Every Picture Tells a Story Don’t It?

image

Sonnenblume  10″ x 10″  2016

Once upon a time there was a vivacious young girl who dreamed of growing up to be an artist, a textile designer to be exact. Determined, she had the great fortune to obtain employment at a large department store in the city center with plans to obtain a firm foundation in her future career.What was less fortunate was the time and place  into which this young Jewish girl was born: Berlin at the precise time the winds of war were gathering over Germany and the evil spectre of National Socialism and Adolf Hitler were in ascendence.

Not unlike Oskar Schindler, the owner of the store made up his mind to help some of his young employees escape Germany. With limited resources and so many in need of his help, he devised a plan to assist him with the daunting and nearly impossible task  of deciding who would go and who would stay. He announced a design contest. Winners would secure a place on the Kindertranport, a rescue effort that gave refuge to thousands of Jewish children in Great Britain between 1938 and 1940.

Luckily, the girl’s design was one of those chosen and she was smuggled out of the country to live with her new “adoptive” family in the green Valleys of Wales. What became of her parents and the rest of her family is not my story to tell, however, the girl lived on in Great Britain, eventually marrying a British Army Officer who later became Headmaster of a boy’s school. Her dream of becoming an artist was never fulfulled but she became the mother of two lovely children, a boy and a girl.

Her son married my best friend Anne 40 years ago. The “girl” is now 91 years old, but I only learned the basics of this tale a few years ago. The rest of the story was revealed to me just a few weeks ago when I posted an image of one of my latest pieces on Facebook, an art quilt featuring sunflowers. The very next next morning I received an email from Anton inquiring about the availability of the piece which I had just dropped off at a museum rendering it unavailable. His inquiry was shortly followed by an email from Anne informing me that he wanted the piece for his mother. Her winning design, the one created all those years ago, the design that liteally saved her life featured sunflowers, sonnenblume. So this little piece was designed and made just for her and is on it’s way across the ocean to find a new home with woman who has been an artist in her heart for all these many years.

Home Sweet…Contact Station?

image

 

As of this week I have served as artist in residence at eight different National and State Parks and several National Monuments and other pubilic lands. One of my favorite parts of any residency is actually living in the park. I never know what the accomodations will be like and it is always a surprise. I have stayed in an historic hogan, casita and cottage and several ranch style houses on both the tall grass and short grass prairies.

When I first ran across this residency at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area the accomodations were listed as a bunkhouse on a historic ranch within the confines of the park. Unfortunately, the deadline had already passed and  I waited patiently for the next one to roll around. Then in December last year the bunkhouse burned to the ground within a matter of hours, a great loss to the park. The official cause of the fire was listed as electrical, but I have since learned that conspiracy theories abound. A quick call to the park and I was assured that they would find someplace for artists to stay.

Once I was advised that I was selected to serve as AIR this summer, I decided that I was just too close to The Little Bighorn Battlefield, AKA The Battle of Greasy Grass, AKA Custer’s Last Stand to not see it, so I decided to go a day early and visit before heading south to the park. Air BnB has served me well in the past so I booked a room for a night in Billings to accomodate this day trip. The old adage, “you get what you pay for,” soon came into play. Let me say this, my past experience as a social worker making home visits to the mentally ill in Appalachia prepared me well for the stay at this humble abode. While the woman renting me her basement room was quite nice, and the room itself was the cleanest, most well organized room in the entire house and including the front yard, front porch and back yard, it is hard to put into words the filth and general crap present in this house. If unidentifiable, week old food fermenting in the sink and on the stove is any indicator, then perhaps you can use your imagination to fill in the rest. Needless to say I did not take a shower there ( I would have had to remove about a 100 bath toys out of the tub to do so) and was off as soon as it was light enough to make an exit without breaking my neck on all the rubbish.

image

Relieved and excited to be in the park, I quickly found my new home at The Crooked Creek Contact Station. I am assuming it is called a Contact Station as this is where park personnel first come in contact with the public, and at times, dare I say chase them down to do so.  This is the daytime home to the Law Enforcement Rangers as well as the Invasive Species Rangers. These are the park staff who check each boat entering the park for invasive species like Zebra Mussels before they launch their vessels on the resevoir and share the joy so to speak. Infected boats are power washed with hot, pressurized water before launch. In this fast paced world some entitled captains resent this short delay and attempt to bypass the system causing law enforcement to “encourage” their compliance.

I found my quarters to be quite generous with my own bathroom, shower,  double bed and plenty of room leftover for a makeshift studio. Best of all, it had air conditioning, a real neccessity when the temperatures dance around 100 degrees most days at this time of year. I “shared a kitchen” with the rangers which gave me a chuckle as the only food present in the refrigerator when I arrived was a bottle of water and a half gallon of Lime Rickey ice cream, which I later learned had been there for months because it tasted like “Pinesol”and no one would eat it.

