Friday, 26 September 2014

Colouring my world

I’ve been thinking about color this week. It started out with an overdose of brown.

We’ve been camping close to Santa Fe in New Mexico. If that state has an official colour, I think it would be brown. The desert is brown. The dry stream beds are brown. If water does run in the stream, it’s brown, too. The unpaved roads – and there are many of them – are a sandy brown. And the architecture in downtown Santa Fe is brown, dictated through a  by-law that says all public buildings in the historic centre must be built in the old style adobe. When people buy a home here, I think that they’re told, “You can have any colour you like, as long as it is brown.” Sandstone, tan, beige, light ocher, cinnamon, copper, off name it. It’s here.
And it’s brown.

I’m not saying brown is bad – after all, chocolate and coffee are brown, and they’re good, very good. The interior walls of our home are a warm shade of tan. Colour theory says that brown is the colour of security and protection. “It is sensual, sensitive and warm, engulfing one in a feeling of calmness and comfort,” proclaims one website. “It is quietly confident but never the life of the party! Brown does not seek attention - it prefers to stay in the background, allowing other colors around it to shine.”

Other colours ... yes, for sure. All of us need a healthy dose of colour in our lives. All brown is a yawn, but splashes of colour stimulate and arouse the senses, and make you feel like you’re alive. New Mexicans know it: I saw doors, window frames and eaves painted turquoise, purple, red, cobalt blue, orange. Sunny yellow marigolds, lavender Russian sage, red trumpet vine, and multicoloured gaillardias flourished in huge pottery planters. A turquoise coyote wearing a red bandana stands sentinel at our campground entrance. Mailboxes come in every colour except brown.

And so, we fell under New Mexico’s spell – its motto is “Land of Enchantment”. We’ve been here for 10 days, and haven’t grown tired of all that brown after all.

I decided to play with colour this week. We’d been on an art tour, following high desert roads through tiny villages where the locals had hung out their welcome flags and opened their studios. The art was wonderful and colourful, but what stopped us in our tracks when we got close to Taos was a field of purple asters.

The scene became the subject of another postcard. Three of them, actually, in three different colourways: the first is pretty close to the original photo, the second uses more intense and saturated shades in the sky, mountains, and trees, and the third goes a little wild. But not too wild, because it is me, after all, that’s making it.
I took one of those colour quizzes you find on the web. It turns out I am violet. Really? I am violet? I look into it a little further. Violet, says the pop-site, is the colour of imagination and spirituality. Well, okay then. Yes! I am violet.

How about you?

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Two postcards and a prayer

We have arrived in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

We saw so much spectacular scenery the first week of travel, including Bryce Canyon and Arches National Park. Last week I sent you a postcard from Bryce. Here’s my version of Arches: it was amazing, fantastic, awesome...well, after a while you run out of superlatives and just gaze silently...which is maybe as it should be.

These two window arches were formed out of enormous rocks worn down by weathering. Arches National Park has more than 2,000 of these structures, big and small.
We also took a scenic drive along the Colorado River and were enchanted by the red cliffs, scrubby pines, and the lengendary river that supplies so much of the Southwest with water for crops, animals, recreation and so much more.

I had high hopes for Santa Fe, the city of “holy faith”, as the first missionaries named it  back in the 1500s. I’d  been  here years ago on my own, but the trip was a short one. I loved what I saw, and kept bugging the Resident Sweetie to go back there with me. Now, 13 years later, we’d finally made it.

But as we drove through Northern New Mexico, I realized it was not spectacular, awesome, amazing– all those superlatives I’d hoped for. It was dry, barren, desolate, grey and scrubby. Would the RS, who’d done all the driving to get here, be disappointed, or wish he were elsewhere?

Well, we’ve been here 4 days, have another 4 scheduled, and are considering an extension. This land is beautiful in its own way, but you have to look a little harder for the beauty. There are purple asters and sunny yellow shrubs in the ditches, and the scrub juniper and pinon pines dot the high desert. The sky is a brilliant blue, and we are falling under its fascinating spell.

But the land is in trouble. The sign on the bathroom door here at the campground tells it like it is. “Santa Fe gets 9.47 inches of rainfall per year. Please don’t waste water.” The newspapers print stories about an 11 year drought, and the fear that there’s not enough water in the reservoirs to service the farmers. The snow pack on the mountains is depleted. The Santa Fe River is one of the top ten endangered rivers in the US– its stream bed is dry and rocky. The Rio Grande (literally, Big River) often does not reach the ocean, its waters siphoned off by a thirsty world.

Climate change, most scientists agree, is happening. People -- you, me, everybody -- are not the whole problem, but we are part of it.

The world is a beautiful place. The world is in big trouble. Both true. We are all connected – this I feel strongly as we travel through this land and meet its people. Could it be that the more we feel connected to the land and to the people we meet, both while traveling and at home, the more we will be motivated to do our part to keep our world beautiful – to work for peace, for a healthy environment, for justice for the downtrodden, whatever it is that we are called to do?

