Home on the Range; or, Prologue–Getting Western in a Homestead Cabin

I type these very words on land I recently purchased. “Land” is the glint in the eyes of Glenn Ford in Cimarron. The glow on the faces of pioneers racing their wagons to stake their claim. It was both a glow and a glint in my heart for a year and a half–and I couldn’t stand to do any writing while the final paperwork played out–and now I can finally touch the soil and lift my eyes to the heavens, tears in my eyes, and say “At last!”

Or whatever–the moment of stepping on the property will not be as epic as when I write my novels in it–which will happen after water, electricity, and a toilet appear, and I no longer have to be looking over my shoulder for the deadly mojave green snake that someone saw sunning itself on the property.

Ponderosa Ranch (Autry Collections Photo)

Where is it? The new West–Joshua trees and Pioneertown movie sets. Homestead cabins standing abandoned on wide swaths of land up the street from Home Depot’s busy intersection. Meth houses in the desert and modernist cube houses in the canyons. The cowboys here join the Cowboy Action Shooting association or they raise palominos for Rose Bowl parades. There are scorpions and tarantulas just a few miles from the pampered lawns of Palm Springs. Muffled booms from military war games sound on the horizon while a family of quail march in formation a few feet from my trusty rental steed, which, being so well trained, waits for me without complaint to complete this story so we can ramble in the hills.

Two months ago, I stood on this 5 acres (sans mule) + one homestead cabin and felt a “yes.” The kind of yes that seems to come easily in California–the land of possibility and romantic visions of John Wayne swaying in his saddle with an easy smile. A checklist appeared in my head, swaying alongside the Duke with its own easy pace.

Vistas. Check.

Where the skies are not very cloudy all day…

And check, night version.

Night, looking northerly…

Privacy. Check.

Some neighbors, not too far and not too close. But not too way out on the middle of nowhere. Check. (This is where my own western heroism falls short–I’d suck as a pioneer.) Far from being like Van Heflin’s stoic, do-it-yourself farmer in Shane or Joan Crawford’s tough-as-nails saloon keeper in Johnny Guitar, I require some amenities. And friends. And family. And that Home Depot has already come in way handy.

A roof. Check. (It even comes with four windows and two doors!)

The best abandoned homestead cabin shell money can buy!

A rectangular plot of land was yours for the taking in 1955, if you improved the land by living on it. So 5 acres were signed over to a Ms. Friday, and she and her sister built/caused to be built/magically grew a well-made cabin that stood for fifty years, locked up, until I in my craziness bought it and started cleaning out birds’ nests (nasty).

Insecticide: another sign of the modern West

Whoever built it took their time to make sure the building will last. There is a lot to be grateful for, namely a saintly cousin and his saintly aunt, whom I now am happy to call “neighbor.” They have big plans for the abandoned outhouse. I would like it to be beamed up by aliens, frankly.

The best Joshua tree grove money can buy…

A prologue is supposed to give a sense of what’s coming up in the novel, but right now this story could go lots of different ways: Is this a tragedy in the making or a comedy?

Clouds gathering on the horizon and bumpy washouts hint at drama fit for any B-western.

Big plans seep up from the ground unlike the water that’s locked up far beneath it.

Conflicts loom–the whole man vs. self and man vs. nature thing.


But right now it’s a sunshiny singing-cowboy kind of flick. Yippie-yi-ki-yay!

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