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January 2014

Notes from the desert, Thursday:

The view from the porch, looking out to the Rincons, where my novel ''The Wood Wife'' was set.

"The sky was as full of motion and change as the desert beneath it was monotonous and still, and there was so much sky, more than at sea, more than anywhere else in the world. The plain was there, under one's feet, but what one saw when one looked about was that brilliant blue world of stinging air and moving cloud. Even the mountains were mere ant-hills under it. Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky. The landscape one longed for when one was away, the thing all about one, the world one actually lived in, was the sky, the sky!"
  -  Willa Cather

The sky, the sky.

Benjamine Aliere Sanez's poem ''To Desert'' written on the wall of the Main House kitchenTo the Desert
by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

I came to you one rainless August night.
You taught me how to live without the rain.
You are thirst and thirst is all I know.
You are sand, wind, sun, and burning sky,
The hottest blue. You blow a breeze and brand
Your breath into my mouth. You reach—then bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
You wrap your name tight around my ribs
And keep me warm. I was born for you.
Above, below, by you, by you surrounded.
I wake to you at dawn. Never break your
Knot. Reach, rise, blow, Sálvame, mi dios,
Trágame, mi tierra. Salva, traga, Break me,
I am bread. I will be the water for your thirst.


I love Saenz's poem because I also moved to the desert on a hot August night, in 1990, and the land did indeed teach me how "to live without the rain," breaking me open and fashioning my life, work, art, and spirit anew. I love the poem so much that I wrote on the kitchen wall here at Endicott West, surrounded by my favorite desert trees, the ghostly white sycamores....

Desert sycamore tree murals in the Main House kitchenThe mural paintings in the Main House kitchen, and Saenz's poem hand-written in gold ink.

EWest kitchenEvening in the kitchen, looking out to horse corrals and mountains. So many fine conversations here....

Charles Vess & Charles de Lint at E-WestCharles Vess and Charles de Lint at the same table some years ago, signing pages for....was it "Medicine Road"?

Common Room

The Common Room in the Main HouseThe Common Room in the Main House, and color, color, everywhere. The clear desert light seems to demand it.

Oliver & Toby, E-West, 2005My beloved cat Oliver (the big tiger-striped boy) on the Common Room couch, with Emma Bull and Will Shetterly's cat Toby, 2005. Oliver lived to be an old man of 20, and is buried on the ranch.

The CasitaThe beehive fireplace in the Casita (one of the Retreat's guest spaces), on a cool desert evening.

The Casita porch, surrounded by a walled gardenEvening light on the Casita's back porch.

Desert sycamore tree mural in the Bunk House The desert sycamore tree in E-West's Bunk House (another guest space), where I live when I'm here.

Desert lightAbove, morning light beside my bed. Below, sunset is reflected on the Rincon Mountains to the east.

''I go into the desert not only to evade the clamor and confusion of this country's cultural apparatus but also to confront, immediately and directly if it’s possible, the bare bones of existence, the elemental and fundamental, the bedrock which sustains us. I want to be able to look at and into a juniper tree, a piece of quartz, a vulture, a spider, and see it as it is in itself, devoid of all humanly ascribed qualities, anti-Kantian, even the categories of scientific description. To meet God or Medusa face to face, even if it means risking everything human in myself. I dream of a hard and brutal mysticism in which the naked self merges with a nonhuman world and yet somehow survives still intact, individual, separate. Paradox and bedrock.''  - Edward Abbey (Desert Solitaire)

P1080803Photo credits: Some of the interior pictures come from Long Realty (shot before packing began), and the rest are mine.


Notes from the desert, Wednesday:

Javelina

Javelina seem to be the patron animals here at Endicott West this week, as they've been coming around quite regularly -- particularly out at the Bunk House, where I'm sleeping, where they snuffle around both day and night and prowl right through my dreams.

Javelina

During one of the times when Howard was here in Tucson he remarked that javelina, despite their bristly bulk, looked to him like ballet dancers en pointe as they crossed the desert on oddly daintly little feet. This sparked the following little drawing by me, followed by a charming poetic ditty by Howard, from which these words are drawn....

Dancing Javelina

JavelinaSince the local javelina herd has an uncanny knack of appearing only when my camera is not nearby, the photographs above come from the Tucson Weekly site (photographers uncredited).


The talismans I hold...

Endicott West

"We need to return to learning about the land by being on the land, or better, by being in the thick of it. That is the best way we can stay in touch with the fates of its creatures, its indigenous cultures, its earthbound wisdom. That is the best way we can be in touch with ourselves."  - Gary Paul Nabhan (The Geography of Childhood)

Endicott West

"I heard a young city boy ask an elderly Papago woman if, lacking a harvesting pole, one could ever collect fruit off the tall cacti by throwing rocks at the tops to knock the fruit down.

