Rebecca Wilks

Rebecca Wilks; Photographer, Teacher, Yarnellian, Do-Gooder

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Fundamental Restlessness

Watson Lake Sunset, maybe better than moon rise
Sometimes this traveling nature photographer stuff goes smoothly; all my research pays off and each location yields, if not exactly what I’d planned, then images or experiences which are at least as good.  August has been a bit of a challenge.  Most likely that’s just a coincidence, but the time in Guatemala is always life-changing in one way or another, so it’s also possible that transformations are brewing in my subconscious since we came home at the end of July.  I find that when that happens I’m often restless and dissatisfied and that things seem more challenging.  I hardly ever recognize what’s happening in real time.

The Guatemala trip required lots of interaction with people, a great deal of it in my improving but nothing-close-to-fluent Spanish.  The introvert in me returned home desperate to get out on my own.

Pema Chödrön wrote, “It’s a transformative experience to simply pause instead of immediately filling up the space.  By waiting, we begin to connect with fundamental restlessness as well as fundamental spaciousness”
Sunset in a new favorite spot, Coconino National Forest
So, once the Guatemala images were processed and the laundry done, I packed up lurch and went looking for flowers and empty psychic space in the Flagstaff area. The first night I stumbled on a new favorite place to camp, one of the benefits of boondocking without a plan, but found only a few scattered blooms.  On the second day I was griping about the smoke from wildfires all over the west, mosquitoes, lack of flowers, and the unheard-of high temperature of 98 degrees.  It was a long day.  Yes, I do understand what a privilege it is to be able to be in the wilderness in this way, and the Buddhist concept of acceptance (ahem); its just that whining a bit can be therapeutic.

A couple of weeks later I was in Pine, Arizona for the annual retreat of Through Each Other’s Eyes.  Our gracious host, Errol Zimmerman, let me and Lurch sleep in his driveway Friday night.  Saturday was productive and inspiring but again, because I’m such an introvert, lots of talking and interacting is exhausting.  Afterward I had a few days free and was so close to Mogollon Rim Country it seemed a waste not to explore a bit, so I broke my rule about never camping on weekends there.
Determined mushroom, morning walk
These parts of the Coconino National an Apache Sitgreaves National Forests are lovely but on weekends are crowded, loud, and home to dangerous drivers.  Oh, and there’s target practice.  On top of all that, there was a large forest closure which included one of my favorite camp spots and the adjacent trail which I’d planned to hike.  I did some exploring and ended up tucked into an unspectacular site, but my morning walk was quiet (rednecks seem to sleep late) and had some nice surprises.  
Golden Light, Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest
The next day I burned half a tank of gas scouting around and settled into a spot on the edge of the Rim which allowed a vista including layers of near ridges and diminishing mountains in the background. My favorite image, though, was a serendipitous shot of the light turning golden on the dust kicked up by another car as I drove home in the morning.

Meetings and family stuff kept me home after those trips, but I planned a few local shoots around the full moon.  Photographers will already know that the full moon is bright. One way to deal with this photographically is to shoot moon rise the day before full and moon set the day after.  That way the sky is not fully dark, and there can be interesting dawn and dusk light as well.
Moon Rise, Watson Lake
I did my research with The Photographer’s Ephemeris, Photopills, and some old-fashioned brainstorming and found a spot on the shore of Watson Lake in Prescott for Moon rise last Friday.  A friend came along and It was a lovely night; the first this year hinting at autumn. Unfortunately clearing storm clouds precluded seeing the rising moon until it was full dark, maybe an hour after it came up.  I can’t complain though.  Reflected color was worth the price of admission.
Moon Set from Yarnell Hill
Moon set Monday morning, similarly researched, was at the overlook near our home in Yarnell. Thought not perfectly timed (moon set was about an hour after sunrise), the scene was  breathtaking and worth the early wake-up.
Setting moon and its fractured reflection, Watson Lake
Tuesday I hit the road at o-dark-thirty and paddled Watson Lake, soaking in the therapeutic solitude again.

I do treasure the fundamental spaciousness, if I bring an open mind and earplugs.

There’s more in the Summer 2018 Gallery on the Website.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

16 Days in Guate

Antigua Guatemala from above
Marco and I are repeat visitors to Guatemala because of our commitment to Cooperative for Education, a visionary NGO working in education.  We just got back, and I have a few stories to tell.

Antigua Door Knocker Project
If we can swing it, we build a week of language school into our trips there.  We love a school called San Jose El Viejo in Antigua.  Typically we have a morning walk, go to school for four hours, and then have the afternoon free to sightsee, shop, eat, and photograph. I like to have a photo project in mind in this lovely colonial city.  This year I had two; Antigua’s morning commute and, oddly enough, door knockers.  You might want to click to enlarge the poster.  The other one is on the website.