A prayer printed in a local tourist paper caught my eye, and I wanted to share it with you. Although the prayer is for Santa Fe, with just a few word and image changes, it could be for your home town, too.

O Dios, El Senor, Great Spirit,
El Shaddai, Adonai, Creator God, creating still,
By whatever name we know you, hear our prayers this day.
We thank you for the courage and the the Holy Faith
of those who founded this city so many years ago.
And we thank you, too, for the native people
who prayed in this land for centuries before
and for all who have come in the centuries since.
For all, be they native or newcomers
whose prayers continue to bless this city,
we thank you this day.
Hear too our prayers for guidance and wisdom.
Help us to learn from this good land
and the beauty of creation all around us.
In this land of endless sky
teach us the boundlessness of your beauty and love.
In this land of little rain,
teach us to share and to bless what you have given us.
In this land of brilliant sunrise and golden sunset,
teach us to use each day to bless the lives of others.
In this land of many cultures and colors,
give us your infinite imagination and
teach us to respect and value all your children.
O God, our help in ages past,
be our hope and the hope of our home in all the years to come.
Help us all to build on the foundation of faith, hope and love
that others have laid here,
so that all your people in this city might do justice,
love mercy and walk humbly with You,
 now and always,

Prayer by Rev. Talitha Arnold, pastor at United Church of Santa Fe.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

The View from the Passenger Seat.

When we go on long trips, we have a rule of thumb : one day of travel, one day of staying put. But we were already behind schedule, so we spent four straight 10 hour days on the road.

Day one is always a shake-down day, when we adjust to how travelling works, and what our respective jobs are. For the resident sweetie, that's a given: he's the driver. End of story. I've never wanted to drive a big diesel truck pulling a 5th wheel, so he gets the job by default. My job is being the good supportive little wife, and I'll admit it is not my best role. After spending a second day in the passenger seat watching him compulsively check oil and fuel gages, furrow his brow, cock his ear to listen for any noises that shouldn’t be there,  purse his lips and spout raspberries to relieve his tension, I was just a mite titchy.

Clearly, I needed an attitude adjustment. I would find things to do that enhanced the journey, or we would become road warriors in the real sense. In a spirit of generosity, I hereby share my list of top 10 things to do when you’re the one in the passenger seat.

1. Listen to the radio. Except, in our beast of a diesel truck, the volume would have had to be so cranked, the RS wouldn’t have been able to hear any of those supposed noises he was listening for. Ditch that.

2. Read the newspaper. We often buy a newspaper on our first stop of the day so I can read it aloud to Al. The miles zoom by, and there are lots of conversation starters, ranging from the deep issues (“Will wars ever end?) to frothy stories about movie stars that make us shake our heads. After that, we work on the crossword. A good newspaper can give us about 150 miles worth of entertainment. But on day 3, when I walked into one of the big truck stops, it turned out that they don’t sell newspapers. Not even News of the World. You can buy 32 oz. Slurpees and corn dogs galore, but not a stitch of news. What is this world coming to? Hey, there’s a conversation starter!

3. Well, okay then. No newspapers? Read billboards. May the floss be with you (dental clinics); Buy Used Without Feeling that Way (car sales); Our Kool-aid is better than your Kool-aid (???); Fat City fireworks – bottle rockets and mortars, open 24 hours a day (yeah, I hate it when I run out of bottle rockets and mortars at 11 o’clock at night; so glad someone has that covered.) On the side of grain elevator: Desert Mill Grains and Pasta Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. In front of an abandoned church: Living Waters...For Sale. After passing an area with lots of wind turbines on rocky ridges, this one caught our eye: Caution – Red Light District. Wind Development, not the world’s oldest profession, but the results are the same.

4. Get Creative. “40 Miles to Boise,” said the RS, and I thought that sounded like the beginning of a good song or poem. So when I saw a sign that read “Stinker’s Truck Stop,” I couldn’t resist.

The Stinker’s Truck Stop close to Nampa,
Is just the ticket for gran and grampa.
They fuel up their bellies,
Get rid of their smellies,
Without setting foot in the campah. 

Al was tickled by a billboard that read Report Wildlife Crime. His poem: “If a bear steals bread, he’s dead.” Short, funny, gets the point across. Perhaps I should get him to guest for me on this blog.

5. Count Fed-Ex and UPS trucks. There were so many on the road, we were sad we hadn't bought stock in courier companies about 10 years ago.

6. Play word games. We decided to see how many words we could make out of the letters in  the word “frontage.” We got 110, including 5 six-letter words and 13 five-letter words. We welcome challenges to that.

7. Check the map. Check the GPS. Check the map again. No, we’re not there yet. Sigh.

8. Visit rest areas. Take pit stops. Did you know that in Canada, we call those biffies pit toilets, and in the US they seem to go by the name of vault toilets. Hmmm.

9. Do housecleaning. I took along a rag and some cleaners and wiped down all the vinyl surfaces I could reach. That took care of 10 minutes. But it made me feel better for a long time.

