Patched Together and All Sewn Up

One of my allies out at the Refuge is the barn swallow. They swoop and dive and catch mosquitoes and deer flies and whatever delicacies on which they’re nourished. They are shiny dark blue on top and a warm yellow/white on their bellies. Not much else to tell you about them as they are very small and they are everywhere. They do a pretty good job keeping the pestiferous bugs at a reasonable level, but in July, even the bevies of barn swallows can’t keep up. I honor them for trying…

Yesterday Elizabeth and I went to the quilt show in Creede, CO. Creede is a summer destination for Texans, even more since Covid. It’s a nice town in a spectacular location. The town was crowded; no where to park and people wandering around everywhere. At the top of the town is a mine and in the mine is the semi-annual quilt show.

I’m not a quilter and will never be a quilter. But as a kid I slept under the quilts my grandmother made and I appreciate the art very much. Technology has invaded that art, too, and I saw a large sewing machine that sounded like a high-powered drill, quilting something more or less on its own.

We got there in time to see most of the “Antique Quilt Bed Turning” (featured photo) where the women showed and talked about some of the old quilts they had been loaned to show during this event. I hope I can lend two quilt to them next time because they’re different from anything I saw at the show yesterday.

One of the activities is voting for our favorite in each category. Categories are things like bed quilts, lap quilts, holiday quilts, art quilts, and some categories that are kind of unique and lead to interesting projects. One was integrating old things into the quilts — there were some really cool projects there. I wish I’d taken pictures of all of them, but I only took one.

All the pretty squares on this quilt are the kinds of handkerchiefs my mom’s students gave her as gifts in the 1940’s.

Another category — and I don’t remember what it was — had this quilt.

The cute pre-printed blocks tell a kid how to be. I liked the skunk the best. 🙂

I always enjoy hanging out with Elizabeth, and we had a lot of fun.

“Where’s My Classroom???”

Ha ha ha ha! Today’s prompt is “nightmare” and last night over and over again I had “teacher dreams.”

If you’ve been — or are — a teacher I don’t need to explain anything but for those of you who have never entered a classroom in that capacity there are certain dreams that most teachers can expect to have during their career.

Teachers really DO dream they walk into their classroom naked. I dreamed that until I DID (essentially) walk into my classroom naked. I wrote about that HERE. It’s a funny story but I don’t want to write it AGAIN. ONCE was enough. The other dreams fit more the anxiety and frustration dream genres. They are almost always about the first day of school, an earth-shattering event that happens every fall.

Every fall since I began teaching — and since I retired — I’ve had those dreams. Last night one right after the other. They were classic. In one dream, I didn’t have clothes because I was suddenly about to start teaching, and all I had with me were the clothes I typically wear now — jeans, T-shirts, shorts, T-shirts. Someone pulled a bunch of clothes out of a costume rack from the theater classes. None of them fit, but I had to go to class anyway. Then, several times, I had the classic dream of having a class, no real description of the class, and no idea where the classroom was. All the people in THAT dream are superlatively helpful giving directions, “Oh, it’s over there!” My teaching dreams are always on a campus I KNOW (some version of San Diego State) but it’s never the same twice, familiar buildings in unfamiliar places.

In my sleep I was detached enough to protest, “Yeah but I’m not teaching anymore!” Unless you’re a skilled lucid dreamer, your dreams don’t “listen.” Were these nightmares? Yes and no. For the “me” in the dreams, definitely. For the me curled up under my duvet the dreams were entertaining.

A real nightmare happened last year when it snowed 12 wet inches here in Monte Vista, breaking trees and challenging everything. Whole flocks of migrating birds fell from the sky, dead. It was a very bad, bad in the sense of evil. Definitely a lesson for me in “be careful what you wish for.”

Meanwhile, I’m continuing to paint apples. It’s strangely soothing and seems to be helping me think things through.

Who knew. The problem is I’m going to have to bake them soon. I guess I can paint a pie. And, you know, an apple for the teacher.

The Apple(s) of My Eye

This past Saturday my friend and I went to pick apples. I picked some and then, seeing how incredibly lovely they were on the tree, I took some photos. I have had a lot on my mind in recent weeks — some of it personal, related to to me, some involving a friend who has been struggling with himself. If you’ve ever had to struggle with yourself, you know it’s no fun.

So, since I’m in an artistic slump (it happens and doesn’t worry me) but really wanted to make art I decided on an “apple a day.” Today, as I worked on the fourth apple, I thought about art philosophy and criticism.

This past Saturday my friend and I went to pick apples. I picked some and then, seeing how incredibly lovely they were on the tree, I took some photos. I have had a lot on my mind in recent weeks — some of it personal, related to to me, some involving a friend who has been struggling with himself. If you’ve ever had to struggle with yourself, you know it’s no fun.

