Saying goodbye to the desert....

Four Women and a Kit Fox by Stu Jenks

To read the full story of "Leaving Endicott West," start from the bottom post in this category and read upwards.

Edited to add: There's also a reflection on the process that I wrote a year later, which you'll find here: "Little Deaths" (February 17, 2015).

The gorgeous picture above is "Four Women and a Kit Fox" by Tucson photographer Stu Jenks, a long-time friend to all of us at E-West.

Tune for a Monday Morning

I'll be travelling home to England from mid-day Sunday to Monday evening (Tucson to Georgia to London to Exeter to our little village at the edge of the's a bit of a journey), so I'm writing this piece in advance and setting it up for automated posting on Monday morning (UK time). The music today is from Charles de Lint and MaryAnn Harris, who filmed this video for Charles' song "Cherokee Girl" here in Tucson and at Endicott West. It seems like a fitting farewell to the desert. I'll be back of course, and will continue to re-visit this landscape in fiction, art, and dreams, but my life right now is firmly rooted in Devon, family, and the Chagford community.

Rincon Mountains in rain

This weekend, we were blessed with rain in the desert. I know that sounds odd to friends back in Chagford, where we've had so much rain this winter that we're all in danger of turning into fish and floating away. But in this dry, dry land water is precious, sacred, and deeply magical. It deepens the colors of cacti and stone, and smells....oh, the scent of the desert after the rain is indescribable, but it's one of the best scents in the world.

The scents of sage and creosote fill the air

The Rincon Mountains

“A Sonoran Desert village may receive five inches of rain one year and fifteen the next," writes Gary Paul Nabhan (in The Desert Smells Like Rain). "A single storm may dump an inch and a half in the matter of an hour on one field and entirely skip another a few hours away. Dry spells lasting for months may be broken by a single torrential cloudburst, then resume again for several more months. Unseasonable storms, and droughts during the customary rainy seasons, are frequent enough to reduce patterns to chaos. The Papago [a.k.a. the Tohono O'odham] have become so finely tuned to this unpredictability that it shapes the way they speak of rain. It has also ingrained itself deeply in the structure of their language. Linguist William Pilcher has observed that the Papago discuss events in terms of their probability of occurrence, avoiding any assumption that an event will happen for sure..."

"Since few Papago are willing to confirm that something will happen until it does, an element of surprise becomes part of almost everything. Nothing is ever really cut and dried. When rains do come, they're a gift, a windfall, a lucky break.”

Wind chimes

I feel lucky indeed to have lived in the Sonoran Desert. Thank you, beloved and beautiful land. For everything you have taught me over all these years, and for this rain. I'll miss you. And I won't forget.

After rain

Notes from the desert, Sunday:

photograph by Stu Jenks

The photograph above is "24 Brand New Hours" by Stu Jenks. It's a picture of the hook by the Bunk House door where I used to hang my house & truck keys, the words hand-written on the wall in gold ink (where I'd read them whenever I went out).

This morning, I've hung my key to the Bunk House on this hook for the very last time.

My heart is full. My heart is bursting. And now it's time to say goodbye.

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 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.


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

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 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