High Desert Journal witn ess to th e west
High Desert Journal $10
high desert journal
Fiction & Nonfiction
Susan Moldenhauer The Ucross Experiment, Margaret at Clearmont photograph 2009
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2 9 14 22 28 33 35 39 43 47
Kim Stafford. Dusk at Blitzen Harrison Candelaria Fletcher. Vessels Allen Morris Jones. The Wolf Skin Amy Ragsdale. Dancing Montana Kathryn Marie â€˜Dixie Nevada Smithâ€™ Weikel. Sheep Shearing and Cooking David Stentiford. Maintaining Identities in the New West Patti Murphy. Journey Back to Minidoka Phillippe Diederich. Flaco Brooke Williams. Moving Stones Jamie Houghton. Review of Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins
High Desert Journal witn ess to th e west Issue 16, Fall 2012
l isa pou n de rs Airstream I 2011 oil and collage on paper 4 ~ 8 inches
Art & Photography
8 20 32 42
Melissa Mylchreest. For Jolene Laura Winter. Liminal Matter: fences Zayne Turner. Shearing Paulann Petersen. Trophy
12 Adrian Arleo. Awareness 20 Terri Warpinski. Liminal Matters: fences 25 Susan Moldenhauer. The Ucross Experiment
high desert journal
High Desert Journal
From the editor
wit n ess to th e west
The Desert is Not Empty. I write for a living. Or what amounts to it. And because I’m a dreamer and a fool and one of the luckiest people I know, I also edit High Desert Journal. Because of the latter, I read an awful lot about the interior West and its landscapes: places of chronic winds and temporary washes; tightlipped lizards and rusted tin cans; of sun, shade and the luck of the draw. Good places, great places, full. Perhaps the greatest misconception about the region is that it’s empty. Empty is a word that shows up in my inbox on an almost daily basis. Without fail it seems writers of all stripes eventually find themselves or their characters in the desert – often lost, lonely, scanning the miles of sagebrush, its “sea of emptiness” – and invariably think or utter to themselves that they are “in the middle of nowhere.” Such phrasing never fails to disappoint, knowing as I do they are really in the beginning of everywhere. From my perspective the desert is full, chock-a-block full of beauty, truth, perspective, humility, patience: the stuff of life. And I try and bring that to these pages. True, there’s greater biodiversity in a rainforest, and more people just about anywhere else, but you won’t find peace of mind in any greater quantities than walking the West’s playas or more sanity than when weaving through sagebrush. Last year, I was sitting at lunch in Bend, Oregon with Dr. Dennis Jenkins, an archeologist from the University of Oregon, a man who has spent more time in the desert regions of the West than most tumbleweeds I know. Over a Ruben sandwich and beer, we got talking. Wiping a salt and pepper mustache, leveling his horizonblue eyes, he said without prompting, “The desert is honest.” One more thing, I thought, to add to the list. I think any of us hate to see a place we love misrepresented. Maybe that’s why it’s a sore point with me. It’s definitely why I edit HDJ. In this issue we bring you stories of cooking for a sheep shearing camp, revisiting a Japanese internment camp, moving rocks in a wash. We also publish our two Obsidian Prize winners for poetry and nonfiction, as well as two exceptional pieces of fiction” one about a rooster, the other a wolf pelt. All these stories, in one way or another, remind me the history of the West isn’t all cowboys and Indians, and in their own way that the West is full. These stories fill it up, spill over the edges, make it beautiful. To see such means adjusting one’s ideas of what emptiness and nothingness are. Believe me, in the desert there is so much space it can become claustrophobic. And outside the desert is a lifetime of noise. Enjoy this very full issue of HDJ. A small sampling and a mirror held up to the beauty that is. – Charles Finn, Editor
high desert journal
Elizabeth Quinn editor
Charles Finn c o m m u n i c at i o n s d i r e c t o r
Tina Walker Davis website editor
board of directors
