Road Trip Day 2: The Great Wyoming Whiteout and Finding Jessie

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So I was really hoping that my friend El Guapo was wrong when he warned me of “cold weather” on this trip.

We departed Cheyenne per our usual hour-after-we’d-planned, or after I find good coffee (whichever comes first). This turned out to be a good thing because of the road conditions, the treacherous nature of which I would soon discover. Before we left, a really nice stranger brushed all the snow off our rented Camry in the La Quinta Inn parking lot — quite a few inches had accumulated overnight, which should’ve been a clue as to what lie ahead. As we made our way toward I-25 North there were continuing flurries, so I expected we’d get into Scottsbluff a little late.

What I didn’t expect was that the view would look like this through the entire expanse of Wyoming:

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Ninety-four terrifying minutes of prayers. That we would not be swallowed up. Spun off the road. Sucked under a semi. (If you look closely you can see my knuckles gripping the steering wheel there in the lower left).

I wondered how many days our food and water would last if we rolled into a ditch and remained undiscovered until Spring. I wondered if our rental car broke down, did I have it in me to cut open one of the quickly-whitening roadside cows for the three of us to climb inside and stay warm until help arrived? I wondered if I’d given anyone my WordPress password to let readers know of the grim road trip outcome. These were the affairs that occupied my mind as I navigated through the most blinding weather I’ve ever driven in.

And then we reached Nebraska!

The snow thinned and stopped as we descended upon the golden winter farmlands and sandstone bluffs of the area. The light was gorgeous but I didn’t stop to take a picture because part of me was scared that the storm was following us and would eventually catch up, find a way into the car, and kill me. Like the Smoke Monster on Lost. So, we kept driving all the way to Jessie’s new home.

We discovered Jessie’s assisted living residence situated between the graveyard and the hospital. Hmmm. Right turn or left? I guess Nebraskans are nothing if not practical.

We entered the building through the front door and asked for Jessie.

“Oh, she’s on the graveyard side, right through there!” Hmm.

As Isabella and I turned the corner toward Jessie’s apartment, I saw that she was walking down the hall toward us. She looked up, saw us, and just froze — later admitting that she thought she’d seen an apparition, but then remembered we are the only two tall girls in her life, so we must be real. And from there, it was all smiles and hugs. She was so happy to see us and said it was the biggest surprise of her life, which is really saying something considering the number of years she’s lived (rhymes with shmindey ticks.)

Here is the best picture we snapped of Jessie. Isn’t she fantastic? Unfortunately, I am also in the photo and my eyes were closed and I’m too vain to post an unflattering picture of myself so I took the liberty of enhancing it, using my sophisticated editing software, into a more naturalistic image.

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And that wraps up Day 2, which also covers Day 3, because there’s not much going on in Scottbluff, Nebraska. Next post: spending time with the elderly and a long drive home. Thanks for reading.

Raton, New Mexico

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Today we made it to Cheyenne, Wyoming. It’s 9 p.m. and the dog, now satisfied that I will not try to leave her for the rest of the night, is asleep on the floor. The teenager is texting about boyish things, and I’m about ready to drop dead after 10 hours of driving. A vigorous exhaustion that not even a giant but weak margarita from the local hacienda grille has been able to extinguish.

As promised, here is at least one interesting thing from today’s travels: Raton (“little rat”) New Mexico.

This was my first visit to Little Rat, once an important stop on the Santa Fe Trail — a busy railroad, mining and ranching center. Before the city was established, Raton Pass had long been used by Spanish and Native Americans to cut through the Rocky Mountains. The picture above is Raton Peak, on the north end of town.

Behold, modern-day Downtown Raton.

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I was hoping in the worst way that Joef’s (rhymes with loafs) was a hip tattoo parlor or at least a bar. But no. It was this.

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A place where little-girl party dreams go to reinvent themselves.

We accomplished one of our two primary road trip objectives — finding good coffee — in Downtown Raton.

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We were greeted by this barista, whose name I didn’t catch.
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Contrary to the cheery Hawaiian print t-shirt and buoyant demeanor, she seemed unhappy and not exactly enchanted. But in her defense, I think I somehow gave her the impression that I was mentally challenged and/or deranged. I base this conclusion on the number of times she repeated in loud, carefully enunciated syllables, “WHEN YOU ADD CHO-CO-LATE TO COF-FEEE IT MAKES A MOH-KUH…  MO-KUH”. This was in response to my inquiry about the Special Flavor of the Day (choc with cinnamon, vanilla, and chili… doesn’t that sound good?) and my misreading of choc for chai.  MOH – KUH.

