Monday, September 21, 2020


I assumed that I would not be affected by “anniversaries” around my friend and coworker’s death. That is because I was thinking of anniversaries as holidays and events especially shared with family and loved ones. But I was wrong. As I struggled with my emotions as we prepped and hung our latest exhibit Who Speaks to You? Portraits from the Permanent Collection, I definitely missed my best friend and coworker.

I also finished the quilt I was making for my friend’s wife from his shirts. Loss is an odd thing, leaving unexpected potholes in one’s life. My new coworkers are very kind, waiting when I tear up and can’t speak or need to walk away in order to “get myself together.”

Friday, August 21, 2020

Architecture of Body

I find it curious how we can sometimes find the architecture of dead animals disgusting and sometimes view it as a trophy to hang on our walls.

What bring this to mind, is this: I have a friend who, years ago, did a series of “Roadkill Portraits”—photos of dead animals in various stages of decomposition. I have one of a bunny and my coworker had one of a dog or coyote, which has since ended up with me. There is a curious beauty to these pictures once one gets past their gruesome nature. Oddly however, where many people are repelled by these honest images, others celebrate a trophy kill and have an animal stuffed and mounted. Granted these “trophies” are much more attractive than my friend’s photos, but they are both a weird sort of commemoration of death.

 I personally enjoy sometimes finding an intact skeleton of an animal in situ. One time, while looking for my runaway husky, I found the vertebra of a snake, loosely coiled as it might have been in life. I collected these vertebrae and have used them as a sort of bead in certain art pieces. Another time I found the skeleton of a bird, with the feathered wings still intact. It was a beautiful thing, an elegant framework of flight, reminding me of the framework of early planes.

The friend who did the roadkill series later did photos of “dead” dog toys. Much more humorous and easier to digest. I have one of those portraits too, a dog toy shaded the most subtle shade of pink.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Night Angler

Listening to the Write Question on MTNPR and an interview with Geoffry Davis on his collection of poetry Night Angler. It presented discrimination in a more visceral way than I typically experience it.

Growing up in Montana during the Vietnam era, watching protest marches and then the marches for equal rights, later morphing into footage of riots and looting—in Montana that all seemed so far removed… I did see and was aware of tremendous discrimination toward the American Indian students. They were consistently bullied and harassed. In Montana, and sometimes across the country, the issue of race is often equated with Blacks and no other racial group (generally speaking). And I have heard many a Montanan say we don’t have problems with discrimination in Montana—mainly because there is a minority of non-Caucasians in Montana.

The interesting aspect of Geoffry Davis’s interview is that he is a black man who learned to fish from his dad, and now has a passion for fly fishing. In one part of the interview, he mentions the process of knocking on a landowner’s door to request access to waterways for fishing. He passes over the responses of the landowner other than to mention an often-startled reception. What he does discuss is his wife’s worry about his safety. And unfortunately, the worry is not about snakes, or bears, or twisted ankles. It made real to me that same story of young, especially black men being targeted for simply going about what in a non-black we deem as normal activity—jogging or running, being rowdy, just being out after dark, or being somewhere untypical. 

Monday, August 10, 2020


Chronic depression is a miasma, at times low, present but quiescent. Other times it threatens to drown one. Tangle that with anxiety and what a wicked duo. I reference this in relation to my friend who committed suicide and for myself and others who wade in chronic depression.

I struggle to find a place for myself when I don’t have that long-time friend and coworker in the shop next door. His absence is louder with his replacement marking space. It is not the replacement, who is a fine young man, that is the problem, but more when one has worked with someone for a long period of time one develops a rhythm and understanding, an ease to communicating and interacting. I find I miss that connection and sometimes shortcut filling new coworkers in on what had become understood.

I try not to reference my friend, he has been relegated to “your predecessor,” his name and history shortcut to avoid comparison or contrast with his replacement. That absence leaves a hole in me—I spent a good deal of time holding space for and talking with my friend as he struggled in his battle. I am at loose ends, and trying to find a way to be
whole—as I imagine many do when loss redefines their world.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020


Fire—summer and dog days—oppressive heat over an extended period, and even in Helena where most nights cool off, it is wearing.

Image: Wiki Commons
I think back on summers filled with smoke and my senses go on high alert. One of those summers, I had an artist’s residency at a cabin in the Lincoln area. Oblivious to what was occurring in the valley below, I hiked with dogs, sketched, and read. The cabin had bats which would fly out at night adding an edge of "goosebumpery" to the stay. One night the dogs woke me to be let out and in stepping out the door I saw the sky lit up with dancing green bands of color—the northern lights, or aurora borealis. 

Image: US Forest Service 
The next evening, sitting around the campfire, a spotter plane circled like a mosquito over the campsite, causing me to douse the fire. That night dry lightning, then the sound of trucks and human noise as a hot shot team beat down strike areas. We heard them more than saw them, though on my ramble with my dogs the next morning, I found several spots blackened by fire. Later in the morning the hot shot crew stopped by camp and warned us to be ready to leave at any point. 

A visit from a friend later in the afternoon brought information of the Spokane Creek fire and evacuations in the valley below. I drove in to Lincoln to try to check on my mom who lived off Spokane Creek at the time. I didn’t connect with her, but her neighbor said she’d evacuated to my house, so at least I knew she was safe. Relief, and a last restless night at cabin, heading down into the Helena valley the next morning was like entering in to Dante’s inferno—the valley filled with roiling yellow black smoke and the smell of burning wood, instincts signaling danger, danger!

Dog Days

These are restless days, 90+ degree heat extending over days, into weeks. Dog days, days of too hot, restless sleep and lethargy. Even my dogs are content to lie in front of fans after we do our jaunts in the early part of the day.

The hillsides and trails are drying up. The duff covering the trails is dry and brittle, it crunches and breaks under foot. Dirt on the trails is powdery and loose, footing a bit insecure. The air is hot and dry with an underlying scent of pine or dust. Dog days as things heat up, humidity drops, fire danger rises. We walk early to escape the heat, I carry water for dogs and self, yet still we are hot and parched by the time we reach the car. These days fire danger is in the forefront of my mind—I avoid hiking some of my preferred spots as they feel too vulnerable to being trapped if fire were to occur.

So we hike early and limit outside activity, and hide inside, dogs sleeping me working on art or quilting, counting off the days until the weather breaks and fall settles in.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Mourning Cloak

Nature has certain rules for things that I don’t always pay attention to. I am working on a drawing of the mourning cloak butterfly for an activity book and wondering if I have put on too many spots—or not enough? On our escapades, my friend the master gardener has talked about petal groupings and configurations on different flowering plants, which somehow made me wonder if I’m putting too many spots on a butterfly… And yet, two of my coworkers and I did a mini field trip to a local taxidermy firm where the owner talked about retrofitting pre-built forms in proportion to the hides that go over them. He noted that animals, like people, vary in shape and size, even in the same species.

I know that in my art I often simplify or standardize a pattern or color on the animal, bird, or insect I am depicting, but somehow creating images which represent certain animals for kids to color leaves me asking that question—is there a certain number or pattern to the mourning cloak butterfly? And yet, here I am overthinking an image that kids will color any way they like, even out of the lines.