September 2013


We just had a big rain in Joshua Tree–over an inch in a short period of time. After a rain like that, within hours, tiny plants start sprouting in what had been bare sand for a year. It may be because I haven’t paid close enough attention, or it may be because different seeds sprout after different kinds of rain events, but these plants are unfamiliar to me. I don’t know what they are called or even if I’ve seen them before.

This is about 4″ tall, the biggest I’ve seen so far.

This grows really fast. It’s about a foot wide.

This is maybe 1.5 inches across and appeared late–maybe a week after the rain.

This is less than an inch tall. It first looked like a miniature succulent, then a miniature cactus. Something is eating them down to a nub at a quick pace. It was one of the first to appear: http://instagram.com/p/dxmcnNF6TW/

This makes a low ground cover over maybe 10 square feet. It’s maybe 3/4 of an inch tall.

This came up late, too. The big ones are about an inch tall so far.

I just noticed this one today. The ring is about 4″ across.

I don’t think this one is a mystery. We call it ragweed and it shoots up anywhere the ground has been disturbed, like roadsides and scraped lots. This plant was about a foot tall but I’ve seen many of them waist-high.

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In 2011, Roger Walsh published a review of the research into ways we can improve our mental health and resiliency by changing how we live. He found eight that had both solid research behind them and strong effects. As therapeutic interventions go, these lifestyle changes tend to be enjoyable, inexpensive, and carry only positive side effects such as increased physical health, self-efficacy, and longevity. Despite that, mental health professionals do not emphasize lifestyle changes. This could be due to a spin on the instrument fallacy: Clients bring in a nail and all therapists can think of to use is their hammer. Walsh suggests this failing is because therapists have unhealthy lifestyles themselves.

  1. Exercise: 30 minutes or more of exercise has therapeutic and preventative emotional and cognitive effects.
  2. Nutrition & Diet: Fish, vegetables and fruit in the diet have both enhancing and protective psychological effects.
  3. Time in Nature offers cognitive and emotional benefits and stress relief.
  4. Good relationships: Being connected in rich relationships comes with cognitive benefits, happiness, and resiliency. In fact, the quality of a therapeutic relationship may account for a large part of the benefit of therapy.
  5. Recreation & Enjoyable Activities (AKA fun): Helps with stress, mood, and well-being.
  6. Relaxation & Stress Management: Mindfulness practices and muscle relaxation techniques can have strong and lasting positive effects on mood management.
  7. Religious & Spiritual Involvement is associated with good mental health, maybe especially with faiths centered on love and forgiveness.
  8. Contribution & Service: Giving time and energy to others boosts happiness, as long as it isn’t out of a sense of obligation.

I just watched Grandpa Bob receive the news of another of his friends dying. He met Joyful (then Nancy Joy) in the early days of LSD and then MDMA experimentation and they developed what he described as his life’s most emotionally open relationship. They lived together off and on for decades. Grandpa Bob says that she had an almost magical way of recognizing exciting opportunities and making things happen, as well as smoothing over tense situations.

I hung out with Joyful on Maui during the year 2000. Joyful was her legal name. She showed me a credit card, which said “Joyful Joyful.” She said, “They told me I had to have a last name.” I’m not a big fan of hippy names, but hers really seemed to fit. She was joyful, and not in that stuck, chronically cheerful way. She also seemed to collect the most interesting people into her circle, always lived in a supremely beautiful space, and was easy and fun to be around. She moved fairly often and seemed to be able to effortlessly recreate that feeling wherever she went.

Grandpa Bob is 95 and by that age almost everyone you have been close friends with has died. All of his high school friends, everyone he knew from the Air Force and WWII, teachers, students, business partners, girlfriends, everyone except his family and his old friend Rollie, who’s 96 and lives down the street.

Knowing that, it was interesting to watch him get the news. He actually brightened up and reminisced for a while, looking relaxed and pleased, about how great she had been and how much he liked her. He said, “Well, she had a wonderful life. I can’t be sad about that.”

Goodbye, Joyful, and thanks for keeping my Grandpa Bob such good company.

I work at the Monterey Business Center in Yucca Valley, California, which is about 250,000 square feet of flat roofs and cement parking lot. I’d been wondering what all that would look like in a rain event and on August 29, 2013 I found out.

Monterey Business Center arial from Google Maps

Monterey Business Center arial from Google Maps

Jackie is not as excited about the rain as I am.

Roof water pours onto the sidewalk and into the parking lot

The parking lots have channels to direct water to the street

Onto the street

Down the street

Off the end of the street

Into a gully. (The blue-topped pipe in the gully says “water” on it. I thought that was hilarious.)

Down the gully

Flash flood in Yucca Valley on Make A Gif

And through the desert

pkvKsi on Make A Gif, Animated Gifs

Until it hits the berm of a road

Until it breaks through onto the road

And starts to flow down the road

This is where it ran out of steam. The water puddled up here and then mostly evaporated, “To rain again on someone else, east of us,” as Buck from Transition JT says. If there had been more water, it would have poured down this road and into a slightly more intentional gully at the end of it:

It would eventually hit the big wash in front of those mountains in the distance and flow east to the dry lake bed that is just west of Copper Mountain, maybe 18 miles away. That’s the lowest point in our watershed.

dry lake

Copper Mountain, Sunfair lake bed in front.

[animated gifs made at MakeAGif]