Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

winter in arizona – 2   4 comments

Posted at 10:47 am in Arizona,Art,Bisbee,desert,insects,sage,shelby

The *new* blog seems to be working okay now. Comments can be written and read, although I’m having to approve them before they actually appear. That’s fine with me – a small price to pay for having a working blog once more. If you write a comment and it doesn’t appear immediately, don’t be concerned as I will (hopefully) soon see it waiting for my attention.

Although I’m now at Round Hill, I would like to write a few things about last winter’s sojourn in southeast Arizona. This is the second of three posts before moving on to life back in Nova Scotia.

Shortly before my early November arrival in Bisbee, there was a community exhibit at the Central School Project (CSP), in honour of El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Located so close to Mexico, there is a lot of cultural exchange happening in the border towns as so many residents have roots running deep into the south. In fact, that’s one of the things that I enjoy about spending winters in southeast Arizona – that the area is a sort of nexus for geography, geology, flora and fauna, art, language, food, and lifestyle from both sides of the border. This event certainly captured the sense of Bisbee’s location on one of these cultural crossroads.

So much beauty and creativity by members of the community. It would take dozens of photos to do justice to the exhibit, but I’ve chosen a few to give some impression of the sculptures, shrines, paintings and other art.

As mentioned in my previous blog post, this year marked a significant change to my lifestyle. No longer were the dogs and I in a house in town up in the Mule Mountains. Now we were in a cabin in the Chihuahuan desert of the Sulphur Springs Valley. We had exchanged steep mountainsides clothed in juniper, live oak and pine, for the gently sloping landscape of a huge bajada on the eastern side of the Mule range. For those unfamiliar with the term, Wikipedia says it better than I can muster – a bajada consists of a series of coalescing alluvial fans along a mountain front. These fan-shaped deposits form from the deposition of sediment within a stream onto flat land at the base of a mountain. For a wanderer on foot, what this means is that the floor of the valley gradually slopes down from the foot of the mountains. The soil is a mix of sand, clay and many stones ranging from pebble to boulder, and all of this cut through by washes – the ever-changing stream beds created by the torrential rains that occur during the monsoon season of late summer. The landscape is dominated by low-growing mesquite, whitethorn acacia, creosote bush, ocotillo, yucca and many other plants.

Having traveled so much in recent years, it didn’t take too long to feel settled and comfortable with the change in locale. Both dogs were visibly elated by the freedom which echoed that of our place up north. They didn’t stray far on their own, but could wander around always in sight of me. In the morning and evening, they would lie around together in the sun, and during the heat of the day, find a shady spot alongside my van or the cabin. We spent a lot of time going for exploratory rambles, getting to know the plants and creatures that inhabited this new-to-us landscape.

Unfortunately, one of the plants that we got to know a little too well was a kind of grass which people in this area call fox grass, cheat grass, or foxtail grass. Although I’ve lived and hiked in southeast Arizona for several winters, I’d never encountered it before – or should say that it had never caused problems in the past. At first, it seemed innocuous and didn’t bother us, but as autumn wore on into winter, the golden patches of this grass bleached and dried out to pale ivory and became increasingly bristly to the touch. The merest brush with one would cause the seed awns to break away and embed themselves in my clothing or the dogs’ fur. Soon, the fluffy comforters on the bed were riddled with these irritating little buggers. Combing them out of the dogs’ coats, I soon discovered that some of the seed awns had worked their way into the long hair between my dogs’ toes, then pierced the skin to begin their next bit of nasty mischief. Sage, having the thickest fur on her feet, got the worst of it. I clipped away the hair to reveal a few horrible looking carbuncle type blobs between her toes. After soaking them in hydrogen peroxide a few times over a day, I soon realized that it was going to take something more to rid her of these things. I drove her to a vet that I’ve taken the dogs to in the past. He told me that the severe dryness of the past few weeks had triggered a real onslaught of cases similar – but many even worse – than Sage’s. He gave her some sedation and removed all the seed awns – fortunately restricted to just her front feet – then bandaged her up and wrote a prescription for antibiotics. He advised keeping the hair on her feet clipped very short as that helps to prevent the original “winding” action of the seed awns.

It took awhile, but about a week after the foot surgery, Sage was ready to return to walks. However, now I vowed to refrain from walking anywhere except down in the sandy washes where the grasses do not grow. That’s actually not too restrictive as one can walk for miles in the maze of washes – some like roads, while others are just narrow pathways winding between mounded clay topped with mesquite trees.

There’s also much to see in the well washed sand of these dry stream beds. They are the highways used by most of the wildlife of the area. Above, I’ve posted a photo showing many roadrunner footprints. One particular wash is always well trodden by roadrunners that seem to stick to a particular route. Other washes are frequently marked with the prints of javelina, deer, coyote, fox, rabbit, kangaroo rats, and countless other creatures.

