A WALK IN THE FOG

There have been more than a couple of stories told between now and the last time I blogged. Life seems to be moving fast and furious these days – both in my own little world and that of the people I see riding the currents along side of me. I’ll start with a simple tale of images, just a morning spent walking through the fog, and above it to the sunny hilltops.

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SPRINGTIME IN THE DESERT

Heat brought an early spring to the deserts rain fed flowers. These images begin in the Sonoran desert in Arizona, where a storm that offered two inches of rain left behind a wake of lushness and plumped up cactus. They progress to the Anza Borrego desert where unseasonable high temperatures pushed spring bloom to center stage. As I traveled northward, the almond trees were in full blossom in Northern California.IMG_0948

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WHITE SANDS NATIONAL MONUMENT

 Refueled and rooted anew by the love and reality of family in Colorado, I am off to the southern deserts.
My first stop, out of curiosity, is White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, a long days drive from where I departed this morning. This natural wonder is about smack dab in the middle of southern N.M.
An area in the mountain-ringed Tularosa Basin, it comprises the southern part of a 275 square mile field of white sand dunes composed of gypsum crystals. It is the largest gypsum dune field in the world, and rather awesome to frolic in at sunrise.

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MAKING BEADS

This is how I do it: First I start with raw rock, very little of which I just pick up off the ground…IMG_2406_2_2

Most of my rock comes from the annual gem show in Quartzite, Arizona, where I migrate to in the winter and hand select the stones I will work up in the coming year. This is a vast outdoor gem show where you can find stones and (eccentric) people from all over the world (rock people are generally pretty weird).
Before I work with the stones they go through a process where I balance and cleanse them. This is a stage I consider imperative for the stones to embody their natural attributes and vitality, so they might truly assist you. All minerals have been heavily mined around our globe, leaving what are essentially energetic holes in the planets grid. Thus, this cleansing process involves a balancing and recharging of these minerals directed to their earthen source, which thereby imbues the final beads and pendants with the energy they were originally intended to carry.

blue slabSTEP 1) Using a diamond coated saw blade and lots of water, the rock is first cut into slabs. At this stage, with the thickness of the slabs I am also determining how thick my beads and pendants will be.

DSC_0094That would be a slab (two actually).

DSC_0101STEP 2) The slabs are then cut into long rectangles.

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STEP 3) Long rectangles are cut into a number of squares.

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STEP 4) Here you can see the bead begin to take shape: as the corners are cut off the squares they roughly start to resemble a bead.

blue drillingSTEP 5) Now I drill a hole in the bead (hopefully that and not my fingers). It’s a bit of a challenge, trying to create a small hole by braille using a nasty and wildly spinning diamond coated drill bit. This process is done with both the bead and bit submerged under water.

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STEP 6) I poke a chopstick into the freshly made hole and begin to shape the bead by turning it on the first diamond coated wheel.

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STEP 6) The second diamond coated wheel starts to smooth the bead quite nicely.

DSC_0162STEP 7) The last step. I use a diamond coated rubber wheel for the final smoothing and polishing.
My beads are complete at the end of this process. I used to tumble them for several days in a vibrating rock tumbler that also artificially polished them with a tin oxide polish (which coats every conventionally worked stone bead you will ever purchase). The stones told me they didn’t care for that much and that the tin oxide was toxic -for everybody- and clogged their pores making it difficult for them to do their healing work. Duh. Appropriately reformed, I’ve eliminated the tumbling/oxide process.

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THE RELUCTANT TRAVELER

I’m not really that intrepid.
In my natural state I am much more inclined to park myself indefinitely on the ideal homestead.
Regardless, a few years ago I found myself boarding a plane for a flight halfway around the globe. Asia. Specifically Nepal this time.

I thought I was headed there for an intoxicating trek in the mighty and sublime Himalayas. Why couldn’t I just walk out the back door for a week of hiking in the North Cascades?
I felt “a calling”.
It’s worth pondering the prudence of listening to those voices.

But my delusions were deeper still: until I arrived I really had no concept that I was indeed, once again launching on another solo trip into a third world country. Sigh. Why do I repeatedly do this to myself?
As a spoiled westerner, traveling in third world countries is just plain hard. Double difficult if you are a woman, alone. Woe is me to have had the opportunity.

