Thoughts in Isolation: 3

Art Journal, Self Reflection, Thoughts

Monday, May 4, 2020

Wow, where’d you come from Taryn? Up before noon? Breakfast? Laundry? Feeling ambitious? Making plans? Yeah… getting yourself on a med taking schedule is kicking in fast. Days. Who knows how many doses you were flaking out on. That’s life managing mental health. You can slip so easy. Especially during times of crisis. When everyone is giving themselves permission to eat ice cream for breakfast, it’s easy to let things go. Forgetting you need structures to keep anxiety and depression and at bay. Oops. But we have a lifetime of experience to draw from. And know when things are getting weird upstairs. Imagine all the people out there who are going into this new world completely unprepared for dealing with their crazy? Be gentle with them. They are fresh at this.

Friday May 8, 2020

It snowed. The Upper Peninsula is a magical world of winter and water. People are expressing further frustration from the oppressive feelings a spring snow rains down on their heads. I think it’s beautiful. I’m on track to cement in a habit of getting up before noon and taking my meds. Getting to bed is challenged by my discovery of a new author. I’m riding the sci-fi adventure genre. Six books deep. Second series. Will they survive?

Also murder hornets have taken over pop culture and FB arguments. Along with the “plandemic” video. Will the wonders of 2020 never cease??? I can watch the riptides of information, misinformation and spin spread across social media. Mostly, I feel like people just don’t understand their own psychology.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

I’m sick of people.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Today was a good day. Up before noon. A solid art session. A good breakfast. A walk. Went for a ride yesterday for supplies. Things are looking up inside my brain.

Thursday, May 12, 2020

I was thinking.

I was thinking about all the places and things I experienced over the winter. And I feel so fulfilled. I got the experience of long term traveling and the freedom to create art. And I did it. And I saw many of the places I dreamed about, and more.

What a generous Universe.

Now is the time for rest.

Next is the unfolding of the next gift. Mine is blessed life.

Friday, May 13, 2020

Getting art supplies in the era of Covid-19… one must lower their expectations dramatically. I’m exercising a level of patience I didn’t know I had. But then, it’s nice to slow down.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Being an adult is far overrated. I’m glad I grew up to be an artist.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The feeling of watching people leave. The moment of separation. Wether planned, after a visit, or after a fight… I find that peeling away of their presence excruciating. I don’t mean when they leave to go to the store, I mean when they leave and there’s going to be hours and days between you. That moment. That sick sinking moment when they walk away from you. Your last hug (or in some cases not) and you don’t know when you’ll feel their mass again.

Tonight I sleep alone. And even though it’s temporary and planned and necessary and he’s a phone call away… That moment of peeling away. That last hug. I need my human with me.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Spring took so long to get here. Then overnight the trees opened up their wells of green and life sprouts from the earth in multitudes. At night frogs chorus and whip-poor-wills break through. Moving through the night calling here and there. The dawn moves fast on the night, there’s barely a touch of night. People are restless here this time of year. I think it’s having so much daylight. It’s only dark for a little over seven hours.

And I prepare for yet another strange new disruption in my life.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

George Floyd. What terrors we’ve given power to. Little beasts with such ugly hearts to ignore the pleas of a fading man.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The country is on fire.

Michigan lifts the “Stay at home” order.

Thoughts in Isolation: 2

Art Journal, Self Reflection, Thoughts

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

I did not think I would experience any new emotions after posting the two week journal “Thoughts in Isolation.” I was wrong. Today. Today I ache inside. I am numb yet sad yet nauseous. I made a double batch of no-bake cookies after starting the last 15 pieces of the 100 Day Project. I feel weepy yet I don’t weep! I’m mad. I’m dissatisfied. I’m disappointed. From heart down to my stomach I feel bubbling emotions but I can’t identify them. They swirl and toss like a shipwreck. I’m relieved and angry. I’m sickened and disgusted. I’m empty. I’m a tempest.

Today people choked the capital of Michigan protesting governor Whitmer’s executive orders. They block emergency vehicles. They mingle. They are mad about seeds. Some of my Facebook friends support this. Most do not.

Today I skimmed Facebook trying to avoid all the conspiracy theories. I’m baffled by the ridiculous number of them. And everyone yelling at each other to “think for themselves.” I don’t know if I should be comforted by listening to an expert explain everywhere in the world comes up with conspiracies during outbreaks with convenient scapegoats particular to their corner of the world.

But what really breaks me is the normality of my Grandfather’s death amidst everything.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

I’m trying to wrap my heart around the grieving process for my grandfather but it all feels so distant. In a different time I would of driven the forty minutes to see my family immediately after I was told. In this world that seems irresponsible. So I stay home. I hope that my grandmother is safe. I hope no one in the flurry of activity carried the virus with them to my grieving family. I hope they were able to keep him comfortable in his last hours.

My grandfather was kindness where my home life was chaos. He fixed up an old banana seat bike and spray painted it dark green for me. Remedying my lack of bike riding knowledge. He taught me some doodles I can still draw. Tried to teach me a line or two of French. I went with him walking at the ice rink. And fishing.

Grandpa was flannels and suspenders. Mint chocolate. Tomato thieving. Chipmunk taming. Garage tinkering. He was full of games and riddles. He was a collection of hematite rocks. Old westerns and baseball. He was ritually painting the deck brown. I watched him give up his raspberry patch, his truck, his boat, his sight. He was wit and charm.

Most of all he was Grandpa. When I was confused by my father’s side of the family and reproached by his wife, Lucille, not to call her grandmother. This Grandfather never made that distinction. Even though most of us weren’t his by blood.

How do we mourn in this time of corona?

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Everyone is getting their chain yanked by someone in country. And everyone thinks they are the ones “thinking for themselves.” Everyone is at each others throats on social media. Guilty. How does something so simple as staying home to save lives become so politicized? I have questions.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Many members of my family have posted on social media about the passing of our Grandfather. I can’t do it. I cannot bring myself to deal with the societal etiquette of public condolences and public thanks.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

mitigation

social distancing

PPE

N95

corona

covid-19

ventilators

flattening the curve

Dr. Birx and Fauci

the scarf

Governor Coumo

fabric masks

Wuhan

isolation

quarantine

USS Comfort and Mercy

the cure cannot be worse than the disease

the invisible enemy

testing

false negatives/positives

supply chain

chloroquine

hot zone

that woman from Michigan

pandemic

Spanish Flu

1918

second wave

Chinese virus

contact tracing

exponential

two weeks

six feet

2%

0.1%

15%

asymptomatic carriers

shelter in place

So many words that have taken over our language in the last weeks and months. Our minds quickly pick up on and race away with a flurry of new vocabulary. Wielding them like knives against each other.

I wonder when life will feel normal. I guess society always fluxes. We never went back to pre- 9/11 life. We’ve been fighting that war since. I only knew the feeling of job and financial security during the last years of the Obama administration. Wiped away again by greed. Watching big businesses suck up bail outs while little micro-businesses are starved out. Watch them wink out one by one. Stranding families and once thriving communities.

