From Arizona, with love.

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Southwest — All The Rest

If I may say so, you should prepare yourself for a visual feast!  I didn’t think I did a lot of shooting on our trip to the Southwest in February but this collection of images would prove otherwise.  These photos were taken in the Mojave Desert of Arizona and California, the foothills of Ramona, California and San Diego.  When Robert and I set out to plan our February adventure we hoped to make it over to Texas to raft a portion of the Rio Grande after meandering through New Mexico but had to axe a huge portion of our journey in order to make it to a family fiesta in San Diego and then home to a wedding in Idaho (in which we played roles of bridesmaid, groomsman, wedding official and hip hop dancers…more on that at a later date).  So, while this trip did not turn out how we planned, not at all, it was still a very, very fabulous time — we made some memories together which is, in essence, all I really wanted from this trip.

Thanks to all our friends and family who opened their homes to us, and special thanks to one of my favorite little boys who gave up his bunk beds in his man cave for us — you’re the best, Roo.  We sure appreciated it.

Without further delay, please enjoy!


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-nYBeHyQydlvKqxuiyv9_riCRpr_RMzH0av2-LeI0H8,xGfaROGQ1cdX9irieB1U77P4MBWw1nFhYpczk4nqjxw,qJ7xxnGQL1t9B7V8UJn3f0HdDIsk0VE0-uf92vEUOO4 j1INKMzjpDeihmYV5yZ0AsAAt2-fJPqrRf5msa7ISs0,k67dZ1lotODOlwAnEXo6KM74VKr-bDfbEs1PtiGF3F4 n0PwB3zqxqncA1VAtlPPGw4e3U2K852lrIyHgptOR7o,hKUn2ju9iL9wYCrUDPIIkkARTCRkOkXhyLPpeU8mtKs,arrRJY0Os6JV3ipAQbwkvgsvOnOGJzX_xwWXbN6UGBQ oKMq4yR3gl6NGzvaRtOuFnfxdTdCJhtsB1lWAWCc5Fg,Ji4yRoMObwphp1SpWVCs3mhhca9TChccifdvAomKj00,1bDXUWRoPs15TXZMC79wZ9yTBqbLY6X4zi3PTfcBQIM,epndHA2cDOKbzq9Q0D1zCqO1tkynksztsRKM785EMSM p5WdW3nrCIJMI3vKZoxEg7Ytk5uLb9UBSEr5KaUpIng,DJUsm-QnPIVKn9ljwqn60bwGMvOaF7pKPrkDc1bJhbE qRWkOIZGgAyVUfMthUyDy9PChQbtTCCXQDLKQJU7fK4,AMLwGD-Lb_0ty_7h6bVz6KgkM_cmZl9Yaq1PDXYJoJ8,cf9JCUXa6FBxkv5oPbRbWZh21L5Whz9_0PSfHjGrVug SiDwC4mdlAnUH8FaNywIA7XZq7fSoJjqHMrTAmv07Cs,OAHU18-quyosJ1nsudhP5xE4KrR6f_uMWRgnNn3_mXw,0cSREakp6b9_UDJaLSYyqDYpTtmhieRUjTQ7et8IdQM[All images courtesy of one of my very beautiful, very talented, and very best friends.  If you decide pin any of these pictures to your boards on Pinterest, please give full credit to Melissa Wright Photography.]

I spent my birthday eve and birthday morning barefoot, in a long red dress, on the back of an indian pony, riding the dry escarpments along the Colorado River of Arizona under a magnificent sunset and sunrise.  Anything less magical would have been uncivilized and unnatural.  I watched the last hours of 31 fade away in the raw and refined glory of a sinking sun from the back of a horse and ushered in my first hours of 32 under a beautiful blue sky in the very same horsey manner.  It was dry as a whistle out there in the low desert of Arizona but I felt like I had a million blessings raining down on me, soaking me through to the soul.  It is good to be 32.  I can’t wait to live the heck out of every moment of this year.

On my birthday, on the highway between Quartzsite, Arizona and Blythe, California, I saw desert bighorns — a burly ram chasing two ewes across red rock.  You probably heard my shriek of delight, no matter where you are on this fair planet of ours.  Those bighorns were surely a sign of all the rare and incredible things to come in this next year of my life.

Onward.  Upward.  Fearlessly.  Truthfully.  Courageously.  2014.  My year of 32.

:::Post Scriptus:::

I haven’t told you this, M, but riding Alibi was one of my very best birthday gifts this year.  Thank you.  X

Wind Bitten

In the desert, bite or be bitten, sting or be stung.

