Desert Magic (cont'd from "Gypsy Problems")

 After spending a couple very beautiful days in Valle de Guadalupe with some dear friends, I pushed south into unknown territory. I have driven south through Mexico before but always on the mainland, and I had no idea what was in store for me driving down the Baja peninsula. Little did I know, I was about to have what so far has been the most beautiful road trip of my life.

 It started out normally enough, and I stopped along the highway just south of Ensenada to have some of the fish and shrimp tacos the area is so famous for. I spotted a little stand called La Sirenita (the little mermaid), pulled up to it, and was greeted by a wonderful Mexican couple who made me some of the best shrimp tacos I’ve ever had! Pure deliciousness.

 About 2 hours further south, I lost the rest of my exhaust system right up to the catalytic converter (or rather heard the now familiar scraping sound). I pulled over to wrench it off and wish it good riddance. The part I wired up sat silently, and I warned that stubborn piece of metal that soon it, too, would meet a similar fate one way or another. When I started up the engine again, it burst to life with a shocking roar and Carlito found his true voice. We were soon making our way merrily down the highway, scattering birds from the trees and making cows flinch.

 As the day wore on, the towns became increasingly scattered and the countryside more and more beautiful. I had seen Baja Cali on a map and knew that there was a large stretch that was relatively uninhabited, but as I drove along with about a half a tank of gas I was blissfully unaware that soon I would realize the word “relatively” was to become “completely and utterly”! The day was waning as I passed the last small town and the road curved inland to the desert. Carlito ate up the miles and we floated along in a cool desert, recently kissed by rain. The sunset was amazing, and I drove until there were no more twilight sights before deciding to park for the night, so as not to miss seeing one inch of the beauty around me.

 The place I found to park was not ideal, as it was too close to the highway for comfort. However, I was able to get a distance of almost 50 metres and there was an outside curve nearby, so I knew the chances of getting smoked by a sleepy driver during the night were nil. I set up my bunk and fell asleep not long after it was completely dark.

 I was snapped awake by a semi blasting by during the night, and my eyes opened upon a strange and magical world. While I was sleeping the (almost) full moon had risen, and the entire scene was now bathed in its light. I slid out of my bunk and sat for a minute, staring around. Strangely enough, it was almost as if Carlito was a submarine and I was in some mysterious underwater realm. The tall spires of cactuses seemed to float upwards into space, and the sky was exploding with stars. The feeling was indescribable, and I was overcome by an urge to explore this alien landscape. All tiredness slipped away. I fumbled for my camera and stepped out of the car. Finding the night setting on my camera, I began to take pictures as I walked into the desert and here is the result:

 The desert was alive with the fluttering of bats, the hooting of owls and the subdued sounds of various other night creatures. The feeling of being underwater remained in a big way, and now I had the sense of snorkelling in a marine botanical garden. Occasionally I would flash my headlamp on and see the brilliant purple spines of a cactus, or the delicate hues of a blooming desert flower. A large bird that had been roosting on a magnificent saguaro cactus was disturbed by my presence and took to the sky, its wingbeats filling the air with an ominous whooshing. I wandered that dreamscape for a couple hours, taking pictures and feeling totally immersed in magic, before finally floating back to Carlito and into a blissful sleep.

 Dawn came, and the magic was still there. I caught the mist lifting off the desert to feed the sun, and lost no time in throwing on my shoes for another walk. I hiked to the top of a butte and examined an endless vista of desolate paradise. I have never seen a desert so bursting with biodiversity, and lost count of the number of different species of plants there were. What’s more, they all seemed to be arranged in a huge botanical array whose beauty and artistic composition no human could compete with.

 Upon cresting the plateau, I remembered to take a video and filmed it in such a way that I hoped those close to me would feel as if they were there. I felt like a child again, my senses all simultaneously keyed up and experiencing something new. The awe and reverence I felt in that time, for that place, has stuck with me since then and I feel so fortunate to have had a camera that could capture those moments.

 Finally, with the sun climbing high in the sky, I reluctantly descended the butte to Carlito and made a pot of coffee for the journey ahead. As we rolled back onto the highway I checked the gas gauge—a quarter tank left. The sign down the road listed the next town as being some 280 kilometres away and although I had a full gas can in the trunk, my calculations were not looking good. But in that moment, I really didn’t care; I felt as if I could wander that desert forever and die happy surrounded by such beauty. I decided to breathe easy and leave my fate to the road ahead.

Fleeing South!

 As I sit here in the dark, illegally parked beside the Oregon coast highway, I finally have the time and brain power to recount these hectic last two days over a sip of cabernet from a plastic mini-bottle. There are classical jazz tunes wafting from my faithful little Jose Bose and, having decided that this will be where I lay my head this evening, I am formulating what I hope will be an effective argument for highway patrol in the event they raise the issue of the “NO PARKING BETWEEN 10PM AND 6AM” sign posted 3 feet from my passenger door.

 I took a different route than ever before to get here, south of Astoria OR; a grand and (as it turns out) somewhat daring route…through the Osoyoos crossing and down through Wenatchee and Yakima, across White Pass and down into Kelso and along the great Columbia river to Astoria (see pictures). How was the scenery, you ask? I haven’t the damndest clue as for 75% of the time I had my eyes glued to the dimly visible road while dodging accident scene after fresh accident scene. The whole of the pacific northwest is currently behaving like the city of Calgary in an October flurry, except these people have an excuse: they are used to tons of rain but a foot of slushy snow is, to them, almost totally foreign.

 To be fair I had no idea what I was in for either, having glimpsed route 12 on the map and thought, “Gee that looks like it would be scenic with all the twists and turns! Let’s try that out!”, not noting that during a time of unusually winterrific conditions it went through a place called WHITE PASS. The next thing I know I was surrounded by a wall of snow the likes of which even I haven’t seen in ages, and it was only through the legendary prowess of the unstoppable Señor Carlito that we made it through.

 It was when we descended from this land of the Yeti that the real fun began. While most of the vehicles on that pass knew (more or less) what they were in for and came prepared, on the stretch between there and Kelso (and particularly between Kelso and Astoria) it was complete white-knuckled mayhem. I saw one fellow do an inexplicable overcorrection on an uphill section which resulted in his car pirouetting gracefully into the opposite ditch, and a multiple vehicle dance in the oncoming lane which no doubt brought a few smiles from the local autobody mechanics. There were others--none serious; but for these two I had a front row seat (no pun intended) in witnessing them unfold.

 And no, no I didn’t stop! Don’t look at me like that…first of all I had no phone with which to call for help--unlike all of them--and besides, I had a responsibility to the line of vehicles behind me! I can’t prove of course, but I got the distinct feeling that in the chaos, my license plate was noticed and I developed a faithful contingent of followers who assumed, rightly, that I had been through this type of shit before. I feel I taught them at least one thing about navigating such conditions—the absolute importance of not tailgating. The lead vehicle was hugging my bumper for dear sweet life and the rest forming a train, so I put my hand up and flashed the hazards until they backed off. After a while they all seemed to pick up on it and soon we had a well organized group. Alas, I think the slippery snow wolf picked off a couple of the stragglers along the way, but we the herd had no choice but to keep moving. I am hoping I also imparted the wisdom of pumping the brakes slowly and not slamming them in panic when the slide begins, but I was paying too much attention to the saving of my own arse to watch them that closely.

 We finally made it to Astoria in one piece and seeing that the streets were a mess even there, I elected to drive farther down the coast until I could convince Carlito that we were actually headed to Mexico. I had been telling him this over the past couple days but never got a response, and this time my theory is that he didn’t really believe me. We are now sitting in the rain rather than snow and he will, soon enough. I am now going to crawl into my handmade Car-Bunk (good but not patent-good) and hope to avoid the highway patrol. Wish me luck! So far, I have settled on removing the keys from the ignition and telling them I’m a snow refugee who has been through a hell called White Pass and is now happily too drunk to drive…sorry sorry sir I am a Canadian, sorry. Cheers and good night!

