Comic strip, freebie, + 7 things people say to painters

Here’s a web extra for everyone: my comic strip for the Missoula Independent’s annual Comix Issue. It’s in last week’s paper, plus it’s on display at Zootown Brew for the rest of May, along with a dozen or so others. But if you live far away:

I had a hard time with the theme, “Alternative Missoula Facts,” because 1) Must everything always be about Missoula? and 2) Must everything always be about politics? But eventually, I came up with the idea of creating an alternative female-centric history of a few local place names, illustrated it, and sent it in. It’s not my greatest idea ever, but I tried to make up for it with execution.

I urge y’all to check out all the comics in this issue. There are some great ones! Whimsical, unexpected and super-well-drawn. They’re online here.

Next up:

Potsketch is a benefit auction for the Clay Studio of Missoula. They really have fun with this event. They dress up in costumes and auction off big ceramic pieces– terrifyingly, volunteers prance between the tables, often in high heels, carrying the invaluable vase or whatever raised high above their heads. They also commission fifty or so local artists to create 5″ x 5″ drawings vaguely centered on the theme of pottery. These “potsketches” are sold in a silent auction while everyone’s munching crudites. (You can view this year’s amazing potsketches here.)

This year, I was excited to contribute a piece, a watercolor I called Lil Guy with Teacup:

I was painting at another job all day before the gala, and ran into the women’s room in the fifteen minutes between events, to speed-change and hope that nobody actually needed to use it for, say, peeing. I shucked off my paint-spattered grubbies and slipped into my wedding dress (hey, it’s multipurpose), a cardigan, and some flats, Cinderella-style but without the flowing locks. Then I hopped into the F150 and zoomed over to the University Ballroom.

I’ve been practicing detachment when I give items to charity events, ever since the humiliating experience of watching EVERY. OTHER. THING. sell except my art and some decrepit printer from 1994. But I do let myself enjoy it when things go well. That night, my little art piece got three bids, topping off at a $70 donation to the Clay Studio. So Lil Guy is now in an unknown person’s home, which is a satisfying mystery.

I thought that was it for my Potsketch contribution, but then the woman I randomly sat next to turned out to be a friendly, cool teacher at Willard, our town’s alternative high school. She had fallen for Lil Guy, but didn’t bid in time. “You know, I painted a bunch of studies for that piece,” I said. “Would you like one?” Yes! And that’s how Lil Guy #2 found a home. Bonus: the teacher wanted to pay me, but I demurred, so instead, she donated some money to the Clay Studio. I brought the painting to her classroom and had the chance to meet her students, who were the most welcoming group of teens I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. They even showed me their own artwork. 

A couple of days later, I got an email from her, mentioning that her friend, who was also at Potsketch, also loved Lil Guy. I’ve got more, I replied, let’s keep this diaspora flowing! So Lil Guy #3 went to live with the friend, and may eventually lead to an illustration gig down the road… fingers crossed. ūüôā

J. had also spoken for one of the Lil Guys, the one that I call Accidental Milhouse. See if you can spot him:

That Lil Guy is going to be framed and hang out on J.’s desk at Scariano Construction.

But did you notice: there’s still one more, the blue-hued Guy in the upper left. Want him? First person to contact me gets him for free!


On a similarly light note… I spend a lot of time on ladders and dropcloths in public places where people walk by and speak their minds. 99% of the time, I love this public element of window painting. The most common utterances are along the lines of “Good job!” and “Wow!” –gratifying, but uninteresting as list items. So I bring you…

Things people say to me, or about me, while I’m painting

(Responses, spoken or only imagined, in parentheses.)

  1. Do you ever misspell a word? (#1 most common question. Answer: not yet.)
  2. Mommy, what’s that boy doing? (This one makes me grin.)
  3. Can I help? (I would love to let you, little girl, but your parents would not enjoy the laundry afterward.)
  4. Can I touch it? [pretends to stick a finger in the paint] Ha ha ha! (You are a real Seinfeld, buddy.)
  5. Are you gonna make it look just like the pattern, little lady? (Yes. Yes, I am. And I doubt you would have questioned my ability if I were a man holding this paintbrush.)
  6. Careful on that ladder! (Again, something I doubt anybody would say to a man.)
  7. Did you know you smile when you paint? (Aww, that’s great! It’s partly squinting, but I’ll take it as a compliment.)


