Sunday, September 8, 2013

Mesa Verde Resonates with Art

Here in the arid southwest, where the Ancient Puebloan people must have had to work very hard just to survive during times of drought and overpopulation, they still found the time to create beauty. The place is filled with art, in the pottery, basketry, rock art and wall paintings. They even wove beautiful red and blue macaw feathers into stunning robes.

I have been so busy hiking, exploring and visiting museums, both the one on Chapin Mesa and The Anasazi Heritage Center in Dolores, Colorado, I finally settled down to making some art of my own today. I bought a few sketch books before I left and have spent some time doing a bit of sketching. I did some quick sketches while on two of my backcountry solo sojourns, another at 7:00 AM this morning at Spruce Tree House and the other day at Long House. I have also done some sketches of the amazing black and white geometric design found on Mesa Verde pottery.

Today I settled in at the picnic table at the rear of my hogan and translated these designs into screens and silk screened them on to cotton fabric I brought with me. It was a lovely day outside, somewhat overcast and a bit cooler, but a gentle wind was blowing that made the screening process a bit of a challenge. I hope to add some detail freehand with textile markers. I really love how the ancient potters did not dwell on perfection and in their imperfection beauty dwells. Another life lesson worth learning.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Mesa Verde - These Boots

These boots have carried me a long way from home and have been a godsend here in Colorado. My Merrells and Thurlo hiking socks have taken me up ladders and ledges, up cliffs and down canyons. Through Cliff Palace, Balcony House, Oak Tree House and many others. I was very thankful for them today when a woman about 8 or 9 years older than me tried to maneuver our backcountry hike to Oak Tree House in her Keds, carrying a large handbag instead of a back pack. I watched her fall right on her can and totter along the entire trail. I tried not to walk right behind her in case she fell off a ladder and took me down with her. She did the ultimate back country no, no and asked the ranger if she could sit on one of the fragile 700 year walls. The response: "if  you think you are going to have a medical emergency it would be alright."  I interpret that to mean, " I would rather you sat on a wall than pass out and fall off a cliff costing the government $20,000,00 to save your sorry butt."

As I consider the value of good pair of hiking boots today, I think back to another pair of boots that impacted my life. I should preface this by mentioning how I always used to dread getting gifts from my Dad, and with good cause I might add. Basically, he was complete crap when it came to buying gifts. If he made something for you, that was alright because he was a fantastic craftsmean and the furniture he made was truly a work of art. You were probably OK if he bought you a book, since he usually bought nature books; so chances were at least 50/50, and worst case scenario, you could take it back to the book store. Other than that, Oh Lord!

One time he bought a teenaged cousin of mine a size 6 sweatshirt, because that was how big he was the last time my Dad saw him. Another time I came home from work and found a cement Indian painted in garish colors sitting on my front porch, a birthday gift from my Dad. But the all time doozy of a gift was one Chiristmas when he bought my mother the most beautiful coral colored wool cocktail dress. It was a real stunner, but also, I believe a size 6. My mother had never been a size 6 in her life, she was pretty much a solid 12 or 14 despite the fact that she was only about 5 feet tall.

Well,  she was highly insulted that the dress was about 3 sizes too small and made my Dad take it back to the store. I don't think she spoke to him for a whole week. So you can imagine my brother's and my trepidation, when the next Christmas she opened a box containing boys high top work boots from Sears. These were hiking boots my Dad quickly explained, so that she would be more comfortable when we went hiking and camping. I could not have  been more surprized when my Mom smiled, put them right on and declared that she loved them. She wore them for many years after that momentous Chritsmas Day when my Dad actually purchased a great gift. Here's to you Mom. Happy Trails.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Mesa Verde and Black and White Thinking

The  Ancient Puebloan People of Mesa Verde are known for their unique Black on White pottery. Much of it was raided and sold by pot hunters, a practice that. unfortunately, is still occurring today, do you hear me eBay? There are still fine examples to be seen in the museums here and I am struck by how many of these ancient designs have been used by quilters and artists for centuries. It seem even Hitler stole the swastika from the ancient ones. However, being a therapist by trade I am reminded of a type of cognitive distortion referred to as "back and white thinking." I fear, and notice the verb I use here, that I have my own black and white thinking process going on.

