going to flop in the gravel for the winter, I am planning to move indoors. A trailer court sort of indoors, but not a tent, or not just my Crate and the Great Outdoors. "Inna Tenting 395" is no longer true, but neither is "Wasteland Wastrel", because I hope not to return to BLM campgrounds until I have a Mobile Indoors of my own to park in them  And it isn't really wasted land, it is Public Land being legitimately used by taxpayers (mostly). "Boondocking" would be what a wastrel would do, or what is termed "stealth" parking in urban territory.  "Wasteland" would then have to refer to culture, society -- redolent of T.S. Eliot's contribution to English literature, and I should have left it as a single blog entry, meanwhile pondering a new blog title more carefully. 

Dear Readers, consider the facts:

"Inna Tenting 395" was true until my tent blew apart and I gave up on tents in the desert since it blows so often (it is blowing outside under a flood lamp full moon as I write this curled up in the cozy comfort of my Tacoma Crate.) "Inna Crating 395" ? ... probably too ambiguous.

Public Land is truer than Wasteland, but not as edgy. 
However, it does include all public land (state, county) campgrounds, not just BLM.

Retiree is (or will be soon) truer than Wastrel, but not as colorful. There is an RV club titled Escapees that was mostly retirees when it started up, so that's taken. 

Any title with Road in it is way too loaded with guy-thing stickers. 

Desert-Something would be true as long as I stay in the desert, but what if I wanted to cruise around the Oregon beaches next summer, when I get that little 13ft Casita Trailer I'm dreaming about?

MobileKodgers, SwankieWheels and WanderingScribe are three blogs I've bookmarked as sistren and brethren in the lo-rent rolling life; Mobile Kodgers writes poems for his gregarious high-energy lotsa-fotos lifestyle blog, SwankieWheels follows through on her vow to kayak all the states in the Union, and WanderingScribe writes, but not about wandering. There was a wonderful blog titled DesertDutch, but it went unchanged for 3 years and then disappeared; it had lots of good stuff about Hiway 395, Mojave, old Route 66 and Slab City -- may Desert Dutch and his dog the Duchess live, or rest, in peace.

All these folks mention the moving-around-thing in their blog title. But it looks like I won't be rolling just yet, but  "WannabeRVer" doesn't really grip the imagination.

I am considering "PublicLandsPilgrim" because I have a wonderful painting of a gray-haired woman in baggy purple flannel and jeans, holding a staff while standing in an indeterminate Eastern Sierra meadow; it is not a self-portrait, but it is an appealing figure, to use as a figurehead, or masthead. And Pilgrim is what Vatican II designated both the Catholic Church and the individual Christian to be. The Pilgrim Church, the Church of Pilgrims. Obviously, there is now in process a tremendous backlash to this idea, which renders the true pilgrim a churchless wastrel. No church, no home, no going back -- and so fare forward, wastrels!  

But mixing Government with Faith is proscribed by our Constitution; how could I make this idea ethical? 

"Mobile Pilgrim" is redundant. 

Maybe just: "Lo-RentTrailerArtist" ?  I need to pull forward into my retirement plan which includes touring around to art festivals in municipal fair grounds (and on the pier, the beach, the park etc.), sell my paintings, and reproductions thereof, and my poetry books. or "TouringTrailerArtist"  ??

Hey Readers!  Please comment, free custom painted pet portrait to the winning suggestion!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Return to the Desert


It's a monastery out there, lots of semi-solitary folks

camped on wasteland drinking dirt cheap beer all  

day long to find the peace that only neglect can bring.

It doesn't (oh come on, you know Merton, "the Hermit,"

drank .... and that Roshi in Mt. Baldy ...) work. So angry!

If you need an unchurched god and you can't connect 

while stuck in this culture, you go to hash inside.

Finally comes the day you quit patching your mask,

and when you can't afford to rent but still own a vehicle 

you drive it to the desert and park it on public land.

It's too cold, too hot, too dry, too dull, and lonesome.

If you don't drink, you"ll get peevish and bored.

But if you try to return to the Renters' Paradise

you'll feel really sick. You'll get homesick

for space and light and sand and sage and Nothing.


explanation of blog URL and Title change:

Complaining of boredom and loneliness in my no-amenities desert campsite, I had welcomed a house-sitting opportunity to explore the possibility of returning to a middleclass single lifestyle and its society and entertainments, but while visiting Davis, CA, a shady, pleasant, semi-rural college town, I found myself feeling anxious.* Oddly, out in the desert I do not feel this way.

Although I greatly enjoyed visiting friends on the seaside of the Sierra Nevada (and friends were warm, sweet and generous to me, as they have always been, and for which I am and shall be always grateful) the core of loneliness I complained of remains unchanged. I wonder if the comforting experience of being "surrounded by old friends" is primarily circumstantial, a local social-self identity that a participant forfeits upon leaving the circumstances. "Circumstance" is more than physical surroundings, it also means social position and participation in a specific culture. I have never made the necessary self-investments that sustain and reward middleclass culture: marriage and children, career and career-supported house and properties ownership, and all their concommitant social networks of education and recreation, vacations, celebrations, associations, inheritances, politics. I lived there as a visitor, an outsider. 

Perhaps the anxiety I felt in Davis and the East Bay is partly a reflection of the apprehension of insecurity, poverty, failure and social opprobrium that fuels the construction of an appearance of well-being in a circumstance of well-deserved prosperity, a matter of pervasive concern to all middleclass societies since their inception at the end of the last cycle of Western feudalism. Often expressed by European bourgeoisie through the cultural values of "good taste" or "maintaining the status quo" (that so infuriated artists and philosophers of the 19th century), in the United States it also manifests in the form of an encrypted Puritan-derived belief that success proves moral righteousness, that poverty proves (or in another version, causes) essential moral corruption (or revolution!) and is therefore to be feared and shunned. I find this moral dimension to be particularly troublesome; it seems to underwrite social investment in denial when well-being is not supported by reality.

Now that I can claim the reality of being a "desert rat," -- a wastrel living in a vehicle on vacant land (public BLM lands unused by industry or agriculture, hence "wasted" land, although it is often designated "recreational land;" when public land is designated as a park or monument it suddenly becomes a civil or national treasure, and therefore more expensive to park on... ) -- I can let the practical demands of a life on the margins provide relief from the strain of trying to appear to be secure, successful, solvent and fulfilled. I never was, I never did, I never had, I never will.

*Anxiety is a reality-independent, free-floating fear; most immediate survival problems are practical in nature and resolved by taking action. Now, at 60, I realize that much of the time when people complain and worry obsessively, meanwhile refusing to initiate any solution to the stated problems, they are expressing this nebulous anxiety. In my family, the menfolks always tried to "fix" all worries and complaints as if they were practical matters. I have put people off by imitating them, and have also confused myself. In the desert, these patterns have become clearer.

Monday, August 30, 2010

DESERT PAINTING III — Odd bits and noodling

When a painting flops, I put it away for awhile. Later, I can sometimes restore it to vitality, but once I write it off as a dead loss I can then mess around with it, use up leftover palette paint, goof off, play.

Here are Jellyfish Collision, Red Wedge, and Shrimp Bush.

DESERT PAINTING II — Round Valley Stumps

Wherever water flows in the Eastern Sierra valleys, willows grow tall and green. A drought can dry them out and they can crack apart and fall down; roadside willows are often cut down or get branches cut off to form stumps. These stumps strongly appeal to me as standing somewhere between monumental and gnomic, and I will be painting more of them.


Acrylics dry so fast in desert dry air, light and heat, most adjustment of adjacent tones is futile finesserie. Just grab the brush, squeeze the tube and stroke, slash, smack. Fast and loose. Brings out the graphic armature in me.