So, since I’m in an artistic slump (it happens and doesn’t worry me) but really wanted to make art I decided on an “apple a day.” Today, as I worked on the fourth apple, I thought about art philosophy and criticism.

It’s unlikely I will ever be a NON-representational artist. After spending time last week with an artist friend who had a very different philosophy and who chides me for being what I am, I’ve been thinking about that. I finally told her, “I don’t see me doing abstract paintings.”

“Why not? Your brush strokes are abstract.”

It’s not because I don’t like abstract art. I do. It’s just not fulfilling for me. My primary relationship is with nature; the important questions for me are “how does this work? What is it really? How can I see it better?” For me, a painting is a synthesis of brush strokes. It’s not brush strokes. It’s a totality. For me, it’s a way of seeing.

So, four days of apples. Some from “life” (those I picked), one from a photo. These are notecard size and I’ll use them for that.

I could hear my friend in my head saying, “You don’t have to get every little thing!” a chorus I’ve heard before. But what is it to work toward “every little thing”? (Which I don’t actually do) As I worked on the two apples on the tree I realized what was going on in my head. I was relieving the stress of the last several weeks. I was meditating. The image — the colors of the leaves, the striations on the apples, the problem of the branch — all of it — drew me out of my self into a clearer mind. There’s not much smaller to make art with than the sharpened end of a watercolor pencil.

Reblogged from My Amazing Life Distilled.

Art Criticism

Made it home from my journey to Colorado Springs with no problems. During the week I was gone, the beans thrived. The tomatoes were very wilted — all but the cherry tomato which is a drought resistant type — and the Aussie pumpkin seems no worse for the adventure. Time will tell. I ate a handful of Scarlet Emperor Beans for supper. There are two that are already too large to be tasty so they will hang on the vine to ripen for next year. My shoulder hurts, but it functions pretty well if I’m careful. I think it’s a matter of time, rest, and ice. I will call my doctor later on so that I can get hooked up with physical therapy.

Once I got home, and saw the painting of the rainbow I was so in love with, well, time and distance, right? It’s nothing special. I think I’m in need of a break or something.

My trip to Colorado Springs was partly to pick up the two paintings I had hanging in a gallery in Manitou Springs. I had packed them carefully when I sent them up with my friend Lois a couple months ago. I don’t know why, but I had the illusion that the gallery actually cared about the art entrusted to their care. I imagined the paintings would be back in their boxes waiting. Why did I think that? Because that’s what I would have done. I would have paid attention and seen that the paintings hadn’t come from a local artist and I’ve have taken the 15 minutes to repack them for the person. BUT…we got there. The people behind the desk said, “They’re over there on the wall. You can go get them.” As we were carrying them out they said, “Did you bring others to hang for this rotation?”

“No. It’s too far. I live in the San Luis Valley.” I looked at their blank faces and realized they didn’t — probably — know where that was. We walked out. I stuck the paintings behind Bella’s seat, and that was that. I thought about it some more. If those paintings had sold, that little gallery would have made money, basically money from NO EFFORT on their part.

I realize artists are a dime a dozen, and every second retiree thinks they’re a painter. The thing is, every business does better by cultivating good will.

I felt kind of crappy after that (of course I didn’t know how crappy I would feel in another two days, ha ha).

Back in Monte Vista, I went through all the mail that arrived while I was gone. There was a lot. Among them was a beautiful small painting of Bear done by Chris at There were two pads of paper for pastel drawing which I haven’t tried since childhood, but it seemed like a good way to turn this art journey back into play. There were some other things including the local newspaper.

In a place like this obituaries are big news and they are always on page 2. I always read them because I learn about the community by reading the history of people who live/d here. I immediately saw that Alex Colville, the husband of Louise who runs the museum in Del Norte, had died the day I went to the Springs (no cause and effect). He’s been ill for a long time with Alzheimer’s. In fact, I’ve only known him for the past few years and I’ve seen the rapid decline. Oddly, Alex always knew me when he saw me which was bizarre but a kind of honor (to me).

Last year he and Louise bought one of my paintings for each other for Christmas. It’s a painting of the San Luis Valley, the Refuge at sunset after a storm in summer. The painting “spoke” to both of them. When I talked to Louise yesterday, offering condolences and some small reminiscences, she mentioned that Alex loved the painting and enjoyed looking at it. Alex was born in the San Luis Valley. He was the kind of person who, had I met him years and years ago would have been my friend. He was an outdoorsman, a climber, a skier, a wanderer, teacher and an artist with wood. He was 20 years older than I. I could only imagine how interesting he must have been when all of his mind was in one place. He was interesting to listen to even with many of the pieces missing. I’m happy that, at least, I got to know him a little. I’m happy that the first time I met him — 2019? — he more-or-less told me his life story. At the time I felt the bittersweetness of that, as if he was telling me who he was.

