Yesterday was warm and sunny and the whole fam-dam-ily took a road trip up to the remote ranchos in the mountains to look for pottery. Dad and friend in one car and Burt, Jen, and Robin in another. I bounced back and forth. I’m not sure dad enjoyed himself. He seemed a little subdued. It might have been an upset stomach or just the really rough roads through very remote desert.
Our first stop was to see Ramona. At 70 Ramona doesn’t produce much these days but her pieces are more whimsical than other local artists. There are pigs, cows, turtles, chickens and other local species transformed into jars and bowls and serving vessels. She explained to us that she was hoping for a new oven because her current one was too big for her to fill these days. She wanted to be able to fire smaller loads. Ramona uses pitaya cactus wood as her main fuel. It doesn’t take much time to form a simple cup but the finishing takes a lot of rubbing with a smooth stone over many days. She does a little bit every day until the piece is smooth and dried just right for firing. If she does too much work one day the piece will dry too quickly and crack. Ramona learned how to do this from her great-grandmother.
Next we went to the locally famous guy’s house but he wasn’t home. Marcos makes bigger and more finely crafted casseroles and bowls. You can drop a substantial amount of pesos at his house. I figured it was our lucky day to not be tempted. Our last visit was to our friends at the end of the road. We don’t even know their names but they call us friend and we’ve been many times. The main man in the photo below has never smiled for us. Until now. The ladies were all unpacking a bunch of cups and bowls for us to look over and I wondered why the man of the house wasn’t showing us his wares. This guy embodies strong, silent type. I knew he wove lariats and riatas and horse accoutrements. Last year I bought a key chain from him. The hand of the car I call it. So this year I gathered my gumption and asked him, “And where is your work?” I got a flicker of a smile for remembering. He quickly tried to conceal it and he headed off to get his stuff for me. This year I bought a bull’s head made of pig teeth. He makes this stuff to sell down in Cabo San Lucas.
The women asked how our walk (recall the death march to Titi Mountain?) went earlier in the spring. I told them how far we made it and that we were looking for birds. I always say we are scientists studying birds because it’s easier to understand. This brought a piece or unsolicited news. The older woman and the youngest kids had seen a new bird in the area. A blue bird with a crest. I showed a picture of the very common California Scrub Jay and they said, “Noooo, not that one. That one doesn’t have a crest.” I searched for jays on my phone app and found a mainland bird, the Stellar’s Jay, dark blue with a prominent crest. I showed them this picture and they said, “Yes, that one has been here for a couple of years. It’s new here.” Hmmmmm. We could be real scientists after all on the brink of a new discovery. I have no doubt they know what they see. These people are living straight off the land. They pay attention. Burt and I hope to head back up in a few weeks and see for ourselves.
Jolyn is continuing to teach these kids how to paint. It is not just a kid’s art class with random crafts and silly drawings. Jolyn is working on the elements of design, light, color, and technique. Translating is a challenge for me but the results show the older kids are getting it. This week they did an exercise where they had to draw a still life with only straight lines (no curves for that banana, chamaco!) and then paint it with only one color. Jolyn demonstrated and I explained as best I could that it was an exercise with artificial limits that helped the brain to see the world in a different way. That we were stretching the way our eyes and brains and fingers work. The youngest kids were stymied but didn’t lose patience. A lot of curved lines and flat drawings from the youngest ones but the older kids were impressive. I saw depth of field and proportion and balanced drawings. One frustrated kid asked if we could do origami again but she kept painting. I remember feeling the same way when I was a kid in art class. I never got the abstract stuff. Now I do. I wonder when my brain caught up?
I wonder if we are helping or enriching their lives and I realize that sitting quietly and trying something new is a great exercise. They are exposing themselves to a new experience. They may never paint but they are learning that it’s not magic. That painting is a skill with techniques requiring work and practice. After class we have hula hooping and cookies and song. Sometimes I think they take the class so they can eat cookies and play with the hula hoop.
Well, neither can I. Okay, I can say origami but I can’t teach origami in Spanish. I can hardly do origami. So there I was with cell phone in hand as my cheat sheet leading a class in folding paper. It was an emergency situation. Jolyn was sick and couldn’t teach art and I am a big proponent of consistency and showing up so I refused to cancel class. That is how I wound up folding fortune teller games and star boxes in our yard with our group of girls. Luckily one girl, Evely, had a knack for the art and managed to get what I was so not explaining properly. This lead to some forward momentum in the group. She could help the younger kids fold, too. I also smartly decided we would fold the same two things over and over again until I learned how to do it. I used to fold paper early in our years as Gypsies because it relived stress and I had a frozen shoulder and could not play music or do sports. I thought I would remember. No. Eventually most of us got it down. I sent them all home with paper to practice and word came back via Facebook that they spent the evening folding paper. And apparently learned more English because of my total language fail. Moral of this story: Show up and bring pretty paper with you.
