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.


This morning in my Facebook memories were photos of one of the best days of my life here in Monte Vista. The new Valley Art Co-op (of which I was a member) was about to have its grand opening. I didn’t know any of the people, I liked everybody, was living with my post-teaching resolve just to be nice to people and was in the first blush of love with this place that has turned out to have many sinister little corners. I still love it very much, but it’s not Heaven. The Valley is Heaven, but where people go gets complicated though human complications and nature’s complications are similar — if not the same.

The local window painter had decided against joining the co-op and everyone wanted the windows painted for the Grand Opening. They were mirrored windows and no one could see inside to the shop so this was important. Someone hired the local window painter to paint the windows beside the door, but there were (miles?) of windows and the co-op had no money. I also think, maybe, some of this painter’s friends who were members were a little angry and very disappointed that she hadn’t joined in the experiment of an art coop..

“Can you paint windows?” someone in authority asked me.

“Sure,” I said. I never had but…

I spent a few days sketching and planning the windows. I saw them as the San Luis Valley. People (tourists) driving by the co-op would see the whole valley painted there. We were the VALLEY Art Coop so that made sense and no one complained. I didn’t know the valley well then (I still don’t) but I had a general, global idea. We were going to paint them as PART of the grand opening celebration.

I wanted to use tempera so they’d be easy to wash off, but the local professional window painter said I should use acrylic. I had a lot of craft acrylic so that was all good. The day before, I painted an underpainting of white so the next day all of the painters would have a place to start.

It was glorious.

During the various seasons (Christmas and Crane Festival) we added to the paintings.

Part of the Christmas window

The “calumny” began when the professional window painter got jealous and thought I was after her job. The gossip machine started to roll and it was ugly. First she (behind my back) accused me of using the wrong paint. I’d used what she’d told me to use but when I saw how hard it was to get off the window, I switched to tempera for all the seasonal changes. Then she went at me publicly in front of the Post Office and then during the Christmas show of the art guild we were both members of. Calumny was heaped upon my head (which, I understand from 19th century novels, is the usual way of dispensing calumny). She even went and scraped off part of the painting. OH WELL.

Her life would have been so much easier if she’d just 1) joined the co-op in the first place and painted the windows herself, 2) asked me if I wanted to paint windows all over town and compete with her (I didn’t). But strangely how people often don’t do the easy thing.

How does this relate to nature? Ah, geese. At this moment, the two geese families and their babies (almost fully grown) are swimming serenely together in the pond as if the competitive ugliness of spring mating, nest building, egg sitting had never happened. As if they hadn’t gone at each other with the full capacity of killing each other.

And this town “pond” — like that at the Refuge — is small. In the passing years, this woman and I have participated in shows together. Last year, with Covid, the show at the museum still happened, but we artists were pretty much the only people there. She sat down beside me and opened up. I just listened, thinking to myself, “OK, you’re sorry, but you still did that. I forgive you because you thought I was after your bread-and-butter, but you could have saved yourself and me a lot of grief back then and never had to carry around this thing you’ve carried around for 5 years by just TALKING to me.”

Words from Hamlet went through my mind:

“Use every man after his desert and who shall ’scape whipping? Use them after your own honor and dignity. The less they deserve, the more merit is in your bounty.” Hamlet (2.2)

It was one of those “There but for the grace of God moments.” No one likes calumny heaped upon their head, and I feel about her now the way I feel about rattlesnakes. I don’t seek them out, but I appreciate their role in the ecosystem and see their beauty.

My Parade

Though I usually take a dog out at a particular time of day, sometimes I get an inexplicable urge to take one out RIGHT NOW. This happened today around 11:30 am. As I neared the Refuge, there were thousands of cranes rising, circling up, higher and higher. I parked Bella and got out. This is what I heard and saw:

I think the dumpster really brings it down to earth 😀

I’m still a little “migrainy” and it all seemed somewhat dreamlike. I was enveloped in the wild racket of thousands of cranes for the first 1/4 mile.

We took Bear’s favorite loop and I was enchanted by the pastel November colors and reminded why I always want to paint them.

Bear’s favorite loop and the beauty of the day…notice the tree in the distance…

As we rounded the loop’s first curve, the cranes became silent. I wondered what set them off — a predator — but WHAT predator? A cool morning. Snow falling on the mountains to the west. No way for me to know. Then, we rounded the third curve on this 1/3 mile loop and I saw…

We always think of owls as night hunters, but the Great Horned Owl hunts in daytime, too. Was it him?

My eyes filled with tears AGAIN. Oh man… And then I realized, “This is my parade! I painted this. Naturally THIS is playing the band and sending out ‘floats,’ the whole thing!” Birds being floats, of course.