Sandy Anderson Jennifer Babb Kris Balliet Greg Druian John Keys Cynthia Kirk
Sandy Brooke Elizabeth Grossman William Kittredge Judith H. Montgomery Laura Pritchett Jarold Ramsey Robert Stubblefield Margot Voorhies Thompson Rich Wandschneider Terry Tempest Williams design
Thomas Osborne Design Redmond, Oregon web design
Benjamin Kinzer printing
Ryder Graphics Bend, Oregon High Desert Journal is published biannually in Bend, Oregon. Subscriptions are $16.00 a year (2 issues) and $30.00 for two years. Single copies are available for $10.00. Subscription and single-copy orders may be sent with a check to High Desert Journal, P.O. Box 7647, Bend, Oregon, 97708. For more information, please visit www.highdesertjournal.com. All donations and gifts to High Desert Journal are taxdeductible to the extent allowed by law. High Desert Journal is a 501 (c) 3 organization. High Desert Journal accepts unsolicited submissions of art, poetry, fiction, nonfiction and interviews. For submission guidelines, please visit www.highdesertjournal.com. Manuscripts will not be returned. Submissions are accepted only via email. Mail them attached as .doc with the word “submission” typed in the subject line to email@example.com. High Desert Journal accepts no liability for submitted writing and artwork. Opinions expressed herein are not necessarily those of High Desert Journal. Copyright 2012, High Desert Journal. Copyrights to texts, poems and artwork in this issue are held by the individual creators. No material may be reprinted without the permission of the magazine or artists. issn 1555-7251
Contributors to this issue Adrian Arleo is a full-time studio artist living in Lolo, Montana with her family and menagerie of animals. She studied Art and Anthropology at Pitzer College and received her MFA in ceramics from Rhode Island School of Design. Her work is exhibited in numerous public and private collections, including: The World Ceramic Exposition Foundation, Icheon, Korea; The Museum of Arts and Sciences, Macon, GA; Yellowstone Art Museum, Billings, MT; Greenwich House Pottery, New York, NY; Microsoft, Seattle, WA; and King County, Seattle. In 1991 and 1992, she received awards from the Virginia A. Groot Foundation and, in 1995, was awarded a Montana Arts Council Individual Fellowship. She is represented by Grover/Thurston Gallery, Seattle, and Jane Sauer Gallery, Santa Fe. Phillippe Diederich is a writer and photographer born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Mexico City and Miami. He was a prizewinner in the The Atlantic’s Student Writing Competition for fiction, the AWP Intro Journal Award for fiction and the Gulf Coast Creative Writing Conference Award for fiction. His work has been published in Quarterly West, The Houston Literary Review and Frostwriting. He is the author of Communism and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and his serial novel Cutlass Supreme is currently being released in audio by Tripod Cat Journal. He blogs about Latino issues for VOXXI. com. Harrison Candelaria Fletcher is the author of Descanso For My Father: Fragments Of A Life. His essays have appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies including New Letters, Fourth Genre and Water~Stone Review. He is a New Letters Literary Award winner, five-time Pushcart Prize nominee and finalist for the National Magazine Award, PEN Center USA and Bakeless Literary Prize. A native New Mexican, he lives in Richmond, VA and is an assistant professor of at Virginia Commonwealth University. www. harrisoncandelariafletcher.com Susan Moldenhauer received an MFA in photography from The Pennsylvania State University. She has exhibited her work in solo and group exhibitions throughout the United States and is represented in public and private collections. She is the director and chief curator of the University of Wyoming Art Museum. She lives in Laramie, WY. Allen Morris Jones is the author of a novel, Last Year’s River, and of A Quiet Place of Violence: Hunting and Ethics in the Missouri River Breaks, which has been recently released in paperback and e-book. He lives in Montana with his wife and son.
