A Whole New Life

I’ve been posting here less often for a very good reason: after five years of under-employment, I landed a job.

NOAA logoDream Job

I’ve gone to work for a company called Earth Resources Technology, a prime contractor for NOAA.

The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration is under the Department of Commerce. That’s because the agency’s sections, oceans and weather, are vital to the American economy.  Because of this, I have high hopes that NOAA will escape the worst of EPA’s fate.

Word Games

Alas, we learned today that the word “science” has been removed from EPA’s mission statement. It find it confusing that people can decide that the tradition of scientific method, patiently carried out over centuries, can suddenly be discounted.

Restoring Harmony

I’m working in the Restoration Center, part of NOAA Fisheries division, whose mission is restoring damaged wetlands and marine environments. Below is an article of the sort I hope to be creating in the near future.

Six Things to Know About Coastal Habitat Restoration

For instance, restoring habitat not only improves the fishing, it creates over 15 jobs for every $1 million invested.

So expect more musings on things of a watery nature from me. From Harsen’s Island, Michigan, to the Everglades, from the Great Dismal Swamp to Piscataway NP (where I live), the wet places have always had my heart.

By the way, I heard the first Spring Peepers yesterday!


Winning While Not Winning

Back in September I applied for an artist’s residency at Big Bend National Park, an opportunity to live and work for a month in one of our largest and most remote wilderness areas, right on the Mexican border (image above.)

As I worked on the application, I gained a new understanding of why I paint the way I do:

My painting is both objective and reverent observation, a deep, active appreciation of the natural world.  My aim is to inspire others to look more deeply and develop a more profound appreciation for our world.


I wrote quite a bit about why painting on the Border would be important to me, and I’ll explore that in a later post.

I didn’t get selected for the residency. When I got the email I was mildly surprised, as if I really believed I would. In the email from the National Parks Art Foundation was a personal note that I was one of the finalists. Which felt really good.

Last year’s Artist in Residence at Big Bend was painter Dawn Waters Baker. I fell in love with her work instantly. I feel it beautifully captures what I had imagined creating at Big Bend.

Please go look at Dawn’s beautiful paintings and leave her comments if you can.

Dawn talks about ‘the emotional landscape’ –  not what is there but how we experience it, what we feel. That really comes through in her luminous paintings. They are filled with awe and a deep respect for the space. And she called the final show Reverence.

I’ve never been one who takes rejection particularly well. But this was a whole other experience. I got to know myself better by applying. I looked forward to bigger, more spacious paintings and the magic of a desert landscape. I enjoyed dreaming about how I would fulfill the residency requirements. And then I fell in love with Dawn’s paintings.

I feel complete, or pau as my Hawaiian healer friend Carol Burbank would say. It’s all good.

Even the Desert Blooms

The March Equinox Arrives

At this moment of Equinox (latin ‘equal night’), the Northern Hemisphere crosses out of winter. Preparations for Passover and Easter are underway. Dormant buds are preparing, or indeed bursting, into bloom. I’m poised for my annual cherry blossom painting frenzy. The ospreys returned last Thursday, immediately busying themselves with nest-building.

All living creatures respond to the change. Bob Wells, long time van dweller, (he writes the blog Cheap RV Living) heard that Death Valley was experiencing an unusual ‘Super Bloom,’ and earlier this month pointed his mobile household west.

from the NYT: a Desert 5-Spot. Read about it at http://nyti.ms/1Qv5hGA

From Bob’s Blog:

“Once you’ve spent some time in the desert and opened your soul to hear it’s unspoken message, you quickly come to see how very tiny and puny we are in the grand scheme of things.

“The desert has stood in one place with very little change not just for tens of thousands of years, but for thousands of millenniums. It’s ancient wisdom laughs at our insignificant discoveries. In a moments time it could snuff us out like the locusts we are.”

“When I step out of my van in the morning and look around in a 360 degree circle, the sheer immensity of it’s size humbles me. It would take me days of walking to reach the distant mountains and many more days of walking to reach the next distant mountains. To reach them all would take me many months of walking and I would be dead before I reached them unless I give the desert the respect it demands and learned and followed it’s ways.”


Read more at Death Valley Superbloom

Tidewater Retreat

On October 17-19 I was on retreat with my AWWG sisters in Mathews, VA. I had never visited this part of Virginia before and was smitten with the peace and big sky. This is a bit of my scribblings.

In the Tidewater we have our own weather.

Pattern: clouds march offshore, moving south along the coast. Clear inland. This is counterintuitive to our inland weather, usually West to East.

Broad soft curling rivers of salt marsh sweep and weave, flush and suck, swell and drain up and down the seaboard like lungs. The silt that creeps into corners, the poisons that filter down from our civilized behavior fan out and settle. 

