January 26 – Agave Americana

01-26 Agave Americana post

Several years ago, I was in the habit of hiking the hilltop behind my house. I did this on an almost daily basis – sometimes early in the morning to try and capture photographs of the hummingbirds, and sometimes at dusk, as the light turned golden yellow. During the monsoon season, the skies swell with dramatic light-grabbing clouds. I think I made so many pictures of the area at that time, I began to forget how truly dazzling the scenery was; most of the pictures remain in the dark, unpublished and under-utilized in my catalog.

The silhouette is the dried corpse of an agave americana plant. These spires line the hills in the mountains of Southern Arizona and are as recognizable in the borderlands as the Saguaro Cactus (think Roadrunner and Wile W. Coyote cartoons) is just a hundred miles north in Tucson and the Coronado National Forest.

Commonly referred to as a “century plant,” they don’t actually live quite that long. These drought-resistant buggers typically live between ten and thirty years.

I figured a sunset photograph would be a nice book-end to my birthday. Thirty-three years ago I arrived on this peculiar organic spaceship, this mossy rock flying through the cosmos. A wetware android, my brain has been gathering information and making connections ever since that day, furiously trying to make sense of everything.

I’m not sure how successful I’ve been, but it sure is fun trying.
Most of the time.


January 25 – The Sunflower

01-25 Sunflower State post

It is said that on the darkest days, the sunflower will still stand tall and seek out the light. I rather like that sentiment.

It may just be because I was raised in Kansas – the sunflower state – but I always assume everybody’s seen those time-lapse videos, fields of sunflowers craning their delicate necks from east to west, tracking the movement of the sun. It’s a marvelous thing to consider, that these organisms bend so literally to that glowing orb in the heavens. Everything that we enjoy is because of that mysterious object, and it’s promise to return in the springtime.

Entire populations have bowed in worship of the sun. It is the light that lets us see, the warmth that keeps us alive, the energy that draws life from the soil beneath our feet. Even in an age where the sun itself isn’t deified, it’s rising and setting provide powerful metaphors.

Today’s photograph doesn’t require much explanation. This is ‘pretty for the sake of being pretty,’ or ‘ars gratia artis.’ At the same time, I have a lot of memories anchored to this image.

Two summers ago, I walked by a small patch of sunflowers on my daily walk up Brewery Gulch in Bisbee, Arizona, on my way to Mimosa Market. The tiny brick bodega is another Bisbee landmark, although it’s far enough up the thoroughfare that many tourists never manage to set eyes on it (and those that do are often stymied by the cash-only practice). The proprietor had grown a little patch of sunflowers in the side yard, and I made sure to bring my camera with me one day to photograph the frenzy of bees rolling in the pollen like excited children in a snowbank.

I remember one monsoon season, years before I ever moved to Bisbee, walking up the road past Mimosa Market toward Zacatecas Canyon; the entire road was a river of water from the rains tumbling down the mountain from that morning’s rain-shower. A family was in the middle of the near-vacant road, and a baby in a bloated diaper from the water was sitting in the middle of the stream slapping her hands in the water and giggling. I’ll never forget how excited that fat-cheeked, mostly-toothless face looked.

There’s nothing like an Arizona monsoon. There’s nothing like saying hello to a beautiful flower as you walk by, every single day. There’s nothing like the collection of simple little pleasures that, together, are what make life grand.



January 23 – Arizona Winter

01-23 Arizona Winter post

While a wall of snow pummels the east coast, it’s customary for Arizonans to post memes about how nice the weather is in their own neck of the woods. I must admit, I did my fare share of that, too, and I know I will in the future.

We live in a world of comparisons. The east coast has culture and history that the southwest can’t boast quite so easily. The east coast has mass transit that would slap a smile on anybody who’s ever conducted battle on California’s 405 Freeway. There are upsides and downsides, and nobody’s existence is ever really any better than anybody else’s. That’s just the damn truth. The trick is finding the dysfunction that we, individually, can roll with – and run headlong toward it.

For me, I’ll take the heat and political madness of Arizona over anything else. Bad public schools, rogue governors, perpetual arguments about immigration. I’ll take it. The hills have stories to tell, and the desert landscape is beautiful for its surface simplicity, and it’s deep, volcanic complexity. These hills provided lead for the civil war, copper for the stock market, lawlessness for the lawless. The adventurous spirit of this nation’s early years lead straight out into these hills, among warring tribes, labor camps, and a relentless, fearless draw toward independence.

Most of the mines are gone. Most of the camps were never built to last, so the thoroughfares sank back into the ground and were reclaimed by nature. The shacks the workers lived in had no foundations – they, too, sank back into the earth. In the Mule Mountains, we can today look out into a wilderness where, just a century ago, industry was thriving. Once wars ended, once the ore gave out, the communities vanished and moved onward toward the next venture. Only sparse skeletal remains can be found today, of sunken shafts and splintered timber. The path of the short-line railroad still exists along the San Pedro River, even though the steel rails have been plucked back up and reassembled into a fence along the Mexico border.

