Seeing Red in Zion National Park

It all started in early March during a phone call with my 40 years- long- time friend, Jean. It had been a particularly long winter for both of us. Add the cold at her home in Juneau, Alaska and she was really at her wit’s end. “I want to go to Zion National Park but nobody will go with me!” She wailed. I paused, thought for a short moment I found myself saying “I’ll go with you.” BAM!- 48 hours later we had the trip booked. April 25th we met in Las Vegas with thousands of other winter refugees looking for a break, picked up our rental car, and were off. (Hey- did you know that a Prius makes no noise when you start it up? We thought the darn thing was broken!)

Entering Zion is like entering the Yosemite of the Southwest.  Replace the silver granite splendor of the Yosemite Valley with sandstone cliffs and spires of all hues of oranges and tan and you have the wonderland of Zion.  It’s a hiker’s paradise and we took full advantage, even in the drizzle of the first day.  Besides the glory of being out in such splendor, I found the cheery attitude of the other hikers equally wonderful.  People were generally jazzed to be out of their Covid prisons.

The last time I was in Zion I was 10 years old on a camping trip with my family.  The only memory I had of that trip was swinging my skinny legs in a cool river on a 100-degree day.  That very river, the Virgin River was one of the first things we saw when entering the park.  I found such nostalgia in walking along that river looking back at my childhood self-such a sweet memory.

We hiked almost all the trails in the valley that were open (several were closed due to rock falls).  The most well-known and dangerous hike is Angels Landing, a 1500 foot huff up to the most iconic view in the park.  The last quarter mile or so is a tedious climb where you have to hold onto chains to prevent falling to an early death (as 13 hikers have since 2000).  In places, you are walking on a knife ridge only a few feet wide.  Add to that there is the coordination of the masses of hikers that are going up and down on a one-way trail.  Somehow the spirit of friendly cooperation prevailed and we got up and down with no incident. The view from the top was breathtaking. Looking down we spotted condors riding the thermals below. 

We did take the second sprizzly day to explore beyond Zion canyon.  Kolob, on the western side of the park, is higher in elevation and equally dazzling.  We were warned, however, by park staff not to attempt the main hikes due to the muddy, slippery trails.  Good advice. We hiked the ½ mile roundtrip from the viewpoint and it was like walking on toothpaste.  In the afternoon we explored the quaint town of Kanab and environs and finally the impressive Best Friends animal Sanctuary- more on that in a later post.  The return drive through the west canyon Drive was one of the most jaw-dropping gorgeous roads I’ve ever been on

Canyon Drive

On our final day, we hiked the Narrows, one of the most famous hikes in the world.  You have to slog through the headwaters of the Virgin River. The river flows through a slot canyon of soaring sandstone walls, waterfalls, and hanging gardens. Since we were there relatively early in the year with the water being at times up to the waist and 42 degrees F we rented dry suit waders in town, special water shoes, and a stabilizing stick to prevent a dunking.  At first, we were with quite a band of others but as we headed up the crowd thinned as we headed upstream.  In all, we hiked about 8 miles in and out. It was at times quite a challenge pushing against the current and stumbling over a rocky bottom but hey, what an unforgettable experience!

Ironically the most challenging part of our Zion visit was navigating the Zion NP shuttle.  During this time of Covid, they offer limited ridership for social distancing.  You have to secure your tickets at 5 PM the night before from the Recreation.Gov app.  There is about a 15-minute window before all the tickets are gone.  This can be an extremely frustrating experience.  If you are up in the park during this window with no cell or WIFI it’s even more hair-tearing.  They do allow walk-ons after 2 PM. You do have the option of renting an electric bike beyond the park border in Springdale or securing a private shuttle but these options are expensive.

Despite the shuttle challenges and the surprising number of other visitors, we found Zion to be an amazing experience.  It was a perfect week long escape after months of lockdown and so good for the soul to be among such grandeur.