The Peace Pendant Mission

 Lately I have felt the mysterious hand of fate at work very close to the surface in my life, creating new and amazing chapters. I am learning to be more receptive to this energy and am grateful to have the opportunity, in living the way I do, to answer its call with increasing fluidity.

 I have been in a pattern the last few years of heading south in the fall, and was planning to do so but first decided to make a special gift to take with me for some very dear friends. I won’t say too much about it for want of keeping their surprise, but suffice it to say that during the carving process, which involved a lot of circles, I stumbled upon a peace sign. It was completely by accident and resulted as a matter of placement. I immediately began sifting through all the archived leaves in my collection and there it was—again and again, repeated in almost every leaf. I was stunned that I had overlooked the obvious for so many years.

 I had always sought out what made each leaf unique; looked for new images and unusual forms. In doing this, I neglected to absorb the unifying elements. And in the case of leaves, one of the unifying elements happens to be where the main vein of the leaf branches out to the sides. Somewhere along that length, there seems to be a place where two of the side branches sit symmetrically, forming the foundation for a peace sign. Although not universal, it appears to be present in an uncountable number of leaves.

 Upon finishing the original piece I was working on, I spent a full day carving this design again and again in the small leaves in my collection. Time slipped away and became abstract. I was consumed in my carving with an contented enthusiasm I haven’t felt in quite a while. Each leaf expressed this same design in its own beautiful way.

 And then it hit me: this was filling the gap I had been feeling the last couple weeks—it was the missing factor to the equation. How revelatory to have discovered such a thing, at a time when the world seems to need peace more than ever. It was then that I realised what I must do.

 I haven’t made leaf pendants in a long time, for a few reasons. I maintain my preference to wall art, but I think I am meant to make an exception in this case. I will be putting together a limited-edition peace pendant collection, to make available and spread around. It feels right and for the time being, I will be lending my full attention to this project. I will continue to embrace living instinctively and follow the path that feels right, wherever it may lead. I have a feeling it will be somewhere amazing. And to those of you out there who are feeling overwhelmed by the polarity that exists out there in the world, I share with you my little pieces of peace along with the words of Mahatma Gandhi:

We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”

If there is any thought I would like these pendants to remind us of, its that we can be the change, and the peace, we would like to see in the world. 

Vancouver Art Attack 2016

It was such a thrill for me to participate in this year's Art Attack show, and a first on a few fronts. My first show in Vancouver, my first live art event, and the first chance I've ever had to demonstrate my process in front of an audience. Here is a video, taken by my cousin Jaclyn, during the show. It was a bit of a nerve-wracking experience at first, but turned into a wonderful day that I can't imagine topping just yet.

Day=Made!

The other day, I was routinely checking my email when I noticed one from a lady named Linda. I opened it up to find this message:

Dear Dessie-

I’m a friend of Shelly Hiebert’s, from Bequia in the West Indies.  And the person who she gave Hidden in Plain Sight to.  It’s beautiful, and was the perfect gift for me.  We have a cabin in northern Ontario.  No electricity..just a cabin on a lake with a propane fridge, stove, and a scattering of propane lights.  Since the children were little, I’ve taught them that the dragonflies are precious and our friends.  At one end of our lake is an area filled with water lilies.  The kids used to call it Lily Nation, and we’d kayak through the pads, with numerous dragon flies keeping us company.
 So you can imagine what your amazing piece means to all of us.  My kids are grown now, but both lily pads and dragonflies hold dear places in our hearts.
 Here’s a pic of where your piece is hanging in the cabin.  Thank you for making it.  I’m proud to be its owner!

-Linda

As I read the email, sitting in a lakeside cabin myself on the other side of Canada, a huge smile spread across my face. This story is the very manifestation of why I was able to bring myself to start selling my art in the first place. As we all know, art is a very personal thing for many artists, and each creation is like a child to us. It is much easier to say goodbye to a piece when it can be felt that the person recieving it has that same love for it. In the case of art being bought as a gift for another, one can never be sure that the recipient will truly love it and there is a certain amount of trepidation involved. 

 Finding out that on top of enjoying the piece, there was also such a deep connection and meaning to it for Linda and her family, was a huge and instant cause for joy and celebration. In that moment I felt the essence of what art is about for me. It isn't about prestige or glory, fortune or fame, or even being the best and first at what I do (although nobody would complain about these things!)--it is about creating something that sparks a repeating cycle of joy and meaning to myself and others. It is a unifying force; and one that reminds us of our intrinsic connection with nature. 

 I will be forever grateful that Linda took the time to share that story and picture with me. That one simple act was the source of much joy and meaning in my life. It cemented in me the drive to keep creating, more than any amount of money could. Thank you Linda, and to Shelly for making it all happen. <3

Serendipity Strikes Again

 2016 has been a period of unusual stability for me, after years of near constant travel and adventure. Although this has given me less to write about (as I prefer only to write when something extraordinary happens), it has allowed me to turn my focus to a project unlike any other I've attempted. I was also able to put more effort into gaining online exposure, and created an Instagram account which has been making some pretty big waves.

 While on Instagram, I encountered a large number of artists who are pushing their own limits and creating beautiful things, using all sorts of mediums--including leaves! This inspired me to envision an association of leaf artists, who could work together to have Leaf Art legitimized as a new form of art. It will be a slow process, but it's something I will continue to pursue.

 For years now, I have been storing a large number of small, brightly coloured fall leaves. I had kind of forgotten about them and never saw them as potentially being unified into a single piece. In the course of my online explorations, I noticed that many artists were creating beautiful mandalas and some actually specialized in making these designs. That's when I looked up from the computer to the stacks of books, and began flipping through them. The vision popped into my head, and I knew now what they had been so patiently and silently waiting for. 

First, I laid out the leaves in categorized piles and began picturing the arrangement. I then arranged each type of leaf in rows and sorted them for size and shape. I knew that unlike most mandalas, this one wouldn't be perfectly symmetrical but I wanted to match it up as closely as possible.

I experimented with several arrangements before coming up with one I liked, and then the real work began. For weeks, I carved batch after batch of leaves, stringing them along a fishing line anchored between two clamps to dry the epoxy in which each of them were individually coated. I also added a spray coat of UV protectant to each one in an attempt to protect their colour for the years to come.

For the first time, I began making videos of the carving process, done in time lapse mode. Seeing a leaf being carved in high speed was as much a thrill for me as it was for the people following my Instagram account, and it allowed a glimpse into the actual process. Beyond the excitement, it was a way for me to show the skeptics that there were no lasers or stencils involved, just a steady hand and good eye for detail.

The second video showed a gooseberry leaf, also filmed in high speed. I will likely do more of these in the future with bigger pieces, but these were kept to 15 seconds long for Instagram.

Finally, after weeks of late nights and perhaps a bit of short term vision damage, the carving was complete. I made the final mounting using spot tacks of super glue and 3mm glass. I repainted an antique frame left to me by my grandmother, and made a final video as a way to unveil the piece.

This piece was a groundbreaker for me in a few ways. It was a challenging and immersive experience that required a serious amount of dedication to complete. Like most of my projects, there were no small amounts of experimentation involved, and I'm grateful it came together the way it did. With projects such as this, I discovered that I tend to become rather consumed by them at the expense of other areas of my life but its a price I am willing to pay. This art is a large part of who I am, and I am lucky to be able to share it with the world the way I do.

 

 

One Last Push!

