December 13,2019
#21 COW PIES


                   #21  Cow Pies

 

I imagine most of the world’s population has seen evidence of bovine bowel movements, I was raised a city child, and I only saw evidence of this spontaneous, splashing occurrence at our annual fall fair, the Pacific National Exhibition. As an adult, many years later driving the freeways, I found myself intrigued when alongside the road a bony bovine tail rose and with malodorous majesty, baked a steaming cow pie.

            When I first roamed the Kaibab Pinyon-Juniper forest, I discovered Arizona ranch cattle apparently took the time to back up onto piles of rock, dry old prickly pear skeletons and fallen trees to deal with this necessity of life. Somehow, when I tried to envision a placid plodding cow or a short tempered bull, taking time to back their hind quarters three or four feet up into the air above rocks, clutter and cactus, it did not seem likely, yet there is was — the evidence - great dry brown whorls sitting atop piles of desert debris!

            I pondered the pies for many months, hoping one day to catch a cow — flagrante delicto and preferably while I had paint brush in hand and canvas at the ready. Ah, what a creative masterpiece that would be!

            As time passed I began to lose hope of ever seeing the curious occurrence.

            One morning as G.B and I walked past a high, cow pie topped rock pile, I turned to him and risking his scorn asked, “G.B. look! See that rock pile? Why do the cows back up there to go to the bathroom?”

            G.B. slowly turned toward me with a stunned angry look on his face.

            “Charle, CHARLE, CHARLE! His anger and volume rose with each mention of my name, “HOW CAN ANYONE BE SO STUPID! he exploded. “WHAT THE HAYLL’S IT LIKE IN Y’ALL’S HEAD? IT’S PACK RATS — PACK RATS — PACK RATS!” he screamed at me. “They stash ever’ dang thang they can find on their nests — INCLUDING COW S- - -!”

            G.B. stomped away from me grumbling as he went, “Now she’s stuck that sight into my head. Ever’ time I look at a dang cow now, I’ll see it bottom up — on a pack rat nest! DAMMIT!”



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December 12,2019
#20 THE SECOND WALK

           

          #20   The Second Walk

 

The second walk into town was in the heat and the humidity of the July monsoons.

            I was preparing to drive into town to tell G.B. I was out of water. As I walked toward the van I noticed a tire was flat. When I tried to loosen the lug-nuts, I ended up bending the tool I was using. I was stuck.
“G.B., I need you!” I wailed.

            I could not walk to town without a drink and I could not stay without one. Grudgingly I looked into London’s bucket, wondering if I could possibly make myself drink from his water. My throat constricted when I saw a dead rodent floating in it. Even London did not have a drink.


            When all else fails − search the car! I found three quarters, a dime, two pennies(all Canadian) and two cans of tomato juice. The juice will get me to town, but what about London? The dirty dishes! I had not dumped the dish water or used soap. It was just water flavoured by the morning’s tasty meal. I ladled out the flavorful delight into a bowl and let London drink his fill. If we start “spitting cotton” on the way into town, I thought, we could go to one of the ranch houses in the valley and ask for a drink of water.

            I enjoyed the walk to town even though it was long and hot. As soon as we arrived at the stone yard London and I had a cold drink and a rest. I looked forward to the return walk, so I refused a ride home with the men who were driving water out to my trailer.

           “No Charle,” G.B. said, “It’s too far to walk back in this heat.”

            As London and I plodded along, I decided, G.B. had been right. The day was too hot and the walk was much too far in the midday heat of a summer day.

            Four miles from town London found a deep wide puddle, still holding the previous day’s monsoon rain water. He walked to the centre of the puddle, sat down, looked at me, then turned his gaze to the surrounding water. He appeared to be quite pleased with what he saw, like a tenant admiring his new accommodations. Then he gave me the back of his head as if to convey,
"I’m out of your reach and I refuse to move."

            During monsoon season, even at five thousand feet, the nights do not cool as they usually do, so the day heats up quickly. As the clouds begin to build the humidity becomes overpowering, the winds come up and the rain breaks loose in torrential downpours that rush down the canyons. Dry washes flood and ditches overflow, carving their way across the red cinder roads. After a few hours of sunshine, one would never know it had rained — except for a few puddles- and the precious rain water held in the cattle-tanks.

            I nicely asked London to continue with our walk. After a brief hesitation he complied and off we went, continuing on our second, long, hot walk of the day.

            Although we were nearly home (a little more than a mile to go) when we crossed the cattle- guard and turned along the frontage road, I decided I had had enough. I staggered to the shade of a pinyon pine, with London close behind, and planned on staying there until it rained or got dark. I was past caring about a possible rattlesnake to the rear or whether I might be sitting on the route of a centipede, which unlike Canadian cousins reach lengths of over twelve inches. The thought of the climb up the mountain road without water, in the heat and glare of the sun, was intolerable to me, and London was not about to move again.

            Unexpectedly, I heard G.B.’s pick-up roaring over the cattle-guard. He pulled up and looked out at a forlorn pair — too weary to rise. He did not hurry to help us into the pick-up, nor did he even offer us a lift. Instead he got out carrying a huge knife and a bulky object wrapped in the Williams News.

            While London and I had been trudging along the sun baked, red cinder road, G.B had gone to his house, turned on the swamp cooler and dropped into a short snooze, while a “big ol’ green stri-ped” watermelon frosted down in the freezer!