It was great to get away, take some risks, and feel the pleasure of life again.  Try it. The world is waiting for you.

A page from my messy journal

Honoring the Earth on Earth Day 2021

I live ten minutes from Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey.  The order of monks that reside there have been so gracious to share the trails of their large natural area with the public.  It’s a treasure- one of the few places left closeby where one may take a quiet ramble in nature. I set off solo early in the morning for an Earth Day hike.  It’s pleasant with friends but by oneself you have the opportunity to notice so much more and the birds and other wildlife are much more willing to present themselves.

The main Guadalupe Loop is a steep one- about 1.5 miles up.  At the top of the mountain is a primitive shrine to Our Lady Of Guadalupe where visitors can meditate, admire the view, and leave offerings- Catholic or not.  It’s the kind of a hike where you can leave with a storm in your brain and then come down with head full of sunshine. 

It’s good to remember where we come from especially now- the earth needs our attention and love more than ever.

Here is a poem I wrote along my hike…

Continue reading “Honoring the Earth on Earth Day 2021”

Crafting a Personal Credo

CREDO

“a statement of the beliefs or aims which guide someone’s actions”.

Over the years I have collected some words of wisdom that have guided me through this adventure we called life.  I decided to finally write them down in a format that was easily accessible.  At first, I considered a small booklet but then I settled on a poster format.  This would serve as a mini “Graffiti Wall” that I could access in an instant

This was a project I did not want to fuss over (avoid perfection, just get ‘er done).  I grabbed a 14” x 11” piece of cardboard, painted a coat of yellow paint over it with a little embellishment, put my cartoon self in the center, and then started writing my words and phrases on the board in different colors and sizes.  There is plenty of room for more guiding principles as this is an ongoing project.  You can never have enough words of wisdom.

I keep this posted in my studio and glance at it now and again.  It keeps me grounded as with my personal mission statement- but that’s a whole different post…

Live by this credo: have a little laugh at life and look around you for happiness instead of sadness. Layughter has always brought me out of unhappy situations.

RedSkelton

The Art of the List

“It’s better to travel hopefully than to arrive” 

John Lennon

There’s a grey zone between creative projects, that high of completing something big and the low of “Now what?” 

To ease out of the “what now “ doldrums I find great solace in making lists.  I find them grounding from to-do lists, not-to-do lists, to grocery lists.  I feel better with a rock-solid list.

This go around I decided to make a list of my symbols that I use or would like to use in my imagery and my writing as metaphors or prompts.  Here is my latest list.  Feel free to use any of it you like…

*all visuals in this post are from my daily planner or sketchbook

Stepping Up to a Creative Challenge

Mixed media painting by the author

I needed a large piece of artwork to hang behind our bed- preferably a painting to put the finishing touch on our Covid bedroom remodel.  We started this project wall by wall at the beginning of the lockdownto light up a dark vintage 1940s bedroom in this old farmhouse to something fresh and airy.  Off came the dark blue wallpaper and the remnants of an old brick hearth- something I hated for the 28 years I slept under it.  Now the walls are a lovely light green with white woodwork and new white blinds.  This painting would be the symbol of new beginnings.

I am an artist but not a painter- not my thing. My skills are in printmaking, ceramics, and mixed media. In general I work on a smaller scale than this project required. In my mind’s eye, I had a vision of an abstract painting of a rural farm landscape in cheery colors.  Extensive research online turned up nothing that I liked.  Original art was out of my price range.  That left the task up to me to manifest the painting. 

