When Your Child is Smarter than You and a Real Cool Cat or How to Design the World’s Best New Website

All the Young Dudes

This piece exudes the spirit and energy of youth in this biographical piece featuring the artist’s son and graphic designer, Rhys.

Coming from a family littered with self-taught artists on both sides of the family tree, it is really no surprise that my son turned out to be an artist. His tonsorial acumen and love of design was apparent at five years of age when he could not be dissuaded from wearing a three-piece suit and tie to school on his first day of kindergarten. My refrigerator served as the art gallery in our house and his artwork was proudly displayed there for many years. My bias as his mother not withstanding, it was clear to me that he had talent. Although the creative gene resides in many of his ancestors, Rhys (pronounced Reese) is the only one who followed his dream and obtained a formal art education, graduating The Ohio State University with a degree in product and graphic design, determined to make a living with his artistic ability. Unlike his mother, both sides of my son’s brain are in functioning order, he excels at math, is capable of both logical and intuitive thought and can grasp the big picture, not sacrificing form for function.

In contrast, I function almost solely on intuition alone. I usually have a fully formed idea for a project and enjoy the resulting journey of bringing it to fruition organically. However, when it comes to technology I have to admit I am often brought to tears with frustration. When it became clear that I had outgrown my website I had two choices: stick my head in the sand and hope the problem would just go away, or call in the big guns. My Mamma didn’t raise no fool so I called in a creative heavy hitter, my son Rhys. As a clinical social worker it is never permissible to treat a friend or family member, impending doom is usually right around the corner in these situations, so I wondered how this was going to unfold? Would we be on speaking terms or featured on Family Feud by the end of the process?

I am very happy to report two things: my son was able to get in a little childhood payback, forcing me to do my homework, and it was an amazing and wonderful experience. For a person who rarely balances a checkbook and throws all business related paperwork in a shoe box until tax time forces a reckoning, it was like watching Phoenix rise from the ashes to see the website develop with organization and a cohesive story that even I did not suspect among the chaos. What a wonderful surprise! At one point I remarked, “Shit, Rhys, you sure make your mother look good.” His patient response was, ” Jeez, Mom, that’s what I do.” No kidding, he sure does. This whole experience allowed me to see my son in a new light: his creative talent, customer service skills, patience and ability to work with even his mother (I personally think that one should go on his resume) came into focus for me. I am thrilled beyond words with my new and shiny website, I hope you will enjoy it too.

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

imageGenealogically 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 particular 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 fiberglass 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.

2014 The Year of the Snake

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.

imageThis 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.

imageRemembering 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!


The Selfie: Unabashed Absorption or Self-Reflection?

Both. Put a smart phone and a Facebook account into the hands of the general public and all of a sudden many Americans look like self-absorbed, mindless twits. And if you haven’t caught on, I am shamelessly promoting this blog with a photo I took of myself here at Homestead National Monument in front of the Ephard-Palmer log cabin. I used an SLR digital camera, so that’s alright then. And yes, I am damned proud I can still fit into that prairie dress I made 30 years ago. That alone is worth documenting for posterity. That being said, the art of the self-portrait is an under-rated art form that has been around for thousands of years.

Prarie Dress 2

Some of the earliest cave drawings and indigenous art contain hand prints left by the artist, sort of as a way of saying, “Hey, look at me. Remember me.” As a figurative artist, I just love looking at self-portraits. Isn’t it wonderful to gaze into the eyes of say Georgia O’Keefe, Lucious Freud, Da Vinci and the like? In effect, the artist has now become the art.

A few years ago I was convinced by my friend and professional photographer, Rob, that I needed a portrait as a marketing tool to help promote my textile art. It was pure hell. It took two hours, 150 photographs and a few dirty jokes to even get me to smile. It was very intimidating to let another person into my inner sanctum so to speak. I was sure he was going to catch a glimpse of my 7 year old self. The image of that school photo taken in second grade is still burned into my mind. I was wearing an ugly brown plaid dress, a crooked smile, and a hunk of my 1″ bangs stood straight up in the air.