Patti Murphy is an award-winning writer who lives in Boise, ID and owns Murphy Media Services, a freelance writing and public relations consulting firm. She is author of Mother Knows Best – Wit and Wisdom from Idaho Moms, a book of “momisms” published in 2011. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Sun Valley Magazine, Sun Valley Home & Design, Oregon Coast Magazine, Northwest Travel Magazine and other magazines and newspapers. Her second book, Wit and Wisdom from American Moms, features “mom-isms” from every state in the U.S. and will be published in 2013. Melissa Mylchreest lives and writes in western Montana. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications as well as regional venues such as Big Sky Journal, High Country News, Ranch & Reata and Montana Public Radio. She received both a MS and an MFA from the University of Montana. Paulann Petersen is Oregon’s sixth Poet Laureate. She has five full-length books of poetry: The Wild Awake, Blood-Silk, A Bride of Narrow Escape, Kindle and The Voluptuary. Her latest chapbook is Shimmer and Drone from Imperfect Press. She was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and the recipient of the 2006 Holbrook Award from Oregon Literary Arts. Lisa A. Pounders was born in 1963 in Asheville, NC. She is a graduate student at Pacifica Graduate Institute studying the connection between art and psychology. Her work is represented by the Patricia Cameron Gallery in Seattle, WA. She lives in Bend, OR. Amy Ragsdale earned a BA in Art History from Harvard/Radcliffe College and an MA in Movement Studies from Wesleyan. In 1988, she became the Head of the Dance Program at The University of Montana where she was on the faculty for 20 years. She has taught contemporary dance in Spain, Indonesia, Mozambique and Brazil. She is a co-founder of the modern repertory company Headwaters Dance Co. in Missoula and the recipient of a Montana Arts Council Fellowship, The University of Montana’s Outstanding Faculty award and a 2009 Governor’s Arts Award for the State of Montana. Kim Stafford has taught since 1979 at Lewis and Clark College where he is the founding director of the Northwest Writing Institute and co-director of the Documentary Studies program. He has published a dozen books of poetry and prose including: The Muses Among Us: Eloquent Listening and Other Pleasures of the Writer’s Craft; Early Morning: Remembering My Father, William Stafford; and Having Everything Right: Essays of Place. He has received two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, the Oregon Governor’s Arts Award and a Western States Book Award. He lives in Portland, OR with his wife and children.
David Stentiford earned his MA in English with an emphasis in Literature and Environment from the University of Nevada, Reno where he also taught composition for several years. He is presently a PhD student in Stanford’s Program in Modern Thought and Literature. Zayne Turner grew up in the rural high desert of Oregon. She is the author of the chapbook Memory of My Mouth available from dancing girl press. She has received grants and fellowships from the Arteles Creative Center in Finland, the Vermont Studio Center and the University of Virginia where she was a Henry Hoyns Fellow. Her work can be found in Ancora Imparo, Coldfront, Poecology and zayne.posterous.com Terri Warpinski has been a professor of art at the University of Oregon since 1984. She has a BA from the University of Wisconsin in Green Bay and holds both an MA and MFA from the University of Iowa. Her work has been seen in a range of galleries, institutions and international festivals including: the Pingyao International Festival of Photography in China; the US Embassy in Jerusalem; Houston International Fotofest; the Oregon Biennial at Portland Art Museum; Center for Photography at Woodstock; and the University of the Arts Philadelphia. She has also served two terms as chair of the national board of directors (2000-2008) for the Society for Photographic Education, held a residency at the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming and was a Fulbright Senior Scholar to Israel 2000-2001. Kathryn Marie “Dixie Nevada Smith” Weikel (1919 – 2010) was the mother of four children and worked much of her life as an elementary school teacher as well as managing service stations, farming, restaurant management and real estate. Brooke Williams works in conservation, most recently at the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance in Moab, Utah. He has an MBA in Sustainable