Lastly, some exciting news: I’m going to San Francisco next week, to take the Introduction to Brush Lettering workshop at New Bohemia Signs,!

Ughhhh, I want to be able to do this! So beautiful…

I applied for and received a grant from the Montana Department of Labor, via the Small Business Development Center, to help me take this trip. (Small businesspeople, I highly recommend meeting up with these folks! It’s free and so helpful!)

It may surprise you to learn that I know next to nothing about brush lettering, despite having done it professionally for years. Back in Georgia, when Jo Knox was teaching me her craft of window and sign art, she tried to teach me lettering with the quill brush, but I couldn’t get it somehow, so my lettering is completely self-taught. I don’t know how to mix the paints… how to palette the brush… how to draw a perfect circle, make a layout, what to hold my mineral spirits in, how to store my brushes in motor oil without getting grease on everything… the list is very long!

So I’m going to unlearn a bunch of habits, and try to pick up some new ones, plus absorb as many tricks of the trade as possible. It’s going to be challenging, and fun! I’ll come home with a new brush and a few beginner signs… and, I promise, photos to follow.

Enjoy spring, everyone!

Lady shrimp plays the trombone, & other art flights of fancy

It’s been a busy summer for Sideways Gaze Signs!

Café Zydeco invited me back to finish the theme I started back when it was snowing Рsea creatures playing Cajun music:


The catfish whiskers should make it perfectly clear: NOT a dolphin!
A lady shrimp plays the trombone. As they do.
A lady shrimp playing the trombone. As they do.

A new client, the adorable clothing shop Sora, had me paint their hours on the door, and hopefully there’ll be more creative work to come… I was grateful for the shade, painting on the north side of the block on a blistering¬†afternoon.

Vinyl vs hand-painted.
Vinyl (top) vs hand-painted (below).

Here’s Johnny Townmouse, carrying his picnic basket to the market on the window of perennial client, Red Rooster Home:

Thank you again, Beatrix Potter!
Thanks, Beatrix Potter!
But no thanks to this nearly-new brush!
But no thanks to this nearly-new brush.

The businesses on¬†that same block¬†commissioned me¬†to paint a dozen¬†oak barrels, front and back. They are “branding” their block, North of Broadway, as “NOBO.” (I suppose it should be NoBro, but that would discourage about 25% of the clientele.) So I ordered a stencil – not something I usually do, but given that I’d be painting the same thing 23 times, it seemed worthwhile.

This job was a technical challenge – thanks to Sign Pro for the stencil, and Sherwin Williams for mixing and fine-tuning the paint and primer! The most popular passerby comments as I sat cross-legged on my dropcloth and painted logo after logo were:

  1. What does NOBO stand for?
  2. NOBO… don’t you mean HOBO?

My “uniform” of paint-spattered clothes lends a workingman’s invisibility, as people who would normally ask me for money, don’t, and many people who would normally greet me, don’t. I get a lot of positive comments, since sign-painting is a spectator sport, but¬†my favorite reaction is a child watching¬†transfixed, unashamed to stare. People are kind. “Hey sis, you got some paint on your cheek,” a homeless man points out. An Oxford regular, frequently plastered,¬†offers to pick me one of the sweet red strawberries growing in the top of the barrels, hidden among the flowers. And I’m on a first-name basis with Troy, the local mailman, who is always interested to see where I’ll pop up next.

It took some gymnastics to reach¬†all the barrels, which were filled with gravel and dirt and plants, thus impossible to move. A couple required me to¬†weave my trunk through bike racks¬†to get the necessary angles…

Plus, people had the nerve to lock their bikes to the racks.

I also took a drawing class this spring, again with Bob Phinney at the Lifelong Learning Center. The homework was a sketch every day. I wasn’t quite that diligent, but here are a few favorites among dozens of sketches.

Osprey nest, skatepark loungers
Osprey nest, skatepark loungers
Observing the observation tool.
Observing the observation tool.
Logpile with unexplained square. Looks like a book cover?
Logs with unexplained square. Book cover, maybe?

A couple approaches to a still life.

The class included techniques for drawing people without staring at them and hence creeping them out. The most fascinating tactic: look at your subject for a second, shut your eyes and stare at the afterimage burned into your eyelids, then look down and draw FAST Рeverything you can remember from the hovering, ephemeral shape. Drawing from memory is handy, especially for objects in motion Рanimals, little league players, hipsters.

