I’ve started a new resolution of reading bits from certain books that inspire me first thing in the morning. One of the books I’ve had the longest is “Affirmations for Artists” given to me by my dear, old friend Jamison Vaughn years ago when I was about to move from Jacksonville, FL to big ol’ New York City.
Here it is now a bit dogeared (with the beautiful latest edition of Zocalo peeking from behind as well as my new favorite Moleskine journal.) I highly recommend it – it’s packed with inspiration on so many facets of being an artist. After letting it sit for a long time, I closed my eyes, took a breath and opened a random page: Fascination.
That page reminds us to re-capture the sense of fascination we had as children. The fascination we used to have with the tiniest details – like watching the sun play through the willow branches in your backyard or watching a spider spin her web. Now, I happen to have maintained a very healthy relationship with my inner child over the years, so I don’t think I’ve ever really lost my fascination with the world. In New York, fascination was embedded in the sidewalks, the facades of myriad stores and cafes unspooling block after block, the wildly, vastly different kinds of people that would stream past you every second once you ventured outside your door.
But I guess the subject of my fascination is what changes with each move or change in direction (of which I’ve had many). And nowadays the prime subject of my fascination is Tucson and the Sonoran desert. It’s funny that when Jamie and I encourage out of town friends and family to come visit, they usually shrug their shoulders. Even after our rapturous descriptions, they seem to just register “desert” and immediately think of vast expanses of nothingness with the odd cactus for visual relief. But nothing could be further from the truth. Though, yes, it is very dry and can get very hot here. But when I step outside my door, I’m simply fascinated every single time by (and this is only a partial list in no particular order):
- Prickly pear cactus – These classic cacti are very familiar – but did you know in the springtime, they burst into glowing blooms that put roses to shame? The colors are luminescent lemon yellow, fuchsia or scarlet, the petals like crepe paper and the center of the flower a striking field of stamen. The fruit are shaped like pears (hence the name) and are edible – the local jams are so tasty!
- Saguaros – I think they’re alive – like sentient (and very patient) beings that stand guard over the park that surrounds the city in case we get too close. When you go down Gates Pass, the land is completely swathed in them. And they each have their own personalities and idiosyncrasies: most look like they have arms waving at you, some are pointing in a particular direction, some have short stubby “arms” on their “chests” really close together and they look like “boobs”. Some have a longer one lower down that looks like..well, you get the idea.
- Horny toads – named for the horny scales on their neck and backs – they’re small but look like miniature prehistoric dinosaurs. There aren’t many of them around anymore but we see them every now and then in the barrio. And watching them move is wild – they scurry along like the birds in the Partridge Family intro – but really fast! Oh and if you bother them, they squirt blood out of their eyes. Good to know.
- Ocotillo branch fences – many homes use ocotillo branches as fences – and even though the sticks have long been severed from the mother plant and no longer touch the soil, they still shoot out tender green leaves in the spring.
- People who smile and say hi to you on the street – It’s true! They do! And it still sometimes catches me off guard. I love it.
- Sunsets – They’re gorgeous. There’s so much sky to view them in that they fill up and saturate your vista from end to end with color. My favorite (so far) was soon after we moved here. I was driving down 6th Ave and getting ready to turn toward home when the windshield was suddenly filled with pink – from one end to the other the whole sky from A mountain to the top of my view was a glowing field of pink with wisps of raspberry and gold. I SO lucky I didn’t hit anybody when that happened!
- The cowboy who lives in the barrio who always wear a cowboy hat, boots and sometimes chaps, who drives a huge motorcycle with saddlebags and walks his tiny toy doberman.
- Geckos at night with their transparent skin – I watch mesmerized as they hang outside of our porch light, alert to the movements of the moths and lacewings who will become their dinner. And, yes, fascinated (morbidly so) when they catch a moth twice their size and still manage to stuff it inside their alarmingly expanding jaws. Eeeeeewwwww! Ooooooh!
- Monsoons – I’ve written a bit about them here already – but nothing makes you feel the power and wrath of Heaven like a good monsoon.
- Day of the Dead – Some folks are a bit unsettled with the Mexican fascination with skeletons and death. But the yearly parade here is our biggest community event and the creativity, humor and love that shines through various tributes to lost loved ones is absolutely breathtaking.
- Roadrunners – they do NOT look like the Warner Brothers’s depiction of the adorable tall-limbed version in the famous cartoons. they are low to the ground and much smaller than a coyote – but they have RED eyes, intensely striped plumage and the way they move is eerie, like watching the Skeksis in Dark Crystal.
Oh, ewww, okay, not that weird. Never mind.