            Carefully G.B. cut open the chilled delight while London and I stared in fascination at the beading pink juice. In his precise way, he cut a half-round slice, stabbed it and offered it to me on the end of the knife. He then cut another slice which he pinched between two rocks, so it would stand, dust and gravel free, for London. A third slice for himself, and we three sat serenely in the shade of the pinyon, wanting for nothing more the world could offer.

 


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December 12,2019
#19 G.B. AND CHARLE.

 

            #19   G.B. AND CHARLE


The locals had learned to write us off as G.B. and his strange Canadian painter lady. But any passing stranger would have had to stop and watch in wonder, as a man dressed in khakis, his mostly bald head covered by an old straw hat, (around which grew a cloud of curly white hair,) drove a chunky old loader while hollering, “Way'll! Damn Y’all Huff . . . MOVE!”

            It would have been difficult to decide what he was doing as he pushed and pulled levers, raking rocks about an unopened quarry. Just when one saw some logic to his actions he would swerve, back up and plunge Ol’ Huff over the edge of a ledge. The only possible purpose seemed to be to make the woman laugh. For astride the engine, hanging onto his shoulders, was a woman sitting on a huge, grimy gray cushion, riding and bouncing as though astride a galloping camel.

            Her laughter was as wild as her appearance. Bare feet bounced high above the rock and cactus covered ground. Waist length, flaming red hair flew out from under a wide white straw hat, itself almost totally covered by huge multicoloured silk flowers. And there was in the woman one last bloom of her beauty, brought forth by the joy of freedom, by the embrace of the desert and by the love of a wild old Okie boy.


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December 11,2019
#18 THE FIRST WALK

            #18   The First Walk

 

Three times during our ten month stay below the White Elephant quarry, London and walked seven miles along the valley road into town, twice in sunshine and once in rain.


            The first walk was on a warm day in spring. Each time a car appeared, it stopped beside me and its driver offered me a ride into town, which I declined. Then the driver immediately headed for the stone yard to tell G.B. his “artist” was heading into town — afoot! With each report G.B. traced my progress.

            When we arrived at the stone yard office there were curious staff and visitors waiting for us. G.B. handed me a cold Pepsi, while the yard-men called London to a freshly poured bowl of water.

            “What’s wrong? Y’all have a flat?” G.B. asked.

            “No, I just fancied to see if I could walk to town and back.”

            “Y’all’re a-walkin’ back?” A flash of anger touched his face.

 G.B. paused and he pondered. Then, as was his way, he rubbed his hand around his mouth, over his nose and back down to his mouth. But this needed more pondering. He reared back in his big old office chair, with his elbows out and his fingers splayed at the top of his thighs. In a dramatic gesture he removed his wavy brimmed, old straw hat, held it out high in a commanding pose while he rubbed his other hand around and around his bald pate. He held each person; staff, visitors and me silent and unsure. With a final histrionic gesture, he replanted his old straw hat.

            Unable to find an explanation for my actions, G.B. said in his slow Okie way, “Y’all’re a strange Canadian painter lady Charle.”


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December 10,2019
#17 THE CENTURY PLANT

             

             #17  The Century Plant

  

Each morning, following behind a pick-up loaded with rock doodlers, London and I hiked up the road to the quarry where I kept my canvas, paint and a water supply in a rock doodler’s empty old cabin.

            As I worked I scraped bees and no-see-ems out of my paint and listened to wild stories told to me by a grizzled old reprobate.

            Every time my four foot by eight foot, masonite canvas was caught up by the wind, it was sent soaring and wafting in flight down to the floor of the quarry. I would scramble from my ledge to rescue it before a second gust could lift it over the edge, float it into the canyon below and dash it into pieces. On days when the wind would not give me peace, I tested painting on flagstone. Although the flagstone did not blow away, the wind blew the paint from my brush.

             At noon as I walked down the steep rocky road to my camp-site drinking in the beauty of the open land below and clear blue sky above, I stopped and checked on the progress of a Century Plant. It had finally received God’s consent to bloom.

            To my delight, and to the delight of hummingbirds in the area, the ceremony took many weeks to complete. As the flowers grew, their colour changed from magenta to scarlet to orange to yellow.

            When at last the flowers and the towering stock were dry and brown, with the dramatic flair of a Shakespearian actor, the Century Plant flung itself to the ground, uprooting its yucca-like base.

            Men can live much longer lives than the Century Plant, but few men die with ritual as beautiful.


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December 10,2019
#16 WHITE ELEPHANT CAMPSITE


      #16   White Elephant Camp-site

 

My northern camp-site was seven miles north of Ash Fork in the Kaibab National Forest.

            G.B. pulled the pink trailer half-way up the mountain side, below the White Elephant quarry, then settled it under wind twisted, old juniper trees. He filled the trailer’s water storage tank and connected the propane tanks for the fridge, stove and hot water heater. To guarantee ample water for the shower, G.B. had his carpenters build a stand to hold two water barrels behind the trailer. I thought he was carrying my water supply to an extreme when he had the carpenters brace a third barrel in the fork of a juniper tree by my door. But G.B. knew I would run out of water, no matter how much I had.

            The first morning at my new camp-site, for a special treat, I fried bacon in addition to onions, potatoes and an egg.  I carried my plate and a cold Pepsi outside into the cool, early morning sunshine and climbed up onto Huff, a loader G.B. had driven out from the stone yard the day before.