Business from the Bainbridge Graduate Institute and a degree in biology from the University of Utah. The author of four books including: Halflives: Reconciling Work and Wildness. He is currently at work on a new volume about ground-truthing. He and his wife, the writer Terry Tempest Williams, and their two fine dogs split their time between Castle Valley, UT and Jackson Hole, WY. Laura Winter has been widely published and translated. Her work has appeared in numerous periodicals. Author of five collections, broadsides, performance projects, she shares her life with the visual artist Brad Winter. She currently publishes TAKE OUT, a bag-azine of art, writing and music. See YouTube.com/user/BradWinterPDX for clips of Laura Winter performing with Rich Halley’s band and clips of readings from Coming Here to be Alone, high desert journal
winner 2012 obsidian prize in poetry
b. December 10, 2010, Pablo, MT Scrap, leaving of a night and its wild biology hound-bodies unfenced and wrought-up, sly coupling of the junkyard, car a rusted crib, weed-bound hulk of comfort for one, two, three, and then you, mewling mess of kinked ears and blood, pink pads, the echo of a million years in your bones. Winter-born you were stubborn for life’s sake, nested with your brothers, suckling hard milk from just a pup herself, rag of the Reservation. The world opened around you and your body began: let me want, and let want be only a kind of joy-to-be. Dawn-riser, marionette of no one, you run for specters – the herd, the hunt – for the sheer grand hell of it, for sleep swift and deep, for the toothsome treasures of the field you’ll dig to your haunches and for coolness, a crater in the willows. Half-breed, halved and halved again until what are you but entirely yourself, willful beguiler, what else but dog clear through? Watchful and stubborn still, remnants of that thin beginning and the savvy of genes, what grace bred in us both brings you to my hand? Marrow-memory of the cold so close. Shared breath warning off the dark. – me l issa my l c h r e e st
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Judged by Portland poet Kim Stafford and chosen from over 500 poems “For Jolene” by Melissa Mylchreest is High Desert Journal’s winner of the $1,000 2012 Obsidian Prize in Poetry. This is Melissa’s second consecutive time winning the Obsidian Prize in Poetry. To read the “back story” of the creation of “For Jolene,” judge’s comments about the poem and the other finalists’ poems go to www.highdesertjournal.com. The deadline for 2012 $5,000 Obsidian Prize in Photography to be judged by William Albert Allard is December 15. For full submission details see our ad on page 48.
winner 2012 obsidian prize in nonfiction
by harrison can de laria fl etc h e r
After my father died, my mother drove. Hour after hour on the asphalt arteries of northern New Mexico. She took no map. Had no destination. She relied instead, as she always had, on memory, curiosity, instinct and faith, getting lost to find herself. She parked at the edge of the badlands 100 miles northwest of our Albuquerque home and stepped outside to face the wind, cocking her head left and right as if she heard her name. She smoothed back her salt-cedar hair and cupped a hand over her copper eyes to scan the horizon, her pupils swallowing miles of sage, cholla, prickly pear and stone. Breathing deep she held in the hot dry air until her shoulders relaxed, her fingers opened at her sides and her huarachas dug deep in the coarse blond sand. I stood beside her then, watching the worry lines fade from her sunbrowned face, my arms wide, waiting for the current. Late morning. Early summer. Rumbling along a cattle trail near Cerrillos, gravel popping beneath the tires, white hills baking in the sun. In a valley split by a dry creek, we found a cluster of adobe homes with range grass sprouting from mortar cracks and windows as black as skulls’ eyes. In the rearview mirror, I saw my mother smile. Our ’67 Comet rolled to a stop before a squat hacienda with pink
Judged by writer William Kittredge and chosen from over 200 entries “Vessels” by Harrison Candelaria Fletcher is High Desert Journal’s winner of the $1,000 2012 Obsidian Prize in Nonfiction. To read the “back story” of the creation of “Vessels,” judge’s comments about the essay and the other finalists’ entries go to www.highdesertjournal.com. The deadline for 2012 $5,000 Obsidian Prize in Photography to be judged by William Albert Allard is December 15. For full submission details see our ad on page 48.