I thought about that a long time. I’m honestly not done thinking about it. As far as I’ve gotten in the journey to comprehending that is the way I felt driving down the pass yesterday. My heart lifted when I saw the sign on the highway that said, “Entering the San Luis Valley.”

The Right Word at the Right Time

I’ve been generally disillusioned and unmotivated, even to paint or even like my paintings. I shared this with an artist friend who said, “You paint the best skies. Paint a triptych.”

I thought that was a good idea since the sky here is endlessly amazing to me and it’s most of what I paint so… I started the second painting in the triptych yesterday using Indian yellow, water pollution lavender, and ultramarine made of real lapis. I worked on it again today with zinc white (the most transparent white) and Gamblin’s radiant white which is very bright, opaque and beautiful. Here it is with the other painting (so far) in the triptych.

Henry Miller and Book Shelves

“To win through by sheer force of genius is one thing; to survive and continue to create when every last door is slammed in one’s face is another. Nobody acquires genius — it is God-given. But one can acquire patience, fortitude, wisdom, understanding. Perhaps the greatest gift to love what one does whether it causes a stir or not.” Henry Miller…

My dad loved Henry Miller’s work, my mom, no. My parents always had two book shelves — my dad’s and the neutral public book case in the living room. Certain books of my dad’s NEVER sat near my mom’s books. Heaven forfend (I just wanted to write “forfend”). I don’t remember it being any other way.

In our house in Nebraska my dad and I built his office in a corner of our basement. It was a great experience for me to work with my dad every evening building the two walls. Once the studs were up, we pulled electricity through them and, naturally, as it was the 1960s, paneled them. My dad loved mahogany, so we used mahogany paneling. One wall was a wall; the other was a bookcase which we stained. My dad was a decent carpenter of the crude carpentry variety. I don’t know if he could do fancy finished carpentry, but I do know we didn’t have those tools.

My dad’s bookshelf mostly held his scientific books but also the books he’d loved when he was younger like Boccaccio’s Decameron. There was his collection of science fiction (he loved Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury) and two books by Henry Miller.

When we moved back to Colorado from Nebraska, my dad’s bookshelf was still in the basement. By then he could no longer walk up and down stairs, so if he wanted a book he sent me for it. At a certain point in my life, I guess when I was 16 and allowed to date, Henry Miller’s books appeared at eye level. How they got there? I have no idea. I guess my mom would have had to move them, but that seems unbelievable.

The two books my dad had — Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn were banned in the United States because of the sexuality. While I noticed them when I was a teenager, I didn’t read them then. I read them much later. I was never that impressed by the copious sexuality in the books (it gets a little redundant and I was definitely from a different, more liberal, generation). I was impressed by the kind of thinking in the little quotation above. Most inspiring to me were his words about being a writer which I extrapolated to being an artist, for which life, with all its struggle, disappointment, joy, frustration, tedium, rapture was the artist’s workshop

Henry Miller lived a long and incredible life and knew amazing people. I really loved seeing the characterization of him in the recent Masterpiece series, The Durrells in Corfu and when the film Reds came out I was surprised and delighted to see him as part of the movie, a living voice, from the time.

If at eighty you’re not a cripple or an invalid, if you have your health, if you still enjoy a good walk, a good meal (with all the trimmings), if you can sleep without first taking a pill, if birds and flowers, mountains and sea still inspire you, you are a most fortunate individual and you should get down on your knees morning and night and thank the good Lord for his savin’ and keepin’ power Henry Miller, On Turning 80

P.S. Poet friends, on the top shelf above my dad’s head you might see a pink book with a black oval on its spine. That is a rhyming dictionary. My dad yearned to be a poet.

An Alphabet of Place

Our book is finally finished and published and for sale!! Lots of people decry social media, but without it Sharon ( and I wouldn’t have known about each other, and this project wouldn’t have happened. For me it was a chance to do something that was a little artistically risky and to learn something new about myself and abilities. I enjoyed it so much, and it was a wonderful thing to work on over the past few months.

The book is a collection of brief essays and anecdotes about life and history in this little-known part of Wyoming/Colorado. The stories are funny, beautiful and heartfelt.

A couple years ago my editor suggested I go into business as a book designer. I said, “Huh?”

She said, “Yeah. You’re good at it.”

“I am?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. I wasn’t so sure. When I began judging for the contest I saw some books that had been enormously expensive productions, including their designs. Some indie authors spend more money than (IMO) they are likely to earn on designing their book. I’ve read/evaluated some gorgeous productions that are, in and of themselves, unreadable. Some of the best books (content) are the simplest productions. The truism is actually true: you can’t judge a book by its cover but, at the same time, the winners are almost always well designed AND worth reading.