"'No!' Marquita replied with a strain of horror in her voice. 'The saguaros -- they are Indians too. You don't ever throw anything at them. If you hit them on the head with rocks you could kill them. You don't ever stick anything sharp into their skin either, or they will just dry up and die. You don't do anything to hurt them. They are Indians."  - Gary Paul Nabhan (The Desert Smells Like Rain)

Endicott West

Endicott West

Endicott West

"We know so very little about this strange planet we live on, this haunted world where all answers lead only to more mystery.”  - Edward Abbey (Desert Solitaire)

Wind chimes in the mesquite tree

Endicott West

"Experience is the talisman I hold for courage. It is the desert that persuades me toward love, to step outside and defy custom one more time."  - Terry Tempest Williams (Desert Quartet)

Endicott West


Tunes for a Monday Morning

This morning: music from the American south-west, in a range of musical moods.

First, two pieces for Native American flute by the brilliant Ute/Navajo flautist and composer R. Carlos Nakai, who lives here in Tucson. Above, "Feather, Stone, and Light," performed by Nakai with his long-time collaborators William Clipman and William Easton, at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. Below, a solo improvisation on the Native American flute, at the same performance.

Next:

The wonderful Mexican-American singer/songwriter Trish Hinojosa performing "Donde Voy," backed up by Marvin Dykhuis. Hinojosa hails from San Antonio, but performs here in Tucson quite a bit.

And last:

Tucson's own Calexico, performing "Crystal Frontier," their classic song about the Arizona/Mexico border.


The Endicott West Auction, continuued

Cortney Skinner, Terri Windling, EWest auction

Ellen Kushner is running the last of the Endicott West auctions now, starting with what she calls a "Pre-Raphaelite Blow-out": two book boxes, a box of Morris fabrics...and the leather jacket pictured above, which I modelled in the driveway this morning.

Yes, gentle Readers, it really is a "Hell's Pre-Raphaelite" motorcycle jacket -- designed and  hand-painted by my friend Cortney Skinner. I wore it (and dearly loved it!) for twenty years -- but health issues, alas, have put my motorcycle days behind me, and it's time for the jacket to be passed on. The painting on the back has faded a bit due to all those long motorcyle rides in the hot desert sun, but Cortney has very kindly offered to touch it up again for the auction winner.  (More information on this auction is here. And to see Cortney's other fabulous illustration work, go here.)

Ellen has two more auction offerings in store: a box of books by writers who have stayed at the Retreat (all signed), and a box of sketches and prints by me (from last week's studio clear-out). Keep an eye on her blog for those later today, as they will be the very last E-West auction items.


The Endicott West Book Auction

Books in the E-West Library

Books, books, books. There are books in every room and outbuilding here, as well as the books in the E-West Library (above)...and I've lost some sleep since the Retreat closed wondering what on earth would become of them. There are books I've been collecting since I was young, books I worked on in my years as an editor in New York, and books reviewed for the sixteen volumes of The Year's Fantasy & Horror that I  Some of the books in the E-West Casitaco-edited with Ellen Datlow. There are folklore texts and fat art volumes and first editions signed by various writer friends...and a whole lot more. I haven't the space to house them in England, where our house is tiny and the bookshelves full-to-bursting already. What (I wondered) would become of these Mythic Arts orphans, wandering friendless and alone in the cold, cruel world...?

It turns out that there's a wonderful solution to the problem, thanks to the efforts of Ellen Kushner and Lynne Thomas. The bulk of the E-West Library is now being donated to the Special Collections at Northern Illinois University, where the books will be of use to students and researchers of mythic arts and fantastic literature. Hoorah!

Also, the indefatiguable Ellen is now holding an E-West Book Auction for a few hand-selected gems from the library shelves. There will be several different boxes of books to bid on, with the auction Some of the books in the E-West Bunkhouserunning over the next few days. Money raised this way will be used to defray international moving expenses (I'd like to take a few favorites to Devon, but shipping costs are insanely high). So if you'd like own some lovely books, and also a little piece of E-West's history, head over to Puggy's Hill (Ellen's blog), where the first auction has now begun.....

Edited to add: The second auction has started now, with four new boxes of books to chose from: A Biography Box, a Poetry Lover's Box, a Short Story Lover's Box, and a box of Fiction by Native American Authors. You'll find more information on Puggy's Hill. And stayed tuned for Ellen's final auctions: Pre-Raphaelite treasures, art from the E-West studio, and other sundry things.

Edited again to add: These auctions are now closed, and the books will soon be on their way to their new homes. Many thanks to all who bid.

