...is a glorious thing. Even though I'm here for a sad reason: to close down the Endicott West Arts Retreat, my beloved winter home for many years.
On the long front porch of the E-West ranch, the chairs face east towards the rising sun. The porch pillars are made of tree trunks, topped with Mexican corbels where mourning doves build nests. The mountain peak in the distance (to the north) is Mount Lemmon, in the Santa Catalina range.
The porch looks out onto cactus, creosote, brittlebush, sage, and mesquite trees, with acres of cholla forest behind, and the Rincon Mountains to the east. In spring, these cacti will bloom with large, waxy flowers in red, yellow, orange, purple, and pink.
The view from Endicott West's front porch never fails to take my breath away; it is too beautiful to ever take for granted. The land is a mixture of soft and sharp: the vegetation flamboyantly prickly, the soil dry and powdery underfoot. The ground rolls upward as it rises into the foothills of the Rincon range -- lifting us up, cupping us ever-so-gently in its ancient palm.
To the left (above) is a long dirt driveway, and to the right the path leads to a deep wash -- which is dry much of the year, but turns into a small, swift river during the rainy seasons. Animals use these washes as their highway system as they move across the desert.
The horse corrals (above) on the north side of the ranch stand empty. The horses who lived here (owned by friends) have been moved into new quarters nearby. I miss their cheerful presence, their antics and adventures. It seems strange here without them now.
Above is the doorway into the Casita -- the largest of the Retreat's guest spaces (with its own little kitchen, back porch, and secret walled garden). I love the pillars that hold up the tin porch roof here, which were made from the trunks of mesquite trees. Everywhere I look are signs of our love and labor -- a once-homely house (in a fine stretch of desert) utterly transformed by a collaborative aesthetic vision, a good strong working partnership, generosity, community, a bit of magic, and lots of plain hard work. The ranch looks aged and settled now -- vines draping the walls just as we'd imagined, saplings grown now into sturdy desert trees. It looks like it's always been this way. Which is just as we had wanted it to be.
A Mexican statue of St. Francis stands beneath the palm tree by the Main House door....
His little dish holds stones, fossils, and shells -- a constantly changing mix of things as Retreat guests take stones for luck, and leave new ones for future visitors. (He'll be going to live with my dear old friend and JoMA partner, Midori Snyder.)
The campfire pit (below), behind the Bunk House, is a place where I've spent many a night...sitting by a crackling mesquite fire beneath the desert's vast canopy of stars. Of all the things I'll miss about E-West, I think I'll miss this most of all.
The Bunk House (in a corner of the horse barn) was my living space on the E-West grounds -- although we also used it as a guest space whenever I wasn't in residence. The Bunk House is more rustic than the Main House and Casita -- more solitary, more prone to visitations from the desert's abundant wildlife: rabbits, coyotes, snakes, Gilla monsters, mule deer, kit fox, the occasional bobcat, the white owl living in rafters of the barn, and midnight sorties by the local javelina herd. This is, of course, precisely why I loved it. (And why I painted so many ''animal spirit" paintings during the years I lived there.)
This land has a distinctive, unsettling form of beauty: prickly and soft, harsh and lush, a place of contradictions ...revelations...holding twenty-odd years of my personal history. It's an emotional experience clearing out the ranch -- each drawer, each shelf, each box coated with memories as thick as dust.
On Tuesday I closed down the art studio....
...and we began to sort through the many things that must be packed, or sold, or given away, or given back to the various folks in the E-West community that they belong to.
There's a tangible record of the many fine folk who've lived, stayed, or worked here over the years, made up of the items they've left behind. The chairs here, for instance, belonged to writers Emma Bull & Will Shetterly, the clay heads to sculptor Beckie Kravetz. Each item on the ranch, no matter how humble, has its own story to tell.
Yesterday, we began to dismantle the Library...a Herculean and melancholy task. I haven't the space to house the books in the UK (nor do I have the small fortune it would take to ship them there), so I'm plucking out some sentimental favorites and sending the rest out into the world again. Let go, let go, let go, let go, has been my constant mantra this week, these wise words from Mary Oliver's poem "In Blackwater Woods" running through my head:
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
I am letting them go. I am letting it all go. Life moves on and so will I.
In the picture of the E-West Library above, the shelves are (sadly) starting to be cleared, and the big old desk that sat under window, on the right, has already been given away. (It was painted dusky blue, and I'd etched the words ''Once upon a time'' into the paint.)
And that old velvet couch, which belonged to my grandmother, and then my mother, then me -- where will that go? Well, at the moment, I just don't know. It won't fit into a box or suitcase, and so it can't come back to Chagford with me. I am saying goodbye not only to E-West, but to all the years of my American life before I married Howard and moved to England full-time....
Doors close. Door open. Life changes. As Tomás in The Wood Wife would say: It's all dammas.
One last photo today: the old bench by the wash, in the shade of palo verde and mesquite trees...a favorite spot for dreaming, writing, sketching, and watching wildlife go by.
The little plants sprouting at the bench's feet are fresh green shoots of desert tobacco. They'll grow taller and fuller in the months ahead. For some years I'd been trying to grow desert tobacco (for ceremonial use) without success -- carefully planting seeds from Native Seed Search in my desert garden, where they never came up. Finally, a Tohono O'odham friend advised me: ''Tobacco is shy. Scatter your seeds in an out-of-the-way place, and then turn your back on them.'' I did so, throwing the seeds onto the quieter, wilder land on the south side of the house -- where they grew, flourished, self-seeded and spread, returning year after year.
The new owners of the ranch won't know this story. Tobacco will bloom (a pretty little yellow flower) and they won't know why it's growing here. But, I remind myself, it doesn't matter. The land will remember. The trees will remember. The long-lived saguaro will remember too -- for I am now part of this land's long story. We are all part of its story. A new chapter is beginning. Other voices will tell it now. But the story carries on.