            Slowly I ate my breakfast while scanning the scene below me: Mt Floyd and Picacho also referred to as Ol’ Pocatch, rising above a line of cinder cones along the horizon. I looked north, but the valley soon disappeared behind the skirts of my mountain. South, the valley reached out to Ash Fork and beyond, into the early morning haze.

            My attention was drawn to the ground close below my camp-site by the arrival of a huge long legged jackrabbit. He sat quivering, wide eyed and still, then bolted on his zigzag path at the sound of a passing cottontail.

            I looked up into the deepening blue sky and into the branches above my head, and called to a little bird who replied, “com’ere, com’ere, com’ere.”

            I noticed a puff of dust where the valley road crossed the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad tracks into town. The dust traced a vehicle’s progress down the valley. Eventually the vehicle swung onto Quarry Road, crossed the cattle-guard and flashed between the trees along the frontage road. It was G.B. in the company pick-up bringing rock doodlers who did not have transportation up to the quarry.

            In order to open the office at eight A.M. G.B. dropped off the men at seven-thirty, checked their water barrels and equipment, gave them their orders for the day, then roared back toward town.

            On his way down the mountain G.B. skidded to a stop by my camp-site, saw I was gazing at the view below and asked me, “Charle, how can y’all just set thar a’doin’ nothin’? Y’all get yer giddle on up the hill an’ paint some pictures. I’ll be back this evenin’.”

            He was off in a big puff of dust . . . and he was back at noon and at three o’clock and at five o’clock, but he never did come back that evening.

           The next day I learned “evenin’” is any time after twelve noon, and G.B. had come back three times that “evenin’.”


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December 09,2019
# 15 THE NORTHERN CAMPSITE - THE TEXANS

#15 The Northern Camp-site Located Seven Miles North of Ash fork,

 

                 THE TEXANS

 

I was camped in Ludwig, in the White Elephant quarry, until G.B. could bring the pink trailer north from the Sun Valley Pink quarry, and I was pondering how to use the day. G.B. was busy with special order customers — the Cotters  who were ranchers from Texas. They were building a large stone house on their cattle ranch, and they had come to Ash Fork to order the finishing touches, white schist for the floor to ceiling fireplace and sandstone for their mantle and hearth.

            I felt hot and discomforted. Ludwig was messy, his coat was badly matted, and I was grimy from camping. I decided to clean, so I hauled everything out of the van; my blankets, pillows and the narrow sheet of plywood that served as my bed, the cooler, canteens and clothes. After unloading almost everything I was too tired and hot to continue, so I decided to finish it all in the cool of evening.

            For a change of pace, I settled myself on the shady side of Ludwig and called London over to be groomed. As I pulled the brush through his soft fur, removing burrs, goat-heads, grass, seeds and twigs, I thought, G.B.’s busy for the day, no one’s working in the quarry. It’s a perfect opportunity to dye my hair.

            I lined up the hair dye, shampoo, conditioner and jugs of sun warmed water. When it came to ablutions in the quarry, I was a well practiced expert from the years of camping I had done. I donned an old dye stained shirt (which suggested I had previously cut my throat whilst wearing it) took a deep breath, undid my hair and slathered it with red dye. After waiting the required time, I leaned over and rinsed out the dye by pouring the jugs of sun warmed water through my hair, until it ran clear.

            I squeezed out the excess water, straightened up, pulled my hair back from my face and saw the Western States Stone company pick up quietly rolling to a stop in front of me. G.B. was grinning with mischievous pleasure, and to my horror beside him were the smiling faces of the special order customers from Texas.

            Omar, a tall impressive Texan, wearing a big Stetson hat, western styled clothes and fine, custom made cowboy boots, climbed out of the pick-up. He was followed by his wife Cleo, who was tall, beautiful, slim and chic.

            “Charle, y’all guess who these people are?” G.B. asked with glowing enthusiasm.

            Before I could reply, Cleo hurried over to me saying, “Oh y’all’re G.B.’s Canadian painter lady. It’s so nice to meet y’all. G.B. just talks an’ talks ‘bout y’all.”

            Omar slowly ambled over to me, stuck out his hand to shake mine and said, “G.B. shore is proud a’ y’all.”

            While we all stood talking, “y’alls” flew ‘round and ‘round our heads.

            That evening we all met in Williams, twenty miles east of Ash Fork. G.B. had suggested dinner at Rod’s Steak House and Omar concurred by stating, “The only steaks worth eatin’ — this side a’ Texas!”

            By nightfall we four had started a devoted friendship that could be interrupted only by God.

 

 


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December 08,2019
#14 LONDON'S TRAVAIL

           

               #14  London’s Travail

 

One day when G.B. popped in to see if all was as it should be, he asked, “Have y’all explored the Indian ruin yet? No? Oh ya’ll would enjoy that. I don’t have time to mess with it now, I’m fixin’ to leave. But it’s just past the big mesa, ‘cross yonder. There’s a trail leadin’ up the next hill an’ it’s on the top. But y’all take the van now, it’s a long walk over yonder on foot, carryin’ water fer y’all an’ fer y’all’s dawg.”

            G.B. lit fires of curiosity with that comment, so the next day, carrying water, London and I headed “‘cross yonder” — on foot. I was accustomed to walking — it would not take long. It was not far as the owl flew, but I was wearing dime store flip flop thongs in the vicinity of a cholla jungle. Necessity demanded a devious route, unless London and I planned on cholla acupuncture.

