384. Love Now

I’ve been off the grid for the past ten days or so. A week in Tucson with my only grandchild so far, Leah, who is three going on forty three. Sunny days and mild temperatures just reset your groove. Playing with a three year old will do it too.  I also got to help redecorate a 20 x 20 foot playroom for my daughter and son-in-law, smearing drywall compound and paint until ugly gave way to beauty, just before my arms and back fell apart. It’s scary how little endurance I have for real physical work anymore. There was a time when I could work all day at a project and be ready to get back to it the next day. Those days are over. Now exhaustion sets in around four hours into steady labor, followed by ibuprofen and sleep. Sixty years old in the body but twenty five in the mind equals a deficit of 35 somethings.

It’s very satisfying to see indisputable progress appear at your fingertips. In a way, painting and redecorating yield a similar satisfaction to blogging. Something is there at the end of a session that was not present earlier. I am nothing if not creative. Likewise, if I’m not creating something, then I am nothing. I love color and music and shape and rhythm. I never grow weary of art. How can you tire of saffron/cinnamon paint called Moroccan Sky as it floods across sterile white primer? Like watching blood flow through a pale, transplanted heart as it beats in the new living patient. Okay, I’m overly dramatic, but I do get excited when I see transformation flow out of a two and a half inch paintbrush.  Light and mood follow color. They have no choice. Bedouins may clomp across the baseboard in a camel train, and it’s all right.

God’s art is all over Tucson. He has done some amazing work in Arizona, let me say.  We visited Sabino Canyon and Ventana Canyon on two separate days. I posted about Sabino last year. Ventana is quite different since you have to  go through a chic resort to get to the 80 foot waterfall that is the crown jewel of this canyon. Despite the commercial development of Ventana Canyon, God’s beauty still pulses in the hills and the stream that runs through them. Not as quiet and untouched as Sabino, still it is lush with cactus and agave and palo verde and mesquites and flowers of all sorts. Man’s hands are much more obvious in Ventana, but it’s all good. Done with respect for God’s gifts.

That’s one of the many things I love about Tucson is the reverence for the landscape and the overall Sonoran Desert environment. Whereas Phoenix paved and watered the desert, creating an artificial metropolis, Tucson grew symbiotically with the fragile  landscape, never overwhelming it as is the blistering case in Phoenix.


On our last day in Tucson we visited the Degrazia Gallery of The Sun Museum again. He was an amazing guy and the museum is his creation, filled with his creativity. Primarily paintings, but also sculpture and ceramics, wood, furniture, and glass, as well as whimsical arrangements of old rusty metal objects in the courtyard.  You get the sense of a man who loved deeply– the land, the people, his art, his God, his friends. He is buried there between the museum and the chapel he built for the Indians. A simple pile of blue tinted rocks with a wooden headpiece, a dog tag hangs with Degrazia engraved on it, and a heavy bronze wreath at his feet. Simple and simply amazing. Everywhere you turn you see his handiwork. The man was a creative dynamo and a free spirit.The kind of guy I would feel comfortable hanging with, drinking his Chivas Regal… and I don’t even like scotch.

Standing there at his grave, I thanked him for being true, not pretentious or aloof. A real guy who inspired me. Part of me wants to go back to the 1930’s and build an adobe house on a bluff above Tucson. Drill a well. Plant slow growing vegetation that will take decades to come to fullness. Watch as a mesquite tree spreads and builds a pocket of shade beneath it. And just create left and right, above and below. Paint the stars at night and sunrise in the morning. Sculpt anything that stands still. Stack rocks in zen formations. Cast bronze figures. Fire clay and make glass. Pound out sheets of copper. Just stay on the wavelength of making art I believed in.

One other delightful site to visit nearby Degrazia’s place is the Hacienda del Sol, a fabulous resort built out of a former girls boarding school that was constructed in the 1920’s. Desert spirits are in every nook and cranny of the place. Hand made furniture and beams, doors and tiles just seduce you; calling you to linger and get outside of time. Beauty so palpable it can bring you to tears of awe. Dali’s melted watches and clocks make sense when you transcend the bully of industrialized TIME and its command, “Go, go, do, do.” Uhhh, no, not for me. I say, “Screw you, time naggers.” Drop it!! Just be, feel the moment that you are in. Cherish the past and hope for your future, but fully inhabit the moment you are in. Life artists do this very thing when they create.

March 2016 025When we came back to PA, I knew what I was going to do. If I can’t stay in Arizona, I reasoned, I can certainly put Arizona on my office walls. I pictured the work involved on the long flight back. I’d follow my favorite phone photograph taken from my daughter’s back deck, a sunset over the western ridge of mountains. Gloriously simple. I calculated the effort and imagined the colors. Strategized the parts involved. And smiled in pleasant anticipation of the outcome. “Hey, Ted DeGrazia, I’m comin’ to getcha.” Classic rock songs played on a loop in my brain as I entertained this project… Hendrix, “Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire”, “Purple Haze”, “All Along the Watchtower”. I think deeply creative folks can see a song or hear a painting, smell a sculpture or feel an abstraction. Don’t expect me to prove or explain that statement. It’s a stick built hunch leaning over a vortex of faith. Okay? So, with just a few hours of sleep after a three a.m. arrival, I went to my office and began to DeGraziate it. Pictures will follow as I finish the Sonoran Desert Mural.


