MAK the Knife?

I haven’t painted since July when I got Covid. My imagination hasn’t worked in that way and the concentration needed for painting is different from “normal,” and I haven’t had it. Yesterday, struggling still with Covid’s lingering residue — which I’ve accepted could last a long time — I decided I could try at least ONE thing.

I have one of my garden signs hanging on the fence in my front yard. I don’t like the painting very much, and apparently no one else did, either, because it didn’t sell. It’s a salmon poppy against a blue sky. It should have been pretty, but somehow it really isn’t. I hung it on my fence during the spring and summer drought for a little color and to get it out of my studio. It’s a nice enough painting, so, no reason not to, right?

But poppy season has passed, holiday season is upon us in full force starting today, and I thought yesterday, “Well, I can do that.” I went out to my studio and took out a primed piece of plywood that was ready to become a garden sign. I had the thought of painting something seasonally acceptable, specifically, “Let it snow,” sort of like a prayer flag with my and Bear’s and every farmer’s prayer written on it.

Then the magic of painting kicked in.

I listen to music when I paint. I listen to YouTube, and sometimes they put a song I like in my list that I haven’t listened to in a while. The song in question was this:

Whoa… Two things happened. One was hearing a song I think is beautiful and has to do with snow. The other was the word “fox”in the band’s name. I’d already experimented on the sign with something I have long wanted to try. I’d painted the snow on the ground with my palette knife. That was fun. I knew it would be, but nothing I’ve painted so far lent itself to that experiment. I’m not sure a board is the best surface for that, but maybe. Painting with a knife uses a LOT of paint, but I have a lot of acrylic for which I gave thanks to my deceased friend, Alex Colville, more especially his wife, my friend Louise, who, last year gave me Alex’ paint. It’s a nice story. You can read it here.

I drew a fox across what was to be the letters. I had the idea the letters would remain, but as I began painting the fox — directly squeezing paint onto the board — I saw they wouldn’t. The whole thing changed.

I had such a good time. It’s not a masterpiece, and I’m not happy with the proportions of the fox, but I’m trying to ignore that and leave it alone.

So now my job is to varnish it and hang it on the front fence.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone whether you’re in the US — where it’s a holiday today — or anywhere else in the world. One of my most beautiful Thanksgivings happened in the PRC in 1982. No turkey, but we had a chicken. No mashed potatoes, stuffing, or sweet potatoes, but we had potato salad. No biological family, but a home filled with Chinese friends and chosen “family.”

As for today’s prompt? I think the Aussies have the BEST slang.

Dictionary of Australian slang 

Packapoo ticket

1) smth. messy;

2) toilet paper

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.”

“Oh yeah? I gave up more than YOU did!!!!”

“Don’t be such a martyr.” I used to hear that around my house a LOT. I got the impression that a martyr was a person who sacrificed his/her own interests for the interests of others, and then wanted accolades for doing that, basically, a blue ribbon for cooperation. As time passed, it took on another meaning which was a person who would give up what they wanted for the well-being of others, BUT then wore a veil of suffering and sacrifice the whole time. Not a lot of difference between those two explanations; it’s more a matter of nuance and motive. That’s how martyrdom played out in my family.

Then I became immersed in the Middle Ages and learned what martyrdom meant to those people. It was a carrot on a stick. It appears that self-sacrificing actions — even small ones — need to be rewarded. Lives of the Saints is full of the stories of martyrs, naturally. Martyrdom is a short road to sainthood and dying for the Holy Cross was the one sure road to Heaven. But not all of the actions of saints required the ultimate sacrifice. Sometimes it was just about giving your coat to a poor man on the road or kissing a leper — simply an appeal to people to be kind to others. It seems people have always needed an incentive for that.

In Milan 20 years ago, before 9/11 when a lot of the art was put away for safety, I was able to wander around the Castello Sforza for days. There were paintings of martyrs. I was able to see the changes in the rendition of the lives of the early Christian martyrs, and, more importantly, their death. St. Sebastian was, to me, the most surreal. In some paintings his arrow-pierced body stood calmly with total equanimity and little blood flow as if every day of his life, Sebastian went out, got shot with numerous arrows, and then went home for dinner. The point of that — I though later — was to give the sense that sacrificing the earthly life for a Heavenly life was no big deal and people shouldn’t resist the opportunity.

An important thing about the early Christians who became martyrs is they didn’t sacrifice their lives in order to get recognition for their suffering or even to get into Heaven. They ended up martyrs out of their sense of conviction. There were 1200 years between St. Sebastian’s day with arrows and the paintings of him.

The early Christian martyrs became propaganda tools. The future — the Middle Ages — used them to turn people into willing martyrs. Any young man who died on Crusade was guaranteed salvation. This is the same idea behind Islamic death cults that, in our lifetimes, have turned young men into bombs, or, in WW II, turned some Japanese pilots into Kamikaze fighters, ready to die for the emperor — the idea that there is glory in death and great rewards beyond.

I could probably write about this all day, but, sigh, I must shoulder my burden and go pick up dog shit.

