Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Off the Grid

I live in an area where some people brag about being off the grid. Frankly I like my electricity. But if I had the money for solar power I would do it because it is cheaper; not because I think people are spying on me through my electrical wires. It is easier to spy via cell phones (yes, land lines are not the culprit) or internet. But I live a life not worthy of spying upon. Just read my blogs.

But the one area I am "off the grid" is in satellite (or cable) television. In the first days of 2006 we got six feet of snow and the Dish Network satellite dish was knocked off my house. Passes were closed for four days. And similar things had obviously happened to a lot of other dishes because the earliest date they gave me for reinstalling was two weeks out. Maybe. And Dish, in its infinite wisdom was unwilling to give me a half month credit on my bill. Their argument was they were providing me the service. Not their fault I was not receiving it.

It was during that time I found I enjoyed not receiving what passes for entertainment in the United States at huge prices (commercials and service fees). I discovered the joy of internet streaming. What I wanted to watch when I wanted to watch it for no cost to me. No seven channels of ESPN I paid for but never watched. No eleven channels of religious programs I did not believe in but supported through cable fees. And I discovered Canadian, Australian and BBC television that was well written, cast with real people (not plastic barbie dolls) who were great actors and not just boobs.

So I called Dish back and cancelled my subscription with them. I was fortunately beyond the two year contract (BTW that can be five years now). They and DirecTV constantly send me offers to get back on their media teet. But except for one or two programs I can get on streaming or wait a season to get on DVD there is nothing on US television I miss. I certainly do not miss reality shows or the twenty minutes of commercials for every "hour" show.

And I am enjoying the fact that streaming companies like NetFlix and Hulu are now developing their own dramatic television. Well written and well acted. But unfortunately network television and the companies that provide it to us on expensive satellite and cable are still holding the strings on a renewal of some great programs like Longmire. Sorry, Big Five, you are holding everyone hostage.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Meanwhile back at camp

There are times in July when living in the mountains seems like summer camp. Only I am the camp counselor and I have work to be done. It isn't all about arts and crafts or hikes and collecting leaves. Life was simpler when it was just merit badges you had to earn. I think I would have earned badges this summer for Arts (the July solo show) and Gardening and Photography and Animal Care. Score me at least one demerit for Camp Site Care.

Wasn't life good when there were gold stars and merit badges and report cards to rate how well you were doing in life? If you have one of those 9 to 5 jobs then I suppose you get to judge your value by merit increases and bonuses. With self-employed artists it gets rather nebulous. Do you measure your success in paintings completed or just those sold. Or the awards won. Or name recognition on Google.

An art collector compared my paintings favorably with Jennifer Cavan, Tom Nobel, and Ed Sandoval recently. Nice. But that is only a personal merit badge. Life is a lot of private merit badges. It is wise to stop and take note of them from time to time. There are those personal demerits too. And I think artists often hear those above the others. It is not easy to put your life on view for public evaluation all the time. I have three novels upstairs I do not attempt to publish. And I have paintings I show only to myself.

Yesterday I was sitting on the studio stoop contemplating three new paintings, the summer cold, and how badly the grass again needed mowed and the garden weeded, and how to better market my art. I was totally ignoring the kitchen cleaning required. I wanted nothing more than to desperately do one of those camp projects which could be done in an afternoon and wins praises from parents (well, not my parents who expected the Pieta). You know the ones. The one that came to mind for me involved a pie tin, plaster of Paris, and a collection of things picked up on the morning hike. I always excelled at salt maps, dioramas, collages. Everyone at camp raved about them.

"Nice, dear," Mom would say. "Now go clean your room."

The current equivalent is, "I just love this painting. Will you take half?"

So I sit on the stoop and debate three new paintings or once again giving up on being an artist. BTW I discovered last time I tried it for two years that it was not an option. Painters have to paint. But there is always a mural in my bedroom. Or those painted risers on the stairs I have been thinking about for years.

Maybe it is just the summer cold. Or merit badge withdrawal.

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Goose Tale

Wild life photography is all about patience. Those totally dedicated to solely the capture of birds are anchored to a blind and a tripod and a 500 mm telephoto lens. Not exactly my cup of tea. I enjoy recording the world around me which is an entirely different form of patience. I and my dogs, Magique and Mardi Gras, take my camera on a walk most mornings early for the purpose of catching the early light, and by chance the wildlife inhabiting my walking grounds.