Mine is the staunch, and heretofore, unshakable belief that I am an acrophobic (fear of heights) person. I have been afraid of heights ever since about the age of three, when my Dad put me on his back piggy back style and climbed up a rock face in The Hocking Hills.  Ever since then I have not been able to climb up a 3 foot step ladder without my knees knocking together. Flashback to the 1960's, the last time I visited Mesa Verde with my family. They were either very ignorant about the conditions of the hike or were being very cagey in not telling me that you had to climb three ladders up the face of the cliff to get out of the place. I suspect the latter. Although I did ask why I just couldn't go back the way we came in, I was told that due to "federal regulations," this was not possible (so they said). So, with my Dad pushing from behind, I made it up to the top.  My knees, however,  kept locking in place making my progress so slow, that I can still remember other visitors shouting up to the top, "What's going on up there, is something the matter?

This all leads me to the point that it is fear that often  keeps our thinking and actions locked into place, just like my knees. Knowing that I was deathly afraid of heights I applied for this artist residency anyway, a sort of "Don't Ask Don't Tell Policy," that has worked out pretty well for me. I must say I have been put to the test both yesterday and today. During the hike yesterday to Petroglyph Point I came to a part of the trail where I had to get my leg up on a rock ledge to get to the next level and I was just too short to do it, I contemplated going back the way I came, but fearing Federal Regulations finally found a hidden hand hold and went on up. Not one minute later, the trail turned to a near vertical angle and I was literally hanging on to trees (shrubs?) to keep from pitching backwards into the canyon. Brought me right back to those childhood cartoons where the tree breaks. I was expecting to see The "Road Runner and TNT next.

Today  I went on the most vertically challenging ranger lead hike there is, to Balcony House. This gem required climbing a 32 foot ladder up the cliff face, that's three stories folks, then at the end climbing up the cliff using hand  and foot holds carved in the rock, luckily there was heavy duty iron chain to hold onto. You can bet your life that I never looked down not even one peep.

One last fear-based challenge takes place first thing Friday morning when I take my first back county hike out to Long House. To get there I will have to drive about 45 minutes down a road that is officially closed and locked for the season, then hike out to the dwelling alone, Incidentally there was a siting of a mountain lion in the dwelling this spring.. I will have a radio with me, but of all things, I am worried I won't be able to work the radio properly. Is there a name for that? 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Preparing for Backcountry Hiking or How to Build a Cat Hole

  Hiking on The Petroglyph Trail

One of the truly exceptional aspects of this once in a life time experience of serving as Artist in Residence at Mesa Verde NationalPark is the opportunity to apply for a backcountry permit to hike and visit the areas of the park without the distraction of other visitors. This is a fairly rigorous process, as well it should be, to both protect the integrity of the park's antiquities, natural resources and the safety of the the people applying for this privilege. Before I left Ohio I had to watch a video about backcountry safety (no mention here of how to handle animal attacks of assorted kinds, see previous post, Thank You brother Bruce) as well as read a manual on back country etiquette. Now I have to fill out a permit for each visit, have it signed by two people and carry a radio advising the rangers of my arrival and departure time, in order to save the government the expense of costly search and rescue missions involving helicopters, which I am told get charged to your Visa account at $15, 000.00 a pop. Now more about the etiquette part.
 Petroglyph Wall

For those of you who were wondering, no this is not about being polite while you are hiking, it is about being a steward of the fragile environment that is Mesa Verde. Two primary concepts are : take only photos,  and carry it in, carry it out. The manual gives sage advice on what to do if you, shall we say, need to use the facilities while you are in the back o' beyond. I am not kidding, if you need to go Number One you are supposed to pee on a rock or pine needles as urine attracts animals who might decide to burrow into fragile archaological sites. If you need to go Number Two, and believe me when I say that this has not happened to me since I was about nine years old, you are supposed to dig a hole just like a cat a little ways off the trail. Having had cats all of my life, I think I can just about manage this should it become necessary.
The Great Smoky Mountains  circa 1956 or so 

