Cactus country
Coyote sunrise

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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....

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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.

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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....

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...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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Comments

It is such a beautiful place. It must be difficult, but all of the wonderful memories will always be there. Best wishes.

Oh--the library. I'd forgotten that.

I used to wander in, looking for...something, and find things on the shelves I hadn't seen before. As in, hadn't seen *yesterday.* The library would change when I wasn't looking.

And we were the only people in the place.

Letting go is an everyday exercise, but that doesn't make it easier, especially in times of large upheavals. I wish you luck as you gather and release the beauty of this part of your life, knowing that it will continue touching other lives, other hearts.

My heart is full of sorrow for you Terri. For all of us who have journeyed far and loved places and people leaving and letting go is hard. You have brightened the desert by your presence and a part of you will always be there. many hugs to you x

Oh, Terri. I'm so sorry that this must happen. Sorry for you, who carries this place in your bones and your stories. Sorry for your Endicott community, for whom this is such a magical place. And, selfishly, sorry for myself--I dreamed of renting it some day. I only hope this "letting go" somehow triggers a secret lock to spring free so that an as yet unknown door opens onto a new adventure.

Letting go. So hard and so freeing. I'm still relatively young, but I already grieve the day I may need to let go of my loved ones, one at a time. Is that healthy? I don't know.

And OH, that blue couch!

I've believed in this place, visited this place, have long anticipated going back... now very sadly, that's not going to be an option.
I drank champagne with Terri in the pool (bottle left by Alan Lee, cheers), lit by Sonoran desert stars, while laughing & listening to coyote sing under saguaro... that memory will have to last.

Thank you for letting me be a part.
Todd

Thanks for the sweet messages, everyone. It's sad, yes, but let's also celebrate all that Endicott West has been for all these years, and let it go in a good and gentle way. It's time for it to close; the people who have been doing the hard (and expensive) work of keeping it going need to move on now to other things; and all of us who have loved it, lived here, worked here, will carry it's spirit forward. The packing is hard, but walking the land and thanking it for all it's given to so many of us is lovely and even joyful. As Sarah says so wisely above: letting go *is* hard, but also freeing.

I know that there are folks in the mythic arts community who'd hoped to come down someday and now won't have the chance..and so my hope is that some of you younger people will start a new mythic arts retreat somewhere, some day. The torch now passes to you.

Todd, I'll bring back a small piece of E-West for you, brother dear.

And the sweatlodge with Rupert was a fine memory of mine too. I'll be in touch soon,
Stu

If the Snake Shaman turns up, please let me know...

I've been especially looking for that, now that I'm back.

As bittersweet as it is, I am glad you are there, in that magical place, one more time. Drink it in, absorb it to your cells, although I know you already carry it with you.

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