THE MELON SEED, A PARABLE
Years ago, a man named Hartley and his wife, Carol, took hold of a plot of land in the desert. They studied and worked hard and created an oasis, where hardy plants could thrive and provide some shade and shelter for the living things under them. Later, their daughter made her home on the edge of that oasis, and her friends began arriving to enjoy the shade there.
One day, in early summer, during the second year of the pandemic, a gathering of friends shared a meal there, and numerous melon seeds fell to the ground. The people and animals ignored the seeds, and they settled into the dust. The days were long, hot, and dry, and many seeds shriveled and were unable to sprout.
However, later that summer, the daughter noticed a tiny melon plant had begun to grow. No one knew if that seed carried in more life force than the others, or if it had by chance fallen into a spot where it alone was protected from footsteps and the sun’s rays, and could collect the nightly dew. Now the daughter has placed rocks around it and gives it attention each day, and it thrives, though still only a tiny plant and a season away from bearing abundant fruit.
The oasis is in Lucerne Valley. The daughter is Cathryn Beeks. The seedling is Hart Acres.
THE HART OF THE MOJAVE
Hart Acres is the newest destination for San Diego musicians wanting to expand their horizons. A couple years back, Cathryn Beeks and her husband, Jon Edwards, answered a family call up into the high desert of the Mojave. It took a lot to achieve escape velocity, breaking out of the orbit of Cathryn’s ongoing musical events and Jon’s live music support career. First envisioned as temporary, it became the solid base for their next launch: Hart Acres. To date, they’ve installed a manufactured home, renovated their old home into a guest house, constructed a first-rate camp toilet and—of course—made a miniature golf course. They hosted their first guests this spring and had their first major campouts in June. Fall season will see activities ramping up. It’s a ramping camp!
I can’t argue with Cathryn’s knack for branding. (Heck, her band is CalAmity! Her films are made under the ½Fast logo, whose pun only occurred to me as I wrote this article. (Genius often goes unappreciated by the masses!) However, I would have tried hard to work “oasis” into the name somewhere. My visit centered around the Lounge, under a leafy tree canopy, with a cooling breeze filtering through. In hotter weather, there are misters. Rustic art abounds.
You can stroll around the grounds and feel like you’re in a combination of park, hippie commune, and living outdoor museum. Desert flora thrives, including Joshua Trees on the property. Artistic flourishes are everywhere, mostly of the homemade variety (my favorite kind). Black aeoniums grow in a rusted Edwards brand coffee can from the last century. You’ll notice an alien-desert spirit-dinosaur, welded from random machine parts plus an almost-complete outdoor pizza oven, which probably won’t get much use until the heat breaks.
The amenities blend well with the nature; sandy paths lead from the mini-golf to the Casita (“little house” en español) past the nicest campground bathroom I’ve ever seen (thanks, Jonny!) and water tower (add your name to the growing “I was here” inscriptions) on around to a bocce/horseshoe court turnoff, and, finally, the Lounge area. The property is not so large that any of those are a hike, but is laid out in such a way that each one has a private area separate from the others.
Look south from the property and you face the San Bernadino mountains at 10k-plus feet of elevation. Look north and scan the bowl of Lucerne Valley, ringed by distant rocky hills. The sun does its expected twilight maneuvers to the east and west. The heavens do their dance above, unimpeded by city lights. Cathryn’s CalAmity bandmate Nisha Catron, who knows of what she speaks, says, “It’s amazing walking around the property at night, looking at the stars. Sunrises and sunsets are dreamy.”
As the sun goes down, Jon points out several brightly lighted properties scattered across the distant terrain, and identifies them as cannabis grow lots. I make a joke about not being able to identify the meth labs until they explode. No one thought that was funny; I was just trying to show that you don’t have to be a genius to be unappreciated.
WHATCHA GONNA DO?
Here are some excuses to visit Hart Acres, or things to do once you get there.