But then: the sea fills to bursting, inhales a great wet breath up into the rivers. Back toward their source, breathing saline into small channels, seething between reeds tangled with plastic trash, dragging the scum with her when she falls back away toward the moon.

Like the trees, there’s an exchange. At first it’s not so obvious, but here is the swish and pulse of our body’s lymphatic health, breathing salt soup life, in and out of our pores.

She seems boundless, indefatigable, infinitely absorbent. We clever ones already test her limits, tinkering with the chemistry set of the globe. It looks like the calcium cities built over eons by coral will be bleached dead before we ever learn their language. And yet they gave us Florida.

Here the dawn comes: extraordinary color the camera won’t get. Greeny sky, violet pink clouds, slate blue waters, all very Maxfield Parrish: smooth fields of tonal color and flawless gradients. The clouds feel muscular, bubbling, and constrained along the beach like eager horses. Later in the day they will wander toward and lumber over us. In the Tidewater we have our own weather.

I Give Thanks for the Sea

Have some images from my writing retreat at Ocean City Maryland, from Thanksgiving and the following weekend. There is nothing quite as beautiful as the edge of the world, all water and light.

click on any photo to enlarge, you’ll get a slide show view

Scots and Independance

bannockburnWhat little authority I might have to weigh in on the wisdom or folly of Scottish Independence is debatable. But I did live in Scotland for a year in 1977-78. I went to the Festival, studied at University of Edinburgh, traveled the Highlands and islands in search of stone circles, and taught for a while in Shetland.

I drank with my colleagues and friends and heard many a tale of how, over many centuries, like other colonists, rebels and indigenous folk, the Scots suffered greatly at the hands of the English.

But I want to share a tiny moment that has as much or more bearing on today than the bloody swords of yesteryear.

6794779707_811d3266a4In 1977 I arrived my cheap London hotel near Kings Cross, a naive young midwestern student, too jet-lagged to be excited. The terrific bargain hotel proved to be thrice the cost as promised, and the lift was broken, so I lugged my heavy case up the stairs.

As I checked out the bath-down-the-hall, I saw a purple sticker on the toilet tank. I peeled it off and stuck in my journal, puzzled. I had never considered Scotland as separate from the UK before, and the recent construction of North Sea oil platforms had barely reached my embryonic consciousness.

Little did I know that I would find strong opinions and a very fierce, proud and distinct culture north of the Borders. That Shetlanders didn’t consider themselves Scots, much less British. That, for good or ill,  memory of ancient battles lives on in the blood. That although the United Kingdom appears united, the stories of Bannockburn, Culloden, the Clearances and other atrocities leave a mark, and, now that Scotland’s economy is strong, England may have some karma coming due.

from the road: LAX to Ventura

June 26-

Are you lost in paradise my love, or have you found a home?  ROO PANES — INDIGO HOME

I could wander the planet following the bloodhound nose of my curiosity, and seemingly never tire of the lure of what’s just around the bend.

So many ideas I thought were a fixed part of me have been falling away. It starts with little things, opinions in examined for years, like “I won’t like LA.” Surprise! I kinda do! “I’m a water person, I could never live in the desert.” Wrong: I adore the arid zones, they fill me with an effervescent excitement, I love the big spaces and seeing the bones of the earth laid bare.

So how am I to understand my own self going forward?


Astounding: after a nap, fitful at best, I raise the window shade and recognize the landscape we’re flying over! I am looking down on the Rio Grande river south of Albuquerque. The clouds are hyper- real, as if the distinction between them and dry air makes them tighter, shiny, iridescent. I see the blotches of malpais spreading out, and see the narrow green passages that bring water out of the hills.


I’d guess we’re over AZ  now. Earth peach then cream then rosy rust, freckled with sagebrush and scored with fine lines of roads. Ambly rivers mostly dry, wide dry washes, scoured places, the cross hatching of Mesa cliffs rising to their tabletops. There’s a river that looks to be milky sand white, shaded with green that fades quickly from the edges.

There’s a layer of yellowish mauve smog above us that was nowhere to be seen in April. Smog at over 30,000 feet – clearly that’s not from around here.

June 27 —

When I was a young teen I had a transistor radio, the boxy kind with a wrist strap, a 9v battery and only the AM signal. It was my constant companion, hanging from bike’s handlebars, saddle horn and nesting under my pillow at night. I was discovering all kinds of music, from R&B to folk to acid rock, and loving the journey.

In those years my radio station was CKLW out of Windsor Ontario, one of the old Clear Channel power stations. At night you could pick up those big stations hundreds, maybe thousands, of miles away. I heard CKLW in Connecticut one time, visiting a high school friend who moved away.