Each place I have stayed has quirks and the ones here involved water, appropriate considering the drought conditions existing in the West. First of all, despite the fact that my home was less than a mile from a huge resevoir, none of the water in the park was potable. Dire warnings were posted above every faucet. I made several inquiries as to the cause and was informed that this was due to “the high mineral content,” and indeed the water in the shower smelled like pure sulpher. I also asked if the water was filtered, worrying about giardiasis and the the response was “Well, there is that.” I never really got a clear answer. Luckily there was plenty of nice, cold drinkable water in a 20 gallon water cooler in the office so I could keep my water bottles filled at all times. But do you have any idea how hard it is to remember to use your water bottle to brush your teeth in the morning when you haven’t had your coffee?

Then there was the quirky plumbing. When I arrived the toilet tank top was lying on the floor which I immediately placed back where it belonged only to learn that it really wouldn’t flush properly with the lid on. It resided on the floor under the sink during the rest of my stay. The sink had it’s own set of issues. After about three days it started dripping, but with a flick of the wrist one could get it to shut off. This became increasingly difficult as the days passed, and one evening about 6 days into my stay it revolted and refused to turn off at all. No matter how I twisted and turned it the water flow vascillated somewhere between a full on waterfall and an extremely aggressive drip. Now having a handyman for a brother, I knew how to turn off the water at it’s source under the sink, but turning the valve in both directions with all my might did absolutely nothing. I was able to get the flow down to an aggressive drip and put a washrag under it to keep from completely losing my mind that night due to the torturous nature of dripping faucets.

So, what is the difference between just having a place to stay and a home? Why friends and family of course. More than any other park where I have served as artist in residence the staff made me feel at home, starting with a welcome sign on my door. Ranger Tim turned off my water and called maintainence for me (and no he couldn’t turn the water valve off either…vindication!). He also spent several of his leave days taking me hiking on two of the trails no one in their right mind should do alone and also took me kayaking on the resevoir. Rangers Christy and Virginia took me with them to the Northern part of the park and I got to experience the inner workings of the NPS and meet the Superintendant. Rangers Ben and Kyle checked me in and helped me to set up and take down my presentation. The Law Enforcement Rangers regaled me with their bear and rattlesnake stories and shared all of the gossip about who got ticketed for speeding or attempting to evade the long arm of the law each day.  Did you know that beartraps are baited with catfood or doughnuts?

So despite the quirks, which every home has, I was totally charmed by this place and the people that brought me into their famlily, watched my back and made sure that I had a marvelous time. I cry every time I leave a park, but this time it was particularly difficult; I had to leave behind new friends and my NPS family.   The park staff are applying for a grant to rebuild the old bunkhouse which was located in one of the most scenic and  bucolic parts of the park so perhaps one day I will have the opportunity to revisit friends and family.

 

 

To Paint a Desert: The Long and Winding Road to Petrified Forest National Park

346

As Rod Stewart, one of my brother’s favorite musicians would say, ” Every picture tells a story don’t it?” With a good dose of Irish ancestry, I have come to realize the importance of a good story, in literature, in art and in life. Here’s one of mine.

With over 50 National Parks and Monuments offering Artist in Residence programs in any given year, how does one go about deciding which opportunities to apply for? What’s not to love about almost any National Park? But if you are going to live there for any length of time and devote yourself to making a piece of art worthy of the experience, for me at least, there needs to be some deeper meaning to the decision aside from the natural beauty of the place.

While mainstream America has a linear view of time, other cultures, especially indigenous or aboriginal cultures tend to view it as circular. I like to think of it as a spiral, so spiraling back across time I can picture my 7-year-old self attending J.W Reason Elementary School in Hilliard, Ohio, a small farming community back in the day. Being one of the many baby boomers overburdening the school system, at the time there was no room in the school building for a library. As a matter of fact, there wasn’t one in the entire town. It took the burg’s founding fathers, or farmers, as the case may be, a few more years to construct one. Instead school children had their literary needs met via The Bookmobile.

Somewhat resembling an overgrown Air Stream trailer, this beast would pull into the circular drive of various schools and set up shop about once a month. Each child was solemnly issued a library card that we were to guard with our very lives or pay the dire, and unknown consequences. When the day arrived for my very first visit, I dutifully and anxiously lined up with the other children for my turn to enter the belly of the beast. Holding onto the railing as if ascending a great mountain, I pulled myself up what seemed like gargantuan steps and entered this holiest of literary places.

