9/4 travel day
Horrid. After getting stuck in bumper to bumper traffic north of Phoenix on a very difficult stretch of I-17 for 3 hours, I arrived frazzled, fried, & later than I hoped. How could I have forgotten it was Labor Day weekend? In the frenzy of getting shimmer off the loom & shipped to Silvia, & a week of non-stop packing, it never crossed my mind.
9/5 day 1
Trying to “nest” & find space for everything in the cabin which is small, but not too tiny. However, yarn & looms take up much more space than paper, canvas, & paints. I am always anxious when first thrust into new situations until I start feeling comfortable in my surroundings. An easy 3 mile hike out & back along the rim of Transept Canyon on Transept Trail, just a few yards from my cabin door, to the Grand Canyon Lodge helped take off the edge & started the process of adapting to the elevation. Red & buff cliffs repeat into the Canyon’s expanse, wind softly roaring through the trees like mountain surf, the spice of warm rocks & Ponderosa bark. Balm for an agitated soul.
9/7 day 3
Out all day yesterday on one of the best hikes I’ve ever done alone. Cliff Springs Trail, a short trail through a small, deep canyon on the way to the Cape Royal viewpoint… & not another biped on the trail. Unbelievable. Natural springs seep from between horizontal rock layers & drip from overhangs. Green ferns sprout from nooks in the ceiling of the overhang, thick clusters of thistles nestle against the cliff, shallow clear puddles in the clay soil echo musical drops against the cliff face. The only sound. Then, trail becomes a tangle scramble through thick patches of rabbitbrush & cliffrose taller than the top of my head, enormous clumps of Mormon tea… (in my mind the trail is now renamed “dyer’s dream”), oaks & conifers. Suddenly the canyon yawns open where trail’s end meets a towering red Toroweap cliff & I enjoyed my lunch with a view: Cape Royal Peninsula & Wotan’s Throne. Afterwards, on up to Cape Royal overlook where I had a wonderful conversation with Jean, an older French-Canadian fellow who has driven from Montreal in his camper van across the northern US, then down through Utah to here, with plans to head to California & back across the southern US, up through the Smokies & New England back to Montreal. Alone! He said he felt he was in rut & needed to shake up his world. He has also been down the Amazon, visited the Tibetan plateau, & bicycled from Calgary to the Tetons. I want to be like him when I grow up.
My cabin sits in a little meadow of grasses, wildflowers, conifers, & chalky white aspens within yards of the rim of Transept Canyon, which is the 2nd largest drainage into the main Canyon. I can see the cliffs of the southwest wall of the Transept from my windows. Uinta chipmunks scramble about, waving their tiny bottle brush tails & a chubby Golden Mantled ground squirrel sits Buddha-like nibbling discoveries atop small boulders. The temperatures have been slowly dropping as the Southwest begins its cooling trend. When I arrived, high 70s & mid 60s were the range; now the last two nights have dropped down into the mid 50s, with high 70s only occurring in exposed areas & 60s in the shady spots. Make like an onion to survive-- layer & peel.
A scare last evening; when I called Dennis he told me that my mother’s Life Alert had gone off & she had been taken to the ER. She had not awakened from her mid-morning nap & after missing lunch her blood glucose dropped very low (she has been diabetic for decades), so she continued sleeping, which would have most likely led to a coma if her little dog Toby had not jumped on her chest in the early evening & pushed the button on her Life Alert pendant. In a confused state, she fell & couldn’t get up, which in this case was fortunate because she was trying to cancel the alert. I was able to talk to both her & my sister last night while they were still in the ER having tests done. So far it seems all will be well & the plan was to allow her to return home if it was determined the only culprit was the low blood glucose. We told our mother she must now set her alarm to wake up from naps or we would cut off her Bingo privileges. And an extra ration of cookies for Toby!
This morning dawned cloudy & sprinkly. It will be a cabin day, warping looms & settling in, thinking about how to go about the business of weaving a canyon. My public demos will be arranged soon & I want to have something started on the looms for people to see. An empty warp won’t be very interesting.
9/8 day 4
Cloudy, cool, & agitated. Worry about my mother keeping me from feeling settled. I spoke with her yesterday morning again (she is back home), & now I’m trying to resign myself to the reality that I cannot control what may happen next. I have been forcing myself the last couple of days to prepare looms although my creative heart hasn’t felt any sparks & self-inflicted emotional torture is eating at me. But, the mechanics of loom prep help my rat brain to have something else to chew on. Today I decided I needed to flush out this fretting funk. A 10 mile hike on Widforss, which traverses the rim of Transept Canyon facing my cabin, is just what I needed. When you are hiking at elevation, sucking O2 to maintain muscle & brain activity doesn’t leave much room in the mind for anything else. As I hiked in solitude, thick wool batt clouds evolved into cotton puffs & searing blue sky, mind calmed as body fatigued, & signs that all would be well were given to me… startling views of the Transept’s gaping maw, cool green thick leafy draws, wildflower clogged meadows, a pair of banded pigeons, an overlook that is a perfect possibility for the condor tapestry background, a grove of incredibly twisted aspens that will become the model for my demo tapestry, a Kaibab squirrel, 3 horned lizards. Grandfather is watching over me.