Garden dining at Epicure

We generally have breakfast at the school and one mid-afternoon meal at a restaurant.  This year we decided to try as many new restaurants in Antigua as we could, including Rincon Tipica, a local joint with $3 meals, Luna de Miel (crepes), and San Cristobal El Alto with the best mountain views around and legendary seafood. In all we ate at six places that were new to us.  Still one remains our favorite and we ate there three times.  Epicure is not just a lovely garden eatery with delicious inventive food.  Owner Jon Mellon operates Epicure to train young Guatemalans for work in high-end tourism.  He’s also fundraising for his Fundacion Educa Puebla Viejo in nearby Tecpan.  The foundation supports the community with medical services, trade education, and scholarships. We met Jon several years ago, and it seemed more than mere coincidence that his foundation provides training in furniture building (Marco’s passion) as well as gynecological health services (my previous career).  Jon has invited us to return and volunteer at Pueblo Viejo after our house is built. 

Marco with the Bombera

We have a soft spot for firefighters.  Commonly, Guatemalan firefighters make ends meet by asking for donations on the highways and in tourist areas.  We drop a couple of quetzales (about a quarter) into their cans when we walk by.  We had a little chat with this woman and found that she knows about the Yarnell Hill Fire.  The robust link between firefighters reaches across international borders.

New shoes, new friend

Shopping.  As my friend Heidi says, part of our mission in Guatemala might be supporting the economy.  I save my jewelry repairs for Plateria Maya because the do a quick, inexpensive, excellent job (who says you can’t have all three?) New this year was Jose at Zapateria Armonia (AKA Jose the boot guy).  Heidi introduced me to him, and Marco and I got custom-made (he actually measured our feet) leather boots for about $90 US.  Shopping there was a cool experience.

Marco helping Lola carry the merch

About eight years ago we met Lola through a COED staff member.  We’ve watched Lola mature, start a family and develop into a very savvy businesswoman.  Lola sells crafts and always manages to get on the boat and ride across Lake Atitlan with us.  She used to make amazing beaded belts.  I bought a lot of those and re-sold them as a fundraiser for our program.  We always buy something from her and always ask whether her kids are in school.  They are.

Rosalinda, San Antonio Aguas Calientes
This year Marco and I traveled to nearby San Antonio Aguas Calientes with our Spanish teachers for a sort of field trip. Cities and villages in Guatemala each have their unique style of native dress (traje) and all are intricately hand-woven and/or embroidered. I was excited to go because I particularly like the weaving style there.  It looks rather like needlepoint but is in fact woven.  I knew I was sunk when Rosalinda, one of the weavers in the local cooperative, insisted on dressing me for a traditional Mayan wedding.  After all that, how could I not buy something?  I do love the typical panel I brought home – that’s it over Rosalinda’s shoulder in the photo.

Lovely corner window, Casa Popenoe

Marco going Antiques Roadshow on us, Casa Popenoe
For years I’ve been curious about Casa Popenoe, the home of a United States Expat in Antigua.  Wilson Popenoe was an academic botanist and he also worked for the United Fruit Company.  He purchased the property in stages, beginning in 1930, and renovated it.  The spectacular home is now owned by Universidad Francisco Marroquin.  We so enjoyed our tour with curator Lorena Molina, especially since she let Marco inspect the furniture, looking at the drawer dovetails and secondary woods.  The private tour stretched an extra hour and we all learned so much!

Young reader, La Union Primary School, Tecpan

Beautiful, studious girls, Iximche school Caliaj
Marco with Ingrid, the artist

After this week of rampant tourism, it was lovely to join the COED group and begin our school visits.  These visits are part bureaucratic event, part demonstration (think of having a small group of second graders do a puppet show and then read to you), part cultural dance and best of all, part play time.  The middle school students presented us with original art and the music teacher laughed (kindly) at our inability to coax sound out of a conch shell.  There are lots of reasons to be there, but the cultural exchange is especially powerful.  The whole town turns up, so there’s a chance for everyone to make a new gringo friend, even the adults.

Flor speaking to the group while Howard Lobb (COED) looks on

I’ve written before about the scholarship program, which is now called the Rise Youth Development Program to emphasize the support that kids get beyond the scholarships.  Our first student, Flor, has graduated and continues to do well.  She’s working as a bank teller and essentially supporting her family.  She’ll start university to study engineering in about 18 months.  She gave an impromptu speech to inspire a group of current scholarship students.  The director of the program commented after her talk that she’s a rock star.  We agree; we are so proud and so enjoying our adult relationship with her. 

The gringos, with Wendy and Flor

Our current student’s name is Wendy; she's in eighth grade.  We’re enjoying watching her grow, and hope our encouragement helps a little with her motivation.  She’d like to be a nurse, so there’s a lot ahead of her. There are plenty more students waiting for sponsorship, by the way.

Lavadera and Volcan Agua Reflected, Antigua Guatemala

Yes, I’ll admit that I had more than a few stories.  Thanks for riding along!

More images are in the Summer 2018 Gallery on the website.