(Continued from The Desert)…I left San Luis in a cloud of dust. Although sweating immediately, with a proper rest under my belt I felt prepared to tackle the last leg of my journey. I reached Mexicali in midafternoon and again the air was sweltering, although a slight improvement from the day before at…drumroll…46 degrees Celsius (!). This time I had soaked my shirt before leaving and it helped somewhat, although the stop signs were torture (yeah here’s a funny fact for you: Mexicali has a population of almost 690,000, but for whatever reason the entire city seems to be governed by stop signs rather than lights. This, as one can imagine, results in countless close calls with varying degrees of hilarity depending on your outlook). To my utter, nose curling amazement, there were people happily trotting around at the stop signs selling bottled water etc. I had to laugh when I related this to a friend later in Valle Guadalupe, and he showed me a comic strip making fun of people from Mexicali. The comic depicted a scene from a fiery hell, in the midst of which a man is lying on a beach towel with shades and a big smile. The devil is exclaiming something like, “What’s with this guy?” and a demon replies, “Oh him? He’s from Mexicali.” Mystery solved!

 After passing through this happy hell, I hit my last stretch of formidable desert culminating in the place they call “La Rumorosa.” This area is considered the Roswell of Mexico, because of the many UFO sightings reported over the years. It certainly has the look of another planet; it’s a wonder they were able to blast a road through such a place. If you google map the area, you will see coming from either direction the smooth, curving lines of a regular highway, which suddenly turn into what looks like a particularly emphatic squiggle around the “POW!” in old comic books. Here's the link:

https://www.google.ca/maps/@32.5640252,-115.9991052,12z

 As I approached the enormous wall of house sized round boulders piled on top of eachother, I began to get a lump in my throat that had nothing to do with dehydration. Here I was, forcing 34 year old Carlito through the near 50 degree desert, and now I was expecting him to carry me up a mountain to boot. Is this too much to ask? Who the hell do I think I am? Too late to turn back now though, and to where? Mexicali?!...I set my jaw in a hard line and swung towards the incline.

 Within the first 500 metres I began to see vehicles pulled over to the side of the road, hoods up. By the time I was halfway, I had passed more than a few. I was torn between the razor sharp concentration of willing Carlito to continue climbing, and being in total awe of that alien landscape. This small area of Mexico is one of my absolute favorites; so mysterious, and beautiful in a raw, powerful and desolate sort of way. My first impression years ago was that some ancient giant had thrown piles of sandstone marbles on the desert, piling them up and creating this impenetrable looking fortress. I was told by a friend who doesn’t exaggerate that in the middle of the night, a wind rises that sweeps along between all those innumerable boulders and creates a blood curdling sound; the sound of a thousand souls wailing. For some reason that only increased my desire to camp there someday. I feel an extreme curiosity for the area, and the energy there feels very old and wise; not threatening per se.

 Once I was 3 quarters up the mountain, overheated vehicle sightings dropped off and I reasoned that if Carlito were going to die, he would have done it already. I felt cautiously optimistic, and had the presence of mind to take a small video (you may want to lower the volume, it sounded real loud on my computer):

 After a long, tense climb we reached the summit, and an almost shockingly cool draft of air greeted us at the top. I cheered like an idiot, stroking the fur on Carlito’s dash and bursting with pride and love for my magnificent white steed, my old gentleman hero. I pulled up to what would be my final tollbooth in Mexico, and was greeted by a woman with a matching wide smile. I imagine she gets to see many an overjoyed expression as people reach the top of that mountain. I stopped at a little store in the town of La Rumorosa for a celebratory road cooler, and was careful to leave Carlito running outside. I texted my old neighbor and friend Alejandro, who would be waiting for me in Valle Guadalupe. Then I continued on my way, floating down the windy highway through a paradise of cool grasslands. It seemed a world away from the boiling desert I had left behind, other than the telltale round boulders strewn everywhere. Despite the extreme rigors of my recent journey, in that moment I felt exuberant, triumphant and full of a precious zest for life. We had made it.

The Border Stretch (Not Such A Funny Story)

 It’s a beautiful evening here, somewhere outside Squamish BC at the end of a logging road. The forest is quiet and the cool mountain air is calm, enabling me to hear the rustling of small creatures and the occasional pine needle dropping to the earth below. The sky still has some color but the sun is thoroughly down now, and as I lay nestled in my hammock suspended 12 feet up between two trees (my newest bear/cougar proof camping strategy), I am having a bit more time to reflect on this epic northward journey…(continued from “The Desert”)

 The blessed night fell once again. As I passed through Santa Ana, I bought some freshly picked grapes from a woman on the road. I wanted to push through to La Rumorosa and camp there, but my near death experience in the desert had taken a lot out of me. I reached the northern border towns late at night, and with a long stretch to go.

 The air was different there, thick with a confused mixture of feverish hope and dark despair, optimistic expectation and bitter disappointment. The Pemex gas stations, which down south had felt like safe little nap havens, seemed strangely unwelcoming. The roads were still good but I drove right over a tire coming into Sonoyta and was grateful that Carlito’s muffler had long since become the kick toy for a group of kids back in Sayulita (for if it hadn’t I surely would have lost it then, and possibly more).

 As I rolled into town I felt bleary eyed and in need of at least a short rest, but there was something going on. Groups of federales were gathered at the entrance to town, and there was a heavy military presence. However, my need for a nap overpowered my desire to keep moving, and I pulled into a large truck stop. I parked near the back, in front of a camper truck who was obviously also taking a nap. I was immediately barraged by mosquitos, so I headed to the other, busier side of the truck stop in an effort to get away. What followed was one of the more disturbing moments of my trip.

 I began to drift off, feet hanging out the window. Perhaps I got a feeling, or was just lucky enough to crack my lids open. What I saw was a skinny man, stooped and loping silently towards the window. I froze for a moment, until he thrust his hands forward in preparation to grab my feet. I then whipped my feet back into the car and jerked into an aggressive sitting position, chin forward and glaring daggers. He stopped abruptly, and said in Spanish, “Oh, you are a woman?” “Si!” I hissed, glaring at him like his mother probably had before beating him with a wooden spoon. He turned and walked quickly away, repeating, “No, no, no-no-no…” under his breath.

 My heart was pounding inside my chest, and as he disappeared into the darkness around the corner I started Carlito and rolled the windows up. To this day I’m not sure whether he was just crazy and thinking to scare somebody, or was intending on a blatant robbery. Whatever the case, it was more than sufficient to shock the exhaustion out of me and I peeled out of that truck stop feeling very awake. I stopped at the edge of town for a very fast and unpleasant taco, before eagerly speeding westward into the dark desert.

 There was a long stretch of wilderness before San Luis Rio Colorado, and once the adrenaline wore off I felt my lids getting heavy again. Figuring that out in the wilderness I may feel a bit safer, I pulled off the road and over into the desert so that headlights from passing vehicles didn’t illuminate my position. I laid there for a while with the windows cracked, and drifted off once more.

 Immediately I began getting visions in my head of figures in the darkness moving silently, desperately, intently. Running to, running from. Fear. Aggression. Violence. Bodies everywhere, both hidden and in the desert sun. It was absolutely horrible. I snapped my eyes open and sat up, wearily turning the engine back on and returning to the highway. I am convinced that the spirits in that place were whispering to me in my sleep, desperate to tell their story. I pushed on with a very heavy feeling that had nothing to do with sleep.

 Only a few miles down the road, I saw a vehicle pulled over in the darkness with the hazards on. As I flew by, I could see two people waving their arms for help. As much as I wanted to pull over, something told me not to; and I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was spent, and scared, and with no desire to feel more of that place. Guilty tears filled my eyes.  I was still cursing myself for a heartless coward when I saw a sign coming up that had an emergency number on it. With a surge of hope, I slowed down and repeated the number until I could get my phone out and dial it. I made note of the kilometre marker, and have never been more grateful to be able to speak Spanish as I told the operator the situation. He assured me that he would send someone out immediately, and that they would be there to help right away. I felt a rush of relief and redemption as I sped towards San Luis.

