small Agave offset

Above is an egg tempera sketch of a 3″ offset (or “pup”) from the agave plant in my front yard.  I nicknamed her “Mother of Thousands” but she actually has about a hundred offsets – which is still amazing since this small variety of Agave palmeri usually has no more than a dozen.  The primary leaf rosette was killed by weevils in 2002, but most of the offsets surved and the largest one is about two feet tall and blooming. The flower spike is over 15 feet tall, and hummingbirds are enjoying the pink and green flowers.  There is a photo on my AGAVE NOTES page (on the cactus homepage).  This particular plant is special because it’s the only wild native agave in my yard.  The other eight species that I planted are native to southern AZ or northern Mexico, but they are nursery plants or gifts from friends.  Weevils attack the Mother every summer but she seems to produce new plants faster than the weevils can breed their creepy, crunching, armored-tank larvae.  As with all agave species, the main rosette dies shortly after the plant blooms, but the offsets survive and the dry stalk (hopefully with a few seedpods) persists for a couple of years to provide high-rise apartments for friendly carpenter bees. 

Shaman’s Belt

August 26, 2007

shaman belt with iron bellsshaman belt with iron bells

Here’s part of my shaman’s belt – well, it’s more for maze dancing than anything else.  It’s finished enough to wear, though I’ll probably add more things to it.  There are twelve triangular bells with cone clappers, two small chains of flared cones, and (not shown) a set of five curly cones and some iron fringe.  The belt itself is an undyed Guatemalan cotton sash.  Heavy but nice and jingly!  There is a picture of the whole thing on the BELLS page of my website.  I’ve updated the site with a few new iron things – a bell, knife earrings, and photo of eight wands.

A couple of days ago, I walked past the hole in the dirt bank where the great horned owl nested earlier this year.  The birds are still around – I sometimes see them perched in a tree or flying up the wash on my morning walk.  This time, in the grass below the empty hollow, I found an egg.  It was cracked but still whole.  A bit larger than a chicken egg, and more round, with a much thicker shell.  It smelled like limestone and appeared to be nearly empty – it was probably infertile and had simply dried out.  I’m still pondering its meaning – a dried-out cracked owl egg, rolling into my path so close to the Full Moon, an object that I’ve been unknowingly walking past every day since the bird nested.  Is there something in my own life that should have hatched this summer, but didn’t?  Or is there something that I had been ready to throw away that should be treasured and given more time?  Might be a good time for a “moon pebble” reading.

Walking Close to Home

August 17, 2007

ocotillos on the bajada

Here’s a view from my daily morning walk, a 4.5-mile loop along a dirt road and a rocky, sandy wash.  This area is especially rich in dense forests of very tall ocotillos, which are the intensely green sticks in the photo.

For the last two nights, the moon has been spectacular – a glowing copper crescent falling into blue-gray storm clouds, surrounded by streaking branches of blue-white lighting!  Energizing and life-giving, it is a call to work on what is really important, and to seek out and appreciate all that is living and growing now.  Put aside trivia and idle amusements, touch the living fire and work with it, draw its energy deep and store it.

Pomegranate of the Day:  Fire (yellow and orange ochre, and black manganese oxide).

Fire Pomegranate

New Moon: Circle of Bells

August 12, 2007

This Moon I have continued to work on several large projects – the Xerophytic Ferns Guide now has photos of 21 species, so the webpage is more than half finished.  I wasted a couple of weeks on a sewing project that didn’t work out, so I put it away for awhile.  Unfinished drawings of pomegranates, cats, and plants are scattered on my desk.  In honor of the Perseid meteor shower, I forged A DOZEN small triangular bells with cone clappers and sewed them on my new shaman’s belt.  I’ll post a photo when it’s done, but for now I’m working on more cone bells- it’s not heavy enough yet 🙂

cone bells in progress

Here’s a series of cone bells in progress, showing the steps in forging them:  The blank (1) is a 1″ triangle hot-chiselled from 1/8″ thick mild steel.  The wide end is hammered flat (2) then hammered into a tube (3).  The narrow end is “drawn out” or hammered into a square-sided point (4).  The point is hammered round and the cone is flared (5) with pliers.  The point is filed smooth and curled into a loop, and the cone is given its final shape and quenched (6).  The gray firescale is removed with a wire brush, and any rough spots are ground and polished smooth (7).  The bright shiny cone is returned to the fire and quenched in peanut oil to give it a glossy black finish (8).

Unlike my curly cones, which are made from cut nails and have fairly precise, symmetrical shapes, this group is more freeform and each one will be a bit different.  The “traditional” iron cones found on Siberian shaman’s costumes and West African ritual staves usually have a larger, flattened loop and are not flared or curled.  It’s a simpler style consistent with cones shaped entirely by hammering, without the use of pliers.  But the basic method of construction is the same.

Mirror-Windows

August 8, 2007

Antheraea oculea

Here is Antheraea oculea, the Oculea Moth, that I found while photographing ferns.  It is closely related to the Polyphemus Moth of the eastern forest, but lacks the pink shading and the purple band on the hindwing, and has larger forewing eyespots.  The eyespots are little windows – they are bare of scales and you can see through them.  Some species of these giant silk moths have mirrors – eyespots covered in reflective silvery white scales – and some have both.

There is much to see through these windows now, in the wettest monsoon since 2000.  The rain brings colorful caterpillars, metallic jewelled Plusiotis scarabs, many kinds of mushrooms (some rarely seen in the desert), and summer wildflowers that only appear in years of heavy rain.  It is as if the winged windows themselves bring these wonders. 

In bedrock washes, the mirror-pools of standing water attract everyone, and this is the time of year that the jaguar walks north and looks for his reflection in these tinajas. 

The mirror-window is a recurring theme that seems to keep working its way into my art.  Some of my first pieces of iron jewelry were “mirror-window” pendants that held pieces of mica.  They reflected pearlescent light and a hint of color, but you could look through them and see another world.

copper wire jewelry

ABOVE – Copper wire jewelry.  Triskele earrings with African iron beads (2007), wirewrap pendant with tumbled hematite (1992).

This summer I can celebrate 15 years of metalworking.  Not continuous work, but slowly evolving anyway.  In 1992 I began making jewelry from recycled copper.  No jigs or specialized tools, just ordinary jeweler’s pliers, coils of 14 and 16 gauge wire, and a handful of beads cut from old evaporative cooler tubing.  It was what I could afford, it was portable, and it seemed appropriate for the desert.  Recycled copper was cheap at the scrap yard, and copper ore surrounds us in the mountains.  I soon added inexpensive stones (including the turquoise “donuts” that I still love), leather cord, and silver earring wire.  I bought a forge and started blacksmithing in 1994, and got a torch and began working with silver in 1997.  Now, many pieces of jewelry later (some remembered and a lot forgotten), I have decorated my yard with blue-green stones – copper ore from half a dozen mountain ranges – and I still have days when all I want to do is curl up in a corner of the shop (sitting on the floor, of course) with a coil of copper wire and my battered pliers, and make spirals, triskeles, and chain links.  I also enjoy the challenge of hot-forged copper, when I hammer my favorite iron motifs out of the softer red metal.  The necklace below (finished today) is cold-hammered 16 gauge wire and hot-forged heavy 8, 6, and 4 gauge wire.  

hot-forged copper necklace

Here’s a “copper ore” bag – green for malachite, purple for cuprite, light blue lining for turquoise, and dark blue embroidery for azurite.  Even has copper cord for drawstrings!

copper ore bag