- Experience “music, art, and the magic of the Mojave” at one of the organized camps, two of which are scheduled this fall. More on that below.
- The Casita. This tiny home away from home, outfitted in a Mexican theme with love and style by Jonny and Cathryn, would make a great place to finish your novel, study some uplifting texts, or just take a break from your daily routine. It’s private and self-contained, but has access to all the Hart Acres amenities.
- The Green Room. Cathryn’s curated collection of pre-tested rock star accoutrements, housed in a retro-fitted trade van, is always open for business if you want to update your wardrobe.
- Field Trip. Cathryn offers getaway packages for your band or other group—for promo, photos, videos, and inspiration. Get styled in the Green Room before taking new band photos and being interviewed for the Listen Local Show. More options include a music video shoot or team building art project, hikes, or writing sessions. Cathryn has lots of ideas and will work with you, which can even include catering.
THE BEEKS-EDWARDS TEAM
Jon Edwards is half the Hart Acres team (not counting Cathryn’s mom, Carol Beeks, who is the sine qua non of the outfit, but she doesn’t do much of the heavy lifting). In his professional life, he is a world-class audiologist (sound guy in bar lingo). I last saw him single-handedly provide super sound in a challenging outdoor setup on Mission Bay, featuring Steve Poltz, Lisa Sanders, Jeff Berkley, and Tim Flannery. He can bring any type of system anywhere in Southern California. It just might take him a few hours to get there.
Jon also has the skills to create a compound in the desert. Need some carpentry? Some engine work? Some plumbing? Jon’s your guy. Actually, he’s Cathryn’s guy, but we could all use one of those, right?
I think you probably know Cathryn. That woman who hosts The Game for songwriters (where I first met her almost 20 years ago). She has presented hundreds of Listen Local concerts, newsletters, and podcasts, and is recently back to hosting a radio show. Who did all those cool gatherings at the Encinitas Heritage Museum? Who sings front and center in CalAmity or in the background on countless projects?
You’d think her creativity would be exhausted between making music and infusing character into Hart Acres, but no. She has an amazing knack for making something unique and beautiful out of pedestrian materials. Marcia Claire, bassist to the stars and unindicted Cathryn co-conspirator on many adventures, says, “Cathryn has a unique talent for creating things where, it may appear, nothing exists. She does it with clothing, music, cardboard, paint, pipe cleaners, and opportunities. In the case of Hart Acres, she took some desert land and created a haven for closeness, music, reflection, personal growth, and emotional release.” I send her unique cactus design greeting cards to remote families when I remember their birthdays. I wanted one of her unique reverse bleach-dyed t-shirts, but didn’t move fast enough. Apparently the last Chick Camp attendees got to make their own. She makes miniature movie sets for her animated films. C’mon!
With all this other art, you might miss Cathryn’s photography skills. She manages the lighting, location, props, and subjects to capture a mood. With the Mojave supplying ample amounts of the first two, and the Green Room available for the third, I look forward to seeing more photos coming our way.
HERE TO THERE
Traveling from San Diego to Lucerne Valley is probably not something you’ll do on a whim, and it’s not directly on the way from here to anywhere. It’s 35 miles south of Barstow, 15 miles (as the condor soars) north of Big Bear, or 140 miles up Interstate 15 from San Diego to Victorville, and another 20 miles east on CA 18.
Or you can do like I did in March and include it in a Grand Tour of Southern California deserts. My wife and I had van-camped our way up from Anza Borrego (bighorns!), Salton Sea (Salvation Mountain!), Joshua Tree National Park (well, you know…), before making the easy hour drive to Hart Acres from the east. I will tell you what—you can see a LOT of empty desert in one hour. But once you start getting back into populated territory, a short drive down a graded dirt road brings you to the doorstep of Hart Acres.
