The Highlander Journal


Roses are Red by William McIver


To embrace the budding rose

And simply meet her thorns

I sink slowly into my prickly embrace

Witnessing her bloom

Behind the shadow of her great petal

As someone else stoops down

And breathes in the wondrous scent

Still stricken and sticking

One simply watches the flower tasted

Feeling parched lips pucker

As nectar runs freely down

And a smile snakes across his face

As if engulfed by that smile

I turn into that rodent which I am

I attempt to scatter

To flee this horror which is love

Love of not me, but in spite of me

To want the sweetness of the flower

To fall short and embrace bitterness

And to watch as the sun is blocked

By the very thing

You wished it had shined brighter on

And it has

But your shadow lies below

And his rises above

To stand triumphant

Atop the epitome of what once was your happiness

But shall never be again


Monkey Brains by Samuel James Finch


When I was thirteen, I knew a boy who would often unzip his pants, whip out his balls, and shout “MONKEY BRAINS!” as he squeezed them together with one hand, regardless of whether he was on school grounds or not. Each time he’d stretch the skin of his scrotum taut and shake it through the air, our classmates would roar with laughter as though the uncanny resemblance was the concoction of a budding comic genius.

 I laughed on more than one such occasion, I admit, but I never quite understood how he did it. I admired his candor most of all, his readiness and willingness, his eagerness rather, to expose himself, quite literally, to both triumph and ridicule. But now I wonder, did he ever go on to apply that virtue to anything worthwhile? Or does he still simply whip out that wrinkled mass to bathe in the echoes of adolescent glory?


Mother Mojave (part 1 of 2) by Rod Pirniakan

Follow the eastbound highways and look carefully; this is the Southern California gradient. Concrete and congestion slowly yield to vast, gently sloping oceans of sand with watchful mountains along the horizon. Here is Mother Mojave, a land where man is in a perpetual state of want. Slow weathering and erosion has brought the bones of the American ideal to the surface, and the sun has bleached them. At first glance from a car it’s nothing more than an inhospitable wasteland, where carrion birds keep watch. But I promise you, with some background and a bit of curiosity, this realm will reveal its secrets to you.

Claiming a vast expanse between SR-62 and the northern outskirts of the Coachella Valley is Joshua Tree National Park, the most accessible of Mother Mojave’s domain. In more temperate days, Native Americans lived off the fat of the land. When Manifest Destiny arrived on its doorstep, it played host to some of the roughest cowboys and cattle rustlers. More recently however, it serves as a muse to countless artists, musicians and writers. Aircraft from local military installations, or perhaps UFOs as some would believe, plow through the inky black skies at night.

Gram Parsons, the creator of “Cosmic American Music,” his own fusion of country, rock and soul, found his pedal steel spirit at rest here amongst the chuckwallas and cacti. Parsons is moderately known for his solo work but more so the influence he exerted on The Byrds and The Rolling Stones by helping usher in their country-rock eras. He and his friends used to dive out of Los Angeles whenever possible to take refuge at The Joshua Tree Inn. They’d drop acid, alongside other narcotics, to search for aliens in the night sky and soak in the absolute silence of Mother Mojave. An overdose at that very motel led to his early demise in 1973 at the age of 26, a year short of the 27 club. His manager and close friend, Phil Kaufman, didn’t forget the promise they made to each other in the event of one of their deaths. Borrowing a hearse, he whisked Parsons’ casket out of LAX, where it was due to be shipped to its final resting place in Louisiana. Evading the police and getting increasingly drunk, Kaufman brought Parsons to Cap Rock, soaked the corpse in gasoline, dropped a match and said his final goodbyes.

Today Cap Rock can be found at the intersection of Park Blvd. and Keys View Road, where an unofficial makeshift memorial is nestled into it. All flavors of people stop here to leave their own small tribute to Parsons, a few conducting pilgrimages from afar to pay their respects. It is actually possible, for a slightly higher rate, to stay in the same room where Gram Parsons passed away. A morbid form of tourism which may interest some.

The most unique feature of the park is how it stands with a foot in two very distinct deserts: the Mojave and the Colorado. A major factor in this segregation is a significant difference in elevation which leads to two quite different ecosystems. Whereas the Mojave portion of the park is filled with the gangly Joshua tree and much more vegetation, even some pine trees, the Colorado section consists of mainly scrub and panoramically vast valleys that stretch out farther than the city dweller’s mind can comprehend. The ocotillo is the iconic greenery of this land: a cluster of tall, thin and thorny stalks jutting out of the ground. In the spring gorgeous, colorful flowers cover this plant, contrasting vividly against the gray-brown terrain.

Don’t think these are just arbitrary, small differences which are only noticed by biologists in their eternal quest to classify. Just follow Park Boulevard onto Pinto Basin Road and only a few miles later the road begins a dramatic drop into an enormously wide open valley which is the mouth of the Colorado Desert. From this point the land appears almost naked, with only a few dust devils to punctuate the vast emptiness. It is a realm so immeasurably expansive that the only natural human response is to be in awe of one’s size in relation. The same insignificance you feel when looking up at the Milky Way’s innumerable bodies is the only comparable sensation. Here your sense of self-importance wanes as quickly as the elevation changes.

The best way to properly appreciate the diversity of the park and its environs is from the top of Ryan Mountain. Accessible from Park Blvd., a steep yet short hike along a well maintained trail will whisk you to the peak. From there a 360 degree view will open up around you giving you an unparalleled view of both deserts, alongside the famous peaks of the Inland Empire: Mt. San Gorgonio and Mt. San Jacinto jutting stoically into the horizon. Seeing the dense tree line along those snowcapped peaks far away contrasted against two sweeping deserts in the foreground is truly a sight that is impossible for pictures or words to reproduce.

It is difficult to even consider a millionth of what mysteries and sights are contained within the boundaries of Joshua Tree National Park in an article of appropriate length for publication in a newspaper. There is endless opportunities for both recreation and introspection in the domain of Mother Mojave, and Joshua Tree National Park is yet just one of countless places. Just follow the Southern California gradient and see where it takes you.