field notes (12.1.17)

Reading: RISING STRONG by Brene Brown (again), ANNIE LIEBOVITZ AT WORK

Very happily sold a personal essay to one of my favorite magazines! To be published in January! Details to follow!

Gifted myself with weekly chiropractor appointment this holiday season. So amazing to take care of myself instead of running on empty at this time of year. Hope to make this an annual part of my winter celebrations.

I bloom indoors in the winter like a forced forsythia; I come in to come out. At night I read and write, and things that I have never understood become clear; I reap the harvest of the rest of the year’s planting.” – Annie Dillard in PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK

field notes (7.1.17)

Reading: THE BOLD DRY GARDEN by Johanna Silver (I am utterly in awe of Ruth Bancroft who is the subject of the book. I remember reading an article about her and her xeriscape garden in Martha Stewart Magazine in high school or college and being utterly intrigued. Now, to rediscover her and learn more about her, is a gift.), LOCAL COLOR by Mimi Robinson (so, so, so helpful as I continue on my color-literacy quest), EXPLORERS’ SKETCHBOOKS by Huw Lewis-Jones and Kari Herbert (fascinating and inspiring) and 2016 THE BEST AMERICAN SCIENCE & NATURE WRITING  edited by Amy Stewart

Best description of a person I’ve read in a long time, in this case regarding Dame Janet Maria Vaughan: “down to earth but like air on a mountain.”

Embracing acupuncture and cupping…

Sorting, packing, purging in preparation for an upcoming move across town. I thought this move would be easier than my cross-country move in December, but it hasn’t been. (Maybe, it’s even been harder? Not sure yet.) But moving, whether next door, across town, cross-country, to the other side of the globe, is difficult. Moving is difficult. Moving is difficult. Moving is difficult. But also, refining.

Took an inadvertent break from social media in June and it was lovely. (My smartphone stopped.) Before I dig in again, if/when I dig in again, I  must reflect on the lessons and ideas the time away offered me.


I am submitting.

field notes (3.1.17)

This article, MO WILLEMS’S FUNNY FAILURES by Rivka Galchen is full of gems. (You’re welcome.)

Pretty sure that fear and failure are just really clever disguises for opportunities. (Note to self: remember this when you are scared and failing!)

Entering the high tide of conference preparation…which means lots of reading, researching, formulating questions, ordering new business cards, and focusing on my purpose. (I love a good conference. Helps me gather myself together a bit.)

Trying a new method to focus & flense my latest writing project. I’m writing a book-about-a-book. Which is maybe just a sneaky way to get myself to write a book proposal without getting all powerpoint- and spreadsheet-crazy. I get to use pictures! Essays! Quotes! Maps!It is fun (and helpful).

Noted: if I want a make a change, it helps not just to think a new idea, but to say that idea aloud. For example, I have a new book idea and like all new ideas, at first this one was shiny and perfect. But once I start working on it, the flaws started to show up. This doesn’t mean I need to stop working. It just means I need to keep working. And as I work, I am carefully saying to myself “This is a good idea.” And when that doesn’t work (which is most of the time) I say it aloud. “This is a good idea” to the empty room or to the full room. And this works. Honestly. It’s as if the idea hears the praise and stands up straighter and tries a bit more earnestly.

Reading: WRITING WITH PICTURES by Uri Shulevitz (it’s been a few years since I read this one. So good.)


Visited the Museum of the Rockies for the first time and, man oh man, I love museums.

It’s March! Which means I survived February, my least favorite month.

Remembering that being uncomfortable is magical. Because it means that I am pushing myself and exploring new territory, taking risks. It’s scary and painful. Trying to remember that in the moment. Trying to get comfortable with discomfort. (This may take a while…)

New archival material arrived for my NF biography and it’s such vital information. Grateful I spent the $25 and got out of my own way. (Sometimes my thriftiness gets in the way of progress.) ahem.

Expanding from simply keeping a nature journal into keeping a visual journal. It’s a format that’s more flexible and fluid. More inclusive. I like it. Fewer rules, more fun.

field notes (4.15.16)

The theme here this week is S L O W

Slowly reading and writing and thinking my way through WIRED FOR STORY by Lisa Cron

So many events I was looking forward to have been cancelled this week: my visit to the Talley Gallery, the Kerlan Collection Archives, the Loft to hear Helen Macdonald speak. Schedules changed and now I can’t go. Boo.

The sun is shining. The mineral smell of the soil surprised me this morning when I stepped outside. It’s been so long.

My Palomino Blackwing 602 pencils arrived. Swoon.