Nepal is “India light”. But I was psychologically unprepared for the big reality face slap of anything even remotely resembling India.

I landed in Kathmandu, second only to Mexico City in world class pollution rating. As it turned out I spent much of my trip there, coming and going from short treks in the nearby mountains, and periodically recuperating from a constant state of diarrhea and vomiting.
I haunted that city, or more truthfully, it haunted me. It was REAL.

In America, we tuck the mess of aging and death away whenever possible. We even tuck religion away, and for the most part conventional western spirituality is saved for one day a week.  Death gets no disguise or face lift in Nepal, but is everywhere. With such a high infant mortality rate, life begins with a nod to death…and an offering to one or many of thousands of deities. Every day. Throughout the day. Both the sacred and the profane are fully accessible, indeed unavoidably intertwined and all pervasive in this little corner of Asia.

In the stew of Kathmandu there is a stupa or temple every few feet, and the smell of nag champa and curry constantly fills the air. The colorfully dressed women are luminous in their bright sari’s; graceful flowers going about their daily rituals of washing laundry in the Kali Ghandaki, or tending the tiered fields of grains, and mustard.  Other sights and smells equally overwhelm the senses: those of rotting food, excrement and the burning ghats, disfigured lepers, endless dead or starving dogs, the sickly yellow eyes of nearly every native man I saw; poisoned by the traditional rakshi drink perverted into a crude beverage more resembling grain alcohol.

I was both repulsed by and inexorably drawn to the reality of the place and the bare truth it offered; a bigger than life metaphor for the very thing we sign up for dropping down onto this planet. Duality. In all it’s opportunity, beauty and horror.

Most of the time while in Kathmandu I wanted to retreat deeply inside myself, hoping to just survive, counting the days until my flight left (told you I was a sucky traveler). But I also recognized I was being offered an opportunity in not resisting my surroundings; that if I allowed all that it was to infuse me as much as I could bear, somehow I would leave with a little more resiliency, and gain the gift of knowing how to surrender. After all, isn’t that what all of life prepares us for?

These images are a celebration of the life and beauty I encountered there: one half of the whole of our world. If your camera pines for them, there are plenty of lovely images to be had in Nepal.

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RETURNING TO MY ROOTS

In mid November I left the salt air elixir of the Northern Oregon coast. Although a coveted destination for many, I gleefully shortened my intended year long sabbatical there to three months. My soul gratefully sighed as the cold, grey and damp ocean receded behind me in favor of arid, golden hills with snow capped distant mountains. I am desert born, and sunlight infused land is more the stuff that fills my cup.

I stopped briefly in my beloved Methow Valley, then headed further east into the rising sun to rekindle the bonds with my mothers side of the family; toward Colorado, toward the front range foothills, and beyond toward the wide open prairie fanning out below the Rockies. The prairie of my mothers birth, and also the wind blown landscape where she came to rest – far too young. I feel the thread of that life, one half of who I am, held loosely and tentatively in hand. I feel as though I am reeling it in, a bit bewildered as to how it will coil back to me, and yet I’ve felt compelled to return here for ever it seems, the pulse of it all a steady background heartbeat, patient and insistent: The past. That which you are. Family.

 So I have returned to the Colorado of my mothers roots, the dust bowl land where she road her ponies, to gather the lost pieces of myself. IMG_0252

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FAREWELL TO LEECHER CREEK

Most of you folks in my facebook/ blog circle know that my former home washed away in the flash flood in August. I blogged about it at the time on behalf of my neighbors Bob Elk and Janie Lewis, who’s need for recognition and support in regards to the event was much greater than my own. Having just moved out of the cabin I lived in for twelve years a hairy few weeks prior to the flood, my butt was safely up valley enjoying a potluck while the neighborhood went underwater. I haven’t said much about it since but, those unpredictable waters also ran deep.

I spent twelve delightful and blessed years on Leecher Creek on behalf of the good graces of Richard and Cheryl Wrangle who owned the land and cabin I lived in. It was in many ways a rare opportunity and a charmed life. What started as a temporary living situation while I sought a piece of Methow property for myself turned into a long term love affair. The Wrangles and I fell head over heels in love (who could blame me). They didn’t particularly want me to leave, and the more I came to know them and my new hood, the less I was inclined to. The tradeoff was that Leecher Creek offered a primitive lifestyle, without hot running water or indoor plumbing, and without any sunlight in the winter – at the bottom of that cold canyon, but it was lovely in its own right, with the creek running quietly and consistently fifteen feet outside the back door. For twelve years that was my constant sound track.