The system only works by a thin thread of belief. There’s nothing real about the ant hill of capitalism. An engine that drives and consumes the planet for profit. But why? More electronic money. More. More. More. Not even paper anymore. Just numbers we believe in. To make our lives better? It’s NOT so! I witnessed two different America’s driving across this country. People living in towers overlooking people living in gutters.

What’s real? We have one life. Once it’s over… A company can be rebuilt. A country can recover from a recession or depression. We won’t get our people back if we send them off as sacrificial lambs for capitalism. No one needs a hair cut that badly. What we need is food, water, shelter and our tribe to be safe.

I’m just not willing to give up my mother, grandmother or husband because some people believe the economy is more important and some others believe the virus is a hoax.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

I was brutally awakened from a nap by a cascade of horns honking and a cacophony of dogs barking. When I tried to hush the dogs my husband yelled back “their having a parade.” Out here in the middle of the woods? with us as the only witness, they came out to their camp to have themselves a little birthday party for the wife. A nurse at a nearby hospital. Complete with children and the elderly. How sweet.

And…

The president suggested we disinfect our lungs. Inject cleaners.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

I’m getting weird about things. I’m closing in around myself. I’m not going out. Not looking to leave the house. I don’t want to talk to many people. I’m not accomplishing much. I don’t feel sad. I’m ok. I think? I miss the desert. I miss the road. Although I’m not afraid, the current events prey on latent fears. If that makes sense. The current isolation mimics the times from before I was on medication. When stores were the enemy. Strangers. Contact. An invisible barrier. I at that time was getting weird about going into stores I wasn’t familiar with. About talking to anyone. Leaving the house got troubling. And it’s like that now I’m feeling, but a different cause. And I’m distant from people the same way I was then. Not out of social anxiety, but because of social safety. But it feels emotionally the same. The difference now is that I have a partner to lean on. At my worst with the social anxiety I was alone.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

I’ve been thinking about my father and everything he’s missing. What would he make of this time? He was never one that could stand being still. He always wanted to go. How would he handle being asked to stay home? I cannot imagine it. I caught myself sitting in repose like him the other night. One arm swung over my head and fidgeting with the cuticles of my other hand. When I realized that was a piece of him inside my posture, I separated from space, time and body for a moment. Grief is like that, it comes at you like a freight train when you least expect it, years later. It’s him not seeing Star Wars or Dune. It’s not getting his opinion on politics. It’s walking through Family Video. It’s watching the places he once inhabited with his mass disappear from the world. Popping like little soap bubbles on a timeline.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

I have not been taking care of myself. My husband asked me to go for a walk with him today and I felt a bit of panic at leaving the house. This is not a good sign. I took a shower. Changed my clothes. And swept the floor. Tomorrow I will do more to be human. Oops. I’m not all the way down the rabbit hole yet.

Monday, May 4, 2020

I’m annoyed by my dry skin. I was scraping at it on my face with my finger nails. Now I have a scab on my nose where I went to far. I thought the doldrums I experienced in Death Valley were bad. That was just preparation. ‘Twas just a fng precursor. I’m thinking bangs. Perhaps I’ve watched enough Asian woman successfully give themselves bangs on YouTube to manage. Or at least I’ll have a few minutes entertainment before meltdown.

My lack of consistent schedule may have resulted in some medication dose misses. I’m hitting the anxiety jackpot. And since I’m not seeing anyone or interacting with anyone, I can only guess that the current feeling of mild terror about leaving the house is where my brain is putting all that anxious energy. Light feelings of agoraphobia are not new anxiety symptoms for me, it’s just been awhile since it’s been expressed this way. And not exactly surprising since we’ve been asked not to leave the house for over a month now.

So. I’m working on getting myself righted a little every day. I finished one big art project and I’m working through the other I have going. I’m not unhappy. So I have that. Just a bit… off kilter, but then so is everyone else as far as I can tell. We’re going to be alright, just a bit damaged. And heartbroken. With terrible bangs. And picked over skin.

Spring is here. Can you feel it’s renewing energy?

Thoughts in Isolation

Art Journal, Self Reflection

Friday, March 27, 2020

Day 1: I cried yesterday. Somewhere in Minnesota we reached the boreal forest and it felt like being suffocated. I dreamed so long of traveling (without the means of doing so). My heart irrational. I cried “I know all these trees!”

On the other hand I have a home to come to. Both physically and geographical. When times were difficult before, when I had no where to go, or no money, or the relationship was over; I had that in my father’s land. And I have that now. An imperfect home in the woods. Walls, roof and heat.

Today we unpack. Do laundry. Assess the winter damage: one bedroom, the drywall of the ceiling partially collapsed and water damage to the floor. Something wrong with the stink stack. The kitchen faucet is partially broke. The shower head is completely shattered and the pipes are damaged in the wall. Somehow the wood shed is still standing, against expectations. The dishwasher isn’t quite right. Something in the switch. I found thistle seed stashes. Somebody (or somebodies) small and furry is living in my home.

News: Prime Minister Boris Johnson is Covid-19 positive with mild symptoms.

News: Our President is making it personal with the Governor of Michigan. Suppliers are being told not to send supplies, even when the President stated governors should procure their own.

I am afraid now, more than ever. I am more angry than I’ve ever been. I am helpless. I took a long bath, my first in eight months. I can’t get calm. I’m going to go for a nap. To try to get out from these overwhelming feelings. I have too many people working in nursing. I am breaking down. I cry, seeing their faces. Terrified for them.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Day 2: The cat doesn’t stop crying. He bellows in empty rooms. He may be channeling my feelings. I was weepy and I’m now hollowed out. I can’t even go out to escape. There’s no escape. My body escapes for me. Drowsiness comes down often. This is the life of the damaged. My brain takes care of me by putting me to sleep.

News: the President declares a state of emergency for Michigan. They send 1000 N95 Masks. It’s a hysterically low number. I take solace in governor Coumo’s daily briefings. He’s the leader in this crisis.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Day 3: Anger. I’ve always despised Sundays and Holidays because of the limits put on what you can and cannot go and do. But now every day feels like a Sunday. If I could sleep through till this was over I would, but I can’t and I shouldn’t. I’ve already slid too far into the comforts of sleep. Instead I’m going to try to set some daily expectations for myself.

Coffee & 100 Day Project

Clean Something

Read

Art

Today I cleaned one area in the kitchen. Which led to some open shelves. Good enough. More than I set out to do.

News: the President accused New York hospitals of nefarious activity with PPE in the corona task force news conference. Every day I listen to that and to Governor Coumo. Thank the stars for Fauci and Coumo.

Monday March 30, 2020

Day 4: Hope is a tender thing. Hope is a small newborn babe. Hope is a fire in night. Hope. My husband had an interview this morning. It sounds like a job offer is coming, for after the Covid-19 crisis. There’s hope in this darkness. Hope can crush a human under its enormous weight. Hope can be dashed. I wait in the wilderness with hope in my heart.

News: Yesterday the President announced 30 more days of Social Distancing.

Coffee and failed attempt at 100 Day Project

News

Got internet access

Cleaned out bookcase and purged books

Napped

Tried to watch Pet Cemetery

Ran away and worked on The Painting, it goes well

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Day 5: More overcast days than sunny moments, the weather is concurrent with my oppressed mood. The cat continues to cry. Yowls if he cannot see me. Sometimes I drug him with catnip to get it to stop. He is unhappy.

