Wednesday, June 03, 2020

The Ocotillo Fire Aftermath

June 3, 2020
   This is the view out our backyard toward the cave this morning. 

Burned Out And Bewildered

   As you can see, the fire went all the way across to the cave and then right up on top of the far ridgeline and scorched all the way over there and the saguaros in the foreground are burnt almost to the tops which gives you an idea of how high the flames were at its worst. Lots of classic old saguaros  obviously will be gone soon. That is the most tragic thing, to me.
   The roof line at bottom right is my neighbor, Tom Augherton‘s house which was spared, including all of his trees, which just defies logic. But I’m so glad for him.

   The word on the street is someone was welding a gate in the creek bottom at the Ocotillo Road crossing and a spark lit the fuse.

   Looking the other way, to the east, we see this.

Ratcliff Ridge In Ruins

      I never thought I'd live to see this, considering how many times I have photographed this great stand of saguaros.

Ratcliff Ridge In Coming Storm

   Last Saturday it was a different kind of storm, a fire storm. All that vegetation in the foreground is toast and I'm afraid some of those mighty saguaros will be falling down soon as well. Breaks my heart.

   So, I have finally got back to doing some artwork. What do you think I worked on first?

Daily Whip Out:
"El Pendejo Takes A Stroll In The Fire"

   Not really. That is a PTF (previous to the fire). Here is the first scene I did this morning.

Daily Whip Out: "In The Land of Brujas"

   "Brujas" is Spanish for witch. Full disclosure, I did do some fire scenes. Chalk it up to top of mind, or, fire on the brain. Some of those images tomorrow.

"The forest builds itself up and then it burns itself down. You can't stop that."
—Old Vaquero Saying

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Kathy's Version of The Fire

June 2, 2020
   We spent all day yesterday in Phoenix at the Burn Center. Kathy had two doctors looking at her and they disagreed on what to do. One wanted to do a skin graft and keep her overnight and the other one was opting for calling it a bad second degree burn and she could go home and heal. The second doctor prevailed and we came home, but we are going back tomorrow to check in. So many have asked about Kathy and how she is doing, I thought I would share with you her version of the fire:

Here’s My Story
   This was our second fire in 10 days.
For the first one we left too early, so this time we were telling each other we should stay with the house… That was before the flames were 10 feet tall at the end of our driveway.

   I put the most important inanimate things in my life ..... Computer, phone, iPad, in my car and drove right into the flames. As you can see I lost them all including my favorite car ever.

   I thought I could out run the flames, but a big wall of black engulfed me and I ran off the road… And stalled.

Another view of Kathy's burned out Kia.
I was running and snapped this,
because the sheriff's car was coming
to take us out and I only had a second
to shoot this.

   Bob was behind me, but when he looked up from the big wall of black that was engulfing him too, I was not in front of him, so he panicked looking for me. He drove right past me at 40 miles an hour… if I had stalled on the world he would’ve crashed into me. Instead, he jumped out of his car and started yelling for me to run!

   I love that man. I can’t say that enough. I ran right into his screaming arms, and we both jumped in his car.

   I was in shock.

   Where can I take you he said? Ken and Lucinda!
I knew they were close, not on the evacuation path, and they just seemed like they would be cool and refreshing to me.

   They were.

   But after standing in their pool for a little bit, it became clear that I needed more than cool and refreshing.

   So then Bob the Wonderful took me to Banner Health emergency room. Which by the way should not be called an emergency room, it should be called a place where you can go without an appointment and be seen by the next available person, whenever they feel like it. Bob had to wait outside, because of course all of this is happening during coronavirus, in 110° heat for the four hours it took me to get care.

   He’s Wonderful right?

   I leave with a prescription for something that I’m sure includes opium and heroin. I don’t remember being in pain, but I do remember vomiting for two days… I’m a slow learner I took it twice.

   The pictures of my leg look really gross don’t they?

