In Tucson, Arizona, a thirsty javelina, in its blundering way, knocks a heavy birdbath off its pedestal as the group makes its way across the wildlife corridor which happens to be our porch. Once the bath is righted and filled again, birds sip the warm water. The side yard has a fountain where birds drink and splash; the low-to-the-ground birdbath is the right height for rabbits and ground squirrels to reach the rim for a drink. In a good rain year the prickly pear pads are swollen and round with water. In extreme dry conditions they are shriveled and droopy, looking as if they are succumbing. This is the Sonoran Desert and although there is water it is mostly hidden. To encounter water in its natural state you have to be very good at finding it or wait for the monsoons to make their appearance.
In Pagosa Springs, Colorado, the last rain we see for two months is the rain on the day we arrive, May 11. We are surrounded by mountains and pine forests but by early July the grass crackles underfoot. The Little Sand fire billows smoke day and night for two months. We awaken to smoke haze every morning and watch the fire from a distance, thankful that the flames are not headed our way. We water the flowers in pots but never the grass. The birdbath is the local watering hole for bluebirds, magpies, ravens, finches, doves and sparrows where we can watch them drink and then flounce their feathers in water. We notice the bath is empty some mornings and then catch the culprit – a deer comes in the evening, drinking it almost dry. The San Juan River which runs through our town shows the receding water level by the emergence of stones and boulders deep into the channel. Trout can almost be caught with bare hands in the shrinking pools. We hope the monsoon rains that scour the Sonoran Desert will make it this far too. There is water here but sometimes you have to look for it.
We do look for it, driving up back roads to the slopes and canyons of mountains and hiking through the golden green light of forest until we come to Piedra Falls. The falls drop from a height of 65 feet through a narrow chasm of rock. The water is still forceful and generous in August, falling into sandy-bottomed, bouldered pools then moving onward as the East Fork of the Piedra River.
When you are from the East, as we are, you remember the moisture there. The high humidity of summer can be suffocating. On a hot, humid day the sweat on your skin never dries and surfaces are sticky with water. Mold and mildew take hold and blossom on drywall, books and bathtubs. That jungle humidity is not a feeling I miss but to stand here at Piedra Falls and feel the cool droplets of water on hair and skin and to breathe moist, fresh air in your lungs is a relief for those of us who have been living in parched conditions of drought. Standing within feet of a pounding waterfall which has taken thousands of years to carve its passage through granite is to see it the way the ancients once did and on this same spot. It is also to be grateful that there is water to be found. The drainages in these mountains are giving even if the skies are not.
I will write more about water as I see it and have experienced it, as either a welcome blessing or a terrifying force. Some of my strongest memories are of water, both in the East and the Southwest. In addition, I will be creating a body of artwork that symbolizes its mystery and importance for me. I am also aware that the paper I work with, the inks, glues, colored pigments, sealers and the cleaning of tools are all dependent, like me, on the availability and properties of water.