Sharing a space with Enchanted Grounds was a painter of Pet Rocks. Get it?

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Pet rocks.

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The painter was friendly and animated and happy to talk about her work. Interesting fact: people will not pay her for traditional paintings of their pets (which she also offers). But they will pay for paintings of their pets on rocks ($75 ea plus shipping).  She didn’t know why. I’m guessing it’s because in this economy, people want to invest in multi-tasking artwork: a painting, a garden element, something you can hold in your lap or use to weight papers or stop a door. More bang for your buck.

Down by the railroad tracks was this gorgeously ambiguous building.

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And finally, I could collect old neon signs. This one advertised a motel that looked neither opened nor closed — a black truck parked in front of a room, and a bar-b-que grill by the office, but no people. Like someone is now using it as a residence. Which is as creepy as an empty airport.

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That’s it for tonite. We’ll drive 2 hours tomorrow and surprise Jessie at her new home in the morning. I hope she’ll be happy.

Valentine’s Road Trip

The internet is overflowing with travel blogs that chronicle all manner of exotic locales far and wide with amazing photographs, brilliant descriptive prose, and the writers’ taste for adventure. I am promising no such thing.

The work is piling up. The house is a mess. Custom orders. Three jobs. Summer planning. A wood-firing that starts at the end of the month. A checking account with numbers that are roughly the same as my weight. And a great-grandmother of unsurpassed heart who’s having trouble adjusting to her new assisted-living situation in Scottsbluff, NE.

So I ask you: what better time than now for a sudden road trip to Nebraska to visit our great-grandmother?

This trip will consist of The Navigator, The Devotee, and me, The Documenter.

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I hope you will join us.

I will try to post just one interesting thing each day. And if this trip is anything like our last expedition through the northern plains, that will be a challenge.

Love, Velma

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I am sad. I am sad and angry because I have to share my yard with chickens.

I know that if I kill chickens, I will suffer irreparable shame (despite the fact that I am a bird dog and this kind of behavior should be expected).

So instead, I will kill pigeons. And bring them inside.

I will not do you the favor of delivering the corpses intact. No. I will scatter them bit by grizzly bit all over the house, hoping for surprise encounters like the one this morning, when you were wandering around sans glasses and picked up this foot-leg with your bare, trusting hands because you thought it was a twig (the hissing and flapping up and down like you were on fire was magnificent).  I stuck a chicken feather to the foot so that you might imagine, if only for one cold, desperate moment, that it belonged to a chicken. I feel no remorse for this but believe things are just as they should be.

P.S. Remember, I know how to get into your made-up bed when you’re not home. And I’ve seen The Godfather.

We have a winner! Or two!

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What a busy weekend! Between finishing the chicken run, decorating the tree, shipping orders, and not cleaning the house or doing any laundry at all, I barely had a moment to myself! But because I know that all you greedy contestants are waiting breathlessly on the edges of your expanding seats for precisely this moment… I guilted Isabella into helping me, gathered the chickens, and cockadoodlewoot woot! We had a contest!

Surprise #1

The Garcias chose the winner so quickly and we had so much fun forcing chickens into a cramped laundry bin interacting with our poultry that we couldn’t stand to see it end in one swift, scaly stride.

So we let them choose not one, but TWO lucky winners!

I know! The joy and wonder of selfless giving IS alive this holiday season! (Lucky winners, please email your addresses to liveclay@gmail.com.)

Surpise #2

A certain unnamed contestant (Len) sent me a link to my previous post translated into Gangsta slang by a satirical search engine called gizoogle.net*. I laughed so hard I cried. Here’s the link (those of you sensitive to the f-word might want to skip it). I especially love the “translations” of Mary Oliver’s poem and your comments!
*Gizoogle was originally inspired by Snoop’s “Doggy Fizzle Televizzle” program on MTV.  Read more about it here.

Thanks so much for all of your thoughtful entries — you’ve inspired and humbled me and it’s been my pleasure to get to know you a little better through your responses.

And now, without further adieu…

Rufina comes home to roost, Part II: The Contest

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[cont. from Part 1…] Seasons greetings! First of all, thanks for being here. This wouldn’t be nearly as much fun without the six of you reading, commenting, and “egging me on” (get it?). Now… let’s play!

The Inspiration

This contest was inspired by sweet Rufina, a blind chicken with an exceptional will to survive; changing life, or life changes; and a poem by one of my very favorite authors, Mary Oliver (copied at the end of this post).

