Keep Track

Humans, for the most part anyway, tend to be social creatures. We like to gather with others to play games, enjoy performances, dine in company, and learn about wondrous places through guided tours. We find ourselves among others when we go to galleries and museums to view art, visit a library, shop, walk in the park or on trails, and exercise in gyms. We work in teams outside or in offices and industrial shops. We invite friends into our homes and are guests at our friends’ homes. We congregate to worship, celebrate, and memorialize.

And so we find our worlds turned upside down now. Many of our usual activities are suddenly curtailed because access to places we typically go has dissolved, and we are told that we should not gather with others for the sake of everyone’s health. We feel isolated in our own homes, even though we can go outside — as long as we maintain a “social distance.”

The days may seem to run together without our usual external contexts. Is today Monday or Tuesday? Well, while we do not suggest you follow Cabot Yerxa’s method for keep track of the week, we think you might find it amusing. The italicized text below is excerpted from his weekly “On the Desert Since 1913” column, published by the Desert Sentinel newspaper and dated Aug. 30, 1951.

Living without neighbors and no phones or newspapers, it is quite impossible to keep track of the days of the week. So if it was important for me to go to the R.R. or P.O. or to work somewhere on a certain day, I would build a fire outdoors, for instance on Monday. Then each morning I built a fire in a new spot, and so on until the designated day arrived. I was sure of it because I went back to my Monday fire and counted the days — each represented by the ashes of a fire.

 

Cabot continued in this column to explain that he walked seven miles to the railroad station once a week, filled canteens, and walked seven miles back to his cabin.

On this weekly trip I also tended to the mail. An empty canned-milk box in the corner of a freight care was the “post office.” All mail for the dozen homesteading families on the desert and railroad workers was dumped into this box. Then each person who called looked through the box, picking out his own mail and neighbor’s, if any. When not in a hurry, other people’s postcards were read, newspapers and magazines perused.

When is the last time you sent or received a postcard? Did you ever wonder if anyone who handled the postcard read it? Did you ever read someone else’s postcard without their permission? Did you ever send a postcard whose only message was “Wish you were here”? Have you ever wondered who is reading your emails? Have you ever read someone else’s emails without their permission? Have you ever sent an email whose only message was “Wish you were here?”

Having been written in August in the desert, Cabot’s article further related his method of keeping his cool.

 

After the cattle company put down a steel-cased well 400 feet at Seven Palms, it turned out to be a flowing well and formed a pond 30 feet across. If the day was hot, I often walked three miles out of my way to this point. Into the pond I waded fully clothed, holding the mail above my head in one hand. I crouched down in the middle until water ran into my ears, then walked out of the pond dripping and continued on my way. This was very refreshing, and in a short distance I was completely dry.

 

That Cabot Yerxa not only lived but also thrived and remained cheerful under conditions that would challenge many of us today inspires us to think that we can be strong and resilient during a time that has temporarily halted our usual pleasures. Time moves forward, things change, and we adapt. We can do so grudgingly or with focus, purpose, and optimism. No doubt Cabot would always choose the latter pathway.

 

 

Cabot Yerxa Feature in Palm Springs Life
The April issue of Palm Springs Life magazine features excerpts from the journal Cabot Yerxa kept while studying art at Académie Julian for four months in 1925. You can find the article, titled “An American in Paris,” in the print issue on newsstands during April and on the magazine’s website. You can see firsthand his original works of art, including sketches in his journal, at Cabot’s Pueblo Museum when we reopen after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. Cabot recorded not only his time in Paris, but also the journey and other places he visited in Europe.
The journal is included in Cabot Yerxa Adventurer: Memories of an Essential American Life. This book, as well as the collection of his newspaper articles, On the Desert Since 1913, may be purchased from our website.