This full moon brought rain and green leaves.  A glass sphere, its surface frosted and etched by windblown dust, shattered into glistening streaks and bubbles as it poured waterfalls and tendrils of green light.  Amid thunderclouds, the rising and setting moon shone with a clear warm glow, like the swirling, molten sphere that forms as silver or bronze or gold melts in the crucible.  This feeling – a transparent globe breaking over my head, and a molten ball glowing in my hands – has stayed with me for two days.  Something old has broken, and a new seed is rolling into life.  I have so many projects going or evolving that I’m not sure which one applies here, but this moon is surely significant for one of them. 

The hot dry High Summer has passed, and we are well into the desert’s “fifth season” of the monsoons.  Ferns and oak trees put out new leaves, ocotillos grow leafy new branches, pipevines and devil’s claws bloom, prickly pear fruits ripen, and barrel cacti grow ephemeral “rain roots” and swell before blooming.  This frenzy of growth will last until the equinox, when the sunlight loses its summer intensity, the clouds disappear, and all life dries out and slows down.  For those who celebrate this time of year as Lammas, the beginning of Autumn, I will share a summer project:  a coralbean, two months old, photographed after a thunderstorm.  I scarified/burned the thick red seedcoat on the grinding wheel so they could sprout.  Now I have six tiny trees.


Here’s today’s pomegranate vessel, painted in rare minerals – purpurite, lime green gaspeite, and blue-green dioptase.

purpurite pomegranate


Pima Pineapple Cactus

Today was “bloom day” for the endangered Pima Pineapple Cactus.  The plant pictured above is the largest of several that grow in the desert near my house (my cactus website has more photos).  All plants usually bloom on the same day, three to five days after the first significant monsoon rain.  This year, the past five days have been rainy enough to spread the bloom out over several days (they have to have sun at midday for the flowers to open fully), and about half the plants will bloom tomorrow.  The cactus bees – fuzzy gray and harmless – will be delighted.  I’ve been watching these cacti for seven years, and the bloom is a very precious (and nearly solitary) celebration:  The desert hushed and dreaming at midday in the soft, humid sunlight.  Thunder over the mountains, sprinkles of rain, the knobby green cacti scattered like jade carvings over the bare pinkish-orange soil…and the luminous, slightly fluorescent glow of the flowers, the yellow light pouring up out of the earth.

baby barrel cacti

baby barrel cacti

Another cactus discovery made today even more special – FIVE bouncing baby barrels in my yard!  These are Arizona barrels (also called compass barrel or fish hook barrel, Ferocactus wislizenii).  The two in the picture are about an inch in diameter and are probably a year old already, they were just shrunken and hidden in the gravel until the rain.  I love prowling the yard at this time of year, looking for new “volunteer” desert plants.  When we moved in, there were almost no plants here – all the previous owners had “zeroscaped” with weedkillers and thirty years of indifference.  Over the next few years, we added rocks and boulders, searched local nurseries for native plants, accepted gifts of agave and prickly pear from neighbors, and rejoiced with the appearance of each tiny wild yucca, ocotillo, or shrub.  I have planted several salvaged barrel cacti already, but the appearance of seedlings is a sign of true healing for this piece of land.  In this part of the desert, the Arizona barrel reaches its greatest size and abundance, and spectacular “barrel gardens” and dense ocotillo forest are a special feature of the Santa Rita Mountains bajada.  The cacti are typically one to four feet tall and up to a couple of feet in diameter, but a really ancient barrel (well over 100 years old) can be more than six feet tall.  Now that I know they’re here, I will enjoy caring for these new arrivals.

copper cinerary urn

This pomegranate is a shattered copper vessel.  The little green balls (one is hollow) are the glassy phosphate spheres that form in the ashes of funeral pyres (in the Tibetan Book of the Dead they are called “jewel-like relics”).

Eventually, 28 pomegranates will form the series of daily cards for my moon oracle.  That way, every day will hold the promise of the the Ace of Disks.  Each day holds the the infinite creativity of the earth and the faithful yet ever-changing mysteries of the Moon.  This oracle will have sticks, stones, bones, turtle shells…and pomegranates.  Like the ancient shaman’s pebble oracle, it will be flexible, having a usable structure but not a rigid system.  For example, does the image above represent today’s First Quarter Moon?  If not, which day does it fit?  What if it wasn’t assigned a particular day – perhaps it depends on the time of year – and what if you pulled it at random as your daily card?  (Enjoy this game but don’t think too much about it right now.  Until all 28 images are done, you won’t really know how they “work” – and I won’t, either!)


July 19, 2007

circle pictograph

This is one of several mysterious pictographs in a rockhouse near the Gila River.  The outer circle is pinkish-white clay or possibly chalk (caliche).  The black circle is actually dark purple and is probably magnetite sand.  The red circle is, of course, hematite (red ochre).  The green is malachite (copper ore).  Upon close examination, it appears that the center of the circle was originally black.  All the pigments could have been collected at the same place, and perhaps the picture means nothing more than that – a simple geologic diagram.  Perhaps it represents the earth, or a spring, or an eye, or mabye it denotes ownership.  Such a basic design, universal and intensely personal at the same time, can surely mean many things.  I offer it here as a cenote – a well or spring – for inspiration.