Bad Hombre is getting used to us. As my friend Gretchen says,”You’ve become a neutral stimulant.” So far he won’t eat while we watch but he no longer falls over unconscious when we walk in the room. Progress. It’s become apparent that his wing is likely a permanent disability. This birdie will need a permanent home. Feeding him is a significant commitment. For optimal health he needs a variety of rodents, birds, and insects. We had a sharp tailed grouse in our freezer but were short on insects and rodents. Yesterday we threw a live cockroach in the kennel and left. Did the roach leave or was it eaten? We are in the uncomfortable position of not knowing.
Yesterday was Ladies Bridge. We meet Saturdays for lunch and cards. How did this happen to me? Bridge, ladies club? Well these women are smart and fun and not your run of the mill gals. Our host, Lorna, is also a bird fan. As I was describing my kestrel’s dietary preferences to Lorna and another early arriver, Lorna said, “I have a white winged dove in my freezer. You can have it.” Now that is kismet and further proof that Bridge ladies are my kind of ladies. This poor white winged dove had died on impact on Lorna’s window. Lorna was saving it to eat.
In other news, our first art class with Maestra Jolyn Wells Moran was this week. We gathered up the neighborhood kids and brought them to our yard. Most of them are 6-10 years old but there’s a 13 year old and a 4 year old, too. Germany (4) comes with her mom. Burt had set up saw horses and boards and Jolyn had made paint palettes from plastic plates. Jolyn knows her art. She is a prolific producer of lovely landscapes from around our area. She is also a retired therapist. We are very pleased she wanted to work with our kids. It was all her idea. I help translate and Jo has the materials and lesson plan. Our first class was well received and they all say they want to come up again.
During class I was stunned to learn that the kids didn’t know that blue, yellow, and red made all other colors in the universe. It also alarmed me that it was very hard for the girls to get over their inhibitions and take action. I had to take their hands and move the brush from paint to paint and start mixing for a few. I also had to start painting the forms for their favorite animal for most. It was a weird moment. Jo had asked them to paint their favorite animal in secondary colors. That means paint a dog or horse or snake in orange, green, or purple. The kids (all except the one boy) were absolutely paralyzed. First off they couldn’t decide on a favorite animal. Then they couldn’t figure out how to form it. Then they couldn’t figure out how to use such un-natural colors. I had to explain it’s an at exercise not meant to be reality. Finally I started with a duck shape for someone that wanted to paint a duck. Then everyone wanted a duck. The follow the crowd mentality took hold and all favorite animals were suddenly ducks. Nobody wanted to stand out. Except Vince. Vince painted monsters. And my one shining star. Janexi came to me with a picture she had painted all on her own. It was a purple brownish blob. I asked if it was a duck. No. It was a spider. Spiders are her favorite animal. My freaking hero Janexi. Bucking the crowd at 6 years old. All the other girls confirmed that Janexi really did like spiders. I told her I liked them, too, and promised her a spider hunt in the future.
The need for art (and science) education was very apparent.
All fly photos sent in to me as inspiration by Karen Ekstrom. We do not know who created them/ If this is your work please contact me and I will assign credit.
This is the best assignment of the month. I was sitting under the palapa with Burt and Ed and Rosemary contemplating life. Where to settle if any of us ever settles, what to eat, how long will our intestinal upset last, why is Elvis humping Bowman’s head, whose art shall I steal for my blog? The usual yak yak yak when an email from a snow bound Helenan that we all knew came through. What a lovely surprise to hear from a long absent friend. I sent group salutations back. The four us us kept talking and then I recalled that Karen was one of my favorite painters and that I had even modeled for her. The great mystery of my disappearing ass painting still remains unsolved and Karen is the key player. It was she that painted my not so dainty derrière and hung it in her garden. Somebody absconded with my ass. It gives me a fit of giggles whenever I consider where and what might have been done to my bodacious butt in oil. Recalling that bit of Zazzali bottom lore I asked Karen if she had any recent art I could steal for my blogging project. You read that right. Today’s assignment was to change, steal, or copy somebody else’s work. The point being that all art is derived from other art so steal some and make something new.