During my exhausted return to the cabin, I dropped by the Park’s Admin building for necessities & info where I ended up meeting my ranger, Robin. Now I am outfitted with uniform, place, & times for my demos. I’ll be setting up in the Lodge’s Sunroom which has a giant glass wall overlooking Bright Angel Canyon. During the first week of residency artists are allowed to be “incognito” to get settled in, but then it is time to don the Park Volunteer uniform & mingle. My first demo is in 5 days… time to get weaving. I have already talked with several visitors encountered on my hikes, & I have been very touched by their interest in what I am doing here & their genuine disappointment that they would not be staying long enough to see my work & demos. Welcome motivation & inspiration.
9/10 day 6
Most of yesterday was spent weaving, starting a scene of twisted aspen trunks that I think will be named widforss wizards. The Widforss hike was a good purge & I am feeling more focused & happy. By 3:30 the need to be outside struck. Transept Trail beckoned another 1.5 mile hike up to the Lodge. I checked out the Sunroom to see where I would be setting up for demos, & then found the Visitor Center so I could check out their wall space… will it actually accommodate a tapestry of the size I am planning? Serendipity-- the Ranger known as “The Condor Ranger”, Gaelyn, was there & we had a wonderful conversation. She told me Navajo Bridge is the place to see condors right now, so when Dennis is here next week we will descend the Kaibab Plateau to Marble Canyon in the hopes of glimpsing one. The Visitor Center also has a “cut-out” silhouette of a life size condor in flight suspended from the rafters which allowed me to better visualize the wall dimensions.
Last night was the coldest yet, in the mid 30s. Days will probably be in the 50s & 60s from now on, unless a warm spell strikes. With these conditions, aspens will soon be working their golden magic. I was told by Gaelyn that leaf peeping is the reason for most treks to the North Rim this time of year. Today will be another weaving day, I want to have good progress for my demo. I’m using lots of linen to try to capture the slick surface of aspen bark.
Dennis arrives tomorrow to stay with me for a week! He has been my compass during these first days of residency, keeping me balanced. And he is my saving grace, bringing my completed tapestries from home for my demo. How could I have neglected to think to bring them? Good thing my brain is encased inside a sturdy skull.
My progress so far on this new tapestry… now I at least feel I will have something for people to see for my first demo on Monday! I am happy with my color palette, the effect the linen is producing, my decision to weave convoluted instead of straight aspen trunks (the distortion is a natural occurrence caused by the trees trying to grow through snow drifts that linger into spring).
Now a walk to the camper store to find out whether the Wi-Fi connection will let me post this….!
9/13 day 9
The 11th: Dennis arrived in late afternoon. That morning, I had gone over to the Backcountry Office to put his name in the lottery for a permit to hike down off the North Rim on the 13th (today) to Cottonwood Campground for an overnight stay in the bottom of the Canyon. It’s a 7 mile hike with an elevation change of 4250 feet from trailhead to Canyon floor. Not too bad going down, but coming back up is another story & I remember it well from 2000 when we did our rim to rim hike!
The rest of the day was spent neatening up the cabin, making room for his things, preparing a simple meal for later & working on widforss wizards. After he arrived & we got his things moved inside, I took him for a hike along the Transept Trail up to the Lodge to shake the city out of his soul. On the way back to the cabin, we stopped to sit in silence & watch the color play on Deva Temple, sun shafting its evening rays through the side canyons as it slid below the Kaibab Plateau.
The 12th: I turned 50! What is 50 supposed to feel like? Another year on the planet, another year trying to live in beauty. To me, it feels good-- I am happy to be who I am, happy to be in my life & to be sharing it with Dennis, happy for the friends in my life.
We returned to the Backcountry Office to discover that Dennis had gotten his permit for Cottonwood. And also to discover posted on the office door the wonderful flyer announcing my demos that my other Ranger, Catherine, put together using images of my work! I have forgotten to mention that she was the first to welcome me here, coming to greet me at my cabin shortly after my frazzled arrival. She also popped by other times that weekend, which made me feel very welcome & not so “alone”.
After getting Dennis’ permit, a full day of Canyon… first the Cliff Springs hike that was so lovely & which we both enjoyed just as much as when I first did it, then up to Cape Royal & Point Imperial overlooks. Back at the cabin, pre-dinner activities included sipping a good portion of very fine tequila, then Dennis took me to the Lodge for dinner. A very lovely birthday in every way.
Today (the 13th): This morning I dropped Dennis at the North Kaibab trailhead & down he went. I hope his hike is enjoyable & I admire him for wanting to do it. The climate in the Canyon bottom is similar to Tucson’s, so he won’t be having the wonderful 70s that I’m getting… in the high 90s he will definitely be back in desert heat!