First you teach the dogs not to chase. And when the photographer stops they stop. And then you walk the same route often enough the nature around you becomes used to your presence. Hawks, I have been told, learn to recognize your face. I think geese must too. I began photographing this mated pair several years back. This year I was allowed in on the goslings beginning day one and their introduction to water.

First Swim
My guess is mother was always in front and dad at back and the little ones followed along. They were very protective parents. This was not a city park but a pond in the forest. Getting all four goslings to adulthood would not be easy.

I was not surprised when after a week away I came back to find their numbers reduced by one. One year they only got one gosling to this "ugly duckling" stage.

Geese do not spend all their lives in water. They graze on land. I knew I was trusted when I discovered them at the pond's edge grazing and they did not immediately take to the safety of the pond.

In fact they even took cross country treks (young still cannot fly) to another nearby pond which offered up some rather artistic photos.

They were nested down in the tall grasses of this other little pond when I re-met them yesterday after a couple week absence. Five heads came up in the grass and watched the passage of my dogs and me up the hill in search of vistas with morning mist. They were unconcerned with my nearness, and I was more interested in the mist. But on the way back they were in the water. And very proud of themselves. No doubt flight lessons have begun. And soon they will be heading south. The parents, if all goes well, will be back next spring to raise more goslings. This year's brood will have to find another pond.

BTW photos of the morning mist also turned out well.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Zen and the Art of Gardening

Red Cabbage

As I approached the end of April this year I looked out on my old poly tunnel and decided to not garden this year. I was facing two cataract surgeries with the limitations the post op care enforced, and a solo gallery show with more paintings to paint. The garden just seemed too much even if I did not redo the polytunnel.

Besides what is all the lettuce I plant really costing me? Couldn't I just make regular trips to the farmer's market instead of growing my own?  Besides Mother had been the gardener. And living at 8750 ft. does not make gardening easy. Perhaps it is enough to just excel at house plants in the studio.

New Inner tunnel covered by snow

Late spring snows did not help. But the whole lead up and recovery from the first eye surgery left me feeling so helpless. Yes, gardening is frustrating but it does not make me feel helpless. I love having my hands in the dirt, seldom miss a morning or evening walking through the beds and talking to my plants. I love the smell of the herbs like the spicy oregano and lemon balm. And I confess I plant for color like the red cabbage in the lead photo. 

So seduced by one of those $50 or less and just a half day articles on the internet I decided to spend the week just before eye surgery number two building a new high tunnel over the old and adding two raised beds. A friend offered to help in exchange for some of the fruits (veggies) of our labors. And she did. But there wasn't a minute when I thought I had not bitten off more than I could chew. 

New Bow Tunnel

The person who posted the plans had definitely lied even if you considered that I had purchased the plastic mid winter the new higher tunnel was triple the $50 estimate. And it was definitely more than half a day even with a friend helping some. Truth is I am sometimes just too impatient or head strong to wait for help. 

And Mother Nature was being a bitch. I waited days for no wind so I could put the plastic cover on. Days I did not have because of the approaching second surgery. I had cheated with starts but also planted seeds. And it seemed as if everything was just so slow including the warming up of the nights. I installed and turned on the lights in the green house every night in June bringing up that question about just how much this baby lettuce salad I had for dinner last night really cost.

Red Romaine
But it isn't just a salad. It is a gift. And it is art. And my exercise program. And sanity. Or insanity. All the work I did this year will not have to be done next. Maybe new plastic only. I will not have to buy, haul, mix soil to fill two new 2 x 4 foot beds and 10 five gallon buckets of tomatoes. And there will not be two eye surgeries to schedule around. And hopefully not knee, hip or shoulder surgeries. I hope there will be another solo gallery show.

I have learned a lot about me this spring and summer. And a lot about my late mother who died the year she left her garden. Gardening is not about green thumbs but about connectedness to the earth and the elements. Body and mind and spirit unite in a garden.

I have a friend who keeps trying preaching to me her concept of Zen. She wants to sell her house next door and move into a condo. I think I am passing my master every morning when I enter the poly tunnel temple to pet or water or weed my plants.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Lunacy on the Road from Raton

Moon Over Distant Peaks

When you are an early riser you get to see lots of dawns. My moon rises tend to be in the winter because I do not have to stay up so late. Yes, the full moon rises as the sunsets but when you live in a valley surrounded by mountains the moon rise can be an hour after sunset.