Dog not included.
Oh, there's the dog. By the dreadlock hippies.
Oh, there’s the dog. By the dreadlock hippies.

Soon I’ll be branching out into sandwich boards, metallic copper paint, and perhaps some earthy interior work¬†for a massage therapist… stay tuned!

Starstruck / the path from here

Disclaimer:¬†It turns out I did not actually meet R Crumb! In a¬†bizarre case of mistaken identity, I was¬†fully convinced for several weeks that Montana artist Rich Lande was R Crumb. You can read about that foolishness here. But you should still totally check out Crumb! He’s awesome!


When you unexpectedly meet a celebrity, do you immediately think of what not to say? Such as…

  1. Can I take your picture?
  2. Can I have your autograph?
  3. Oh my god, you are just so great, I can’t even believe¬†you’re standing here, like, you’re unreal, gush gush gush…
  4. Oh man, I love [that long-distant thing that the person is known for and that they are probably extremely tired of hearing about].
  5. Hey, will you [sing/do an impression/perform like a trained monkey]?

It is much harder to think of what would not be stupid and annoying. This is on my mind because on April Fool’s Day, I met R Crumb. (If you are also my Facebook friend, you may have witnessed my explosive gushing about the evening. Sorry.) If you are not familiar with R Crumb, well, you surprise me – I thought everyone knew his work. He’s one of the founders of the underground comics movement, and a fine illustrator and artist. You may remember him as the creator of Fritz the Cat, Mr. Natural, and that ubiquitous “Keep on truckin'” t-shirt (the mention of which would probably fall under What Not to Say #4).

Everybody’s seen this, right?


In fact, the gigantic, locally owned health food store where I work was originally a tiny, hippie, health food¬†co-op known as Mr. Natural’s Good Food Store. His illustrations of Edward Abbey’s “The Monkey Wrench Gang” are sheer perfection, if you can find a rare copy – most editions, inexplicably, are text only. Lately he has made a serious graphic art version of the entire Book of Genesis. If you are curious, DO NOT google his images¬†at work, because a lot of¬†it is obscene. Do, however,¬†watch the movies Crumb and¬†American Splendor.

So, on First Friday, April 1, I was strolling past the Downtown Dance Collective and noticed that the lights were on and the place was¬†full of R Crumb original ink portraits of jazz and blues musicians. Weird. That venue wasn’t even listed as having an opening this month. There were only about seven people inside.

I spotted a guy I know¬†and said, “Hey, wouldn’t it be wild if R Crumb were here?” …and John says, “He’s right over there.”

I have to scrape myself off the ceiling. He is one of my art idols. I will kick myself forever if I don’t say hello, but all I can think of is What Not to Say. So¬†I just¬†look at the drawings¬†and pretend not to be having an aneurysm.

When I finally¬†summon the courage, he is very nice. “Hi, I’m Rich,” he says. He looks nothing like his self portraits, which often depict him as miserable. He’s laughing and talking with friends. We¬†talk about art and paper and jazz and hand-made stuff. I ask him about some thin goop on his portraits¬†that looks like white-out. He uses fine point Sharpies, nothing fancy. On a large scale, india ink with sable brushes. Sonny Boy Williamson’s¬†portrait, he shows me, is drawn on the back of the piece of glossy paper that comes with a ready-made frame – the page with the happy family printed on it. That kind of paper is less porous. Why let it go to waste?

He drew these musicians’ portraits so people will know where¬†the music came from. Everything comes back around, he says. We just don’t know how long it’ll take. I tell him that I paint windows and I have noticed that although vinyl sticker signs are convenient and popular, a lot of people want something that looks like a person actually touched it at some point. “Yes! Human¬†DNA!” he says. He’s hopeful for the future of hand-made. “Never give up!” he says. Awesome.

So perhaps R Crumb is not a celebrity by most standards.¬†But it was a thrilling evening for me.¬†And if you’re in town, his work is up for the rest of April and May – worth a look!


In other news, within two weeks, my main squeeze J. will be hitting the trail. Heading from the Mexican border to the Canadian border via the Continental Divide Trail. It’ll take him about four months, god willin’. He is¬†so excited and¬†ready to go, it is nearly intolerable. But it is also hard to give him up!

Deep in the planning stages.