We used to live here.  We lived here nearly four full years.  After I lived in the Mojave Desert, I realized I could live anywhere.  Our home was at Achii Hanyo Native Fish Facility.  RW was a fish biologist for the federal government and was responsible for researching and raising thousands of endangered fish in earthen ponds every year — a job he was miraculously successful at.  Our home was in a weird chain link compound, in the middle of the Colorado River Indian Tribes Reservation.  The first time I saw the place, saw where we were moving to, I cried.  The house was a single-wide trailer, rat infested and foul.  It took buckets of bleach and seven coats of paint throughout to make it mildly livable.  The first improvement I made involved rippping the tin foil off all the windows.  I think RW’s boss was concerned that I would have a meltdown living there and would force RW to find a different job so that boss-man did everything he could to make and keep me happy.  My every request was granted.  Bit by bit, we pulled that place up by its bootstraps and transformed it.  It truly was a ruin of a place, a broken mess of a project, paired with an inconceivable mosquito infestation (the bogs of Alaska have nothing on this place — I can say that because I have lived in Alaska, and it’s true), pressed up against a desolate outback area with a mountainous escarpment that combed the stars at night.

It.  Never.  Rained.

I remember hopelessly watching the monsoons slide by in the hot summer months.  The humidity and heat of the valley was mind boggling — 110F, 120F, 130F for months and months.  Oh…something in me curdles remembering the heat of that place.   And when it did rain, it monsooned, and our driveway turned to impassible foot deep gumbo.  It was such a slog to drive the miles to town on awful muck that gave way to wretched washboard.  And sweating.  Always sweating.

We had a herd of javelina visit the ponds on a daily basis, a bobcat living on the end of our half mile long driveway, a wild pack of winsome coyotes, a ten foot long rattlesnake that tried to bite me on three different occasions.  We had so very many rattlesnakes.  We had a rattlesnake hibernaculum RW dug up with a backhoe while repairing a levy between ponds (he said there were hundreds of rattlers shooting off in every direction, into little holes, ugh, I still shudder at the thought of it).  We had a large, circular fish tank used for predation studies with catfish (that I used as a swimming pool when the research was completed).  We planted palm trees, cottonwoods and mesquites and the facility began to turn into an oasis in the heart of that scruffy reservation.  We had a large aviary filled with Chinese ring necked pheasant, bobwhite quail, California quail and one white winged dove I rescued named Edelweiss.  We had Farley, our beautiful desert raised bird dog.  We had a marmalade cat named Clementine.  We had a dog named Tuba who died by snakebite.  I had a lot of flip-flops.  I had a beloved 1971 Volkswagen Beetle that had been outfitted into an off-roading rig — a Baja Bug, as they call them.  She was cherry red, had a growly old engine and a loud exhaust, a mint condition original interior and I called her June.  One of my greatest regrets in life is parting with her.  In a wild act of maturity and wisdom, we sold her before we moved North.  I still want her back, to this very day.

It was a good life and at times, it was a bloody hard life.  When we talk about Arizona, we refer to it as the place where RW became a man and I became a woman.  By the time we moved, the heat of the warm months had burned me dry as dust and I was aching for the North, for harder, more defined seasons.  But there were times, in the heart of January, February and March, when the desert was the most beautiful place on earth.  The daytime temperatures were bearable, the nights were cold.  The wildflowers and cacti patches were blooming.  I could run and not risk being bitten by a snake.  Everything was cool and restful and I flourished.

One of the things I love and hate about Arizona is the strength of the sky.  In the summer, it’s unbearable.  Everything there feels burned or burning under the heat and directness of the sun.  I am a Northerner, by birth, by life, by genealogy.  I need my sunlight to come in at a slant, I need it to come in at a mild angle that buffs the edge off the power of the light — it makes daytime more bearable for my eyes and skin.  In Arizona, the light seems to pour down like ballistic cosmic flames.  It will burn the wings off birds as they fly.  If you flip a rock over on the ground, you’ll find it has tan lines.  In February, the difference in sun power between the Idaho sky and the Arizona sky is tremendous and lovely.  I enjoy it, especially after being under the weak, pale roof of winter for months.  The colors and contrast of the vegetation pop perfectly against a bluebird sky.  The sunsets are resplendent, mythical and dynamic.  Arizona, in the wonderful short month of February, is one of my favorite places to be.  That’s the honest truth.


On this trip, the Mojave held:  the excellent company of best friends, sunsets, cholla bone hunts, a handful of great books from the naked bookseller, buckets of turquoise, long conversations that dawdled into the early morning hours, and perhaps, best of all, and most unexpected, a feeling of love for a former home and the surprise of knowing a place, even after time has passed.

  There’s a constant need in me, because I have uprooted so many times in my life, to define and delve into what it means to belong, what it means to rest in a place I know and love, with people I know and love.  It’s a funny feeling, coming home after a homecoming.  I already miss the Mojave in February.  It’s like a phantom limb of my heart…that dried up, mummified old place — wind bitten and sun scourged, rain flogged and dirt dusted.  It’s a wildly elemental place, bare and brooding, and quaking with life if you can manage to look past the crusty surface of things.  I never thought I would say it, perhaps I wasn’t ready to admit it, but I must tell you, I just love those good old Mojave Desert, February times.

