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Memento Mori

ReneJeanteIt was simple ceremony that I had asked our friends to participate in, honoring my late sister-in-law Betsy Mitchell-Henning.  We had received word of her incredibly sudden and devastatingly unexpected death on Saturday the 18th upon our return to the Airstream following a show performed for a neighboring camp. Complications from flu-induced pneumonia they said. My brother Eric is left widowed and my 8-year old nephew Ian is without his mom. I was left struggling with limited resources in the desert and agonizing over whether to fly home or not. The numbers and a couple conversations with my brother convinced me that staying put was the right decision, but there was a desperate need I had to contribute something to the memory of my sister-in-law. I slept fitfully that night and the idea came to me the following morning. 

JimWe got together with the other NüRVers camped with us in Quartzsite and asked them to help us say our goodbyes, in addition to sending love, prayers and best wishes for healing and comfort to my family on the East Coast. Jeanette and Dennis of Lex Cheddar Yeti were there, along with Zen Nomads Sam and Tracey and Jim and Rene of Live.Work.Dream. We all wrote heartfelt wishes on the paper of a pink sky lantern, with the understanding that once lit, it would carry those wishes to those for whom they were intended. A tiny community of only eight, we still poured a lot of love and joy and comfort into our words that evening, and when the fire was lit and we watched the lantern rise into the sky, we held our collective breath.

Lexi and I especially felt the love that day, from our community both near and far, and we knew we felt it from Betsy as well. Betsy, who excelled at making the most simple and commonplace acts resonate with significance because of the love she put into them. Betsy, who was an ambassador of that fierce and unbridled love for all she met. Betsy, who we will miss so very much, and who I will always remember as the embodiment of the following quotation:

“I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it for I shall not pass this way again.”

Thanks for everything, Betsy. I love you.

Boondocking Bliss

I’m not sure I would have believed it if, when I first went out on the road, someone had told me I would find luxury in the middle of the wilderness in a travel trailer with none of the amenities commonly found in most campgrounds. As I write this I am on BLM land just south of Quartzsite, AZ. We have no electrical hookup, no water hookup and no sewer hookup. We have access to water and to a dump station for when our septic tank gets close to full, in addition to a large solar panel which pours electrical current into our on board batteries during daylight hours. We can also go into town for showers so we don’t fill up our on board tanks.

If you are sitting at home reading this asking yourself why anyone would place themselves into such a situation on purpose then boondocking is probably not for you. Unfortunately this means you may also miss out on a great deal of opportunities to enrich your life and experience wonder in droves. Beauty and magnificence happen on a daily basis out here in the desert, especially if you know and where to look, where to live and who to live among.

We spent the first part of 2014 living among the NüRVers in the desert outside of Anza Borrego Desert State Park. We enjoyed sunsets, communal meals, fellowship, work on our own and amongst ourselves, caring for one another as we weathered the nasty cold virus that was going around (which took a liking to some of us) and generally behaving … well, tribally. Doors never needed locking and belongings could stay out on our long community tables or by the fire ring. Someone was always out and about in the camp keeping an eye on things. Someone always had the condiment or ingredient that would make the meals being prepared on massive iron grills over our fire just that much more tasty. Someone always had the gadget, technology or information needed to provide the fix, solution or connection being sought.

A person can get used to living this way, even when electric power and flowing water are hard to come by.  A person can get used to actually being cared about by their neighbors and caring for them in return. A person can get used to meeting new members of their community as they roll into town, park and connect with you in, of all places, the Laundromat, before deepening that connection at the fire later in the evening over a shared meal.

In the midst of a new portion of desert now, with Lexi and Brundlefly, we are on our own for the next little while, but have already had a connection in town with other NüRVers who were recently our neighbors in CA. I anticipate more meetups as the group from Anza Borrego slowly moves east to Quartzsite for a variety of different events and opportunities. For now, being solitary gives me a sense of how wonderful it is to be a part of a larger community and a lovely anticipation of coming together once more. It also teaches me how much I love the simplicity of being out here, able to focus on what is truly important: Lexi and Brundlefly, good food, good weather, fresh water, fuel and the ability to do the work that I love, that sustains me.