Open spaces are hard to find, but not in the valleys of southern Arizona, where my heart resides.


January 16 – Those “Creative Types” We Know…

01-16 Creative Types post

Artists and egos go together like milk and cookies, now, don’t they? Where you find the one, you’re likely to find the other. It’s as though creative people are perpetually prepared to defend their work. And we all know what defensive personalities can do, don’t we? That’s right. They can lash out viciously like frightened wild animals. Bisbee boasts a wonderful arts scene in Southern Ariona, and that wouldn’t be a lie. But the happy-go-lucky vibe Bisbee also likes to boast about itself? Well, that’s not entirely correct. The fact is, the economy there is contracting and the town has gentrified significantly from the dirt-cheap 1960s of yore. Rents are higher, fewer dollars are flowing into the town, and there’s greater competition for a seat at the winner’s table. Sometimes there are hurt feelings when you struggle to promote your work, and sometimes you get thrown under the bus. Sometimes our melt-downs are very, painfully public.

That kind of thing happens in a small town, I guess.

During my tenure, I created enough problems for myself with this big old dumb mouth of mine. I’ve also quietly watched other peoples’ struggles unfold like a great big dusty rug on social media, ready for a thorough beating. We take our licks and hopefully learn something from the experience. We also discover who those people are that never seem to enter the arena, but always sit on the sidelines like carnival barkers, ready to cut you down to size, and ready to help fan the flames of a small conflict into a dangerous firestorm. Having a creative passion is something of a spectator sport, especially in a small town, but heck – criticism is part of the game, too.

People that can’t handle criticism should never pursue a career in the arts. Period.

In my humble opinion, when an artist is surrounded only by cheerleaders who celebrate each attempt as though it were the Mona Lisa itself? That’s absolutely freaking wonderful! We all need positive support. But it also means that the artist may be in the perfect position to experiment with something new, to try a new subject, style, venue, audience. The real danger of a town like Bisbee is that it’s such an incredibly small and insular place, and there are a lot of big fish. Things can get ugly when resources are scarce.

– – –

I say all of this not to stoke the flames of malcontent. It appears as though the most recent round of conflict in the Bisbee art scene has played itself out (at least in social media). I say all of this in relation to the image above, made by a gentleman who used to live in the brick building on Brewery Gulch across from the dog park. That is, if anyone ever really recognized it as a dog park. At one point or another, I think I remember people jokingly referring to it as “parvo park,” which didn’t inspire much confidence. Nevertheless, the brick building was festooned with mesh wire, painted mannequins, Christmas lights, and other random, presumably “found” objects. Some viewed it as an eyesore, others loved it. Visitors could be seen taking pictures of it with their smartphones every weekend.

I can’t pick sides. I don’t know the whole story. I just know that the eccentric old beast who decorated that building doesn’t live in Bisbee any longer. He may have brought it upon himself, or maybe somebody just didn’t like the cut of his jib. The extent of my knowledge is that he was run out of town. The right mixture of hubris, ego, madness, creativity, and drugs will always yield interesting results – and I’m confident all of those elements were at play. When creative types collide, sparks fly.

It’s my understanding he lives in Jerome now and he’s happy there, so there’s that. I don’t miss the dog park, but I do kind of miss the crazy decorations on that old building.

Oh well. Time marches on.


January 15 – On A Hill In Bisbee

01-15 Hilltop Bisbee post

“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.”

– – –

I decided to dig through the archives for today’s photograph. I have a mountain of pictures that not only haven’t been published, but have almost been forgotten. I like to sift through old files, look back on all the faces and scenery I’ve been blessed enough to photograph. When my motivation is languishing – when I’m feeling the impulse to create something but don’t know where to begin – going through old photographs always helps.

One of my favorite places in the whole world is the hilltop that overlooks Brewery Gulch and all of Old Bisbee. That old Arizona town is unspeakably picturesque. Years ago, I’ve been told, a local man – I wish I could recall his name – could be seen hauling materials, an armload at a time, up and down the rocky path that winds up the hill. And anybody who visits Bisbee eventually sees the big white cross on the hill. Most folks aren’t able to find the trail without being shown the way.

Local folks have added their own candles, keepsakes, statues, prayer flags and vials of water. A local woman placed her husband’s ashes up there. A small red dollhouse-sized memorial was fixed onto the hilltop when Derrick and Amy Ross – our Nowhere Man and Whiskey Girl – passed away a couple years ago. On the backside of the hill is a makeshift shrine for those who braved the desert heat in an attempt to cross into America. Toothbrushes, children’s shoes, baby bottles, rosaries, backpacks, sunglasses, and clothing have been collected and hung atop the rocks beneath the visage of the Guadalupe Virgin.

I hiked up there several times a week, not often running into other people. I never grew tired of the view. Just thinking about it, I can almost feel the sense of calm in the wind in the summertime, watching monsoon storms roll in from the distance. It is a very special place. I look forward to being there again soon.