People are expressing feelings of derealization on social media. Welcome to the world of trauma my friends. Only, we are just getting started. My trauma responses are in full gear. Numbness. Sleeping long hours. Fatigue. Loss of interest. Derealization. The only way is through. The way through is to try a little every day to be human until the fog lifts. Go through the motions until they aren’t motions. Set little attainable goals.

News: The administration “believes” the peak of cases will hit in two weeks.

Coffee and the motions of the 100 Day Project

Forced myself to clean a couple walls and two shelves. That’s enough of that.

Bath

Reading

Weight of drowsiness overtook me: nap

Coumo and then Trump news briefings

Staring at a wall

Cut paper for Polaroid project

April 1, 2020

Day 6: My mental health is unraveling. It is a chore to get myself to do things. I let off Instagram and my Charley Lakes Studio Facebook page . Fine. I am trying to get the fortitude to work on the Polaroid project. I’m barely putting effort forth into the 100 Day Project. I’m sleeping in and napping. I know this headspace well. And it is not a good place. This is not where I thought I’d be last week. I’m fighting my way through.

News: Florida finally has a “stay at home” order. Kurt fixed the shower.

Coffee and 100 Day Project (posted last weeks blog) while listening to NPR updates.

Leftover pancakes and Coumo briefing. Which I turned off. I felt my body descend into drowsiness. That’s enough.

Read

Nap

Cleaned off kitchen cupboard fronts: literally the least I could commit to

Stare out the window

Watch “Witcher” and cut paper. I have no idea what is going on. What is the plot?

April 2, 2020

Day 7: The sun shines. I feel lighter. I drink coffee and explore social media. I am appalled at the ridiculous conspiracy theories on tap. Like the time I read a thick book on why atheists were right (I turned agnostic), I come out of this time absolutely sure conspiracy theorists are dead wrong. I’ve had enough. Everyone seems to have their favorite. As though the reality of this world isn’t fantastic enough. Reality is far more amazing than given credit. Maybe we need more arts and sciences. To sit in wonder of the mundane without need of some spectacular shadowy double truth.

News: Michigan officially suspends the K-12 school year. The Democratic National Convention moved to August.

Coffee & 100 Day Project & NPR podcasts: productive

Can’t get the Coumo briefing to play.

Read

Nap

Polaroid Project

Witcher… finished it. I think I get it. Maybe.

April 3, 2020

Day 8: The days blur. Woke up well after noon. Oops. I watch people on social media, who weren’t taking the situation serious, change their tune. I hate cleaning. And I hate having a messy house. Conundrums.

News: Etsy sent out a request asking for its makers to make masks.

Coffee & 100 Day Project

Stare out the window

Polaroid project

Refuse to nap… sort of watch a movie and start a tv show: “the expanse”

Life is becoming so small…

April 4, 2020

Day 9: My vessel facilitates anger. I vibrate with it. I am nobody. I, and everyone I know, we are acceptable losses to the capitalist gods of greed. What a better world this would be if we weren’t tethered to live in an expansion economy. There must be other ways we can live? Surely???

News: no news intake, need mental space today

Coffee & slow simmering anger

100 Day Project

Polaroid Project

Thought long and hard about cleaning… not today!

Binge watching “The Expanse” (don’t judge me. I’ve not watched anything since October)

April 5, 2020

Day 10: The snow is going away fast. When we arrived home, our house was snowed in. We had to break a trail through deep snow to haul necessities in. Now? The driveway is mud.

News: Texas issues “stay at home order”

Coffee & 100 Day Project

A walk

getting fancy… have the easel in the house for the painting now

more “the expanse”

Monday, April 6, 2020

Day 11: I realized I was checking out of reality. I put NPR on this morning and I couldn’t even finish my coffee before I was back in bed. So check out of reality it’s going to have to be if I want to be awake. Or save news for a bedtime snack.

News: prime minister Boris Johnson in the ICU and the Queen gives a rare speech. A tiger in a zoo is infected.

Coffee and 100 Day Project

Nap

Painting

TV

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Day 12: It rains.

Coffee

Sleep

100 Day Project

TV

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Day 13: The sun shines. The cat cries.

Coffee & 100 Day Project

Read

Sleep

Read

Sleep

TV

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Day 14: Hope. A year after my husband lost his job. A year of stress and worry and adventure. Good news today. Fragile news amongst the sea of uncertainty. News that could evaporate as the world continues to be tossed upside down by a virus.

Coffee…

The Road: Part 8, The Long Road Home

Art Journal, Artistic Growth, Self Reflection, The Road, Thoughts

Monday, March 16: Harris Beach State Park, Oregon

I was approached on the beach by a middle age woman with the gift of gab and some painful ideas. She regurgitated ideas from memes like the virus would disappear one day and come back in ten years. I tried to keep my space and assist her in reality. My husband had his own conversation with a teacher where he learned that the local population holds beliefs about this being a part of God’s plan and the end times. There being excitement in the religious population to embrace current events and little desire to change habits.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020: Clear Lake State Park, California

The first night. We changed direction and pace to make our way home, traveling by mostly interstate instead of scenic backroads. We had to drive south to go east because a winter storm was sweeping through the Rocky Mountains, Plains and Midwest. We found this state park about an hour from where we stopped for supplies. Restaurants were starting to move to take out only by force in some places and by choice in others. It was dark and late when my phone, blue-toothed into the radio, blasted out the warning declaring a shelter-in-place order for Sonoma County. Then mid-morning a park employee accompanied by California Park Police came through to inform us they were closing the State Parks and to give us advice about where to try to stay.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020: Rabbit Island, California

Rabbit Island, a familiar camping spot for us in a National Forest, we stopped at before going to the Sequoia National Forest. Again we rolled in well after dark. And in the morning there were no cows to greet us. The news? Pennsylvania was shutting down rest stops. Someone else traveling from Florida to Michigan reported on Facebook finding hotels closing up behind and ahead of them. The Canadian/American border is closed to unnecessary travel.

Thursday, March 19, 2020: Mojave Desert Preserve, California

We stopped before dark. Finding resting spots on wild lands is too challenging after dark. Part of me was happy to see the desert again, but it wasn’t supposed to be this way. A spring rain storm swept through. In the morning President Trump announces closing the southern border and sending asylum seekers back to their countries. I weep for the cruelty.

Friday, March 20, 2020: Thirty Minutes Outside Kingman, Arizona

Supplies. We’ve carried minimum supplies. After the troubles in Death Valley I started stocking up on dry foods (that was traumatic, food deserts are real), but we still kept minimal dog food and paper supplies because of the minimal space. Now we cannot find toilet paper (three states later). Getting dog food and meds filled just over the Arizona border. Getting pet food. Errands take time, checking for toilet paper and some groceries while we wait for the scripts to fill.

Illinois under stay-at-home order beginning tomorrow at 5:00pm.