Today was my first demo at the Lodge, & since Dennis wasn’t here, I don’t have photos to post. But he will be here for Friday’s demo & will take photos of me in action then. Catherine was there to help me unload & cart everything through the busy Lodge to the Sunroom, even getting my Powerpoint portfolio presentation to run when I couldn’t seem to make it work… a Ranger of many talents! I set up my Shannock with widforss wizards in progress, a display of some of my completed tapestries, weft & warp materials, & my laptop running the portfolio presentation. I looked very official in my government issue uniform shirt, my National Park “Artist in Residence” title bar, hiking shorts, & Blunnie boots. Quite a few people came to observe & ask questions, several staying the entire two hours I was there. After returning to my cabin, I set my loom up outside under a big fir tree to have a little quiet weaving time, something I have been wanting to do but hadn’t yet since the days just prior to Dennis’ arrival were too cool & windy.
Tomorrow, I am planning a hike I haven’t done yet & Dennis will return from his solo sojourn in the afternoon.
9/14 day 10
Cape Final Hike
Glossy green needles float in the blue pool overhead. Trees stitch a dappled quilt with sighs of contentment to cover the trail. Inhaling warm Ponderosa vanilla rosin. Quiet crunch of boots on trail. Clutches of nuthatches gossip in waving boughs. Thick patches of blue, purple, yellow wildflowers felt forest floor. At rim’s edge, the Canyon holds your breath.
I arrived back from my hike to find Dennis returned safely from his sojourn to the Canyon floor at Cottonwood Camp where he enjoyed solitude, sketching, soaking his hot & tired feet & body in the icy coldness of Bright Angel Creek, & sighting several pink rattlesnakes (yes, they are pink down there… an adaptation to the pink sands), one of which shared his campsite overnight, curled up about 12 feet away from where he slept.
We spent the afternoon relaxing at the cabin, sitting outside enjoying the quiet view of the Transept, visiting the Camper Store for ice cream, planning tomorrow’s big trip-- a 12 mile hike to a less visited overlook –- followed by a leisurely meal of wine & white chili & an evening of reading & polishing up my Powerpoint presentation for my next demo day.
9/15 day 11
Tiyo Point Hike. A massive 12 mile day hike that took us 6 hours, plus 30 minutes each way to drive in & out. A full day’s outing. The hike traverses the mostly flat topography of that finger of land on an old fire road, through conifer & aspen woods, which is the reason 12 miles was doable. If the trail had the normal switchbacking up & down slope that characterizes most Canyon hikes, it would not have been possible except for the the fittest & swiftest of hikers! The incredible view at the point itself remains mostly hidden until you arrive, & arrival is signaled by the subtle change in environment from aspen/mixed conifer to solo Ponderosas, to pinyon/juniper/cliff rose as the point narrows, looses elevation, becoming rockier & more exposed to desert sun & hot, dry inner canyon wind currents. Then suddenly, weary & tired, the incredible view blasts your eyes wide open. Once we were there, we dragged an old picnic table under the fragrant shade of ancient twisted junipers, ate our lunch & rested for nearly an hour. Tiyo Point affords fine & seldom seen views of many spectacular inner Canyon formations-- Manu Temple, Buddha Temple, Buddha Cloister, Cheops Pyramid, Isis Temple, Shiva Temple --of which I took many photos. I quite strongly believe that this canyonscape will become the model for the condor tapestry.
During my time here, I have become filled with the conviction that I want to represent a vista in the tapestry that isn’t “easy” or an iconic cliche. The views that are ubiquitously splashed & displayed on every imagined piece of Canyon memorabilia in some ways seem to loose their impact. I want to feel that I really worked to find the right setting, not relying on the convenient ease of leaning over a viewpoint railing, setting up my camera at an easily accessible overlook, or taking a hike that millions of feet have tramped. I had decided instead to “earn” the view & find one to represent that is recognizable to Park employees who live here breathing & living the Canyon as part of their lives, not as casual visitors. A few days ago, after talking to one of my young neighbors who works as part of the trail crew on both rims, he pointed us to Tiyo. After listening to his descriptions, this seemed to be the vista my mind was seeking & after our tired & satisfied return from this hike, my body is telling me I have definitely earned it!
9/16 day 12
Point Sublime. The next massive jutting promontory west of Tiyo Point & a 2 hour gut joggling four wheel drive ride through the successive North Rim habitat zones of spruce/fir forest, white fir forest, mountain grassland, Ponderosa pine forest, & pinyon/juniper woodland, each of which correlates with specific elevations. The road ends at the very point of this giant finger of land & is the only way to reach it. A lone primitive campground with 3 sites is also located there, but none were camped there upon our arrival. Two vehicles were leaving just as we arrived, so we had the point & all its eye widening wonders to ourselves for the entire afternoon.