high desert journal
plaster peeling from the walls like a sunburn. My mother killed the engine. We stepped outside. My big brother chased a lizard through the weeds, my big sister slouched on the bumper counting the minutes until we left, my middle sister knelt beside a purple aster pushing through the hardpacked sand and my little sister hugged her stuffed Thomasina, Cat of Three Lives. I scanned the horizon, trying to shake the feeling of being watched. “Wait here,” my mother said, slipping off her Jackie O sunglasses. “I’ll be right back. I want to look inside.” My siblings stayed put, but I followed, my Keds crunching through the broken beer bottles sparkling in the high desert sand like diamonds, emeralds, garnets. Blinded by the sun, my mother and I stood in the threshold until the shadows became shapes: Vigas caving in from the ceiling, a potbelly stove sagging in a corner, broken chairs, overturned tables, feathers, tin-plate tiles scattered like loose change. “Be careful,” my mother whispered and padded inside. I stepped where she stepped, touching the wall for balance, brushing wallpaper as brittle as autumn leaves, trusting she knew the way. I found her kneeling in the center of the room stirring plaster shards with her finger, sliding them like puzzle pieces, like shaman bones, assembling a history from fragments. “Probably left during a drought,” she said. “Never came back.” Standing, she squinted into the room as if she could fill the emptiness with the swell of her imagination, as if she could summon the men, women and children who once warmed this home. I followed her line of sight but saw only dust and pollen swirling through a shaft of pale blue window light. My brother called from outside. “Mom! I’m hungry.” Our mother stared into the darkness. He called again. “Mom!” Blinking awake, she started for the door but paused before a wooden clothing trunk shoved against the wall, passing her fingertips along the rotted canvas surface. I joined her; traced the rusted keyhole with my thumb. “My grandmother had one like this,” she said. “On the ranch in Corrales, they didn’t have closets. They stored everything in chests. Silverware. Sunday clothes. Bone china. Pearls. Things they valued. Things they wanted to save. My grandmother used to let me play with her steel ring of keys. I spent hours unlocking the locks.” She creaked open the lid. “I called them my treasure boxes.” “Let’s go,” my brother shouted. Our mother nodded, wiped her hands and slipped outside. I peered into the trunk for the relics that enchanted her, for the touchstones of who she was and wanted to be. For a moment, in the cobwebs and water stains, I saw Communion gloves, wedding lace.
On the back road to Cebolla, a cross rose from a field of broom-bristle grass – a wooden “t” etched against the white August sky. Our car skidded onto the shoulder. My mother, once again, took the lead, threading through the simple earthen graves as if strolling through a rose garden. I stayed close behind her, not scared, not really. A camposanto, she told me, was the best way to learn the story of a place, from the names etched in stone, from the offerings of cloth and wood. My siblings fanned out through the knee-high snakeweed. Grasshoppers ricocheted through the still air. Halfway through the abandoned cemetery, our mother knelt before a gray pine marker with a heart cut from its weathered center 10
high desert journal
as neatly as if it had been clipped with scissors from a Valentine’s card. With a finger, she traced the contours of negative space. “A baby’s buried here,” she said, nodding toward the pillow-sized mound. “Stillborn probably. That happened a lot in the old days. My grandmother used to help midwives. It was very sad, but that’s the way it was. Every family lost someone.” I waited for her to say more. About a baby sister lost to rheumatic fever. About an aunt killed in a train crash. About my father. About healing. She just shook her head. “Look at the date, 1901. And the name, it’s been worn away, pobrecito.” I touched the faded script like she did, like the broken wing of a sparrow. Hair fell across her cheek. She murmured a prayer. I did, too, pretending I knew the words. My mother had no family in Cebolla, no ties to this dry land, but she stood among the fallen headstones as if she did, as if her presence alone would preserve their memory. Cupping her hands, she scooped up the pink sand as if drawing water from a well and extracted a shard of white quartz. She slipped it silently in her pocket, and walked on. I combed the ground with my fingers, mimicking her movements as if I could stir answers from dust, selecting a stone as yellow as the range grass, my own marker of place and time. Holding it tight, I followed.