Now I have my iPhone in my hand or nearby, all my waking hours, and often it’s streaming internet radio. And there are still those magic times when sounds float out of the radio that make my senses thrill, a wild sense of joy and freedom arise, or a deep longing for something lost or never seen.

July 1 —

Beacon coffee, Ventura California. Dont miss the coffee here, seriously. yum.

The Manage the Manager conference ate my weekend, in the best possible way. The course wasn’t as good as I’d hoped, but the companionship, networking and socializing with amazing people was better than I could have dreamed.

Last night’s twilight drive up through The Valley was pretty stunning, these shades of violet steep hills backlit by a soft mauvey sky – I thought it was such a cliche image, but this am surfing for a similar scene and I can’t find it. I guess I should try a painting.

Today I head north up to the Santa Ynez wine country and on to Pismo Beach for the night. I booked my hotel there because I needed to sleep where I could hear the Pacific, and it cost me pretty dearly. So last night in a chain motel, just crashing along the road, there is a ‘theme’ on the TV with wave sounds and an animated  ocean and moon. The video was too bright, but the wave sounds were just what I needed. In theory I resent the synthetic ocean, but it was really excellent sleep, so what’s to complain about? I’ll compare to the Real Thing tonight.

By chatting with my host the coffee roaster I learn that from Ojai to Ventura is the setting for the award winning film There Will Be Blood,  directed by Paul Thomas Anderson with music by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead. (The score really boosts  the intensity of this film, which is not about nice guys. Fair warning!) It sets the tale in the era of oil discovery in California.  I highly recommend the film for a glimpse of our industrial history, as well as its cinematic quality.

Day 9, part 2: Grand Indeed

Catching up now, since we have safely landed at Pleasant Hill, here is the:

Grand Canyon report from Day 9

We considered passing the Canyon by in order to save time, and dismissed that idea within seconds. Our hearts were clear. I wanted to see Flagstaff, to satisfy a nostalgic itch I was having, so we fueled up at Starbucks and also put gas in the car. What a sweet western town, plenty of hippie vibes, and that mountain pine scent in the air.

We chose the more scenic route that took us across the shoulders of the San Francisco Peaks through the Coconino and Kaibab national forests, and were well rewarded with towering pines and views of the mountain turning blue-violet in the afternoon. Lo and behold the engine light came on again once we passed 7,000 feet in altitude. This time we knew why.

San Francisco Peaks

We arrived at the park gates to find three lanes of visitors, checked in (thank you Senior Park Pass!) and were guided to a particular lot. Steps from our car was the storied abyss, glorious in late afternoon light. I oogled, I snapped pics, walked, then sat and filled myself with canyon beauty.

When I sat and allowed the scene to fill me with color and light and space and beautiful air, I began to “see” things. My mind embellished the natural patterns with order that was unlikely to be there: Tibetan monasteries, stupas, temples,  arches and windows. There was even a pyramid!

It’s true, the pictures just don’t do it justice. Maybe it’s the lack of vertigo? 😉

I felt like I was an instrument being played by the landscape. It was sublime, splendid, spectacular, and special, and I will commence a plan to return with the time to contemplate, to paint, and to invite the Grand Canyon to make music with me.

The Josephine Report:

Grand Canyon, Take One

How many beautiful calendar pictures of the Grand Canyon have I ingested in my lifetime?  Cliche # 2: no picture captures the overwhelming “whatness” you’re reaching for as you approach the experience itself.
I think I expected a straight-down-from-the-rim-to-the-bottom visual, and what I discovered was a complex system of canyons stretching over many hundreds of twisty square miles. Looking down, I could barely discern the Colorado River (and only a tiny glimpse from one vantage point) that created this majesty. Looking across, the other world of the North Rim was unimaginable, and the Painted Desert beyond, unfathomable.
I’m so accustomed to be able to focus and that’s just what this landscape refuses. Here’s what friend Glee Bartlett has to say about that:
“I remember painting at the canyon. I spent the day at it, but the canyon kept changing — every I’d time I’d look up I’d lose my focal point. So, I also painted — in great detail — the large green fly that lit on my easel and rested a for a longggg time. I love that painting.”
The distances, colors and perspectives were constantly evolving as the late afternoon light and our position changed. Distances? The faraway to the North Rim is just that, until I read the placard saying it’s 9 miles away. And  the Painted Desert behind THAT — the same desert we’d visited (admittedly in a different part) several hours earlier. There is definitely something mind-bending going on here.
Glee, I remain in gratitude to your large green fly, who helps to ground us,

Day 9, part 1: Across the Desert

On this amazing day  we traveled over 450 miles and through many amazing types of terrain. We are pretty bone-weary and happy, since we ended our day with the Grand Canyon. That story is for Part 2.

