Spring is (among so many wonderful things) the season when bears awake from a long cozy slumber to roam and forage, driven by post-hangover munchies. Thus it is also the season when I must once again retrain myself to grab the bear spay before my daily jaunts in the woods behind my mountain top home. I never think of the spray until I am well away from home, tromping through mud or post-holing through knee deep snow polka dotted with critter tracks – moose, elk, deer and the sweet wee-baby-versions of each. I simply need to get back into the habit of grabbing the bear spray before I go.
Similarly, I must re-establish the habit of blogging. I am constantly struck with the impulse to share and yet last month went by with nary a word. Transition has me floundering between habits and whatever semblance of routine I may had. Finishing and moving into the NEW studio took precedence over any type of writing routine. I am still juggling the addition of three wonderful children in my life with Paul along with the scattered part of living in two towns and the addition of caring for my mother since my father’s death last year. The New Year brought a commitment to fitness (I have lost 15 pounds so far) and I have completed a wonderfully intense webinar course for artists with Paul Klein. Recently the shocking untimely death of a sweet friend knocked the wind out of me and the little community I live in.
Winter lingers in the Rockies. Spring has a tough job trying to move into the high country bit-by-hard-won-bit. My progress this past month is on par with spring- bright moments of light and promise in between the mud and muck. The lack of blogging had nothing to do with the lack of content, ideas, or events – life has been full. Somehow blogging and social media bumped my old fashioned habit of journaling right off the shelf. I missed it. The need to scribble words and doodle ideas on paper has returned just in time to spill over and into my new studio space. Juicy stuff which I promise to share via the blog. Bear with me...
The only thing that can tear me away from the NEW studio right now are commitments made before this wonderful exciting stage of painting and staining the interior. Heck, Paul has a client who is treating us to a complimentary weekend of skiing at Steamboat Springs and I can hardly stand the idea of leaving my new beautifully sun lit creative space for four days – so much to do and I LOVE LOVE LOVE being in the space. The idea of catching a plane early in the morning feels like putting down a well written completely engaging book just before the final chapter – torture (of the best kind). The clearstory is brilliant. The windows and light beam a chorus of smiles from the sun. The walls are pristine white and the windows trimmed simply in pine creating a rather church-ee feeling with the height and light. Perfect place for the Muses to sing, dance, worship, play, and nap. Placed on the west end of an open mountain meadow, the building captures the very first rays of sun each morning. I actually stepped into the sunlight just a few feet before stepping into the door of the studio early yesterday morning. Grinning.
One of the commitments which pulled me from the studio Tuesday was my weekly volunteer ski day for Eaglemount. Jackie giggles and grins her way down the mountain. Sometimes she makes race car noises. She gets cold easily so we “group hug” on the chairlift spinning tales, singing made up songs and thinking of ways to make her giggle more. She always has a stuffed animal or two for skiing companions. I am still learning the intricacies of just how to guide the sit ski down the slope which means Jackie and the stuffed animals get more of a bouncy ride when I take the tethers but she seems to love it – ALL.
Here’s a picture of the studio freshly sheetrocked. Each day brings exciting changes (Calypso Blue in the bathroom complete with a vanity which I stained deep purple, doors, windows, trim, etc.) More pictures soon…
I followed a fresh set of mountain lion tracks down the driveway to my cozy little cabin at the end of the road near the top of a mountain in Montana…a long way from the warm nights of Texas ranch life! Temps dropped below zero soon after I drug my little suitcase up the patio steps and shoveled my way into the door. The little place heats up pretty quickly – by the time Zaydee has made her rounds sniffing out every visitor who roamed outside while we were gone – I can take my down coat off and settle in. I ignored cyberspace for the most part during President’s Day Weekend. I squeezed in a soul refreshing long yoga class, bought groceries and hunkered down happily on the mountain content to stay put for a few days. I enjoyed a slumber party with a girlfriend – drinking hot toddies and peering at paint chips for the studio, finished reading a book while soaking in my big claw foot tub, poked around my freshly sheet rocked studio, hiked and post-holed my way through deep snow late one crisp cold afternoon. The last afternoon was sunny - I strapped on skis to enjoy the sunshine and powder while skiing up and down the mountain behind my home. Ranch life with cute furry babies seemed a world away.
My work week started with a 3 hour dentist appointment. Dr Amy Madden Kinney is a talented dentist AND my cousin. Lucky for me we trade art for dental work. After a round in the dentist’s chair I scooted to Bridger Bowl to ski with little Jackie for the Eaglemount program, and then to the school to watch the girls' basketball games before unpacking my truck and settling into a week in Bozeman with Paul and the kids. Already it is nearly time to get them up for school and launch into a business-part-of-art day while itching to get back after it in the studio…soon!
I am crazy about climbing and even crazier about climbing ice. ICE?!!! Yup. I’ve tried to reason that one out myself and can’t. How can a sport where frozen fingers, bitter cold cramps, huge helpings of danger, long difficult approaches and a guarantee of suffering be something to be crazy for?
Ah…but the ice. The ice! Constant changing sculpture…capturing light, holding light, bouncing light, sucking light, reflecting light, spitting light. Magic. The stuff of crystal balls…enticing…confusing…delicate and impressive. Like the eyes of the snake in the Walt Disney version of Jungle Book…ice entices. “Trust in me…eeeeeeeee,” the snake sings, his eyes spinning, working their magic. Allure, hypnotism and like Mogli I am drawn in grinning stupidly.
“You…are…so…beeaaauuuuutifulllllll…I say all dreamlike.
But then comes the moment of getting down to business…which means getting my feet off of the ground and that is where the voices come in. I’ve a zillion of them. “You haven’t eaten enough.” “You are not strong enough” “You’re nuts.” Maybe its too early…too late…the ice too hard…too soft…too long…too blue. What if these weren’t the right gloves? Underwear? Chap stick? Egads the voices can be loud and obnoxious like a kindergarten class before school. But the bell rings…the voices get louder and the activity even more frenzied before the teacher claps her hands yelling, “Settle down” I send the thoughts to their desks…better yet…I try to shut them up inside the desks and worry about the mess later. Right now I gotta climb.
And so I do. Clumsy at first…I know and now accept the fact that it takes me awhile to warm up to any activity I am doing. Others leap out of the starting gate and whiz into things. I wheeze. But long after their jumpstart I’ve found a pace and a place in my mind where the energizer bunny lives…I can keep going and going and going. Thank god. Somehow I find myself being of the right constitution to keep plodding. Onward and upward…one foot in front of the other…or an ax placement in the ice a toe kicking a crampon point in…I can make myself keep going.
After the clumsy klutzy start, the doubts and dreams tumble and jumble together creating an intoxicating tonic that quenches my thirst for living. The same elixir propels me to create - pushing boundaries and scaring myself in the studio day after day. Art happens in the places and spaces outside the comfort zone. Curiosity, drive and passion push. Art happens when I get my feet off of the ground and the Energizer Bunny steps in to propel me forward. Much of art is plodding - one chisel mark after another – chasing a vision sparked by light. Art making is as ethereal as water – flowing or momentarily frozen – constantly changing, challenging, and compelling. Humbling. Inticing. Adventurous art is a leap of faith finessed with skill and the kind of sharpened intuition which comes from a bold spirit tuned in.
I debated Saturday night whether to spend Super Bowl Sunday on a ski tour around Bunsen Peak in Yellowstone (wouldn’t be able to take Zaydee) or ski near Chico Hot Springs with Zaydee and include a soak afterwards. I woke early feeling a bug in my bones and knew I had to cancel ski plans with my girlfriend to hunker down in my cozy cabin while snowflakes fell big as cotton balls. Seems like everyone around me has been sick and alas – finally – I succumbed.
BUT – being ill has its little blessings. Sipping tea, I talked for 2 hours by phone with my dear friend Wynn in Nashville. After weeks of phone tag my couch time allowed talk time. I read a book – what shouldn’t be but seems to have become a luxury in my busy world. I looked up some artists who inspire me on the internet to see their new creations. I soaked in my beloved claw foot tub. I slept.
Luckily a few days before the bug I enjoyed a relatively warm day playing on ice with friends and have a few pictures to share.
Cool amphitheater of ice at Big Sky.
The extra bulge in my coat is a warm pair of fat gloves...
Climbing behind frozen falls is fun and challenging...