The point is studded with huge, twisted junipers, cliff rose, & big sagebrush, & was quite exposed & hot compared to the shaded forests we had driven through on the way there. We stayed cool relaxing under the boughs of a fragrant juniper, enjoying lunch & the aerial acrobatics of ravens, falcons, & Stellar’s Jays, which dropped straight off of the cliffs swooping to their apparent deaths, only to magically reappear by floating effortlessly upwards on the updraft wind currents like small helium balloons. Rock squirrels & cliff chipmunks clambered about collecting seeds. The sound of their pattering paws, the swoosh of bird flight, & the swirling of wind through twisted tree limbs & eroded rock formations were nearly the only sounds we could hear. Later, we ventured out to take photos after the sun started receding from its zenith. My Rover handled the road’s terrain with ease both coming & going, delivering us back to the cabin in time for wine & sunset. A sublime day, indeed.
9/17 day 13
This morning, Dennis & I took a drive up to the Visitor Center so I could take photos of the interior, to have a reference for how the space is laid out. Capturing an image of the condor cutout hanging from the rafters was also valuable since it is life-size. Then a drive up Cape Royal Road to see if I could find an area with a view into the Canyon, but without tourist traffic, so I can try my hand at plein air weaving on the simple stretcher loom. I want a place where my vehicle is close at hand so I can bring along a good yarn palette, weaving tools, lunch, & plenty of water. I was inspired some time ago by Cresside Collette’s plein air tapestries done during her residency at Bundanon & have been hoping to have a chance to try it myself. I have come to see during my hikes that setting up with materials & tools close at hand, instead of trying to choose what will fit in a daypack, would be most successful. I am hoping for a little solitude to actually focus & weave, something which will not happen if I try to do this in an area highly populated with tourists! We found what appears to be a perfect spot, so I will try to go there within the next couple of days to give it a try. If it proves successful, I may spend most of my remaining residency there, weaving studies of the Canyon’s colorations & striations.
In the afternoon we headed for the Lodge Sunroom to set up for my second public weaving demo. It was another pleasant 2 hours with quite a few people stopping to observe, talk, & ask questions. One of the Park Volunteers & Gaelyn, the “Condor Ranger” both delivered the good news that there is a condor release planned for next Saturday! I have not yet seen a condor, & Dennis had stopped at Navajo Bridge in Marble Canyon on his way here, but did not see any, so we had given up on making that long drive down & back up. I really feel I must see condors at some time before or during the weaving of this tapestry, not that I am capable of getting photos to work from for the tapestry, but for the validity of what I am undertaking in the weaving of it. The release date is the day I leave the North Rim, so I have reserved a room for that night in one of the lodges located at the base of the Vermillion Cliffs so I can stay to view the release. The release site is atop the cliffs themselves & the viewing area for releases is located between the Kaibab Plateau & the Cliffs. I can visit Navajo Bridge from that location as well, hopfeully to have another chance to view condors which were just in the last few days seen hanging out there.
Dennis leaves for home tomorrow & we had a very nice last dinner together at the Lodge this evening. I will have the remaining week of residency to myself & I am hoping it will be filled with successful plein air weaving, another good demo, & a little more trail time. Hopefully the hit or miss internet connection will allow me to upload this post… my previous post took several tries to publish & because of that I cannot include very many photos.
9/18 day 14
Dennis left today so I am beginning the process of adjusting to being alone again. An agonizing hour spent in the Camper Store trying to publish my last post-- not only is their WiFi connection at times slower than dial-up, the atmosphere wears on one after awhile… many people from the campground gather in there for most of the day with their gigantic laptops & coffees, dragging tables to cluster like drug addicts around the only available electric outlet, bringing their children & allowing them to run like wild things without supervision, & once you’ve heard the same three Marty Robbins songs 5 times in a row, you feel very ready to leave (no offense meant if you are a Marty Robbins fan). All I wanted to do was publish my post & get the condor release update from the Peregrine Fund’s website! Isn’t it funny how we are all so used to having everything quick & easy that having to wait even a nano-second for internet service (or do without it) can cause such angst? As more & more people came into the store lugging their laptops & realizing that there was only one outlet (my mini netbook runs on battery power), their expressions read like someone getting antsy for their next fix. If we ever had to go back to the days of waiting two weeks for a hand written letter to arrive, I’m quite sure many would perish.
A cabin day, my cello out & tuned up for some practice time. I had been playing before Dennis was here, but there was only room in the cabin for two of us to move about, so she has been in her case for a week. Afterwards, I lugged my Shannock out under the fir trees just outside my cabin window in view of Transept Canyon to work on widforss wizards. The days have been quite warm here, in the mid to high 70s, so it was very pleasant. All the cabins around me are inhabited by employees who are mostly gone during the day attending to their Park duties & only a couple people came off the Transept trail while I was weaving. A day of solitude, feeling a bit melancholy & homesick.
That feeling intensified when Dennis called by late afternoon to say he had made it home safely, also telling me that one of our little finches died while he was gone. Our pet sitter was upset, but he reassured her that we had been expecting it as Dulce was quite old for a tiny bird. He was a Spice finch, & I had named him Dulce because it means “sweet” in Spanish & also for his glossy dark chocolate color. A sweet little bird that lived up to his name, we will miss him & I am quite sad.