I like to travel alone.

This is where my trip began, I don’t mean geographically, I mean conceptually.  I had a dream.  In my dream I was standing in Monument Valley, on the Navajo Nation of Arizona, I was photographing the sandstone monoliths that rise up like a many fingered hand from the floor of the Painted Desert.  My dream was vivid.  I could feel the heat of the sun on my face, the warmth of that far star pushing through the fibres of my clothing and igniting something just under my skin.  I could feel the heat coursing through my veins, feeding my heart, mingling with the grains of oxygen in the cosseting arms of my cells.  The wind was hard on my back as though it would wrestle me down to the ground and press me into the broad roots of the ancient creosote.  There was snow in the distance, a black cloud letting loose all that it carried while soaring across an endless mesa.  I stood there, in the arms of the elements, with my camera to my face, one eye squinted shut, the pointer finger on my right hand pulling the trigger, making images — oh, give me this one moment in time and make it true to the view.

When I woke up, I found I was yearning for the low and high desert of Arizona and Utah.  For the red rock there.  For a stronger sky.  For the smell of dry land about to burst into bloom.  I told Robert I thought I needed to go to the desert.  He said, “Well then, go!

So I did.

I like to travel alone.  I also like to travel with my love, though he is more conscious of the linear nature of time and manages to stay much more focused on the destination than I am able to.  You see, I love the journey.  It’s a frustrating component of my nature for dear friends and family expecting me for visits.  I never arrive on time.  I am usually anywhere from five hours late to two days late in arriving.  If I am compelled to stop and explore, I stop and explore.  I lose myself in whatever moment I find myself in.  It’s a blessing.  It’s a curse.

I like to travel alone.  I like to drive my truck.  I like to watch the yellow lines on the highway flicker into a blurred streak. I like to stop for lunch or breakfast or coffee or iced tea.  I like to drive in silence.  I like to drive with the music too loud.  I like to drive too slow.  I like to drive too fast.  If I see a terrible looking dirt road leading to somewhere mysterious, I slam the brakes at the last moment, turn the truck off the highway, pop the rig into 4×4 (if need be) and I explore.  When I can’t go any further on wheels, I get out and walk.  I will follow most any path into the great unknown.  I will leave the path and continue until the ground is free of footprints.  I can’t help it.  It may be a genetic flaw.

I like to travel alone.  Half of my year is spent being left behind, due to the nature of Robert’s job.  I work diligently to keep my summers from being seasons of living as a remainder, as the one who is left, as the one who stands splayed with tension while she holds everything together in the absence of her life partner.  It can be hard, in those months when Robert is away working, to not feel left out of an adventure.  He is dropped out of airplanes into wild places where the mountains haven’t been wrangled by hiking trails and cabins, and the wolves and bears still run away at the sight of a human.  He has adventures while he works.  When he is away, I keep our home running and find many ways to have my own adventures so that the scraggly weeds of resentment cannot find any acidic soil in which to sink their roots.  Being the one who is left behind is drastically different from being the one who is leaving, the only similarity is found in the reality of apartness.  I think it’s important and healthy for my man to know how it feels to be left, from time to time.  It helps us appreciate each other more.  While I am on the road, or on a mountain top, or in a cleft in the sandstone rock, I remember so easily all the parts of Robert’s ruggedly beautiful, manly nature that I adore and respect.  I miss him.  I pine for him.  I wish he was with me.  It makes the reunions sweet, for with distance, fondness does grow.  I will testify to the fact.

I like to travel alone.  It’s an enormously selfish way to live life, for a moment in time.  When I return, I’m ready to give again, and I’ll give and give and give until I am wracked with fatigue, thin and bare of soul, and I find the time has come to leave once more.  There is something about temporary disappearance that grows my energy thick.  When I am away, I can recognize how sparse I have grown — the gauntness begins to fade and my views grow robust again.  When my soul is a glittering and jangling mobile of bones in the wind, it is easy to be in a throng of strangers, it is easy to be one more small face in a crowd of many.  There is a deep rest to be found in the nooks of strange places.  I am merely one more girl in a truck on a road to somewhere.

I like to travel alone.  I am shy about who I am because who I am has been whittled down and is growing new arms like a starfish in a tidal pool and regeneration takes a fund of energy.  I don’t share much about myself, unless pushed to.  I hold who I am and what I do like a good secret.  I let my gait, my braids, my accent, my silence define me.  I smile a lot.  I speak when I am spoken to.  I fold low over my coffee and sketchbook in a cute cafe.  I am my very self but so happy to remain unknown.  I pull my hat down low over my eyes.  I am a mouse in a cupboard.  No.  I am a tree in a forest.  No. I am a willow wisp, a spindly dream thread, the thing that hasn’t become but will eventually be.

I like to travel alone.

Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving.  When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape.  [Bell Hooks]