Stretching my horizons, heart and stomach

The once-in-fifiteen-year snowstorm happened while I was in Paris....twice...! Traveling is damn good for....everything...!  The opportunity to go to Paris was totally unexpected and lucky-for-me travel expenses were in a large part paid for as I was asked to speak to youth at a business school (one of my favorite experiences from the trip).  My first day in Paris at Muse d'Orsay and my final day in Montmarte were my two favorite days with plenty of goodness (and LOTS of art) in between.  I was struck down by food poisoning one night.  The attack was intense enough that I passed out and hit my face on the way down (in my hotel bathroom) but once again luck was on my side as the black eye from the fall waited until I was on my way home to "bloom."  Although the attack was violent and I was alone, it was rather quick-lived and I was able to recover and resume Paris goodness.  Plus a good friend from home arrived in Paris with her friend at about the same time as the attack so Raymond knew that if I had to be taken care of then she would step up and mother me.  While in the bathroom (for the second time) of the Museum in Monet's house (I was still recovering) I remember thinking happily how I was sooooo inspired all I wanted to do was draw and draw and draw (and then I remembered that is all I wanted to do before I left for Paris).  I laughed out loud.  Happy as hell.

 

Happy Feet off to Paris!

My two happy feet left for Paris after sharing a blissful afternoon with Heidi and Kobi together in this sweet little spa followed by tasty lunch topped off with a walking tour of public art and fresh chocolate factory samples all in their ‘hood. #blessedwithfriends #happyfeet #gratitude

New Year's Day Sledding Party

We love sharing our epic 2 mile downhill sled run with gleeful kiddos and jolly adults. Forty adventurers young and old giggled and screamed their way down our mountain again and again. Momma Nature offered blue sky, sunshine and stellar views, we contributed shuttle rides up (1000 foot elevation gain). My studio a warming hut/party place complete with hot chocolate, warm soup, yummy treats. What better way to enjoy New Year’s day? [embed]https://www.facebook.com/amberjeanart/videos/10155266832299021/[/embed]

Winter Solstice

Darkness brings reflection.  But also, I found myself slowing down more than usual the past few months as my heart, body and mind needed to rest a bit after the intensity of the last several years.  I kept chipping away at all the chores left by both my mother's and Cliff's passing.  Piles of unfinished business.  I read a passage by Louise Nevelson earlier today which totally resonates with me,

"I believe that we can clean our minds out and not carry too much  waste.  Anything that's cluttered is a constipation of some sort.  Anything - a house, a closet.  If it's clear you can put something in it, but if it's crowded you can't put anything in it.  So I always started with that kind of premise." - Louise Nevelson

I have been working - lots - it feels good to be inspired.  May winter solstice bring blessings with the promise of more light.

The legendary Fred Becky (and little o'l me)

Patron Saint of the Dirty Sock Club, Fred Becky dosed my life with inspiration right at the budding beginning of my intoxicating love affair with ice climbing. Super lucky to have shared a few days, a few meals, lotsa stories and some unforgettable pitches of ice with the legend when he was 83 or 84 years old.  He kept after it, climbing rock and mountains for yet another decade before he passed away in October.  One of highlights of the Bozeman Ice Festival last weekend was the screening of “Dirt Bag - The Legend of Fred Becky.”

Meeting Fred and viewing the documentary has spurred me to step up my game - both inside the studio and outside in Momma Nature.

Memorable Thanksgiving (mixing it up)

Two Thanksgiving dinners were shared with my mother in the warm embrace of Raymond's family (which honestly feels like less than a year ago).  But lordy the last Thanksgiving with mom was TWO years ago (last year I celebrated Thanksgiving in Bhutan...!)  Grief induces a weird time warp.  Intensely vivid memories play with weighty emotions.  I needed another totally different Thanksgiving holiday experience. We found it:

Rocky took this photo of me Thanksgiving afternoon at the "Kicking Mule Saloon" - one of several buildings restored and recreated into an imaginative western ghost town beneath the Tobacco Root Mountains.  The ghost town was conceived and created by Kat and Rocky - two lovely warm-hearted inspiring people.  The wooden boardwalk western "Main Street" sits as a full-of-character embellishment between their home and Rocky's studio.  We were lucky to be able to spend the holiday talking art, life, survival and adventure at their awe-inspiring home.  Kat prepared a scrumptious traditional dinner.