Monday morning: Temps are below zero and dropping. The landscape is soft and pale as crystals hang and wait their turn to cling in a delicate doily-way to trees, grass, mailboxes and eyelashes. The kids are off to school and a week with their mother. Last week was full of basketball games, after-school practices, and homework. Ali’s 6th grade girl’s basketball team had a tournament at Gallatin Gateway Friday night. They lost their 2nd game by only ONE point when a foul against a teammate in the last 6 seconds brought the chance to get two free-throws and p
Saturday night we had a pajama party with Mom. Sa
Skiing with these three munchkins is SO much fun!!! Jake rips it up! Sami and Ali explore the mountain and pick runs with confidence. We laughed and whooped our way down slopes, ate a picnic lunch and sipped hot chocolate. The temps neared zero. I was more-than-a wee-bit-thankful that we took several breaks in the upper lodge to warm up since I was so sore from Crossfit the day before. Getting back into shape after a year of healing leaves me with plenty of sore muscles but it is more fun to be sore from playing and working out than from major surgery! Humming "Sound of Music" tunes, smelling my favorite Volupsa "Baltic Amber" candle, and drinking tea on this happy Monday morning - the eve of a new month in a year that has launched as especially promising and full of rich blessings.
I love the fact that Zaydee made it into the feature article written by Donna Healy of the Billings Gazette! Many of you knew Shiva, the special dog who shared a precious chunk of my life with me. Shiva used to always upstage me whenever photographers showed up. A natural model and total ham for the camera, Shiva would glean the lime-light whenever it so much as glanced my direction – just look at the past articles and TV spots on my Artist Page. Zaydee is a whole other cookie. Horribly abused before being rescued by a sweet Montana couple, Zaydee showed up in my life as a bit of a basket case. She’s come a LONG way!! No longer scared of her own shadow - much less the power tools in my studio – she relaxes and hangs out with me while I work. She barks to let me know if someone is around (usually I have ear plugs in and am oblivious). Zaydee has warmed up to the camera – or at least relaxed enough that Bob Zellar from the Billings Gazette captured this photo of her napping in the mesquite sawdust. The whole article along with a short video can be viewed on the Billings Gazette website (yes – Zaydee is in the video too!!!)
Post-trip bliss had me beginning to believe that the drama in my world might be simmering down enough to have more of a balanced routine in my life. More time for friends, outdoor excursions, and the exciting conclusion of a large sculpture project done during reasonable hours at the studio…just in time for the holidays with Paul, my mom, and the kids.Alas – the very morning this thought ambled longingly through my mind, I arrived at the studio and found a nasty eviction notice taped to the door. Long story but the short version is simply that the sweet folks who own the building have given it up in a painful hostage takeover forced by their new son-in-law. He’s an unpleasant 3-time felon thug who has not responded to our reasonable requests to rent the space for a few more months. Seems he would rather have the worn out shell-of-a-building sit vacant just as it did for four years before the three of us gals moved in. Panic. Deep breaths. None of us want to be in a space with that kind of energy threatening us. So I’ve begun once again to pull double shifts and pop vitamin C to build up for the triple shifts it’ll take to finish the Devil Woman Saloon sculptures, pack and deliver a 5-piece large sculpture exhibition, and gather up all my studio stuff for storage. I have a week and a half. Paul will be gone to Carson City all of next week attending the funeral of his close childhood friend. Yesterday a girlfriend jumped in with lunch, did the grocery shopping for my mom, and took the girls to mom’s for cookie baking to give me more much-needed precious focused studio time. Kirston has found another space. We’re helping Stacey find something affordable. The walls are going up at my very own soon-to-be realized studio on the mountain. I’ve a zillion ideas for spending my studio-less time but right now I am in survival mode, cranking out piles of woodchips and sawdust and eating LOTS of cookies and chocolate.
Insomnia kept me stirring late these past few nights, wide-eyed and blinking at the stardust. My heart has been extra soft, gushy and pained these past two weeks as if all the sunshine in my life has illuminated the path of grief and loss. I feel more now than I did those first months after my father’s death. A friend offered some enlightenment; perhaps as I move out of pure survival mode I find myself in a place where support is strong, gifts are abundant and thus the grieving process amps up since I can process more.
The Cosmos is right there with me, spinning an ever-perfect web. For instance, just last week Hospice held a special memorial tribute in the beautiful stained glass adorned chapel at the hospital. All those who passed away under Hospice care during the first six months of this year were acknowledged. A young pregnant musician accompanied the service with her sweet clear voice and guitar, two ministers conducted the memorial. My mom, Paul, the kids and I took up a whole row in the tiny chapel. Sun shone through the two story stained glass chapel wall. Stunning. A fountain splashed soothingly - a water whisper affirming life; cycles, continuity and comfort.
Just a few moons ago I spent time alone in the chapel during my father’s brief hospital stay. After a routine doctor appointment Dad had been admitted to the hospital for tests. That evening Dad and I were told that he had fourth stage pancreatic cancer. Early the next morning I visited the chapel just after the sun came up. I completed a series of Sun Salutations (yoga) right there on the chapel floor with the soothing fountain coaching me to take deep breaths, find my center and focus on love. Here I was in that chapel again for a memorial service surrounded by my new family, sitting next to my little mother and listening to the fountain while taking deep breaths.
“You won’t manifest it unless you can visualize it,” Paul said to me several times during the past two years. He would push a blank piece of paper under my nose after breakfast or get out a pen to draw on a napkin during dinner - each time coaxing me to draw my dream studio. Deeply impressed that he actually used the words visualize and manifest (seriously…this coming from a man with work hardened calloused hands) I realized with shock that I had lost a bit of my own belief in magic. Somehow my optimism lost its polish these past few years while faced with financial challenges, major surgery, no insurance, large medical bills, a bank which seemed keen to take my home and no studio to work in. Paul’s belief in manifesting fueled my imagination. I started taking pictures of old barn buildings, sketched and talked about my dream studio. He began to salvage wood.
A shift occurred. Tarnished tired places began to beam. Polished. My belief in the BIG picture strengthened me during my father’s sudden terminal illness and death. I grieve. I embrace blessings too numerous to count.
A rather recent client bloomed instantly into a friend. Now the beautiful bloom has sprouted into patron who hired Paul (without telling me) to build a studio for me on the mountain!!!!!
An innate sense of place is hard wired into my central nervous system. The need to nest chirps incessantly like hungry baby chicks and follows me wherever I go. Perhaps it has something to do with art – creating composition whether that composition is inside a tent, the front seat of my truck, at home or in a drawer. The arrangement of things or even the absence of things and the space between things affects everything. Objects have energy. Space reflects the energy of the objects and the inhabitants. I don’t need much BUT the things that make their way into my life are carefully selected and consciously arranged.
My home is a haven. My studio is not simply a shop with tools.
Sharing a chunk of my life with Paul and the kids in Bozeman during the past year is a “cup-runneth-over” blessing. Four souls (new loved ones) landed in my life not long before a year punctuated with the loss of my father and the surgical removal of some significant girlie parts. While I mourned the loss of my ability to have children the Cosmos gifted me – not with motherless children- but with three children whose hearts are big enough to love another momma-ish being in their lives. Blessings and surprises never cease; the little buggers teamed up with two of my nieces to perform a play for my father after his pancreatic cancer diagnosis AND they each made mother’s day cards for me.
Goosebumps, tears, and a grin.
I was careful not to tromp on the familiar home they previously shared with both of their parents while the bond between us blossomed. I felt like a misplaced flower in a garden not at all like my own – I tip-toed through the tulips. Last week we moved from that over-large vacuous echo-filled unconsciously arranged place into a smaller comfy family-oriented home near a creek at the base of a canyon within their school district. PHEW! Our new home feels weed-free and ready for us to arrange ourselves with each other in mind. The rented house is older but the energy is fresh and family oriented. I call it “The Hyalite House.”Unexpectedly life has placed me in three gardens at once: my cabin at the end of the road near the top of a mountain, the studio, and now – the Hyalite House. Skipping, rooting, creating, settling and embracing.
Seasons in my world are usually punctuated with vivid challenging adventures: peaks, rivers, single track mountain bike trails, cliffs, slopes and frozen waterfalls. The past few seasons have been a bit of a blur without the periodic adventure punctuation points. Orange and red flashes in the foliage hint of autumn while crisp cool nights carry whispers of a new season.Fall is my favorite season. Actually every season is my favorite…which means I that I don’t actually have a favorite - but each season feels like a favorite when it is happening. Nostalgically, each season feels more like a favorite when the season is coming to a close. I am not sure what happened to summer…or spring…or last winter. Outdoor adventures were sparse since I have been healing from major surgery, wrapped up in family life, and blessedly back in the studio. Balance is allusive. Survival has been the mantra. I can hardly call my father’s illness and death this spring a “punctuation point.” I can’t even wrap it up as a “chapter” or “saga.” Most days I hardly believe that Dad isn’t actually here…alive…with my mother in their house surrounded by a perfectly pruned yard animated with happy wild bunnies playing on the lush lawn or munching snacks on the deck. The lawn is no longer green since Mom and I cannot begin to manage Dad’s diligent sprinkler and lawn care vigil. Rabbits still play on the less-than-green lawn and eat at the flower-shaped bunny feeder. The riding lawn mower with the cigarette lighter Dad custom installed on the dash sits in the garage. Dusty. Earlier this week I managed to squeeze a sweet little punctuation point with the kids into my summer. Just two days before school started, we went for a late evening mountain bike ride followed by a full moon picnic at Hyalite Lake. Jolly from our ride, feeling the magic of the moon, satiated by yogurt, fresh fruit, and Grapenuts, we began a game of charades. Our actions danced in the moonlight accented by long shadows cast by the BIG round full moon. The lake sparkled and our laughter bounced off the mountain peaks which poked a sky filled with stars.
