Tag Archives: Fun

Film Forward sparks dialogue…again

Earlier this year the Imperial County Film Commissioner’s Office brought the Sundance Institute’sFilm Forward Program to the Valley. We were invited to participate in a continuation of that program through a Google Hangout.

Last Saturday at the 3,000 artifacts event, we screened “Somewhere Between” a film about several young woman who were adopted from China into American families and their struggle for identity. This morning, we joined participants from across the country and internationally to compare and discuss the reaction of our communities with each other and the film’s director.
I watched the film apart from our group of participants, and I have to say I’m glad I did. I almost the exact opposite reaction as this group of college-aged students raised in a border culture. I thought of my very good friend who was adopted into a white family in a white dominated area and mourned. But even my friend’s experiences were different than those in the documentary – that is to say, American families aren’t in the habit of flying to China yearly. In the film, one of the girls’ families flew 4 people over to meet her birth family – as completely unthinkable in Imperial County as it is in middle Pennsylvania.
And Imperial County had no sympathy. The IVC student participants, one can generalize, are accustomed to differences. Even within their small group one person was the only Columbian in the room, another was the only white person. These young adopted Chinese women should not be so worried about their differences to from the world around them. They should find their self-worth in themselves and the people who love them. Thus concluded the group who are accustomed to being “different”.
The hangout discussion lead by the Film Forward monitors focused less on the film and more on the personal stories of the girls. The participants from Arizona State University included an adopted student who was born in China and was willing to share her experiences. Our group was extremely engaged in the discussion with her and her personal comments on whether her own journey to find identity was found inside or outside her physical appearance.
I absolutely love the Film Forward program and I love holding it at the museum. The students were enthusiastic and engaged with other students who were enthusiastic and engaged. It sparks conversations and broadens viewpoints for all involved. It was fantastic to watch; and to be a part of. After the discussion digitally concluded, we screened the film a second time and the lively conversation continued into the afternoon.

Art in Miniature

The artist who arranged the museum’s Every Day is Earth Day exhibit invited Jenica and I to another opening this weekend. In Mexicali, Mexico.

The exhibit Madrecita: Arte en Miniatura allowed people to get up close and personal with the pieces. There were several that enticed the viewer with minute details, compelling a closer look and an intimate study of the work.

After the opening, which started at 9pm, we went out for karaoke, which was good for practicing our Spanish.

The artists didn’t stop working. (Sound familiar? I think we are going to get along with this crowd.)

Jorge Estrada, photographer

Pablo Castaneda, Visual artist

We got home as the sun came up.

Archaeology Lesson – Lake Cahuilla

You can’t tell the story if you don’t know it. Today we had a bit of staff training to see the things we often talk about at the museum.

The people in this area used to live on the banks of a great lake, sustained by the Colorado River periodically overrunning its banks and gushing into the below sea-level valley.

Today, all that is left of the lake is the Salton Sea, a salt-concentrated shadow of it’s former glory. Originally about 2-3 times larger, the lake provided food and shelter for the Valley’s earliest inhabitants. The current “sea” was actually formed by a dam break in 1905 that allowed the Colorado River to re-flooded the lake bed.

The evidence of people’s lives around Lake Cahuilla is evident almost every where you look. From Ocotillo, we drove old route 80, following the route of the 1926 concrete highway, till we turned up Huff Road, passing rich irrigation-fed farmland. Our guide pointed out known sites: the 1820 Mexican Fort near New River, which would have been a reliable water source and has pot sherds near it, the 1940 L electric Line which has several well marked sites up and down it’s length, and the hundreds of house rings just outside the marked Navy Impact Area, and across from a 50m stone ring whose purpose evades living memory. Site after site was pointed out as we approached our ultimate goal at the circa 1690 shore line of Lake Cahuilla.

The Lake evaporated almost 5 feet every year and was irregularly filled by the river waters. You can see the settlements follow the shoreline up and down the bank. Fish traps, which were built in the shallows, are clearly built at 5 feet intervals as the water receded.

House ring at Lake Cahuilla from circa 1690 (top of image). Notice how sandstones are propped to support the walls, marking it as a man-made feature. The white fishbones at the forefront mark the house entrance.

While monitoring these sites, we recorded two new key artifacts (which of course we noted and returned to their proper place):

This beauty had been missed on other walk-throughs. It is possibly a fish weight (which I know has to do with fishing, but I can’t help you beyond that).

and a sandstone bead which had surfaced in the rains and looks exactly like the size and shape of a cheerio. Which was funny, and cool.

We also saw the water line of the ancient lake, nestled up against the Fish Creek Mountains. That Lake hasn’t existed for a loOOooooong time, but it still leaves it’s mark.



Other great finds of the day:

Desert horned lizard.