Once inside I was in a state of awe just looking at the books of every stripe and color that rose to the very heights. I was immediately faced with a dilemma. Just having learned how to read, the second graders were only permitted to select one book. Now even at that early age I was heartily sick of the Dick and Jane readers we were issued, and really didn’t give a damn about seeing Spot run (already developing a preference for cats, I was somewhat more interested in Puff’s antics however). Thus, selecting just the right book in the allotted amount of time was a difficult but satisfying task. After touching and opening as many tomes as possible, I finally selected my heart’s desire, a book of Native American animal tales about The Painted Desert in Arizona.

Aha ! My raison d’être for applying to Petrified Forest National Park and The Painted Desert. In my research for this artist in residence program I was able to locate just the book I needed, Hopi Animal Stories, compiled and edited by Ekkehart Malotki a language professor at Northern Arizona University. A grown up version of my very first library book, complete with liner notes and a cadre of tales collected from traditional Hopi “story rememberers” on Second and Third Mesa in Hopiland! So not only did I have a reason to immerse myself in this special park, I had a ready made project, interpreting one of the animals tales in textiles. As I sat perched on the park’s Rim Trail, I swear in the distance I could see an image from that second grade book, a coyote and rabbit side by side,  berets worn with rakish abandon, giant brushes hoisted in the air, painting the desert with a palette of colors stolen from the Easter Bunny. Now there’s a story.

 

403

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Goldilocks, About that Bear Thing…

Grizzly3

Bears have been on my mind for the past couple of years, which may be a bit surprising since I grew up on a small farm in Central Ohio, a state in which bears of all types were eradicated long before I came along. As a child I had very little first hand knowledge of genus Ursus. Oh yes, there were a few raggedy polar bears swaying their bodies to and fro in the summer heat at our local zoo, and the foggy memory of my four year old self directed to look out the car window during a family trip to The Great Smoky Mountain National Park to see the bears. Despite the paucity of actual experience with bears, I must admit to a niggling anxiety when it comes to the idea of meeting one face to face in the wilderness.

I first noticed this when I was being considered for a position as Artist in Residence at Becharof National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Voices in the Wilderness is a residency program unlike others in that it embeds artists in the wilds of Alaska, hiking and camping along with  National Park Service, Forestry or Fishery staff. No sissy log cabins here. In preparation, I read that Brown Bears were numerous in the area and often frequented the same trails as people do for the same reason, ease of travel. Brown Bears sounded pretty cute and cuddly, but a quick Google search revealed that aside from their coloration, they are essentially genetically identical to Grizzly Bears.  Ooops.

A quick consultation with my wilderness guru brother and this was confirmed. He suggested the purchase of a bear keg to carry in my pack as a way to prevent bears from smelling food and toiletries, thereby hopefully thwarting an attack in one’s tent or on the trail. A phone conversation with the Becherof Coordinator assured me I had little to worry about. I would be embedded with a rifle toting volunteer who would have my back and I would be equipped with electric fencing to surround my tent at night or myself during the day should I decide to do any drawing or painting along the trail. I would also have access to at least three types of phones in case of emergency. Shit. Now I was worried.

Lack of funding and a change in personnel prevented that experience from getting off the ground and I cannot say that I was terribly disappointed. The cancellation however, did not end my bear anxiety. Just a few months later I flew to Washington State for a residency in a place where bears were so numerous they frequently played in the backyard of the Bed and Breakfast where I was lodged. The owners pretty much downplayed any fears I had, but the “bear experts” set up next to me at The Salmon Festival venue told me a different story. Apparently the bear bells I had purchased and planned to wear on my hike in the Wenatchee National Forest were next to useless. The only thing I scared when I attached them to my shoelaces were the other hikers who anxiously asked me if there were bears in the area. “Hell, yes, ” I wanted to respond but didn’t, wondering how people can be so oblivious to their surroundings?

More confused than ever, when I got home I decided to do some reading about bear behavior. Allegedly one is to stand and fight if attacked by a Black Bear and curl up into a ball if attacked by a Grizz. Would a person really remember that rule in such a dire situation? The one thing I did learn from my research is that much like people, bear behavior is unpredictable (Well, that clears things up nicely). Some Native Americans believe strongly in the spirit of bears. Allegedly this is because that once skinned, a bear corpse very closely resembles that of a human. Well that could explained the erratic behavior part.