Alas, the bunny surplus has led to tragedy. Maya (my cat) is an excellent mouser. She is a super handy housekeeper for cabin-love’n mice but unfortunately her skills don’t stop there. Lately she has been grounded for the most part which means that she is IN MY FACE a good deal at night. Her protest tactics are highly developed and range from subtle (sitting within whisker tickling range of my nose while staring at me) to less than subtle (jumping on me in the middle of the night, howling, scowling, mewing and flinging herself about). Ugh. Sadly, Miss Maya has successfully snuck out (I forgot to lock the screen door) or slunk out (I left the bathroom window open a crack while showering) or ran out (she ambushes me and scoots past while entering and exiting my house) which means that more than one bunny has gone to bunny heaven prematurely. Serious bummer…BIG bummer. Actually it is nightmarish to find a baby bunny ear on the bathroom floor. She brings the unfortunate furry little sweet rabbits inside my cabin to play with. Thus - bunny saving missions punctuate my life when sly Maya slinks past the fact that she is grounded. More than one bunny has ended up tucked into my underwear drawer and even cuddled, protected, and slept with (I just love a bunny under the covers). Alas, only one has successfully been nursed, made it through rehab and been returned to the great outdoors. The cute tiny little bugger grew an inch during the few days of loving captivity.
Inspired by the movie "Eat, Pray, Love" Julian Martin, a deep-souled, sparkly-eyed prolific artist from Nashville, TN decided to "hit the road." She contacted her galleries (Nashville, Santa Fe, etc.) to announce a sudden sale -40% off - all her artworks, raised $10,000 in two weeks, had a buddy build a custom painting rack in the back of her Jeep Liberty, packed a tent and art supplies and TOOK OFF!
After a month of adventures, her GPS and gumption brought her here last night to my little cabin at the end of the road near the top of a mountain in Montana. We drank wine while sitting next to a campfire on my deck under the stars and swapped stories. We had never met before but my dear friend Wynn introduced me to images of Julia's delicate, bold and beautiful paintings more than a year ago.
I'm tickled and honored to have her up here on the mountain. She slept "like a baby" in Granny's cabin last night. While drinking my tea outside this morning, Julia and "Miss Liberty" showed up. She stomped across my deck wearing short shorts, a flowing white blouse, red cowboy boots, and a grin.
We're both off to make art...
"Communion" (the painting above) can be seen along with other paintings on her website http://julia-martin.com
Took last Friday off…(my first day off in weeks). I haven’t seen the monkeys enough lately so it was a joy to spend the day with 'em. We visited the very first Dude ranch in Montana (the historic OTO ranch). Then we took the young’uns and their new friends rock climbing in Yankee Jim Canyon before jumping into the Yellowstone River near Tom Miner Basin for a late afternoon swim in the cool (cold) water. Zaydee out-swam all of us. The sweltering heat and humidity of Texas was quite a contrast to the cool cozy nights here at my own home-a little cabin at the end of the road near the top of a mountain in Montana.
Haunted. Humbled. Horrified.
We found ourselves underground on one of the first hot sunny summer days after being lured by Sami to take a tour of the Orphan Girl Mine. Our day began in a rainstorm before sunup when we piled ourselves (a bit blurry-eyed) into the truck, struck out across rolling fields and snow-capped peaks toward Homestake Pass with the obligatory scrumptious stop at Wheat Montana Bakery for scones, cinnamon rolls, and turnovers – to go. They hold the World's Record for the fasted bread from harvest to loaves. We rolled down the pass into the wonderful rich quirky historical town of Butte in time for Ali’s pre-game warm-up at 7:30 a.m. Wet from rain, the grass sparkled until the sun powered up. Blitz (blue) team won their first soccer game. After the 2nd game, we put on hardhats and headlamps then spent 1.5 hours underground. Cold. Clammy. Creepy. Disturbing. Fascinating. The men (and mules) who worked more than 10,000 miles of horizontal drifts and 4,000 miles of vertical shafts under Butte were tough buggers - to say the least. Lordy.
Using candlelight, picks, hammers, shovels and dynamite, the fellas worked 12 hour shifts seven days a week underground. Wet, hot/cold, dusty, toxic and LOUD (no ear protection back then). I am blown away by the stories, the weight of the worn tools I held, the conditions I witnessed and the many thoughts I have of their plight.
Goose bumps and grinning, I must say it is tough to write or type when the warm fuzzies take over. Yesterday morning Al Roker from The Today Show landed in Bozeman, MT to “lend a hand” to Eaglemount - a volunteer organization near and dear to my heart. Just after sunrise, (I hear they met at 4:00 a.m. to film) thousands and thousands of dollars worth in donations were given to the deserving program. The Eaglemount website explains their program: “Imagine yourself in this place of extraordinary possibilities . . . a place where the power of the human spirit triumphs and miracles are celebrated regularly . . . Eagle Mount Bozeman is committed to provide quality therapeutic recreational opportunities for people with disabilities and young people with cancer, and to provide support for families of participants so that “they shall mount up with wings as eagles.” (Isaiah 40:31)
My own heartwarming (and giggle inducing) experiences as an Eaglemount volunteer have enriched my life (follow the charity blog tag). The organization was given a total of 1.23 million in products, services, land, and solar panels. Even Tom Brokaw gave one of his own horses to the program. I am tickled…thrilled…thankful.
Dad perked up after I got him home last weekend and my brothers arrived. Hospice is on board with daily visits and medications.Dark wet streets lay before me that starless Saturday morning when I drove to the hospital at 4 a.m. to be with Dad. Laying next to him in the hospital bed, I listened to the gurgle of fluid beginning to creep into his lungs as one more sign that his body is beginning to shut down. We shared some thoughts - mostly silence - as night gave way to day and the snow blew sideways. Father’s physician visited a few hours later to say goodbye to Father. He asked if Dad would like to pray. They held hands while the doctor said a beautiful prayer aloud from his heart. Dad also prayed out loud – a humble poignant moment shared through tears while I sat at the foot of the bed. Mom was preparing at home since we had been told that Dad would be released “first thing” (they had put the “pick-line” – a permanent IV - in the night before). Alas, it was late afternoon before father was wheeled (freshly showered) to my truck. The reclusive sun came out to brighten the landscape during Dad’s nauseous ride home. Within minutes after I helped Dad into the house, grey clouds swallowed the sun. Howard and his family arrived Saturday night. Robin drove from Tennessee and arrived Sunday evening. Dad insisted on having the kitchen and bathroom floors ripped up, new sub floors put down, and new linoleum installed (the flooring had been ordered and the project scheduled to occur this week before the recent medical events transpired). Robin and Howard are helping with the floor project to speed up progress. Howard’s girls have been staying with me. Dad, Mom, the boys and I met with the mortician yesterday afternoon at the house. The funeral director was Howard’s high school classmate. We all liked him - though it was a bit surreal to carry on the meeting while two strangers pounded away loudly in the kitchen. Two of Dad’s brothers will arrive tomorrow (Keith and Carl). Mary Jane will drive with Carl from Nebraska and Lacy is accompanying Keith by plane (also from Nebraska). Dad will decide what arrangements he wants to make (he is considering several options). He had a difficult time last evening with nausea and weakness. Hospice is available by phone 24 hours a day to assist with questions, concerns, and medications. The jaundice is more apparent each day. He slept his best night of rest last night with mother in their bedroom. Today the construction continues, Dad is a bit tired - but as you know – he is a tough stubborn bugger using his walker to wheel himself about the house and is (of course) overseeing the floor project. Thanks for keeping us in your thoughts.
Springtime in the Rockys has its usual smorgasbord of weather. Sun. Snow. Sun. Rain. Sun. Hail. Last Sunday the sun beckoned. I loaded bikes in my truck and took a jaunt with two lovely ladies down Paradise Valley to Yellowstone Park. We rode our bikes over bumpy moose and elk tracks on a lovely loop of dirt road below Electric Peak and near the Yellowstone River. We munched on ice cream bars at Mammoth, then crossed the 45th parallel as we zipped down the paved road to the Boiling River where we soaked in the hot springs beneath a blue sky. Sami and I goofing off in the store at Mammoth. Sami’s in the Coon Hat and I’m wearing…um…yes…that’s a stuffed moose.
