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

294. Leah

My granddaughter is a two year old spitfire picklebutt named Leah. She has been at the center of yet another Tusconic experience here in Arizona this past week.  From the first moment after her nap last Friday, she asked her mom in a tiny, whispery voice, “Where’s Wonka?” and then scrambled to my bedroom to celebrate being in the same space. (“Wonka” was her near approximation for “grandpa”, but it seemed to capture something more than the generic label for her mother’s father… and stuck.) She smiled her precious smile between her silky pink cheeks and it was on! Dancing, and arm waving, and chase, and babies, and puzzles, and books, and  the I-pad (thank God for Netflix).

Everything was alive with her energy but only for a few minutes at a time– jumping on the bed while singing “No more monkeys jumpin’ on the bed”, “The wheels on the bus”, “Ring around the rosey”.  A whirling dervish if ever there was, whirling through emotions like a roulette wheel. I kept hoping for red 17, but randomosity ruled.

Her dad Stu is in “Cow if fornya” doing his work right now. He flies Apache helicopters with the National Guard. When a jet would fly over her house, Leah would run out and wave and say, “Hi Daddy” in the general direction of the noise. She likes aircraft too. It seems to be in Stu’s family’s blood. Not many two year olds have a poster of a helicopter on their bedroom wall. Leah does, and she knows Daddy flies “Ha-pache copters”.

At her school there are many kind rules. “This is my work” means “I’m not sharing right now; go beat feet somewhere else.” “Too many  people” means just that. Someone has to go, but it hurts a little when you are the only other person and she yells, “Too many people, Wonka!”

Two days ago we spent maybe an hour playing the money game. We both happened to have shirts with pockets. Leah grabbed a couple of fists of coins from her piggy bank and dropped them carefully into my pocket one coin at a time. Then she scooped them out and dropped them into her shirt pocket. And again…”Do it again”, she said. I have no idea what she gained from this pocket money changing, but I gained sweet breath and tenderness that was worth every penny. Love makes simple things delicious and unforgettable.

Being two and highly verbal and strong willed, she puts on her bossy pants at least once an hour and commands or demands… “No, no, no” as she shakes a little empress finger at something or someone. Some kids get sugar highs; I think Leah gets power highs that have to be moderated with surgical precision. Time outs are readily available on the carpeted stairs where she wails about the injustice of the incident she has likely forgotten. Oh the drama!! Scarlett O Leah, “I shall always have Tara” ( and a thousand stuffed animals, books, Kermit the dog, a trampoline and blow up  pool in the yard, a kitchen set, a rocking chair, etc. etc.). She’s a hoot even when she’s pouty and attempting to rule the world tyrannically. When the time out is over and she demonstrates remorse, “I sorry, Wonka”, it’s all good again. Time for a fiesta for the prodigal granddaughter’s return. Blackberries are a favorite.

Five minutes later she wants to share something, a book or a carrot. “Make space” means slide over for her wiggle butt to snuggle in beside you. Now yesterday we had to ride up to the Guard airbase to drop off Stu’s car he’ll need when he gets back from Cow if fornya. I drove behind my daughter in the Prius with Leah. Grace tossed me a double CD of Raffi’s greatest hits. “Just put in the new Raffi and sing along, Wonka.”  Well, I engaged the CD as we got on to the I-10… but it wasn’t Raffi. It was some bogus fake  Raffi and a disc of Tchaikovsky’s pop hits. I couldn’t believe it. I felt like the folks at Times Square who buy a Rolex for $10 from a street vendor only to find out at Battery Park that it’s a fake and doesn’t even keep time. Fortunately the Baroness of Bossiness was content to sing her own soft songs all the way out to the airfield.

Once Grace rejoined us I registered my complaint. “You told me weed but you sold me basil.”

“What?”

“The Raffi was all wrapper and no Raffi.”

“Oh, sorry. Was it a disaster?”

“No, it was Wonkastic actually.”

And away we went to a lovely “rench raunt” beneath the Catalina Foothills. It was lovely despite the part time efforts of the Diminutive Despot to work her Mommy into a braided rug. Leah makes crow noises that warn of the terrors to come.  In just a blink she turns from a fuzzy domesticated puppy into a wild “Cow yote”, who can turn herself into a cooked spaghetti noodle when you try to pick her up and place her in another time out. She is a gamer, let me tell you, and would be in the Baby Hall of Fame if not for a few moments here and there… like Pete Rose. She sort of gambles on getting her way until you go nose to nose with her for the integrity of the game of parenting.

And then after her latest walk she brings a rock, an acorn and purple flower to document her adventure. They are still warm from the Arizona sun’s radiant energy and her little marshmallow hand. She shows me her knee boo boo which I kiss twice, and I realize I’ll miss her soft voice, her funny expressions, and her hummingbird spirit.  It’s all good like pure oxygen in my blood.

So long my Cow yote puppy.