Rocky's studio is one of my favorite places to refuel with "art juice."  I've admired his work for decades:

Rocky Hawkins

Breaking the egg...

Yesterday after a visit to my studio with his daughter a friend posted a photo of the sculpture I created for HATCH and wrote, "“When an egg breaks from outside pressure it’s death. When it breaks from inside it’s new life.”

I have been breaking from the inside.  Relentlessly intense events the past few years left me plumb tuckered and raw.  Exhaustion and grief forced me to rest and restore.

Feeling is healing - even if it isn't easy.  

The rough and tumble life of a rodeo bullfighter

[embed]https://youtu.be/jECnJkiX6VQ[/embed] I was in the stands near the fence when Raymond got tossed (and tossed again). Third bull, first night of the 3-day Roughrider Finals. Out of more than 60 rides only three bulls were covered (ridden for a full 8 seconds). I didn’t take the footage. I could see Raymond’s face when he was in the air looking down with the notion to land on his feet only to see the bull’s nose between his legs. This was the pen of Junior Bulls and just the beginning of an intense weekend for multiple reasons. The bull riders vote for who they want to protect them at Finals - an honor Raymond is humble about and an honor he won’t get again as he went into the season with a plan to hang up his cleats and retire after Roughrider Finals. Before, during and after each event this year I could see his conscious effort to make the most of his final season. Seven years ago when Raymond began the arduous journey of stepping in front of and around bulls, he was an age when most bullfighters are retired. I tell him often it’s a good thing purple is my favorite color since bruised up and swollen happens at times (broken, split and stitched happens also). I discussed this aspect of bull fighting with two kids in the hot tub Sunday morning at the Jamestown North Dakota hotel, hours before Raymond’s final event. BIG eyes got bigger when I told the little girl and her brother that my husband was one of the bullfighters. Reverent silence followed, broken only by the hot tub jets and finally the little boy asked, “Did you see that guy get flipped?” His sister nodded solemnly with recollection. “That was my husband.” Long bubbly pause then he whispered loudly, “Did it hurt?” “Yes it hurt but that happens sometimes when bullfighters put themselves between the bull and fallen rider, near the fence, in the corner (added challenges to a challenging sport).” Banged up, Raymond continued to protect the riders that night, the next and next. Lotsa good saves by both Raymond and his partner Tim Walford. Rank bulls and intense moments down to the last bull on the last day with a final big bump and tumble when “Goldfinger” a great big o’l bull ran over Raymond after Raymond smoothly shot the gap to distract the bull from the tossed rider. Rider safe, the bull went for the barrel man whom Raymond ran to protect. So the scariest action happened just when I thought he was finished with the last bull and after the rider was safe. Obviously things aren’t always pretty, predictable or graceful in the arena with a 2000 pound bull. But they are real (as is my relief and pride). 

Cliff's birthday

Cliff I know you hated to see me cry but you witnessed and cared for me through every simple and complicated crying spell imaginable during nearly 3 decades together on this mountain. I have been crying a lot lately - missing you so damn much. The loss of you in my life hasn't gotten any easier or smaller or more bearable. I couldn't even write and share stories on your 70th birthday yesterday. Raymond has been patient and kind. He even indulged in my nearly manic desire to hang two of your giant rusty grapple hooks with heavy chain because somehow it seemed important to salvage them from your sawmill and embellish my studio. I stood protectively at the bottom of the fully extended jiggly ladder with words of encouragement for Raymond (who hates heights and ladders). I could see you shake your head, eyes sparkling while your comments rang crisp and clear in my mind. I heard your laughter. Bonding, binding, storied and impossibly heavy chain just seems appropriate right now as I fumble with emotions equally dense and impossibly heavy. There is something in those hooks warm with rust...

I love you so damn much Cliff. Even as I miss you, I know your love was as unbreakable as that chain. Every clunking bit of horrific pain wracking my heart with loss is worth the love we shared. Every damn bit. 