Made it about thirty minutes south of Kingman, Arizona. We originally planned to cross Arizona at Flagstaff, but that city was getting cold and snow so we are going the more southern route and swinging past Phoenix. Between Phoenix and Flagstaff are mountains and twisty roads we don’t want to get tangled in right now. I’ll get to say hello to the Saguaros for a brief moment.

Saturday, March 21, 2020: Navajo National Monument

Home is probably still snowed in. Can’t stay here. Can’t get there. One day at a time. Uncertainty rocks the world. Humanity is in crisis. May we walk through this fire and come out better for it. Here, now, communities rally together finding creative ways to support each other, while our governments make cruel decisions and we let them.

We traveled. Stopped in a small town for a couple staples, tried again for toilet paper: nope. Wanted to take a break from the road and reality by stopping at the Grand Canyon. There were more people than we anticipated and a young woman up on her soap box. She stood on a rock, all attitude in her cocked hip, yelling into her phone about the people not keeping six feet apart and everyone was going to die infecting her small village. Too much. When I realized she was filming, that’s when the panic attack set in. To be clear I was able to be there without being in anyone’s space. And it took some cognitive processing to manage it.

We headed SE on 64 (Desert View Dr.) into the Navajo Nation lands. All their roadside stands were vacant and scenic points closed.

We found a place to camp for the night just before sunset in the beautiful Navajo National Monument.

Sunday, March 22, 2020: Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

The night before we discussed staying a day or two to catch our breath, but in the morning (late morning) we both felt ready to go on. No sooner had I stepped out of the camper, then a park officer rolled up in his truck, decked out with a regular surgical mask, to inform me the park was closed and we had to leave. Not that it was closing, closed, note: there was no one to pay for the site last last night and the park was half full.

I’ve tempered my desires to stop for photographs in exchange for eating more pavement. This was harder driving through the harsh and beautiful Navajo lands of Arizona and New Mexico. Passing on Monument Valley and Shiprock. Along with local flavor like homemade signs; “I Eat Pilgrims” and “Tourist Go Home.” Also passed up (I believe) a Native mural depicting a face with respirator “Beware Covid-19.”

We thought we had found National Forest land to camp on twenty minutes outside of Taos, New Mexico. Found it gated and the road snowed in. I was tortured with the drive through Taos to get there. Knowing no matter how much I wanted to see the town, circumstances were out of my control.

New Mexico’s decision to close state parks became, clearly, more of a challenge than anticipated as the sun set. I made my husband pull over (despite his insistence the signs demanded a pass to park) to eat and stretch before we did this stretch of road in the dark (and hopefully find an easy place to stop for sleep off of I-25 or before. A rest stop, Cracker Barrel or Walmart would do.

Or… a wildlife refuge.

Monday, March 23, 2020: Stapleton, Nebraska

Morning came on slow and mild. The morning plan: north to Nebraska via Kansas to avoid the storm systems. Ever North and East.

Michigan, our destination: Stay Home, Stay Safe Order; in effect at midnight.

Rolled through the Kansas plains while the news cascaded on by the minute. What inevitable choices would our leaders make? I worry for us more now than I did after 9/11. As much as I’d dreamed of seeing this country and then maybe the world, now I want to curl up in the forgotten forests of the southern shores of Lake Superior. Where our winters are harsh, but the people are strong. Where the world can forget to send it’s problems and we can carry on.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020: Blue Mounds State Park, Minnesota

Home was closer, but still too far away. Woke up to a cloud of starlings filling the air and spring fields with sound. Word came that the road to our home was narrowly plowed with tall crusty snow banks. Two hard days of travel or linger and hope for a melt? Linger and what new developments would occur in the country? Linger and be subjected to unknown tides. Or go on?

Thank you Nebraska gas station, finally scavenged a roll of toilet paper. Situation critical. By this measure, Tuesday was a good day. By others, I don’t know. On this day the United States President switched his rhetoric from being a war time president to seeing churches packed for Easter and reopening the economy while we crossed the American heartland.

Drove by a rural bar in South Dakota with a full parking lot. What will history sound like?

We had made reservations for a campground in Minnesota. I was stoked upon arrival to check out the showers. I practically skipped over to the building, to find each door locked.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020: Blue Mounds State Park, Minnesota

A great long deep breath and stood still while the world turned.

Hoped to shower. Dashed.

Hoped to do laundry. Failed to rally the effort and energy.

My husband went to procure supplies from the nearby town while I could barely keep my eyes open. The other camper left. We saw many campers and RV’s on the road this week, more than we had seen moving before.

News: Wisconsin: “Safer at Home” went into effect for 30 days. Waiting for news on the governments passing the relief bill. India locked down.

Thursday, March 26, 2020: Home, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

We left the campground before sunrise. Drove through fog and drizzle, I reflected on the desert. A place still relatively wild and free because of its harsh climate, like home.

News: Minnesota “Stay at Home Order” ordered and in effect Friday, March 27. We passed a huddle of smokers outside a pretzel factory and saw people sitting down to eat at a gas station diner. News about New York grows worse daily. New Orleans. Georgia. Washington state. Florida. San Francisco.

Home. I know these roads and trees. For hours now I’ve known these roads. We are going to pass near where we bought the camper soon. (It is coming apart again). The snow banks are still high. The trees are small and grow densely together. Boreal Forest. 35 degrees. No cactus. No Border Patrol. No surreal landscapes. No starfish. No whale plumes. To reach a big metropolitan area one has to drive at least six hours. To reach a major city, eight to nine hours.

News: the United States has surpassed Italy and China in Covid-19 cases.

Update: after crawling across the snow bank with a cat in my arm and sliding down into the dark recesses of my cold dark home, I waited while my husband hit the switches on the circuit breaker. Heat and hot water would be mine soon. My cat wandered the dark rooms calling. Light! Glorious light. Which dimmed… and flicked and died away. We are back in the camper for the night. Dreams of long hot showers without pressing buttons every thirty seconds will have to wait on the power company.

The Road: Part 7

Art Journal, The Road

Los Osos

A driveway stay for a little over a week. Long enough to completely scatter our things across the camper. A breath of stability and exploration of the coast.

There were challenges finding the correct location of the tide pools. Challenges, I say.

Attempt no. 1 brought us to this beautiful bay we could park right next to and waltz up to the shoreline. We arrived just before sunset at low tide.

Attempt no. 2 “I think it’s this way.” We parked and had a few choices on trails to take through the low shoreline scrub brush leading into the cascading dunes. I followed, blindly, my husband up and down the coastal dunes (sand mountains?) to a dead end with rubber legs. And back up I slogged through the sand. We tried another trail. Up and down the dunes to the tide pools.

Attempt no. 3, with new directions, we tried again following a reasonable trail down through the shore vegetation to the tide pools.

I can’t forget visiting Morro Bay and Otters…

Elephant Seal Rookery, San Simeon

Near Hearst Castle the Elephant Seals gather for the breeding season. Thousands. Hundreds were on the beach and so many more were in the water. Mostly they lay on the sand barely moving, flipping sand across their backs on occasion. We followed the sounds down the beach to where an older male was chasing away an interloper and the yearlings and pups were playing.

After leaving the main beach we stopped at another roadside pullout. My husband thought it was a regular beach (signage was in not apparent) and just before reaching the beach I stopped him from coming face to face with a young male elephant seal.