10. Engage in gas wars. Okay, not those kinds of gas wars, although the RS did have some good lines which he declared off the record. However, he said I could use “Well, I never have run out of gas yet.” (So true.) This was said in response to my expressed exasperation  that his idea of when to refuel is vastly different than mine. His is when the low fuel light comes on. Mine is when the gage says there’s 1/3 of a tank left. I don’t think there will be a winner in these gas wars, since we are both stubborn.

However, we have arrived here in Southern Utah, and we are still talking to each other. So far, the trip is a success!
Bryce Canyon was gorgeous. We were happy. What more can you want?

Yes, I did take my sewing machine and a small stash of fabrics along. Here's my attempt at a postcard-sized piece depicting Bryce Canyon, which goes to show that you really can't improve on nature. But it was fun trying. I hope to produce a few more "postcards" and send them to you on this blog in the next few weeks.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

The View from the Nest

I thought I was pretty well done with writing about crows, but I was wrong. It’s not the first time I’ve been wrong, of course. Just last week, I wrote in my blog that I might install “I just called to say I love you” by Jim Croce on my cell phone as a ringtone for the RS. Oops! One of the first rules of writing is to check your facts. My dear cuz reminded me that Stevie Wonder sang that song. Jim Croce sang “Operator.” So please, don’t believe everything you read here. This is for you, RS: (deep breath) I am sometimes wrong.

Anyway, about my latest crowlogue – I’ve been thinking of nests. I don’t know about you, but the word “nest” to me feels warm and cozy and all about home. My friend Jennifer quilted this robin and nest, and the piece seems to embody that message.

Piece created by Jennifer Harrison.
 I’m not sure, however, that warm and cozy describe crow nests. When a crow couple decides to raise babies, old nests are rarely re-used.  Crows like their nests high up in fir or spruce trees – often 60 or more feet in the air, and close to the trunk of the tree. The nest is a big jumbled affair, often 2-3 feet in diameter, and roughly built with big sticks and twigs. Within that outer structure, however, it creates a much smaller nursery, lined with feathers, grasses and whatever it can find. Ah, warm and cozy after all.

photo by Bob Armstrong (

By the way, some quilters think they’re doing birds a favour by leaving  nice soft scraps of cotton on fences and branches so the birds can use pick them up and use them to line the nest. But that’s not a good idea: cotton absorbs moisture, and is slow to dry, so the baby birds are being raised in a cold, wet, home. That’s equivalent to leaving your children in wet diapers all the time.

I tried to make a crow nest of my own. Believe me, it is not as easy as I thought it would be. I have more respect for those master builders now.

We often have an idyllic image in our minds of nests as bird bedrooms: the birds return to the nest at night to rest. Not so, especially with crows. A nest is a nursery for babies. Once the brood is raised and the nest empties out, that’s it! The world becomes the bird’s home. Once their job is done, adult crows are free to hang out with other crows, including their juvenile kids. This gives rise to the roosting phenomenon, which I wrote about in Meet You at the Roost, November, 2013.

Crow observers tell us the success of a crow’s nesting efforts relates, among other things, to the distance of the nest from the trunk. Young crows who are making their first nests may decide to be a little different from mom and dad – “Hey, the view’s so much better out here,” says would-be-papa crow to his lovebird as they move out on a limb. They build their nest there, then learn the hard way it is now much less stable, and more visible to predators. As a result, they loose more of their children to storms, hawks and owls. The parental units weren’t so dumb after all.

Sometimes, however, young crows also have something to teach old crows. One day, a crow, lured by bright city lights, must have decided to leave the old folks behind on the farm. I’m guessing it must have been a youngster. Now more crows live in town than in rural areas. Perhaps the old folks moved into the city, too, to be closer to the grandies. And it might have been a youngster, as well, who invented a new kind of nest when there was a shortage of twigs and branches in an urban area.

Tokyo crow nest (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
As you may have guessed, all these observations could be applied to us. Build your nest. Build it well, and make it as safe as you can. Do everything you can to raise a successful brood. And then let your babies fly away. The next generation will do things their own way, and they’ll make their own mistakes, and that’s the way it is. Often, they’ll return with a new appreciation for your efforts. Sometimes, they may teach you a thing or two. The bonus is that now you can begin to hang out with them and share in their lives. And you realize that an empty nest is not the only home you have: the world is out there, and with your job done, you can go ahead and move in new directions.

This week, we’re doing just that. The view from our empty nest is good, but there's more to see. We are taking the trailer for a 5-6 week trip down to the southern states to visit canyons and ruins and deserts. Thanks to our new cell phones, we’ll be able to caw-ll home and stay in touch, perhaps even with a blog or two. There’s much to be seen and I hope to share that here, so stay tuned: you may hear me squawking again soon.

I call this piece Leaving the Nest. I have entered it into a Comox Valley Art Gallery show of fibre art called Hanging by a Thread. The show begins September 27, so if you are live in the Comox Valley, I invite you to check it out.