Smells like rain on this spring morning. The birds are chirping outside eagerly – as if they want to “get their chirps in” before the storm. Maya is purring right next to my laptop. I’m sipping tea and fighting the urge to crawl back under my cozy comforter for a nap. I’ve zillions to do. New artworks are being inventoried and uploaded to my website. Patron Members just got their pre-view peek via e-mail of the new Works on Paper before they go live on the web. I’ve a newsletter to write, drawings of a commission to do, travel plans for the ChocolateFest to make, some donated artwork to drop off, a bronze to ship, some DVDs to burn and send, a poster to design, a vlog to edit - and that’s just my pre-noon list. Phew! Things are ramping up in the studio! The rest of the week will be mostly devoted to the BIG mesquite logs. Have you seen the latest video?
Returned from the desert yesterday.
Red sandy camping gear was washed and put away. Sandals, climbing pack, biking pack, helmets and headlamps are stowed away in the gear closet. Last night my pink rose flannel sheets and fluffy pillows felt scrumptious. The post-midnight-pee lacked the butt-chilling, sandy-toe-under-the-stars-stumble of cold desert nights in camp. My emotions are mixed. I’ve only been home a handful of nights in the last four weeks – home sweet home feels good. Snow blankets the hillside behind my cabin. Dust and neglected plants compete for attention inside my cabin. I am sporting big new bruises, a few scrapes, and a sunburned nose but am encouraged by how well my post-surgery body handled the activity.
My body is healing.
My heart still feels rough and raw like the desert rock. Bare, exposed, burnished by sand and sun - a bit gritty. Expansive. I drank deep from the stars. I snuggled, encouraged and laughed with the kids. I dreamt that I had stuffed their colorful kickball under my shirt to see how pregnancy felt, did a deep easy knee bend with my shirt stretched tight and knew that pregnancy would have felt right. I lay awake at night in a family tent big enough for a disco ball dance party, listened to the sweet sounds of kids sleeping, and simply felt. Love and loss. I marvel at the contrast of beauty and the harshness of a desert landscape heart. Barren.
Promising open spaces.
Gratitude and a grin. Longing. Deep sigh. Big breath.
I skied with Becki. We threw snowballs. We sang. We “shot” each other while she chased me in a game of cops and robbers. When Becki “chases” me I can get her to turn more and snowplow less. We made up a rap song on the lift. We traded places while Becki played the “instructor.” She was pretty serious about her instructions and I thought I’d come up with a good idea until she gleefully shot past me and took off down the hill “to show me how its done.” We snowplowed (lots). We laughed and hugged…and hugged and laughed. Then I filled the routine report, snuck out of the hut without engaging the staff and trudged across the mud to my truck where I broke out in tears and cried my way down to the highway. Lordy. My innards have been a mess of gloppy goo. Alas gloppy goo is better than hardened cement. I visited with my dear sweet smart kind and caring surgeon earlier in the week and was assured the emotional swings and deep depression are common in women who have undergone recent hysterectomies. Of course somehow I thought I would be different than most and am shocked at the depth and length of darkness and emotions. I can say that rising above the muck for someone like Becki is worth the energy it takes to muster my gumption. The day on the slopes volunteering for Eagle Mount and skiing with Becki was a good thing and the tears…?…well …just part of my healing process. Encouragement, support and compassion from close friends have me humbled and grateful. Some days it feels like I’m slipping on a loose scree slope where a steady hand and safe belay make all the difference. Luckily I have incredible friends who understand. I’m awkward at best while learning to open and receive. What a journey. Eagle Mount is a volunteer program to provide quality recreational activities for people with mental and physical disabilities. See past posts about other great (and tearless) Becki ski days.
Restless. A blue funk had hold of me so I took a few days ago to visit my dear pal Yogi up at Swan Lake (near Big Fork). His house is tucked into the forest in a narrow tree-filled valley between the majestic Mission Mountains and frozen lakes. No cell service.
The last stretch of road to Yogi’s bends and winds for an hour through thick forest. Deer must be watched for. Glimpses of lakes were a respite from trees. Ice fishermen sat like salt and pepper shakers on white linen – the remnants of a grand white-table clothed feast stained here and there with abandoned fishing holes.
We had a few shots at Yogi’s before attending the “Fireman’s Ball.” Slipping in cowboy boots, I navigated across the obstacle course of slush and ice toward the community center where pink and red paper Valentine decorations hung from the paneled ceiling and cornmeal dusted the dance floor. Yogi scored some Rose Tequila, Jack Daniels and a giant propane torch in the silent auction. Other items included a delivery of propane, a load of gravel, a basket brimming with hand knit washcloths and a crocheted quilt.
I met a bubbly animated writer – a pretty little gal married to a big handsome clam grower. They wintered in the Swan Valley while their clams hibernated in Vermont. The cheerful big-boned ladies in the kitchen joked with me as we unwrapped tinfoil and plastic wrap from potluck food items. The tiny community has less than 200 residents and it seemed like most of them were at the ball.
I’m guessing many of the Fireman’s Ball attendees were nursing hangovers the next day but we were out skiing with the dogs. Yogi adopted two abandoned puppies…fluffy little bouncing fur balls.
“What a BEAUTIFUL day,” I said looking up at the Bridger Mountains from the chairlift where I sat next to Becki. “I am so glad to be here.”
“YES!!” she shouted triumphantly. “I am so glad to be here. Do you know where we would be if we weren’t here? Guess where we would be. Do you know where we would be?”
“Where would we be?”
“We would be STUCK. Stuck. We would be stuck like a window chewing up the walls” Becki said.
I repeated her statement. She repeated her statement. “Chomp chomp” I said with a grin. Becki’s eyes were barely visible behind goggles; the helmet with yellow lightning stickers matched her jacket stained like a child’s bib down the front of her giggling jiggling body.
I sat next to this mentally disabled being, our feet dangled below the chairlift above the white snow slopes. The image of a window occupied my mind. Clean. Clear. The wonderfully pale blue wall crumbled like a cookie as the window made loud destructive satisfying chewing sounds. Sunlight beamed through crystal clean glass. How wonderful to share the lift with this special gleeful person.
Each Thursday I ski with Becky as a volunteer for the Eagle Mount program. Time with her on the mountain is a gift that charges my heart with energy even while my healing body struggles to keep up with the physical effort. The image of the wall-eating-window has stuck with me and I wonder…
…perhaps being an artist is a bit like being that window.
I’m curious – do you think being an artist is like being a window that chews up the walls?
I’m feeling a sparkly blue-moon-dust kind of excitement for 1010. Not only was it a big full BLUE Moon last night but there was a partial lunar eclipse as well. We had a rather blustery night and a blurry sky which kept my dinner guests and I inside the cozy cabin for the evening’s festivities. No one expected to stay awake ‘til the New Year after stuffing ourselves with elk spaghetti. Felicia blew out the bright pink candles on her chocolate birthday cake, we drank more wine, and the sky brightened. Sometime after 11 pm, the wind quieted enough to entice us out…and UP…to Leroy’s Lookout. Toting plastic sleds, we plodded up the mountain to the humble little cabin I used to call home. Perched on top (and cabled to the rocks) the plywood shack is where I lived my first winter on the Wineglass Mountain. Memorable.
We heard thunder, twice before reaching the cabin. I have never heard winter storm thunder before. I didn’t even know it was possible but the thunder added another rather auspicious punctuation point to the old year/new year night. Three of us toasted at midnight with Jack Daniels Snow Slushies. We hung out on top of the world and swapped stories while the fire crackled and the Coleman lantern hummed. The valley stretched bright below. Livingston lights twinkled. The moon stayed mostly obscure in a winter white sky but grew potent enough to cast shadows.
We bundled up and headed out into the moon shadows. We’d stashed the sleds under a tree near an edge of the mountain top saddle. I lined up in my sled and led the way down the steep slope. Many years ago when I lived up there, I would sled down each morning in a cheek reddening rush while Shiva practiced her border collie herding skills and tried to nip my snow boots. The slope is long and steep with curves and a sharp switchback. We all screamed with glee (and fear) while the dogs barked in the moonlight.
Laughing, sliding, and bumbling along, we made it back to my cabin at 2 am without any serious injuries. I packed up birthday cake for my guests, took a handful of Ibuprofen, and crawled under the covers with a cold butt and a heart which glowed warm with blue moon dust.
I danced naked with girlfriends around a big campfire to celebrate the winter solstice. Each gal wore a pair of colorful fingerless gloves knit by me during the post surgery convalescence. We left our boots on (and our hats, coats, clothes) but we were naked in spirit. The solstice meadow is a special place on my mountain made more special by the ritual we shared on this winter’s eve. Fueled by a bit of wind, the fire got wild and crazy. We tossed our meaningfully crafted wood sculpture offerings into the flames, held hands and opened our hearts to the spirit of the longest night. Giggling gleefully, we kicked up our heels and the snow while we spun about under the stars. Goofy gutsy glorious girl stuff.