P.S. In looking for the image of St. Sebastian I wanted for this post, I found this article.

Worried about the Coronavirus? Pray to St. Sebastian Apparently he was the saint to which people prayed during the great plague of the 14th century which killed at least 30% of the population of Europe. I can see that. The plague buboes would have looked like arrow piercings in a way. But I’m not sure about our plague…

That Was the Year That Was

Recap of 2019 — I bought Nordic skis in January and skied (Langlaufed) maybe 10 times before the snow melted. 

One of the happiest days I can remember is the first day I took them out and found I could still ski, even after 20 years. I got to take Lois out in February and we had a blast. We had SO MUCH SNOW it was a dream come true for me and Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog. Winter also brought Bear and me a small herd of mule deer to watch and kind of hang out with daily — from a distance.

The Tracks of my Deers

In the winter I did some watercolors (of which I’m very proud) of the world in which I now wander and an oil that is, I think, my best so far. All of these are of the Rio Grande and the San Juan Mountains which I watched changing every day I took Bear out for a long ramble. Winter 2019 was a spectacular winter for me.

Storm on Windy Peak

In late June, I lost my Dusty T. Dog after 14 years. I. had adopted a mini-Aussie pup, Teddy Bear T. Dog a few weeks before losing Dusty. 

Because of all the snow we got, the snow melt was record-setting, and I got to see “my” river in flood for the first time. Really, really amazing

Rio Grande in flood at Shriver/Wright

The year brought a few visits to Colorado Springs to see friends, to get my new hip checked, and a pilgrimage to Denver with Lois and lunch with one of my oldest friends, Ron, and his wonderful wife, Joni, in my old hood which had not completely changed. (I was happy). From that came a deep understanding of my life, the changes, the distance I’ve traveled — heart, mind, soul and feet — and the consistencies of which I was unaware, leaving me grateful for old friends, new old friends and my own courage. ❤

At the Narrow Gauge Book Co-op

I had the incredible experience of writing As a Baby Duck Listens to Thunder (and another book, Fledging, with its very tiny audience of three people including me, but a beloved project nonetheless). Reading Baby Duck at the Narrow Gauge Book Co-op was a little scary, but it turned into a very sweet event, supported by my incredible friends. The reading, the newspaper articles, and all that experience ended up entailing was great — including being on the Radio. (Video will NOT kill this radio star, believe me.) 

In November/December I had the opportunity to participate in a group art show at the Rio Grande County Museum with other San Luis Valley artists. I exhibited and sold books (I sold four) and read from Baby Duck again, this time to a different audience. It was wonderful, inspiring to me as a writer. Along with the show, I got to know the women who run that museum and I like them very much.

Some health weirdness, but who, at 67, does not have to deal with some of that? The weirdest was the horse-fly bite in June. 

Adventures with friends — some lunches in various and sundry places .In early spring we went to Creede and wandered around that lovely town. We tried the new restaurant in Del Norte, and went to studio tours in South Fork and Crestone. December brought Christmas lunches, tea parties and dinner with precious friends.

Health Food lunch in Crestone

The year brought only a few good walks with the dogs, not as many as I wish because of an injury I sustained in late September that has taken almost 3 months to heal. But now it’s healed just in time to Langlauf which I’ve done twice already this winter. Karen and I were finally able to ski together after talking about it for 3 years!

There’s much more, but this is long enough already. Thank you again fates for conspiring to bring me here, to Heaven, where I am and have been so incredibly happy. ❤

Snow, Cranes and Wind

Last year Colorado had a drought. This year, thank goodness, no. But…

In my youth, I remember avalanches most often as a phenomenon of fall snows, when the base laid by an early snow had melted and refrozen and more snow fell on top — basically a slippery slide for future snow layers. This year is the heaviest avalanche year on record, not just down here in the San Juans, but up there in the sexy parts, Summit County and nearby environs (Black — High Avalanche Danger — in the map below).

The Rocky Mountains are generally not as sharp and pointy as the Alps and avalanches are somewhat less common, but they do happen. In ski areas, avalanches are triggered ahead of opening in the morning.

As I’ve followed the stories of the avalanches, I’ve been amazed at how many people interviewed believed that avalanches in our mountains are ALL manmade. Several people (in cars) were trapped in an avalanche yesterday — all are OK.

Meanwhile, here in the San Luis Valley (Alamosa and environs on the map) spring is forcing itself upon me. Yesterday, right on time, my crocus bloomed.


My friend E and I headed out in Bella (my new Jeep) to see cranes. It was an intensely windy day and it was a little difficult to find the cranes, but we did. I don’t have any great photos since I went out to look more than shoot pictures. There were thousands of cranes in a barley field on the far east side of the wildlife refuge. They were a lot of fun to watch.

The wind was blowing like a mofo and E and I just enjoyed it. E has a wonderful capacity to be enthusiastically in the moment, one of the great things about her. The featured photo is primarily of a cloud at war with the wind. The wind from the east is blowing it toward the San Juans. At this very spot, it has crashed into a Chinook. The only camera I had was my phone.