Los Padres National Forest

Big Sur. We stayed on the south side for two nights and it rained in California. For a brief moment the sun shined and we took a walk to the ocean cliffs. Where I was quickly about the abundance of poison oak in the state of California. I made it out of California unscathed.

Monterey

We left the campground in Los Padres National Forest and followed 1 up the coast to Monterey. We camped at Laguna Seca with it’s epic green views and racetrack. Racetrack. Yes we camped to the sounds of race cars zooming all day.

250 years old with a literary and canning past, Monterey sits by the ocean with its gem the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I’ve never been to one so I have no comparison. All I can say is it was spectacular and inspiring. When we arrived the octopus was active and moving around it’s tank. Swelling and swirling his arms. In addition to the real Octopi there was another beautiful multimedia exhibit dedicated to how octopi and squid were historically depicted. There were schools of fish swimming in current tanks, jellyfish dancing. rescued shore birds, touch tanks, sharks, a green sea turtle, and art exhibited by artists dedicated to bringing awareness to the problem of plastics in the ocean.

Unfortunately for me I was the recipient of an ignorant and hostile public policing effort at the Octopus tank. A young mother, with a brood of homeschool kids, took it upon herself to attack me for my camera’s meter light because the sign said no flash. Then there was a mob reaction. Another woman chimed in with: “haven’t you taken enough photographs, you can stop so the rest of us can enjoy the exhibit.”

I was so frustrated and angry. Not one of those women felt the need to say a single word to my husband who was also photographing. And a guy next to me flashed the octopus with his iPhone, but he just “made a mistake.”

It took a male staff member to step in and set the mob straight. And as an artist I’ve been singled out more than once in my life for not following the rules as other people, and often, women see them. And more than once I’ve had to stand my ground, hold my breath and carry on knowing that I’m on a different path they don’t understand, I’M NOT WRONG I AM AN ARTIST.

San Franciso

We made a stop an hour outside of San Francisco so I could attempt to make contact with someone in the city. We crossed over the Golden Gate for fun (not fun) and later the Bay Bridge for me to search a six story public library with no luck on finding this person. My heart breaks for this country of haves and have nots. I wish others understood, or tried, a little, to understand how fragile mental and financial stability are.

Northern California & Touching Oregon

Northern California….

Its sort of a blur now. I’m writing this and it is still recent history. That wasn’t even days ago I was in San Francisco and now its under a Shelter in Place order. The thing about the old truck was we didn’t have a radio. We couldn’t listen to any news in the truck and we were often places with poor service. History is now catching up so fast now that we have the news available in the new truck. When we were driving up the California Coast to Oregon the Covid-19 troubles seemed distant. By the time we landed in Brookings, Oregon it was obvious that we needed to head home. Now California is shutting down state parks. New Mexico already shut them down.

With great sadness, my feet kissed the Pacific Northwest and turned tail. We are heading south to head east because it is still winter in the Rocky Mountains. It is time to go home. The world is out of our control and it’s time to go home to the roads we know.

Brookings Oregon

The rest of this tale will hopefully be of the long road home.

The Road: Part 6

Art Journal, The Road

Hoover Dam, Lake Mead & Oops There’s Las Vegas

We left Arizona ready for a short drive. We didn’t have that long of a drive to get where we were going. Then I had an inspiration. Hoover Dam was only an hour away? Why not? What could go wrong.

First off. Hoover Dam was more than an hour out of our way.

Second. We needed to stop to eat before we saw the main event. Then pick up something from the store. Then stop to check out something. Then, well, nature called.

Then we had to have our truck and camper searched while the dogs went mad. Ok. That wasn’t so bad? The Hoover Dam was a lot. More than I expected. I also had no idea what a people magnet it was.

While stopped at the turn around point (because you aren’t allowed to go into Arizona) for the Dam, I saw it. A critical repair on the camper didn’t hold.

Hoover Dam

Now we were trying to find a place to camp for the night. And my husband vetoed the campgrounds for camping on BLM land instead. We drove along Lake Mead thinking we had it all figured out.

Then dark descended on us like a curse. We didn’t find anywhere. We drove through the desert night sure the next rise would yield a little BLM camping gold nugget. It did not. The last rise gave way to the vast lit spread of Sin City herself (huge and sprawling), and there was no where for us to go but through it (turning a 30 ft camper around is a challenge). After the subtleness of Arizona the lights of Las Vegas hit like a planetary object. Also, you can smoke and gamble in gas stations. Pro-tip pay outside so you don’t come out smelling like an ashtray from that 60 seconds.

Lake Mead

California

It took some convincing… but I got my human to agree to drive over that line. I don’t believe he regrets it yet. (Also since when did google maps welcome users to a new state? I’m sure California is the only state that it has done that with).

Death Valley

There’s both more here and less here than I expected. There are little pockets of civilization to get gas, food (food is a relative term) and camp. Great stretches of empty desert. But, where is the grocery store? We went to the nearest town and nope nothing there. Why did we drive there? Because the wind storm knocked out the power and internet and we couldn’t get fuel within Death Valley. Might as well get some supplies too… nope.

Yes the wind storm. Days of wind. Though the first night it hit, it came on like an angry bull. We watched the dust storm gather at the base of the mountains. In the night the gusts reached as high as 70 mph. It has been a few days and it is still windy. There is a fine coating of dust on everything including the cat.

Despite that this place is magical. In every direction a new texture, a new color, a vista, a canyon… We explored the roads leading to the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns, the Artist’s Palette, the Devil’s Golf Course and then the Racetrack Playa. After the Racetrack everything changed.

It was 60 miles to the washboard gravel backroad that takes you to the Racetrack Playa, then it is another 26 miles of rough riding up, yes up to the valley it resides. Plus the extra miles when we attempted to take a different route out and found that no we do not have a 4×4 with high clearance. It was dark by the time we reached the blacktop.

Then the check engine light came on with 60 miles to go back to camp.

Alternator.

The doldrums. We were marooned in Death Valley with low supplies and waiting on an alternator to be shipped. I focused on art. I scanned my polaroid collection. Started editing them. Worked on my 100 day project. We tried to keep shopping at the store to a minimum because of the premium prices. Then we ran out of dog food. The store had a cute little bag. We ran out again. Crossed our fingers that the store restocked, and it did.

When the alternator arrived, it did not work. Nothing worked. (More about the truck situation here)

Death Valley to Pahrump to Lake Mead to Las Vegas to Lake Mead to Valley of Fire to Death Valley

Here in my tale we start driving in circles. We sever ties with the old truck and finally make the commitment to a new one. With a lot of mixed feelings. I write from Death Valley where the troubles began, sitting in a new-to-us truck, and I’d be hard pressed to unravel our journey between leaving and returning with the exception of a few notable experiences.