Fourteen degrees below zero this morning. I have climbed frozen waterfalls in double digits below zero and actually had fun doing it but today I can hardly muster the gumption to open the door and let my dog out (let alone accompany her for a walk in the woods). I’m alternating cups of tea with little bowls of oatmeal, fighting flu symptoms and feeling sluggish after a restless night. I need motivation. Wish I could pull motivation like a bright eyed bouncy bunny out of a magicians hat. Instead I feel like the novice blundering magician with a stuffed up nose digging around the deep darkness only to come up with a mismatched sock, a fuzzed out old toothbrush, and a stale marshmallow.
I have a serious case of Monday morning tail-tucking inertia. Wait!! I found something!!! A sweet little spark to share on this cold toe slow mojo day: One of my newest Patrons sent a “thank-you-for-inspiring-me” note. What a wonderful warm fuzzy feeling. Love, love, LOVE it when a spark flies from my world into someone else’s and ignites a fire. He said I could share bits from his note with you:
“Hello Amber, You inspired me to pick up my oil paints and paint my first oil painting since High School. My first cat Moxie died a few years back at 19. I'd been looking for a picture of her I took that I thought would make a nice painting. I had grabbed my old portfolio so I could decorate my digs in Billings. What do you know, the photo I'd been looking for all these years fell out. So then I brought out my old paints and easel and bought a canvas. There it sat blank all summer while I worked on other painting (the "compound"). Anyway, when I received your lovely print of the cat that looks just like my 2nd cat, I framed it, put it up on the shelf in the kitchen and decided "now was the time" to give it a shot. Well except for struggling with some ancient very stuck lids on my oil tubes I managed to sketch it out and paint the whole thing (18x24) in one night. So here I am THANKING YOU Amber for a little inspiration.”
Gee. Golly. Gosh. Always tickles me to hear about someone brushing the dust off their hiking boots and hitting the trail after bumping into a story from my life…or getting out the chisels which lay ignored in the closet…or wrestling the old stuck lids off oil tubes and gathering the gumption to paint.
Thank-you for sharing your painting with me Howard. Your kind note goosed my gumption. Ta Da!! Stay tuned for the rabbit ‘cuz I’m feeling the magic now…
Temps have warmed into the double digits for the first time in days. Yesterday after tackling a batch of work at my desk, I bundled up and ventured out for a mini-hike in the woods with Zaydee.
Crisp Crunch Crisp Crunch
I love the sound snow makes at zero degrees.
Jack Frost has been busy decking the woods like Martha Stewart might deck the halls. Sparkles galore. The forest feels super clean. Tantalizing little critter tracks are carefully placed accents in a fluffed up room cleared of clutter. The cold air bit my cheeks while I strolled through the picture perfect landscape. Something ahead looked slightly out of place. Green gray, it lay like a pillow in the trail. A rock? Too smooth. Too exposed. Unless? No…the bears are hibernating and not rolling rocks right now. ‘Tis the season for gut piles but this wasn’t a pile. There wasn’t a mess. Just the misplaced pillow and not a couch around.
The pillow was full of grass. A deer’s stomach. So it was a gut pile…minus the guts, fur and gore. Sounds gross but there was something oddly beautiful about the cleanliness, the color, the shape, the placement. The only clue was a dot of blood here and there in the snow like carefully placed red candy Christmas cookie decorations. Cliff has five deer hanging outside his cabin. None of them have stomachs. So here amidst the perfect Jack Frost winter white landscape, a beautiful wild creature with long eye lashes breathed it’s last. Birds feasted. So will I. (Cliff keeps me in meat).
Frozen hard as a rock, the stomach lay in the trail where I walked carefully with trekking poles; careful not to stumble or fall thus risk ripping my own stitched up innards.
Life is beautifully odd.
Mother Nature got up from a languid autumn nap. Stretched. Then browsed a catalog of weather while drinking a double-shot of espresso. The result? A caffeine infused shopping spree of snow, sun, cold, more snow, single digit temps, creative cloud skies, warm weather, lightning, rain, thunder, hot afternoons and mud.
Loop hike on my mountain (last week)
Today? Rain and more rain after a starry night. Life itself feels super-charged like the weather. Moments during the past week were as dark and thick as sludge left in the bottom of a delicate white coffee cup. Soft and hard. Tender and harsh. Poignant and painful. Sweet and bitter. Precious and precarious. The result?
A little over a week ago I posted a note about a BIG pile of bear poop I found 100 yards from my cabin (see “Holy Bear Poop Batman”). Of course I took a photo when I discovered the poop but didn’t have the guts to post it because this is suppose to be an inspiring art blog and I wasn’t sure just how poop photos fair on the internet. BUT you asked for it!! Ok…maybe you didn’t…but plenty of people did…so…here you go: Um. Yuck?! Actually it was both impressive and a bit fascinating. Either it was left by one BIG bear or a regular-sized bear with an irregular digestive problem. Regardless…right after I shot the photo, I returned to my cabin to grab the bear spray before getting back to my hike. Finding “Amber parts” in a pile of bear poop might be interesting but I’d rather they stick to the berries.
Zaydee and I went for a hike earlier this evening. About 100 yards from my cabin I saw the biggest pile of bear sh*t I've ever seen. Now I have seen LOTS of bear poop during the years up here and plenty of bear poop elsewhere. I am no stranger to bear poop. My stint as a wilderness ranger was in the Taylor Hilgard Wilderness… considered the “highest concentration of grizzly bears in the lower 48”…so not only did I see plenty of bears (and even woke up with one standing on my foot)…BUT…I saw lots of poop. Never have I seen a pile like this. Impressive.
Zaydee and I went for a hike earlier this evening. About 100 yards from my cabin I saw the biggest pile of bear sh*t I've ever seen. Seriously, without exaggerating I've seen LOTS of bear poop during the years up here, my time in the back country, and
I stood outside just past dark this morning and watched as the sun (with much effort) slowly lifted thick heavy dark eyelids and began to consider waking.
Later I returned outside to find a pretty pink perky sunrise, complete with glow-in-the-light lace.
Angelique is visiting from Oregon (my friend Margaret’s 14 year old daughter). We attended an engaging performance by Montana Shakespeare in the Parks. Then the Sweet Pea Scene – fun art, crafts, clothes, food…good people watching…great band. We enjoyed being sprinkled with tiny raindrops while dancing under the dramatic Montana sky before coming home to a happy wet dog and fresh snow on my deck. Gotta love it when Mother Nature gets playful, dramatic and festive.
Hail stones bigger than golf balls came crashing out of a black sky this afternoon. I got caught driving in the valley at the edge of the storm where the hail stones were merely moose-poop-size. I pulled under some trees to wait it out. Cliff witnessed the full fury here on the mountain and called to warn me. When I arrived home the stones had already begun to melt. Looked like 1000 egg-laying chickens paraded through my yard. The ice balls were impressive ...odd ...curious ... amazing...beautiful! I was running late for a commitment and had little time to explore and wonder. Wish I'd gathered up a batch to save for summer drinks!
So many possibilities!! I hadn’t known ‘til yesterday afternoon that I wouldn’t be working on the commission up Tom Miner Basin…an unexpected day off since my client has guests today. The morning has been crisp and cool. The hip-high thistles no longer have Dr Seuss-size blooms. Tall tiny white wildflowers along with some pink and purple blooms dot the yard but we are long past the Monet look of spring, tipping instead toward the dry arid colors of cliché western paintings. The tall grass scratches rather than caresses when hiking in shorts this time of year. The wild raspberries are ripe and scrumptious on the mountain. Usually I see more bear sign while picking and gorging on the juicy red berries. Breakfast was a home-made banana split with non-dairy ice cream, a banana, raisons, peanuts, almonds, wild rasberries and chocolate syrup. I’m on my 3rd cup of tea wearing sweats and a hoody and still I have Goosebumps ‘tho it is well past mid-morning and it is AUGUST. I live a thousand feet above the valley, which means the temps are usually double digits cooler than the folks below (it also means the snow is deeper and the stars are closer). A humming bird just came by for a late breakfast (or an early lunch). The chimes ring and ting-a-ling in the breeze, the grasshoppers chirp, the birds tweet…all is well on the mountain. I suppose I should go for a trail run, the weather is perfect for a mountain bike ride; a friend has phoned to climb. But I’ve some catching up to do in the desk part of business life, an appointment with an acupuncturist and a headache behind my right eye where two blood vessels recently burst. Then too, there is an application to fill out which involves writing about myself and my art...an exercise which feels like just that…an exercise. None too compelling and about as enticing as pull-ups or crunches but something which usually makes me feel good once I’ve finished. My goal is to finish soon enough to take Zaydee for a quick hike up the mountain before going to town.