Maybe I should include a bit about his progress when I write. It is likely that he won’t be keeping a trail journal of his own. He loves the privacy and undiluted solitude of long-distance, wilderness hiking. I think it is a joy for him to just live it, and a chore for him to write, though his writing is fine. So¬†perhaps I will spill what I hear. And he has promised to photograph some wildflowers…

Thus I’ll be¬†on a journey of my own this summer. My own solitude, albeit surrounded by friends and cityfolk. Missing one’s sweetheart sounds like great fodder for art, no?

Also a chance to hog the kitchen table even more than I already do.
Plus a chance to hog the kitchen table even more than I already do.

I plan to join him for two weeks along the way, as well as personally deliver a passel of delicious care packages once he hits Yellowstone and points north.

Au revoir, intrepid Zippy Morocco! May your hike be beautiful and amazing.


P.S. One more goodbye: the Brink Gallery is closing. What a gem it was! Not intimidating or stuffy or jargony, just friendly and fresh, and whoever chose the exhibitors was willing to go out on limbs. A person may not always like what’s in the Brink, but it is always interesting. I guess the woman who runs it wants to do art of her own, and now she will get her chance. I had very privately dreamed of one day having a piece in a group show there. That will not be happening – except that in a very minor way, it will: If you visit the Brink this month, you’ll see stacks of self-addressed, blank postcards. Take one, make something, send it back. All the returned postcards (Postcards to the Brink, ha ha) hang in the window, spinning slowly as the air moves.¬†So I took one home and inked a panther slinking off the edge, out from behind bars of dripped watercolor paint. “Slink off to stalk your passions.”

It’s not too late for you to get in on the action!

A riot of spring windows

Spring has sprung in Montana: yellowbells bloom on the stark crown of Waterworks Hill, western meadowlarks trill from every country fencepost. Baby lupine leaves and baby bluebell buds unfurl toward the sun.

To go along with this, here’s a crop of new art, made much kinder to paint by the longer days. Somehow every window I’ve painted in the past month has been botanical in one way or another. I think Montanans are thirsting for life after the winter…

cloth_crown_bothCloth & Crown is an upscale, downtown clothing boutique. The staff is 100% lithe, long-limbed and glossy-haired, to which I am an amusing contrast, blundering around with dropcloths and step ladders, bundled in four layers of baggy, spattered clothing. The owner adores succulents Рthere are clever pots of them all about the store, and a window box hanging outside Рso I had real models for these borders.

(As a glimpse into the process, here are the sketches I gave her for this job:

Please ignore the inkblot. Darn leaky Rapidograph...
Please ignore the inkblot.

Four possibilities, each depicted in half a window. I always give options, even if the client has something very specific in mind. At least half the time, they end up going with something slightly different, or upgrading to a more whimsical or elaborate design. The client can pick one option, or combine favorite elements from multiple panels– in this case, she chose the inner¬†contour¬†of design #1, but with the dense coverage of design #2.¬†Sketching isn’t public or glamorous, but I enjoy the¬†brainstorming and detail work it involves.)

Then Rich at R. P. Ellis Fine Jewelry asked¬†me to springify¬†his displays. It began snowing half an hour in, and intensified to the point of soaking by the end. Brrr!¬†But these glacier lilies, violets, bunchberries and trillium can’t possibly freeze:

That’s¬†a trick I learned from Jo Knox: always paint in¬†particular. No generic forms. Though it requires more research and time, three joys result. One, those who¬†know biology will appreciate the references, little inside jokes, wink wink!¬†Two, even those who don’t recognize the forms will still perceive¬†greater quality and variety. And three, it is a chance for¬†me as an amateur naturalist¬†to study¬†and remember each kind. Bingo.

Next, it was time for my winter painting on the following window, a snowlady with a bluebird on her branch, to come down. Janae at Très Chic wanted something floral but not green, as her interiors are already extremely limey. So: stylized poppies, outlined in metallic silver.

Poppies... poppies will make her chic!
Poppies… poppies will make her chic!

And finally, a couple Grand Opening windows for the new store Copperopolis, which is an interior decorating store bursting with elaborate, ever-blooming (that is to say, faux) floral arrangements. So I painted a few more faux flora to add to the deception: arrowleaf balsamroot, which will perhaps be blooming somewhere by April 15-16.