I know a lot of people who are in transition right now: into and out of relationships, jobs, bad habits, considering new goals or appearances, learning to live differently by choice or circumstance. Moving, unfurling or folding up.

And so am I.

This blog is changing (hope I didn’t startle you!) and will soon be a combination of blog + professional web site so I can have everything under one roof. I’m also quitting raku (after 15 years and 40,000 hours over a hot kiln) in favor of learning new ceramic techniques, such as the image transfer process. So I’ve been contemplating the last two lines of the poem a lot lately, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?.  And I don’t think it’s ever too late to ask that question.

The Prize

That question combined with Rufina’s story and I made these

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Cups with Rufina’s feathers and Mary Oliver’s text. Text that is also written, of course, in braille.

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The winner will receive a pair of these cups — one to keep and one to give away to someone who might appreciate it. Included with each cup will be a small card with Rufina’s story on one side, The Summer Day on the other.

To Enter

Write in the comments below what you have planned for your one wild and precious life. There is no wrong answer! One word of 15, it’s all welcome, even if you have won a Live Clay contest already! Here’s a little inspiration from Rumi:

Run from what’s comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious. I have tried prudent planning long enough. From now on I’ll be mad.

Deadline Wednesday, December 11, 10 pm MST.

This contest will be decided by our new friends introduced in the last post, the Garcia sisters.  I’ll write each of your names on a piece of paper, arrange them in a circle on my studio floor, and put the Garcia sisters with their ridiculous big feet in the middle. The first answer to get stepped on wins! If I’m really feeling kooky I might even film the event and post the results in video format. Good luck!

The Poem

The Summer Day
by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Rufina comes home to roost, Part 1: Meet The Garcia Sisters

I’m on my way to Mexico this week but I thought I’d squeeze in an update about my favorite blind chicken, Rufina (her story begins here), and her new companions.

Meet the Garcia sisters.

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More about them later. First, Rufina’s story continues from last summer…

Back in late July when it became clear that hers was not a fleeting vitality, Rufina posed a slight dilemma for me: her days on the studio porch were limited by the impending winter, and I had nowhere else to keep her and no money for a custom coop. She had made great progress learning to be blind, transforming from a sedentary spoon-fed creature into a confident navigator who used her outstretched neck like a blind cane, locating food and water with her feet.

I thought her rehabilitation, now nearly complete, should end with independence: a restored state of pullus libertatum where she could come and go as she pleased, no longer reliant on me to carry her to and from the garden, risking accidental death by Whippet not to mention a gradual, perilous evolvement into house pet.

So, in deference to the greater good and Rufina’s true nature, I made the decision to send her off in August to live with a friend’s two chickens in another part of the city, where I imagined she would spend the rest of her days as an ordinary, fulfilled flock member.

“Vacation” lasted approximately seven weeks. During that time, I realized that her story is only half-lived, would never be ordinary, and I wanted to see it through to the end. Whenever that may be. I was inspired by the account of Old Man Henry’s passing, written by the talented Jared Gulian on his fantastic blog (now book!), Moon Over Martinborough. Plus, I discovered that the burgeoning urban chicken trend in this country has spawned a whole industry of inexpensive readymade coops that ship right to your door.

So, yes. I reclaimed Rufina and Isabella and I have joined the legions of backyard chickeneers.

coop

Of course, I would never bring Rufina home to live a solitary life, so I set about finding some chicks.

It’s not easy to find baby chicks in October. I researched local and online sources and learned a lot about chickens. For example, did you know that chickens are categorized by not only size/weight, egg size/color, and fancy/dorky, but also cold hardiness, country of origin, and personality? Yeah, me neither! I always thought a chicken was more or less a chicken.

I eventually found chicks at a local bait store and chose two Buff Orpingtons (English heritage) because they were described as “quiet, docile, and affectionate.” Sounded like the ideal chicken to me!

Politely cuddling up in their food dish.

Politely cuddling up in their food dish.