We drove through North Vegas, which I was told, was the “hood.” Twice we did that. The first time was the night we drove through when we were looking for a place to stay for the night before we ever reached Death Valley. Then we drove through during the day. The same road from the desert that opens up to the city. I the daylight it is littered with trash. (Other routes into Vegas are not). I saw a man laying in a parking lot at ten am. his shirt was pulled up over his torso. His torso twisted in one direction and his legs in the other. I could not say for sure if he was alive or not. There was a woman with bright blue afro styled hair wearing a surgical mask hitting a small man approaching her on the sidewalk. Near an intersection an older man in a wheelchair with no legs was nearly in the road, slumped over, sleeping, I hope. Later in another area of the city I saw a tall thin man holding his dirty blanket around his shoulders trying to get into the dumpster pen at a fast food joint. He gave up and slumped against the side of the building. His head hanging between his knees. I tried to go back when I could to get him something, but he was gone. Implored my husband, said look, he isn’t begging (referring to the professional beggars that are around) , I must. But I failed at that kindness, and it will be one of those moments I regret.

And then we were able to finally leave Las Vegas. We tried for the Valley of Fire to the north, but it was unbelievably crawling with people. We drove around a couple scenic roads before heading back to the campground in Death Valley for a night.

Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park

In the winter you can still see the world’s biggest tree. As long as you are prepared with winter tires, 4×4, chains and ok with the idea of being snowed in while they clear the critical roads. On February 20th it didn’t seem likely. The mountain looked like early spring. By the afternoon of the 21st though, everyone, including us, evacuated the campground for lower ground. Storm was coming. And we weren’t staying to experience it. Nope.

But I saw them and a few days before it didn’t seem likely I would. We tried to enter from the south, a direction that was closed for the winter and the locals weren’t giving up the correct information about how to go about seeing the giant trees. Google? Cell reception was hard to come by.

Once set on the right road we climbed into the rolling green back country. Followed a winding mountain road through early spring oak forests and cow pastures. Then we climbed up and up a winding mountain road. The trees changed from hardwood to pines and then we saw the first monumental sequoia just before the entrance gate.

The things I learned about these trees that are going to stick with me the most:

  1. They have no taproot. You cannot walk up to and touch the biggest trees. Well, you shouldn’t, if you don’t want to love them to death. They are being protected from all the tourist traffic by foot paths and a little wood fence. Unfortunately, while breathing in the General Sherman Tree, I witness two different groups of people ignore the fence. A young man speaking French from one group and a few individuals from a group speaking a language that sounded Russian/Eastern European. Another individual with a middle eastern accent chastised the second group. Declaring they “educate themselves,” well said stranger and thank you for using your voice.
  2. The air quality is horrible. For us, for them. They are under assault. I didn’t expect the smoky haze, the locals are aware, but it has not saturated into the public sphere. This air is trapped here. Saturated. From below you can barely make out that there are any mountains. From above the land disappears into the haze. My clothes smell smokey and there were no campfires. There were no active wildfires in the area. I’m searching for the explanation of why there was so much smoke in the air. I’m told it is just the bowl effect of the mountains and the prevailing winds trapping everything in.
  3. Climate change.

Joshua Tree National Park

I almost forgot that we visited Joshua Tree! We were unable to secure a camping spot and camped on nearby BLM land then drove through the park on our way south. I since learned that Joshua Tree, like many natural wonders, is threatened by climate change. Experts believe the future holds a time when there will no Joshua Trees in the park.

Salton Sea

Did I know there was an inland sea in Southern California? Maybe once I looked on a map and since long forgot it. We drove along the western shore admiring the deep blue sparkles against the distant blue haze mountains. So we stopped to check it out.

The beach sand was made of minuscule shell particles. The closer to the water the sharper and larger.

Then you are assaulted by the aroma of the Salton Sea. The posted warnings were to not eat the shell fish, but swimming was fine. My ocean drinking dogs weren’t interested in these waters. The Salton Sea is a beautiful manmade mistake (yes, man accidentally filled an ancient lake/sea bed). And if cared for she’d be the bell of the desert again.

Imperial Dunes

Forty-five miles of sand dunes cresting in light and and shadow. Changing color with the light. Pure form. Hundreds if not thousands of people come every week to these BLM managed dunes to play in the sand with their toys, but I came for the light.

And I got to see part of the Sonoran Desert bloom in white, violet, pink and orange.

Essay: Eulogy for a Truck

Art Journal, The Road

It was always a good possibility that we would leave home for the road with Truck, but not return with him. (Yes I think of my husband’s large white diesel truck as Truck and a him, for no clear reason).

In the town and with the people I grew up with, a person’s car was often as much a part of their identity as their personal style. Truck has been a part of my life since I met my husband in 2009. Kurt somehow had all the qualities I wanted in a partner (not that I was looking!). So I joked to myself (never out loud) if he rode a white horse the deal is done. Then I saw he was driving a big white truck and I figured that had to be close enough.

Over the years Truck has been a problem. There was us stuck in the middle of no where in a sugar sand back road because Truck is more of an Egyptian pyramid stacking brick than an ideal off-road vehicle. Oh Truck could tow, but was not created as a 4 wheel drive, a much needed aspect of having a truck in the north. Lucky for us a plucky 4wd came along and pulled Truck out of the predicament. While me and Kurt’s kids watched.

Kurt came home with a topper for Truck so our dog at the time, Baby, would be able to travel around with us, especially back and forth downstate. The particles of that topper are still with us. It fell apart and had to be dismantled for the trash. Not all of it made it yet…

I had to buy a car (instead of a tiny truck like my Tacoma) so Kurt could make efficient monthly trips downstate. While I was more than happy to make that sacrifice, I would be left with Truck. And often you could find me laying in a mid-winter snow bank crying next to Truck. Truck idling on a sheet of ice with cat litter scattered around all the tires, chunks of wood, carpet remnants, and whatever other idea I could come up with to get the giant useless block to move. I failed time and time again to move that mule. 5,000 pounds of two wheel drive.

I gave Truck it’s first dent down the side of the bed. Years later Kurt gave the other side a perfect match.

Truck, paused at the top of a mountain near Oatman, AZ.

You could find me attempting to park the beast in any lot, with any amount of room. Then watch me walk away cackling, swinging the keys, as that extended cab With an eight foot foot bed careened across however many spaces I needed. Of course I was parking away, far, far away from the doors, way over yonder.

I had to run errands with the step-daughter and in the middle of traffic Truck starts smoking inside the cab with that telltale electrical fire smell. I know things here and there about cars and their problems, but cars smoking and maybe on fire? Nope. It was a panic response to get the kid safely out of Truck, then we had to wait an hour for Kurt to come. It was luckily only the end of the speakers. I think one one worked, sometimes. Maybe. We haven’t listened to the radio in months on this trip.

When we were still driving in Michigan, when our road adventure was fresh, there was foreshadowing of Truck’s doom. The engine light came on briefly and then we forgot about it.

Until Death Valley.

When the engine light comes on there things get complicated. We just finished coming from Racetrack Playa, which was 26 miles (52 miles round trip) of washboard gravel one way. We had 60 miles of moonlit desert blacktop to drive when the check engine light came on announcing the end of the alternator. We waited four days for a new alternator to be delivered to the Post Office and Kurt had to be there waiting for it. But it didn’t work. And Kurt did things. We drove Truck with a charged battery to civilization and got a part to regulate the charging, for whatever reason the truck’s brain was going bad. That fix caused over charging.