This process has not really been that hard for me. I visited my first National Park, The Great Smoky Mountains, when I was just 4 years old. After that our family started camping and hiking on a regular basis and I learned how to act in the wilderness. Here are a few things my Dad taught me that still come in handy: 1. take the time to learn the difference between Virginia Creeper and Poison Ivy, you'll be glad you did  2.When you camp, don't do dumb stuff like cutting down green trees for a fire, then try to set them alight with a can of gasoline 3. Be quiet after 10 PM  4.  Music makes a joyful life, sing around the campfire 5. Take time for a vacation, see the USA in your Chevrolet even if it means limping home on your spare tire with only $1.25 and a box of stale soda crackers left to your name 6.Lastly, If you want to get close to the hand of God, go fishing, take a hike in the woods or paddle a canoe. You'll find him in even the tiniest leaf stirring in the wind, the call of a bird or in the rosy glow of a sunset.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Artist Residency Mesa Verde National Park: Personal Archaelogy

Although it goes against my natural inclination to procrastinate,  I am packed and ready for my trip to Mesa Verde National Park early tomorrow morning. I have actually spent months in preparation; researching the Ancient Puebloan people, purchasing and testing out needed gear, getting into condition and learning the basics of operating my new camera. I even drug my suitcase down from the closet and started packing a week ago. I thought I was done but I had to make a last minute trip to Cabela's due my brother's advice last week. As a seasoned outdoorsman and wilderness canoer, he advised me not to wear cotton jeans or underwear into the back country unless I wanted to "have yer crotch rubbed raw if it rains." I am now in possession of a $60.00 pair of lightweight, water wicking, sun shading hiking pants. Hey, I take my crotch seriously.

Bruce provided other sage advice on matters related to wilderness hiking. On the arid conditions found at the parks's high altitude: "Drink lots of water. If yer not peein', yer in trouble." On managing dangerous wildlife:  Rattlesnakes: "Just watch where yer walkin' for Pete's sake." On Bears : " Make yourself as big as possible, wave your arms and shout, and for Cripe's sake, don't run." On Mountain Lions: "It does't really matter what you do, by the time you hear one they are already on you and going for the juggler. Yer dead meat."

One of the most compelling reasons I applied to do a residency at Mesa Verde was to be able to study the ancient people who inhabited this amazing region a thousand or so years ago. They built their sandstone dwellings first on the mesa tops and later inside cliff overhangs perched high above the valley floor. In a way, I will be able to fulfill my childhood dream of becoming an archaeologist. Studying the artifacts of ancient peoples in an attempt to learn about their culture and drawing similarities between their human experiences and our own both fascinates me and resonates in my art work. As I was packing I got to thinking about my own personal archaeology. 

A few years ago, when my Dad was living in a nursing home, my brother and I spent over a month cleaning out his home and out buildings, in short, unearthing the artifacts of our father's life. We came across many items that made us put down our brooms and just reminisce about our childhoods. I will be taking two of these items along with me on my journey, my Mom's binoculars and my Dad's Audubon bird book. They remind me of all the times my family spent camping and hiking. Bird watching was just one of the things we did to pass the time in the many state and national parks we visited over the years.

In our family, the worst two words in the English language were; " I'm bored." The automatic response was, "find something to do or I'll find something for you." So while we camped my brother and I read (well, I did), collected leaves, shells, moss, etc., played cards, had contests to see who could roast the biggest marshmallow, hung around with other camp kids and whittled sticks and soap animals. My dad kept his pocket knife razor sharp due to his personal philosophy that you were less likely to get cut if it was sharp. Only one kid ever severed an artery. We all enjoyed the diversion of ride to the local emergency room immensely. So, as I head west tomorrow, even though they are no longer with us, I'll be thinking of my parents and how much they would have enjoyed this trip. I'll watch a bird or two for you guys. 

Stay tuned for more western adventures. Ahhhhhh.... The American Southwest, where everyday is a good hair day.