There is no longer any trace of that previous life I lived remaining. Not one speck. It was completely and entirely washed away in the flash flood that swept down our canyon last month. The blessing in that is a clean slate to completely reinvent myself. How timely. But it has been a bit haunting to think about what would have happened had I not heeded an urge to leave NOW when that call came.  
For the past year I have been planning on relocating to the Oregon Coast for a while – a change of pace. Loving the Methow as I do, I kept putting off the departure, until the fires started. It was strange, I found myself packing that day with a driven frenzy, knowing somehow this wasn’t a normal fire year: it was going to be BIG and it was suddenly and urgently time to go!
And so I have.
I’m writing this now from the comfort of my three bedroom two bath, washer/ dryer, dishwasher, (yup lots of hot running water) new home, two blocks from the roaring ocean, in Manzanita, Oregon.
The contrast is shocking.
Farewell to the life of solitude and simplicity that I chose for many years. Those circumstances created the opportunity for a rare spiritual journey.
No evidence remains of that sparse life of austerity…except what I carry forward within me.

Farewell Leecher Creek. This blogs for you!

IMG_8222The creek Herself, flowing faithfully and consistently year round, (with the occasional exception). All of the Wrangle’s, Bob and Janie’s and my domestic water came from here. It sprung out of the ground just an eighth of a mile up the canyon, so pure you could drink directly from it. I remember one year a fluffy duckling came bouncing down the creek and landed in the pool at the bottom. He hopped out and waddled around on the rocks then jumped back in and disappeared down the culvert. I’ve still no idea where he came from, or ended up.

IMG_8355A perennial beauty in one of my flower beds. This huge and drunkenly scented Asiatic Lilly is the offspring of one of Bonny Stevens bulbs – a local marvel. What does she feed them???

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 After twelve years of playing in Eden, I had the yard pretty parked out, and the cabin was nicely fluffed too: I re-did most of the interior and banished all the pack rats to the farthest reaches, intruders suffered the consequences (that was over one hundred reckless rodents in a dozen years!)

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IMG_6801Richard and I both loved to watch the light change through the seasons on the ridge across the valley from us.

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My big fire lit bathtub next to the creek. Every day I’d heat a two gallon pot of water and bucket-bathe outside. All year round, even in -20. Taking a tub was more of an event and so deliciously rewarding. It was deeply satisfying to fill the tub with gravity feed water and heat it with fallen branches and pine cones from the surrounding woods, cleaning up my yard in the process. I’d usually heat extra water and haul it aside to do a few loads of laundry too. The whole process, off the grid.

IMG_5059I believe this beauty is actually a fungus in the orchid family. Most years it would pop up in the backyard near the bathtub.

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This one would be fungus, and nibbled upon at that.

IMG_2707It was quite the fairy land.

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I enjoyed frog company every year. There were also wee cotton tail bunnies, flying squirrels, and a rare water vole that lived there too. The vole had me mystified as to its identity for quite awhile, rapidly racing across the surface of the water.

IMG_8054The top of Leecher Mountain, looking down on the foothills above our homesteads.

IMG_0804I loved stepping out the back door for a hike. Seemingly endless hills to stroll.

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IMG_2691To the big mighty Methow and all you peeps there who have touched my life, thank you, every one of you.
I will be mostly at the ocean in Oregon for awhile, until I once again return to the valley and probably my families homestead where I grew up, to nestle in.

*This blog is associated with my jewelry website, but also comes with many personal stories. If you’d like to receive the postings when they come out please sign up here: http://manitoubeads.com/blog/

AND NOW A FLASH FLOOD

I’m not ashamed to admit it, I cried buckets when I bade a clinging farewell to my Leecher Creek neighbors Bob and Janie, just a few short weeks ago. For the past twelve years we’ve lived next to one another, a wee country  highway between us. Not too far to shout “Wahoo!  Good morning!” “Hey keep it down over there.” or “Cookies are out of the oven.”.