For my own pleasure, I’ve been painting little watercolors¬†of flowers from that thrilling read, the Alfred A. Knopf National Audubon Society Field Guide to Wildflowers, Western Region:

Desert poppy
Desert poppy
Shooting star, sierra primrose
Shooting star, sierra primrose

Having done six¬†of them, I¬†decided that much more field research is in order. Meaning… get out there and hike around, breathe it in, stare at the sky, and the dirt, and everything in between! Ol√©!

P.S. One more spring exuberance, though the painting is not new… here’s the ZWAP! logo put to good use as a backdrop for a crop of¬†freshly trained¬†Zero Waste Ambassadors. They all get to sign the wall after the class.

Also, goofballs.

Free spirits and spectators

There’s a Sesame Street segment from back in the 1970s, maybe even the early 60s:

Children paint alphabet letters and animals on glass, and enthusiastically discuss the results. The camera films from the other side of the glass, so the kid watching from home sees not only the painting, but the child’s face and arm painting it.

As a five-year-old, I was entranced. (As an adult, I am also in love with that girl’s awesome cat-eye specs.) The transparency, watching forms appear midair, brush bristles wet and creamy with color, sliding around, only mostly controlled. I loved art already, but assumed that painting on glass was a craft reserved for children who lived in the magical world of TV.

That skit didn’t cross my mind for years, until the day I was gliding a rigger loaded with One-Shot in loops across a wide, clean, plate-glass window, and saw a kid looking through from the inside, transfixed. This happens all the time now… and not just with kids.

The spectator sport element is one of my favorite parts of being a window artist. It’s immediately rewarding, as passersby exclaim approval, strike up conversations, or watch quietly while trying to avoid my noticing that they are watching. (Doesn’t work, guys: glass reflects!)

This last foggy Friday, I was painting a Valentine’s scene of bluebirds unfurling heart-shaped ribbons around the jewelry display cases at R.P. Ellis Fine Jewelry. The store is right downtown, next to a peculiarly Missoulian institution, the coffeehouse/tchotchke shop/alterna-hangout, Butterfly Herbs. It was the perfect spot for engaging the early morning culture of Higgins Ave.

First came Paris, a Deadhead-looking guy in his sixties, sharing stories of traveling the USA with his buddies. “Just a couple of Fitch brushes in my pocket, and when we ran outta money, we’d find a store, say ‘Hey man, your sign looks like hell,’ and fix it up.” Paid by the acre, his friend would joke. “Like Woody Guthrie,” I replied. “Did you know that he was a sign painter during the Depression?” “No joke?” said Paris. Nope, no joke.

One of his drawings, I think an illustration in his autobiography
One of Woody’s drawings, an illustration in his autobiography, I think.

From there it was a string of commuters, wanderers and homeless people trying to stay warm via walking and coffee, and people with ideas for future window designs. You’d be surprised how many people know about this supposedly dying art form. “Isn’t it supposed to be 54 degrees out to put that stuff up?” (Yes, but if it’s seasonal, it’ll last just fine.) I’ve met pinstripers, tattoo artists, other signpainters, and lots of regular folks. In Americus, Georgia, I loved the company of older folks who had plenty of time to watch and chat. Sometimes it seemed they didn’t have many people to talk with, and it was good to listen to them as I worked.

After putting the finishing touches on the ribbons, I popped into the shop to check in with Rich, the owner. When I came back outside, a guy was pushing a shopping cart away up Higgins. Piled atop his load of possessions, probably all he had to his name, was my dropcloth, my mallet, and a quarter pint of red One-Shot. I went into autopilot: caught up to him, said “That’s my stuff,” and grabbed my supplies. He began hollering at me, called me every four letter word known to humankind, including, bizarrely, racial slurs: “You should be ashamed of yourself, you *@&^#! Stealing from a homeless person!”

The sad part was that, as a parting shot, he yelled, “You took my blanket!” And I realized he was talking about the dropcloth: damp, paint-spattered, none-too-soft. I almost gave it back to him, then reflected that he was cussing me out and had tried to make off with my gear– not behavior I would like to encourage. I don’t know what he wanted with the oil paint or the mallet, but no good could have come of it. He certainly was not in the frame of mind for a rational conversation. This was the first time in six years I’ve had any trouble. I dunno, friends… would there have been a better way to handle this?