Often when I am faced with a large creative challenge my first default is procrastination.  That was not an option in this case.  I wanted this room to have closure. So I fleshed out my recipe I’ve used before (which with some revision works for writing projects)…

  1. Vision– what do I see as a finished result?
  2. Concept– what do I want to express?
  3. Reference sources– images for a color palette, design ideas
  4. Proper materials for the project (pull out those 25 year- old acrylic paints)
  5. Timer to keep me on task (essential)

I broke down the project into small steps such as…

  1. Figure out the proper size of the painting
  2. A trip to the art supply store to pick up a cradled (dimensional) artboard of the right dimension.
  3. Another trip to pick up the proper sealer
  4. Apply gesso
  5. Set my trusty timer and paint for an hour straight with no interruptions- no matter how scared I was of screwing up. Keep going– paint until the timer dings.
  6. Repeat the above step over and over until done, make tons of mistakes, and paint over them. Revisit reference material for guidance.

I wish I documented the process to show how muddled the first attempts were but I was too involved with the process and making a mess.

Eventually, I started to find my voice which beckoned me to add familiar media: collage paper, water soluble crayon, colored pencil, paint pen, a little gold leaf to add to the sky, and a few ceramic shards from an old pioneer homestead found closeby.  Then I started to enjoy the process and looked forward to visiting my studio every day.  To get to that point though, I had to push through my insecurities.  In that regard, my timer was my best friend.

The finished piece now hangs in the bedroom.  It may not appeal to the eyes of others but that was not the goal.  I love it. The design represents the landscape around my home. There are details that are personal to me within the piece.  Moreso it represents to me that by pushing through your one’s fears, you can accomplish your goals.  Just start and keep going.

Cat Gratitude

Hurtling towards the spring equinox I awoke to the sun in my eyes this morning.  It’s been months since that’s happened.  Yesterday I made an appointment for my second Covid vaccine.  There is light at the end of the tunnel.  Soon I will be able to resume somewhat of a normal life.  Camping and river trips are starting to appear on the calendar.

As with everyone else – it’s been a rough go through this pandemic (and everything else).  If I were going to give a speech at the “Covid Survival Awards”  at the beginning (while holding my covid 19 virus trophy) I would have to thank my two, now 7-month-old tuxedo kittens, Zoey and Zander, and their baby mama, Zinnia (“Mama Z”) for unwittingly helping time to survive this time.  Their endless antics and purrs have helped to keep laughter and smiles in my life.  I’m sure many of you out there feel the same…

Zander’s Gift

He is the fraidy one

but this morning he chose me

popping up on my quilted lap

his purr inviting me

to cradle his sweet body

love his ears

and the soft fur of his belly

with my hands

In this simple encounter with a cat

I breathe deeply

inhaling our mutual contentment

savoring that for a moment

all’s right with the world

Zoey, Mama Z, & Zander

Zoey top, Zander left

Artwork by the author

See my other blog about sustainable living at onesweetearth.art.blog

Have a Happy Day (Planner)

Last year I was looking for a daily creative practice that I could stick to.  I was not much of a sketcher or morning pager.  I needed something kind of short and sweet.  Then I noticed the 2’ blank square in my 2020 day planner.  Not much going on there but a few spillovers from my to-do list.  I committed to filling up those square every day with a doodle or something creative.  The ground rules are to use pen and have no judgement on what I come up with.  Spontaneity is key.

Fast forward over a year later- my day planner practice is my creative kick start to the day.  Not only does it get my pen to the paper in a nonthreatening way, I have created an artifact of my life to look back on though this crazy time of Covid and political craziness.  Mostly I create a daily doodle, a weather report, a cartoon, quote, poem or something about my life with words and/or pictures.  It’s been an evolving practice.  Some have become finished pieces, most I don’t appreciate until I look back at them.

This year, 2021 I couldn’t find the same day planner so I made my own.  I purchased a simple blank spiral sketchbook and glued some decorative paper.  I customized it for words of the year and monthly goals and then grid out each week as they come along.  At first I measured but now I just eyeball it letting the lines be as wonky as they want to be for interest.

My planner is now less about what I need to do but how I need to be…creative and fully alive, paying attention to the inspiration each day has to offer.  I highly recommend trying out this daily practice.