Once in a while a book is blindingly beautiful. There was more than one this go-around.

My editor — Beth Bruno — is an amazing woman. I don’t know how she manages to get along with all the authors who go to her with their work and then don’t want to hear what she had to say or who question every correction/suggestion she makes. She told me it’s common that she’ll (and she’s tactful and gentle) suggest an edit or correction and be challenged by the author. Authors can be defensive and when it comes to grammar? It’s amazing how territorial writers can be. I said to her, “Well, you make suggestions and corrections all the time. I figure I can take them or leave them. It’s not like you’re my boss.”

“Exactly,” she said.

“It’s not like you’re grading my work or something.”

I privately thought, “English teachers do a lot of damage,” but having BEEN one I thought I should keep that to myself. Grammar and punctuation are NOT writing.

So, part way into the illustration part of the job I had the realization (duh) that my work was going into a book and suddenly I wanted to be part of how the book came out. I didn’t know how much experience the writer had with book design and it turned out not much and godnose my price was right, so I undertook the task of designing the book. It was at least as much fun as doing the illustrations. I’d definitely take on a project like this again if the person I was working with were as awesome a partner as Sharon and their project something I believed in as much as I believed in this one.


Sometimes it seems like my mind is a kettle brewing stuff while I sleep. I woke up thinking about two very difficult things: communication and mastery. It struck me that they might be related.

Back when I had an art shed and lived in California, I started a blog on blogger about painting. I called it “A Lifetime Apprenticeship” because I couldn’t imagine ever being a master or even imagine what it would mean to BE a master. I also decided that becoming a master would be the end of the exciting part of painting which, at the time and still, seems to be learning more and doing better.

I still think that way, and it’s a good thing because I’m a long way from being a master, but… I wonder what it would be like to approach a project and KNOW it’s going to work out. I wonder if that’s even possible.

I did a drawing yesterday that seemed to be going really well and then, later, when I looked at a photo of it, I realized the river in the drawing was behaving in a manner that is impossible for rivers, all for want of a line.

The thing about this is that I’m OK with that. I’m even OK with, “I’ll never get it,” and that doesn’t discourage me because I don’t even know what “it” is.

As for communication, I can’t begin to figure that out. Like drawing and painting, there’s probably no mastery. Unlike drawing and painting, I can get discouraged, fatigued, disgusted, and hopeless about communication. It’s all Samuel Beckett: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Sage Grouse in Luv

“Think about it, Martha.”

In spite of a mildly torqued knee. a pulled groin muscle, and a limp, I decided to take Bear out to the Refuge. I thought I’d use a cane for stability, but I’d forgotten that is Bear’s job. She’d kind of forgotten that, too, at the beginning of our walk, but she remembered before she did any damage.

The moment I arrived, I noticed the welcoming party.

Welcoming committee…

It was very deer of them to be there, waiting for me, and I was grateful. I took it as a benediction on what I feared was a bad idea, walking Bear when I am physically a little fragile. I sent them my thanks through ASL (which all muledeer understand perfectly) and my friend and I took off slowly, me limping, Bear wanting to smell everything. I didn’t blame her. Even I could see the stories left in the snow.

We went along. I had no idea how far I would go before I couldn’t go, but it turned out that I was able to go almost as far as usual. The only reason I didn’t go all the way is because my mom told me not to, I mean because I’m less stupid and stubborn than I was three days ago. Bear studied scents, rolled in the snow, dug down to where maybe some little creature had burrowed for warmth.

On the way I noticed a large bird in one of the cottonwood trees. Then it went “ooo-hooo” and I realized it was “my” great horned owl. Too far away for a good photo, but when has that deterred me?

I should really take a camera…

When Bear and I turned around, Bear did her lean thing which I interpret to mean, “Thank you Martha,” but it might mean, “Aren’t we going to hunt some more?” We walked along together, my hand on my dog’s back, and I thought, “Is this so bad, Martha? Really, what’s wrong with this? Your best friend is here. Your welcoming committee was waiting for you. The snow is one big mantle of diamonds and stories. And look at that! Look, right in front of you!!”

I did. I stood there and looked at the little grouping of mountains I’ve painted so many times that they’re almost a part of my hand, and I started to cry. “We are hardly a consolation prize,” murmured all the features of the landscape, “And we’re yours. You came here for this and we are here for you. Do you have to live according to some idea of yourself or can’t you just do what we do and BE?”

There were no human footprints anywhere. A couple signs of someone on X-country skis maybe three days ago, but otherwise? As it is most of the year, it was just us, Bear and me and sometimes Teddy, too. I like the cold, the wind, the changes, the tracks, the possibilities of seeing other animals besides me and my dogs. I like what I see going slowly.

So, I will be selling my skis.