Fast forward to last summer. Upon checking in at the Bighorn Canyon NRA  Residency I was handed a can of bear spray and a holster as standard equipment. You bet I asked about the presence of bears (Black, OMG stand and fight?) and wore that spray religiously, attached to the front of my backpack straps. I also sang Show Tunes (Ooooklahoma where the wind comes sweeping down the Plain) and Sunday School songs (Yes, Jesus Loves Me), whistled, and yelled “Hey Bear” until I was pretty much hoarse. I never did see a bear so I reckon my strategy was effective. The last night of my stay I did one last hike with a ranger to a beautiful waterfall along the “predator highway.” My alarm system was heightened as we drove past the Bear Trap kept hidden out of view of the casual visitor and baited by park staff with stale doughnuts when needed. It was a real stunner of a hike, but as we descended the ranger pointed to some odd looking material under a bush that was apparently “full of berries.”  “What is that?” I asked. “Bear scat” was the reply. I can now definitively say that bears do shit in the woods, and after all my concern about meeting a bear in the wild, this particular one was more frightened of me than I was of him.

So where did all that latent anxiety about bears originate? Must have been all those Fairy Tales I read as a child. Yea, you Goldilocks.

You Don’t Always Get What you Want, but if You Try Sometime, you Just might get what you need Part 2

image

Genealogically speaking, I am a Heinz 57 with Swiss, German, and Irish ancestors. Then there was my English grandmother who lived in a house my Dad built for her right next door. She hailed from Yorkshire. There is an English saying, “Thou can always tell a Yorkshireman, but thou can’t tell him much.” So you can see that with this particular genetic soup, I come by my stubborn streak honestly. My mother called it being bull-headed, I prefer to call it persistence. Being such a persistent person, when I was unable to travel to Alaska, I immediately made another attempt to find a way out West.

A Google search produced a second opportunity for an artist residency, this time in Montana at a BLM site. Oh Yeah! And this one honored Lewis and Clark, The Corps of Discovery, Sacagawea and her infant son Pompey. This adventure included a 4 day, all expense paid canoe trip that followed their exact route through this paricular stretch of the Missouri river, including their well documented camp sites. Hell yes!!

As a kid my family camped nearly every weekend spring through fall at a state park near Chillicothe, Ohio that boasted a small but idyllic lake. One day when I was about fourteen my Dad disappeared from the campsite in his truck cryptically saying he was going for a ride. About 4 hours later he reappeared with a 14 foot, bright red fiber glass canoe perched in the back of the truck. We now had a new pastime that enthralled us for years. From that day forth nearly all of our extended family and friends also purchased canoes and every weekend we camped and canoed. So it seemed that this particular opportunity was custom-made for a history lovin’ gal that can paddle her own canoe and quilt too. I wrote a mean proposal and waited.

On the appointed day I received a very kind rejection email. Wow! I thought I had that one in the bag, but it is not possible to know the circumstances of why you were not selected and cannot take such rejections personally. I waited to see who had been selected. For some reason I had a feeling that the friends group sponsoring the residency already had someone in mind.  A few days later another google search turned up the candidate, a well-known Montana artist that lived about 50 miles away. Easily understood.

Fast forward to three weeks ago. Remember the US Fish and Wildlife Service employee in charge of the cancelled Alaska residency? Out of the blue she contacted me and asked if I would be interested in flying out to Washington State to be a featured artist at The Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery’s Annual Salmon Festival? Furthermore, would I be willing to make a piece for them to be featured at the festival, then to be hung at the hatchery at the end of the festival, and, oh, by the way they would be loaning it out to various museums in the area. In addition, would I be willing to develop an art project for the many school children visiting this educational festival? Uhhhhh. Let me think… Hell Yes!

The staff asked for a piece that would celebrate the importance of salmon to the Native Peoples of The Colville Nation living along The Columbia River and it’s tributaries, specifically the Wenatchee tribe who just last year obtained fishing rights in the river their people have inhabited for hundreds, if not thousands of years. More research produced a collection of Native legends compiled by The Colville Federation of Tribes, one of which featured a story about how Coyote brought Salmon to the Colville people. So I proposed a piece that illustrated this particular story. Staff at the hatchery have been instrumental in obtaining the blessing of tribal elders and locating a historic photographic image for my use. A second image was located at The University of Washington and luckily I was able to obtain permission to use that image as well. So far, the top is done and quilting is ready to begin. I believe I will meet my mid-September deadline.

Leavenworth Washington is located in the stunningly beautiful Cascade Mountains, a part of the world I have never visited. It has some fantastic hiking opportunities and bears! Guess I’ll get my adrenaline fix after all. So it just goes to show ….. you might not always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you might just get what you need.

Ohio’s Sacred Earth or You Don’t Always Get What You Want but if You Try Sometime You Just Might Get What You Need, Part 1..

017.

It’s no secret that I love the art of travel and I have figured out how to combine my love of art with travel by serving as artist in residence at various National and State Parks and other public lands. Now I can tell the story of my most recent attempt at adventure. Last Christmas one of my art friends sent me an application for The Voices in the Wilderness residency and told me I should apply. Flattered, I quickly did some investigating and learned that the program embedded artists in the Alaskan Wilderness, and I do mean embed. Artists were invited to apply to 10 different wilderness locations where they would accompany a ranger or US Fishery and Wildlife employee into the outback. Artists would be sleeping in a tent, hiking through Alaska and finding inpiration to make art, no comfy cabins here.

