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.
Two of us and a dog were scrounging along the talus slope, looking for petroglyphs, when my companion said urgently, “Come quick!”
Peering out of a vertical crack in the cliff about ten feet up was a fox-faced ringtail cat. Huge, lemur-like sad eyes, big bat ears, a bushed-out tail that seemed to float behind it. Bold, totally silent. It crept out of the crack and down toward us, examined us thoroughly, then slipped away into the rocks and brush.
It was like an apparition but domestic, like a fox spirit. Quite unafraid of us. The dog, transfixed, did not bark.
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–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?
We walked inover multicolored gravels eroded from some long-lost range. Some were petrified wood, glossy and tumble-polished. Among them a second generation of trees had grown; these too had fossilized, then eroded, and now looked simply like wood chips inexplicably turned to stone. Among them the ponderosas of today stood, living wood.
Next to a dissolving petrified log, recent woodcutters had left their beer cans and pile of slash. Old woodpile, new woodpile: the two looked remarkably alike, though the ancient one was yellow and bright as new wood, and the new one was gray.
Betsy James on Writing, Art, and Walking in the Desert