As it was, I packed up my stuff and stepped inside Butterfly Herbs to thaw my bones. Their staff was kind enough to let me keep my paints warm behind the counter while I worked out in the cold. I wanted to give them a little business as thanks, and get something to warm me up en route to my other job. Lucas Phelan– an inventive, talented artist himself, also apparently at his other job– toasted a delicious cream cheese sesame bagel. Everything tastes better when you’ve been out all morning doing something you love. That’s a lesson learned hiking, but widely applicable!

Oh, and without further ado, here are the cavorting bluebirds:

r_p_ellis_fine_jewelry2 r_p_ellis_fine_jewelry

P.S. If you can’t get enough of the adorable children of Sesame Street giggling at glass, there’s another video here. Enjoy.

P.P.S. This blog has been brought to you today by the letter B.


The plane touches down in Missoula, cold, drizzling, dark. The headlights of the Mazda pull around to the curb, spotted by rain, J. inside the warm car, and I climb in. Climb back into a past life, but full of experience, stories, confusion about the next steps after three weeks of knowing exactly which direction to walk.

The first days blur, shot through with echoes of the John Muir Trail, my new reference point for everything. It’s like¬†the bells:

One evening, I walked past a¬†dozen mules and two beautiful horses grazing in the Lyell Meadows of Yosemite National Park. Their guardian was unseen, so they seemed native, except for¬†bells tied around their necks, bells that sang with every step. As the moon paced the sky, the mules’¬†melancholy chord¬†glided down-canyon, then returned near dawn. I climbed right up Donohue Pass the next¬†morning, quickly¬†out of earshot, but the bell¬†song had entered my dreams, and lingered¬†in my ears for days.

Roaming mule bell choir
Roaming equine choir

So while I go back to work, do the laundry, do the dishes, and am again bombarded with hundreds of people per day, the song of the trail follows me around. I start writing, everything at once, not chronologically. Memories bump into each other, crowded, impatient. Spinning them out is reassuring, renewing. This really happened. It is delicious to live it all again, looking closer this time, harvesting each bit, leaving nothing in the field.

J. and I spend as much time outdoors as possible, knowing what’s ahead: we run the Sam Braxton Trail, Blue Mountain, Waterworks Hill in the rapidly shortening afternoons, clouds racing above us. The large empty spaces are precious, spaces that tell me¬†Trail and Now are still one. It’s fall, and I’m trying to hang on.

Zippy on Trapper Peak near Darby, MT in October
Zippy and I climb Trapper Peak near Darby, MT in October

I had imagined, back in the California summer when winter seemed so far away, that I would keep my wild animal alive, the hiking organism, the outside girl. I would fight to merge¬†trail life with the everyday. But as November draws down, the wild animal senses change, and crawls into the cave tended by the domesticated self. The wild falls asleep and stays asleep, as¬†the brisk other¬†moves about the dwelling,¬†a¬†person of¬†brooms and Netflix, of drying herbs¬†and making beds. She draws the line between indoors and out with a bold¬†line, and she fears¬†the out. It’s the inevitable townsfolk apprehension. Even after living outside¬†and loving it for three weeks, it sounds foreign, chaotic, uncontrollable to me now. Under her rule, I watercolor arrangements of gourds and apples, and kestrels landing over and over, at the kitchen table in¬†the basement apartment. Tamed symbols of the outside. The ringing of the bells is gone. Is this defeat?

As far as paintings go, the upper left one wins.
As far as paintings go, the upper left one wins.

Well. Really, if I lived in the wild all the time, I’d have to exist¬†much differently than a hiker on a sunny trail, here at¬†this¬†latitude where daylight dwindles to a mere glow¬†and the world ices over. Northerners are meant to partially hibernate. How surprisingly easy it was: to buy¬†the¬†green, woolen, made-in-Minnesota blanket that appeared¬†at the thrift store, to cover our sleeping selves¬†through long nights. To bake and bake and bake, warming¬†the apartment with calories: hot pepper¬†cornbread¬†for our neighbors at the¬†plant nursery, crackers for a friend at tea, bread and stuffed pumpkin for dinner guests, squash for soups.

Plum butter, apple butter, muffins...
And plum butter, apple butter, muffins…

Surrendered to this other reality, the wild inside gives nothing, requires nothing, its pulse slow, barely perceptible. As the rituals spin forth, heaping layers over the slumbering wild, I discover that there is no more to write, either. The whole story told, the drive to write evaporates, awaiting the next adventure, the next spring. It feels like a door softly closing. The latch clicks and I walk away in my slippers.