I spent the month of January lost in research about Alaska and devising a proposal that I hoped would land me the opportunity to really test my metal and kick up the ol’ adrenalin a notch or two. What a relief to find out there are no rattlesnakes in Alaska (see previous blogs regarding this particular reptile)! No snakes in the whole darn state to be exact. Huh. This was quickly replaced with concern that more people are killed by moose and plane crashes every year than those who meet their maker by snake bite in the whole rest of the country. Then there are the bears, both Black and Brown. For those of you needing to know, Brown Bears are genetically identical to Grizzlies, they are just a bit smaller and….brown. Have I mentioned the mosquitos? Before proceeding much further I consulted with my own personal wilderness expert, my brother Bruce. He gave me a brief tutorial on the finer points of bear barrels and the treatment of clothing with permethrin to ward off skeeters.

February saw the mailing of fat application packets to two carefully chosen wilderness sites and then the long wait for a response. Well, not so long after all. Within three weeks I received a very excited call from one of the sites.  We talked at length about my proposal and the details of the potential trip. I would be flying into Anchorage then a pilot would retrieve me in a small float plane and fly me into the wilderness for a two-week stay. Here I would be accompanied by a 70-year-old, gun-toting volunteer whose job would be to keep me from getting lost and to shoot any bears with more than a passing interest in art and artists. To aid in this endeavor I would be provided with a battery operated electric fence to surround my tent, and myself should I choose to sit and sketch or photograph. Bear barrels would be provided as well as three differnt communiation devices including a Satellite phone. Hey! Isn’t that what those embedded war correspondents use in the Middle East? So what was I actually worried about? None of that stuff. I was filled with anxiety regarding, shall we say, the finer points of personal hygiene in the backwoods with no running water or toilets and a total stranger in tow. A third week in Alaska would involve working with Native Alaskan youth on an art project at Culture Camp where Native arts like hunting, fishing and berry picking are combined with science and archaeology in an effort to keep the Native culture alive. Intriguing.

As it turned out I need not have worried. A week later I received a call advising me that the person in charge of the program was accepting a job in another state and that the program would not be going forward this year as there was no one else capable of organizing it on such short notice. Because well…people could actually die out there unless the logistics were done properly. I saw their point.  The second venue I applied to did not receive funding from the feds this year, so done and done. This goes to illustrate the fact that often when we are rejected it is not personal in any way. Many times our seeming rejection actually has nothing to do with us, but often artists in particular view such so called rejection as judgement about themselves or their work, making them afraid to take chances in future that might afford them amazing experiences. By the way, if you have been following the news lately, it seems half the state of Alaska has been on fire this summer, and with no roads, fire fighting is an extreme and very serious vocation. Be careful what you ask for.

010014

And….never underestimate the wonders to be found in your own back yard. Part of what I enjoy about travel is the indigenous art found in the areas I visit. Mesa Verde has the stunning Black on White pottery, Agate Fossil Beds, Sioux beadwork and ledger art, etc, etc. Ohio has the Mound Builders, the Hopewell Culture to be exact. I studied them in school, but this summer I have immersed myself in the beauty of their art and the new historical theory gained with advances in science and archaeology.

008

The summer started off innocently enough with a visit with my cousin to Serpent Mound for a Summer Solstice Supper created with turkey and the three sisters, beans, corn and squash, then a lecture by Dr. Brad Lepper, which turned out to be mostly about the amazing artwork created right here in Ohio. Well, that sent me on a quest and my summer has been consumed with visiting Hopewell Sites. So far I have visited Hopewell Culture National Park, Seip Mound, Spruce Hill, Fort Hill and The Ohio Historical Society to view this unique symbolic and spiritual art which is so skillfully executed, it is much more sophisticated than the Mesa Verde pottery. In my spare time I have also read Dr. Lepper’s book, Ohio Archaeology. Left on my To Do list is a visit to Flint Ridge only about 20 miles away and a source of the colorful flint used to make atlatyl spearheads, arrow heads, knives and other stone implements since the time of the Paleo-Indians, and Tarlton Cross only a 20 inute drive from home. I have had a wonderfully interesting summer so far and in just a few weeks I will be leaving to visit my son in Munich and my best friend in Wales with a side trip to Amsterdam. So if you try sometimes, you just might get what you need (and without being burned to a crisp in the Wilderness.)