How had this happened? I started out life as a pretty cute kid with cornsilk blond hair tied with bows into tiny pigtails. Around the age of four my hair turned dark and was kept in two braids, still pretty cute. However, when my mother brushed and braided my hair I took to whining and complaining as she untangled the ever present snarls. In second grade my mother had had enough and had it cut off into what was then thought to be a stylish new do… The Pixie. Arrrgh.

Maybe I should start by explaining that my mother took me to her beautician, if you want to call her that, Iva Lou. She had hair the color of a bad spray on tan and a perpetual cigarette dangling from her lower lip. She catered to old ladies and little kids, neither of whom were wont to overly complain, mostly because they didn’t know any better. I am not sure why my mother went to her, but Mom assured me that the more Iva Lou talked the shorter the cut, and boy could those two talk. I usually left the beauty parlor, and I use that term loosely here, looking like a shorn sheep whose fleece had been removed with a lawn mower. At one point my bangs were 1″ long!

This went on until I was a senior in high school, (yes, I am a slow learner.) Every attempt to grow out my hair was an utter disaster; it hung shapeless while everyone else had perky flip hairdos. In frustration, this would ultimately result in a trip back to Iva for a new shearing. Thanks to my current, and very talented hairdresser, Kristi, I now know the secret to great hair is a great haircut.

So, these little foray’s into the self-portrait are just my way of banishing that 7 year old who sometimes still likes to sneak into my consciousness in an attempt at stealing my self confidence. It is also a way of reassuring myself that women can still look good as they age.  Could that old adage, “You’re not getting older, you’re getting better” really be true?” Perhaps if you have a good haircut and a better camera.

My Mom was the First Art Quilter…Ever

Here in Nebraska, you can’t spit without hitting a quilt, or some quilt related item. I picked up a little newspaper touting the local art scene and I kid you not, 75% of the newsprint was related to quilt shows, quilt shops, quilt classes, quilt patterns, quilt sales, quilt mugs….well you get the picture. In other words, I am in hog heaven. Yesterday I took some time to drive up to Lincoln and visit the International Quilt Study Center & Museum at The University of Nebraska. It was in a huge ultra-modern building and they are adding on if that tells you anything about the popularity of quilts here on the prairie.

While there, I noticed this fairly early Log Cabin Quilt which I thought looked ultra modern, and that got me to thinking about the early beginnings of the art quilt movement. If you happen to be from Ohio, then like me you are pretty darn certain that the art quilt world would not be the same but for the likes of early Ohio innovators like Nancy Crow, who happens to live about 15 miles from me, or Linda Fowler. But you would be wrong. My mother had them all beat by about 15 years.

As I mentioned before, we come from a family of do-it-your-selfers, often because we just want to, but many times out of necessity. This was never more true than back in 1960 when my Dad enticed my mother to go tent camping for the very first time, she agreed, but shall we say, was less than thrilled with the idea of sleeping on the ground. My Dad promptly started construction on a homemade camper which was basically two large plywood boxes with the tent popped up in the middle. When complete this contraption was christened the Gissaf, which was our last name spelled backwards. Before it’s maiden voyage, however, it had to be painted a nice shade of forest green with an oil-based paint. This task fell to my mother. Her paint jobs were fine, but my god, she was the world’s messiest painter, she always had more paint on herself and the surroundings than she ever got on a wall. So rather than defile my Dad’s pride and joy, she used a drop cloth. You guessed it, a quilt… a family heirloom. Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt, hand pieced, with swirly machine quilting. Deidre Adams, eat your heart out, my mother perfected your technique while you were still in diapers.

So you can imagine my chagrin, when during a three week camping trip to Lake Erie, in order to stave off boredom, my brother and I made a fort under a bush several campsites away. Another of the heirloom quilts was provided for our use. Now my brother and I knew better than to tarry when dinner was called, so when summoned, we snapped to, leaving said quilt forgotten under a bush. I sure was surprised, and confused, to witness my mother’s distress when we showed up sans quilt. Heretofore, I was pretty certain quilts had no more value than the dog’s blanket. All four of us searched the entire campground, but the precious heirloom was gone forever.

I still have the Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt with that patch of hellish green paint that will forever remind me of my mother. The loss of the second quilt, rather than a horrific event burned into my young mind, was an experience that taught me the value of a quilt. You can bet I take care of mine!