Last night, however, I was driving back from Trinidad when the moon made an appearance going over Raton pass. It rose looking like something from Battle Star Galatia. There were no safe places to pull over on the pass and retrieve my camera from the trunk. But as soon as I got off I25 and headed home on Hwy 64 I took advantage of the wide shoulders to record its diminished size. Then it became just a matter of getting the right combination of peaks lined up underneath it.

Horizontal version

Or horizontal vs vertical. I ended up adding 30 minutes to my travel time, but it could have been a lot more if I had tossed my tripod into the trunk too.

Then there was the sun setting behind me. Viewed through the clearing thunderstorms of earlier.

Sun setting through the storm clouds

It was an absolutely magical night to be out and about. New met friends at the gallery reception questioned my driving home afterwards instead of staying over. I do want to do that at some point. So much to see in Trinidad. I feel I am short changing it by dashing out of town. But the clouds were wonderful and I was high from trip to Trinidad (no, not because of legal marijuana in Colorado). Sleepiness was not a factor. Besides I was home in bed by ten. Not too long after they roll up the sidewalks in Angel Fire.

And with the new eyes after the two cataract surgeries my vision was clear as a bell and there were so many things I had missed by not going out at night. I even promised myself to just go for drives to nowhere in particular after dark in the future. The rural version of Take Back the Night.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Magical Thinking

When the Rains Came
36 x 24 Mixed Media on Artists Canvas
Since the first woman (yes, anthropologists now believe it was the females and not men) drew a bison on a cave walls of Chauvet-Pont D'Arc magic has played a large part for artists. And whether the figures of herds of bison and antelope were a shopping list or a charm for a successful hunt the artist was using their skill to call forth an image, or cast a spell, or make a wish.

Charcoal figures or complex mandalas or prescribed sand paintings for healing all have an element of magic involved. Artists can be very superstitious individuals from having to have their favorite brushes or just the right color or pacing in front of the canvas waiting for the muse to visit them. Or panic they have somehow angered that muse. Ask an artist where they get their ideas and they may go into a song and dance about their first visit to Utah or seeing the work of Matisse as a youth. But secretly I think many of us believe we channel what we paint. And if we are successful that spiritual connection does not stop with us but flows to the viewer. When it really works the patron buys the painting for their wall.

Us painters can also be rather silly about "charms" we put into our works. New Mexico artist, Tom Nobel, almost always has magpies in his paintings. I put ravens in my day time skies. And there is almost always more water in my canyon paintings then there is today. It is a wish to return to a time when thee was more water. Sheep are for abundance. Tom Nobel told me once he always sold a painting with sheep in it. Seems to work for me too.

And it isn't just in the creating we get into that magical thinking. Hang around an art show being set up and you will think you are at an off site betting polar. Everything from positive affirmations to mystical layouts to wearing certain clothes during set up and opening night. Yes, we have all read the marketing blogs and books about the correct layout and pricing theory, etc. But then there is what we believe in our minds contrary to all logical thinking. I have three little malachite eggs (malachite attracts money) I like to put in the pocket of my blazer. On the practical side it gives me something to do with nervous hands. And there are pieces of jewelry I think are charmed.

Across the US this is a big art weekend. Many of my friends are once again in ArtsFest here in the valley. Another friend on the east coast is doing her first fair with her photography. And I am in Trinidad tonight with the official reception for Meraki, my first gallery exhibit in Colorado. Lots of magical thinking going on. Good luck to us all.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

My Day to Whine - Make it March

I could blame this on Mercury in retrograde or old age or a shift in the universe that I find just a big irritating. All little things really but put all together it has pushed me to a point I really would rather not deal with anything. I am writing this blog to vent and hopefully get it off my chest. I have tried to explain it to people and they do not get it. So hopefully I do better here.

First was Eye Associates of New Mexico. At the conclusion of your appointment they hand you a sheet you take to the woman at the front desk to schedule your next appointment. Her first sentence is, "I see you have an outstanding balance." I do not see where that is the business of everyone at the desk and in the lobby. But the real obnoxious part of this is that I have not been notified before that moment of a bill due? The have not posted to my "patient portal" or mailed me a bill. And I mentioned this last time. "Do you want to pay it now?" she asked. "No, I want to see the bill first."

When I got home I immediately went to the patient's portal and no bill. Two days later I was notified of a new bill in my account. Their bad but the office staff seems to want to make it my bad.

