Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Looking Back

The hard part, for me at least, of moving to Ohio was leaving all the things wild in California I would never meet! Isn't that funny... That is what I told myself at the beginning.

My spouse got a wonderful job offer. He had just been pounding the streets working for various companies after being fired by his own Board of Directors (he was founder and inventor). He had just met the CEO of NCR through a consulting contract. .... That was the BIG thing to do in the late 80's... get the inventor to get the patents, the people, the money to start the business, the first product out and then....get rid of the founder and stick a MBA to run the place....Business guys hate folks with Ph.D.s especially in science....but that's for another story... NCR liked him so much they made him an offer.

I was working in my dream job at the museum, doing art and science, making hands on learning exhibits for children and contributing a big part to the bread winning - that made me so very proud. My spouse said, "They offered me, Chief Scientist, and I said, 'YES!' I shook his hand and said, "CONgrat--u--lations....oh my god..."

This meant, I was leaving the job I loved, the people and the place that I loved, my grandparents and my mom, and was going somewhere for someone else.

There were positive things to think about, like... maybe the public school might be better and they will help our son learn to read - he had some learning disabilities like I had. Our daughter was in ballet, and my son and daughter did gymnastics, and loved their science classes, were playing music and had lots of friends that came over to put on stage make-up, costumes, and do plays for us and anyone who wanted to watch. Over there, we could fish together. Over there...

My husband and children left first for the new giant house... leaving me to get the Californian house ready for the renters - I refused to sell it. I sent all the cats, rabbits, chickens, geese, finches, tortoises ahead in carrying cases on the "red eye." When my husband and the kids went to the Dayton airport to pick up the pets, the guy on the tarmac said, "HELLO NOAH!"

Then, when the house was painted, a new roof was put on, sprinklers and a gardener to take care of my garden ... I said good bye to my grandparents and my mother. I turned and left on the airplane. And, when I got to Ohio, I tried so hard to be positive.

But, I painted California. The desert.

My little Californian desert tortoise died in the first few weeks living in Ohio, after eating a balloon that had lost its helium, from some party. I rushed him to the Cincinnati Zoo veterinarian who knew more about reptiles then the vets in Dayton. The little tortoise passed away on route.

My daughter loved snakes and the cleaning lady didn't. The snakes seemed to always die so soon. My son loved going to the desert with his school in Pasadena. After I finished this painting, I gave this picture to my husband for his big office. His secretary had a gold frame put on it to match the other pictures in the building. When we divorced, he gave the picture back to me.

In winter, the flies and beetles that got into the house, would somehow manage to get up to the 'ballroom' on the third floor, and die trying to get out of the house through the locked windows. The window sills were always filled with dead insects.

Most of the people I met through NCR were women (wives) who were expressly lonely - almost pathologically. One lady across the street told me at one of neighborhood get togethers, that she, "loved the color I painted my bedroom!" The master bedroom was on the second story and from her house, we were across the street and two doors down, through the trees.... I had never invited her or anyone from her family inside my house ... Another year she warned me that she could hear what everyone said when we left the windows open in summer.... We lived on an acre parcel! And set back from the street! The CEOs wife, who was when I met first her, found her to be a stout soul of competence - someone you could look to in any circumstance. She said one day in a proud sort of way, that when her kids were in school she would lock herself up in the attic to drink all day... and the kids and their friends would not see her.

What kind of a place was this? An enclave of wealthy corporation drones living in fancy houses. Fancy houses. Fancy houses by the score. Marching, marching eating, scouring, sucking....the gray of the sky. matched the gray of the skeleton trees, which matched the gray pallor of everyone's faces, which matched the gray that was building inside of me.

Here - OHIO!

I decided, after talking to wife of the CEO of the bank which had our loan... she was getting her masters at the University of Ohio, Columbus, going back to school was a good thing. I piled on the science credits and found that Wright State University had a program on wetlands. I met my first tardigrade in Invertebrate Biology and it was love at first sight.

This painting was from a moment in time when I went to walk about in the spring thaw of the Beaver Creek wetlands which, I had been studying for two years. I still have that frog.... WHY? you ask. Because, folks who work in natural history museums are like that.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


I have been once again distracted by an image, a thought, that must take form. The mountain is beautiful and terrible all at the same time. The fires that savage the living 'skin' of the San Gabriels leave behind extra ordinary forms of death and yet, without fire, nutrients would be locked up in the soils and water would run off and not soak through to the roots.

After the fires, non native grasses burst through making the blackness of the burned trees more stark and scary.

My little stilt painting is growing the salt filled plants, Salicornia sp. which we can eaten. In fact, the first time I ate the "pickle weed" was in Canada on a trip to the Queen Charlotte Islands or the Haida Gwaii. We had sailed from Vancouver with friends from the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum, trekked about the forest and needed to start thinking of dinner. We gathered the pickle weed at the splash zone on the lee side of the Charlottes, and sprinkled them on our salads, raw. YUM!

I have been asked many times whether I paint or draw from photos. Many times I do, but from my own. And many times I take images and put them together. And sometimes the paintings come from the dark recesses of my dreams. My paintings seem to follow my views, internally and externally.

Moments when life seems bleak...

Tall trees at sunset have shadows that look like silhouettes of faces. And in the darkest of personal storms, the natural world has metaphors for our lives...

Since 2000, I have been studying California water systems, ecology, and policy. And I have been documenting the changing landscape of the mountains behind my house, the rivers that flow near by, and the policies that alter the ecology.

In 2005, the region had a hundred year storm event, mostly felt in the foothills and mountains. Trees in the upper watershed were ripped out by the roots and shunted towards the valley below. Most of the debris was caught by the first dam, San Gabriel Dam, and left to float to the sides of the reservoir. Now, after three years, the trees are visibly deteriorated.

In 2005, just after the heavy rains, Public Works and the Fire Department thought they could rid the dam of the mess by cutting the individual trees and burning them.... I, and so many others, are glad they understood (finally) the magnitude of that decision.... They decided, after trying to cut and burn the thousands of mature trees floating in the dam, to let them float... and pile up along the edges of the water like a bathtub ring. When the dam fills with water from the winter storms, the disintegrating trees, now lighter, float to the center taking the tree-chunks along with them.

...here is a closer look at the tree slime.... in our drinking water. It's okay. The water is let to fill the percolating ponds in the City of Irwindale, and then pumped up and filtered again. About 2 million people drink this water.

My earlier studies of the mountains...

The mountains have lungs, you know, besides the trees. It is ocean that regulates the temperatures and the direction of the winds.

The sky above and what we humans do to our land, water and air determines our climate, the amount of water we have available, and how well we will live. Ecology and Public Policy are co-joined guiding how we do economically.

Here is the Rockface close up...

Finally, when I was a kid, I loved to hike the wild hillsides of the Hollywood Hills and the Santa Monica Mountains. I collected insects of all sorts and spent hours alone exploring. One time, I walked up the mountain barefoot for some reason. After hours of walking on stones my feet became quite tough.

Here is a painting of what it would be like if you, like I used to do, plopped into the grass on your back looking up into the sky. Everywhere around you the bugs would wonder, "Who invaded our territory?" and buzz and hummmmm..... Hold still and listen.