            “London,  HOT”, but it was too late. He had brushed up against a cholla stem and a segment had caught on his flank and then nestled tightly into his long fur.

            “STAY LONDON, STAY!”

            Instead, he sat. The movement involved in sitting caused the barbed spines to pierce his skin. Abruptly and frantically he swung his head and took the vile thing into his soft fleshy mouth, where countless spines imbedded themselves.

            It broke my heart to see him suffering and confused. Wanting to help, I grabbed a mesquite twig and tried to flick the cholla segment from his flank, instead I only managed to roll it deeper into his long fur. I needed more than a twig to help him. We had to get back to the trailer.

            London endured extreme pain during the long, hot walk home to the butte. Every time I looked at him, with his mouth filled with what appeared to be porcupine quills, I thought of G.B.’s order, “Take the car!”

          As soon as we reached the top of my butte, I sat London in the shade of the trailer with a bucket of water by his side. I settled myself on the ground in front of him, with scissors, a pair of pliers a metal bowl, and spoke incessantly to him. I cradled his head, while I cut fur and cholla from his flank. With the pliers I pulled out spines I could see in the short stubble of newly cut fur.

             I gave both of us momentary relief from the stressful anxiety created by my torturous activity by relaxing my hold on his head and allowing him to intently study lick and soothe the wounded area.

            I didn’t know what to expect when I started on London’s mouth, but he understood I was trying to help him. He whined and we cried while I removed endless barbed spines from his lips, his gums and his tongue.

            After more than an hour and a half, I was almost finished. There were two spines left in his bottom lip. I went for one and as soon as I pulled it out he growled. I reached for the last one and London pulled back his head, looked me in the eye and gave one commanding bark, “NO MORE!”

            London rose, and with his head held high and one large spine protruding from his bottom lip like a badge of courage, he trotted across our butte to take his revenge and “water a cactus.”

 

 


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December 07,2019
#13 CHRISTMAS DINNER


#13   CHRISTMAS DINNER  

 

One mile from the quarry guard cabin stood a mesa. I decided London and I would climb the mesa and have our Christmas lunch high above the desert floor.

            The climb up, although strenuous, was an exhilarating Christmas morning’s entertainment. At the top of the mesa I sat down with my legs dangling over the edge, feeling the rare noontime breeze against my skin. While London stood at the edge, head low, reaching out and panting as he gazed at this new perspective of our abode. We ravenously attacked our lunch — peanut butter sandwiches, Pepsi and water. London gratefully allowed me to direct a squeeze of bottled water into his mouth and I treasured and savoured every gulp of a Pepsi.

            I settled, as had London, to rest and to enjoy the vista below. I felt if I gazed long enough and hard enough, I would see the mighty Geronimo walking below . . . .

            What an ideal place the mesa would be for a puma or a javalina family, I thought. Then I realized, it could be, and it probably was!

            We were incapable of quickly scrambling down the mountain if we were threatened by local wildlife. It had taken hours testing routes climbing up, and going down would have to be one step and one hand hold at a time. For London, it would involve clawing his hold over every rock he crossed and sliding between them. Those realizations suppressed the urge to explore the mesa top, and we headed for home.

           Two thirds of the way down I saw below us, amid the cholla, London’s herd of cattle and their bull waiting for retribution. I assumed since London had chased his “girls,” El Toro was now waiting to even the score. He would chase London’s “girl” — ME!

            I plunked down to think and jammed my feet between the rocks. London braced his four legs in random directions with all twenty claws dug into solid stone.

            With a puma due to attack any minute from above, an incensed bull waiting below to play “Pamplona,” incidental hazards like rattlesnakes, who would leave the shade of the rocks as the sun began to set, and small annoyances, like scorpions and tarantulas who could crawl over me faster than I could crawl over the next rock, I decided to keep working my way down, sit just high enough to be safe from El Toro, and then wait him out!.

            We sat in open sunshine on hot rocks and looked with longing at the shadows cast by saguaros, mesquite and palo verde. I stared across the desert to my butte thinking of London’s water bucket and my Pepsi cans floating in ice water.

            My legs were tired, and I could see Ludwig in the distance, parked atop my butte. How wonderful it would be if he was right below us, soft seats, gore proof protection and a powerful engine to carry us safely home to the trailer.

            “El Toro” succeeded in terrifying me just by his proximity, occasional snort, hostile gaze and impatient pawing of the ground. As a young woman visiting Mexico, I had attended enough bullfights to recognize “bull threat.” I was sure he could not maneuver the rocks up to us, but might he pretend to leave and instead hide somewhere? Then, while we were crossing the open cholla flat below my butte . . . ?

            After the sunset, in the short afterglow, I realized the “Girls” were moving south. Reluctantly “El Toro” followed.

            London and I climbed down the rocks, while we could still see, and headed toward home.

            As we hurried along I remembered a book I had purchased for my children when they were young. It showed the many critters and varmints that prowl the desert at night. I decided to trust London’s senses and instincts and closely follow him home.

            We reached the base of the butte and dragged ourselves up to the trailer. I called a thank you to the moon for the blessed light it had given us.

            While London ran to his water bucket full of still warm water, I flung open the trailer door and the ice box, plunged my hand into the cool water grabbed a Pepsi and then collapsed into the softness of bed at seven P.M.