   It IS gross. And those blisters keep popping so I’m dripping fluid all over the place. I thought you would want to know that. But I am not in pain.

   And look at my car!
I will never complain about anything again.

   And I need to give a shout out to our amazing daughter Deena Bell Bortscheller! When she saw all of this happening, she called target and placed a “to go order“. After leaving the ER we stopped to pick up bags of underwear, T-shirts, toothbrushes, toothpaste and even face cream!
I know, pretty amazing right?

   She also made sure we had a place to stay here at the Tumbleweed Hotel, as did our neighbor Tom Augerton. That man always takes care of us! What would we do without him, or Deena, or the rest of you who have so kindly reached out to offer your assistance?

    I’m not sure.

   And I mean that… I really am not sure.
I feel so grateful for all of your support.
Heaven forbid you encounter a tragedy, but I want to be as good a friend to you as you have all been to me.

   I feel loved.

   "And I love you too… Whether you like it or not!"
—Kathy Radina

Monday, June 01, 2020

The Ocotillo Fire: A Weed Wacker's Revenge

June 1, 2020
   As the Ocotillo Fire swept up onto our plateau two days ago, we evacuated in such a hurry, I left my wallet with all my ID and credit cards, not to mention all my meds, and my computer and all my sketchbooks and paintings (so much for the measured evacuation of the last fire ten days ago, where we packed the eight things we needed).

The Ocotillo Fire Started at Rancho Manana
And Rapidly Moved Up The Creek Towards Us.
Photo by Tom Augherton

   One thing is clear: after having lived in the same house for 33 plus years, one gets a little attached to the idea of it always being there.

   Smoke rises from the area around our property.

   We escaped a maelstrom of fire with the loss of Kathy's car but did we lose our house as well? That was the question that haunted me all day Saturday.

   After having her burns treated at Banner Hospital, Kathy and I discussed the odds of our house surviving the firestorm. Kathy is a family therapist, and she is used to dealing with delusional patients like me. She told me about working in disaster areas for the Red Cross and how people often cling to irrational hope about reclaiming their burned homes only to discover that even those homes that did survive a fire, can be smoke damaged and the stink and the damage of it can render everything inside as unusable. Somehow, that almost made it worse, but I had to face facts. I absolutely had to come to grips with the truth. 

   There was only one problem: the sheriff's department would not let anyone back into the fire damaged area. I kept imagining our house with all of our belongings sitting there, untouched. Yes, I was completely delusional!

   At 6:30, on Saturday night, the ex-mayor of Cave Creek, Tom Augherton, told me he was going to make a run at the barricades, which were set up at two major intersections in the center of town to block anyone's re-entry in to the burned area. "I need my meds and they're in my house!" someone we know told them. "Sorry, you can't go in," was the standard reply. You can't blame them. If some poor sap actually went into their burned out house and accidentally triggered an explosion because of a improperly stored propane tank, or an exposed electrical line electrocuted them, guess who pays out the payment for damages?

   We pulled up to the barricade on Spur Cross Road and the sheriff's deputy, eating a slice of pizza, leaned forward to tell us to turn around, but before he could say anything Hizzoner said, "I have a cat and a nephew in a house on Old Stage Road and I need to go save them."

   We got a police escort to his house. A Sheriff's squad car followed us up Spur Cross with his flashing lights blazing all the way. We turned on Cahava Ranch and saw immediately the random, massive devastation. The fire scorched had one massive desert area and then it left another section right next to the burned area, pristine. Surreal is the only word I can use to describe it. We turned down our road and motored across a hellscape of blackened vegetation made even more ominous by the fading light. Burned out trees glowed a hellish orange. Some areas were so black, they sprouted random white ejaculations of something which only made it seem more sinister.

   Tom pulled into his driveway and I got out and ran up the hill towards our property. All the underbrush was burned, but the bigger mesquite and palo verdes were still standing, although in the fading light I couldn't tell if they were alive or merely standing skeletons.