Poinsett Ponderings: An Artist’s Life in The High Hills of The Santee Or There’s Snakes Up There

007I was both honored and blessed to have served as Artist in Residence at Poinsett State Park in South Carolina last week. I just love this state and their parks are amazing. If you haven’t been you should. I had the privilege of staying in one of the newly renovated cabins built by the CCC during the depression. Blocks of Coquina, a conglomerate of sea shells proving South Carolina was once submerged under a great sea, were used as a building material for foundations, fireplaces and picnic shelters, making the architecture something special.

In exchange for staying in such beautiful accommodations, artists are required to provide the park with a piece of artwork within 3 months of their stay. These pieces are featured throughout the park in various cabins and the park office making it a very artistic place to make art. I had the notion before leaving Ohio that my textile piece would feature a Revolutionary War era figure of some sort, perhaps a certain Levi who apparently ran a mill on what now is Poinsett State Park.

Let’s face it, if like me you attended public school north of the Mason Dixon Line, you had no idea that the South was even involved in the Revolutionary War. All that business took place in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Lexington or Concord, right? That is all we learned about in school. You probably never heard of Ninety-Six, Cowpens, The Battle of Charleston or King’s Mountain. Another reason to get out and enjoy our public lands and learn the real history of our nation. The South is just dripping with history including the prominent role South Carolina played in the birth of our country.

Earlier in the week I learned from one of the rangers that my information about Levi was inaccurate. He did run the mill, but not until the 1800’s. It was Mr. Matthew Singleton, lately of The Isle of Wight, in 1754 that is, who built and ran the mill, the ruins of which can still be seen today at one end of the lake. The lake and spillway were originally built by Matthew to flood the rice fields located between where the current park is situated and his plantation, Melrose,  just a few miles away.

Although the plantation has since burned to the ground, I was informed there was a historical marker and family cemetery containing the earthly remains of Matthew Singleton and his family at the site. I hope you never have the bad luck to be driving behind me when I spot a historical marker.  Undoubtedly you will be cursing as I unexpectedly and rapidly veer off the roadway without advanced warning. So I just had to go.

I googled the directions to the Melrose site and headed out. I should mention two things here: get a block off the highway in this neck of the woods and you are on dirt roads, well red sand roads actually, and it had been raining for two days and two nights at this point in time. I headed out and proceeded down the road indicated on the map, it turned out to be red dirt with a few houses on the right. About a mile down the road the houses petered out and the road got narrower and wetter. Now growing up in the 50’s darn near every movie featured someone who had disappeared in quicksand leaving only a hat floating on the surface.  I was pretty certain the scientific recipe for quicksand was one part sand, two parts water, which fairly accurately described current weather conditions. Prudently, I decided not to continue on in this particular adventure and drove in reverse a mile back down the road I came in on rather than become the star of my own movie.

Now all week-long everyone kept telling me I needed to meet Zabo McCants the head ranger. The next day I finally did and what a pleasure. I told him about my attempt at exploration and he confirmed my decision to change course as a wise one. He advised me that “they never mow the grass in the cemetery and there are snakes up there, (see my previous blog about snakes)” South Carolina boasts 6 varieties of venomous snakes: three different kinds of rattlers,  Copperheads, Coral Snakes and the notorious Cottonmouth. Point taken.

Zabo is quite a visionary and driven to excellence in everything he does. He takes great pride in his plans to  remodel the park’s cabins, even down to matching the color of the dish soap to the coffee mugs. He is a local boy done good and an authority on local history. Well he should be, he is a direct descendent of Brigadier General Richard Richardson, a Revolutionary War hero and patriot who hung around with the likes of The Swamp Fox, married into the Singleton family and had a run in with British villain Banestre Tarleton (check out the movie The Patriot with Mel Gibson for the gory details). He additionally informed me that whenever he goes up to the Melrose site he kits himself up in full state park uniform, “So that everyone knows who I am and why I am there.” Well if that is necessary for him, considering who his people are, what chance would I have had if the locals had found out that my “people” included a teenaged German private from Ohio named John Ruhl, who tagged along with one William Tecumseh Sherman as he marched to the sea? Another crisis averted and more fodder obtained for the piece I create for the park. What more could one ask for?

Cape Romain or Cape Fear?

107

As a textile artist I take a lot of photographs for reference purposes and sometimes even use them printed on fabric in my work. I really enjoy taking pictures and even bought a new digital camera last year which I am still learning how to use, however, I don’t really consider myself to be a photographer. That being said, I think this photo is one of the best I have ever taken, but I almost missed the opportunity. Here is the story.

I love South Carolina, Charleston especially, and the last time I was there  I purchased a note card for a friend.  The front featured a stunning photograph of a tree rising from the ocean! I was so taken with the image that I asked the sales clerk where it was taken, then promptly forgot all about it. When I got home the cat managed to leave a few teeth marks on the edge of the card so it never got sent. The end.  Or so I thought.