 When I got there, I told myself that if I saw the hotel Javier and I had stayed at two years before, I would choke up the cash for a room. They had secure parking so I wouldn’t have to worry about Carlito. I needed it, I deserved it, and there was no way I was pulling over at another truck stop along this godforsaken border. Sure enough, I saw the sign and pulled in. I whittled money out of my meagre stash, dragged myself up to the room, and made myself take a shower to wash off all the fear sweat before collapsing into bed. It was 4 am. I fell into a thankfully dreamless sleep and didn’t wake up until midday the next day. My deadline to be in Valle Guadalupe for my show was upon me, and I was looking at another daytime drive through the desert...puta madre!  I fired up Carlito and headed out into the blazing sun…(to be continued).

**…on a side note I am now tucking in to sleep, up here in my tree nest in beautiful British Columbia. If this blog gets posted, my bear-proof camping strategy is continuing to pay off. =)

The Desert

(Continued from Sonora-the Endurance Test)...With a fresh water pump installed in Carlito, I sped confidently out into the desert under the midday sun. It wasn’t too long before my enthusiasm literally dried up though. The temperature soared past 47 degrees Celsius and there was not a spot of shade to be found, just spindly cactuses and in the distance, sandblasted and treeless mountains that did NOT beckon. I silently rued the day when I had decided to disconnect the belt on my air conditioner rather than buy another.

 Astoundingly, there was the odd construction crew working on the highway, faces swathed in old T-shirts. They took on an otherworldly appearance, especially when glimpsed through the shimmering, dust-filled air. My nostrils began to burn from breathing said air; an unfamiliar and very unnerving sensation. Reasoning that if they were fine out here working, then I would be fine out here driving, I stubbornly pushed on.

 I had been drinking my generous supply of water greedily, and suddenly I remembered the battery powered spray fan that my friend and fellow artist Tracy Bonin had given me as a parting gift. It had seemed almost a joke at the time, but now I fumbled under the seat for it with earnest desperation. Although it felt a bit like throwing an ice cube at the fires of hell, it did provide a momentary feeling of relief on a small patch of my body before the scorching wind turned it to steam. I began spraying frantically, and in my foolhardy rush sprayed my forehead, causing dehydrated sweat to run into my eyes. Blinded, roaring and cursing, I swerved dangerously for a moment before recovering. Luckily, the road was quite empty and I can now surmise that I was alone in my idiotic decision to drive in that place, at that hour.

 Although the spray fan kept me going for a while, my exhaustion began to take hold and I found myself desperately searching for a place to pull over. I held out for a few miles hoping for some miraculous lean-to or shade of any kind, but had no such luck. My brain began to envision morbidly funny scenarios of policemen standing beside Carlito with a dried up mummy inside, radioing the chief with something like, “Yeah boss, we haven’t checked the plate yet but we’re assuming it was some sort of gringo, no Mexican would be this dumb…nice car though. Pretty sweet find on that front!”…I could hear the sound of my own wheezy laughter. Even in times like this I get a kick out of myself, I suppose that counts for something!

 I had reached my limit. Much like a hiker lost in a blizzard, I found myself thinking I’ll just take a little nap here, it’s ok. I just need a little nap…and found myself pulling off the road into a dusty approach. I threw the car into park and drifted off, ignoring the faraway alarm bells going off in my brain. If I had had the presence of mind to record a video at that moment, it most likely would have included a very short and pathetic will and testament.

 I must have been out for a few minutes when the sound of a man’s voice penetrated the stillness. Was I dead? The devilish heat suggested that if so, I had committed some terrible yet forgettable sin in my life. Perhaps the Jews were right, and my ravenous love of bacon had doomed me for eternity. I opened my eyes and turned my head to see a little old man poking his head over a fence beside Carlito. “Are you alright?” he asked in Spanish and I heard myself saying, “Si, todo esta bien” in reply despite the voice in my head screaming YELL FOR HELP YOU IDIOT!

 Jolted back to reality, I pulled myself out of the car and threw a towel over the T-tops. I explained to the man that I just needed a little nap and would be ok. He replied with a worried glance to just call him if I needed anything, and that he would be at the guard post close by. That’s when I noticed that I was parked at the entrance road to some sort of non-military operation, and found myself wondering who the hell would be guarding something out in the middle of this desert so far from anything. Strange indeed, and a bit unsettling. I thanked him and he returned to his post.

 Using a floor mat, I secured the towel over the T-tops and crawled back into the car. I laid across the front seat and began soaking myself from head to toe with the spray fan, sucking back as much water as I could handle while a little song called Tracy Bonin Is My Hero played in my head. Bit by bit, I was able to drop my temperature back to safe levels and after about 40 minutes passed out again for around 15, repeating the procedure when I woke up. I waved gratefully at the strange man who had also perhaps saved my life and drove back onto the road, feeling simultaneously half-dead and very alive.

 I made it to Hermosillo and by then there was a bit of shade behind a truck stop, where I was able to get a solid two hours of sleep. I had drank over 6 litres of water that day and hadn’t peed once. I filled up my gas tank and as I was pulling away from the Oxxo, I noticed a very skinny and grimy old man glancing furtively at me while carefully eating some sort of small snack. I got the feeling he was very hungry and stopped, fishing through my travel goodies until I found a package of oatmeal cookies. I held them up and asked if he wanted them. His face broke out into an unashamed smile and he ran over to the window, taking the cookies with a gentle weathered hand. We nodded, and flashed eachother the peace sign as I drove away. Tears filled my eyes and I drifted down the road towards Santa Ana and the heat-relieving sunset. Life is very precious indeed… (to be continued)

Sonora-The Endurance Test

(Continued)...Before leaving Jalisco, I was given two rules by everyone whose advice I had sought and these were to STAY ON THE TOLL ROADS and NEVER DRIVE AT NIGHT. I was behind schedule, and so decided to press on to my day 1 goal of Ciudad Obregon, in Sonora. I did stick to the toll roads though, with the philosophy that it is wise to break only one rule at a time!

 As the sun went down outside Culiacan in Sinaloa, traffic became scarce and the road took on a very lonely feel. Ahead in the distance, lightning flashed across the sky and before long, big drops of rain began to spatter the windshield. I drove through the desert storm, actually turning the heater on! I felt quite warm and cozy as I steamed along full speed ahead on the smooth two lane highway. Eventually, I overtook a little Nissan truck and as I passed it, could see that there was a family of ten in the back of the truck exposed to the storm. They huddled together tightly, children and adults, like a group of penguins all facing the middle of the truck bed while the rain lashed at their backs.

 The storm passed and I came to a military checkpoint, manned by grim and bored looking soldiers armed to the teeth. I as always put on my most charming smile and pulled into the inspection area. They seemed a bit puzzled to see a young guera (blondie) driving alone through the desert in the middle of the night in an old car, but I was more than happy to prattle off in my increasingly good Spanish about my journey and my art. When asked to pop the trunk, I gave the soldier a big grin and told him he was about to see something very different! The two others came over as I opened the trunk and swept aside the big green sleeping bag to reveal the giant palm leaf. Military flashlights illuminated the jungle scene hiding like a secret world inside Carlito’s trunk, and their eyes all lit up like little boys. “Orale que chido!! Esta es un hoja?! Que tipo es?...” After I had answered all their questions, they wished me luck on my journey with big smiles, Violent Hippie biz cards in hand. I drove away into the darkness feeling both quite amused that I had laid waste to their normally dour demeanor, and glad that I had been able to bring some entertainment to their otherwise dull night watch.