Pistol Packin’ Mama

I’ve only ever shot a gun one time. Being three years older than my brother, I think my Dad thought he would hurry up the possibility of having a hunting buddy by a few years, so he planned to teach me how to hunt. I was going to have my own shotgun, just the right size for a 10 year old, a real hunting license to go on a super cool hunting jacket with a great big zippered pocket in the back to carry home all those pheasants, rabbits and squirrels I was gonna shoot. Never mind the thought of bloody effluent running down my pants leg as they drained on my march home. Eeeeewww! So along came the day I had been waiting for. I learned how to put the shotgun shells in and with an admonishment from my Dad to “hold her steady,” I let her rip and the kick back promptly knocked me on my ass. The end.

Hattie JonesSo meet Miss Hattie Jones, a single woman homesteader and the focus of my project here at Homestead National Monument of America in eastern Nebraska. Doesn’t she look demure? I think she looks like she should be sipping tea in a Boston Parlor, but in actuality, she was a single woman homesteader from Nebraska. She and her best friend set off alone to homestead in the wilds of North Dakota, which meant that she could earn a free 160 acres of land if she proved up, this meant to live on and improve the land for a period of 5 years. What with blizzards, drought, grasshoppers and rattlesnakes this was not quite the bargain it initially seemed. One night some drifter, rabble-rouser or just plain drunk knocked on her door and refused to leave. Frightened, but determined, she gave him fair warning to leave or she would shoot. He didn’t, so she let rip with the shotgun she kept behind the door. History does not record whether she was knocked on her ass, but she did blow a hole through the door. Too frightened to look outside in the dark, when she opened what was left of the door in the morning, there was no interloper in sight, a bloody trail perhaps, but no actual body. Encouraged by this state of affairs she did prove up, got married and had 6 children. I bet her husband was never given to drink.


Remember that little ditty? We used to sing it on the bus, shout it on the playground and yell it out the car windows. It came in handy for spelling tests. I am recalling it now as I had a wonderful afternoon today in Hannibal, Missouri as I travel west to Homestead National Monument. Hannibal is perched on the banks of the mighty Missisip and home to Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. I toured his home and those of his childhood friends who appeared in his books as Tom, Huck and Becky. I am reminded how his early experiences contributed to his creative process in later life I also just love his acerbic wit.

What has this got to do with quilting or anything else you might wonder? Well, obviously I have not turned out to be a paddlewheel captain, famous author, or bankrupt for that matter (thank goodness) like Mark Twain, but my childhood and some good genes has had a definite influence on my creativity. I come from a long line of artists, or perhaps more correctly, makers.  We have wood workers, wood carvers, painters, sewers, knitters a canoe maker and a jewelry maker in the family. With the exception of my graphic designer son, all the rest of us are self taught. When you look up “outsider art,” on Wikipedia, our family portrait next to the definition.

Some of us have been more successful than others in our artistic endeavors. My dad made a living for many years making furniture, and my mother had the ability to knit intricate cable knit sweaters while watching television and without even looking at her hands. My English aunt on the other hand, knit herself a wool bathing suit during the 1920’s so she could be de rigeur. She did in fact make quite a fashion statement when the weight of the salt water caused the whole shebang to stretch down to her knees Typically the water temperature off the north coast of England does not lend itself to topless bathing.

My parents also endured my creative endeavors with great tolerance as I look back on it now. When I used gooey homemade flour paste to adhere images of Twiggy, the Beatles and Stones all over the basement (well cellar, really) walls, they never once said, ” Holy S***! Do you see that two ton coal burning furnace over there? Are you trying to start a conflagration that will burn the house down?” When my cousin and I thought it was a great idea to carry a thirty pound rock two miles out of the woods in order to extract the quartz crystals it contained, my Dad gave me a hammer. Note to self, that job really requires a diamond tipped industrial strength drill. Lastly, after reading Huck Finn, my brother, cousin and I constructed a raft worthy of the mighty Mississippi out of an old door, several Styrofoam coolers and some twine. My dad nonchalantly threw it in the back of his pick up truck, drove it 20 miles to throw it in a farm pond and watched it promptly sink the minute we boarded. Tom and Huck would have been greatly disappointed but my dad never said a word. Good thing my family was instrumental in developing my artistic abilities, because I never would have made it as an engineer.