In the moment

life pulses

from God’s fingers

through mine

across my little Desertine Chapel

And time stands still

Suffused with peace

293. Sabino Canyon

North and east of Tucson is a beautiful park/wilderness area called Sabino Canyon. Hiking it was on my short weeklong bucket list. I set off yesterday at 6:20 a.m. to benefit from the cool of the morning.  No plan or agenda really, no real time frame except for the ominous blistering heat of the day, projected to top 102 degrees. I borrowed my daughter’s camelback water backpack, took a fig bar, an apple, and some trail mix. 64 ounces of water registered on the bladder of the camelback. Away I went without directions. Hey, Tucson roads are on a grid. How hard could it be to drive east and then north at the right spot? There would be signs, I was sure.

After a twenty minute detour into town and a reverse along a nice  golf course community, I finally got the right destination typed in to my phone map app… Sabino Canyon Road. I was about 100 yards from the parking lot when I clicked the route button only to see that I had already arrived. No perceivable loss. I’m on vacation and I have all day to explore… or so I thought. The sun was low but the temperature was already near 80 degrees at 7:15. I parked the Prius in the lot and wandered into the desert following rusted steel and aluminum signs.

Lizards of all types skittered by, some running up high on their toes like water bugs across the blazing sand. Doves cooed all around. The quiet grew palpably. As I was checking in via cell phone with my daughter before she drove to work, I noticed a large, slow lizard crawling across the road. I’d seen one of these before at the museum last year– a gila monster. I snapped some pictures of the 16 inch beaded beauty and left him alone in the shade of some desert shrub. I walked on toward the vortex, a term a fellow hiker gave me as I struggled not to call it the crotch of the canyon.

I thought about rattlesnakes and how I’d just die if one bit me. It’s too late once the venom hits the vein. ( Great line for a goth band, “when the venom hits the vein, my fatal love will crush you like a train”, not a great band. ) The instructor at the Sonoran Desert Museum told us of the terrible outcomes of rattlesnake bites last October, and the terrible price of anti-venom, which is not covered by terrible insurance, I’m sure. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something strike airward, it was not a rattlesnake but a road runner, hopping at bugs and then pecking them. What funny birds they are. He skadoodled off into the scrub to the right. I plodded on, cognizant of the heat and the sun, trying to find a pace that would be productive but not exhaustive. Sand and gravel crunched underfoot. No other sound appeared.

Soon I came to a small pool with fish in it. Odd in the middle of a bone dry place to have a tiny pond with fish. I could see that this pool was part of the larger wash which rushed down the mountain slopes during the monsoon season. I wondered what sort of wildlife visited this water hole at night– wildcats? javelinas? coyotes?

As I continued up the various slopes that confronted me, I came across a yellow sign with a mountain lion’s face on it, warning of recent sightings. I wondered what I’d do if one appeared. I thought of making myself bigger like a bear and charging the cougar, showing him who was the boss. I thought of smashing his snout with a rock. I thought of being slain from behind, my snacks uneaten, my photo album’s last picture of a road runner. Tragic. I determined  right then and there I was not going down without a mighty fight worthy of my Facebook newsfeed.

Forward into the wilderness area, the tough trail rose into the high holy ground. No more paved roads or flat paths eight feet wide. Now the trail was rocky, sandy and narrow. It paralleled the canyon riverbed, occasionally crossing over when a sheer cliff rose up on one side. I drank more from memory and out of caution now, knowing dehydration doesn’t let you know of its presence until it’s too late. The water was lukewarm. I wondered about inspiration, expiration, and perspiration… “breathe in, breathe out, breathe through”, the water was breathing through my skin and evaporating into the silence.

I felt the constant strain on my knees and hips, sure to pay the price later but this scenery was worth great sacrifice. The five dollar parking fee felt like chump change as I gloried in the saguaros, the mesquite,and the cliff faces on this path into heaven. I had no idea where I was going, but it felt like a spiritual magnet was pulling me toward that hidden vortex. Like a pilgrim I plodded on in seemingly holy air. God seemed close enough to just chat with like my invisible fellow hiker. “I really like what you’ve done with this place, God. Your endless creativity and sense of humor give me goose bumps on a hot day.” I sat under a mesquite tree to eat my apple. I felt like a rich man as two hummingbirds rested on a branch above me. I savored the texture and taste of that apple and realized that I’d been in savor mode ever since I got on the trail this morning. The fig bar was figulous. The trail mix a banquet of nuts and dried fruits. A king, I felt royally blessed in my spot of shade. I had to keep climbing into the vortex.

The trail, like life, turned and twisted and was never clear for long stretches. That’s a good thing, keeps you engaged. I thought that God had it right to begin with and men came up with level and square and plumb to control the world. But God had it right and this pristine cactus cathedral sings hymns of praise to the Creator in its pipe organ rocks and giant saguaros. My 60 year old frame kept plodding up and over, finally descending into a large pool at the base of Seven Falls.  Ahhh, the vortex, the water, life, God pulsed out of this place into ever widening space. My heart beat like a drum in a Navajo rain dance. Thump, thump, thump, as a sunrise smile broke across the vortex of my soul. Ahhh! Life is so good.