An early journey planned tomorrow to the plein air weaving spot Dennis & I found. It must be claimed before someone else snags it as it only accommodates a couple of vehicles! Cannot wait to see how it will be to try this technique out & experience how it will feel. I am hoping for a calm day so that my balls of yarn don’t get projected over the Canyon edge by the crazy wind currents. While I’m sure the ravens would be chortling to see it, I really don’t want anyone thinking I’m some kind of weird Cristo clone & arrest me for defacing National Park property!
9/19 day 15
I am learning things about myself during this residency, mostly about my artist self. Today I learned I am not a plein air tapestry weaver. That isn’t to say I don’t enjoy weaving outside, which I do love to do, but when it comes to designing, I am a studio artist. Although I enjoyed the experience of sitting at Canyon’s edge, I didn’t enjoy trying to make decisions about color & technique in that setting. Perhaps it is the setting; after all, the Canyon is completely overwhelming all at once & needs to be taken in zen bites. But I suspect my need for control is the real issue. I gave up on weaving at a certain point & moved on to trying to sketch, but that also fell flat.
As I was driving back to the cabin, taking in the indescribably vibrant beauty of the alpine meadows & forest along the way, I realized that I am a plein air photographer. I love nothing better than wandering around outside finding things that interest me, either as subjects for tapestry or just because they are beautiful, & trying to capture the object in an unexpected way. Once I know what image will be used for a tapestry, I absolutely love fiddling with the design process in the studio: enlarge or crop the image as needed (I’m a bit of a purist & almost never “photoshop” my images) or perhaps sketch it, create an outline cartoon (unless it is very simplistic, as is the aspen piece I am working on now), & select a color/texture palette. At the same time during all of that in the back of my mind I am deciding on weaving techniques for the subject. Then, finally getting down to the weaving of it, whether inside or outdoors.
So, what I need to do with my remaining time here is find places to wander around & take photos of everything that captivates me. Captivation = Inspiration. The captivation seems to be in the small things that exist here, which perhaps go unnoticed & overlooked by casual visitors. On average, judging from people I have spoken with, 2 to 3 days is the normal time people spend here. In that time, they are rushing to do all of the “must see” overlooks, trails, & Ranger Talks, in addition to fitting in souvenir shopping & dining in the Lodge. The attention glutton of course, is the Canyon… like a spoiled child wherever it is visible it screams, “LOOK AT ME, ME, ME!!!”. I like to get under the surface, probe to find the hidden or notice that which is in plain view, but not seen.
Of the many books I brought along, Georgia O’Keeffe: the poetry of things, has been the most inspiring for me. It examines her propensity for looking closely at things ordinary & unnoticed & the chronology of her artistic interpretation of them. I was surprised to learn that at the time she was establishing herself as an artist, realistic/representational style was highly criticized, resulting in her use of the term “objective” to describe her style & also leading her to portray her subjects in the way she became renowned for… a kind of abstracted realism. How very bold of her to create in the way she was drawn to, despite the potential for rejection, while at the same time forming an alternative description of her style to confuse the critics. You have to admire that in an artist!
I ended this afternoon by moving a table out under the fir trees & working on the art journal I have been creating about my experience here. The first half will be about the residency itself & the second half will be an art journal style record of the design & creation of the condor tapestry. The page size is odd & small, 7” x 6”, but that works well because the pages can be prepared & created quickly. I have found that art journaling is the perfect counterbalance for my weaving… it is totally uninhibited, sometimes messy, & evolves naturally as I work. Usually art journals are very personal, as is mine, but I am thinking about reproducing it as a small booklet that might inspire other artists/weavers. In the coming year, as part of my residency requirements, I will have to give a public presentation in Tucson about my experience in order to spread word about this opportunity. I am thinking the booklet could function as an “avant-catalog” of the residency that I could offer at the presentation. An interesting idea that I will have to consider further.
Another thing I have been thinking about is what to put in the Artist in Residence journal that is here in the cabin for artists to make an entry in. In addition to writing brief statements about their experience here, they have all included examples & images of their work. A “sample” of tapestry isn’t really possible, especially pasted into a book, & since I didn’t know the journal was going to be here, I did not bring any photos of my work. As I worked on my small art journal under the fir trees with balmy Canyon breezes wafting scents of warm sand & bark while ravens croaked & floated overhead, I decided my entry would be an art journal collage about my time here. After all, tapestry is a collage of colors, fibers, textures, & ideas… and if other artists want to see examples of my work, they can visit my website. The photo above this paragraph is the page I have prepped for the AiR journal… now I have to think about how I will describe my experience.
