Where There’s Smoke


Samantha Fields talks about her process at the Museum of Art & History in Lancaster, CA on Tuesday, June 13, 2017.

Dana and I went to see the new MOAH exhibit “Made in the Mojave” with our friends Teresa and Mary last Saturday afternoon.  (Great new tradition, I hope!) I fell in love with Samantha Field’s work, especially these wildfire paintings, so I went back on Tuesday for her artist’s walk through.

She described how she does field research on storms and fires, how she preps each canvas with layer upon layer of superfine acrylic paint to create a smooth base. Some of the many photographs and sketchbooks she works from, including ones bordered by paint color samples, were on display.  She talked about the many layers of superfine paint with which she builds each image.

It was interesting, in spite of all the evidence, to hear some of the questions and comments from the assembled group that strove to confirm that making art is a matter of divine inspiration, inaccessible to most people.  I’m just an observer, but it seems that there is movement toward demystifying the creation of art these days. The curator, in her introduction to the exhibit, talked about the “makers” represented rather than the “artists.” I’ve heard this terminology before. We can all imagine ourselves making something.


You think you know what you’re looking at in Fields’ work, and then a pair of headlights catches your eye. The world shifts. This, to me, is the secret of desert landscapes in life. You have to spend some time with them to understand them.

A few of us hung out after most of the crowd left to explore the rest of the museum. One young artist challenged Fields’ use of canvas rather than more modern, already smooth surfaces.

She explained that she hasn’t found anything more archival or flexible than canvas, even though she has to do so much to prepare it for her purposes. She once sold a large piece to a corporate client; it had to be taken off the frame and rebuilt in the space because of a narrow stairway. That couldn’t have happened with a rigid base.

Fields also told how a friend sold work done on a rigid surface. It went to a home in Malibu where the humidity caused the paint to bubble and slough off.  Heart-breaking!

“These,” she grinned, gesturing at her work, “Will be here in a thousand years!”





Packing for the End


Sierra Highway, heading toward Crown Valley Road to fill the car and SUV up with gas. 

We were put on high alert for evacuation from the Sand Fire on Sunday, July 24. I started casually gathering the important papers–passports, birth certificates, insurance papers–around midday. We gassed up both of the vehicles.

There had been more and more smoke in the air for a day. When charred live oak leaves landed in the yard it felt like the situation suddenly became more serious.


I like this shot against the yellow sky.  Even if it is, you know, McDonald’s.

We saw lots of people driving around with horse trailers, either taking animals out or going in to help neighbors evacuate.

Taken just before we left. The sky was not the right color.

We got the reverse 911 call around 5 pm. Decided not to take the camper, which was a real relief. Very weird to pack up not knowing what the next hours and days might hold. A friend of ours lost his house and everything in it in a wildfire in Lake Isabella just a few weeks ago. We were pretty far from the fire line, but… As we left, three LA County Sheriffs vehicles entered our neighborhood to go door to door telling people to leave. There’s only one road out of our community of 154 homes.

We were really moved by the emails, texts and phone calls from our friends offering us a place to stay!  Thank you, thank you!

The 14 freeway was closed from where it begins at the 5 all the way to Avenue N in Lancaster. That’s about 40 miles of freeway out of commission. The fire was moving in three directions at once, switching back on itself. If grew by 10,000 acres a day the first three days.


It was so strange to drive past the point at which they were turning people back on Sierra Highway as we headed to the 138 and our friends Don and Jean’s house. There was no going back.

We were so lucky to have a room and space to store the guitars, computers, a couple of suitcases and our flock. Don even had a table set up to put the bird cages on when we arrived!  I had a nice place to work in Jean’s office on Monday.


We stopped just past the 18 and took some photos. That smoke represents so much destroyed habitat. Just wrenching.

I also have some photos I shot of our somewhat messy house. Just shots of the rooms in case we didn’t get to come back. Which of course we did, a couple of days later. The evacuation was lifted late Monday evening, but we didn’t make the hour drive home until Tuesday morning.

It was so good to come back home. There was a lot of ash in the yard, and it was still smokey, but not like the day we left. Soledad Canyon Road was closed from downtown Acton to the west, and the park was closed as they’d used it for a staging area and might need it again.

Like everyone else around here, we are forever grateful to the L.A. County Fire Department, LA County Sheriffs, National Forest Service and all the crews who came to help fight this fire in 100+ degree weather and on rough terrain.



Sand Fire


I checked the air quality before I took off on my morning hike around 7:30. Smoke from the Sand Fire, which started along the 14 freeway around Sand Canyon, some 15+ miles from us, infiltrated Acton Valley over night.


Taken at the furthest place from our house that I reached today on my quest to appease my new Fitbit Alta, about a mile and a half away.  Early in the day, there was no plume.


Shortly after the first photo, the plume raised its head again. It is on the far left of the horizon. Sundry’s Mountain and Hydra’s cairns are to the far right. This means that the flames are rising with the heat of the day. It wasn’t even 9 a.m. yet.

Our hearts are with the firefighters out there. It’s supposed to get up to 103 today and you can bet it’s much hotter where they are. #Sandfire will help you find news on Facebook, Twitter and generally online.