MELANIE & PAUL
Los Angeles to Landers, California
Melanie Buck reached out to Urban Exodus back in 2016. She wrote about her and her husband's journey from Los Angeles, California to the tiny community of Landers, located in the Mojave desert. A weekend trip to visit their friends who just bought a place there made them reevaluate their lives and decide that they wanted to spend the next chapter together outside of the chaos, smog and traffic of the city. Melanie got a youth programming job at the Joshua Tree library. She was loved by the children and parents that attended her reading hours and events. She acquired a herd of Nigerian goats and various feathered friends, built a thriving organic garden, and planted 50 fruit and nut trees. She constructed pathways and built installation art pieces with the discarded scrap metal and objects found on the property. She created a sanctuary for herself and her husband Paul. For Paul, moving to the desert was something he didn't even realize he needed, until Melanie created this Shangri-La around him. When the couple found of they were expecting a baby, they couldn't believe their luck. Paul, a photojournalist, spent his younger years focusing entirely on building his career. He had worked his way up through the ranks and became the bureau chief of European Pressphoto in Los Angeles. Melanie, after serving in the U.S. Navy, ran a successful landscaping business in Los Angeles for 15 years. Both had thought the possibility of parenthood had passed them by. When Urban Exodus was planning a trip out West last winter, we emailed Melanie to see if she still wanted to be featured. She shared the exciting news of their little boy arriving just around the time we were coming through. We planned a trip to come and document their desert homestead and their newest addition.
This is where this story takes a heartbreaking turn. Just a week after baby Joe Claude Buck arrived Melanie had sever medical complications associated with the birth and passed away. It was so quick and unexpected, Paul had no clue what to do or where to turn. Their entire desert community, of which they had become an integral part of, rallied together to support Paul and their newborn son through this absolutely devastating time. Women brought frozen breastmilk, meals and a GoFundMe account raised thousands of dollars overnight to help cover the costs of their medical bills and a night nurse for Joe Claude. Joe Claude, born with a birthmark resembling a Joshua Tree on his forehead, was given the nickname "The Price of the Mojave."
Paul responded to our email days before we were planning coming and broke the news. He welcomed us to come by still because he wanted to celebrate Melanie's legacy and the beautiful oasis she had built for her family. Paul's mother and aunt had just arrived from Texas to help with Joe Claude, while Paul figured out how to move forward. Paul, still the bureau chief of European Pressphoto, commuted back to the city a day or two a week. Melanie planned to continue running their homestead and care for Joe Claude when he went back and forth to work. Now as the only parent, he was exploring his options and contemplating the major career change of becoming a vintage motorcycle restorer. Motorcycles were the reason Melanie and Paul found one another. They were both avid riders and met at a vintage motorcycle rally.
Melanie was a woman full of light, kindness and energy. She very quickly threaded herself and Paul into the tightly-woven fabric of the Mojave community. She left this world too soon. She is mourned by all who knew her. During our afternoon visit at their Jackrabbit with Paul's mother and aunt, they said, "At least she made her way here, to this beautiful place. Here she was truly happy. She got to welcome her son into the world and spend those precious days with him. So many people stay in unhappy situations and don't take risks. She worked hard to build a beautiful life for herself and her family. She got to leave this world on a high note." These sentiments brought tears to all of our eyes, but I knew it was true.
Melanie ended her email to Urban Exodus by saying, "We have found our life here in what we call 'Our little slice of hi-desert paradise' a magical one and we wake up everyday grateful for having made the transition out here, away from the rat race of Los Angeles.
He is a photojournalist and is employed by the European Pressphoto Agency as the bureau chief of Los Angeles and the southern California region. I hail from Nebraska and I am a descendent of an almost exclusively agrarian and pioneering lineage. I am currently a library assistant and youth services lead at the Joshua Tree public library but previously owned and managed a landscape design and maintenance company in Los Angeles for 15 years. Prior to that I served as an officer in the U.S. Navy and was stationed in San Diego. My husband and I currently own 15 acres in the hi-desert Mojave in Landers, CA on which we raise registered Nigerian Dwarf goats, honeybees and chickens. We also have an orchard of over 50 fruiting trees, grapes and a grow house full of organic vegetables and herbs. We also own an original Jackrabbit homestead cabin that we plan on refurbishing this spring on five acres that we intend to transform into a rentable destination and orchard. We have owned our homestead, which we call Ranchita Liebre or 'Little Jackrabbit Ranch' for over four years. I make handcrafted crochet rag rugs as well as hand salve and my husband restores vintage motorcycles which we both ride and enjoy as a hobby. We have found our life here in what we call 'Our little slice of hi-desert paradise' a magical one and we wake up everyday grateful for having made the transition out here from the rat race of Los Angeles.