Archive for January, 2010

Contemplating time at Yaquitepec

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

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It is now the dead of winter.  One winter storm follows another, even here in the desert.  Heavier desert rain this season is a good harbinger for a prolific, early wildflower season.  Just a few weeks ago we saw lush, green growth and the bright red flowers of the Ocotillo in Hellhole Canyon.

There is already a hummingbird nest with two eggs in our California Bay Tree just outside our den window.  We are in the middle of the third rain and windstorm this week and rain is expected through Saturday.

Each morning we peer outside our window to see if the nest survived the storms and each day we are amazed that the brave and dedicated mother is still there, hunkered down over her eggs.

During my last visit to Marshal South’s home, Yaquitepec, on Ghost Mountain, I thought about the bravery of Marshal South and his wife, Tanya, in choosing this desolate site for their experiment in desert primitive living and in raising a family here.

I contemplated about their experiences as recorded by Marshal South in his over 102 articles and poems written for Desert Magazine from 1939 to 1948.*

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At one point the South’s windup kitchen clock failed and I was mesmerized by Marshal’s story of the making of his sundial and his reflections on time, as written in his Desert Diary 10 — October at Yaquitepec:

“So again, in peace, with neither tick nor tock time marches on at Yaquitepec…”  (Allow time to slow as you savor reading this.)

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“and the unhurried, silent shadow moves round and round on the chisel-marked granite block that stands on the terrace.”

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“… It wasn’t originally intended to be a sundial.  In the beginning it was part of a crude homemade grain mill.  But another mill superseded it and in the course of time the upper millstone of the discarded apparatus was broken.  Then one day the old clock folded its hands at 4:33 and we were without the time.  Which didn’t matter much, for ‘time’ is an illusion anyway.  But there is a sort of habit to the counting of it.  So I resurrected the nether millstone with its central iron pin — which was a long iron bolt cemented into a hole in the stone — and set forth to make a sundial.”

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“… It was winter when I made the sundial and I still have chilly recollections of ‘shooting’ the North Star through the old gun barrel, lashed to a post…”  “There are teeth-chattering memories too of leveling and wedging and sighting under the chill starlight as I arranged the granite block on a big boulder pedestal in the exact position necessary…”

“… Our sundial works.  Sometimes it proves, when checked against the haughty mechanism of expensive visiting watches, to be fifteen minutes or so out.  But who would worry about a little thing like 15 minutes’ error?  Certainly not here on Ghost Mountain, where there are no ‘limiteds’ to catch and where the golden sheen of the sun wraps the desert distances in a robe of glow…”

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“… and dim mystery that is timeless.”

“What is Time, anyway?”*

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Great thinkers have contemplated about time over the ages.  (See video of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity illustrated here.)

This is food for thought and, with a little champagne (and appropriate music), I’ll muse on and contemplate the passages of time and other mysteries of life and the universe.

*(All 102 articles and poems written by Marshal South for Desert Magazine from 1939 to 1948 can be read in Marshal South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles: An Experiment in Primitive Living, 2005, Edited and with a Foreword by Diana Lindsay and Introduction by Rider and Lucile South, Sunbelt Publications, San Diego, CA.)

New Year’s Day at Yaquitepec

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

Bert and I have each been here before, but never at night.  So we packed our gear and took a late afternoon hike on New Year’s Day up Ghost Mountain in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to experience and photograph Yaquitepec and the night sky.

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Yaquitepec is the name Marshal South (poet, author and artist) gave to his adobe house that he built atop Ghost Mountain, where he and his family lived from 1930 to 1947 in an experiment in primitive living.  Some consider Marshal and his wife, Tanya, as the original hippie family.  It was the time of the Great Depression of the 1930s, when people were without money, jobs and houses and went back to the land to survive, some, including Marshal and Tanya, by homesteading.

Years earlier they enjoyed camping trips to this area and loved the peaceful beauty of this desert wilderness, which enabled them to be creative in their writings after establishing a home here.  Marshal wrote articles for Desert Magazine and monthly drove his 1929 Model A Ford 14 miles to the town of Julian to pick up mail and supplies.  Some in Julian considered him an outcast because of his lifestyle.  Even though he painted a frieze for the Julian library, he was buried in the Julian Cemetery in an unmarked grave in 1948 (it is now marked with a headstone placed by his son Rider in 2005).

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Along the way, Bert photographed this Agave plant, called Mescal by Marshal, who used it as a food and fuel source, among other things.

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We started photographing the deteriorating ruins under increasingly cloudy skies.

After four prior hikes up here, I finally found and photographed the Souths’ kiln where they fired their pottery.