Some of the books in the Quail House writing hut

The Quail House


Coyote sunrise

Old Coyote by Max Grafe

When I first moved to the desert, in the autumn of 1990, I shared a little house down a long dirt road with my friend and fellow writer Ellen Steiber. Charles de Lint wrote a magical poem about it -- and I'm reminded of his words on this early desert morning, as coyotes prowl the E-West grounds, closer and closer. Singing....

In the Women's House
Coyote by Charles Vessspirits are speaking.

The women
are tapping word-hoards
until stories
jump like cholla thorns
from mind to pen,
burrowing deep beneath
the skin.

In the Fairy House,
Coyote sleeps.

All around him, in the desert,
saguaro dream like green giants
while Coyote juggles
mischief and luck in his sleep.
All around him, in the desert,
the uncles and aunts
teach us to remember
that we are still animals....


To read the rest of the poem, go here.

Coyote11

Charles and me in Sabino Canyon

The painting above comes from Old Coyote by Nancy Wood, illustrated by Max Grafe; and the drawing is from Medicine Road by Charles de Lint, illustrated by Charles Vess. The photograph above is of Charles de Lint and me in here in Tucson, way back in the early 1990s, snapped by Charles' lovely wife, MaryAnn Harris. It's just one of the many things I've come across while clearing out the E-West files. Memories, memories, memories.

In the photograph below, taken in the E-West kitchen (by Ellen Kushner) just yesterday, the old Pendleton jacket and I are twenty years older....we're both a bit worn, faded, and frayed...but I'm still enraptured  by the magic of the desert. Some things never change.

At Endicott West, Tucson, 2014


Dawn in the desert...

EWest

...is a glorious thing. Even though I'm here for a sad reason: to close down the Endicott West Arts Retreat, my beloved winter home for many years.

On the long front porch of the E-West ranch, the chairs face east towards the rising sun. The porch pillars are made of tree trunks, topped with Mexican corbels where mourning doves build nests. The mountain peak in the distance (to the north) is Mount Lemmon, in the Santa Catalina range.

EWest

The porch looks out onto cactus, creosote, brittlebush, sage, and mesquite trees, with acres of cholla forest behind, and the Rincon Mountains to the east. In spring, these cacti will bloom with large, waxy flowers in red, yellow, orange, purple, and pink.

EWest

The view from Endicott West's front porch never fails to take my breath away; it is too beautiful to ever take for granted. The land is a mixture of soft and sharp: the vegetation flamboyantly prickly, the soil dry and powdery underfoot. The ground rolls upward as it rises into the foothills of the Rincon range -- lifting us up, cupping us ever-so-gently in its ancient palm.

To the left (above) is a long dirt driveway, and to the right the path leads to a deep wash -- which is dry much of the year, but turns into a small, swift river during the rainy seasons. Animals use these washes as their highway system as they move across the desert.

EWest

The horse corrals (above) on the north side of the ranch stand empty. The horses who lived here (owned by friends) have been moved into new quarters nearby. I miss their cheerful presence, their antics and adventures. It seems strange here without them now.

EWest

Above is the doorway into the Casita -- the largest of the Retreat's guest spaces (with its own little kitchen, back porch, and secret walled garden). I love the pillars that hold up the tin porch roof here, which were made from the trunks of mesquite trees. Everywhere I look are signs of our love and labor -- a once-homely house (in a fine stretch of desert) utterly transformed by a collaborative aesthetic vision, a good strong working partnership, generosity, community, a bit of magic, and lots of plain hard work. The ranch looks aged and settled now -- vines draping the walls just as we'd imagined, saplings grown now into sturdy desert trees. It looks like it's always been this way. Which is just as we had wanted it to be.

The old door in the wall

A Mexican statue of St. Francis stands beneath the palm tree by the Main House door....

EWest

His little dish holds stones, fossils, and shells -- a constantly changing mix of things as Retreat guests take stones for luck, and leave new ones for future visitors. (He'll be going to live with my dear old friend and JoMA partner, Midori Snyder.)

St. Francis welcomes visitors to E-Westx

The campfire pit (below), behind the Bunk House, is a place where I've spent many a night...sitting by a crackling mesquite fire beneath the desert's vast canopy of stars. Of all the things I'll miss about E-West, I think I'll miss this most of all.

EWest

Bunk House porch, early evening

The Bunk House (in a corner of the horse barn) was my living space on the E-West grounds -- although we also used it as a guest space whenever I wasn't in residence. The Bunk House is more rustic than the Main House and Casita -- more solitary, more prone to visitations from the desert's abundant wildlife: rabbits, coyotes, snakes, Gilla monsters, mule deer, kit fox, the occasional bobcat, the white owl living in rafters of the barn, and midnight sorties by the local javelina herd. This is, of course, precisely why I loved it. (And why I painted so many ''animal spirit" paintings during the years I lived there.)