Because we are not static beings, rather each of us is many, ever¬†changing,¬†taking turns. Pete Seeger and whoever wrote Ecclesiastes know¬†about this turning… so¬†that is all for now.


(Except that there is a seed, underneath the Faribo blanket,¬†deeper than¬†the snow and freezing rain, far¬†from weeks of work that fold in upon each other, buried below and kept warm by¬†the sleeping creature. I don’t know¬†how or when it will grow. But it’s kind of the color of the North Country Trail…)



Four years ago we caravanned to a town we didn’t know, and it became home. Now, we leave Missoula in four days. This morning I sat on the floor and ate breakfast. Our furniture, which was lugged in from thrift stores and Craigslist and even alleys, has gone back out the door, to friends and strangers. Watching the apartment empty is like traveling back in time, to when we arrived, beginning a sentence to which we didn’t know the end. I couldn’t have imagined it would be so good.

My jaw aches, probably from grinding it at night, subconsciously clenching at change. Excitement for the upcoming trail is strong, but it is temporarily covered with a long to-do list and many goodbyes to kind people. I’ve already had a few teary ones, and more where the tears will come later, probably during the long, flat length of Nebraska, where it is safer to let them go.

This is voluntary, of course. All things end, so why not practice? A departure is a little death. One day I would like to practice being the one to stay, but either way, at parting, if there is sadness, there was love. And as far as I can figure, that is all that makes living human in a mad world worthwhile.

On the way home from work, the radio played a song I’d never heard before: “Good Times,” by Matt Costas. [youtube] Here’s the chorus:

Finally those good times are comin
Good times are comin
Good times are comin
…to an end.

But he doesn’t sound sad. Those good times are coming to an end.

Different good times lie ahead.

Good night!

Art show Friday, July 6!

Oil and acrylic on DirecTV dishLe Petit Outre in Missoula has invited me to do a First Friday art show in their beautiful, quirky space next month. Yes!

The satellite dish saint series will be making its official debut against Le Petit’s sky-blue backdrop, and local musician Aran Buzzas plans to be there with some outlaw country and bluesy rock tunes.¬† Plus, being a bakery, they’ll have lots of delicious bread and coffee. What a combination, right? Bonus: weather permitting, we’ll throw open the big doors and have an open-air joyful time of it.

So mark it down in red ink:

Le Petit Outre, 129 S 4th St W

Friday, July 6, 6-8 pm (or later, depending on you!)


I wake up before the alarm at 4 am, nervous. The unjudging softness of Zubu and Kiho calms and distracts. Oatmeal and coffee with soy milk. It’s still dark when I leave the apartment and bike to the shuttle. I arrive just as my coworker Dan, also an aspiring first-timer, joins the line, a happy surprise. We chat to quell our nerves and my queasiness as the yellow bus hauls us like schoolchildren along the interstate to Frenchtown.

Chill air, predawn, last minute Port-a-Potties, stretching and milling about. Chaotic, jittery energy like a crowd before the band comes onstage. The national anthem pipes in, so I put my hands together and close my eyes and pray instead: May peace prevail on earth. We herd behind the starting line, the countdown, a cannon boom, fireworks. 1200 humans wearing paper numbers applaud, shout in gladness and lurch into motion.

The first daylight breathes into the atmosphere. We are on a plain, mountains rippling on every horizon, cloaked in morning mist, crossing railroad tracks toward the old factory. Quiet except for footfalls as runners fan out in a lengthening snake, absorbed in movement. May peace prevail on earth repeats and repeats. The sky and land are open and clear, with plenty of space to echo it.

I take this gently, gently, because I want to avoid the crippling stab of pain that cut off my last run three weeks ago. I haven’t run more than a handful of miles a week since. It was far too early to taper. Yesterday the PT guy raised his eyebrows and said my run ought to be “interesting,” but that I could safely run the last miles at a seven out of ten on the pain scale if I had to. “But if it’s not fun… just hop a ride, y’know?” The guy at the Y said he figured I’d hit a wall at mile 20 or so. But what do they know? As little as I do. Still, now that I am moving, the nerves are gone. The questions are still there–will I do it? what will happen?–but it is one step at a time and the questions are satisfied with each tiny yes.