I loved the thought and it seemed right. My big painting depicts one of the quietest moments in this silent (except for animals, wind, and the occasional “Hello!”) place. It’s the kind of scene revealed by hours in a wild place. It doesn’t take your breath away or stimulate awe. It’s just a quiet crane moment on a dull day. It’s a love letter from me to the Refuge. My parade couldn’t have been any better, I thought, and then…

I noticed something land on the top of one of the cottonwood trees…

Seems to be a Cooper’s hawk

Soon after I took his photo, this lovely being launched himself from the tree. You can see that moment in the featured photo if you look really really hard, then swooped down in front of Bear and me, then up and began circling the group of cranes and other water birds now hanging around the pond. “Like a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow bend.” (Hopkins, “The Windhover”)

“What a beautiful float!” I said to Bear who wondered why we weren’t moving and smelling stuff. I also realized that I was thirsty and a little hungry, so we turned back. Just as I arrived at the parking lot I saw a pair of Harris Hawks. These guys are noisy compared to other raptors. Their adaptation to environments where prey is scarcer has also “taught” them to hunt in groups. They’re darker hawks, reddish brown and reddish black. I’ve seen this couple a few other times. They like to hunt by the paved road that runs past the Refuge.

Best parade of my life. ❤

The Easel

Yesterday I drove along the 18 miles of Road T in Saguache County Colorado. That was after some 20 miles on the US Highway 285 and before another 15 miles on paved Saguache County Road T. Saguache County is the first county north of my own, Rio Grande County. I was heading to the old mining town of Crestone — now arty-farty spiritual center — to buy my easel.

Nothing notable about the deal — except getting a $500 easel for $100 — but driving toward the Sangre de Cristo Mountains takes my breath away. They resemble the Alps in the way they rise from the valley floor, rugged and young.

The easel is large and it was a struggle to get it into the house, but I did it. But then — as happens — I realized I had to move stuff out of my studio and THAT led to moving stuff out of my living room. It’s interesting how when you get a small piece of new furniture you might end up re-arranging everything and cleaning.

I don’t know yet if in this picture the gray will turn to blue…

I haven’t figured out everything about it yet — the main thing I still have to work out is adjusting the up/down of the tray on which the painting rests. I see how to do it, I just haven’t been able to do it! I’ll make it work for this big painting, but it won’t work for a smaller one but if I never manages that, a cool thing about this easel is it can go flat, like a table.

Now my little studio has three work “surfaces.” A dedicated drawing table, the table of all work, and an easel. Pretty up town, I’d say.

OK, this isn’t much of a video, but I thought, since I have this fancy new upgrade I should try it…

Beans and Friendship

It’s pretty woodsy in my backyard at the moment. I went out yesterday with my trusty branch saw to reconnoiter and decided it was way too dangerous for me to approach. How do I know but what one little handsawable branch isn’t holding up the universe? I don’t. I said, “Teddy get out from under there,” and came back inside.

Today I’m taking the day off. Yesterday, I spent hours cleaning the remnants of the snowpocalypse from the garden part of my yard. I had a long chat with the beans, explaining that I was sorry a bunch of their leaves were hanging there near death from being weighted down by a wet and frozen bed sheet. I then told them the story of Faith, the Indomitable Aussie Pumpkin who came into the world this time last year and STILL grew to be almost 10 inches in diameter. “Buck up, Poets,” I said. “It was just a snowpocalypse. Not the end of the world.”

The tomatoes are just going, “Well THAT was different.”

Meanwhile, everything that’s not broken looks like nothing happened, like summer was never interrupted, and now it’s business as usual.

Today my Facebook memories brought a photo of me with a woman who was one of my dearest friends for thirty years. She was my boss at the first teaching job I had in San Diego, and our relationship evolved from a not especially great boss/employee relationship to real friendship. She was an extraordinarily talented painter, and some of her paints are in my “studio”. I don’t use them. I do use her palette knife and some of her brushes. In the paint box, in the colors she used, and even in the way the brushes are “worn,” I see Sally, her way of painting and, well, her. It’s very lovely. The featured photo is us together at her house, Thanksgiving 1997.

The Lazarus Tree

Because the cranes are here and it’s chilly, I took Teddy out to find some refuge. It was a little challenging because there were cattle grazing next to the fence and Teddy is a herding dog. When he sees cattle he becomes incredibly excited and barky. This is breeding time for the herds who are old-school enough to rely on bull action and I noticed at least two in the field.

Other than the cattle, the first thing I saw was this patient osprey perched on a sign, looking for an easy meal.

Besides the osprey, there was a golden eagle circling the distant pond of geese and cranes. Winter is coming or whatever season is next. It’s hard to know with summer proceeding as it has been.

I kept driving until everything around us was Refuge and then we stopped and took our walk. In the distance were lots of geese and, I believe, a few Sandhill Cranes. Teddy’s level of alertness is incredible. He even sees birds in the reeds that I can’t see at all. I think when he gets better at this walking with Martha thing he’s going to be a great companion, spotting creatures near and far.