After days of Kurt fiddling and researching…

The end has come for Truck, 2000 Dodge 2500 with 396,451 miles in Las Vegas, Nevada. All the things wrong and all the things we needed from a vehicle just made it impossible to keep Truck on the road.

No more crooked driver side seat. No more cracked windshield. No more “shut the radio off, I can’t understand it.” No more rattling rusty Michigan body. No more fighting with the tail gate. Or the doors that were possessed. On the other hand we definitely didn’t attract the wrong attention. No one was looking at Truck and thinking “I want what they have inside.” I’m sure it was thief repellent.

Truck, you were there for our first date and us falling in love driving around seeing the sights in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. You kept us safe on long trips. Hauled all the materials we needed to fix our house. Rescued the other cars when they broke down. And you got us over 10,000 miles across the country.

So long Truck.

Last view.
Kurt’s flair.

Essay: Understanding

Art Journal, Artistic Growth, Self Reflection, Thoughts

If you have followed along this far I’m sure it is clear I struggle with my identity as an artist. I’m using both my time traveling across country since October 30th and the 100 Day Project to focus on developing my artistic voice and understanding my motivations. And along the way completely muddling up my website. Your welcome reader.

Today I had a breakthrough. It started two days ago really. I posted a piece of bird wing on Instagram. At first I was going to stop myself out of fear of losing my audience. Instead I went ahead. I decided I need to be authentically me and that includes sharing my inner world. I added a caption about how I saw beauty in life cycles.

That started it, but I didn’t know it.

I’ve been reading books about artists, following art blogs, going to galleries, museums and listening to art related podcasts. You know, immersing myself. Out of this came the idea that there is a thread in my life, specific to my experiences that can inform my work. Other artists could point to childhood memories that easily intertwined with their adult artworks.

I just could not see it.

I always felt like I had to make a choice. And each choice would be leaving behind an aspect of creating that I enjoyed. If I chose painting, I’d have to let go of blockprinting. If I chose drawing I’d never paint. If I did trees, I couldn’t do animals. If I tried a new medium it wouldn’t fit with the rest of my work.

I was missing what my work has been about entirely.

Entirely.

From dead trees, ravens, crows, up-cycling, cats, decaying buildings, dying saguaros, desert vistas, water, spiral symbols, animal bones, skulls, gardening, seasons, the mysteries of world religions, even attention to textures and certain aspects of Japanese culture it’s been about life cycles. And importantly life out of death.

But why?

Perhaps because the day I was born, October 30 (the same day we departed) was the one year anniversary of my Grandmother’s murder. I grew up with that as the dinner conversation for years. My father never got over it. My aunt wrote a fictionalized book inspired by it (absolutely worth reading: available here!). I’d say it was the single most defining event of my childhood.

Then during my twenties, when I most needed to lean on my father for support to go back to school, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He made poor life decisions, leaned on me, and I spent five years watching him die slowly before the real end when I watched him suffer for weeks and eternal days. He didn’t know where he was, let alone who I was. I had a complicated relationship with my Father. It took time to understand his imperfect humanity. When the time comes to say your final goodbyes to a parent or someone with a terminal illness, you too will find complex feelings hidden away to deal with.

After that I chose to work in home health for two years and a nursing home for over four years. (After college I felt no inspiration to do art, until the ink doodles started compulsively taking over and I couldn’t ignore my creative needs anymore). I wanted to give to others the peace I had from knowing my father was cared for. Being close to death was somehow being close to my father. Giving comfort and kindness to the sick and dying was giving it to him, in a way.

For a long time, unconsciously, my art work has been about life after death. Life from death. Beauty in death. I just didn’t know it. I don’t need to change what I’m doing. I just needed to understand it. I can accept and embrace the materials, media and subjects that speak to me. And know I’m giving something to the world uniquely mine that I can be proud of.

Essay: Letting Go

Art Journal, Self Reflection, Thoughts

I’m in the middle of re-learning a life lesson about letting people go right out of my life who, when it comes down to it, are not adding value and quality to my existence. Invest in those who want to invest in you, right? Today a memory has come crawling out of the cobwebbed corner of my brain to resurface. It is time to share this tale and how it’s lessons relate to my art life. Gather round…

I have a sister. A partial sister. An older sister, eight years older. We share the same father. And for a short time she lived with us when I was a child of four or five. I’ll not name her and she doesn’t share my last name. She. She never could be nice to me for more than a few hours it seems. Her visits were few and far between. And I was always so excited to see her, this exotic woman from the west coast with colored hair and a musical voice. Yes she went to school on her voice and sometimes when she visited she’d sing, but not if I asked. How I just wanted a sisterly bond with her. Tragically I will seek that missing bond in all my female friendships (hint: I won’t find it, it is never there).

Years go on and I live my life in Michigan and She lives hers on the West Coast. I’ll try to reach out to her and it’ll fail. When our father becomes ill She comes to visit. Each visit is more contentious than the last. Once we had to be in a car for nine hours together to see our father who was flown to another hospital. I am surprised we made it. When I told her about going to college for fine art her retort was “what are you trying to prove.” I’ve been criticized for being too negative. Told even if I was the taller, my hips were wider. I had a crisis on my first trip by myself when I had everything stolen, She happened to live somewhat near, I asked advice and got “what do you want from me.” Well, we didn’t talk much. Years at a time go by so…

Imagine a beautiful perfect summer morning. I’m on my deck drinking coffee. I have finally adopted a group of artist friends. I have finally started making art again (about ten years out from art school). I am selling work. I am curating shows and doing social media promotions for this artist collective and for myself. This is huge for me. And my sister sends me a message after a year of no contact telling me I’m appropriating her Mother and Step-Father’s Art.

I didn’t mention they are all artists? Established artists, I had to look them up after the confrontation. Two very talented artists with rocking careers that have nothing to worry about from me.

That’s because I’ve never met them and it is so far outside of my reality that I needed that part of the story to kick you in the head the way that day kicked me in the head.

It was a long day. At the end of it I said my piece and severed all ties with my Sister. I have tended in my life to allow people to wipe their feet on me. I have allowed myself to be in borderline abusive relationships. I knowingly allowed myself to be used and conned.

However, attacking my art practice hit a nerve that I didn’t know I had. See, art is my god, worship and meditation. It has saved me from myself over and over. I’m afraid of where I’d be in life without creativity.

I have not missed my sister. She was never there.

It would be a long long long time later that I would realize with dismay the what ifs. What if my sister liked me? She may have had it in her power to introduce me to established artists, galleries and other art world gatekeepers. It never occurred to me all the people they could be connected to. It does now, perversely.

Oh well.

I’d rather have my small art practice and healthy boundaries. And remember to let people go that don’t want to be here and that are not enriching my journey.

