Postcards From Washington

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Of The Prairie

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Prairie.

I’m not talking about a valley between two mountain ranges or regions that are punctuated by flat patches of earth.

I mean prairie — interior lowlands, wide, weather conducing swaths of land that roar with silence when the wind isn’t ripping through bunchgrass, willow and scrubby poplar bluffs.

For years now, I’ve referred to the great northern plains as a caesura;
a wide breath of space that robs the mountains of the true meaning of grace,
a hard and undulating passage of land between the jutting lobes of the coasts,
the place the heartbeat of the wild is traced out
abstractedly

in the staccato of
star spangle

in the gleam of
old bones in the gloaming

in the conductivity of
tall grass and pungent sage

in the way the soil clasps hands with the wind.

It’s a place that gives and steals in both a merciful and merciless manner; bringing forth new life in steady arcs while old life fades to rust and bone split in two by wavering gold. It’s a hard place for anything to do its living and dying, but there’s a comfort in knowing the prairie always takes back her own.

You know me. And if you don’t, I’ll be the first to inform you of the fact that I spend a lot of time out on the land and it’s my great honor to be able to live off of it, to take from it what I need exist on physical, emotional, and spiritual levels — and to give back, when I can, what I can. Not a day goes by when I don’t step out into the wide arms of the world here and notice, firsthand, the cycle of energy between the living and the dead, the bones and the wildflowers, the trees and the mountain springs, the pronghorn and the sage. I’m connected, I’m plugged in, and I’m grateful to be so.

It’s a perfect system out there; left on it’s own, there is no beginning or end to it — just like the One that created it all — I’m talking about Alpha and Omega.

The mountains, the plains, the great oceans, they are the beginning, they are the end. There’s simply a smooth line, the birth and decay of wildness and beauty, the tall grasses splitting bone in two, the heave of the flowers and sage, the eruption of the sun each morning and the going down of the same.

How blessed am I to see it in full dimension as often as I do.  To be almost blinded by the simplicity and perfection of the great feast, of the great unbroken circle of energy between the elements, between the coming and going of spirit, between the bloom and frost of the seasons and to exist there, wholly, belonging because I choose to belong in a deeper way.

The difference between the living and the dead is breath. Caesura. A great and quiet plain. The space between the dead and the living is an inhalation, an exhalation, a great pause, a long rest in the holy of holies. I see it all the time, at my own hands or the fangs and claws of others; the short rest before the bones and flesh are thrust into use once more; the timeless moment when the spirit departs and the body begins its transition into something new.

Ashes to ashes. Stardust to stardust, baby.

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Home Away From Home

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I sit perched in the Airstream doorway in the Methow Valley as I write this.  I look out past the buildings at the smokejumper base, towards the Mazama Corridor and the mountains beyond.  It’s beautiful.  It’s a home away from our home in Idaho and I’m always surprised at how good it feels to turn off the Columbia River and make my way up the highway towards Twisp and Winthrop.  There are places here that I belong to now; a coffee shop, a sandy bend in the river with a tiny cove I use as a kayaking take-out, a deep pool on the Twisp River I love to wade and fish in the evenings, the hill I like to stand astride for sunsets, the secret spots I carry my camera and sketchbook to when I feel like being alone and being at rest.  The cashiers at the grocery store and I pick up our conversations where we left them off, last fall.  The cooks at Glover Street Market know I’ll want the spring rolls before I even place my order and maybe a green goddess juice to go with.  Each of these places, each of these belongings press down on a single, pure, resonating ivory key in the the black and white of my heart.  So it’s funny to make this confession: I don’t always think I would like to live here year round.

The Methow Valley is dear to me, I consider it one of my homes, but I cannot imagine buying a house here and settling in for a decade or two.  Isn’t that strange?

  How I feel about the Methow is flittering, abstract and at times, contradictory.  I like, very much, many things about it, but there are other details surrounding valley life I struggle to tolerate.  I blame it on my extremely wild, rural childhood which has caused me to have a rare perspective regarding space and and especially high standards with respect to freedom and wilderness.

It’s hard to tame something that has grown up wild, everyone knows this.  At times, during my childhood, adolescence and even parts of my adult life, I have been downright feral!  My issue with the spectacular Methow Valley comes down to human population and density.  The valley feels cluttered to me.  Narrow and full.  Brimming, at times, with people, livestock, habitualized mule deer and fancy fly fishermen taking up all the good water.  To contradict myself in a terrible manner, one of the things I love most about the valley is the people!  The community!  I cherish our immediate fire family, the incredibly rich and diverse artist community and also the general population of the entire valley which is so special and unique.  What irks me is the very thing I love!  Perhaps it’s because I love it so truly that I am irked, or maybe I am irked because I love it so truly, or maybe I’m just a fickle puss in need of a good pinch on the bottom.  Whatever the case may be, I flip flop like a pancake every other day of the week when Robbie and I speak aloud of the future of our little family, the future of our jobs, where we want to go and what we want to be.

It’s a tricky thing to figure out, you know?  We only live once.

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Anyhow, I had a regular, good old time in the valley and stayed on with Robert in our delightful little Airstream for nearly a week while he began work.  I watched him do his refresher work (which is rather vigorous) and jump out of an airplane a few times (always exhilarating), visited with some of the other fire wives who I am blessed to call my friends, dropped work at a gallery or two and generally ran around the valley doing all my favorite things while cruising in the best-good-old-’71-Ford-pick-up-truck that ever was.  It was a restful time for me after being with my side of the family in Canada which always tends to be a little non-stop chaotic.  I read a few books which was a complete joy — I’ve really been at the mercy of my work these past six months and reading has become a luxury I cannot always afford, to the great detriment of my happiness.  I spent a couple of days at the lake, suffered a rotten little sun burn and then piled everything in the truck and headed home to Idaho for a couple of days before departing on yet another trip (details and photographs forthcoming).IMG_3668 IMG_3732 IMG_3776IMG_3876 IMG_3898 IMG_3927

I thought a lot about the life details I’ll miss this summer while I am at home in Idaho, holding the fort:

-swimming in cold, clear rivers and lakes

-5 minute drives to great fishing holes

-really big ponderosa pines (I love the excellent company of quiet giants)

-seeing Robbie more regularly when he is working base 8s and his job is more like a 9-5 giving us dinners together and breakfasts, too

– La Fonda tacos…oh gosh

-Bruce Springsteen’s V8 purr

-the fluttery, papery flight of the poorwills in the headlights of my truck at night

-wild, wild thunderstorms rattling the windows at the Little Cabin In The Woods

-smoked out sunsets over the Cascades

-gin and tonics with the girls…movies in the bunkhouse with all the fellas…night bicycle rides on the airstrip

-early morning veggie deliveries from John Button

-late night star watching through the crowns of the douglas firs

Oh…I could go on and on.

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It’s good to be home in Idaho this summer, in my own house, with my full studio building, but I would be an awful liar if I didn’t confess my heart is divided in more ways than one.IMG_4112IMG_4455

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While in the Canadian Rockies

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 “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”

[John Muir]

 

Out At The Ranch

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