Timing is everything: Liz Abbott (editor of our favorite music magazine) made the drive in June on a Friday afternoon, resulting in a six hour commute, more than twice what it would take under theoretical optimal conditions. Marcia Claire puts the experience in a positive light. “I love that it’s not right around the corner. The drive gives you a chance to pre-decompress (is that a word?) and get into the right frame of mind to unplug and take in all the sights, sounds, and smells. I will definitely be back up there in the fall.”
Proven Track Record
Hart Acres opened to friends and friends of friends in late spring. Per Cathryn, the target demographic is “mellow, friendly folks who just need to get away and stare at the sky or the vast expanse of Joshuas and chaparral and open spaces. Those who need a place to write, read, paint, and relax.”
Before the summer heat shut down the schedule, Hart Acres hosted several events, allowing Cathryn and Jon to shake out the facilities and protocols. A couple dozen people stayed for each of Chick Camp and Songwriter Sleepover.
Michael DeLuca (San Diego musician, and performer at the upcoming Band Camp) attended the Songwriter Sleepover after participating in numerous of the ongoing remote song sessions. “It felt similar to our Zoom Songwriter Circle but with more time to get to know some of the other players—and it was live and in person! I liked the peaceful tree-lined little oasis and community gathering spot. I liked the low-key informal feel the camp provided in bringing everyone together. Listening to and sharing songs and stories is always a pleasure.”
Liz Abbott was one of the chicks at Chick Camp. She especially appreciated the camaraderie, the friendships made and strengthened over crafts (tie dye!), and breakfast. A highlight of her trip was spending time with Carol Beeks.
If that’s not enough excitement for you, Hart Acres hosted a film crew brought in by Nisha Catron. “I decided to write music from an extraterrestrial point of view with Josquin Des Pres and our song “Voyager One,” inspired my very talented friend Tane McClure to write a script, which resulted in the short film Voyager 2150. So far, it has won Best Original Song, Sci Fi Short Film and Fantasy Short Film in the Hollywood Gold Awards!” These are the sort of interesting folks and activities attracted to Hart Acres.
I’m afraid once Hollywood finds out about our oasis, it may never be the same.
How do you get to be part of the Hart Acres experience? Glad you asked! Cathryn is accepting reservations for the events below. They will all necessarily be evaluated ongoing in light of the COVID situation.
• Chick Camp
October 1-3, 2021, Hart Acres.
In my imagination, this is where ladies go and exhibit unladylike behaviors. By all reports, it’s a memorable experience.
• The Songwriter Sleepover
October 15-17, 2021, at Hart Acres.
If you’re a songwriter, it’s a great place to get inspired, share with your peers, and get to know people. If you’ve ever thought about writing a song, this would be a good place to make that happen.
• Band Camp Music Festival
November 5-6, 2021, at The Palms, Wonder Valley, 83131 Amboy Rd, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277
This ambitious event has already outgrown Hart Acres, so Cathryn found a bigger venue down the road. Twenty years on, will you be able to say you were at the First Band Camp, before all the hipsters ruined it?
TIME TO GO
Deserts have an age-old tradition of hosting spiritual journeys, vision quests, and transformations. The desert will kill you with no malice or hurt you in a hundred different ways. Maybe awareness of this fact, as we gaze across the expanse of creosote bush, or sidle around a cholla, is what strips away some of our everyday complacency and opens us up to deeper thinking and clearer perception.
As fellow San Diego musician free spirit and Mojave transplant Paul Moeller says, the desert is the place to feel “connected to the earth… the sky … the universe.”
Or as Cathryn puts it: “The desert, as hot and bare and unfriendly as it can be at times, has a magical, magnetic pull that has made the decision to stay here seem like the right one.” We are blessed that she’s sharing her oasis with our community. I hope to see you over the hills and (not too) far away this fall.
Cathryn Beeks http://cathrynbeeks.com/
Listen Local http://ListenLocalRadio.com
Hart Acres http://hartacres.info
Cathryn Beeks Loves Listening to Local Music, San Diego Troubadour, 2007 https://sandiegotroubadour.com/2007/11/
Voyager 2051 movie trailer https://vimeo.com/548172038