Thankfully, The Garcia sisters live up to their breed description and are completely different from their filthy little predecessors,the Crazed Amerucanas*. They aren’t skittish or frantic, don’t thrash around when we pick them up, and gently scrape the poop off their giant feet should they happen to misstep. True to their British ancestry, these “Buffs” are polite, private, and vaguely repressed.
*Disputed ancestry, Peru-Chile-American mix-up, an identity crisis that may explain their tendencies toward the maniacal 

Unfortunately, they are also terrified of Rufina. I don’t know why. Well, except that she viciously pecks them whenever they touch her. There is that. They learned quickly during their first short visits to stay out of her way. Maybe they don’t even realize that the big black pecking machine is also a chicken (?).

rufina chicks

In any case, they are adapting to life in the coop during the day, and back to their indoor chick box at night until they’re fully feathered. Rufina seems content, climbing up the ramp to her new roost whenever she wants, dirt or sun bathing as the mood strikes her, gorging on water. Perhaps she will be happier when I have time to enclose the 6′ x 8′ former garden bed for more room to roam.

But for now, she lives as any other chicken would and from a distance you can’t tell, you wouldn’t know she’s blind except for maybe her creeping, careful steps but up close, up close you can see it: the deformed gunshot side and the moving side, under the skin where her one good eye used to be, now shrunken and receded into the mystery of her head but some part of it still alive, back-and-forth, back and forth shifting under blue-black skin as she listens and responds with that one dead eye to the million little heartbeats and secrets of her dark world.

Part 2 to follow.

Hilarious & Gorgeous Halloween Fun

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Late October! Season of my mother’s birth, turning leaves, celebrations of the dead, and unmitigated terror in the form of teenagers arriving at your door on Halloween with their pillowcases and demands for candy and iPads long after the lights have been turned off (which, at my house on Halloween, is forever). And, of course, my traditional Halloween post.

This year’s post reflects a departure from my customary showcase of amazing Ray Villafane pumpkin sculptures and my own seasonal excesses, namely buying and collecting the seeds from approximately 23 pumpkins, then pillaging friends’ and neighbors’ pumpkins, then roasting the glorious mound according to this recipe and eating them all without sharing.  There, I said it.

Recently, I came across some hilarious and beautiful pictures relating to the seasonal celebrations that I thought I would share instead.

First: maybe I’m just easily entertained, but these photos–my favorites from a collection of thrill-seekers who dared to venture into one of the most frightening haunted houses ever–had me laughing all week. They were taken with still cameras set up in several locations at the Nightmares Fear Factory (Niagara Falls, Canada).  Lucky visitors go on a 15-minute walk through the pitch-dark attraction which is said to be so frightening that you can scream the word “nightmares” if you want to be escorted out. You’ll be added to the “chicken list” but you’ll be joining over 120,000 people so you’ll be in good company.

According to the Fear Factory’s website, the original attraction opened in the late 1970s and was moved in 1994 to the current location… the former home of the Cataract Coffin Factory. Read about the factory legend here.  (All images courtesy nightmaresfearfactory.com). Now, for some fearful fun…

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And second, who needs costumes when you’ve got gorgeous faces like this?! Enjoy, and happy spook season! (Click to enlarge. All images via mymodernmet.com)

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Ian Ruhter, Alchemist

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I think it would be hard to fully appreciate Ian Ruhter without watching this.

He doesn’t just make photographs, he captures moments.

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His goal with his Silver & Light project is to connect the people and places of America through the lens of his camera and social networking sites.

Each of Ruhter’s one-of-a-kind images, averaging in size from 18″ to 36″, is created with the wet-plate photography method using a giant camera that he built himself.

Ruhter camera

The goal was not to build the world’s biggest camera but to do what he loved. The camera was necessary because he is interested in creating only large-scale original prints, not enlargements.

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He’s so passionate about his work that it’s cost him everything — his entire life savings to do what he loves. He goes for broke each time with no guarantee of successful pictures, let alone sales.

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If you had been searching your whole life for something you loved and you found it, what would you be willing to sacrifice?

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Follow Ian Ruhter’s Silver & Light project on Tumbler or connect with him on Facebook to see his most current photographs and events.

All images copyright Ian Ruhter, via his web site and Tumbler.

Please Enjoy the Art

We interrupt our irregularly scheduled programming to bring you some visual stimulus.

I’m tired of words these days so I’ve been spending a lot of time with images.  Non-verbal communication. Art that stirs an emotional response or at least makes me think about something in a new way. There’s some really great stuff out there!

For the next few weeks, I’ll be posting a selection of the more interesting things I’ve come across because this started out as an art blog, after all, back when I didn’t realize that mysterious heart palpitations and inadvertent porn and embarrassing bus rides in Haiti are sort of art, too. So, there have been detours…

But for today (a flooded Friday the 13th here in New Mexico!) I have this: The Tooth Fairy’s Lost Luggage, by Christopher Locke (heartlessmachine.com).  Just disturbing enough to be provocative. Enjoy.

tooth fairy