Life threw a curve-ball which postponed our summit plans…but the weekend has been sweet and savory on many levels. Today was the perfect morning to sleep in, put Bailey’s in our breakfast drinks and share apple pie.
I’m off to the wilderness…plan to summit three peaks tomorrow…
The "Ding-a-lings" - Leslie, Zaydee and I Eight gals, two boats, and Yogi who is the kind of friend his name implies. Made banana split cake early this a.m. for Yogi’s 50th celebration on a sandy-beached river island. Missed the storms, soaked in the sun, watched the dramatic sky...baby ducks, marmot musings, bald eagle sightings and gulped Brandi Slush. Shared LizAnn’s first river float and swim since her accident on Cowen nearly a year ago. Healing, feeling, and fun.
Zaydee jumped in the Yellowstone for a swim after a post-sunrise climb on cliffs above the river. Three pelicans flew in formation downriver as I traveled up the valley at 9 a.m. to begin the staining stage of the carving commission up Tom Miner Basin. Love working with wood after touching rock. Mmmm...the fresh rainbow trout dinner was pretty good too!
-[photo} Dierdre and me on the four wheeler hauling firewood for the campfire.
Meg and I found a tiny little nest with itty bitty eggs while gathering marshmellow sticks. She was wandering the woods in a pair of my slippers and a flashlight, while I wielded the Leatherman and glass of wine.
Saturday morning I grabbed leather gloves, threw a shovel into my truck and sloshed a mug of hot tea down with yummy wheat-free cookies from the Nova (yes…breakfast!) Heavy dark clouds loomed large and ominous but actually cooled things off nicely for the work ahead. Five local fellas and I created a brand new trail to the local climbing craig. Zaydee hung around and kept us company. We made quick work of it and loaded the tools back into our trucks just before the rainstorm (which turned into a SNOW storm). Late afternoon I soaked in my sweet claw foot tub while a blanket of white snow hid the bright green forest floor outside.
The following post was written by Jim Earl for the Montana Climbers Coalition website
"At the early-bird hour of 9:30 AM, six of us met at the parking lot for Allenspur. Our goal-to build a new climber access trail on a recently obtained trail access route- which mgiht become permanent after one year. On the crew were Amber 'dig it' Jean, Dustin 'chainsaw massacre' Gaines, Ted 'trail pro' Wood, Hermes 'pick ax' Lynn, Mark 'spud bar' Wolfenden, and myself, Jim 'lazy ass' Earl."
Friday May 22
Woke to 6 a.m. sunshine and the promising feeling of a summer day when summer days are still fresh and new on the tail of winter and mixed up spring weather. So many possibilities! Cliffs to climb, trails to ride, peaks to summit, grass to roll in, wild flowers to witness, baby animals to “ooh” over, ice cream to eat, and margaritas to drink. But I had to work….a real job…not studio time or desk/business/marketing time…just plain labor and “pay per hour” kind of work. Lucky for me the work involved my handsome boyfriend and a shipping container full of reclaimed wood in a beautiful part of Montana just a valley or two away….could be interesting anyway. We picked up a skid steer on our way out of town, sipped hot drinks and drove. The reclaimed wood came from Florida…mushy, moldy, and rotten…most of it anyway. A few painted boards and a rare slightly carved piece caught my eye but none of it belonged to me. We labored while the dogs played in a nearby pond. Late afternoon we cleaned up a bit and had dinner at the sweet old Willowcreek Café. Super sweet. A rusty red old tandem bicycle leaned against the porch post out front. Haunting and compelling, the old bike invited plenty of conjecture. No doubt plenty have sat astride the broad worn out seats…young couples oozing sexuality and hyper-awareness…sweet slow loving old couples…giggling children… drunk cowboys yip’ing and hollering on a good natured dare… maybe even a bright-eyed shining pair of newlyweds? Stanley G West mentioned the bike in his book “Blind Your Ponies” (highly recommended read). We enjoyed a few drinks and home style ribs before driving off into the sunset, up the Jefferson River to pitch a tent and camp in the moonlight and cactus with the dogs.
Momma Nature has unleashed spring. The Yellowstone River is engorged like an overfed snake winding through town and the valley below my cabin. I was actually supposed to be on the Selway River right now. I was lucky enough to draw a permit. A dozen river rat friends and I put in for permits every year but Selway permits are rare. Second only to the Grand Canyon trip on the Colorado River, the Selway is extremely difficult to get a permit for. Only one group is allowed to launch each day. The wilderness river is a classic challenge very few are priviledged to attempt. Only fifty percent of the lucky people awarded a permit actually get to launch since river conditions must be carefully monitored. Seven years ago I was the only girl to join a group of guys on an early season Selway river trip. Two days into the trip, spring run-off coupled with high mountain thunderstorms raised the river three feet overnight. FLOOD STAGE. We camped on the edge of the raging river and waited. Huge rocks made the rumbling sound of thunder and vibrated the earth beneath our feet as they rolled in the strong current. Giant trees tumbled like twigs in the tumultuous murky ice cold water. Each morning we hiked to the rapids below our camp, tucked our tails, and returned to camp. We actually hiked to high country one afternoon carrying hammocks to nap away from the loud fury of river sound. Seeking whitewater high adrenaline thrills, we found ourselves in awe of the river and actually more rested up and relaxed in the forced stand still. I literally watched snails move on blades of grass in the early morning sun, ate chocolate covered raisons and drank wine in the middle of the day while reading out loud. Eventually I packed a small fanny pack and hiked 20-something miles downriver out of the wilderness and back to civilization. The boys waited out the flood…for weeks…before giving up and flying out. They returned by small plane many weeks later to get the rafts and gear. So…I have floated part of the infamous Selway River. Someday luck and Momma Nature might give me another chance. Meanwhile, I am glad for the spring and the moisture. Right now rain is pelting my metal roof; the forest floor is gratefully and greedily quenching it’s thirst, and I am reveling in the lush life-full green.
Trees loom large, heavy laden with heavy wet white spring snow cloaks. Snow ghosts in the mist this morning. Burdon. Beauty. Mystery.
Six inches of fresh snow yesterday, actually was a blessing that kept me productive indoors. So much to do since I’ve a “normal” job for two weeks as a carpenter’s assistant. Eight hour days, one-hour commute each way…so that the art part/business part is early morning, late night, and…Sunday (punctuated with a much needed cozy nap with my cat in the late afternoon).
People packed into Elle’s Belles for “Birds, Bunnies, and Chainsaws.” Chairs were borrowed last minute from the bar next door and still the people kept coming. I was blown away…and thrilled to have a room-full and receptive audience. Still feel both plumb tuckered and energized at the same time from the performance, much like the mix I feel after a productive studio day or a climbing day. Different kind of tired…and maybe a subtle different kind of energized, but all good. Really good.
Spring camping last night! Big fat round moon reflected in puddles of melted snow. Happy dogs trying to share sleeping bags and bedding. Sleep with a smile. Pink sky and sun-drunk moon linger bold and bright on the horizon. Hot tea and warm thoughts. Good company.
Wednesday already? The week is clipping along a bit out of control…not unlike my attempt to ski downhill last night on fast crusty snow while wearing my “skinny skis.” Cross-country skis are just not meant for fast turns and steep hills. Well…at least not while strapped to my feet anyway. I’m a total klutz on skinny skis…pretty funny. I laugh, scream and tumble my way down hills. If you were to sit in a vehicle with a pen in each hand resting on a pad of paper while riding on a bumpy country road, my erratic tracks might resemble the marks left on the paper, punctuated with the occasional big “splat” where I fell. No kidding. But I had been busy inside all day. The sun was shining, the snow slinking away, and the big white saddle on the ridge east of my cabin where the elk roam beckoned me out for a quick whacky dose of spring madness. Zaydee and I skied past Granny’s cabin, down a drainage, and then climbed the elk-tracked slopes to the ridge for a breathtaking view of the Bridger Mountains. I got back huffing and puffing in one piece just in time to greet Felicia, pour some wine, and set plates outside for a steak dinner with her and Cliff. The sun serenaded us until it dipped behind the ridge, and quietly left us to the subtle spring evening sky. We bundled up in coats and relished the ability to sit outside.
March 30, 2009
Stuffed today with kooky creativity, burly business, house-keeping (even scrubbed the bathroom), family care (took my father home from the hospital, visited with Flynn's parents at ICU, and climbed 3 pitches of ice in the evening until 8pm…should I mention the scrumptious dinner out…the big margarita…the soothing soak…the fine companionship? Awesome start to the week!Rapelling off of the falls in the late evening...fresh snow falling...