 

Kit Fox Spirit

This land has a distinctive, unsettling form of beauty: prickly and soft, harsh and lush, a place of contradictions ...revelations...holding twenty-odd years of my personal history. It's an emotional experience clearing out the ranch -- each drawer, each shelf, each box coated with memories as thick as dust.

On Tuesday I closed down the art studio....

EWest

...and we began to sort through the many things that must be packed, or sold, or given away, or given back to the various folks in the E-West community that they belong to.

9

There's a tangible record of the many fine folk who've lived, stayed, or worked here over the years, made up of the items they've left behind.  The chairs here, for instance, belonged to writers Emma Bull & Will Shetterly, the clay heads to sculptor Beckie Kravetz. Each item on the ranch, no matter how humble, has its own story to tell.

EWest

Yesterday, we began to dismantle the Library...a Herculean and melancholy task. I haven't the space to house the books in the UK (nor do I have the small fortune it would take to ship them there), so I'm plucking out some sentimental favorites and sending the rest out into the world again. Let go, let go, let go, let go, has been my constant mantra this week, these wise words from Mary Oliver's poem "In Blackwater Woods" running through my head:

To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

I am letting them go. I am letting it all go. Life moves on and so will I.

EWest

In the picture of the E-West Library above, the shelves are (sadly) starting to be cleared, and the big old desk that sat under window, on the right, has already been given away. (It was painted dusky blue, and I'd etched the words ''Once upon a time'' into the paint.)

And that old velvet couch, which belonged to my grandmother, and then my mother, then me -- where will that go? Well, at the moment, I just don't know. It won't fit into a box or suitcase, and so it can't come back to Chagford with me. I am saying goodbye not only to E-West, but to all the years of my American life before I married Howard and moved to England full-time....

Doors close. Door open. Life changes. As Tomás in The Wood Wife would say: It's all dammas.

EWest

One last photo today: the old bench by the wash, in the shade of palo verde and mesquite trees...a   favorite spot for dreaming, writing, sketching, and watching wildlife go by.

Nicotiana ObtusifoliaThe little plants sprouting at the bench's feet are fresh green shoots of desert tobacco. They'll grow taller and fuller in the months ahead. For some years I'd been trying to grow desert tobacco (for ceremonial use) without success -- carefully planting seeds from Native Seed Search in my desert garden, where they never came up. Finally, a Tohono O'odham friend advised me: ''Tobacco is shy. Scatter your seeds in an out-of-the-way place, and then turn your back on them.'' I did so, throwing the seeds onto the quieter, wilder land on the south side of the house -- where they grew, flourished, self-seeded and spread, returning year after year.

The new owners of the ranch won't know this story. Tobacco will bloom (a pretty little yellow flower) and they won't know why it's growing here. But, I remind myself, it doesn't matter. The land will remember. The trees will remember. The long-lived saguaro will remember too -- for I am now part of this land's long story. We are all part of its story. A new chapter is beginning. Other voices will tell it now. But the story carries on.

Animal tracks disappearing up the wash


Cactus country

Saguaro in Sabino Canyon, Tucson

"He'd always had a quickening of the heart when he crossed into Arizona and beheld the cactus country. This was as the desert should be, this was the desert of the picture books, with the land unrolled to the farthest distant horizon hills, with saguaro standing sentinel in their strange chessboard pattern, towering supinely above the fans of ocotillo and brushy mesquite."  - Dorothy B. Huges (The Expendable Man)

Pathway through the desert

Gambel's Quail

 “It’s strange how deserts turn us into believers. I believe in walking in a landscape of mirages, because you learn humility. I believe in living in a land of little water because life is drawn together. And I believe in the gathering of bones as a testament to spirits that have moved on. If the desert is holy, it is because it is a forgotten place that allows us to remember the sacred. Perhaps that is why every pilgrimage to the desert is a pilgrimage to the self."  - Terry Tempest Williams (Refuge)

Curved bill thrasher

Road Runner

"I pray to the birds because they remind me of what I love rather than what I fear. And at the end of my prayers, they teach me how to listen."  - Terry Tempest Williams (Refuge)

Hummingbird

 It's lovely to be waking up to the sound of Sonoran desert birds again. Hello, birds. Hello, saguaro. Hello, mountains and coyotes. Oh, it's good to be back. I've missed you.

Cactus Wren

Desert Elf Owl

Photographs above: sonoran desert pathway, saquaro cacti, Gambel's quail, curved-bill thrasher, road runner perched on a cholla cactus spine,hummingbird, cactus wren, and a cactus-dwelling elf owl. (Photographs draw from Audubon and Sonoran information sites, photograhers unknown.)