Dear mother

My wedding dress lay on the pillowed wicker love seat in the corner of our bedroom where my husband had taken it off me a few nights earlier. Unopened wedding gifts piled on and around our dining room table amidst the clutter of days and nights entertaining guests, the wedding preparations and my bridal bouquet. One year ago today I packed my bags, loaded the truck and drove the pass to be with mom. She'd miraculously held on to life, rallied broken bits of her mind to be present at my wedding. Earlier that morning Mom told Debbie she was scared. Debbie comforted her with bible verses; a gift powerfully perfect as the verses wouldn't have been in my bag of tools. I dropped my belongings behind the pretty rose quilted king size abandoned bed and curled up next to my impossibly tiny mother, held her hand and napped with her. Little red rosebuds sprinkled the sheets we'd purchased for her hospital bed. The rose sheets would be washed and re-washed, the hospital bed moved from the bedroom to the living room, mom carried in my arms between rooms. Seven days and nights I kept vigil, the angel sisters Debbie and Linda by our side. Mom became smaller, then smaller still. Memories of horrifically difficult moments haunt me, vivid in detail, laden with emotions and smells. Delicate slices of pure grace memories fill me with gratitude. Sincerely a privilege to tend my purple-glitter-toed mother. Dear soul. Sweet beauty.

Inspiration for "Owl"

Owlets are flying out of the studio I began this little bugger early last year. I hadn’t planned on creating an owl for 2016 (I had a another critter in mind) but early in the year an owl visited me on a full moon night. I filmed the Great Horned Owl while it sat like a sentinel on top of my beloved tree. Perfect shaped and majestic, the giant Fir tree a picturesque silhouette on starry nights between my bedroom window and the twinkling lights of Livingston below. The tree greeted me each time I drove home to my cabin at the end of the road near the top of this mountain. During the holidays I was always tempted to light it up with a huge star on top for everyone in the valley below to enjoy. We suffered and celebrated more than two decades together. The tree scourged summer after summer by Spruce Bud Worms during the last years.

After a particularly difficult winter for both of us, the tree seemed to bounce back with vigor. That spring it looked better than it had in years and I thought, “We are survivors, you and me, dear tree…we have this…!" Looking back, it is as if the tree rallied for me, knowing I needed a boost and some confidence, I drew strength from its strength.

Then it died.

I hated to ask Cliff to cut it down because Cliff had back and shoulder pain issues; old injuries from his logging days. I complained to Raymond about the negative “Feng Shui” that comes from such a large dead thing in our front yard. But what a perfect perch for a giant owl. The full moon night visit from the owl was poignant. Remarkable. I had a sense it carried a message and thought the message had something to do with my mother - perhaps the owl was letting me know 2016 would be mother’s final year. Raymond asked for Cliff’s assistance to cut the tree down in February as I birthday present surprise while I was in Panama. Of course Cliff made quick business of the tree and landed it perfectly so that it wouldn’t squish any of the young trees sprouting everywhere. Cliff cut the trunk of the tree into perfect rounds which became seats for guests at our wedding. The stumps sit in an Aspen Grove near my studio.

A few months after my return from Panama, Cliff comforted me on the morning I called Hospice for assistance to continue care for my mother in her home. Cliff took mom cookies and then he died on the same day Raymond cut the path in the meadow where Cliff was to walk me down the aisle on my wedding day. An owl perched on the tallest tree next to the Yellowstone River when Raymond, Wynn and I launched a home made flotilla with some of Cliff’s ashes in the moonlight.

Again and again I picked up the little lump of “owlish” clay but I simply could not create. On a cold winter night I gave a stranded motorist a ride to his home up Paradise Valley, a giant Great Horned Owl owl flew past my truck window and looked directly at me. Those of you who know Cliff know he was legendary for the assistance he gave friends, family and strangers alike. I knew it was time to finish the little owlet. Emotional but healing, the little sculpture began to find itself while a fire crackled in my studio.

I sent a photo of the clay owl to my girlfriend Wynn. She texted, “OMG. It looks like him. Did u do that intentionally?” Honestly I did not...but I felt so much of Cliff while working on his owl that of course “Cliffness” emanates from the owlet. Crying as I write this, feeling is part of healing topped with gratitude. Not many are gifted with a “Cliff” in their life. He was one-of-a-kind, gentle, strong and damn loyal. The tears are good - the kind of gold that comes from loving and being loved.

Chapter after chapter, critter after critter and plenty of blessings...