Burt’s been battening down the hatches around here as we make ready to fly off to the Galapagos. Yesterday we made a run to our local dump. I went along because birding is always interesting and, well, it’s the dump. When I was young a run to the garbage heap of our area was an adventure. My brothers and I always wanted to take home enormous globs of glass we would find there. Bowling ball sized hunks of glass in shades of pale blue and green or clear. I still don’t know where that glass came from. When I moved to Montana in 1992 you could still prowl our local landfill for discarded treasures. Burt knows a guy that found a 150 year old Irish flute made of rosewood and silver. In the garbage. That all ended when the transfer station was built. I shudder to think of the many things I have discarded that I could put to use now.
The area dump is located between the towns of Pescadero and Todos Santos. The ‘relleno sanitario’ services ten thousand or so people and no industries. This is home garbage. Pretty regularly the place catches fire. I wish I knew why. In the US our dumps would burn regularly too, before strict regulations. In Montana we still fielded burning dump complaints after the turn of the millennium. Sometimes incompatible items spontaneously ignite. Other times heavy equipment throws a spark. Most often though people light them on fire under misguided ideas of fun or trash management. When this dump catches fire the wind almost always takes the noxious and unhealthy smoke towards populated areas. We live upwind. There’s a lot of yelling on social media on burning dump days. I’m sure I’d get up in arms if the smoke headed my way but it doesn’t so I don’t spend too much time wondering about it. I did that enough for a living.
Yesterday was two days after the dump burned and sent billowing smoke into Todos Santos. Burt and I figured the fire was out because we couldn’t see any smoke. On the drive in we passed a flock of over 100 lark sparrows with a bunch of butter butts and other warblers mixed in. Birds love the free garbage meals. It was so exciting Burt parked the car and we walked around counting birds. There are a few homestead places near the dump. These are places where people make a residence out of things they’ve gleaned from the garbage. Our walk took us to an abandoned camp where we found some high end goods. I made a thorough perusal of the camp to be certain we weren’t stealing instead of up-cycling. There was no sign of occupancy. No food, no clothes, no bedding, no water. Burt and I gleaned 4 chairs and a long and heavy workbench/saw horse from the place. It was a kind of high grading of the high grading experience.
After forty-five minutes of birding and scavenging we finally delivered our own garbage to the spot where you throw it out. During past visits to the dump we’ve been met by several men and a pack of dogs looking for tips and handouts. These men recycle and glean for a living. Yesterday there was only one guy and no dogs. There were scores of yellow-rumped warblers flitting about in the still smoldering ashes. I presume the fire drove off the usual residents and attracted the warblers. Even birds disagree on the treasure versus junk question.
I am grateful. I really am but at 5:30 AM when I read the prompt I thought “Ugh.” Ugh especially for the what are you grateful for about yourself. On the inside. The idea was to draw and write in our journals about our gratitude. It’s good for you they say. I wish I was grateful for waking up at 5:30. I wish I was grateful to wake up at all. Why do I hate waking up to a life I love? What is that about? I hate waking up. The night demons come in after dark I guess.
An hour and a half later I am still in bed. I drew a disintegrating picture of Elvis that I happened to enjoy while still under the covers. Sharpening my pencils in bed is messy. But what’s a few pencil shavings when you have nightly ants? Mimi stepped on my face a few times. I drew and put that gratitude on a side burner.
Burt is cooking breakfast while I write this. Yesterday I translated at art class and worked as Germani’s personal art facilitator. Germani and VIkki and I walked to class together. Gemrani wanted me to hold her hand on the walk and to help her accomplish her artistic goals. We have an unspoken arrangement. I draw in the major lines and she does the painting. I help with color mixing and general studio management. Germani is five. Her age, genius, or both require a free form approach to paint, water, palettes, paper. Things fly, spill, roll away. Some might say it’s a lack of fine motor skills. I think it’s boundless energy. She benefits from a full time assistant.
It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. I get lots of drawing practice. She paints. I have little interest in painting. My rusting drawing skills get worked hard. I have to be quick, decisive, and effective. My drawings need to look like the subject but have space for my master’s style of massive and heavy handed paint. I have made some pencil line masterpieces in this practice. Every one has been subsumed into monochromatic paint exercises. My study of La vaca Lola (a ceramic cow) will never be seen again. It’s great ego workout. Or an exercise in non-attachment. I am very grateful for the opportunity to draw for Germani.
Above is the redo of a redo from this morning. In color below is the original. In black and gray tones is the redo from last year. In my mind this morning I was contemplating this project. I remembered the redo from last year and thought, “Oh I’ll draw it. That will be fun.” I found a blank page in my nearly full journal. This piece is mixed in with our trip to Europe in June. Then I scrolled through my phone’s photo album and found the original. Hmmm. This was a lot more complicated than I remembered. Color pencils are not an easy tool to capture delicate color lies. My cartoon style technique would be hard to use in a small space. Simplify is rule one. The upper left square was drawn from the photo. I tried to capture the major forms. The subsequent squares were drawn from square one. Like a game of telephone the information I was using to make the piece degraded the further I got from the original. That was my favorite experience of this drawing. I enjoyed the feeling of losing contact with reality. It felt like embellishing an oral accounting of some event. An event everyone is talking about but nobody was there.
Today’s work was to find a selfie from last year and draw it into your journal. I found a selfie I liked that happened to be a wefie but Burt’s presence is minimalized and I like the expression on my face. Bonus: no eyes to draw. Burt thinks he looks like an alien baby in the original. I think he looks like my accompanist. Further down you can see another pair of selfie and self-portrait. I was so pleased with the first effort I thought I’d try another. I abandoned the effort when my face got all bulbous. Eyes are problematic but I still like the weird feel of the unfinished.
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.