To my long and unending list of neighborly needs for a hand  (“Can I borrow your power drill?”,  “Help me move my cast iron bathtub? Umph”)  they never once said “no”. Well, Bob always said “no” and then he’d grin and amble over – his teasing way.
Our friendship surpassed “neighborly” years ago, nurtured by many cups of tea over the kitchen table and conversations that seemed to have limitless boundaries.

True to this summers theme of epic natural disasters in the Methow, an unimaginable flash flood roared down the canyon behind where I lived and through Bob and Janies  homestead late last week. In minutes, what would have been a typical summer thunderstorm gratefully drunken in, bounced off the tender, parched, exposed landscape, raindrops merging and building into a roaring mass of mud, picking up speed and debris, uprooting trees and burying everything in it’s path, or sweeping it along with it –  all the way out to the ocean.

I’m so thankful my neighbors are alive1 I’m so grateful I moved a few short weeks ago! There is nothing remaining of the cabin or the slightest trace of the peaceful parked out oasis I called home for over a decade. The devastation on my side of the road was swift and complete. I am still coming to terms with such a close call. The wreakage on Bob and Janies side of the road was equally thorough. They will be coming to terms with the destruction to their entire homestead for many long days ahead.

This loving pair, who’s kindness and playfulness has worked its way into their entire communities heart needs that community now, and it is a community that is bone weary from the past two month of relentless natural events, surpassing anything any of us could have wildly imagined; unprecedented wildfires, gale force winds, more wild fires and flash floods.
This loving couple may need help from folks beyond their community.

Walking through the aftermath and taking it all in yesterday I was unreasonably overjoyed to see that my old cast iron bath tub, they eventually traded me for a power drill, was one of a few things in their yard that hadn’t gotten washed down to the Columbia. To think that a bit of something I’d kept around for so long to put in my own future home would soon go into theirs brought  a smile through the tears.IMG_4129This is looking to the east side of highway 153. It’s what’s left of what once was my home and yard. My cabin was on the back side of the barn like structure that would have stood in the right side of this image. Said “barn” was actually the oldest gas station in our valley.

IMG_4089My old cabin is now wrapped around the front of Bob and Janie’s shop.

IMG_4086…and her car is parked inside the shop. That long pole would be a casually tossed tree.

IMG_4092This new abyss is yawning between their shop and house. Bob’s truck was swept up and washed to the bottom where this meets the river.

IMG_4132Front door of their house. The yard now rests at window level.

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The “many cups of tea” kitchen.

IMG_4103Janie’s daughter Autumn, with her husband Bill dug out several of the farms chickens that were found trapped in the mud the next morning.

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WILDFIRE

The most insatiable wildfire in Washington state history began consuming my homeland over a month ago: the beautiful Methow Valley, in the Eastern foothills of the North Cascades. This fire has been widespread and unpredictable in its capriciousness. I know so many who have lost their homes. In our hope we imagine it is winding it’s thirsty way down. It seems there is little left to burn, yet more fires have erupted – the offspring of thunderstorms. How we need the rain. How we fear the lightening.
On it’s heels, between fires, there have been powerful winds, blowing down huge old remaining trees, blowing the ashy land into a fog bank of dust that approaches so strangely, like the legendary desert dust storms. One of my girlfriends homes survived a fire that consumed her neighborhood, only to have a tree fall through her daughters bedroom while their family was huddling safely in the basement.
Yet we still have much to be grateful for.
A reprieve came late last week, on the wings of clouds. Substantial life giving rain. The roasted and parched earth could not entirely absorb it all in it’s hydrophobic state. Charcoal flash floods washed down many canyons
Only a handful of days later there is the springing of new growth. At the base of blackened aspens future trees are bursting forth. Next spring the grasses will be thick and lush and the wildflowers memorable, new Ponderosa pine seeds sprouting now freed from their cones by the fire. There will be ample morel mushrooms to feed the entire region. We will rebuild. The community will shift, will strengthen. We will thrive once again in the land of milk and honey.IMG_3974_2_2

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AW SHUCKS BABY!

In over ten years of making original stone jewelry the greatest and most honest compliment I have ever received came this spring from a lovely baby. Her mama wore this necklace through pregnancy and birth, and the tot took possession of it early on, already  knowing this totem will ultimately be worn by her. Thanks to her ma for sharing the image.