I reconnected with a friend I hadn’t spoke to for 20 years. You guys, it was so lovely and reaffirming to hear her voice, hear her story. We’ve got plans to see each other in early May. But also, after I spoke with her, I cried on and off all day because I have missed so much of her life. She got married, had babies, built a career, lost a sister. And I wish I could turn back time and stand with her through all of that, maybe help carry her through some of the hard things. I comfort myself with the thought that I’m back in her life now. I can’t undo the past 20 years. But I can do the next 20.

More watercolor painting and pencil scribbling and chalking and oil pasteling happening on my kitchen counter. Makes me incredibly happy.

Steady on with my essays!


mary jane’s grave

I visited Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter’s gravesite in St. Paul this summer. I was surprised that her gravestone was so simple, so spare.


There was no mention of her birthdate, no trumpeting of her accomplishments. I liked it. Its matter-of-factness seemed just right.



a little rothko love on his birthday

My artist friend and I were standing in front of a Rothko painting at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. a while back when she said, “This does nothing for me.”


I couldn’t believe those words had come from her mouth because I was trying to think of ways to make the painting a part of me, as in, you know, eating it. I wanted it to be me. I wanted to point at it while yelling to the other museum visitors, “THIS! This is IT! This is how I feel!” I was trembling.

There is a lesson in this little anecdote, I’m sure of it. Maybe something about how as an artist you just need to create the thing that is true to you and not worry about what others think and also, needing to know that your art will resonate with some people and not with others and that’s OK.

Rothko’s colors still, always, forever make me tremble. And, apparently, I’ve become a sort of groupie because I’ve seen his work at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the University of Arizona Museum of Art, the Portland Art Museum, the Denver Art Museum, at a museum in New York City whose name I cannot remember, multiple exhibitions at the National Gallery of Art and at The Phillips Collection (where they have a Rothko Room that I find so intense that after sitting in there for just 10 minutes I have to leave to get some air before I can see again.)

So, here’s a bit of his color wonderful and some fun links to celebrate his birthday:

Rothko toast

quilts & quilts (which are sold out but still beautiful)

AZ Museaum of Art001

mary jane colter: mesa verde national park

The most culturally powerful structure that Mary Colter, the most influential architect at Grand Canyon National Park, designed on the rim of the Canyon was the Watchtower at Desert View. The 70-foot tall structure was a “re-creation” of many of the Native Indian towers that can still be found in the Four Corners region of Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.

Mesa Verde 079Square Tower at MVNP

Mary took six months to travel to remote towers to study their construction techniques and materials closely. Utlimately, Mary chose Mesa Verde National Park’s Round Tower in Cliff Palace as the direct inspiration for the form and proportions of her Watchtower.

Mesa Verde 031the Round Tower at MVNP ( just left of center)

They say that writers stand on the shoulders of writers that have come before them. I agree. I believe the same idea holds true for other creative efforts. And in the case of the Watchtower, Mary stood unabashedly on the shoulders of the Native Indian builders who came before her to create something beautiful and meaningful.

Mesa Verde 028Cliff Palace

The Watchtower at Desert View at Grand Canyon National Park officially opened on May 13, 1933. It is a wonder.

clyfford still

The only reason I’m writing about Clyfford Still is so that I can post these pictures of his art on my site:

Clifford Still 008


Clifford Still 010

Pretty great, huh?

I just returned from visiting the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver.

Here’s the deal: Clyfford was born in North Dakota and lived there for about a year but spent his childhood in Spokane, Washington and Bow Island in southern Alberta, Canada.  But for the rest of his life he was referred to as a North Dakotan, as in, “the reclusive North Dakota artist” even though he lived in a variety of places. The lesson: be careful about where you decide to be born.

Anyway, Clyfford was one of the foremost creators of Abstract Expressionism. For a while he taught in San Francisco, Washington, Virginia. At one point, he threw a fit and refused to participate in the art world. The CSM has a nice biography about Clyfford Still if you want more details.

But here’s the best part. You know you’ve arrived when your widow offers your nearly entire prolific output to any U.S. city that would give it a home and several cities vie for that right.

Well, Denver won and rose to the occasion. And the result is amazing. Go stare at the beautiful building they created to showcase his art. Wander its corridors and imagine what it would be like to live or work there. Stare wide-souled at Clyfford’s masterpieces. Resist the urge to lick the paintings.

Alas, there are no picture book biographies about Clyfford Still, but there is a dazzling puzzle based on his work that I would someday like to call my very own. However, if you would like to read a picture book biography about another abstract expressionist, Jackson Pollock, check out “Action Jackson” by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan.