Friday, September 10, 2010

Desert sojourn: day 1

Just after sunrise in Wonder Valley, northeast of Twentynine Palms, Calif.

In the morning, I woke up at first light, and failing to go back to sleep I got up and walked around for a little bit. It was surprisingly cool, about 55 or 60 degrees, with a gentle but steady breeze from the east. I took this picture just outside the house where I spent the first night, the house of my friend Chris in Wonder Valley.

I went over to the house of Chris's girlfriend Ellie and had a long breakfast -- my second free meal, thanks guys! -- during which I heard a lot of gossip and anecdotes about the denizens of the area -- "the Basin," they call it, in reference to the Morongo Basin, which covers the whole area from Morongo Valley to Twentynine Palms and beyond. I heard about local political conflicts. I heard about the drunken woman who after breaking up with her boyfriend and coming home drunk attempted to enter his house through the chimney and whose body was discovered only four days later by the cleaner. I heard about the man who, on the day of his daughter's wedding, shot and killed the wild dog which had the day before killed one of his goats and had come back the next day, the day of the wedding, to kill the other. I heard several stories in which critters played roles, including a coyote who ate a chicken "as if no one in the world was watching him." I heard about the guy who runs the local radio station.

In short, there are a million stories down here, and that's what I'm here for. I want to write about the area in such a way that people who have lived here a long time (or all their lives) can read this section of my novel and think that it isn't inaccurate. And to do this I want stories, and to talk to people.

Which I am terrible at. But luckily for me, my friends know a heck of a lot of people down here, and they're willing to introduce me. I did go to an event tonight that was interesting, though not extremely useful for my book: a historical presentation about the Mojave Road, one of the original wagon trails across the desert and one of the best preserved. I'm not sure I need quite that much history, but it was good to get information about one of the farther reaches of the region (one that is actually entirely outside the Basin). I actually do want to drive out in that direction while I'm down here, if I have time.

In the middle of the day, I moved into the house I'm renting for just over a month. It's actually in Joshua Tree, about 20 miles west and 1000 feet higher in elevation than Wonder Valley, on the other side of Twentynine Palms. The border of Joshua Tree National Park actually comes right down to the end of the street I'm staying on, and the lady who owns the house -- a local artist who also administers the Lou Harrison House -- said you can walk right up into the park. I plan on getting in my exercise in the morning, when it's nice and cool.

Temperature at 9:40 pm: 73 F.

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