Lots of that going around. Neighbor calls this morning and goes into a lengthy explanation of why she cannot make our "date" for coffee tomorrow. Mind you I had been on another telephone call when she called and I am trying to get to the bottom line of this explanation (she had yet to mention coffee tomorrow being cancelled). I have the other person on hold. AND? I say to hurry things along. And then she starts apologizing for me being irritated with her. "Would I rather do coffee today?" she asks. "No," I say. And she goes back to the lengthy discussion as to why she cannot make tomorrow. Like I care. Her bad but she is making it my bad because I will not change plans at the drop of her hat.

Mercury in retrograde is suppose to adversely effect communications but it did not stop on July 2! It might have gotten worse. Or maybe it is just that I have been so very, very busy lately and resent having my time wasted with stupidity. Or maybe at my advancing age I am not rolling with the punches smoothly. Or that my month playing reclusive artist in my studio has made me not want to do anything else.

I know my faults. I am not patient, not very tolerant, suffer fools not gladly, but I do not know of a time when everyone seems so wanting to blame me for their lack of communication skills. I have tried the not talking approach. Cannot nod on the phone but a sprinkling of uh huh's here and there. Short sentences without you or I or we or they. But that is also not working well.

Person on hold this morning hung up. Person I was talking to apologized for me (note not TO me) and hung up. I got the paper bill from Eye Associates and so will go on line to schedule payment. Spending rest of day with plants or pets. They are so much easier to understand.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Early Morning Walk About

2nd Street

I seldom, if ever, go anywhere without my camera. You just never know when you will have the opportunity of a great picture of need something to occupy your time. Yes, there is Angry Birds on tablets but they seldom bring me the peace of a walk about on empty streets in the early morning light.

On this particular morning in Trinidad, Colorado, a resident apologized for the cloudy skies. I replied that I much preferred them. Something I learned in Photography 101 at UNM. It takes the harsh shadows out of the equation.

Balustrade of Light

Defused light defines and gives depth. It allows a focus on form. Strong shadows flatten.

Court House
Early morning with a cloudy sky also makes for great reflections in glass. And no glare to have to consider. Or over exposed areas during post processing. 

Second Story


Ad Space

I love the details in photographs I take on a cloudy day. And I love the peace of walking about with nobody else much on the streets.

Me and my camera

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Revealed Truth on the Road to Raton #??

Dawn July 2, 2014

I rolled out of my driveway in the predawn hours of Wednesday pulling a Uhaul trailer with 50 of my best pieces of art. It was the first time I had driven at night in over six months. Now was the test as to whether the cataract surgery had truly worked miracles. And it had. I was in awe of the night. And the dawn.

And the only thing I had to do for three hours was drive a route I had taken often. After a very, very busy four months it was wonderful. Much of the trip it was even too dark to look for photo opportunities. I could think.

This is not my first revealed  truth article. There is something about the vast open spaces of the plains between Cimarron and Raton that invites introspection and epiphany. Do people with their smart phones and all the apps on board ever think? With Siri and email by voice and cell phone towers everywhere and hands free cell phones does the vast majority of this technically advanced society ever stop and hear themselves think.

Or listen to the sounds of dawn.

Not easy to find a space ample to pull over a 19 foot 4x4 pickup with ten feet of trailer behind it but the road to Raton is gifted with wide shoulders. The reason I stopped was to take the picture of dawn in the clouds. But I stood there and listened to the silence for rather a long time. Not exactly silence because birds were awakening and the cooling of the engine was making those ticking sounds.

I have been so busy of late I had not stopped and regarded the dawn. Even when there was nothing to do I had fretted over what I might be forgetting to do. And now at that moment in time it was too late to do anything more for the gallery show I would be hanging in Trinidad. There either was too many paintings or not enough. It would be good enough or not.

So I just stood and listened to the dawn.

Want to drive someone crazy? Make them sit down and watch an ice cube melt. No cell phone, no music, no television. Just the ice cube.

The enlightened soul will have an epiphany. It is these moments with only the natural beauty around me for company that refuels my soul. It is the basis of my creativity, the home of my muse, my well of replenishment.

Turn off the noise and tune in to your spirit.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

One Summer Morning

I love summer mornings here in the high country. There is a freshness about the air and a lushness about the landscape. It makes the long winter and the snows of May worth it for both the photographer and the animals.

Cows and calves

I have photographed large herds of elk before but not with little calves. They still have their spots. And the matriarch of the herd was keeping careful watch.

Even though I was only armed with a camera they all figured they were safest in the trees.

Blending in

But they were not going to go too far way from all that lush grass and the pond.


Fortunately the goose family was totally unconcerned by my presence and gave me something else to aim my camera at.

Life in the high country of New Mexico.