The Road: Part 5.2

Art Journal, The Road, Thoughts


Arivaca

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After Tucson we headed closer to the border with Mexico, again, staying in the small town of Arivaca, Arizona. When visiting the town center, I noticed immediately a small building with hand-painted signs: Humanitarian Aid Office. Being the curious human I am I had to ask them about their mission. I was informed that migrants come across asking for water and there was a legal case brought against someone for giving them water (since dismissed). But there was a bigger mission. They assist local ranchers dealing with the newly “militarized border.” The person I spoke with mentioned ranchers dealing with the Border Patrol landing helicopters on their land. Of course I asked about the wall and if the crime rate justified it. This person didn’t blink, they 100% wanted a wall, but added that was just their opinion and the local people were just getting swept up into the politics.

One has to recognize the prism of local issues at play. As we were exploring the area we discovered ranches that allowed the public onto their land. One asked us to sign in and use a tag another asked people only walk in. One posted no Border Patrol ORVs and no militia. The restaurant we ate at posted a sign saying vigilante and border militia groups not welcome. The website I found for the Tohono O’ddham Nation reservation made it very clear they were against a border wall on their land. And not so far away is the area reportedly being cleared of ancient cactus to make way for border wall.

Please go to the Humanitarian Aid Web Site for a far better explanation of the situation in the borderlands.

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Humanitarian Aid Office, Arivaca, Arizona
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Jake local celebrity, of Arivaca

Kitt Peak Observatory

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Observatory Structure at Kitt Peak

Setting ourselves out on a different pace, we had a place to be and a time to be there. We drove the nearly desolate two hours from the small town we were staying at to visit the Kitt Peak Observatory for a four hour nighttime star gazing program. Up the switchback mountain road we drove into the crisp air of the sky island. Upon our arrival the staff directed us to park in a specific spot, everyone lining up facing the same direction.

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Tour Group watching Sunset

We were informed, fed, toured, given red flashlights. Warned to point them down, to protect the science. First we watched the sunset while the observatories opened unexpectedly to the sky by scientists working remotely. As the dark descended went up the stairs into an open top observatory with a 16″ telescope and looked into the past. I saw with my eyes another galaxy (The Andromeda Galaxy), star clusters, and other wonders. (You can see and read the blogs from the night of our visit. Lorelie, Robert (our Guide) and Fred. ).

They prepared our vehicles for departure by covering our headlights with red plastic and then signaled us to start our vehicles together and descend the mountain in a caravan lead by the Observatory staff. All to protect the science. No phones. No errant lights. No photography after dark. Nearly fifty people working together to respect the delicate work of the scientists.

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Sunset on Kitt Peak

Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge

It is all about the Masked Bobwhite Quail at the Buenos Aires Refuge. They have them penned up, but good luck seeing the quick little… Anyway. The visitor center is in a beautiful old ranch house looking out over golden grasses and mountain horizons, with opportunities to bird watch and a nice display of cacti.

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Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge

Tohono O’odham Nation

While visiting the Kitt Peak Observatory I read about the Tohono O’dham Nation, which the Observatory sits on their land. There were these beautiful baskets made from traditional materials and then there were tiny little baskets made from horse hair and other materials. Repeating throughout the artworks on display was the Man in the Maze.

So moved was I by the the craftsmanship of the basketmakers and the symbolism of the Man in the Maze I wanted to know more about the people. We visited the Tohono O’odham Nation Cultural Center and Museum. 10,000 years their people lived on this land with the desert. I learned a little more about how they lived prior to western influence and their involvement in the conflicts since. There were also on display some fantastic artists: painter Delia Velasco, block print artist Keith Norris and weaver Arlene Thomas were the three that really stood out to me. Sorry no photos! And I respected that. So I will describe them for you.

Delia Velasco:

Her piece was a large mixed media painting in earthy tones of rust red and yellow dripping at times like a wild watercolor, layered around the symbolic elements. In the upper left hand corner the suggestion of a saguaro silhouette is visible. The most striking element is the repeated Man in the Maze in the composition. A 1/4 circle of the Maze fills almost half the canvas, it’s epicenter the lower left corner.

Keith Norris:

Norris’s work was a block print of four figures walking the land titled: “Getting Home.” One female figure in a skirt carrying a pot on her head, a smaller male figure carrying sticks, a smaller figure in a skirt, a male figure with something strapped to his back, and all using walking sticks. The bottom third of the print are the figures, two hills and vegetation detail. The top 3/4 is filled with a radiating sun patten that feels like hope, heat, and sunshine.

Arlene Thomas:

Thomas crafted a miniature Man-in-the-Maze basket out of horsehair. It is slightly bigger than a coin, the label is bigger and it is completely dwarfed by its companions. Each line of the Maze is balanced to the scale and elegantly executed. If you cannot tell, I am absolutely thunderstruck by the craftsmanship.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

The good, the bad, and the ugly. We were trying for Phoenix and didn’t make it. This beautiful spectacular failure went from we’ll stay one night to three. The drive in on 85 was spectacular. The sun set on a magestic jagged red mountain backdrop with the teaming desert landscape in the foreground. The first morning after our arrival I met the resident Raven lovebirds who posed for me on the campground saguaros. Thank you ravens!

We drove a loop through the park on one end enjoying the day and viewing the cholla, saguaro, and organ pipe cacti in all their various forms. Met a couple people plein air painting.

On the last day we drove the loop that went alongside the border wall where reports in the media were made of the saguaro’s being destroyed to make way for the new border wall. What I saw were some brush piles of willow and cacti marked. I did come across one saguaro that was in the process of being cut down. Access to some roads are blocked because of the border wall construction.

Saguaro Landscape

Phoenix

Costa’s Hummingbird

I just wanted to stop to see one exhibit… my husband signed us up for nine days? ten days? Two different campgrounds. The thing is we didn’t do much during this time. We took two drives. One on a back road that went through a hot-springs business with palm trees in the middle of nowhere and another on a quest to find a business that might sell cow skulls in Yarnell, which did not end up existing anymore. I was delighted by the wild donkeys, hated the suburban sprawl of Phoenix, baffled by a lake lined with saguaros, and beyond irked with the airplanes circling our second campground choice. We went into a grocery store that sold luxury spirits and cigars. In this high rent area all the brands were mercifully subdued, I wish the whole world could throttle consumer culture this way. And we made it to the Phoenix Museum of Art to see the Ansel Adams exhibit. Mostly we just enjoyed the subtle warmth of the January desert and caught up on the things that have been tickling our brains.

Sunset McDowell Regional Park
Black Throated Sparrow
Curve Billed Thrasher
Donkeys at Lake Pleasant Regional Park
Harsh Light on a back road.
Dying Saguaro.

Escaping Flagstaff

Snow. Cold. Bailed on our plans for north Arizona. Knew it was going wrong when we started climbing in elevation and never went back down. After a night in a Cracker Barrel parking lot we drove west on the old Route 66 towards Oatman. Now if you haven’t experienced the Oatman highway… prepare yourself. I mean, maybe a lot of people are used to mountain roads. But this one makes worldwide lists. Once you cram your stomach back where it belongs and unclench every muscle in your body you’ll be treated to wild donkeys hanging out in the streets of Oatman. Really. And so many people all of a sudden. We camped well outside of the town. And would you believe you don’t have to set an alarm? Donkeys will come by at six in the morning and take care of that.

Goodbye for now Arizona…

Sunbather
Scenic and terrifying Oatman Rd.
Cholla chunk