Fast forward to last week when I was serving as Artist in Residence at Poinsett State Park about 90 minutes from Charleston. I was having a great time, but it was so rainy that I spent at least two full days in my “studio” on the screened in porch attached to my cabin. Huge windows on three sides opened the space up to the woods in their full spring glory, but after two days inside I needed a change.

Deciding that a boat excursion into the Low Country might just be the ticket, I started a google search and low and behold, images very like the one on the card appeared on the Bulls Island Ferry site. I quickly checked the weather forecast and Saturday was predicted to be the only sunny day of the week with a high of 86 degrees. Perfect. I booked it.

The next day the forecast was changed to partially sunny and 80 degrees. It rained again all night Friday and I awoke to more rain at 6 AM Saturday morning. I was too afraid to look at the forecast again as I packed my lunch and gathered rain gear into my day pack. I really didn’t want to go but forced myself to get into the car. I did not want to lose my $40 deposit by not showing up, but I thought if I was extra pathetic and begged once I arrived, perhaps they would let me cancel due to the poor weather. Then I would treat myself to a smashing lunch in trendy Charleston instead.

It rained for two hours straight as I drove from my cabin to Awendaw, a little north of Charleston. I am always advocating for finding the courage to overcome fear, persevere, accept challenges and learn, but I tell you my courage was wavering as much as my windshield wipers during that rainy drive. Bulls Island is a barrier island and part of the Cape Romain Federal Nature Preserve, once a safe harbor for pirates. It is uninhabited, loaded with alligators, snakes, bobcat and a myriad of birds including Eagles and Osprey. At one time Red Wolves were re-introduced there, did they actually get all of them when they were moved to a sanctuary on the mainland? At the north end of the island lies Boneyard Beach where I was hoping to see trees “growing” in the sea.

Oh, how our minds always envision the worst possible outcome and play tricks on us, keeping us frozen in our same old way of being. All during that rainy journey I pictured myself all alone and lost on the windy, rainy, 5,000 acre island with no way back until the boat captain returned hours later to pick me up. Sounded dismal and scary in my imagination.

But miraculously, within 10 minutes of arrival at the dock it stopped raining, and although I was the first one to arrive, shortly thereafter about 35 other people showed up. In short, it was an amazing day and one I will never forget. Although I never saw another soul once we arrived, I took comfort in the fact that they were there. And most importantly, I captured the beauty of the place in this amazing image. Upon reflection, the photograph would have been much inferior with the bright sunlight originally forecast. So take courage me hardies and be amazing.

2014 The Year of the Snake

image

Contrary to the Chinese Zodiac, for me, 2014 was more like the Year of the Snake than the Year of the Horse. I should have had a hint of what was to come when in 2013 I just missed a close encounter with a rattlesnake while serving as Artist in Residence at Mesa Verde National Park. Chatting with fellow backcountry trekkers,  I learned that one of their party nearly stepped on one the day before. I had considered going on this adventure, but decided that my body needed some time to adjust to the altitude and dry heat of the American Southwest, so I had spent the morning safely ensconced at the park’s museum instead.

My very first herpetological contact occurred while growing up on a farm in Central Ohio. Ohio has three species of venomous snakes, the Eastern Diamondback or Timber Rattler, the Copperhead and the Pygmy Rattlesnake, but none live in the central part of the state. Early 18th century settlers noted the strong smell of snakes, something like cucumbers, along the limestone banks of the Ohio River, present day site of Columbus, Ohio, my home town. They were long gone by the time I came along. Instead, our farm was populated by the ubiquitous Garter Snake, who rummaged around the leaf mold in the lilac bushes and sun bathed in close proximity to the farm’s outbuildings.

Although they are harmless, I was always somewhat anxious about their presence as my brother and his friends loved to chase me around the yard in attempt to put one down the back of my shirt while I screamed bloody murder. Now while many a farmer and his wife utilized the blade of a hoe to rid their farm of these critters, that was not the case at our place. My Dad was an environmentalist before there was even a name for it. We were taught to protect and respect all God’s creatures. With his dry wit and country sensibility, he advised my brother and I that “without snakes we’d all be up to our asses in rats and mice.”

Now fast forward to 2014. I like to spend my Sundays hiking in the local nature preserves. It is both peaceful and invigorating and places me in close proximity to our Creator. This year on the very first hike of the season,  I noticed a tiny garter snake warming himself in the sun while lounging on some greenery about chest high and a foot away. While innocous, he gave me a start.  The next week at different preserve, I nearly stepped on a “stick.” See below.

image

This little cutie, a Black Rat snake I believe, had just shed his skin and would not budge. He kindly allowed me to take his photo and go along my way. The following week at the same preserve I was fascinated by a  long black “lightening strike” on the side of a very tall tree. Closer inspection  however, revealed  another Black Rat snake about 10 to 12 feet long who was working his way up the tree, mostly likely for a tasty meal of bird’s eggs.