This is the gift that the willingness to take on boondocking gives. When you make room in your life by removing what seems necessary, you open up a world of potential connections and creative interactions. Unplugging from electric means unplugging from TV and computers and our oft times excessive use of them. We haven’t had TV in our Airstream at all, but we do use computers, tablets and the DVD technology that comes with them. When boondocking, the campfire becomes our entertainment, our time with community our time connected. This is not to say that all tech goes by the wayside, rather that it is easier to remember tech as a means rather than an end. Even those of us who depend on tech to make our livings still spend their evenings about the fire and amongst tribe, and we find ourselves longing for those times again after we part ways.

Campgrounds provide comforts enough that it is easy to say in and around the trailer all day. Boondocking really encourages me to get out and about in my environment to explore and enjoy my surroundings. It forces me to be Present, and this is where I find the only space where I have any real control. I can let go of everything else. I am looking forward to seeing how my art reflects this in the coming year.

Up For Grabs ...

Just finished this for a monthly art collaborative in one of the artists’ groups I participate with. This month’s theme was “booze”. And a friend has mentioned enjoying The 13th Warrior recently, so I rolled with it.

It’s up for grabs if anyone is interested in having it tattooed. I’d love to do it.


In the Tattoo Queue

I had intended to post these here, but Instagram and FB generated the desired response incredibly quickly!

If those who contacted me wanting these tattooed change their minds, I’ll be checking the comments for new candidates.

Thanks so much for looking!




My First Deer

There is a lot of deer meat in the freezer where we are staying right now. I am mostly responsible for it being there, though not totally, since I never got the opportunity to participate in the hunting part of the deal. I had been hoping to actually get to go hunting this past week, but preparing the food that wouldn’t run away under its own power took precedence (and it was totally worth it, I might add). So when the neighbor to the west phoned and said he had gotten a deer the husband of our hosting couple took me over on the four wheeler so I could learn how to field dress it.

There is something very important to me about being close to the food we eat and understanding where it comes from, and I think a lot about it, especially when confronted with the sanitized and shrink wrapped meat at the local grocery. I had recently finished reading John Durant’s The Paleo Manifesto in which he devotes a chapter to just this topic, specifically around a hunting trip for deer, and I had really been feeling a deep need to get up close and personal with my food ever since. Equally important to me was having the opportunity to thank the animal and stand in gratitude for the sacrifice of life so that I and my family would be able to nourish ourselves. This was the first thing I did after walking up to the deer where it was hung and awaiting our work.

Being face to face with what is eventually going to end up on your plate gives you a whole new perspective and, in my case, quite a workout. We removed the hide, the head and the gut and I took care to separate out the heart for magickal use later on. It is a whole body exercise, this deer processing thing. I was as sore the next day as any decent gym workout could make me, and there was more to be done even then. Our neighbor had very generously given us the entire deer, save for a hindquarter he removed to go in the smoker over the weekend. It was well below freezing overnight so we returned to the deer early the next morning to butcher it.

I made a mess of it, I’m afraid. I know just enough anatomy to be dangerous, and almost none of the good cuts were recognizable when I got through removing them. I was able to get the hanging tenderloins and the back strap without much of an issue, but I need a lot more practice in order to not be wasteful the next time around. The remaining parts of the carcass were taken far out into the 100 acre parcel where we are staying and left for the vultures and coyotes (they are still working on it).

All said and done, though, there are still many pounds of venison in the freezer and I got it there. The first batch to be served up was all the small pieces I had cut from the shoulders, prepared for cooking using this recipe to tenderize it and then dredged in herbed almond flour and fried in duck fat. I’ll be using this method again with the smaller tenderloins, though I want to cook them over the fire without the dredge. The hindquarters will be going into the meat grinder to prepare them for chili and the back strap will be in our freezer a bit longer until I can contact some chefs I know for suggestions on how best to use it.

I truly look forward to learning more about taking deer from field to food, and found the entire experience rewarding and more than a bit humbling. It was difficult in good ways, making me mindful of being a carnivore and what responsibilities come with that. Most of all, being able to feed my family with the results of my hard work (and that of our host husband and our neighbor) was just about the best way I can imagine to experience and share the giving of thanks for all that we have. May we all have the good fortune to experience that in whatever fashion it may come this season.

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