March 29, 2009
I left my father’s side Friday evening to stay with my mom in Bozeman. Two young climber friends got out of the hospital elevator and I realized instantly that the family in the ICU waiting room is there for Flynn; young-adventuress-big-smile-super-kind Flynn who rolled her car a week and a half ago. She was returning with her brother through Gallatin Canyon after a day of teaching ski classes at Big Sky. She broke her neck and crushed her pelvis. They both had seatbelts on, her brother was uninjured. Our small climbing community is still not over the shock and concern for LizAnn after the accident on Mt Cowen left her paralyzed months ago. Once again the climbing community has rallied with love and support for one of our “own” cherished super sweet and adventurous gal. The plan was to transport Flynn to Craig on Wednesday (the same rehabilitation center where LizAnn went after her spine injury)…so I hadn’t connected the dots…and had no idea the family in the ICU waiting room belonged to little Flynn. Lung complications have kept them from transporting Flynn, in fact…the complications took a turn for the worse yesterday which necessitated sedating her, putting a feeding tube in and scheduling a tracheotomy this morning. She won’t be able to talk when she wakes up…terrifying to someone who cannot move or feel below her neck. Just a few months ago, Flynn inquired often about LizAnn’s progress after LizAnn’s accident and remarked that she did not think she could deal the way LizAnn did. Dealing she is, struggling for breath and life, showing grace and bravery. My heart aches for her parents and their pain. The journey by LizAnn’s side has been poignant and gut-wrenchingly painful…but is no comparison to a parent’s pain. Parents were not part of the intensity of that first month in ICU with LizAnn. The sedation, the breathing tube, and respirator allowed her parents their first break in the bedside vigil last night. They got a hotel room and showers for the first time in 10 days since the accident. Much needed rest, hopefully they feel strengthened for the scary moments today when Flynn wakes from surgery and realizes she cannot speak. I am home after a relatively simple vigil with my parents. Dad is recuperating from his surgery, feeling good enough to be grumpy about his breakfast. Dinner last night was shared with a big batch of girlfriends by candlelight during the 60 minute Earth Hour where many people from around the world turned off their lights and power for one hour. Felt good for me to reconnect with some of the women in my own little town. I read updates about Flynn and her family before bed last night, (http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/flynnmurray/journal) and became too pumped with concern and emotion to sleep. The morning brought thick winter whiteness, trees veiled and snow falling. My first cup of tea had Bailey’s, two more cups (without Bailey’s) and a number of phone conversations later and it is time to write for the April 1st performance at Pine Creek
March 27, 2009
A family is camped out in the waiting room outside ICU. Red suitcases line one wall. Small coffee tables have open bags of candy with bows and empty coffee cups stacked three-deep. I offer a smile each time I pass them; a smile bright and bold as the red suitcases - packed with comfort, sincere compassion, strength, and warmth. I wonder how long the family has been here and wish I could offer more. My father is recovering from hip surgery…his second. Shortly after sunrise, I watched Dr Gammon write his initials in black ink on Dad’s white thigh next to the “yes!” written earlier and circled in ink by the prep nurse before the anesthesiologist came in to wheel Dad down the hall. The sunny blue sky morphed into a dreary gray while I kept vigil with Mom. The long over-due surgery went well…a relief considering the complications possible when replacing a hip on Dad’s “polio side.” Father survived three separate polio attacks as a child. He’s always had a “polio side” with one leg noticeably smaller than the other. Throughout life he continued to defy medical expectations for his level of physical achievement despite the floppy foot, lack of muscle, and mild deformity. The same doctor replaced his “good” hip five years ago in an attempt to offer some relief. The science to attempt surgery on the “polio side” did not exist back then. Half a decade of incredible pain was endured before science offered the confidence and knowledge to operate in the region wrecked by the mysterious virus. He’s a tough bugger, and that is putting it mildly. Evening approaches. Pale blue patches of sky offer ribbons of cheer; breaking up the grayness. I write while sitting next to the hospital bed with my sleeping father. Our day was long but blessedly simple. My thoughts and healing energy go out to the family in the ICU waiting room, wishing them a future of sunshine and blue skies.
March 19, 2009
"I am in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection, but with Montana, it is love and it's difficult to analyze love when you are in it."- John SteinbeckMontana is a blessing. I happened onto the quote by Steinbeck this morning and must simply say that I could do the “Snoopy Dance” from pure joy at the luck of calling this place home. Home sweet expansive sky home. Home sweet blue mountains home. Home sweet wild spring rivers home. Home sweet cozy cabin home.I am blowing kisses to the heavens with thanks, gratitude and a grin.
March 18, 2009
Slept about two hours last night before the emotional goblins got rowdy…sometimes I just can’t quiet them down. I tended to them like a cranky barmaid. Tried not to listen to their bar brawl loud-mouth shenanigans. I was stuck relentlessly behind the bar putting in a shift that ended only as the sun came up. My weary body feels sick-to-the-stomach with sleeplessness. I missed Tara’s funeral. A spring snow storm dumped six inches of snow just the perfect consistency to get stuck in. Stuck I was, wearing a short black skirt, digging and swearing in my own driveway. My neighbor Cliff got stuck trying to get me unstuck and swore much louder. We had to borrow a skid steer to get our vehicles out. I haven’t been stuck for years…wonder why I had to get stuck then…fought a few tears and then let it go. Who can argue with such things? Being stuck in snow is a blessing compared to being in an accident. Somehow I was not meant to go. One just has to trust the big picture. I wanted to be emotionally together for my lecture at the Danforth Gallery last night so maybe there was a little blessing in being stuck.But I missed the memorial. I missed the connection with her family and our friends…missed being around others who feel the loss and the void…missed her brothers’ heart wrenching words, the photos, the stories, the catharsis. I hear it was beautiful and sad; emotionally exhausting. I wanted to be there. The night was long. I was stuck in a frustrating shift of sleeplessness, caught in the glare of hustling thoughts and emotions. The goblins clamored for attention. Crowding me, they leaned over the well worn bar…shouted above the din and the smoke and the scum of dark places.
March 14, 2009
Little Sara has Down ’s syndrome and LOVES to ski. Rose and I are volunteers in the Eagle Mount Program. Eight weeks of skiing once a week with Sara fostered a serious case of warm fuzzies and good memories.
Meg and IAnother fun day > Look at the top right corner and you can see the top of another big frozen waterfall...one waterfall after another...up and up and up
February 28, 2009
Thus the dilemma of living in a beautiful place when Momma Nature beckons on a glorious Saturday morning dressed in her finest tantalizing outfit to come out and play BUT the same sunshine which highlights the fresh sequined snow also beams in through windows and lights up dust bunnies big enough to make slippers out of.
Seems my quaint little cabin in the woods should have a batch of tweetering chubby cheeked birds and scampering chipper little forest critters to take care of the chores for me. If my part of the cleaning scene including singing like Cinderella…well…that thought just burst the bubble on a rather colorful animated fantasy. So here I am, wind chimes with their cathedral-like ambiance, sunshine, and the fur of one cat, one dog, and myself (I shed worse than the two put together) to tend to. But before I drag out my little purple vacuum, let me tell you a bit about a beautiful little detour I took last night after attending an art opening at the Holter Museum in Helena. I’d made the two hour drive to Helena in the late afternoon on dry roads punctuated by the customary stop at the junction of I-90 and 287. The junction is just that, a junction…not a town…nor is it near any town but it has a gas station, a bakery, and a strip joint complete with a sex toy store. The bakery is a “must stop” for two reasons: 1) everything is baked with flour from wheat grown in the surrounding hills 2) the ladies who work there are like a batch of aunts and grandma’s who bake and serve with the kind familiarity of a church picnic. (a third reason would be the cinnamon scones, or the best macaroons in the world, or the homemade biscuits with sausage gravy, or the desert-plate-sized cinnamon rolls of four or five different varieties, or the sack lunches, or…ok…see?!...must…stop). Munching on a warm cinnamon scone, I admired the late afternoon pastel painted sky, saw more antelope than you could count, and marveled at the huge frozen lakes while driving across country to a museum. Cliff called just as I was leaving Helena. He wanted me to look at the moon and the bright spot next to the moon which he said was the space station. The moon appeared as a paper cut out and the space station was brighter than any planet or star; a fact I found both a bit thrilling and totally disturbing. The night drive was uneventful, not even a deer in the headlights. Sometime around 10 pm I got a phone call and an invitation to visit a friend, so while distracted, I had one of my admit ably frequent blond moments and took the wrong exit onto Churchill road thinking it was a shortcut at a junction closer to Bozeman. The slender paved road ambled on past farm buildings, cottonwood trees, and the occasional oversize mailbox before it began to dip, roll, and wind through two sweet little rural communities. Small houses nestled close together with warm lights glowed invitingly. Each small community had an impressively large lit up church. The feeling of “wholesomeness” wafted in the chilly night air as I looked into living room windows with simple furniture and walls full of framed pictures. Barn after barn caught my eye as potential perfect studio spaces. I am drawn to the classic farm outbuilding shapes and have no intention of building a big square box studio. I visualize variations of barns as the ideal exterior for the studio I plan to build here on the mountain. Peering at the buildings in the moonlight, I had the same overwhelming variety of choices as if I were standing back at the bakery trying to make up my mind as to which treat to indulge in. Each offered different potential and nudged me with an odd familiarity. I believe the familiar feeling was linked to an idea I had fourteen years ago. When I set out after graduating from college I hatched a plan; once cold temps and shorter days ended my summer job as a wilderness ranger, I would drive to little communities in Montana and seek out a widowed rancher or farmer’s wife who needed help around the place in exchange for a bed and a barn or shop complete with her late husband’s tools to use and plenty of time to create sculptures. Depending on how deep my well of optimism flowed as I pondered my possibilities, sometimes the widow would be well educated and spry with a deep rooted love of art coupled with an insatiable desire to travel the world. She would actually pay me to be her companion. We’d settle down between trips at the picturesque ranch or farm for long periods each year during which I was free to create art. The memory of that very real fantasy swung along with me as I lightly zipped and rolled over the snow covered hills and hugged curves in creek bottoms. The sky felt friendly and inviting; like an exotic sparkly canopy the heavens shimmered with stars and a space station. Zaydee looked out the window attentively with expectation; I matched her mood and laughed out loud, wondering where the road led but never actually feeling lost.