Our back yard burned to the fenceline

   I went in the back gate and the back porch cloth screens were in tact and then I saw the breezeway furniture looking exactly as we left it and my heart soared. I opened the front door and smelled the breakfast still lingering in the kitchen. Everything was just as we left it. I got my wallet out of the bedroom and made a beeline to the studio. Every piece of art board and even a half finished glass of mimosa sat on my art desk. The house had been completely spared. But why?

   Meet Ishmael, a green card-carrying  Lutheran Mexican. Weeks ago, Kathy paid him to weed wack our yard (the weeds and underbrush were so thick he and another landscaper only managed to clear about a third of the front yard in two separate sessions).

   I sincerely believe his proactive yard work saved our house. Oh, and it didn't hurt that we had the house built with block, not wood frame. Here's a good aerial of the Ocotillo Fire footprint.

   Our house is in the upper left quadrant, just to the right of the confluence of the two washes. Notice the random skipping of the fire on our side of the creek. And notice how thorough the fire was on the other side. I hate to admit this, because I am no fan of blading the desert, but houses were saved because of it. An eye opener to say the least.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Into The Fire

May 31, 2020
   Kathy lost her phone in the fire. She also lost her her computer and her car. We are lucky she didn't lose her life.

   Yesterday morning we had Bud and Carole Glenn over for a brunch. John built our house back in 1987 and I remember the day he informed me it would cost an extra $20,000 to build it with block. It was a tough decision but we went with block. Over scrambled eggs, we laughed about the construction and all the pitfalls and problems that come with building a house. John free-handed our Santa Fe inspired fireplace and it is a wonderful piece of work and I told him how much I admire it every day.

   We laughed and traded stories about our children, and then, after we solved many of today's world problems, the Glenns left. This was around 11 and I went out to the studio to work on a sketch idea I was pursuing.

Daily Whip Out In Progress:
"El Pendejo In Firelight"

   While I was painting, I smelled smoke and at first thought it might be my neighbor Tom barbecuing, but in a few minutes, I realized it was too thick for casual cooking and I walked outside and immediately saw the thick smoke billowing up from the south.

Thick smoke rising out of the south

   This is about 100 yards south of our house. We heard sirens coming and at this time we didn't know how big the fire was, or whether we should evacuate. But we went through this same drill the previous week with the Seven Sisters Fire (to the west of us) and in that tense incident we felt like we left too early, so this time we waited. A fire truck came down Old Stage Road and took the road to the left, above. I thought perhaps they would simply put out the brush fire and we would be saved, which has happened numerous times before, but I was wrong.

Tall flames at the end of our driveway

   Five minutes later, the fire jumped into the invasive weed-choked, open desert across the street. This is when we decided to evacuate. Kathy took her car—a Kia—and her most important items like her phone and her computers and she went out the driveway ahead of me. I snapped this photo, above, which may have saved our lives, I don't know. When I turned the Flex out onto our narrow road that leads out, white smoke was billowing across the road obliterating everything. I drove into it, hoping it was just a brief obstruction, but it got worse and visibility dropped to zero. I gunned the Flex to muscle my way through as flames streaked across the windshield. I must have been going at least forty miles an hour when I cleared the fire and looked ahead of me, but I couldn't see Kathy. I looked in the rear view mirror and saw her car in flames. How I didn't run into the back of her on that narrow road, I will never know.

   She got out and started running, but she left everything she needed in the car.

   I took her to the emergency room and she has bad blisters but she is alive.

Friday, May 29, 2020

"Street Fighter" Scan Fight

May 29, 2020
   Oh, the tiny details involving scanner subtleties! Here are two different scans of my latest art piece. Which one do you think is stronger?

Daily Whip Out: "Street Fighter"
Scan # one

Daily Whip Out: "Street Fighter"
scan # two

   Is it my imagination, or does number two have a slightly more in depth dust effect? On the other hand, the number one scan has a more solid dust background.