 Somewhere around two in the morning I rolled into Ciudad Obregon, and just for good measure I went to the truck stop gas station just beyond the city. Although I was craving a hot shower and a soft bed, I knew that I had neither the budget nor the time and so had long resigned myself to using the “Pemex hotel system” (Pemex is the only petroleum company in Mexico, and owns all gas stations). As I prepared my front seat nest, I glanced over at the small building and saw a sign that read “Regaderas-24 Horas”. I blinked. The sign was still there. Really!? Showers?? I made my way into the building and asked the middle aged man behind the desk how much the showers cost. They were 40 pesos. Being that it was a truck stop, I had visions in my mind of nasty unkempt little stalls and decided to inspect the showers before paying. I walked down the hall and opened one of the doors, and my jaw dropped at what I saw.

 A spacious and spotless rock tiled private room, all surfaces polished to perfection, greeted my eyes. It looked like a bathroom in a 5 star hotel, complete with dressing area and large mirror with a freshly changed garbage can. No funky smells, not a spot of water on the floor. I thought I had stepped into a dream. I ran to grab my bathroom bag, handed the man 40 pesos (about 3 bucks) and proceeded to have the most heavenly hot shower. Then I returned to Carlito and slept like a baby until 7:30 in the morning.

 When I woke up, I got out to make a coffee on the camp stove and noticed a pool of antifreeze under the front of the car. I had seen it the night before but assumed that it had been there when I pulled up. I popped the hood and immediately the cashier came over to help. There seemed to still be a normal amount of liquid in the reservoir, but when I started Carlito and then turned him off, a small flood of antifreeze poured out of the pump. The man informed me that my water pump was broken, and that yes, it was a very serious issue here in the desert. He had a mechanic friend back in Ciudad Obregon, and made a quick call. Within ten minutes, I was driving to meet him.

 The shop was a small family owned affair, my favorite kind in Mexico or anywhere. When I pulled in the son, an extremely handsome 18 year old, immediately went to work under the hood and a woman with a warm smile offered me a glass of water. The whole job took about 3 hours and set me back 1,500 pesos (much more than Vallarta but still only about $110, in Canada it would have been much more), during which time the woman and I shared views on life and Mexico. She was a beautiful, kind soul like most working class Mexicans, and I hardly noticed the time passing or the temperature rising. Before leaving I convinced them all to pose for a picture with Carlito.

 It was about 11:30 am by the time I left the city. Although I was feeling like I needed more sleep, I wanted to put at least a couple hundred kilometres under our belts first. This decision proved to be a nearly fatal error… (to be continued).

Sinaloa--The Beautiful Beast

 As I sit here in the San Francisco airport waiting for my temporary travel buddy to arrive, I finally have time to begin recounting this trip-of-a-lifetime. I will try to catch up while not leaving any great stuff out, but so much has happened in such a short period of time that my head is still spinning! Here goes...

 I left Banderas Bay at noon, a late start after a very late night working feverishly to prepare the new masterpiece for travel. Carlito was running beautifully and in short order we were floating up into the misty mountains towards Tepic. It had become a cloud forest up there with the rains, and as I drove along I could hear all sorts of intriguing sounds through the mist. This was a stark contrast to the hot and still very dry plains I descended into after crossing into the notorious state of Sinaloa.

 Sinaloa earned its dubious reputation as the home state of arguably the biggest cartel in Mexico, and as I drove along I noticed the oddly out of place, conspicuous looking Beverly Hills style mansions overlooking the lonely highway. Pretty sure I saw gun turrets on one of them, which was definitely a bit unsettling. However, this is not what I felt compelled to write about in the end, and at no time did I actually feel threatened in that place.

 As I drove along, the dry plains turned into beautiful farmland, dotted with large majestic trees and fields containing a cornucopia of crops, from mangoes to sugarcane. I stopped under an overpass beside the road and made a quick coffee using the little camp stove my Ma gave me two years back when I left Canada. Along with the semis that drove past, there were lots of little Nissans loaded with produce.

 I reached a tollbooth and had to wait in line for a few minutes, not really noticing the white car behind me. After we got through, it pulled up beside me to pass and the two men inside were smiling and waving excitedly, giving me the thumbs up. That’s when I realised that during our wait they had gotten out their phones and looked up my website, which Carlito now wears proudly across his back window. It felt so great to have shared my art in such an incidental way, and for quite a few miles I couldn’t tear the grin off my face.

 As I travelled along, I began to notice some hilarious things about the highways in Sinaloa. First of all, on the two lane roads there is a wide shoulder that people like to think of as another lane. As a result, they will pass on curves (including semi drivers) because they know you can shove over just enough for them to blast by. One has little choice but to get with the program on that one. There’s only one catch: these “extra lanes” end with little to no warning and there is simply a guardrail set at an angle towards the actual road, as if to violently usher vehicles back into the intended lane! It really puts some literal meaning into the term “living on the edge!”

 Also, people around there aren’t fans of slowing down for construction sites, and the construction workers themselves seem really on board with that. In Canada, even the simplest construction area is marked off miles ahead and accompanied by bored looking sign people, along with stern warnings of fines etc. In Sinaloa, you round a curve in the road to see a lone man waving an orange flag energetically, Nascar style, with vehicles flying past and the construction workers shovelling unworriedly (yet very warily) in the 40 degree heat. Makes a person feel like if one were to pull over to the side, the crew would come running over to change your tires in 30 seconds and slap your hood to set you off again!

 The thing that struck me the most about this state was the incredible use of…wait for it…one’s own two hands. Everywhere I looked there were people working under the sun; out in the fields with 5 gallon buckets; beside the road with picks and shovels; loading square straw bales into ancient cargo trucks; herding Brahmas with mules and horses—it really took me back to my childhood days and I felt a great sense of admiration for these hardworking people. On a long stretch of uninterrupted highway I saw an elderly man on what looked like an even more elderly bicycle, with sacks of grain loaded onto the back plus a 5 gallon bucket on either handlebar, slowly peddling his way to some unknown far flung destination. I felt as if I had stepped back in time, and in a very deeply moving way. Despite the few who gave this place a dark name, personally it will always spark in my memory these beautiful images.

 As the sun went down outside Culiacan, I pulled over to buy some peanuts and caught some beautiful sunset shots from behind the big Saguaro cactuses beside the road. This was a sure sign that Sonora was not far off… (To be continued)

On Your Mark...Get Set...!

 With any luck, two days from now my trusty white metal steed and I will be hurtling north across the Mexican frontier on a new adventure. Our first stop will be the wild and wooly Ciudad Obregon, where we will spend the night before heading towards the mysterious place known as La Rumorosa. From there, it is just a short and very beautiful jaunt above the tip of the Sea of Cortez and down the Wine Route to Ensenada where I will be holding the first exhibition of this journey.

 I really want this trip to be about more than just selling art (although I will definitely need to do that too considering my budget or lack thereof!). I want to tap into that wonderful source that exists just above and beyond our usual modern perception of separateness and the angst that comes with it, to spread that magic that dissolves polarity into a singular awareness of unity. Being someone who dips in and out of that zone with less control than I would like, it’s a tall order but I know I need to try.

 Perhaps my favorite thing about this art is that for even a small moment, almost everyone who sees it forgets about their personal troubles and simply enjoys what their eyes are seeing. And what their eyes are seeing, most notably the elderly ones, is something they have never seen before. In that moment there is a flash of that feeling one had when they were a small child and everything was new. Seeing that expression in people’s faces when they look at something I’ve helped Mother Nature create is what gives me the most joy.

 I know I am taking a sizeable risk (more financially than personally in my opinion) driving my 34 year old car more than 5,000 kilometers on a budget mostly fueled by debt and an ever intangible hope, but I woke up one day about 3 months ago knowing that it was something I simply must do. I know I will at very least learn a ton and it will be a total adventure; both positive things. Perhaps I will look back on this time in my life when I’m stiff and stately, and chuckle at my younger self and perhaps for that moment, feel the blood warming up in my old bones.