When we’d finished, I decided to take a road trip to see “the tree” from my painting. Teddy was happy because he likes riding in the car with me and listening to me sing. He is the only sentient being on the planet who likes that, so who am I NOT to give him that opportunity? We threaded our way along the “streets with no name” except things like “2 E and 5 S”.

I spotted the tree from quite a distance. It stands alone on a rabbitbrush plain. As Teddy and I approached (Singing “Africa” by Toto) I saw that the “dead tree” is not dead at all. I am renaming the painting “March” “Winter Tree.”

Teddy and I wound our way home, looking for a potato cellar I’d seen from a distance (no luck).

End of Summer

Yesterday, driving to “town” for groceries, I stopped at a red light behind a truck with about a dozen boxes of potatoes. As I continued along my way to Alamosa I noticed the barley in the fields has turned golden. Across the way from the golden barley field is another field with huge bales of hay. A few of the cottonwoods around one of the farms on the way are beginning to change to yellow.

A beautiful thing about living in an agricultural area is that all the human stuff we get so worked up about doesn’t affect the seasons. They do their thing like they know they are supposed to. It’s a very lovely reality of life on earth. I’m letting a couple of the Scarlet Emperor bean pods mature to make seeds. I don’t need them, but I also don’t want to frustrate their prime directive. In my own crops, a male goldfinch has been harvesting my sunflowers. Later on today, I’ll be moving the containers with tomatoes so they get more sun. The days are obviously shortening.

It’s been an interesting summer. If I harvest my impressions? I don’t know how to begin. The only other time I was this intensely involved in doing artwork was the summer of 1994 when I was recovering from a clinical depression. Someone looked at the tables I was painting back then and said, “Art therapy.” I’d like to think it was more than that, but maybe not. Two of those tables that I still have… I called them “funnyiture” because they are puns. Tea table and Knight Table (it’s a nightstand). There were also Picnic Tables and Pool Tables 🙂 .

I will miss my beans and my garden. I’m not all that eager for summer to end, though I would like cooler temps and fewer mosquitoes. It’s been nice going to my garden for vegetables and having really good basil. I think I’ve learned a lot this summer about WHY a garden and that I’m not too interested in flowers but find vegetables to be a miracle (again…)

Scary Painting?

You might remember the painting I began at the beginning of the pandemic that freaked me out so much that I didn’t want to paint it. It seemed to be a grim picture of a friend looking into the vast and terrifying unknown.

I started working on it again a couple of days ago.

I realized, while painting, that when you put a human being in a painting you will end up with a story. No person, no story. I saw all the directions this story could take and it was very tempting to paint a very powerful scary painting. I decided I didn’t want to.

It’s based on a photo from a moment in a March day that was really great. I called my friend to ask if she wanted to out and look for cranes with me. I picked her up in my NEW CAR and we headed out to the wildlife refuge. The cranes weren’t where I expected them to be, but I had another possible destination in mind. On the way to that second spot, we saw this amazing, immense dead cottonwood tree. My friend wanted a photo and when I saw her taking her photo, I saw the whole scene and took my photo. We continued on and ended up seeing thousands of cranes.

That’s truly one of the best things that can happen in the Big Empty. The painting is a long way from finished, but I think I like it fine, so far.

It’s a very large panel. To take a photo, I had to climb up on a step ladder.

Denver Morning

I slept in. Till 9. I think the weirdness tires us out. I was thinking of moments in life that are just slow and beautiful in their strange way.

In my 20s I lived in a “colorful” neighborhood in Denver for a while — Capital Hill. It was a great place to live, and if I were ever to live in Denver again, I’d go back (never going back again). During that time all my creative work had to be done on weekends because I had an 8 to 5 job. One Sunday morning I got up (earlier than 9 because you do not waste weekends when you’re working) and realized I was out of water color paper. At the time I was painting with gouache and watercolor. I had the prospect of a show coming up in a couple months.

At 11, an hour before anything opened, I put my wallet in my jeans jacket and headed up my street — I lived on 12th and Marion — two blocks to Colfax Ave, one of America’s most historic streets and most colorful. I turned left. My destination, Meininger’s, an art supply store, was more than a mile away, beyond downtown a little bit.

This crazy, busy street was almost deserted. The only people anywhere were hookers and partiers straggling home from whatever wild night Saturday had been for them.

The parking lots were empty. The stores closed and shuttered. One or two proprietors were sweeping in front of their cafes preparing for noon. It was solemn, spacious, sweet. If it had a color it would be pale blue and gray. At the end of the street the distant Rocky Mountains reminded me of the transience of this moment. I slowed down. I had plenty of time to get there.

Colfax, 2019 on a Sunday afternoon