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Off to Oklahoma!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A scissor-tail takes flight in the rain

It all started innocently enough. Well, what eventually happened was going to happen anyway, but none of us knew it, at least not in our conscious minds. I've been waiting to tell this story for a few weeks, but it keeps unfolding, kind of like the Zick- bats story, and I'd like to know how it ends. Failing that, I'd like to help make it end better. I've been working on a series about Oklahoma for awhile now, and because there is so much to tell and because continuity is important, I will break my twice-weekly blogging cycle and be posting on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. I hope you enjoy it.

I was asked over a year ago if I would like to give a keynote at the brand-new Lesser Prairie Chicken Festival in Woodward, Oklahoma. Knowing that this bird has thus far eluded me, and more importantly, that two of my favorite people on the planet: traveler/writer/photographer Tim Ryan and fearlessly versatile artist Debby Kaspari--live in Oklahoma, I grabbed the chance to see the chickens and my friends in their native habitat.

You'll remember the prairie chicken poster from earlier how-to-paint-like-Zick blogposts:Well, this was the 2010 poster. And 2009's kickoff festival poster was done by none other than Debby Kaspari!

I love her palette, and the daring angles and rock-solid drawing. Mmm.

Tim Ryan picked me up at the Oklahoma City airport on April 15 and brought me to his beautiful Arts and Crafts cottage in a gorgeous suburb of OKC. There, Debby met us for a delightful lunch on his terrace, and then spirited me off to her little rural paradise near Norman. We were gabbing away at lunch when Debby glanced up at the sky and said, "I'm not crazy about the looks of those clouds. Let's head for my house." I heard the resolve in her voice and didn't protest. The clouds didn't look all that bad to me, but what do I know about Oklahoma weather?

So off we went to Debby's house, where I'd spend the night. I was exhausted from a 4:30 wakeup in Ohio, so after a little garden tour of Debby and Mike's magnificent rural contemporary house and yard, nestled in hundred-year-old oaks, I collapsed in a hammock under the oaks and drifted off to the songs of black-and-white and yellow-rumped warblers. Every once in awhile I'd crack an eye to the drifting clouds, and once Debby's little cat Gizmo leapt up and landed on my stomach, curling up contentedly. Which flattered me, since Gizmo, who arrived on the Kaspari porch as a pregnant teenager and proceeded to work her way deep into Deb and Mike's hearts, is a very cool, smart cat. Here she is, nuzzling one of Debby's many incredible sculptures--a harpy eagle planter (!) Who else would think of it? Told ya Deb could do anything.

I slept off the weariness and let the peace of wild things settle over me. I felt cared for and welcome and unpressured and content. It was one of my Top Three Naps of All Time.

Sure enough, there was weather moving in, just in time for the festival. As I think back over the many festivals I've worked, I remember rain at most of them. Of course, most of them are in spring, and it rains in spring, but still! it gets old. Rain at the Lesser Prairie Chicken festival is especially problematic because the road to the main chicken lek (display grounds) gets gumboliciously impassable after only a few hours' downpour. And boy, did it.

Tim and Deb and I, world travelers that we are, were (naturally) woefully unprepared for such conditions, and so, in the grand festival tradition started by Bill of the Birds in a Jamestown, ND Wal-mart, we repaired to Woodward's WallyWorld for things like rubber boots and heavy fleeces, because not only was it pouring; it was freezing cold. After all, we had packed in deep denial of how cruel Oklahoma springs can really be.

First order of bidness: rubber boots. These weren't bad, and they had all three of our sizes. iPhone photo by Tim Ryan. We're being Gumbies. And our brains hurt!

We couldn't resist a little People of Walmart safari of our own. The pickin's were rich. I posed for a surreptitious shot of a gender-bender: a woman in a wifebeater. Unfortunately, the tats aren't showing up too well. There's a angel on my shoulder...

From there, it was on to Atwood's, which is the most spectacular farm-supply store I've ever seen. And I savor farm-supply stores like I savor morels in April.