 

 

269. Tucson

Don’t hate me yet. It’s 75 and the sapphire blue sky has just a sampling of wispy white powder doughnut clouds that serve as contrast behind the chiseled Catalina Mountains. It’s so still that I can hear the little finches fiddling in the palm tree behind me as I sunbathe/read in my daughter’s back yard. The little patch of grass is a hot tub without the water and I am loving it. Let me just say, sitting at this computer just steps away from the glorious sunshine is an act of supreme discipline, my bloggy wogs. It’s not easy being the Big Burrito, but someone has to do it. You may not realize it, but this post is truly an act of agape love. Bathe in it with me for a while.

Amazing what unpolluted sleep can do to one’s nervous system. Body parts I did not know I had have started talking to me again. Little neck and back muscles I’d lost touch with since the summer have resurfaced happily. Once the sleep tank is full, well, life becomes balanced again. Waking up with the sunrise is simply a joyous natural act not drudgery because I know the day ahead is a jewel waiting to be admired.

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And dreams!! The first night my dreams were so wildly funny that I was certain I had laughed all night long and kicked and danced. Something very deep in my being bubbled up to the edges of my consciousness like champagne. And it was good. Maybe hallucinogenic as well. I was wearing my Jimi Hendrix tee shirt after all.

On Sunday we went to the local zoo. My two year old granddaughter got  a camel ride for one of her birthday presents. Of course we chanted, “What day is it?  Mikemikemike.  Hump day.” These camels did not speak English, apparently. Still, it was a lovely day. Leah also fed the giraffes carrots and got to see the baby elephant. My favorites, the tortoises, were out in the sun eating squash and grass. Their slowski motions brought to my mind the old 16 rpm vinyl records, which made me feel like a walking anachronism in this high speed age. Revolutions per minute? You can’t be serious. Yes, my poor jacked up human babies, there were four speeds on turntables back in the day– 16, 33, 45 and 78 rpms. The little 45’s had a song on each side. The 33 rpm lp’s were long playing with 5 to 10 songs on each side. 78’s were before my time though I handled many of them. They zipped around on the turntable at more than twice the speed of 33’s. I realize that I sound like a skipping record as I drone on docent-like at the vinyl record museum of recorded sound, but just nod along and smile at the old geezer as he geezes.

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Simple things seem delicious on vacation.  Grocery shopping at home is tedious at best; here it is a glorious ride through the local Sprouts store.  Service matters to these folks. They will walk you to the item you request without any editorializing or snarky attitudes along the way. Even though the rice I was looking for was right under the large sign that said “RICE”, my grocery lady guide simply smiled as she gave her parade wave to the rice section, as if I were a winner on a game show. “You’ve won a bag of long grain rice!”  I appreciate these little things once my mind slows down to notice them. The problem, of course, is that we mostly live our lives at superhighway speeds that require the obliteration of details and subtleties for the sake of speed. Slow down, Nation, like the kind Tucsonans who move at 33 rpms.  There is only one interstate highway here– Route 10 that runs East to West. It’s the only 78 rpm around. The rest of the traffic seems very manageable due to a simple grid road system. Though I cannot find a bag of rice at the grocery store, I know where I am geographically… behind a shopping cart at 16 rpms, digging the desert sun and the prehistoric vibes etched into the sun drunk landscape.

Yesterday we ventured out to the Tohono Chul Botanical Park. It was enchanting to wander along pea gravel paths among mesquite and saguaro and agave. A huge olive tree hung above the entrance to the gift shop, suspiciously void of low hanging olives. My wife wanted one of the ripe ones, but being a flat footed old guy, I had to pass on by. All sorts of birds chirped and tweeted and trilled. Water sounded holy in the desert brilliance. Several fountains and pools were incorporated along the meandering way. Many ramadas covered in saguaro ribs offered respite from the sun. Butterflies floated along magically. Each breath felt like God was in it.

Desert dwellers are spiritual people. They cannot help but think of God. As I read about the Tohono O’odham tribe, I was fascinated with their mobile culture, how they followed their meager food sources. The huge saguaro cactus fruit was a staple for them. They made wine out of the reddish/purple fruit. I don’t recall any bloodshed or weaponry, land disputes or raiding parties. Being subsistence gatherers, they had nothing to steal, only spirits. The temporary ramadas reminded me of the Jewish tradition of building a temporary structure outside during Passover, not because they are needed but to remember their own desert experience thousands of years ago.

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Maybe that is what I love most about the desert:  the absence of distractions. Life seems stripped down in front of you, no pretension or layers of status. Your clothes and cars don’t matter much in the blazing sun.  A good wide brimmed hat and practical shoes do matter. So does water. And sunscreen.

Okay, I can’t stand it any more, more. I must get back to the rays and gentle air that rolls down from the ridges beyond Tucson. I gave you a literate summer breeze to inhale and hold deeply. If you wake up laughing slowly, you’ll know it worked, Amigos. Now you can hate me.

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