Iguana taking shelter under a creosote bush, one of the oldest plants on earth..

and (no pictures)
a loggerhead shrike,
2 night hawks,
and 2 low fly-bys by F-18’s.

Exhibit Opening and Bran Nue Dae

Our first exhibit opened on May 2nd.


I have always liked May.


The exhibit, entitled Every Day is Earth Day allows us to see the world through the eyes of seven members of the Imperial Valley College Arts Faculty.  We marked the occasion with a celebration of art and film that continued all evening.

Earlier in the month, we held a preview of the event for the Friends of the Museum, a support group of members who have made a commitment to support the museum with a gift of $500 every year for the next five years. Lauryl Driscoll, who attended both events, commented that her parents had worked for more than 30 years to see this museum get built, “and it is great to see it finally happen.”

“I like the idea of having a new cultural institution that will support the arts,” said Bernardo Olmedo, who was instrumental in organizing the exhibit. Carol Hegarty, the Head of the Humanities Department at IVC, agreed, “It takes everyone working together in a community for local arts to be successful. It is not about competition, it is about partnership.” As I said when I opened the event that evening, I am realizing that much of what the Valley has to offer is under-appreciated and the Desert Museum can help highlight this spectacular community.

Rachel Perkins discusses her film, Bran Nue Dae.

The evening continued with a screening from the Film Forward program. This international program from the Sundance Institute brought two independent films to the Imperial Valley with the film directors. Here at the Museum, we screened Bran Nue Dae – my absolutely favorite Australian film. Director Rachel Perkins captivated the audience and demonstrated, as I’d been promoting for months now, that this was not an event to be missed.

We had an intimate group of 30, a solid turn out for a weekend event 25 miles outside of town. And now they are 30 people who now understand my adoration for this quirky little film. They join the 8 million people in Australia who have viewed the film – a huge number for a country with a population of only 2 million. Many attendees commented that the film was funnier than they thought it would be and the director explained that this film is one of only 3 Aboriginal comedies – and she has produced two of them. Usually, she said, films about Aboriginal people are somber and serious and she deliberately made a film that people could see themselves reflected in and laugh. People asked about the lack of dreaming references (though someone else said the jail scene with traditional dancing – ie dreaming – was the best in the movie). Rachel explained that this film was not a vehicle for that aspect. It’s one of the things I’ve always loved about this film. It’s irreverent and zany, reaches all audiences, and captures the contemporary spirit of Australians today. 

The night overall successfully stimulated conversation on the commonalities and differences between cultures, cultural expression through art, and the charming grace of passionate communities.

This morning the last Film Forward event was an informal chat with the directors. I went with an aspiring young film maker who is now so excited I have to go out and find film editing software so he can make movies in the Museum’s technology lab. As we left the event, I was incredibly loathed to leave. “Did you ever imaging that when you came here and made us watch Bran Nue Dae that you’d be having a casual cup of coffee with the Director?” Never in my wildest. But I should know better than to be surprised. Australia is the biggest small town there is.


Small stories

Just going through the pictures I’ve accumulated:

In-house pest control and conservation on baskets:


The sunrise leaves me with one more reason this place is next closest thing to Australia:

cause this:



isn’t far from this:



One difference: no sun-kissed Ocotillo like this in Australia


And one of our neighbors introduced me to the rarely seen desert tortoise. She has them as pets:


This is me at the midway Museum back in February, pushing buttons like a little kid:

"Uh, these don't work anymore, right?"


And, lest we need reminding, the most successful exhibits aren’t always the newest:



Desert People…

support the arts….


On the way back from Anza-Borrego Archeology weekend, we had to stop to take a closer look at Dennis Avery’s famous desert sculptures.



This explanation from California Travel Expert:

“More than 130 sculptures are located on 3 square miles of Galleta Meadows Estates, which sits along Borrego Springs Road. Each metal sculpture was commissioned by Dennis Avery, owner of the Galleta Meadows Estate, and built by Sky Art artist Ricardo Breceda. Highlights include a field of farm workers, a stranded desert Jeep and an awesome 350-foot serpent that travels beneath the highway. Many of these larger-than-life sculptures resemble the prehistoric creatures that once roamed Borrego Valley, ranging from giant sloths and camels to wooly Mammoths and saber-toothed tigers. Outside the chamber of commerce, you’ll find a replica of Spanish explorer Juan Bautista De Anza, who blazed the trail from Mexico to San Francisco in 1775.”

Passover and Easter Weekend

I was invited to a community Seder, recognized by the Community by virtue of my last name. And here I thought my background was anonymous and nondescript!


The synagogue is modest, built by the first farmers who pooled funds years and years ago, and a rabbi comes in from San Diego once a month to lead a service. It’s a community held together by a dedicated couple who have vowed that there will be a Jewish community as long as they are around.