            At three A.M. I was awake and frying a festive pan of potatoes, onions and eggs for us, while London stared intently up at me salivating and swallowing.

            “Merry Christmas London.”


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December 07,2019
#12 CHRISTMAS MORNING

      #12   CHRISTMAS MORNING

 

“Merry Christmas London!”

            In the warmth of the rising sun and in the freshness of a morning breeze, London and I strolled down from the top of my butte toward the desert floor.

            We came to an owl sitting atop a young saguaro. He ignored us and continued to stare intently at a cottontail quivering in terror under a rusted, decrepit old truck body. As the owl tensed to attack I shouted and waved my arms, London bounced and yapped, all to startle and distract the raptor.

             With resignation the owl reluctantly abandoned his prey, lurched into the air and swept down the hillside. The cottontail took the opportunity, bolted and vanished into a nearby hole, thankful to be free of the owl, the dog and the wild woman.

            “Merry Christmas Cottontail,” I called to the rabbit, and to the “hooty-owl”, “Owl . . . I’m sorry.” I had ruined his Christmas dinner.

            At the quarry we approached the tiny, old quarry guard cabin, so wind-blown and weathered. I had saved the exploration of the old cabin as a Christmas treat. A few yards from the door I looked down and saw a stained crumpled paper wedged between two small rocks. I bent down and picked up a typewritten poem — La Patrona.

            Inside the cabin stood a desk made of orange crates and a mattress ravaged by pack rats. The floor was littered with rodent-chewed pages of poetry, stained and almost buried in the huge pack rat nests of cholla and fluffed mattress packing. I gingerly picked out a few sheets and took them outside to read, each one so strange and appealing.

            I would never have read a letter, but the poetry seemed like literature, written to be read by all who enjoy the arrangement of words. Spellbound I read on until one poem, tender and personal, flooded me with shame for having read any.

            Quickly I replaced all but La Patrona. If I left it inside the cabin, touched with new odours, rats would be drawn to it and add it to their poetic nests. If I put it outside buried in the rocks, with time it would surely be destroyed by rain, an animal’s hoof or a rodent’s teeth. I could not and did not want to leave it.

            That Christmas morning I had been enchanted by La Patrona and her Christmas gift to the shepherd, “. . . three oranges and the nice apple.”


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December 06,2019
#11 DESERT NIGHT

 

                       #11  DESERT NIGHT

 

G.B. was in Oklahoma visiting a new grandbaby while I sat beside London in the darkness, listening to an old “hooty-owl” on a nearby cactus, and breathing the sweet essence of juniper wood burning in the stone fire pit at the edge of my butte.

            I watched the moon rise and etch the outlines of desert mesas and stately saguaros. I saw sparks rise to join stars in the blue-black sky. I heard cattle rustling in the darkness at the base of my butte. I heard the bray of a burro tethered down the pass and the yaps and shrieks of coyotes, who, like London and I, lived this night, in this desert place, on this wondrous
                     Christmas
                            Eve.

            I stared past the fire into the darkness and thought, this must be like the first Christmas. I looked into the dark night sky, not for snow, not for Santa, I looked for an unusually large star.


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December 06,2019
#10 THE INTRUDER

                #10   THE INTRUDER


One morning, after days of solitude and sunshine, I felt the trailer rock. I turned from the stove to see a man leaning into my trailer, totally blocking the doorway.

            The man was extremely tall, heavy set and appeared to be in his early fifties. He wore a dusty Stetson hat, a Western style shirt, a red neckerchief and faded blue jeans tucked into elaborately tooled, well worn cowboy boots. His thick leather belt held a holster and big gun.

            There was no sign of London, and I was instantly awash in panic. No phone, no quarry guard to whom I could call and my only exit blocked. G.B., my protector, was a hundred fifty miles away. I wanted to scream and run. Instead I stared, unable to move, dreading whatever horror awaited me!

            “Do you know where the jasper deposit is Ma’am?” the man politely inquired. “My rock hound map shows one in this area.”

            Oh Gad! He was only a Snowbird, the harmless, joyous breed that flies south to the Valley of the Sun each winter. They don cowboy boots and hats, guns and turquoise jewelry, then play rock hound, prospector, gold miner, cowboy and golf until spring training, when “Canada Honkers” signal the trip north for the summer.

            I pointed to the yellow jasper deposit down below my butte, but I knew the assessment work had all been stolen. G.B. and I had already hunted in vain for pieces of “his” yellow jasper, with which we planned to have someone make bookends, a bolo tie and belt buckle.


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December 05,2019
#9 THE OUTHOUSE


             # 9   The Outhouse



During the light of day an outhouse in Arizona gives one pause for thought — especially if it is old, cobwebby and pack rat nested. But in the hot, dark night, one cannot help but dread what might be crawling about . . .

            Each night I set off for my outhouse armed with a flashlight, London and a roll of toilet paper. If I left the roll hanging on its holder a curious updraft would gently send it spinning and eventually floating out the doorway, and the next time I went to the little house I would find it necessary to pull reams of t.p. streamers from the surrounding cholla, barrel and saguaro cacti. If I left the roll of paper sitting by the hole and the wind blew, the paper disappeared into the abyss altogether, buffeted along by gusts coming through the wind-blown slamming door.

            One morning I scrambled halfway down my butte to the outhouse and found the door had come off its hinges and taken flight in a wild windstorm. After cautious exploration I found it nestled amongst a bed of cholla. I dragged it back to the outhouse, but I could not make it stay in place.

