Monday, October 5, 2009

Saturday Date in the Desert

{Homestead Hunting with the Huz}

Welcome back from the weekend! No new paintings to show but lots of new photos from the new Canon. On Sturday P. and I gassed up the truck, stuffed my satchel full of pluots from the JT farmer's market, and headed east into the desert for an afternoon of what I like to call homestead hunting. After WWII there was a mini land rush in the Mojave Desert when the Bureau of Land Management sold five-acre parcels of undeveloped land for mere peanuts. You can read all about this bizarre bit of mid-century wild west history in an earlier post here. I'm doing a series of paintings of these abandoned structures for the open studio tours coming up at the end of October, so these shots are great new source material for me. I was hoping for some decent photographs, but I didn't anticipate how affected I'd be by what we found.
This homestead was the most intriguing to us; there's something rather moving about seeing the physical evidence of a life left behind. The bed still had a blanket on it; amid the rubble on the floor we found a jar of buttons, a spool of string from a child's kite and a cook book (below). We were incredulous to find the key rusted into the doorknob, as if they'd come back one last time to gather a few more belongings and just left the door open when they left.

Most of these homesteads have been abandoned for at least thirty years. I cannot express enough how strangely personal and intimate it was to stand inside these one-room shacks. Most were used as vacation homes for young G.I.'s and their new brides and children after the war. These places were second homes for families who otherwise never would have dreamed of owning a weekend house; they were short-lived fantasies of the American dream, a taste of the pioneer spirit in the 1950s for men who had just returned from war and wanted to start a new life. And here P. and I are -a young man who has also just returned from war and his new bride- exploring these relics of our grandparents' generation.  We found ourselves unexpectedly moved.


Above, a shard of china in the sand. 

P. and I found ourselves whispering as we explored, the way one would in a church or graveyard; a certain kind of respectful reverence seemed appropriate. We were, after all, trespassing, even though there wasn't another soul within miles to see us or run us off. We didn't touch or move anything. It wasn't ours to touch, and plus, we didn't want to disturb the natural cycle of decay and collapse. To me the homesteads are like tiny ruined cathedrals in the kingdom of this strange desert. There's a thrill about discovering what's inside each homestead when we walk up to them -furniture? rattlesnakes? equipment from the desert meth addicts?- and there's an element of mystery and intrigue in trying to get a glimpse into the lives of people by what they left behind.

Sigh. I guess that's kind of heavy stuff for a Monday morning, but I can't get these images out of my head. Hope you have a lovely, productive start to your week!


  1. this write-up is straight out of the new york times lifestyle section. i am so proud of you. this stuff is RIVETING and i want this tour when i come back next. magnifecent journalism, isabel. !!!

  2. This photo series is stunning....

  3. Your writing is great... very personal and moving! I can't express how much I love your photos!!!! Have a very lovely morning!!!

  4. Good morning, Lily! Just catching up on the blogging guru. Great photos, wonderful writing - Enjoyed it!

  5. I am completely blown away by the history of these homesteads, your writing, and the photos you've captured. I find few things more interesting than abandoned buildings, so this is a post after my own heart. Especially moving to me were the photo with the key still in the door and your line about you and your husband exploring the relics of you grandparents' generation. I am so glad we have stumbled on each other's blogs!

    xo Gigi

  6. Amazing! So interesting. I would love to take a visit to the desert.

    I just found your blog and have started at the beginning. I love your blog!


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