9/21 day 17
Yesterday was a wonderful day of hitting the Cape Royal/Point Imperial Road early to beat the tourist traffic that trundles back & forth to the overlooks. I stopped at almost every small pullout & found something to photograph, most of which was not Canyon vistas. Ferns, Mexican locust, & aspen saplings are going amber, brass, & gold as late summer wanes into fall, my favorite season. As the sun beamed up over hillsides, the young aspen lit up like torches, light breezes shimmering their quaking leaves into eye-dazzling patterns of color, light, & sound. Flowers that were in full bloom last week now drying, petals turning crinkly, & flower heads going to top-heavy, buff colored puffs of seed bobbing in the breeze & floating away. There is a quiet, dignified beauty in fall that I cherish & which puts joy in my heart.
By midmorning I reached my destination-- Cape Final –-for another hike on that trail. I was wearing my uniform & talked with quite a few people, quickly correcting those that thought I was a Ranger. Back at the cabin, I discovered I had a voice message from my friend D.Y. Begay, who is back in Phoenix in between her cultural exchange journeys to Guatemala, Bolivia, & Peru. We made plans for me to stop for an overnight visit with her on my way home from the residency & the condor release. The rest of my evening was filled with happy thoughts of the last time I saw her in Phoenix, at August’s beginning, which we timed so that we could also see Janie Hoffman, who was stopping over in Phoenix during her return from California where she had been helping her mother after her father died. The three of us spent a great afternoon & evening together. We have begun planning to gather together at D.Y.’s hogan on the reservation for creative focus time together next spring. We also invited Rebecca Mezoff, whose artistic aesthetic & passion for these lands we live in matches our own.
Today was my last demo at the Lodge & it went very well… as with the first demo, a small group was so interested in what I was doing that they stayed with me the entire two hours, asking many questions about tapestry weaving & my creative process. Afterwards, I quickly deposited all of my weaving paraphernalia in the cabin & hurried over to the the employee laundromat for that chore. I have gone once before during my stay here & was surprised to see how tiny it is with only three washers & dryers! How odd to be in a laundromat again after so many years. I remember well the 10+ years I spent traveling to wash my clothes before I was able to afford (& had a place to put) my own washer & dryer!
9/22 day 18, autumnal equinox
This morning has dawned thick with grey clouds rolling in over the Canyon. For the last three days & nights, the wind has been roaring through the trees like a heavy incoming tide, stripping needles & leaves from trees & blowing hats off heads. I had thought to take a long hike today, but with a 70% rain forecast, I will hang out in the cabin instead.
The equinox, this 24 hours will be one of equal light & darkness. I feel I have found my balance here & today I will enjoy weaving, art journaling, cello playing & listening to music. My uniform is washed & ready to be returned. The rowdy trail crews who lived in neighboring cabins left yesterday for the South Rim, their season here on the North Rim ended. It will be very quiet during my last three days of residency.
After writing the above, later in the morning I was struck by a brief period of intense grief over missing my father. What I learned so long ago in nursing school about death & the process of grieving is so very true… each change in seasons brings a flow of new memories. Today felt very much like autumn, in the color of light, the feel of the atmosphere, in my heart.
Since it was supposed to rain, I had stayed in all day, & was irritated to see that the sky stayed mostly blue with puffy white clouds scudding across. But, in the past, having hiked very long distances in cold rain & mud, I know how unpleasant that is, so I resisted going out. Storms in the Southwest, especially in canyon & mountain country, can appear rapidly without warning. Finally, by late afternoon, tired of being cooped up, I made my mind up to drag myself out on the Transept trail… just as I got my hiking clothes on & backpack readied, a low growl of thunder announced a wall of rain that I watched sweep across the Canyon, a curtain of misty white that completely obliterated the view across. Hail & rain, punctuated by thunder rumbles spattered for nearly 40 minutes & I watched the temperature drop from 61 to 47 in fifteen minutes. I thought of all the unprepared hikers I have seen during my time here, several miles away from their vehicles carrying only a very small water bottle & nothing else. I was glad not to be one of them now. I decided to stay put & since tomorrow’s forecast is for sun, it will be a good day to hike. Only two days left of my residency & one must be spent packing my things & cleaning up the cabin for the next artist.
9/23 day 19
This morning I went to Admin to return my uniform & meet with Robin, the Ranger who coordinates the coming & going of artists & who, it turns out, will be my contact for communication about the condor tapestry. We discussed my plans for the design of the tapestry; at first she was concerned that my loom can only produce a 6 foot width, because they really want the impact of a full size condor in flight, but after explaining the positioning of the bird in a more diagonal plane to achieve the 9 foot wing span & how that will also show the distinct under wing markings of the bird, she was extremely satisfied. She also, it turns out, has a giant portfolio of images of condors, so she let me choose quite a few, letting me know I can contact her if I need more. Other interesting & good news that she shared was that the other fiber artist will not be doing a condor piece (no reason given for that decision) & that the Visitor Center will begin update plans this next year, making plenty of room for my tapestry to be positioned as a center of attention!