Mesa Verde – These Boots

These boots have carried me a long way from home and have been a godsend here in Colorado. My Merrells and Thurlo hiking socks have taken me up ladders and ledges, up cliffs and down canyons. Through Cliff Palace, Balcony House, Oak Tree House and many others. I was very thankful for them today when a woman about 8 or 9 years older than me tried to maneuver our backcountry hike to Oak Tree House in her Keds, carrying a large handbag instead of a back pack. I watched her fall right on her can and totter along the entire trail. I tried not to walk right behind her in case she fell off a ladder and took me down with her. She did the ultimate back country no, no and asked the ranger if she could sit on one of the fragile 700 year walls. The response: “if  you think you are going to have a medical emergency it would be alright.” I interpret that to mean,” I would rather you sat on a wall than pass out and fall off a cliff costing the government $20,000,00 to save your sorry butt.”

As I consider the value of good pair of hiking boots today, I think back to another pair of boots that impacted my life. I should preface this by mentioning how I always used to dread getting gifts from my Dad, and with good cause I might add. Basically, he was complete crap when it came to buying gifts. If he made something for you, that was alright because he was a fantastic craftsmean and the furniture he made was truly a work of art. You were probably OK if he bought you a book, since he usually bought nature books; so chances were at least 50/50, and worst case scenario, you could take it back to the book store. Other than that, Oh Lord!

One time he bought a teenaged cousin of mine a size 6 sweatshirt, because that was how big he was the last time my Dad saw him. Another time I came home from work and found a cement Indian painted in garish colors sitting on my front porch, a birthday gift from my Dad. But the all time doozy of a gift was one Chiristmas when he bought my mother the most beautiful coral colored wool cocktail dress. It was a real stunner, but also, I believe a size 6. My mother had never been a size 6 in her life, she was pretty much a solid 12 or 14 despite the fact that she was only about 5 feet tall.

Well, she was highly insulted that the dress was about 3 sizes too small and made my Dad take it back to the store. I don’t think she spoke to him for a whole week. So you can imagine my brother’s and my trepidation, when the next Christmas she opened a box containing boys high top work boots from Sears. These were hiking boots my Dad quickly explained, so that she would be more comfortable when we went hiking and camping. I could not have  been more surprized when my Mom smiled, put them right on and declared that she loved them. She wore them for many years after that momentous Chritsmas Day when my Dad actually purchased a great gift. Here’s to you Mom. Happy Trails.

Mesa Verde and Black and White Thinking

The  Ancient Puebloan People of Mesa Verde are known for their unique Black on White pottery. Much of it was raided and sold by pot hunters, a practice that. unfortunately, is still occurring today, do you hear me eBay? There are still fine examples to be seen in the museums here and I am struck by how many of these ancient designs have been used by quilters and artists for centuries. It seem even Hitler stole the swastika from the ancient ones. However, being a therapist by trade I am reminded of a type of cognitive distortion referred to as “back and white thinking.” I fear, and notice the verb I use here, that I have my own black and white thinking process going on.

Mine is the staunch, and heretofore, unshakable belief that I am an acrophobic (fear of heights) person. I have been afraid of heights ever since about the age of three, when my Dad put me on his back piggy back style and climbed up a rock face in The Hocking Hills. Ever since then I have not been able to climb up a 3 foot step ladder without my knees knocking together. Flashback to the 1960’s, the last time I visited Mesa Verde with my family. They were either very ignorant about the conditions of the hike or were being very cagey in not telling me that you had to climb three ladders up the face of the cliff to get out of the place. I suspect the latter. Although I did ask why I just couldn’t go back the way we came in, I was told that due to “federal regulations,” this was not possible (so they said). So, with my Dad pushing from behind, I made it up to the top. My knees, however, kept locking in place making my progress so slow, that I can still remember other visitors shouting up to the top, “What’s going on up there, is something the matter?
This all leads me to the point that it is fear that often  keeps our thinking and actions locked into place, just like my knees. Knowing that I was deathly afraid of heights I applied for this artist residency anyway, a sort of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy,” that has worked out pretty well for me. I must say I have been put to the test both yesterday and today. During the hike yesterday to Petroglyph Point I came to a part of the trail where I had to get my leg up on a rock ledge to get to the next level and I was just too short to do it, I contemplated going back the way I came, but fearing Federal Regulations finally found a hidden hand hold and went on up. Not one minute later, the trail turned to a near vertical angle and I was literally hanging on to trees (shrubs?) to keep from pitching backwards into the canyon. Brought me right back to those childhood cartoons where the tree breaks. I was expecting to see The “Road Runner and TNT next.