The easy work for me is all my music is cover tunes derived from someone. It might be a 400 year old folk tune or some current alt-country but all my music comes from elsewhere. Boring. So done. So once I came up with Karen I thought maybe she has a nude or landscape or dog painting I can recreate in photography. Alas, Karen had terrible news. Karen has not painted in 6 years. On the up side she remodeled a house, tool care of elderly parents, and started to play music. I learned all this today because of this assignment. What a gift. No art from Karen. I guess I’ll use my Andy Warhol ripoff of Elvis. It’s a favorite piece of mine because, well, Elvis. Get it? No? Pop icon? Now?
I would have explained but now I won’t because a few hours later Karen sent me this fly work. OMG. It hits all my buttons. Simple, balanced, black and white, DEAD things!!!!!!! I haven’t had time to create my own but I will. Sadly I missed the opportunity to collect a massive dead cockroach today. I just wasn’t thinking. But now I am all over it. Stand by.
Love to you, Karen. This is really fun work thanks for sharing it.
So it comes to my attention this morning that there are some lurkers reading these daily writings and liking it. I never would have guessed but here’s what I heard from Al, my Irish emigree to Canada and Mexico friend, “So you’re 17/31 of the way through this project. How long are you going to keep writing everyday?” I expressed a stunned surprise that Al, a man I see about twice a year, was up to the minute up to date on my blog and a slight need for a break. He responded with, “Oh no! It makes getting up easier in the morning.” Or something to that effect. Wow, what a compliment. And perhaps a slightly Irish backhanded one but I’m gonna take it at face value. I said,”If you want me to keep writing you should make a comment.” My faithful readers motivate me (thanks Pat, Melissa, Becky, Burt…). So here I am trying to get Al out in the open, too. Even if he stays in the shadows I now have him in mind as I write into the ether. I miss seeing him more regularly on the tennis court. Once we beat Burt and Leslie. Those were the day.
So today’s assignment is to consider the source of your creativity. Harumph. There’s some loaded stuff for me. I do not see myself as creative. I see myself as a doer, observer, recorder. The vocabulary of science and engineering populate my mind. I do not write songs. I do not create art. I can’t even arrange a song. I don’t even cook anymore. I play music in a trained monkey sort of way. Other people are ‘real’ musicians and artists. So if I can’t see myself as creative how do I address the creative force? I have to leave the box of what art is and focus on creation. If I look at the totality of my life I see it, my life, as a work of terrible and beautiful art. I have used that drive to create to build a life that is far outside the norms of what society dictates for the likes of me. My inspiration has been to leave behind known and secure. Secure and safe have always let me down in the long run. The sketchy choices have lead to more interesting places physically and emotionally. I see my power in the ability to solve problems. I can find resources and determine limits and comply with the laws of natures and work within all that to create a life that is uniquely mine. This is how I left behind two marriages that were suffocating, a job with no joy but lots of money, a house I loved, and a community of nice enough folks that were too judgemental of me. In return I got to live a life where I work when I need to but mostly want to and to live in places I love surrounded by people from all walks of life that take me as I am. And just like any art it takes constant effort and practice to figure it all out.
There. That should motivate you, Al. I would like to admit I have a keen eye for proportion and color. I use it when working as a carpenter or taking photos.
Finally, finally, finally. You’d think we were trying to get to the moon for how many times we’ve tried to get to San Vicente to see the pottery. After 5 years and and least 5 misses we succeeded in finding San Vicente and the pottery. Burt and I and the Olvis canine team made a day of it. We decided to do a birding adventure. That way if we missed the pottery again we’d still accomplish something. Team Clay Bird left the Pescadero area at 10:30. The odometer was checked and the time noted on our bird list. First stop, the Pescadero presa. The presa is a small earthen dam just below our house. There’s a large puddle of water behind it. At the start of our tour we found coots, gadwells, ruddy ducks and assorted songbirds, most notably the friendly blue-gray gnatcathcher. We also detected a faint stench of decay.
Back on the highway we saw the usual flotilla of Turkey Vultures. I presume they were trying to pinpoint the stanch at the dam. we stopped at a couple of shady spots and added the cara cara above and some kestrels and more gnatcatchers. The cara cara was grooming. These dramatically plumed birds of prey appreciate carrion. I assume they must have to adhere to strict grooming protocols to keep tidy. Some say the signature cara cara toupee is the bird version of Donald Trump’s coif. I’m not so sure about the resemblance to the Donald but I do like the looks of the cara cara.