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It is located about 500 feet east of the house and was built from the surrounding granite rocks.

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Although it was mostly cloudy, the night sky had pockets of clearing, revealing stars.  Bert lit up the opposite side of this structure with a strobe light and took the image seen in his article, “At Yaquitepec, Atop Ghost Mountain in Anza Borrego, January of 1940 Was a Very Good Year“.  Afterward, he reviewed his photos (below).  Tall agave stalks are seen against the night sky lit up by El Centro, fifty miles away and the largest U.S. city to lie entirely below sea level.

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Bert’s headlamp lit up the yard in front of Yaquitepec.

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Earlier during the magnificent sunset, I reflected on the ongoing return of Yaquitepec to the earth and, like Marshal, I celebrated the life, beauty and spirit of this special place.

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Marshal wrote in his first article for Desert Magazine, “Desert Diary 1 – January at Yaquitepec”, “And New Year is somehow a joyous finale of the glad season.  A wind-up and a beginning.  And it doesn’t matter much whether the wind is yelling down from the glittering, white-capped summits of the Laguna range and chasing snowflakes like clouds of ghostly moths across the bleak granite rocks of our mountain crest or whether the desert sun spreads a summer-like sparkle over all the stretching leagues of wilderness.  New Year’s day is a happy day just the same.”

And, all in all, for Bert and I, New Year’s Day at Yaquitepec was a happy day and a great way to start the new year.

(All 102 articles and poems written by Marshal South for Desert Magazine from 1939 to 1948 can be read in Marshal South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles: An Experiment in Primitive Living, 2005, Edited and with a Foreword by Diana Lindsay and Introduction by Rider and Lucile South, Sunbelt Publications, San Diego, CA.)

Also see Diana Lindsay’s website, MarshalSouth.com, for additional information, articles, images and links.

And see the video trailer of John McDonald’s 76-minute documentary, The Ghost Mountain Experiment.

New Year’s under the blue moon

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

We celebrated New Year’s in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park under the light of the blue moon.  A blue moon is the “extra” full moon in years that have thirteen full moons and occurs every two to three years.  In early English usage, some interpret this “blue moon” as relating to absurdities and impossibilities.

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For us, it was a time to relax and enjoy the ambiance of this peaceful and beautiful desert setting.

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Larry brought along a juniper wreath made from the Hollywood junipers from our home, which looked quite festive as it held a candle lantern on our picnic table (seen above).  He also brought two delicious homemade artisan sourdough bread rounds, made using the “No Knead Bread Baking Method” (seen below).

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I joined Charon and Alex, Rich, and Bert on a hike up Hellhole Canyon.

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dsc_0057-hellhole-canyon.jpgHellhole Canyon hike is a popular introductory backpack trip for many youth groups.  It is located south and west of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center that climbs up toward Culp Valley.  According to Diana Lindsay in her book, Anza-Borrego A to Z: People, Places, and Things, 2001, Sunbelt Publications, this canyon was named by William Johnston “Wid” Helm, who used the canyon to move his cattle on and off the desert for winter grazing.  He reportedly said that this canyon was “one hell of a hole to get cattle out of”.

A sign at the beginning of the trail alerted us that mountain lions have been sighted in the area.

Bands of ancient metamorphosed sea beds can be seen on the north canyon wall.

Indeed, we found a marine shell here (as seen below, held by Rich).

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Also along this canyon we saw new growth (due to recent rains) of lush, green ovate leaves and bright red flowers of the Ocotillo.  This provided an opportunity for Bert to use his photographic skills and capture a stunning image of the blossoms.

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Bert wrote in his recent post, “Hellhole Canyon — Or What’s In A Name?“, “To dramatize the flowers I needed two strobes, which I always carry. I then set the  camera to manual mode, enabling me to overpower the light from the sun. To do that I set the shutter speed to 250th of a second and the aperture to f-22 or less.  Look through the view finder of your camera and you’ll see the dial (at least on the Nikon D300) shows an under exposure of about three stops. Without the strobes your picture would be mighty black, but the strobes are set correctly, and they illuminate the subject. However, you’ll need an additional set of hands to hold one of the strobes.”

I gladly became the additional set of hands, while picking up photography tips from an expert!

My next article will cover what Bert and I experienced and photographed during an evening hike up Ghost Mountain.

Meanwhile, I’ll relax to the music of Blue Moon, accompanied by ukulele.

About the Author

BILL, along with partner, Larry, were first-time RV'ers when they purchased their custom-ordered 23' 2007 Airstream Safari SE. Bill (a retired RN) and Larry (a retired pediatric Occupational Therapist) enjoy bringing history alive in the area of San Diego, CA.