Tonight we had the real thing – a true Sonoran chubasco, or wild monsoon storm!  This one may indeed be the “magic rain” that brings out the sapos (spadefoot toads), makes several species of cacti bloom and wildflowers grow, and revives the ferns.  In the nearby hills, the washes are running (water pouring over granite outcrops, swirling around mesquite roots, and fanning the sand into new patterns).  Today was hot and sunny, well over 100.  At sunset, dark yellowish-gray clouds swirled over the mountains and a huge dust cloud roared off the bulldozed desert just west of here.  Then a blacker cloud arose and completely swallowed the sunset – lightning travelling ahead of the rain had ignited a grass fire.  Finally the rain arrived, blowing fiercely horizontal at first, later falling calm and steady.  (Somewhere tonight, someone will stumble into a wash and be lost in a torrent.  Somewhere tonight, lives are saved at the last minute – desert wanderers are huddled in a saguaro grove, hiding from the lightning, rain washing heat and fear from their faces and mingling with tears of relief.)  Now it is fully dark, with a pleasant drizzle and still some rumbling and flashing that may continue all night as the storm cells bounce around the mountains.  The air smells like wet smoke, aromatic desert plants, damp earth, and most of all, like RAIN.

Clay, Iron, and Realgar

July 11, 2007

green clay pomegranate

This pomegranate is painted with four kinds of green clay (plus black shale and a bit of charred bone).  Green clays are sticky and always end up looking rather flat.  But the colors are worth it!  Two of these are glauconite (“terre verte”) from sedimentary rock, and two are bentonite and other clays from weathered volcanics.  Black “oil” shale and charred bone provide the dark accents.  For me the green clays have always conjured an image of a smooth round jar with multiple openings.  This represents the living, growing earth, and is connected to the Empress in the Tarot.  So it was a natural choice for this pomegranate design, which could be a storage jar, a pouring vessel, or a flute.

yellow ochre and purpurite

This one is painted in yellow ochre (iron hydroxide) and purpurite (manganese phosphate).  It is meant to be a soft, comforting shape inspired by two fungi:  the puffball Lycoperdon pyriforme, and the cup fungus Sarcosphaera coronaria.  (I have loved fungi since I was ten years old, and many of them have become part of my spirit, even though I rarely see anything but a few weird and rare desert fungi where I live now.)

iron furnace

This one is an iron furnace, and a scanning nightmare!  I’ll have to scan and adjust the orange part separately, and layer them in photoshop, since the original is bright but not as harsh as this picture.  Inspired by my own ironwork and by some Thai cooking pots that I’ve seen – they are nearly spherical and made of forged and riveted heavy scrap iron plate, with ornate handles and chains. (When the oil runs out and civilization falls apart, the blacksmiths of the Lands of the Tiger will rebuild the world out of scrap metal, using charcoal made from shattered houses…but only if the tiger survives.)  The iron is painted in magnetite, manganese oxide, and charred bone, overlain with blue vivianite.  Did I really need THREE black pigments?  Yes.  I have about a dozen in my palette, all different.  The fiery furnace is painted mostly with realgar (arsenic sulfide), a recent gift from a friend.  I am not usually a fan of the toxic pigments, but it’s a very tiny amount and I wanted to see how such a bright, hot color works with the rest of the mineral pigments, which are on the cool side.  The paint is actually a mix of red realgar (AsS) and yellow orpiment (As2S3).  Realgar isn’t stable and changes to orpiment when exposed to light.  That can take months for a crystal, but of course it’s nearly instantaneous with powdered pigment.  Pure orpiment is bright yellow.   Anway, the pigments that darken the edges of the fire are yellow ochre and orange AMD ochre (genuine Acid Mine Drainage iron sulfate from a Pennsylvania coal mine dump, toxic to creeks but not to humans, and a beautiful pigment).

I did work with some real iron today, and made a dozen tiny triangular bells for a shaman’s belt.  They still need clappers and a chain.  And I sketched the next few pomegranates – I already know how many I plan to paint…but how many do YOU think is enough? 🙂

Eye Bowl

July 6, 2007

iron bowl with cover

iron bowl with cover

A simple eye-shaped bowl forged from scrap steel:  a 3″ disc and a large washer.   Both halves ring like bells.  Uncovered, it pours water.  Covered, it is for burning desert incense – brittlebush gum, mariola leaves, osha root.  A bowl for purification by sound, fire, fragrant smoke, and rainwater, bringing new visions and clarity of sight.

US-MEX boundary marker 130

Today the air is so hot it burns, even in the shade, where it is 105.  Vultures fly higher than usual on the rising thermals.  Over the house, much higher than the vultures, we saw two eagles circling each other, heading south toward the clouds.  A reminder of the two eagles that we saw on Sunday, when we hiked to Boundary Marker 130 on the U.S.-Mexico border in the Pajarito Mountains.  Remote and beautiful on both sides of the border, a land of steep hills and canyons, rugged rhyolite outcrops, rare plants, and two watchful eagles:

US eagleMexcian eagle

Today I finished these two pomegranate paintings.  All of my current projects involve a several images, not isolated drawings.  In finishing the tarot deck, I learned how satisfying it is to create a series of related images and watch them develop into a unified whole.  So I want to do it again!  More to come….

bronze bell pomegranatelapis lazuli and gold pomegranate

One more pomegranate.  I sew most of my own clothes, and today I finished a hiking outfit, an Indian-style salwar kameez made of sturdy hemp/cotton muslin.  The pants are factory-dyed sage green with drawstring waist and cuffs.  Drawstring is an undyed Guatemalan sash.  Scarf is a handwoven cotton rebozo from Mexico.  I used pomegranate husks to dye the fabric for the shirt.  The tannin in the husks gives the fabric the same warm yellowish-brown color as the fallen leaves.

hemp salwar kameez