Today I went on the most vertically challenging ranger lead hike there is, to Balcony House. This gem required climbing a 32 foot ladder up the cliff face, that’s three stories folks, then at the end climbing up the cliff using hand  and foot holds carved in the rock, luckily there was heavy duty iron chain to hold onto. You can bet your life that I never looked down not even one peep.

One last fear-based challenge takes place first thing Friday morning when I take my first back county hike out to Long House. To get there I will have to drive about 45 minutes down a road that is officially closed and locked for the season, then hike out to the dwelling alone, Incidentally there was a siting of a mountain lion in the dwelling this spring… I will have a radio with me, but of all things, I am worried I won’t be able to work the radio properly. Is there a name for that? 

Artist Residency Mesa Verde National Park: Personal Archaelogy

Although it goes against my natural inclination to procrastinate,  I am packed and ready for my trip to Mesa Verde National Park early tomorrow morning. I have actually spent months in preparation; researching the Ancient Puebloan people, purchasing and testing out needed gear, getting into condition and learning the basics of operating my new camera. I even drug my suitcase down from the closet and started packing a week ago. I thought I was done but I had to make a last minute trip to Cabela’s due my brother’s advice last week. As a seasoned outdoorsman and wilderness canoer, he advised me not to wear cotton jeans or underwear into the back country unless I wanted to “have yer crotch rubbed raw if it rains.” I am now in possession of a $60.00 pair of lightweight, water wicking, sun shading hiking pants. Hey, I take my crotch seriously.

Bruce provided other sage advice on matters related to wilderness hiking. On the arid conditions found at the parks’s high altitude: “Drink lots of water. If yer not peein’, yer in trouble.” On managing dangerous wildlife:  Rattlesnakes: “Just watch where yer walkin’ for Pete’s sake.” On Bears : “Make yourself as big as possible, wave your arms and shout, and for Cripe’s sake, don’t run.” On Mountain Lions: “It does’t really matter what you do, by the time you hear one they are already on you and going for the juggler. Yer dead meat.”
One of the most compelling reasons I applied to do a residency at Mesa Verde was to be able to study the ancient people who inhabited this amazing region a thousand or so years ago. They built their sandstone dwellings first on the mesa tops and later inside cliff overhangs perched high above the valley floor. In a way, I will be able to fulfill my childhood dream of becoming an archaeologist. Studying the artifacts of ancient peoples in an attempt to learn about their culture and drawing similarities between their human experiences and our own both fascinates me and resonates in my art work. As I was packing I got to thinking about my own personal archaeology.
A few years ago, when my Dad was living in a nursing home, my brother and I spent over a month cleaning out his home and out buildings, in short, unearthing the artifacts of our father’s life. We came across many items that made us put down our brooms and just reminisce about our childhoods. I will be taking two of these items along with me on my journey, my Mom’s binoculars and my Dad’s Audubon bird book. They remind me of all the times my family spent camping and hiking. Bird watching was just one of the things we did to pass the time in the many state and national parks we visited over the years.
In our family, the worst two words in the English language were; “I’m bored.” The automatic response was, “find something to do or I’ll find something for you.” So while we camped my brother and I read (well, I did), collected leaves, shells, moss, etc., played cards, had contests to see who could roast the biggest marshmallow, hung around with other camp kids and whittled sticks and soap animals. My dad kept his pocket knife razor sharp due to his personal philosophy that you were less likely to get cut if it was sharp. Only one kid ever severed an artery. We all enjoyed the diversion of ride to the local emergency room immensely. So, as I head west tomorrow, even though they are no longer with us, I’ll be thinking of my parents and how much they would have enjoyed this trip. I’ll watch a bird or two for you guys.
Stay tuned for more western adventures. Ahhhhhh…. The American Southwest, where everyday is a good hair day.