Shining and blackest black: the obsidian of the Jemez Mountains at one of its prehistoric sources.
The closest road had been closed for years—at least since the Las Conchas fire in 2011—and was blocked by the enormous trunks of dozens of burned and wind-fallen Ponderosas. We hiked the dusty three miles in.
For thousands of years, prehistoric miners knocked down big cobbles of obsidian into pieces more easily carried to distant pueblos, where they would be knapped into knives, scrapers, projectile points. What is left is debitage; whole acres of mesa glitter with a pavement of black glass.
A local group, “Art as Antibodies” asked for pieces about how we’re coping with the Covid lockdown. I sent a painting of the wide and windy desert, which is how—and where—I cope. Not covidy enough, they said. So I sent a corvid.
Slot canyons are spooky, mysterious, intimate. Ravens nest along the rim. When you emerge from the dark strictures of a slot canyon you feel reborn.
Beautiful hiking. Winter has lost its bite, but it’s still too cool for snakes. We crawled all over a Triassic-Jurassic hillside full of red and yellow ochre. We’ll take some to our Zuni friend Tim Edaakie, a traditional potter:
On a ridge in the low hills near the highway, a micaceous mano rested like an Easter egg in a nest of cobbles nearly the same size and shape. It was Archaic, a rounded lozenge with one smooth and one pecked side. There in its stone nest it will stay, with the hill slowly eroding out from under it.
A good dozen bushtits fussed and tsp-ed and fidgeted in the juniper. I sat very still. They seemed not to notice me, coming and going in a cloud like midges.
In an area we’ve hiked scores of times, looking for a place for lunch, we climbed a little mesa that promised a good view. On a smooth sandstone ledge, unexpected, was a bedrock metate: the roughly-pecked surface where a woman had ground corn or wild-gathered seeds.
Around it were rough petroglyphs of a lizard and snakes: probably Puebloan, but so heavily coated with desert varnish that they looked Archaic. It was fine to sit where she had sat, looking out over the late winter piñon and sand, munching corn chips we had not had to grind ourselves.
The mud is dry, the dust has settled, the links have been checked twice (remember, though: imperfection is vitality). The updated digital Betsy is here, as multilayered, quirky, and internally referential as its author.
Check out the Gallery, with examples of my current painting series. It’s not a sales gallery–for that you’ll find a link to Matteucci Galleries in Santa Fe (and one to Taos Fine Art, once their website rebuild is complete)–it’s a group of my favorites. You may find paintings you own; you tend to buy the ones I like best!
Enjoy the “Boots” photo series—you’ve seen a few in my posts. And since I have a more or less equal appreciation of boots and books, look for “Stories,” which features complete short stories published in Fantasy and Science Fiction and Realms of Fantasy. I had fun digging through years of daybooks and art files for illustrations.
Note that if you haven’t explored the portals to art-and-writing process you may enjoy that rich wilderness. You’ll find updates there as well.
Thank you for your patience, and enjoy! I’ll return to hike entries soon, I promise. Now where’s my paintbrush?
All day long we looked south to the main drainage. It shone silver.
We spent the day traipsing around and about in something like a square mile and a half, as much vertical as horizontal, on constantly rough terrain. We entered and left on ancient trails not used since the invention of the internal combustion engine.
I couldn’t see how even a wagon could have gone where we did. Perhaps it was just people on foot. Later, horses or mules.
The trails did feel like trails, in the sense of “the logically easiest way to get up this challenging slope.”
A frosty desert morning on the gravels of the ancient Rio Puerco. All around us, distantly, the pop and crack of target shooting. We parked in a trashed pullout and hiked away from the road.
Wandering, sometimes talking, sometimes silent, we picked up rocks and dropped them. Showed each other the best ones: quartz and quartzites, petrified wood, metamorphics full of crinoid stems—all tumble-polished millions of years before humans were human. The sun rose, then sank. The wide bare plains; the weather-bitten volcanic Ladrones palely looming, almost floating. Except for wind and the marksmen, silence.
At dusk, our pockets full of pretty rocks, we trailed back to the pickup and sat on the tailgate as the target shooters drove homeward past us in their four-by-fours.
Betsy James on Writing, Art, and Walking in the Desert