   Which one works better to your eye?

"Art is in the eye of the beholder"
—Old Vaquero Prejudice

Thursday, May 28, 2020

My Son, The Straddler

May 28, 2020
   When you are the parent of wild children, you invariably have two fall back positions: the first being, you are always super appreciative of the fact that they are not in jail (at this specific point in time), and two, you are thrilled when they finally take up the family business.

The Straddler
    Great shot of my crazy son doing a crazy stunt.

   Thomas Charles Bell straddling a chasm at Canyon de Chelly many moons ago. That is a 1,000 foot drop between his legs. After this photo was taken, the boy spent some quality time in Spain (University of Valencia) and in Yanqui, Peru (Peace Corp) so he speaks Spanish fluently. He even speaks Qeuchua, a rare Peruvian In-din dialect.

   Now he is starting to write stories and he has a unique perspective on the cultural chasm between South America and North America, and he is also adept at straddling the sometimes contentious line between Mexican culture and American culture.

   And, of course, he is my son, so he has a pretty strong funny bone. So watch out world, for the Straddler.

"Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face."
—Victor Hugo

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Strange Pandemic Wisdom of El Pendejo

May 27, 2020
   We finally have someone who can see the light at the end of the pandemic.

Daily Whip Out:
"El Pendejo Shows The Way"

• The first to apologize is the bravest. The first to forgive is the strongest.  The first to forget is the happiest.

• The easily shamed will never learn.

• The problem with government of the people, by the people, and for the people, is the people.

• All days seems strange when you are living them. Eventually we will see the humor because in the end, everything is a joke.

• On the road to herd immunity, expect a stampede, or two.

• A smart person knows what to say. A wise person nows whether to say it or not.

• Times change, the complaints remain the same.

• You can't wake a person pretending to be asleep.

• Whoever said one person can't change the world never ate an undercooked bat.

• It's a slow process, but quitting won't speed it up.

• Your struggle is your strength. Your struggles will give you everything.

• There is a fine line between telling the truth and being a pendejo.

• If drunkards had wings the sky would be cloudy all day.

• The tiger and lion may be more powerful, but the wolf doesn't perform in the circus.

• A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer.

• When the secular wins there are less rules to break and, therefore, no more thrills to gain.

• Love lays down rules it delights in breaking.

   Other lessons are beginning to emerge. We merely have to pay attention. Here's what we know so far:

• Google has seen an increase in the search for "What day is it?"

• Alcohol sales have spiked 55% since late March.

• Quarantiners have created a new drink, called the Quarantini, which is a mix of vodka and Emergen-C, which is an effervescent powdered vitamin C supplement, thought to fend off Covid-19.

• A suggestion has been made that when this quarantine is over, we not tell certain people.

• We are turning into dogs. We get really excited about going for walks and riding in cars.

Daily Flashback Whip Out:
"Hungry Like The Wolf sketches"
January 21, 2020

The State of Print

 • The Atlantic laid off 68 editorial positions and reduced "executive's salaries."

• Buzzfeed furloughed 68 as well and cut all the salaries for anyone making over $40k.

• Conde Nast publishing group laid off "nearly 100" and cut pay to the remaining employees by 10 to 20 percent.

The Dallas Morning News cut the newsroom employees by 17 percent and "even more for executives."

The Economist laid off 90 "non-newsroom employees." Wow! Who would be left after that?

• Gannett furloughed "most of the 20,000 employees for one week in each of April, May and June."

The Los Angeles Times reduced work hours by 20 percent.

True West magazine has maintained pre-Covid salaries and everyone is working remotely.

"Don't wish it was easier, wish you were better. Don't wish for less problems, wish for more skills. Don't wish for less challenges, wish for more wisdom. The major value in life is not what you get. The major value in life is what you become."
—Jim Rhon, via Wonderful Russ