Night of the Mariachi

 It's 2:22 am. I was unable to sleep tonight for some nagging reason, and now I know why. 

 I tossed and turned for a while and then went out on the balcony to feel the cool fresh air. As I stood there, my ears tuned in to a beautiful sound, wafting up from the streets below like a sweet sharp perfume...Mariachi music. GOOD mariachi music.

 Although my slightly maturing brain told me it was 1:30 am and I should dutifully return to battle post at the sleep front, a small impulsive part of my soul that loves to feel ALIVE immediately won out. I found myself marching down the dark stairs, down the hill, into the slightly unkempt and thoroughly Mexican neighborhood below to search out the source of this wonderful sound.

 I could hear the signs of a party as I approached, and soon saw a raucous crowd gathered around the gateway of a yard. They were very loud and very drunk (especially the women!), singing along with the full band which included violin players and a big bass with a generous horn section.

 Not wanting to disturb the party and remembering my 12 year old dream of being an international spy, I decided to skirt around the block and approach from the other direction so I could watch the party from close range without being seen. I ducked past some late night taco stands, going just slow enough to be casual yet fast enough to avoid any drunken advances from the late night rooster crowd.

 Once in position, safely swathed in the shadows of an SUV parked beside a small tree, I settled in to enjoy the show. Apparently my luck for picking a sentry post was a tad off, because between songs I noticed some yelling coming from the small dark house beside me and assumed it was a domestic dispute until I heard a woman shout huskily, "SI, AHORA TU SABES LO QUE HACES!!" (Yeah, now you know what you're doing!!)...I politely shifted my position back a couple houses.

 The band continued to play, and I found myself moved nearly to tears between their sound and that of the group of people gathered there. I'm sorry homies, but no group of drunk rednecks could compete with the soul and spirit they carried in their lungs and laughter, which left a beautiful electricity in the air. All the suffering, the rivalry of the sexes, the years of sweat for pesitos a day melted away and dissipated; leaving behind a very natural, vibrant and simple joy. Their love and togetherness was palpable, and even off in the shadows I felt their comraderie; ached to have known them for years the way they knew each other. 

 After a while the music seemed to be over (despite the cheerful yet nearly aggressive demands for its return) and I quietly made my way up the block towards home. I passed the dark little house and now the woman inside was singing along, very loud and very drunk, to an old song on the television. Her passionate voice almost suited its completely hammered tone, and I imagine she was probably quite a good singer when sober.

 I was on the next block up when the Mariachis suddenly started playing again, a very lively tune. Someone had either found a few extra pesos, or...I burst out giggling as I imagined a wild haired old birthday girl waving a cast iron pan dangerously between the Mariachis and the exit. I sat down on the brick border around another tree and thoroughly enjoyed the tune until the music finally stopped. I sat there a few extra minutes to make sure there wouldn't be another encore.

 Just when I thought my little outing couldn't get any better, I heard the sound of a lone violin and noticed one of the Mariachis slowly walking down the street towards me, playing a beautiful mournful melody. Two others caught up to him and I sat frozen with a big grin on my face as they strode closer. They noticed me, and with my cover blown I stood up. I told them in Spanish that the show had been super great, and that I had heard them from up on the hill and came to listen to them play. Huge smiles spread across their faces, and one of them said that for them, to have someone come and stand outside to listen is the biggest compliment of all. 

 After many thank you's on both ends and they had climbed into their battered little car, I floated back up the hill feeling very alive, and very in touch with the universal love that exists in this world. Yesterday is made of invisible stone and tomorrow may come crashing down, but in this moment we will dance. <3 

Where the Crocodiles Roam

 One of my favorite places to visit in Banderas Bay is a little known beach named Carayeros, with white sand and one of the few coral reefs around. There is a gnarled little tree near the water that is perfect for a hammock, and snorkeling here reveals an underwater world full of biodiversity. However, it is what lies on the way to the beach that really captures my imagination. Beside the path that winds through the trees from the dusty road where the car is parked, there is a mangrove estuario; a mysterious stretch of brackish water which looks like a river that dead ends just before it reaches the ocean. It is silent and still, its secrets protected by the thick mangroves guarding its edges. The crocodile warning signs only served to add thrill to the idea of exploring this place, and I had often stood at its edge wishing I had a canoe.

 The second to last time I visited, I noticed a lot of garbage around the mouth of the estuario and the path. I resolved to bring some big plastic bags next time, and show my appreciation for the spirit of that place. Upon my return, I filled three and a half bags. It felt great to look behind me and see pristine white sand. And there was something else there that hadn't been before...a battered old canoe parked on the shore.

 Not one to ignore a sign, I immediately set off down the beach in search of the owner. It didn't take me long to find an old fisherman sitting in the shade of an even older wall, a handmade paddle propped beside him. His name was Ramon, and when I asked if I could borrow the boat, he asked if I knew about the crocodiles. I nodded enthusiastically, and assured him I wouldn't tip it over in the crocodile infested waters. He smiled, and handed me the paddle.

 I slid the canoe into the tea-colored water under the watchful eyes of three large white egrets, paddling slowly so as not to disturb the birds or the energy of the place. Soon I made it around the bend and into unseen territory. The last remnants of sound from the ocean disappeared, and I was truly alone.

 I approached the mangroves on one side, sidling up as close as I could. Leaning in slowly, I attempted to peer through the impenetrable screen created by the roots and shoots. My eyes caught a flicker of movement. There was a loud cracking of branches and a splash. The sound broke the silence so severely I recoiled involuntarily and the old canoe wobbled dangerously. I steadied it, heart pounding furiously. In the panic I was unable to focus in on the creature, but judging by the sound it was big. I retreated to the middle of the river to steady my nerves.

 As I moved further up the estuario, the magic of this place became clear. It was a stronghold for an astonishing variety of secretive creatures. I employed an old strategy for watching nature, which was to sit in one spot and do absolutely nothing. I allowed the canoe to drift slowly and tuned my eyes and ears to the frequency. When you do this with patience, the Earth begins to breathe and move around you. I could see the water thick with fish, movement flashing in the murky water. Small crabs clung to the mangrove roots just under the water's surface, and a sharp eyed blue heron was seeking them out. Suddenly it flew into the trees as a large eagle passed overhead, scanning the water. Branches began to move on the opposite bank, and I focused in on the biggest iguana I've ever seen. Crocodile tracks covered the small muddy patch below. I was surrounded by living things, all coexisting in a perfect rhythm.

 I felt as if I could have sat there forever, but the water creeping up my feet had a different suggestion. A small hole in the boat had been filling steadily, and time was running out. I reluctantly turned the canoe and paddled back. As I reached the bend, I sensed it as a divide between two worlds. As I crossed it, the sound of the ocean returned and I could see people walking on the beach, faces all turned away towards the bay. I paddled hard and the boat beached gracefully. I turned it over to empty the water and slowly made my way back to Ramon. 

 I began to tell him about my adventure, and then stopped. He looked into my eyes, and his twinkled brightly with knowing. I realized then, that he had known it would be this way. This is part of what I love about Mexico, and the people here. They have an uncanny ability to sense the energy and intentions of others. He had taken one look at me and decided that it felt right to share his secret with me. And I will be forever grateful he did.

What About the Whole Money Thing?

 It’s another beautiful day in Puerto Vallarta, and as I sat on the balcony enjoying my morning coffee, I could hear roosters crowing and see people heading off to their jobs. The daily grind…for years I did the same when waitressing for a living, and still remember that feeling of dutiful resignation. I still get a wee thrill now, that feeling of every day being a day off!  But this morning I realized that until recently it was tinged with…something more sinister.