After two and a half hours we made it to San Vicente. The road had recently been graded so the going was fairly smooth. San Vicente is way up high in the Sierra de la Laguna. From up there we could see the fog layer far out over the Pacific Ocean. Our years of wandering have paid off and we finally recognize catcus cues and important road forks. Signage is faded and hard to find. The map is just wrong. Now saying we arrived in San Vicente might lead a reader to believe we found a town. We found a horse, a mini-church (seating for 20), a school, and one home. That home had a potter with pottery. Rumors of ostriches remain unsubstantiated.
Ramona, the potter, works in her home. Currently she says it’s too cold to work (its over 80 degrees). When it warms up and if God is willing (her words) she will start back at it. Ramona appears to be approaching retirement. I picked out a bowl and Burt bought a coffee cup. I wouldn’t be surprised if arthritis is slowing her down. From Ramona’s place we continued a short way towards the back road we had looked for a couple for weeks ago. Ramona’s husband Marcos told us the road no longer goes through to San Jacinto. Getting lost two week ago spared us hours in the dark on a road that would have eventually dead-ended. At an arroyo about a half mile past Ramona’s we turned around.
Our return route took us to Candelaria. The road to Candelaria is smooth and two laned dirt. It was a freaky Baja superhighway. No traffic. Below us were palm oases and a lush arroyo. We stopped and counted some more birds. I saw an unidentifiable sandpiper. Darn shorebirds. What PITAs. Eventually we found Candelaria. Imagine or surprise to find paved roads and street lights and fresh paint and a tidy community. There was a real church, school, government buildings…There was more pavement and sidewalks than in our own town yet this town was in the middle of nowhere. Home of a bigwig politician? A cartel strong hold? With no answers Burt and I tried to find our way off the pavement and back onto the dirt for our adventure home. This was harder than it sounds. The pavement had a way of degrading all the dirt roads into town. Nothing looked like a viable road except the main route we used to come into town. Trial and error found us heading downhill towards the Pacific. In a few miles we entered the El Migriño arroyo. This arroyo is famous for offroading and dune buggy adventures. We also no now there are no roads where dune buggies and quads play. We had a ten mile deep sand tour in the Exploder. Frequent comments were: Does it look better over there? No. Yes, yes, no, go, go, go…don’t STOP…Over there over there…no here…no….Oh F*#K…It just doesn’t matter. It’s all bad. It was all bad but it was also all good enough. Burt surfed the Exploder through washboard covered sand dunes and we made it out. The key was to maintain speed but not drive so fast that you wrecked. One time I heard the engine bouncing on a separate cycle than the chassis of the vehicle. I think it might have detached from the frame. Olive and Elvis are in therapy.
Seven hours and seventy one miles resulted in 21 bird species found and the purchase of a bowl and coffee cup. Afterwards we found out that the ostriches and the ‘famous’ potter lived just a little further beyond where we turned around. Add that to things we didn’t need to know. Some people might say we still failed to find the pottery of San Vicente. I’m perfectly satisfied and also willing to go back for another trip. Mostly so I can add ostriches to our bird list.
Towns of substantial size usually have a neighborhood where a preponderance of the neighbors go all out at Christmas. In Helena there was this 60s era subdivision in the valley that did the best work. It was always clogged with rubberneckers during the holidays. One year we rode a horse drawn wagon around and had a merry time with a pile of friends. There were tons of creches and Santas and Frosties to see. I was always struck by the 60s era architecture. It was similar to our NJ neighborhood. Modest sized split levels and ranches. There were probably 4 different styles of houses all expressing their uniqueness in Christmas lights.
A few days ago we had to go to Sierra Vista again for supplies. We decided to make a day of it. We had a huge German lunch at the German Cafe. Burt did Home Depot while I shopped at Best Buys and banked. Then we hit the matinee for the last part of the Hunger Games series. It was opening day for Star Wars so we even saw a few die hard fans re-enacting their favorite Star Wars characters waiting in line. Dinner at the Screaming Banshee in Bisbee. Burt had wings and I had a meatball sub. Big Grandma made meatball subs and this was as close as I’ve ever had. Then we did the Christmas light tour of Douglas, AZ. Douglas is a border town that used to be much bigger and much more affluent. The demise of the railroad and the mining industry has left Douglas as a place for the Border Patrol and Walmart. Agua Prieta lies across the border. Walmart is filled with Mexicans spending pesos in the US. And our Portal neighbors. A few weeks ago the Christmas lights in town caught our eyes as we sped down the highway to get home. This trip we swung in and did the old fashioned Christmas light cruise. It’s worth an evening stop if you happen to be in the area. There are high quality efforts and they are densely packed. Some houses are so close together the entire street looks like one continuous display. Holiday cheer abounds. I’ve decided this is one more thing to add to my list of ‘Why we are OK still in the USA for winter.’ The list of positives is quite long but DARK and COLD on the opposing side are very heavy.