On to Widforss Trail, where I planned to only hike half its distance for a round trip hike of 5 miles. Just as I was getting my pack out of the Rover, a yellow jacket hornet went up my long shorts & gave me a nasty sting just above my knee. I am lucky it only stung me once because hornets do not lose their stingers & can sting repeatedly. I don’t know how I resisted the urge to swat my leg, which probably would have caused more stings; instead I shook my leg & shorts leg at the same time & the little f****er flew off. I have never been stung by one before, only bees & wasps, the last time was over 20 years ago! Before setting out, I waited to make sure I wasn’t going to have an anaphylactic moment on the trail. It hurt like hell, but off I went. As I was hiking through the tall conifers & lush understory, my eyes suddenly filled with tears, not with the pain of the sting, but because the realization that I will be leaving the Canyon so very soon overwhelmed me. In spite of the pain, I enjoyed every moment of the hike, trying to imprint the sights, sounds, & smells on all my senses. On my return hike, what I wanted to write in the AiR journal finally came to me.
This evening was spent writing in the AiR journal, doing half of the cleaning chores, & starting to pack up some things. Tomorrow is my last day here. I have decided to drive the Cape Royal road one more time, just drive to see the beautiful terrain once more, then return to the cabin to pack up & load the Rover as much as possible during the afternoon. I really want to be able to hike the Transept Trail one more time tomorrow evening & get back to the cabin in time for sunset.
9/24 day 20 my last day
A fretful night, mostly because of the painful yellow jacket sting, partly about packing today & hoping to be able to do what I planned for my last day. Finally, at 1:30 in the morning I remembered there was a first aid kit in the cabin & found a small sample size packet of cortisone cream which helped enough so I could sleep a little better without waking up with the sensation that I was being stung all over again.
On the road early for one last drive up Cape Royal road. Going early avoids most of the tourist traffic that isn’t interested in seeing the landscape on the way to the viewpoints which results in speeding & then tailgating those of use who do. At the beginning of the drive, it was cold… 31 degrees cold. The road undulates & winds almost 20 miles to the top of the Cape. The sights along the way were well worth obeying the speed limit… alpine meadows of grass & dried flower heads glittering with dew & frost in the early light, ringed with stately firs & spruce pointing up to clear sky; two turkey hens with close to a dozen almost full grown polts stepping daintily along the roadside, their sharp eyes on the lookout for tasty morsels & their sharp beaks making short work of them-- I rolled down the window & drove by slowly to enjoy their soft “urps” to one another; hillsides ablaze with aspen gloriously shouting out their fall colors; dead spars from old fires standing as silent sentinels over the thick growths of Mexican locust, chokecherry, & young aspen that benefitted from their passing; as the road climbed, temps warming into the 50s & the thick vegetation of the lower, cooler elevations gave way to open slopes & flats covered with towering ponderosa pines & bushy pinyons; the open areas giving brief & sudden views into the Canyon-- if you are brave enough to glance away from the curving road for a split second, your heart jolts at the sudden view into the astounding abyss, its beauty & depths wonderful & terrible all at the same time. On the way back down, repeat the pleasure in reverse.
Now I am packing; Catherine, my other Ranger, stopped by earlier to invite me to her apartment for dinner this evening with several other Park employees & I am looking forward to going! If I can get my packing done well before then, I hope to take one last hike down Transept…
…which I was able to do. It seems fitting to end with this little hike since it was the first I did when I first arrived.
And so this wonderful odyssey is nearing the end of this phase. My Rover is almost packed & I’ll be journeying down into Marble Canyon to view the condor release tomorrow morning. I’ll be writing an addendum post about that once I’m back home.
And finally, my entry for the AiR journal:
My residency is over & it’s time to go.
A frenzied early morning finishing stuffing the Rover with all of my things, then like the wind that blew up before daylight, I was flying away. It is ok; this part of my experience here is done & it is time for the next artist to start her relationship with the Canyon!Down, down, down I drove, off the Kaibab Plateau to the floor of House Rock Valley, getting more excited with each passing mile that I was going to see condors.
From the research I have done, I knew that the release site atop the Vermilion Cliffs is very far away from the viewing area. It is extremely important for the newly released condors not to have human contact or associate the carcasses placed to attract mentor condors with human activity. Even though I arrived over an hour before the release time, there were plenty of people already there. The atmosphere was charged with tangible energy & Peregrine Fund staff (the organization responsible for the California Condor Restoration--Conservation Project) had placed high power spotting scopes focused directly on the release pen.
With my first glimpse through one of the scopes-- OH!!! There the free condors were, their unbelievably immense wings spread wide as they swooped & glided effortlessly over the Vermilion Cliffs, while the four debutante condors being released waited somewhere inside the flight pen. The crowd of people grew as time passed, & at the appointed hour of 11 AM there was a flurry of condor activity as the release cage door was opened & the gathered crowd ooohed & ahhhed with each wing flap, just like people watching fireworks. Even with the spotting scopes, the condors only appeared about an inch long, but when you see them you can tell you are looking at a very special & large bird, especially when ravens swoop in for a size comparison. There is also a nest site further south on the cliff face & I was able to see the juvenile bird with its parent sitting on the nest ledge. I can’t even begin to say how extremely thrilled I was to be able to observe this special event… to have the privilege of seeing condors in flight at the end of my residency gives me a feeling of validity for the project I am about to begin that no photograph could fulfill. Did I actually see one of the newly released condors in flight? I have no idea, but for me, just knowing that they were up there getting ready to take their first free flight was pure joy.