 You see I, like most of us, was raised to think that we all must spend the majority of life toiling with dutiful resignation to survive. Even many promising, fulfilling careers (lawyers, doctors, teachers etc.) tend to get overbearing, leaving the participant weary and eager for retirement it seems. Yet, there is a very ingrained belief that “this is the way it must be” and anyone who doesn’t conform to this is often painted into the “irresponsible and lazy” category.

 I realized this morning that I had recently let go of a bad feeling I wasn’t even fully aware of, and replaced it with a sense of peace and clarity. Ever since I took the leap in fully embracing my art, there had always been this lingering conditioning in my brain that had told me I was running from responsibility; that secretly I was lazy and just didn’t want to have to work…that somehow I figured I was “special” and should just be able to flit through life doing whatever the hell I feel like while everyone else pulls the weight of the world. In a way, I was resenting myself the way I figured society must be.

 However, looking back I can sense the carefully constructed lie in this. In reality, I embraced a different set of challenges than usual and so far have done a masterful job at meeting them head on. I gave up the financial security that a regular job provides, and the stability that comes with that. I come from a family that isn’t in the position to give handouts, and wouldn’t even if they were (rightly so, I believe). Everything I own fits neatly in my car while still leaving room for passengers, and I can walk by any shop window you put in front of me without a second glance. I am far from lazy, and put a lot of time and effort into the creation and promotion of my art. I do not mourn giving up a life of luxury and security, for freedom, adventure and a dream. And this dream fills me with such energy and focus that sometimes I feel I could burst with happiness for this moment in its perfection.

 I’m not trying to preach that my way is the way, or even that living a “regular” life sucks. I am no saint or monk, and have plenty of wonderful kinks to work out when it comes to my own personal system. We are all on our own journeys, with our own hardships and lessons and victories to face. What I’ve learned so far is this: Dreams aren’t bullshit and taking the scary leap, giving up the cushiony things, just puts them inside where they can never be taken away. Everyone has their own idea of what living the dream is, and whatever it may be for you, I can tell you that the feeling you get while striving for that is WORTH IT. It has allowed me to recognize how incredibly connected we Earthlings are (and by Earthlings I mean all of us, including plants and other animals as well as the ground on which we press our feet and the air we breathe, the billion year old water we drink), and how precious we all are including the sick ones. And the whole money thing? If you watch the second Zeitgeist documentary (titled Zeitgeist: Moving Forward) you will see what I think of all that. I will make money as long as I need to, with the sincere hope that soon it will be obsolete along with slavery and borders.

 I apologize to all my redneck friends in Alberta for making such a hippie statement (wink wink!). I reject the notion that it is human nature to be selfish and ruthless in pursuit of success. Perhaps it is a conditioning of our society in its very structure, to see ourselves as separate and to feel a great loneliness within that causes us to cling fiercely to “those few who matter”. I would like to be a small part of a great shift, towards a future that is brighter than we can imagine. My art is just a beginning; a small yet significant effort towards inspiring beautiful moments in which all else is forgotten, and we are as children again.

Welcome to Canada (You're Gonna Need That Hot Cocoa!)

 It appears I returned to my homeland just in time for a massive cold snap. Having missed two years of cold weather, it was a bit of a shock to say the least. There I was, faced with a decision: either cower over the furnace with a blanket until it's time to get back on the plane to Mexico, or take the "I'm a CANADIAN, dammit!" approach and dive in headfirst. The path of dignity was clear...and snowy and frigidly cold.

 First I headed out with my Ma, to check out her new horse-drawn sleigh route. The day was crisp and cold, but the scenery was beautiful. Through the stubble field and around the coulee tops above my hometown, we skidded on the new sleigh behind three powerful furry beasts. True to her Wild Woman form, Ma put them to a gallop along a hilly stretch and turned an old fashioned cruise into a thrill-seeking roller coaster ride. We stopped to pick up some abandoned cinder blocks near an old grainery, but the frozen ground quietly mocked our attempts at prying them out.

 Feeling invigorated by my outing with Ma, I made plans with dad for the next day to go deer hunting in the Handhills. I have written about this beautiful place in the past, and you may recall over a year ago my summer camping trip with Ma, which was filled with rainbows and butterflies. Fear not a repeat, for this story plays out a wee bit differently...!

 The day started cold but clear, and as we drove across the prairie, the wind began to sweep lazy strands of snow across the road. The trees were covered in some of the thickest hoarfrost I've ever seen, which made for spectacular sights in the large rolling hills of this last vestige of natural habitat. By the time we had toured around and pulled up to dad's chosen spot on the crest of a sweeping valley, the wind had whipped into a roar. The snow blew sideways across the land and visibility was dropping. My false confidence had waned to a whimper, and I poured a large cup of coffee from the thermos while creating endless conversation in the small oasis of warmth that was my dad's truck. Eventually he gave me a sly sideways glance and pointed out that the daylight was waning...the jig was up. It was now or never.

 With a resignation normally reserved for those headed to the gallows in medieval times, I suited up and stepped out into the blasting cold. My instructed route took me over the crest of a hill to a fence line, which I was to follow a ways before heading down into the trees and back along the coulee bottom, flushing out any deer in the direction of the truck. I trudged through the snow and made it to the fence, which was encased in frost. Once there I glanced around, and back in the direction of the truck, saw nothing but frozen prairie and flying snow. What a trip it is, to be out in a place like that and with a sensation of being totally alone in Mother Nature's most brutal elements. I can tell you this: I respect those deer.

 Once I reached the farthest limit of my hike west, I turned south and headed for the coulee bottom. As soon as I reached it, the brutal weather of the prairie suddenly seemed like it had been a hallucination. Here, the snow drifted down like a quaint scene from a movie and the air was totally calm, completely silent. The trees, laden with hoarfrost, were straight out of a fairy tale dream. This was a place of mystery and magic! As my footsteps crunched loudly in the silent forest, I saw a deer leap ahead and disappear like a ghost between white branches.

 After working my way along the valley bottom for quite some time, with phantom deer dodging all but my peripheral vision, I began to realize I had lost track of time and darkness was setting in. It dawned on me that I had been winding my way along without really keeping track of my direction. I had been so spellbound I had forgotten about the cold. Just when I began to get worried, a pair of headlights cut through the sky above me. I hastened my speed and began to plow through the deep drifts towards them, climbing the side of the valley. Halfway up, the wind found me once again and numbed the skin around my eyes. I struggled not to breath the freezing air into my lungs too fast, and floundered over to the truck with the grace of a drunken sasquatch. Collapsing into a heap in the passenger seat, I slammed the door in the face of the howling wind and breathlessly asked dad if he'd had a chance at anything. Sipping his coffee, he replied, "Nah, visibility wasn't good. I never even got out of the truck."

 No regrets!


The FAQs!

As I travel on this journey with my art, I find that a certain group of questions keep popping up. I would like to make a record of a few of them, along with some info for you collectors out there.

 So…how did it all start? Long story short, I was leaving a friend’s house after a poker game one evening in October 2007 when I spotted a really large cottonwood leaf on the ground. Intrigued by its unusual size, I picked it up. On the drive home, I was twirling it and appreciating its features when suddenly I realized that it wasn’t just a leaf—it was an elephant. Every line, every curve was a perfect parallel to the head of an elephant. I felt like one of those people who find the face of Jesus in a burnt potato chip! My boyfriend at the time wasn’t convinced, so when we arrived home I took a razor blade from a box cutter and carved the features I saw. I held it up and said, “Now do you see it?” He was astonished and said, “Wow, that’s like a new art form or something!” From that day on, I began to look at leaves differently. It was like a hidden world opening up to my eyes, and I became obsessed with discovering and uncovering those countless images. I feel it is a gift from Mother Nature, and that she is the most talented and influential artist of all. I have found my calling, and am fully devoted to this art.