I visualize the early air as a cold pack for fragile knees. I remind myself to enjoy no-pain while it lasts. I run lightly, unhurriedly, past the five-hour pacer and the 4:45 pacer. I promise not to pass the 4:30 pacer too soon, if ever. I decide to be wholly positive. The day dawns beautiful, sun dripping down the mountains, coloring the rocks and trees, and it is precious to be alive and flowing. I feel taken care of by the warming dome of world.

Three, four, five miles and still barely a twinge. Six, seven– one quarter done already! I imagine my physical state as a percentage: 98% pain free. 97%. 98% again. Gratitude. Disbelief. J. has the Reillys praying for my legs. I prayed only for a spiritual experience, a learning experience, a peace experience, not results. The sun shines full now, and we pass aid stations of shouting volunteers holding paper cups of water and energy drink. I start popping energy gummies every mile, though I am not depleted yet. Cloying sweetness in my teeth, a personal IV drip of preventative fuel.

At mile nine we turn toward low mountains, cross the powerful, broad Clark Fork for the first time, birds diving below the bridge, and head for shade and the race’s one hill. A slow climb, and I steel myself, realizing that the only fear remaining is of not getting up and over this hill without my illiotibial band snapping into disharmony. Stay on the flat surface, one step at a time, use those big quads, those hamstrings, those arms. No pounding. 13.3 miles and the climb begins. Et voila, it is nothing! Up like a ski lift. A cowboy on a horse welcomes us to Montana, tipping his ten-gallon hat with pride. I begin passing people. A swarm of encouragers in Viking hats and togas bellows us onward. Loners park their cars and their dogs by the course and watch us roll by. Couples watch from lawn chairs in driveways as if we were television. I smile and clap and cheer the people clapping and cheering us. When I pass a boombox, I run dancing, to thank people for the tunes.

In no time we are at the plateau, the river sparkling below. The sun’s heat brings salt from skins. Descending, we join the half-marathoners at mile 16. 98%. Still amazed, grateful, strong. A man in a tuxedo plays beautiful music on a grand piano he has pulled to the edge of the course, alongside the singing river. I nearly cry from music and sun and trees and being a drop in a mighty stream of runners. “Bravo!” I shout. “Brava!” he replies.

We cross the one-lane bridge. Now comes the long flat stretch before town. Natural beauty gives way to blander neighborhoods. I use the length to pass and persevere. My toes twinge, then subside. Can it be? 18, 19, now farther than I have ever run. 97, 96, 98%. We cross Reserve Street and the streets are full of people. Nearly to the final five miles. I am sick of gummies, it is getting hot, and Mile 22 seems unusually long, but all this passes. Time is telescoping. We turn away from the finish line for a final loop south, extra blocks tacked on to round out the mileage, but nothing but positivity is in my body. I run through sprinklers, put my hands in the air. People shout that I look happy for being this far in, steady, springy. I pass some people limping, walking, belabored. They are so close. They must make it…

At Mile 24 I call J. on the cell phone I’ve been carrying, still running, and tell him I’ll see him at 4th and Higgins in twenty minutes. Can’t wait. At Mile 25 I find energy yet unspent, and decide to sprint. Running hard, the joy of throwing caution to the wind, letting everything go, we’re so close. My knees hurt, and I let them. I pass up drinks and quit the gummies, vowing never to consume one again.

Am I ready to be done? Yes… but how did this happen so fast, so easily? No time for reflection: here is the final turn, and J. on the corner. “I love you, J.!” I shout. He shouts back, and tears squeeze from my eyes as I round the turn and sprint over the bridge. The arch of balloons in view. May peace prevail on earth! One last push and the magnetic tag around my shoelace beeps over the finish line. 4 hours, 31 minutes. A woman puts a medal around my neck and I stumble to the photo booth, then to the shade tent. Food sounds unappealing, but I slurp on a triangle of watermelon. The crush of stinky, exultant runners, crowds and lines, swallows me up. I am dazed, stretching, bug-eyed from lack of sleep, exultant, disbelieving, proud, grateful, glad.

There was no wall to hit, no significant pain to overcome. It was pure joy. I was tired, so at times it seemed unreal, condensed. The emotions are slow to absorb. Did I really just do that, run 26.2 miles without stopping? At last I make my way back to the bike parked by the shuttle ages ago, coast home and fall into a chair, kiss my love, put my feet up and ice my knees. It’s done and it was all wonderful, and I will never do it again.