This morning we left ABQ after fueling up at Starbucks and heading out old 66 for a bit. The empty desert stretched out forever before us, powdery sand and shriveled sage baking in the sun. As bleak as it was, soon there were bluffs and mesas, and we passed by Acoma Sky City as I read the amazing tale of their civilization (on Wikipedia, natch).

Whizzing along Interstate 40

Later we were sweeping through big curving red rock landscapes, passing impoverished Indian settlements and eccentric tourist traps as we ate up the miles. We got gas at Gallup, near the once-famous Hotel El Rancho, favoured by movie stars in the days of the big Western pictures: John Wayne and the like.

We crossed the Continental Divide and then the Arizona border. Somewhere our phones decided we had crossed into Pacific time as well, so the day became even longer.

Arizona brought less arid landscape: some breath of green to the range, and cattle appeared, grazing upon it. Lunchtime was a wonderful picnic at the Petrified Forest NP. Our shaded picnic table looked out over colorful hills dotted with petrified logs.The wind literally wuthered: around the rocks, the shelter, the scrub pine and sage.

Petrified Forest NP

There were lizards skittering, and birds. A few wildflowers were blooming including a cactus with orange blossoms.

After lunch, once again we were climbing. We were approaching the San Francisco Mountains and Flagstaff, gateway to the canyon lands beyond. But that’s tomorrow’s story. Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, here is today’s

Josephine Report: Desert Thoughts

Patrise and I have an ongoing conversation about how we feel about being in the desert. Both of us have lived our lives in various parts of the country surrounded by water, woods, and green growing things. Today we spent a good five hours traversing the New Mexico and Arizona desert, so that gave us time to think about being in it. I find it forbidding, inhospitable, bringing up survival fears. No leafy cover, no humidity, the sun so aggressive. I know I will never choose to live in such an environment.  For Patrise, her body responds with a big “yes”! But let her speak for herself.

And yet, it’s not as simple as that for me. I’ve now participated in three retreats over the past several years in the high desert near Abiquiu with White Eagle on her sacred land, Star Dance. Although the environment of the desert there did keep me on edge, it also sharpened my senses and mental faculties. I gained an enormous respect for the living creatures there who manage to thrive in such adversity; the sparseness of the landscape did not have the same emptiness I experienced crossing the desert at 70 miles an hour.

I’m waiting for the Desert Elders to join the conversation and share their wisdom.

My two cents on the desert is that I feel a tremendous joy when in New Mexico, that seems in conflict with the lack of water. I’ve been a water person my whole life. But something literally enchants me in the Land of Enchantment. More on this later.

San Francisco Peaks

For now, zzzzz.

Day 8: Santa Fe & Albuquerque

Elizabeth Mesh of NM Artists for Hire

We’ve enjoyed another respite here in this magical place. I visited friend Elizabeth, proprietor of NM Artists for Hire. Her work brings artists into the community for special events, self expression and healing. We enjoyed walking the old town with Elizabeth as our guide, particularly admiring the churches.

St. Francis Cathedral, a gorgeous french Romanasque revival building. Church occupied this site since 1608

As artists we all had interesting projects to share. I was delighted that my friends Elizabeth and Jose shared their enthusiasm for feminist and contemporary art. Although Elizabeth had to go to work, she urged us to be sure to visit Site Santa Fe.

I loved the show – and especially Linda Mary Montano’s exhibit , in a way I haven’t connected with conceptual and performance art before.  First of all Site Santa Fe has a commitment to engaging and educating its audience. With their mileiu of contemporary art, too often people come and don’t know what to make of the work. The gallery guides are trained to interact with patrons in a way that bridges understanding, making challenging works more accessible.

If you are used to contemplating museum art in splendid isolation, it can feel a bit like being interrupted while shopping by a helpful clerk. But I went in knowing this about the facility and I engaged the guides as well. It was odd at first, and then wonderful to know I could ask (dumb) questions and get helpful response. For instance, there were quite a few videos in one part of the show, and one of them was mostly static. I asked without fear if this was the intended work, or a technical problem. Turned out it WAS a bad DVD!

Art is deliberately challenging, especially contemporary, conceptual and performance art. SITE Santa Fe has created a good model for helping people find their way into the work, where the museum staff are not just silent guardians, but there to enhance your experience.

I had some fun with Mungo Thompson’s Time Covers:

Mungo Thomson’s Time Covers at Site Santa Fe

More of beautiful New Mexico:

Big Sky Country
Dog Park Santa Fe