My very first leaf carving, "The Matriarch" (October 2007)

The name “Violent Hippie” induces a variety of reactions from people. Some find it thought provoking, others amusing, and some of the more reserved types find the inclusion of the word “Violent” unappealing or disturbing. Yet others are simply confused by it, because the words “violent” and “hippie” don’t seem to belong together. I welcome all reactions equally, and am fascinated by what they tell us about ourselves.
 
 To the last group I always like to point out that there are plenty of “violent hippies” in nature. Take honey bees for example. They buzz peacefully among the flowers and never look for trouble, but if you mess with their hive, they become little kamikaze warriors. As for myself, I suppose the title applies to an extent. The leaf is somewhat of a symbol of peace, and I am carving it with a razor blade for the sake of art. This is the main reason I decided to associate the name with my art. (Random fact: there was a time years ago when I thought about pursuing a career in mixed martial arts, and thought it would be a great “middle name” handle… “Aaand in the green cornerrrr…Dessie…the Violent Hippiiiiie…MARSHAAAAAALLL!” Haha!

 A lot of people comment that it must take great patience to do what I do, carving out every little space with a razor blade. At first I just chuckled and took the compliment, but it caused me to realize that there wasn’t any patience involved. Patience is usually necessary for tasks that are somewhat unappealing, and for me every second of carving a leaf is pure enjoyment. It is my meditation, my obsession, my therapy—and has become a necessary part of my life. However, it can be stated that during the process, I must reluctantly regulate my coffee intake!

No leaf too big or small! =)

 As for the longevity of the individual pieces I create, I can now assure potential collectors that this is an archival art form (meaning they can expect to pass it to future generations). It took me some time to develop the proper preservation methods. Each time I discovered a new method, I would go back and apply it to all my past pieces. Thankfully, I am confident that at this point I have the process sufficiently mastered. Even so, when I sell a piece, I sell it with the commitment to make any changes or improvements possible and all free of charge. The only thing I couldn’t, and wouldn’t, do anything about is the possible gradual changes in the shading or coloring of individual leaves. Some leaves bleach or fade over time despite any UV treatments, and others keep their color quite well. To me it is a fascinating process, in which the art actually evolves on the wall over time. The leaves themselves are immortalized under their flexible protective coating, and even resist glass breakage (verified by multiple unintentional tests!). Although they aren’t indestructible, they are very durable and can withstand conditions that would destroy an average piece of art (e.g. humidity).

 The carving process itself is, and always will, be done by hand. I never use stencils, pre-drawing, or any sort of planning at all. I simply picture the image in my mind’s eye and begin carving. On many occasions, the details of the image will reveal themselves to me after the process has begun. Considering the unforgiving nature of this art (there is no “undo” button), I feel grateful to report that I have almost always managed to capture each image successfully. Also, I never simply use the leaf as a canvas for whatever image I decide. The magical thing about this art is that to me, the image is already there; a creation of Mother Nature. I have been asked on numerous occasions to create a custom image for a person or business, and my reply is always, “If I see that image in a leaf someday, I will be sure to let you know.” I will never compromise the integrity of this art by carving a business logo (etc.) in a leaf. I am in no way offended by the asking. It’s just that I must uphold the original premise that I so fervently believe, and which sets my leaves apart from those of other artists now popping up around the world.

 To quote an old poker term, I am fully “all-in” on my commitment to securing a place for leaf carving both in the history of fine art, and in the minds and hearts of the people who enjoy it. To me, art is about sharing and instilling wonder…stirring the soul to the realization of its own miraculous existence. I couldn’t be more thrilled or thankful to have the opportunity to pursue this dream, and live the way I had envisioned when I was a young child…I hope this post has helped answer some of the questions out there, and given some assurance to collectors who may have reservations about the long term value of their investment in this art. If there are any questions you would like to add, please leave them in the comment section or send me an email. Cheers to adventure!!!

Exploring the forests of Vancouver Island.

Two Goats and a Canadian

 My trip North from Mexico began ordinarily enough. I dropped Carlito off at my chico's mom's house and she gave me a ride to the bus station, picking up a friend of hers along the way. Her friend was a cute old ranchero man, decked out in western gear and carrying a small chihuahua that, fittingly, had the exact same coat and colour as a dairy cow. We went to a taco stand outside the bus station and I had my last mexican street tacos, relishing every bite, before goodbye hugs and getting on the 10pm bus.

 I arrived in Guadalajara at about 3:30 am and took a rather long taxi ride to the airport. My luggage was 5 kilos overweight so I did yet another round of frantic possession dumping. As I reluctantly piled a few things on the floor beside my luggage, hating the fact that it would be thrown in the garbage, a sharp eyed old woman came out of nowhere and asked if she could take them. "Claro que si!" I replied. As I left her, sorting happily through the pile of stuff on the floor, I thought to myself, I love this country!...in Mexico there is no shame in taking a used pair of pants, no "I just need to get rid of all this" excuse needed for counting change at the grocery store. Just wily, sharp eyed smiles.

 The plane was delayed, and I found myself stuck in a crowd with nowhere to sit. I was totally exhausted at this point, and so fell asleep on the floor with my legs crossed, hugging my big backpack. When I woke up about an hour later as the plane was finally ready to board, I attempted to jump up only to find that my entire right leg was still unconscious. This resulted in me floundering around on the floor for several minutes to the tune of laughter, several hands shooting out to help me up. And with that final comedy act, I bid goodbye to my beloved second home and flew the skies to San Francisco.

 After several amusing encounters with two Asian customs agents because of my lack of a destination address (an old man who sternly reprimanded me in a way that made me feel like a delinquent asian granddaughter, the other a cheerful chatty woman who poofed my talcum powder in the air and asked jokingly if it was really just talcum powder), I made my way to the exit and found my dear disorganized friend from Sacramento. He had forgotten where he was parked, so we had a mini adventure scooting around with the luggage cart, disobeying pedestrian traffic laws.

 We had a great caffeinated road trip north, taking a detour to where we were to pick up two baby goats (or so we thought). We were driving a pickup truck with an uncovered box, so figured we could put the goats inside something and keep them in the cab so their little poops wouldn't get all over the place. Merrily we drove up the hill onto the well-kept property, parked the truck, and jumped out to inspect the small group of goats. The two young ones were a bit large, I thought, but felt confident we could still manage them. I mentioned the thought to the owner of the goats and he casually corrected me, saying, "Oh, nah, those two are the ones you guys are here for."...I followed his pointing finger, and there stood two fully horned, fully grown nanny goats. My jaw dropped. "Oh, uh, well shit," I managed to stammer, "I don't know how we are going to transport those two..." The guy replied confidently that he had lots of bailer twine and went to fetch it.

 I grew up with goats. Lots of them. And even the nicest goats we had would never make it 4 hours on a freeway tied in the back of a pickup with bailer twine. Not without some sort of horrible disaster involving a smashed out window, or a terrfified, ill-timed lunge for freedom. This did not bode well and I said so. Despite my trepidation, my farm training kicked in and I rigged up a rope across the front of the box, firmly tying a loop in the middle. We found two thick pieces of rope which I tied around the goats necks in a way that wouldn't tighten, and we tied them both using more twine to the loop, so they couldn't move away from the middle of the box. The goats were surprisingly calm and willing subjects, but I still wasn't convinced that they weren't on the fast track to untimely deaths and sat in the box with them for the first few miles.

 To my amazement and relief, both goats handled the trip like old pros, taking up positions facing eachother with necks crossed. They even munched on alfalfa hay the whole time while we drove the winding freeway going about 70 mph. Finally, at about 1 am, we arrived at our destination. Snow White and Canela (now renamed Bianca and Unicorn by the new owner's kids) had survived against all odds and now happily munch on the weeds I provide them with every day from the strawberry patch. This was one trip north that I won't soon forget!

Pit stop for gas in Northern California