The saga continued later in the summer when I traveled west for an artist residency at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument in Nebraska. Upon arrival, the first thing I noticed was the presence of signs advising visitors to use caution while hiking, as this was the habitat of the Prairie Rattlesnake. In an apparent attempt to soften the message, the signs included very cute and non-threatening images of the critters. This Disney-esque image was severely challenged upon entering the Visitor Center, where a stuffed rattler, forever frozen in a strike pose, rested on the counter in a glass case. Attached was a warning to use extreme caution while on the trails. You can imagine I did, to the point that I was reluctant to walk in the grass…. anywhere, as similar warnings were posted darn near everywhere I went whether in Nebraska, South Dakota, or Wyoming. Apparently this part of America is snake heaven. On one of my last days in the park I met this little guy.

image

Remembering my Dad’s warning about rats and mice, which I might add are carriers of both the plague and Hanta Virus, I gave him a wide berth, took his photo and moved on. At the time I posted this on Facebook, the “ick factor” was pretty high among my readers. Several suggested I obtain a good pair of cowboy boots as this was why they were invented in the first place. I can take good advice when given. Who knew style and safety could be rolled into a pair of foot gear? 2014, Year of the Snake has come to a close. Bring it on 2015, the Year of the Sheep, I could use a rest!

image

Mad as Hell

image

Promise Kept

I admit it. I watched way too much TV as a kid. Back in the fifties, despite the black and white screen, television was a novelty and my parents didn’t really care how much we watched. We were frequently admonished not to sit so close to the screen, but actual viewing time was never an issue. It should be noted  here  that I’ve worn corrective lenses since 7th grade, so they may have had a point there. Regardless, on Saturday mornings, cereal bowl in hand and face 12″ from the screen, I watched TV nearly all day. First came the cartoons, but around noon the Westerns came on. Cowboys and Indians, the wild, wild, West. You might say my formative years were strongly influenced by this experience.

My younger brother loved the cowboys. For his third birthday he was duly outfitted with a bright red cowboy hat, holsters and two six shooters which he proudly wore over a mostly clean swimsuit. I, on the other hand, much preferred the Indians. As I look back now, I can see that the lead actors were really white dudes decked out in make up and tatty costumes, making sterotypical remarks like “How,” apparently the only word they knew.

When second grade rolled around, a magical thing happened. The Bookmobile pulled into the J.W Reason elementary School parking lot. With great effort I climbed the big stairs and gazed up into the lofty heights of books that towered to the ceiling of the vehicle. For the first time in my life I was able to pick any book I chose to take home and read. I picked a little number on Navajo Folktales from the Painted Desert in Arizona.

I soon graduated to volumes on the Indians of The Great Plains in third grade. We studied the Native Peoples of Ohio. I read books about Tecumseh, Blue Jacket and Little Turtle as well as the Shawnee, Miami and  Wyandotte nations. My Dad made a miniature Woodland longhouse created from bent twigs and maple bark from the tree in our front yard. It even had a tiny wooden mortar and pestle for grinding corn. I proudly carried it to school on the bus and shared it with my class, and Mrs. Stanley, our teacher was so impressed she gave my dad and me an A+ on the project.

In 6th grade my Uncle Jim was performing with a group of Boy Scouts that specialized in Native American Dance. With not a drop of Native blood, my uncle had the facial structure to carry off it off. Around the same time my mother was our Campfire Girls leader and she persuaded him to perform at one of our campouts. I can still feel the hair on the back of my neck standing at attention when a warrior, dressed if full regalia,  flaming torch in hand, emerged from the foreboding darkness of the woods. I was so enthralled that I never noticed it was Jim whirling and whooping in time to the throbbing beat of the drum.

All very interesting and romantic, but I should point out here that at no time, and in no official text-book did I ever learn anything of the true and shameful way Americans have treated our Indigenous Peoples. I very much doubt that has changed in any significant way since my childhood and it makes me mad as hell.

With greed and a desire to own everything in sight, Americans put forth their best effort to wipe The People off the face of the earth. Not succeeding at genocide, we then attempted to steal the culture, art, language and spiritual beliefs of our Native American Citizens.  We are still at it. How many of you know that just a few weeks ago Congress took Navajo land in an underhanded land grab or that the Keystone pipeline is slated to pass through the sacred lands of the Sioux in South Dakota? To quote Oglala Lakota Sioux,  Red Cloud, ” The white man made me a lot of promises, and they only kept one. They promised to take my land, and they took it.” Native Lives Matter.