I woke depressed. Put a bit of Bailey’s in my morning tea…thought about crawling back into bed with a bad case of the blues but pulled on my snow pants and boots instead. Early morning hike uphill in old snow; I followed previous boot tracks, searched for sun, purpose, and answers. Sun up. Soul down. A gamut of emotions wadded like a mess of yarn the cat played with. Thoughts of time…how strangely elusive and yet evasive time can be. Just a few seconds can change everything. A few years can pass in a blink and a couple deep breaths.Two years ago today, I was climbing ice with three of my favorite people down in Cody, Wyoming. We’d really whooped it up with friends the previous night, celebrating ice and life. Our spirited group danced crazy and wild in the spinning dots of a disco ball at Cassie’s, the big cowboy bar. I got carded twice…not bad for the eve of my 40th birthday. The skinny bright-eyed bartender with dyed hair, wicked tight jeans, and a red lipstick grin pointed me out to every lady who came in, “Would you believe she is 40 years old?!!” The women looked me over in good natured disbelief. One woman commented that ice climbing must be “good for the skin.” I laughed and remarked that hanging off frozen waterfalls in a biting cold winter wind is a recipe for chapped lips and ruby-red numb frozen cheeks. Must say, it’s hard to imagine it could be good for the skin. A tall cowboy bought our festive whirlwind gang a round of kamikaze shots. We left the bar at closing time, piled (was it seven?) bodies into Joe’s little car. I had the most room in the driver’s seat. Good tunes blared; Joe drummed on the dashboard as if he were on a stage powered by an admiring crowd of thousands. No one wanted to call it a night, so I took them for a ride. First I aimed for the hills above town. Stars and bluffs with town lights below, then back downtown to spin cookies in the cemetery before a jaunt down the highway into the big well-lit tunnel near the river in the canyon. Someone, (I think it was Brian) was trying to climb out the sunroof to "surf." Everyone yanked him down while I kept my hands on the wheel and the car steady. Plans to poach a hot tub at the fancy hotel were hatched but smashed when a cop pulled us over sometime before 4 a.m. and asked me to “walk the line.” My friends watched intently from inside the car, dark eyes visible through a pile of limbs. Grins lost. Music off. I passed the test but puked the following morning at the trailhead after the curvy drive up the canyon to climb a couple hundred feet of ice. What a perfect birthday. Today, life has the acute weight of transition…grief for endings; fear of new beginnings, and a bit of confusion along with the anticipation and excitement that skip hand-in-hand with the unknown. As dawn light hit the horizon my feet slipped from one old crisp boot track into another. I was keenly aware of my ability to hike. Six months ago, a few seconds and one loose rock changed the life of my dear friend LizAnn forever. She can no longer hike, or climb, or feel anything from mid-chest down. Joe and Leslie, who shared the same rope with me on my birthday ice climb two years ago, had been with LizAnn that fateful afternoon. A few days ago (Sunday), the four of us shared drinks, laughs, and other emotions while soaking at a natural hot springs in the same valley where LizAnn broke her spine. Leslie was visiting from Jackson. I took her up Pine Creek where we climbed a 180 foot frozen waterfall before meeting the others at the hot springs. On our way to the springs, we drove past the intersection where the incident command center had been set up for the rescue. Leslie and I spent countless anxious hours there, the memories so vivid it could have been last week instead of six months ago, yet lifetimes have been lived during the emotional and physical healing journey with LizAnn. Sunday was also the first time LizAnn had seen Mt Cowen since the accident which occurred in a steep gully on their descent after summiting the impressive peak. Chico had been a favorite hot spot for LizAnn, we soaked there often after adventures. The pool is not overly handicapped accessible; we lifted her in and out of the chair into the pool. Once in the water lounging with a drink in her hand, LizAnn appeared like the rest of us; a vivacious lively little thing laughing in the steam. The intricate web woven tight by tragedy was enriched and deepened by love, compassion and our common propensity for passion. Living fully. More thoughts of time, of seconds and years occupied my mind and teased my heart earlier today…but my mood has lifted, and my time to ramble run out. I’ve some celebrating to do!
I pulled on some silky long johns, blue jeans, and thick socks as the sun rose. Truck gage said nine degrees above zero. Sipping tea, I drove along the Yellowstone River up Paradise Valley in fresh untainted early morning light to Tom Miner Basin. Zaydee and I saw wild sheep along the dirt road. Domestic sheep with playful little lambs kicked around like jumping beans in the corral on the ranch near the river. Snow sparkled; the river flowed between frozen chunks, the jagged Sawtooth Mountains pierced the blue sky horizon. The ragged ridgeline just this side of Yellowstone Park is just the kind of jagged that makes me itch to climb but today was about cows and dogs. Vern greeted me with his classic grin, the kind of boyish up-to-no-good mischievous glinting grin exceptionally suitable for good natured cowboys. We headed out to round up the cows so we could switch their tags. He’s been training three Border Collies since June. Have you ever seen a good cow dog work? Truly a sight…pure joy, plenty of smarts and subtleness…the impressive connection between dog and owner…dog and cows. Luke, a beautiful trim classic tri-colored Border Collie, rounded the cows up and herded them into a pen. He responded well to commands from Vern. No barking, just keen management through movement. No panic, rather Vern would tell Luke to "lie down" periodically and then "walk up” behind the cows and keep them moving at a slow controlled pace. Duce, broad-shouldered with red, brown and white markings, worked the cows once they were in the pens, moving them from one pen down a chute to another.If you can get past the poopy butts and slinging snot, cows have a quirky calm beauty to their eyes framed by long lashes. Big ears, soft furry foreheads, plump bellies, angular little asses…cows have the ability not to look too far into the distance. The cows we worked today are one year olds, so they are still kind of cute. Our job was to switch out their little calf tags for big cow tags. Just like children on the first day of school sporting new clothes too big, the cows’ tags were over-sized, flopping from fuzzy ears. “They’ll grow into them,” Vern said with a chuckle.We got worked a bit while trying to get them into the trailer. The chute would have made it easier but it was full of snow. We chained the truck up before Vern backed the trailer up the hill to the pen. Vern is gentle but firm…not a proponent of chaos and shouting. I like the way he thinks and appreciate his ability to try different things until finding what works for that particular moment…those particular cows. They are learning, always learning…young cows…bright eager dogs…light-hearted cowhand, in a graceful and klutzy dance full of poop and sunshine. Earlier in the day while riding in the truck, Vern dished some lessons learned when dealing with women. He said the easiest way to deal with a woman is to admit a mistake when something wasn’t working. “Don’t take it personally and simply try something else. Too many men take it personally,” he said.I wonder. But I can say working in the studio is similar to Vern’s approach on the ranch. Studio life is a constant graceful and klutzy dance where humbleness, fortitude, invention and the willingness to try new things allow an environment where one continues to learn and grow…trying not to take things personally yet opening up all of my person to the process. I wonder how things would go if I had a couple of smart working stock dogs to help herd my ideas and a firm gentle wise cowhand to keep things clipping along.
Febrary 2, 09
Deep fluffy snow and crystal frost whispers to a quiet place in my soul. A place that holds beauty as gently as a palm cups tiny fresh laid eggs. Heavy whiteness sings gracefully without sound. An unspoken "don't touch" lingers in the air over the delicately bedecked forest reminding me of fragile china carefully arranged on hand crochet doilies at grandma's house. Sky white erases the horizon betrayed by one pale ribbon which startles the morning with a hint of peach, faint as the small faded stain on a formal white tablecloth.
Winter is here.