I have been thinking a lot about “living” lately, especially since coming here to the town of Joshua Tree. In the midwest it is easy to take for granted the amenities and burdens of suburbia–the structures we live in, the ways we organize our societies, and the groups and ideologies we adopt. Here, there is still so much space (both for living and for thinking). It’s not a given that there should be Dollar General store on the corner or that houses should be rectangular, built in close proximity, and have aluminum siding. Or for that matter, that sundays should be spent at church rather than in The Integratron, a large tholos built in accordance to instructions from aliens from venus.
Even grass is a huge luxury that almost no one in the high desert can afford. So out of necessity, life and living are different in the remote Mojave than in most parts of the country. Or at least, that was the plan. Joshua Tree basically sits just past the edge of the swath of urban sprawl coming from from Los Angeles. Unfortunately the nearby towns of Yucca Valley and Twenty Nine Palms seem to be succumbing to American homogeneity, with Walmarts, a Burger King (although I do love burger king), Dollar General, etc. Joshua Tree, sandwiched in the middle and as of now still separated by a few miles of desert, retains an independent local character that is rustic, charming, and of course refreshing.
In the surrounding desert there are many interesting buildings inspired by the natural building movement, an interest in sustainable living, new age spirituality or the simple American desire to be unique and creative. Artist Bevery Doolittle’s home is a real work of art. Even Frank Lloyd Wright designed a few buildings here in the town of Joshua Tree, to house the Institute of Mental Physics.
The other day I passed two superadobes being built, as well as some interesting pod-like structures out on a hill. I learned the pods were placed there by internationally renown artist Andrea Zittel as part of a series of collaborative experimental living structures called wagon stations or “Small Liberties”. For an interesting snapshot of a true proponent of alternative living and “investigative living”, check out this interesting (if somewhat long) video below. Zittel’s home, as well as the home I am staying in, is an upgraded homesteader house from the 1940’s or 50’s, a time when the government was giving a four acres of land away to anyone who promised to “improve” the land in some way. As a sidenote, my great grandfather was a homesteader and helped to build the town of Cody Wyoming, with Buffalo Bill Cody and others. Eccentricity, creativity, and an interest in self-sufficiency have always gone hand in hand (i know that’s three hands, they are alien hands).