            Modesty demanded a solution: just in case a cowboy rode closely by, I stepped into the outhouse holding the door sideways,  then I pulled and leaned it against the doorway of the little building. Delightful! With only my head above the door I could gaze out over an early morning vista, and watch London herding cattle he found at the base of the butte.

            During the day while people stared at porcelain bathrooms, I gazed at cactus and cottontails, coyotes, and whatever else chose to walk, crawl or slither by.

            At night while people stared at light bulbs in their porcelain bathrooms, I watched the rising moon and falling stars, while I listened to owl hoots and coyote calls.


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December 04,2019
#8 REPLENISHING STOCK

#8  Replenishing Stock

Each Friday morning London and I headed to town for water and food. It was approximately twenty miles from my butte to the thriving metropolis of Black Canyon. And after a week of solitude the two block business district was a delight.

            At the gas station I had the car fluids tended to and the jerry cans refilled with fresh sweet water. In the market I purchased a week’s supply of food, including tomato juice, orange juice, Pepsi, ice, dog food and “bickies” for London. I eagerly checked the post office for mail from Canada and posted letters to my family.

            The only other shop in town was a second-hand store. It wasn’t long before I knew every article in the store, but my only purchase ever, was a week’s supply of western novels which I read, surrounded by the very locale described in the stories.

            Once a month, for a special treat, I swung Ludwig into Rock Springs before I headed back to my butte, via the southbound freeway.

            Rock Springs had been a stagecoach stop back in Territorial days, and little had changed. A battered, old screen door led me from the heat of the desert sunshine into the darkened cool interior within thick adobe walls. As my eyes grew accustomed to the change of light, an old-fashioned general store revealed itself. Grand showcases were loaded with groceries, moccasins, postcards, large jars of stick candy, poke-bonnets and Indian silver and turquoise jewelry. The ceiling beams were hung with antiquated necessities of life from the nineteenth century. There was a side-saddle, cowboy saddles, saddle-bags and cowboy boots — all worn and weathered. There were flat irons, branding irons, Dutch ovens and frying pans — blackened and resting from their labors. Rusted gold pans, rifles and handguns were hung high — as their owners may have been hung, one hundred years before.

            A small doorway led into the store’s hardware room. It catered to Snowbirds, so the stock reflected their tastes with a fine selection of shinning new gold pans, coal oil lanterns, picks, canteens and ten-gallon hats.

            I wound my way between the showcases to the back of the general store where another small doorway opened onto the dining room which boasted tables covered with red and white checkered tablecloths. The room was large, and on the walls were old west relics, pottery bells and Rock Springs T-shirts for sale.

            Whether I chose a chuck-wagon breakfast, Mexican lunch, ranch house steak dinner, sandwich or a good old-fashioned hamburger, I knew it was to be the best rip snorting meal I could eat — at least until my next visit!

            Despite protests of being too sated to walk, after my meal I was led with great ritual to the glass enclosed, towering pie-keep. There I chose a foot high wedge of pie from an incredible selection of berry, fruit cream and custard. Each pie was homemade with the freshest, tastiest ingredients baked to perfection, then placed in the pie keep and illuminated like England’s Crown Jewels.

           Phoenix executives brought New York, London and Tokyo businessmen to this “taste” of the Old West, and locals just brought their appetites.
But ahhh, the trip to the bathroom revealed the piece de resistance.

            In order to reach the “Ladies” I walked to the back of the dining room, edged right through a narrow opening — and there in all its glory, shining through from the long lost past – was the saloon!

            A gleaming brass rail and brass spittoons accented the massive wooden bar where a huge glistening mirror reflected back the amber and green bottles placed before it. Above the heavy oak tables and chairs, hung a candle chandelier crafted from an immense wagon wheel. And the people who breathed life into this echo of the past were local cowboys and gun toting Snowbirds.

            Maybe I didn’t stay until evening because I was afraid of having a flat tire or a breakdown on my way back to my butte, maybe I feared G.B.’s reaction to my being alone at night in a saloon. But I wanted to stay. I wanted to see the candles lit. I wanted to sip Pepsis and watch logs burning in the blackened fireplace. And most of all, I wanted to stay until the piano player pounded the ornate honky-tonk piano back to life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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December 03,2019
#7 THIEVES IN THE QUARRY

# 7   Thieves in the Quarry


One clear moonlit night while I sat inside the little pink trailer, London sat at the edge of the butte listening to coyote calls. Through the window I noticed a pair of headlights winding their way along Coyote Pass. When the lights finally arrived at the base of my butte they turned left into the quarry, and in the moonlight I saw two figures climb out of a car by the stone company’s equipment. Each figure turned on a flashlight and began moving about.

            London stood up and began growling, preparing to bark. But I did not want that. It would draw attention up to the trailer and the prowlers might consider it ripe for the plucking, dog or no dog. I quietly crept outside to grab London by the collar and keep him from barking, but he darted away and started trotting toward the road that lead down from the butte. If I called to him, I could not make my voice sound like a man’s, and hearing a woman’s voice might bring them to me.

            The prowlers opened their car’s trunk and one of them hurried into the darkness. Moments later the figure returned carrying something the size of a truck battery and staggering under its weight.