I was also able to meet the Condor Project’s program director & several biologists from the Peregrine Fund. I introduced myself & told them about the condor tapestry & in return received their contact info, offers of photos of the birds, & info on where to see condors at closer range during the year. Some of the NPS (National Park Service) crew from the North & South Rims were there, including Gaelyn, a NPS crew from Glen Canyon NRA (National Recreation Area), Bureau of Land Management staff (the release site is located on BLM lands), tons of condor enthusiasts, & most likely representatives from other official entities. I even heard that the release had been advertised on NPR (National Public Radio)! A festival of freedom celebrating the success story of a bird that was almost wiped out from the planet.
After a wonderful lunch at Cliff Dwellers with Gaelyn, she headed back up to the Rim & I went over to Navajo Bridge, a known hangout for condors (& to see if I could conquer my fear of heights & walk out on the span that is suspended 467 feet over the Colorado River). I was able to walk out on the footbridge, but realized that no condor in its right mind would be there when the fast food carcass take-out was over at the release site! But, the crew from Glen Canyon NRA was there with sun telescopes set up & I met their Education Specialist Ranger who was excited to hear about my North Rim residency because they have just started their own AiR program. She told me they are extremely interested in hosting artists like me who are local. I love this part of Arizona & would be very excited to come here for a future artist residency. Later that night, I drove over to Lees Ferry campground where the Glen Canyon crew had set up night telescopes under the velvet dark sky next to the rushing roar of the Colorado River. We gazed at the big, glowing moon, the Andromeda galaxy, Jupiter & her 4 moons, Uranus, star clusters, & talked about Galileo & light years. From condor wings to celestial bling, (as one of the astronomers described it) all in one day.
Down here in the desert, my eyes have the fiery Echo & Vermilion cliffs to fill them up & a distant horizon across solid red ground dotted with silver green sage to fix my gaze upon. Although I love visiting different environments, whenever I come back to the desert, I know it is my home. I’ve decided to go back over to the release site this morning before heading for Phoenix, one last look in the quiet desert morning at the place that is giving a special bird a strong foothold on life.
When I arrived, a group of dedicated Peregrine Fund biologists were monitoring the newly released condors’ activities, & had brought along a Peregrine Falcon for company. It is important to determine that the condors are displaying appropriate behaviors so that they can survive on their own. If not, they will have to be recaptured & released again at a later time. For example, if a bird is not perching high & safe, it is at great risk of being killed by coyotes. I have great respect for the efforts of these scientists; although field work seems romantic, it is tough, dirty, & requires very long & odd hours. Dennis has told me enough about his prior biology career studying endangered birds to know that this work is not for those ambivalent about the effort required. The people who are involved in helping a fragile species endure & thrive are very special. There were plenty of condors sailing over the release site & I was able to get a good last look at these amazing birds before heading south through the desert.
I arrived at D.Y.’s place in Phoenix in late afternoon, greeted by temperatures nearing 100. It seems the desert needed to remind me that it isn’t quite ready to let summer go. D.Y. & I enjoyed our brief time together, feeding each other with inspiration as we always do, & looking forward to the time when four weavers will gather at her hogan next spring.
So this week I have been adjusting to being back home, adjusting to the heat, working on the mass de-mobilization of putting everything I brought to the Canyon back in its place & settling back into my place. Catching up on emails, phone calls, life. Preparing for a local exhibit at Tohono Chul Park next week that will include three of my tapestries…
& also for an art class I’ve signed up for, Words & Images: The Artist Book, that starts next week at The Drawing Studio. Hoping to get all of this done so I can get back to weaving & finish widforss wizards. Anticipating my upcoming trip to North Carolina that will close my mentoring experience with Silvia Heyden. Hoping the desert realizes this is now October & it is time for fall weather. Taking a deep internal breath to prepare myself for the designing & weaving of the condor tapestry.
A very big & sincere thank you to all who have been reading along during this adventure, for the wonderful comments left on my blog, for the interest in my work, for the wonderful energy you’ve all sent my way!
I took over 500 photos while in residence; you can visit my GC AiR photo set here.
I began work on the condor tapestry shortly after returning home. January 2013 was when I finally cut the completed piece off the loom. Unfortunately, the Park never followed through on hanging the tapestry. After waiting for six years, I decided to find my condor an appropriate home where she could fly in glory. As of Spetember 2016, she found her forever home & is on permanent display at the Peregrine Fund's World Center for Birds of Prey. View the tapestry, Grand Journey, here in my portfolio.