My mother loved photographs, drawn since childhood to the notion of stopping time. Composition came naturally, as did lighting, framing, gesture and mood, as if the portrait existed fully formed in her head. All she had to do was click the shutter. Her favorite camera: a Brownie Bull’s-Eye. Simple, durable, with a square plastic body, it fit snugly in her hands and captured razorsharp images through a hand-ground lens. When she snapped a photo, a tiny lightening bolt flashed across the viewfinder. She took her Brownie everywhere. No matter how high into the Pecos Wilderness we climbed or how far into the Rio Puerco badlands we drove, the black and brown rectangle swung from her shoulder strap like a canteen. “Hold still,” she said as I straddled a fallen pine near Truchas. “Say cheese.” I hugged the log as if riding a stallion, transfixed by the silvery flashbulb pop. My mother rarely approached a portrait directly, preferring instead to tilt the camera to the left or right, stepping back a few paces, holding the Brownie over her head, squinting at a broken windmill or bone-dry arroyo as if they were gallery paintings. Her photos were always askew. Off-center. Angled to catch the golden slant of afternoon light or the spider web pattern of a cracked weathered door. It was as if she saw things no one else did or was trying to adjust the world to match her perspective. Always, she sought out the obscure, the overlooked, the abandoned, the forgotten. A cottonwood charred hollow by dry lightening. A sunflower heavy with seeds. A red stone shepherd’s shack crumbling into the hills from which it came. Everywhere she saw metaphors. A cholla twisted into a crucifix. A sunburst between the broken wooden slats of a camposanto crib. A white hand etched on the black face of an Anasazi petroglyph. One morning on the back road to Velarde, she knelt on the roadside to capture an iron bed dumped among the waist-high weeds, focusing her lens on a series of ornate headboard rods shaped into tiny diamonds like jewels of rust and time. When she finished, she handed me the Brownie, and I steadied it with both hands, closing one eye like she did, framing a strand of barbed wire curling through the sand like a grapevine. I clicked the shutter. Across the viewfinder, a bolt of lightning. We found the bluff following an acequia to see where it led. Above a cluster of cottonwoods, the white dune rose 50 feet above the Rio Grande like a wave of sand. Scrambling to the summit we saw miles in all directions. The blue hump of Sandia Crest to the east. The green swath of Bernalillo
bosque to the north. The black Stetson of Mount Taylor to the west. The adobe rooftops of Corrales to the south. I planted my toes in the sand. My roots sunk centuries. My family visited the bluff once a month, a respite from the road, scouring the mesa for fossils, gathering driftwood from sandbars, sleeping in the sun. Often, I sat at the river’s edge among the dragonflies and cattails, dipping my hands in the cool brown water to watch sunlight flash through the rosary bead droplets. In the murmur of the current, I heard whispers, words, my name. One afternoon, my mother made a sand sculpture. On hands and knees she shaped the contours of a nude woman on her back with long hair rippling to her shoulders and outstretched hands and feet blending into the mesa. I made a boy’s face. Gave him rocks for eyes. Round. Green. Open.
The church at Las Trampas stood at the foot of the Sangre de Cristos in a green bowl valley on the High Road to Taos. A stout rectangle of adobe and pine, San Jose de la Gracia once served as an outpost in Comanche territory on the northern border of New Spain. Whenever my family passed its twin steeple crosses, we stopped to pray. Dedicated to the Twelve Apostles, the 200-year-old church was built by 12 families in the shape of a cross with massive walls, narrow windows and bells in each tower – the sweet-toned Gracia to mourn dead infants, and the heavy Refugion, which tolled for adults. The church had also been a morada for Los Hermanos de Penitentes, the Brothers of Light, who whipped themselves raw to show their devotion. Their bones, many believed, my mother believed, lay entombed beneath the threshold. “They’re buried right here,” she whispered, making the sign of the cross. I ignored the chill on my arms, and while my siblings explored the grounds, followed our mother inside, past a tin basin of holy water and a step ladder to a choir loft. Floorboards creaked. Dust drifted through the mountain air. Along the narrow aisle stood two-dozen mismatched pews with backs as hard and straight as the men and women who made them. Bolstering the 20-foot high ceiling was a ribbing of heavy pine vigas, herringbone latillas and hand-carved butcher-block buttresses. In the center of the room, a wagon wheel chandelier holding bare white bulbs. My mother stopped midstride before a row of paintings, The Stations of the Cross, with varnished frames anchored with baling wire to the whitewashed walls. “See how expressive they are,” she said, gazing at Jesus on his knees, falling for the third time. “Imagine the time it took to make this. The love. The people here are very devoted. You can see it all around.” I glanced over her shoulder as she spoke, trying to fill the pews with the leather-faced farmers, ranchers and fur trappers who made this church with muscle and bone. Approaching the altar, she pointed to a table of pink plastic carnations, white votive candles and two-foot santos adorned with pale satin gowns, crystal rosaries and delicate silver crowns. She pulled me close, inches from the gaunt wooden faces. “Look at them,” she said. “Just look at them.” Mary stood draped in faded blue robes, head low, eyes down, absorbing prayer and pain. Joseph leaned forward in an earthen cloak, hands at his chest, a portrait of stoicism. Jesus sagged on the cross, blood dripping from his forehead and knees. I couldn’t turn away from the tortured Christ. His skin was too white, ghost-like. His arms and legs were as thin as twigs. His head too big, puppet-like. His eyes, brown as the currents of the Rio Grande held centuries of suffering and transcendence. “He has real human hair,” my mother whispered. “Do you see?” I did. I told her I did. Within the land, the relics, dwell lives, souls. The ruins, rivers, grasslands and stones, all are vessels from which to draw strength and spirit. My mother sighed. Squeezed my hand.