Bobbie really liked the original blue door on the studio we transformed into her new home. Sadly, the original blue door was shabby. Years of service had left it dented and unsuitable for a front door on a new home. Burt moved the old Blue door to the garage where an even shabbier door was in place. Bobbie thought this meant she would get a more subdued door, a door that matched the rest of the compound. We didn’t dissuade her. We thought we’d surprise her with a new blue door.
The eye is a miracle. Depending on what you are (bird, ant, human) your eye can see different things. Birds see colors we can’t even imagine. Cats and dogs see motion long before humans. The human eye is a kind of hybrid. It does many things well but no one skill is as good as some eye in the animal kingdom. Then there is the brain. The eye might see but the brain can fail to interpret. I just read that there’s a wide variety of ‘sampling’ in human brains. We might be ‘seeing’ but the brain is ignoring some percentage of the incoming visual data. I guess that’s why some people can hit a curve ball at 97 mph and others can identify a little brown bird as it flits past and others, still, are oblivious to human facial expressions. A failure to see the visual clues that somebody is mad, sad, or happy. Currently there is a fad of color tests making the rounds on Facebook. I’ve done a couple but they are not difficult. Here’s a test I just developed. Try to match a color that you can’t see but must recall from memory. You have study time.
A month or so ago Burt and I went to The Home Depot (I just learned that the The is an important part of the name) in Sierra Vista. Burt had intended to bring a chip of paint to match the old blue of the original project door. He forgot the chip of paint. Burt looked at me and said, “Can you pick out a blue paint that is similar to the blue on the old door?” Can I? Yes, hell yes. It’s secret talent I have. I can see color well but more importantly I can remember color well. I stared at all the blue paint chips from all the manufacturers and in about 47 seconds I found the color. Nearly the exact color. I’m feeling pretty smug about my mad color skills but I also wonder if I just got lucky.
Back to the The in The Home Depot. A while back we mail ordered some things from The Home Depot. Light fixtures, towel bars, stove, refrigerator. For $75 shipping on each appliance they were supposed to come to our door. Well the refrigerator made it. The stove is a free ranging range. Nobody knows where it is. For a while there was a rumor of a successful delivery but now The HD thinks it never left the shipping dock. So they’re sending another. Now there are two ranges wandering the west. We are eager to have one. I learned about the The in The Home Depot while waiting on hold and endlessly hearing about the Power of The Home Depot. Supposedly we’ve been credited on the first stove and shipping has been waived for the second. I’m waiting for the Powers that be of The Home Depot to kick in and get me my stove.
Cleared by my cardiologist to continue doing it to the point of overdoing it we headed straight up yesterday. I will not tell you where. Duties at the VIC come with an array of benefits. Learning the location of some of the areas most treasured pictographs was one of the highlights. Cool autumn air makes for more pleasant strenuous ventures. Burt and I intend to take advantage while we are here. The mornings in the gNash are rough but sunny 60 to 70 degree days are our reward.
This trip was my first time making it to some of the many caves that line Cave Creek Canyon. One of the more popular questions at the visitor center is, “Why is this place called Cave Creek?” Now I have first hand experience. Even though I had seen pictures and knew that ancient peoples lived in these caves I was still surprised by the depth and intricacy of the spaces. Many, many people could comfortably find shelter here. In fact it was so appealing I suggested to Burt we start a reality TV show and try to live in one and live off the land. He liked the idea. Oops.
The horse and rider pictograph is post-Spaniard invasion of the Americas. There were no horses here before the Spanish brought them. Well there were horses here, but they died out a very long time ago. Modern horses rode over on Spanish galleons with the conquistadors. The Native Americans famously took to horsemanship and here we have some early art commemorating the newly adopted technology. My first day at the VIC some visitors came in and reported this particular artifact stolen. It was a sad start to the job. I was very pleased to learn a couple of months later that the searchers were merely lost and the picture was right where it was supposed to be. Now I’ve seen it for myself. Don’t ask me where it is. I won’t tell you.