It was a lovely service, pieced together by several individuals who contributed food and desserts and charosets. It was slightly comical – everyone singing different melodies to the same song, but it was true to it’s purpose: telling the story for another year.


This is my first Seder for several years. This year I heard the story differently. I heard it through the context of my work at the museum. The Easter sermon service was the same. I’ve been mentally going back and forth between these two ancient celebrations, their stories, their message, and their meaning. There is enough to ponder for a life time.


Easter service this year was at the First United Methodists Church. I was dared to sing in the choir when the congregation was invited up. “Well,” I thought “if you are going to have a new experience, might as well do it with gusto.” I’ve never been very good at reading choir music, but the holidays for me are centered around re-creating familiar traditions. My grandparents used to love singing in the choir and we do it for Christmas when called on, so I did it in the spirit of those memories. Anyway, I’m usually good at following the director, but I had the gents singing in my ear and so I accidentally switched back and forth between soprano and baratone. Oh well, it was fun to try.


It was a busy weekend with 3 easter egg hunts – one in Ocotillo amongst the cactus, one on the grassy church lawn in El Centro, and one glow-in-the-dark hunt for the big kids. Busy, but very fun, and very rejuvenating – which is good, because April is just getting warmed up… and I don’t just mean the temperature.

Dust to Dust

At the top of the Chocolate Mountains in Ocotillo’s backyard lies an ancient sea bed.


It is not an easy ascent, almost straight up the mountain. The mountain paths should be solid, traversed for thousands of years as trade routes, but deceivingly, the nearly eroded pebbles and shale loosen their last weak grip on the sloping paths and slide out from under your feet. Sand feels like more solid ground than this. 


When you reach the top and enter what is left of the actual ocean floor the change is instantaneous. This part of the mountain is protected from the harsh whipping winds. Your breath catches for an instant. Something is different, but you can’t decide what. The space is enclosed and intimate. You begin to relax. It is quiet. Like a hush you can feel. This is ancient land.


Leveraging for a better view I climbed a nearby pile of rocks. I was interested in white oyster shells as big as your hand that created a semi-circle highlighted against the dark desert varnish, the deep, amber color of thousand-year old sun-roasted rocks. Why was it such a perfect line?

Clear delineation between desert varnish and oysters shells.


Moving among the rocks, I glanced down to check my footing. It wasn’t rocks.




It was coral. Taking it in for a moment I realized this was a coral head. You could see it clearly then: the line of oysters were outlining a separate coral head about 20 feet away. Between them, where the desert varnish lay flat, would be the sandy bottom where the rays forage for dinner.


Looking down at the fossils in the coral was almost exactly like snorkeling on Grand Turk, bobbing at the surface while admiring the life below…. only some 3 million years later. I thought it ironic that this little museum team has gone from ocean to desert, but we were practically still swimming. Swimming at the top of the mountain.


The sea bed slowly, silently tumbles downhill.

Traveling farther into the sea bed, erosion takes over again and you can see that the whole sea bed is sliding down the other side of the hill. The kinetic energy is palatable though everything is still. The land is falling. One good shove will start the whole thing crashing down.


The effect is so convincing that I tested with a hearty shove a one-ton boulder, paused precariously mid-tumble over a 3foot spit of land. Clearly visible on the ledge were fossils. Fossils that will soon be pulverized by the rolling boulder, lost forever.


I fancy myself the last person who will ever admired them.

Last person to see the million year old fossils out on this ledge. Ocotillo in the background.

County Fair

Dr. Hitch explaining the Museum's mission to Alberto Caliban an exhibitor for Kitchen Kraft Cookware.

The number one question we get at the museum is “What’s going on out there?” To address this question we are at the Imperial Valley County Fair in the Plaza De Las Culturas.


The fair lasts 10 days. You can only put 2 staff members names on the entrance list. Since we are trying to open a museum here we are tag teaming it with one person at the table at a time – me, mostly. It’s easy to share the excitement of the latest developments with people who stop by the table. Yesterday I met people who went to the museum ground breaking. They were little then and are now grown into full adults. People have been waiting a long time to hear the message we are giving: “We are open.”

For the last two years we have been working on curation of the College’s archeology collections. It’s the number one step to getting the museum up and running then we can start developing exhibits and fully open the doors. At the Star Party in January? We expected maybe 30 people to trickle in, but one hundred and thirty people came out. We took that as a sign that people want to know what we are doing so we made a big push to open the doors last week. We don’t have full exhibits up, but if you are at all interested in what we are doing you can come by Thursday, Friday, Saturday 10-3 and see what’s happening at the museum.






Ocotillo Blossom Champagne Cocktail

Sure to be on the IVDM museum cocktail menu soon. A tip of the hat to the Isabella Gardner Museum's After Hours.