            If I moved toward London again, he would take it as a signal for a walk and bolt ahead of me. If I whistled to him, the thieves would not know whether I was a woman, alone and vulnerable, or an armed quarry guard signalling an attack dog, so I had one chance to do it right. I licked my dry lips, took a deep breath, and with luck, gave one shrill whistle.

            London came running to me, flashlights went out, car doors flew open and slammed shut and a car engine roared to life. With spinning tires and a cloud of dust glowing in the moonlight, the thieves pealed out of the quarry, straight through the cholla patch, missing the driveway entirely! It wasn’t until they were well on their way down Coyote Pass that I saw red tail lights come on and a flood of illumination from their headlights.

            I felt so proud of myself. I had scared them off, saved the equipment and the thieves were more afraid than I — and without a pick-handle.


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December 02,2019
#6 THE SOUTHERN CAMPSITE - SIGNS

#6   SIGNS

40 ODD MILES NORTH OF PHOENIX

London and I followed G.B. and Wayne, the carpenter, south to the Sun Valley Pink quarry near Phoenix. When we reached the temporarily inactive quarry G.B. turned left and towed the pink trailer up onto a butte, overlooking the stone company’s holdings.

After a brief debate with him, I reluctantly agreed to a propane hook-up to the stove and to the fridge, but I refused propane to the lights and the hot water. I told G.B. if he foisted them onto me I would move back into Ludwig.
“G.B., I have the niceties of life at home. I’m here so I can get away from them.”

He looked at me with flashes of pride, anger and confusion, then turned to Wayne and asked, “Isn’t she strange?”

Filled with concern for my comfort and well being, G.B. heaved a deep sigh, and then he and Wayne headed north to Ash Fork, the Flagstone Capitol of the U.S.A., hopefully having left London and me safe in the little pink trailer.

London and I camped on the butte at the Sun Valley Pink quarry for six months. While we roamed and I painted amid towering saguaro and evil, jumping cholla cactus, I kept finding weathered old signs bleached by the sun.

The roughly painted words on them were barely legible, and I wondered whether they dated back to Territorial days — and outlaws. The words held a strange combination of Bible-thumping, Hell and damnation quotes, Wild West phrases and evil threats. My curiosity was sparked. If it was wit, it was the blackest of humor. If it was anger — the author was raging!

On one of G.B.’s trips south to the head office of Western States Stone Company in Phoenix, he checked in with me, and I asked him who made the signs.

“Oh that would a’ been Glen, one a’ the quarry guards. Signs can save ‘em the trouble a’ shootin’ people who trespass, but most would as soon shoot y’all as bother talkin’ to ye, especially that one. I worry ‘bout leavin’ y’all here right now — all alone without a guard on duty.”

“Oh G.B., I like this place because I am alone.” I said, all the while grateful some gun toting madman was not guarding the rocks and watching me!

Obviously confused by that idea, he tried to carry on, “Charle, y’all take my pick-handle — to be safe.”

“Oh G.B. there isn’t room to swing it in the trailer, and I have too many other things to carry on my walks.”

With a snort he continued, “That ol’ cabin yonder, that’s where the quarry guards stay. Some are drifters, some are ol’ rock-doodlers an’ some are just hermits. Some like their dawgs better’n people — like y’all.” He looked thoughtfully at me and added, “Y’all’re a strange Canadian painter lady Charle.”

 

 


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December 01,2019
#5 RETURN TO ASH FORK

 

#5   RETURN TO ASH FORK


Excitement mounted as I drove the last twenty mile stretch from Seligman to Ash Fork, and I mused to calm myself.

            I had seen G.B.’s face, but only in short bursts of light from passing cars, so I had left Arizona with, at most, a vague impression of his head. I did not know if he was tall or short, fat or thin, handsome or homely. I only knew I loved the beautiful music of his slow southern drawl and the tender loving words he spoke each time he phoned me in Canada.

            I decided he would be wearing gorgeous, hand tooled leather cowboy boots, a big Stetson hat and a western style suit.

            Our rendezvous was the “bus depot” at eight-fifteen A.M. When I walked into the café dressed and groomed, I stared intently into each man’s face. They looked, but no one rose to greet me. I turned when I heard the front door open and saw a man of medium height standing in the doorway. He was dressed in khaki work shirt and pants, steel toed work boots and an old straw cowboy hat.

            “Are you G.B.?” I asked the man.

            “Oh,” he replied, “A red-head. I thought y’all was a blonde.”

            G.B. had a fine straight back, but a decided bow to the legs, and I couldn’t see any sign of hair beneath his straw hat. This was definitely not the Adonis for whom my mother was hoping.

“Before I take y’all to y’all’s motel, I’m fixin’ to show y’all somethin’.”

            We left Ludwig (my trusty Volkswagen van) parked at the café, then London, my faithful Old English sheepdog, and I climbed into G.B.’s company pick-up truck. He drove in a westerly direction through town and on down Route 66. I studied his face as he chatted and I thought it looked so used. His face had been split and mended in several places and his nose — was one of a kind. I could not associate my new love with his face.

            G.B. turned off Route 66, drove onto the open ranch land and searched the landscape to the horizon line.“I want y’all to watch fer antelope.” He said with charming enthusiasm.

            I gratefully took the opportunity to turn away from his face and stare through the passenger side window while I listened to the dear familiar voice. Skin stretched over bones isn’t important, I thought to myself. What matters is all the beauty inside.