always, she sought out the obscure, the overlooked, the
abandoned, the forgotten. A cottonwood charred hollow by dry lightening. A sunflower heavy with seeds. A red stone shepherd’s shack crumbling into the hills from which it came. Everywhere she saw metaphors. A cholla twisted into a crucifix. A sunburst between the broken wooden slats of a camposanto crib. A white hand etched on the black face of an Anasazi petroglyph.
In the San Juan Mountains near Chama, I wandered up a hill. My mother and siblings grilled hotdogs in a meadow. Blue smoke curled through the pines. Climbing higher, the air cooled, stones clattered behind me, sunlight flashed through the trees like hypnotist coins. Atop a rise, I stopped to catch my breath, and I heard it, the water or the wind, calling me as the llano called my mother. I closed my eyes and listened. Sparrows fell silent. A twig snapped. All around me, I noticed the bone-white trunks of aspens, straight as prayer poles. The hair on my arms prickled as if I had wandered onto a burial ground. I had lost track of time. My family did not know where I was. I had no boots. No jacket. No food or water. Just Keds, cut-offs, t-shirt, pocketknife. Steadying myself against the nearest tree, I felt a scar on the pulpy bark. Rough. Swollen. Carved into the wood. With one finger I traced the black shape: Initials. RC, and a date, 1911. Running my palms along the trunk I found more symbols: A rose, a heart, a woman’s torso, a man’s face, holes for eyes, a straight line for a mouth. Wind rustled the silvery leaves. At that moment, I knew. The writings had been made by shepherds. Alone on the Colorado border, my mother had told me, they left markings on trees. Like notes in a bottle, these solitary men wrote messages to each other, or anyone who might pass, asking only: Remember. In the bark I saw my father. Sad eyes. Thin lips trying to smile. My mother called from below, “Where are you?” I turned to her, then the tree. Slipping out the knife, I carved my name. < hdj > H DJ EXT R A
To read the “back story” of the creation of Harrison Candelaria Fletcher’s “Vessels,” and Obsidian Prize judge’s comments about the essay and the other finalists’ entries go to www.highdesertjournal.com. high desert journal
AWA REN ESS by adrian arl eo
top Honey Comb Girl; Pasture Metamorphosis, 2011 Clay, glaze, wax encaustic 18.5 ~ 22 ~ 13 inches bottom Persistence, Badger â€“ Awareness Series, 2012 Clay, glaze, gold leaf 9.5 ~ 22 ~ 11 inches Photos: Chris Autio
high desert journal
top Held Baby, 2005 Clay, glaze. 10 ~ 16.5 ~ 13 inches middle Hands Dreaming, 2007 Clay, glaze. 13 ~ 18.5 ~ 11 inches bottom Skep â€“ Crouching Honeycomb Woman, 2008 Clay, glaze, wax encaustic. 16 ~ 32 ~ 17.5 inches Photos: Chris Autio
H DJ EXT R A
To learn more about Adrian Arleoâ€™s process and inspiration go to www.highdesertjournal.com high desert journal
Arts and literature inspired by the interior West.