Tim found a hat, but it wuz too small. That did not stop him from vamping a bit.

iPhone photo by Debby Kaspari

Yes, we were having loads o' fun. In fact, as I think about that trip to Oklahoma, I think about our shopping trips and the crazy foods we ate and the laughter in store aisles just as much as I think about dancing prairie chickens and prairie dogs and coyotes and longhorns and my nap under the oaks at Debby's house.

When we got to the denim section of Atwood's, my eyes nearly rolled back in my head. Because ever since September '09 when I left my favorite ever denim shirt in a hotel in Wisconsin, I have been pining for a shirt like that. I didn't find an exact replica--maybe I never will--but I came back from Oklahoma with four perfectly decent denim shirts (one for Bill) AND the most fabulous pair of Round House Oklahoma-made overalls you have ever seen. I have been living in them this spring, with pruners and trowels bristling from every pocket, and I think about our good times in Oklahoma every time I put them on. I regret not having taken a photo of the Sizing Chart for Round House Overalls that was posted at Atwood's. It advises would-be overall wearers: "If your belly hangs over your beltline, add four inches to the waist."

I did, just because.

iPhone photo by Debby Kaspari

Tim and Zick at Atwood's, flushed with joy at having found the ultimate plain denim shirts and real overalls. When's the last time you saw real overalls? No pearl buttons, no yoke-stitched frippery, just good plain clothes. And the dearest of friends.


That photo with your wife-beater angel on your shoulder made me laugh out loud! And of course, any post with a cat photo is a post worth noting ;-)

I'm just now reading about your friend Debby and the destruction of her house--how shockingly sad. I'm so glad you are doing these posts and hopefully we can help in some way.

Question: Now, by overalls, are you talkin bout farmer jeans (Minnesota speak for bib overalls?) or painters pants?

'Em are bibs, ma'am, farmer jeans with the front on 'em to catch the doughnut crumbs. Not only are they great for gardening, but I like to cook in them; it's like having a built-in apron.

Glad you liked my lil' angel. Ever seen those angel wing shoulder tats? Awesome. Rare. Highly desirable.

Sorry there is such a dearth of cats on my blog. I know I have a lot of cat-lovers reading. Gizmo was able to break the unofficial no-cat zone here; she's just a cool kitty. I have a sort of unconscious prejudice toward cats, fostered by years of doing songbird rehab, that is occasionally busted asunder by connecting with special ones.

It'll be one of my favorite series. Looking forward to the love and drama.

some of your readers wear wife-beaters and sport full-sleeve tattoos. ;)

can't wait to read more about oklahoma.

cki--Ah, but are they female?

Yup, some are female... a 50+, wildlife rehabbing, psychotherapist, tattooed for for 30+ years, birding, herbalist wildwoman. Reading yer blog. Smiling every time.

Posted by Anonymous May 18, 2010 at 6:41 PM

I tend to be prejudiced in favor of fine, compact, harpy eagle planter-lovin' brown tabbies with artfully applied arm stripes and eye makeup. Nice thing about cat overalls is they stretch to fit even he girthiest gut. And they go with everything.

I guess for next year I need to add to the schedule a field trip to some local shopping establishments! Maybe I can get Tim and Debby to lead it!

I am sitting in the hotel lobby in Barcelona - fresh of the ship and ebullient at the first decent internet connection in a week. I'm not three sentences into this post and you've already got me crying. At what? The reminder of that unfettered, unending joy that was those six days in Oklahoma? Oh there was magic in them thar prairies. Or Is it the raw reminder how quickly, how suddenly, how instantly life changes - it's so unfathomable. Maybe its nothing more than I haven't slept in seven days. Or perhaps its how insanely proud I am of my friends that I found through this blog world and the depths of kindness, and compassion and steely resolve they continually teach me. I am a blessed, blessed human for having met you and Debby.

I'm a Carhartt girl myself and on our way home through PA we found a Mennonite farm supply store that had an entire Carhartt room. Pretty heady stuff.

And what Tim said about the bloggy world -- yes.

born decidedly female! and hetero, not that anyone was asking, but still. ;)

LOVE the scissor-tailed fly photo!

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