            I turned back from the window and again I looked at G.B.’s face. This time I saw brilliant turquoise eyes, an eye colour I had never seen. I saw his proud Teutonic neck, and felt compassion sweep over me as I inspected the narrative scars by his mouth and on his chin. Such a nice chin. He may have been quite handsome as a young man. This is a fine strong man, I thought, a protector to stand between me and the world. Then I looked at his hands, such beautiful hands. I wondered. What makes a hand beautiful? Maybe it’s loving the person whose hand it is. I looked back to G.B.’s dear face and he turned to look at me. He smiled. Tears spilled down his cheeks as he said, “I’ve got so much to show y’all Charle.”

            We watched for antelope, and I thrilled to the dusty ride across the Arizona high desert ranch land.

            G.B. stopped the pick-up at a whole lot of black, and then stated, “Charle, this is a black cinder pit. I’m fixin’ to show y’all somethin.’”

            I stepped down from the little old pick-up and gazed at the vast expanse of land which encircled the volcanic wonder. Despite my fascination, a strange thought . . . What if this rather odd man is crazed — kills me, then buries me under the cinders? I felt an adrenalin rush, then I heard again the beautiful music of his voice.

            “Look Charle, ‘cross yonder — at that white scar on the mountain. That’s my quarry, the White Elephant.”

            “Where? I asked, as I scanned the long line of mountains.

            G.B. moved behind me to the right. He reached across my back with his left arm and gripped my left arm with his powerful hand. Then he closed tight around me and pointed to the scar on the mountain. Either this man is going to kiss me or kill me!
We stood alone in the world under a clear blue sky and G.B. kissed me with all the strength, confidence and emotion of his nature.

            “C’mon Charle, get y’all’s dawg into the pick-up, I’m fixin’ to show y’all somethin’.”

            When we arrived back in town G.B. drove me through the stone yard, where he told me he was employed, and then up and down every street in Ash Fork, which proved to be two miles long and five blocks wide. With his left arm out the window as a pointer he told me, “I own this here trailer house an’ I get good rent fer it. I own these three lots, an’ as soon as I do some work on the cesspool an septic field, if that GOD-DAMNED building inspector will keep away from me, I’ll put three mobile homes on them. Now, I own six houses in this block four on the north side.” These were the same strange little stone houses I’d seen on my first visit to the town. “. . . an’ five an’ six there on the south side.” he continued.

            With every corner he turned, G.B. kept his arms waving and the list growing. “If I owned it all Charle,” he said, referring to the town, “I still wouldn’t be a rich man — but I am finaglin’ another old house anagoglan from here. That fool wants four thousand dollars fer it! Wayll he can GO STRAIGHT TO HAYLL before I’ll pay four thousand fer that shack! But I will pay two thousand fer it, an’ I’ll rent it fer twenty-five dollars a month. That’s fifteen percent interest on my money!” He said with obvious relish.

            G.B. traced the history of the oldest buildings in town for me, several of which he owned. In one historic structure he showed me a bullet hole in the ceiling, which dated back to Territorial times, and had something to do with a cowboy, a night on the town, a woman and whiskey.

            He took me to the site of the old Escalante Hotel; a Harvey House built before nineteen ten, to accommodate the Santa Fe Railroad passengers. Some of the original floor and tiles were still intact, and as G.B. related historic facts about the building, I envisioned the elegance of the Escalante encircled by the rugged simplicity of the little cow town.

            Each building had a story to be told and each person I met greeted me with warm familiarity. I even met Moon John, the old fellow who lived in the junkyard, and whose joy-filed voice I’d heard on my first visit to Ash Fork

            The final destinations on the tour were the flagstone quarries north of town. We crossed the tracks and headed for the White Elephant, Geronimo and Santa Cruz. As I glanced back at Ash Fork nestled amid green leaves and blossoms of spring, I began to see beauty in G.B.’s beloved little town.

            A few hours later at the Santa Cruz quarry, G.B. proposed marriage to me. I accepted, and soon after, London, Ludwig and I followed Wayne Hengle, G.B. (who was towing a little pink travel trailer) one hundred and fifty miles south into the low desert where I would paint and camp north of Phoenix.


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Archives
December, 2019
November, 2019
October, 2019
For over forty years, painting related totally to the American Southwest. It was people of the dry hot desert, solid mesas, cacti, stone and canyons that made my heart leap.

When I realized I would never see the desert again, I began a search for something to paint. Nana suggested, B.C, vineyards and took me to Penticton where I did one painting. Nana and Gary then began to take me on Mystery tours of the island and always included a vineyard. But they all were so green! So many leaves so many trees - I don't do trees and I rarely use green - dont really like looking at green, but I got started on a duty series not an inspired series.

I guess it was July or early August when we were driving home from a winery visit. I was grousing about painting the Festive Flying Grape series when Gary said "Start another series, you can work on more than one at a time."

For some reason those words triggered the words "I could paint the Island artists!" Nana and Gary agreed and it was the topic of conversation all the way home

For a while I was afraid I wouldn't get volunteers to pose but it is rolling and each one offers something special to inspire me. And it is lovely to feel all I am doing was sparked by Gary and like all I do, supported by Nana.

April Update 2012 Sixteen fine artists, many of national repute, have posed for Artists of Vancouver Island and many are booked or promised. There will be no poses after June 30,2012. When I have painted all twenty-five I will turn my thought to . . . what next?