I’m sometimes told by visitors that southeast Arizona is such a dry, blasted, lifeless looking place. While that may be somewhat true of the driest part of winter – yes, it can seem desolate – there is abundant life all around. Birds are with us at all times. Black-throated Sparrows (Amphispiza bilinear) became my companions as they perched in the leafless mesquite in winter, quickly moving in to take a look anywhere I had been working just moments before. Occasionally, a flock of Sandhill Cranes would pass high overhead after taking flight from the nearby playa of Whitewater Draw. Two Raven frequently cavorted in the air above the cabin, croaking and clunking – especially on one morning when I was making a solar cooker out of a sheet of reflectix. No doubt they wondered what shiny prize I was creating. Also particularly conspicuous was a Loggerhead Shrike that took to perching near the cabin as it watched for grasshoppers or any other insect. One day while studying plants near the cabin, I found the dried remains of a female Praying Mantis, impaled on a mesquite thorn — a graphic reminder that life is unforgiving out here in the desert.

In spite of occasional ups and downs, my days soon settled into a relaxed cycle of events. Most mornings, I was up early to witness the sunrise. I became a little spoiled by the incredible skies – so many amazing sunrises and sunsets. Still, sometimes there would be one of surpassing beauty and I would have to get out the camera. I came to view these sky events as being the desert’s reply to the aurora borealis, countering the cool greens on inky black of the north, for warm pinks and oranges on the impossible blue of the south.

an amazing dawn sky to the east of the cabin

Within a few weeks, the catastrophic run-in with the foxtail grass now forgotten, Sage was back to her old self again, enjoying long rambles in the safety of the washes. Another blog post coming up soon.

Written by bev wigney on June 20th, 2015

the painted floors project   10 comments

Posted at 8:14 am in Art,Round Hill house

Zounds! Two posts in one month! Looks like I’m picking up some momentum in posting to the blog.

I’ve been busy around the old place. Each summer, I make a mental list of projects that I hope to see completed. Of course, nothing ever goes according to plan, but it’s good to set the odd goal. High on this year’s list was doing something about the old wooden floors. They’re in pretty bad shape – some slanting planks in the upstairs, and rolling or wavy hardwood strip flooring in the downstairs. Over the past couple of summers, I had done some experimenting with scraping, sanding and varnishing test sections of the floors. The results convinced me that attempting to take the wood back to a sanded state followed by varnish, would be too tedious and not really in line with what pleases me. Besides, when I bought this place, I had it in the back of my mind to try to find ways to incorporate artistic creation into the house. In a former life, I was quite a busy painter and carver of folk art pieces. I’ve been missing that work, so after deciding that painted floors might be a good route to explore, I began working up a plan. There’s no doubt that it is a time consuming project, but it greatly appeals to me. At this point in my life, I feel like this will probably be my last house, and if it pleases me to surround myself with my own or the art of others, then so be it. Anyhow, that’s how the idea for painted floors came into being.

Over the winter, I mused over possible designs for the floors. At first, I considered some type of painting inspired by patchwork quilt designs. However, that really isn’t me. I’m more inclined toward paintings of flora and fauna, so that seemed to be the way to take this project. From that point, I came up with a plan to choose different background colours for the floors and then add theme-based paintings. In the tower room, I put down an aqua base and painted several species of ocean fish — see above – click on image for a larger view. The resulting floor is bright, clean and, in my admittedly rather biased opinion, rather cool.

After the successful completion of the tower floor, I began work on the living room floor. It’s a goodly sized room of about 14 x 20 feet, with a projecting bay window section on one side. Large windows along one wall look out onto a forested hillside with a beautiful brook down below. This room begged to be painted with a Woodland theme. I began by putting down a base of parchment coloured paint to mimic the pages of a book of natural history illustrations. Then, I chose a soft mineral green to use as a wide border along the walls all the way around the room. Upon that background, I began painting woodland flora and fauna using mainly my own nature photos as reference material. The above image (click on it for a larger view) is the completed bay section of the floor. I’m now working on the larger rectangular section. As much as possible, I’ll be trying to represent the rich diversity of plants and animals that I’ve encountered over a lifetime of interest in the natural world.

Now, I’m beginning to think ahead to some of the other rooms of the house. The kitchen is probably next on the agenda — also a very large room. I’m not yet sure of the theme, but I expect that some idea will begin to grow by the time I’m finished the living room floor in a week or two.

Below is a fairly recent photo taken in the front garden. Unfortunately, Shelby managed to wander out of the scene once I had camera in hand, so it’s just Sage holding down the lawn. I’ll try for a photo of the two of them together in my next post. The house and gardens are looking good. Lots of wonderful rhododendrons, rose bushes and perennials in or coming into bloom.

Written by bev wigney on June 28th, 2013