Life is more than a to do list

Please visit my other blog about sustainable living at onesweetearth.art.blog

Gray

It was as unexpected as the pandemic- going gray I mean.  I hadn’t planned on it.  For 15 years I doused my hair with Clairol Natural Instincts # 4 dark brown.  Just like not planning on going gray, I had not planned on ever coloring my hair in the first place.  Then one day when I was 50 the lady at the pool counter asked if I wanted a senior pass.

I let my hair grow out, again unexpected, and unplanned.  Closed salons meant getting a haircut was not possible.  So after years of stylishly short hair, I now sport a mid-length gray mop.

I hardly recognize myself anymore but I barely recognize the world I live in of face masks, lockdowns, and a sobering death toll.  I barely recognize this country after four years of political and social turmoil. 

Gray is a color that is neither black nor white but something in between.  It’s all gray now, a state of waiting, everything shrouded in a fog of uncertainty. When will I be vaccinated?  When will this isolation end?  When can I have my old life back?

In the matter of hair, gray signals more the end than the beginning.  My graying head has become a personal symbol of my mortality but I’m not afraid of it.  I’m going wild and just letting me be who I am without a care.  Write, draw, scribble, sing loud- it’s all good.

When we can all talk about this era in the past tense and even laugh a little, I will remain gray.  There’s no way I can go back.  There’s no way we can go back.  From inequity to racism too much has been exposed.  There can be no more cover-ups.

Escape to the Baylands

At the end of San Antonio Road, past the shopping centers, apartments, and freeway, across from the Google parking lot, the pavement stops and the wetlands begin. This is the Baylands a world of dikes, ponds, and meanders, where the San Francisco Bay meets land. Here the ebb and flow of the tide replaces the rhythm of rush-hour. Here waterfowl out number people. When family business calls me back, this is where I go to find refuge.

Equipped with my binoculars and bird book I set out on the dike trails to take a wander and look at birds on this rare sunny, pleasant, February day. I come upon a wonderland of shorebirds, and all manner of ducks. There’s a flutter of excitement as the tide ebbs exposing fresh mud.  Greater yellow legs, and avocets gather to probe for a meal. In the water, ducks dabble for food, dropping their heads into the water and then tipping upside down exposing their derrieres to the sky like a circus act. Some ducks are divers, dissapearing momentarily from the water’s surface as they fly underwater for their prey.

On a far bank, a passle of pelicans sit pruning their white feathers with their huge bills. A great egret poses for me graciously by the water’s edge.

Suddenly, a murmuration of dowitchers fly over me so close I can hear the force of their feathers. then land in the water with a satisfying plop. Two swift flying merlins exchange prey in the sky.

Continue reading “Escape to the Baylands”

Notes on Tossing Out My Old Artwork

In the doldrums of this pandemic my creative image energies are ebbing more than flowing. It’s times like this at times all I can muster is to tidy up. Usually that involves just organizing my workspace. Then after years of procrastination I faced down the leaning pile of old cardboard portfolios full of aging class artwork and design projects that lurked in my closet. The problem is when you hang onto old work there’s really no room for new- physically or metaphorically.

 Bye-bye charcoal nudes, bye-bye watercolors, bye-bye drawings. Yep you were “A” quality, fun, but at this point, are not doing anyone any good including myself.  And woe to my son who would be stuck sorting  them out when I’m packed up to the Rock of Ages Rest Home. The recycling bin is full. I have a well stocked collage box and plenty of classy bookmarks as souvenirs. I took pictures of the T-shirts I designed and donated them to a thrift store where someone can put them to use. 

Bidding farewell to old creative work of any kind is like saying goodbye to parts of oneself- but thinking about it, all that hard work and practice is still with me deeply embedded in the work I do today. When I peruse all those past efforts I think of them as either good or bad but merely steps along the path to where I am as an artist today. 

We are but at some total of all our work and practice. The beat goes on.

I love my clean closet. 

That’s over with!