Skye was there when Grace arrived at Redbird Ranch. Grace had never really given the details of her occupancy much thought. Until recently. She reached out to Katy Niles, furniture maker extraordinaire, and ordered a custom bunk bed. One that would fit just perfectly in the remaining open space in her room. And match the one Katy had custom built for Grace.
Grace was just putting the finishing touches on the bunk beds when Skye came in.
"Whoa...wha...whose...you didn't say you were getting these!"
"Well" Grace explained as she came down off the ladder, "Elecktra is coming to visit for a couple of weeks."
"One of my cousins. From Massachusetts."
Skye twisted around a little bit, fumbling for words.
Skye had latched on to Grace from the moment she arrived in California. Skye was a natural with animals, a willing learner, always helpful, always hungry...and selfless. She was easily as excited to create a living space for Grace as Grace was to have one. She asked for nothing in return. But her longing for family was palpable.
Skye went, young and nimble, straight up the ladder to the top bunk, and sunk into the softest mattress.
"I'm from Massachusetts too, kind of." Skye said. "The Field family fostered me for a while. So, if Elecktra is your cousin, than you and I are sisters. Right? I mean, foster sisters...I mean, I'm your foster sister."
There were a thousand ways to answer that question, but only one that was going to heal whatever wounds this strong and simultaneously fragile pre-teen girl was walking around with.
"I hadn't thought of it that way" Grace said. "I guess you could be my foster sister." There was a warm silence.
"Now hop down and give me a hand. I made something, and it's heavy, and now that the beds are here I'm not sure it's going to fit."
And so the sisters shoved tables and shifted rugs and carefully, using an old towel beneath it, slid Grace's creation across the floor and into place; a lamp made of string lights and manzanita limbs, fitted to a resin base with a huge river rock to balance it. Grace plugged it in and it glowed like a Christmas tree...only somehow even more magical.
Then Grace brought out some storage tubs, and a large paper tablet, with sheets lined on one side and blank on the other.
"We'll have to use the tubs as chairs for now. And Skye, the tablet is for you."
Skye's eyes were wide. Her lips parted but no sound came out.
"And this" Grace said, lifting a primer grey model horse of considerable dimension onto the table, "is my NaMoPaiMo horse."
More silence before Skye could speak. "Wow. Just...wow. An Arabian."
Grace went about putting things away, stopping to gaze at her NaMo pony, getting lost in thoughts of how she would paint it. She heard a soft, child-like voice, just a whisper, not words that she could understand. Glancing up to the top bunk, she found Skye, smiling, admiring her new paper tablet, happily and quietly speaking, perhaps to herself, perhaps to the whole of the universe; legs tucked under the covers, content.
A couple years back - six now I guess, or somewhere around there - Jennifer Bray Buxton got an idea. She started a thing called NaMoPaiMo...National Model Painting Month, on Facebook.
Jennifer knew from the moment the idea unfolded that it would be a huge success. Overwhelming even. And right out of the gate, it was an international affair. Not a contest, not a competition, but a personal challenge to paint a model horse, of any scale, to completion in the month of February.
Emerging spontaneously was an entire sub-division, Minis Painting Minis. Rock stars like Max and Christina Sutcliffe were on the ground floor of the movement. Enjoying Minis Painting Minis as a spectator sport was enough, I thought. Grace already had more horses to manage than she could ride in a week (or two weeks, or maybe a month).
But Grace was interested. She'd never painted a thing in her life but clearly she was intrigued. There was just one problem. The girls were pretty much hard core horse geeks and did not have anything much to their names. They bunked in an old storage room and that was good enough. Sort of. It was all they had, anyway, so it was good enough.
It was January. Grace started looking around. Inspired by Max and Christine, Grace decided to go for it, and do the NaMoPaiMo thing. But not without a proper place to do it from, because NaMoPaiMo is a very visual experience. It's all about sharing. Grace found a space. A big space. In good repair. It did take some cleaning but it cleaned up very nice. This would be home. This would be where the NaMoPaiMo magic would happen. Eventually. When she figured out how to get some furniture. And supplies.
Skye was thrilled with the whole idea and leaped into action. She told Mikki (Makakanta N'nantaka), a dear friend and long time resident of Chilao, about Grace's new space. Mikki came and sat with the space and exchanged energy with it. It felt good. But winter was upon them and the space was cold. The cold was hard to ignore.
Skye also summoned the help of the crazy-talented Katy Niles. Grace needed a bed. What would the most amazingly perfect bed look like? It would be rustic, it would be functional, it would be country, it would be light in color and made from natural wood. Katy got to work, and within a few days she delivered a creation that was absolutely perfect.
Getting that big old bed past Grace wasn't easy, but we pulled it off. I made, however clumsily, the overstuffed mattress, the sheets and pillows. Skye worked tirelessly...actually, with amazing enthusiasm...to get the bed in place. Grace was, predictably, floored.
Grace wanted the place to be uplifting and creative and friendly. We went through some of my rather considerable collections of images. She chose pictures not only of beloved horses and dogs, but of people - women and men who are inspiring, talented, outstanding humans. She chose images that reflected mountain life, and art, and the unfolding story of Redbird. When we were finished, there were enough images to fill the space with life and color.
We shopped Home Goods and Michael's for other basic necessities. It wasn't too long before Grace had a space to call home, and a place to create.
Christina's Max and Juno on Instagram:
NaMoPaiMo on Facebook
Braymere Blog (Jennifer Buxton)
We were so fortunate. We were spared from the Bobcat fire. Not everyone was.
In the aftermath of the fire, things were different. There was not a complete sense of relief, because the landscape to our north and west remains unburned and full of fuel, and because the property itself is full of fuel.
There were other immediate changes. Like the presence of predator/scavengers in numbers. Firefighters were stationed here in Chilao, and the dumpsters full of trash attracted bears and coyotes. Our absence for a month changed the balance of territory. Ours became theirs again, not only in the darkness of night but throughout the day. Not that there are fences, or hard boundaries...there aren't. But there had been a sense of order and a protocol of avoidance. The fire and the presence of so much potential food in those big dumpsters...the balance of everything changed.
And there was what burned. The Bobcat fire burned into the eleven year old footprint of the Station fire and consumed much of the best new tree growth that the forest had seen. It also made its way into the high country. It ran unchecked and swift across rugged terrain, reaching down into the desert, wreaking havoc among the remaining piñon stands, leveling the Devil's Punchbowl Visitor's Center, burning through stands of trees whose chance of recovery and regrowth in this new, hot climate is quite slim.
November came with an unprecedented Thanksgiving wind storm that destroyed arenas, demolished fencing, and tore supports out from under buildings. Once again, no one two legged or four legged was injured...but the damage was severe. Grace would take whatever fencing remained usable and, hauling sand from a nearby creek to recreate arena footing, make the best of whatever suitable land she could find. Constant change seemed to be the new normal, and starting over a more or less daily response.
Over time, there were also new horses...and of course, that always makes life feel fresh again.
Hi, my name is Corina, the official story teller for Grace and Skye. Grace owes her beauty, style and charm to Anne Field, Field of Dolls Studio. Skye does too, for that matter, as Anne fostered her for a while, giving Skye a complete makeover in the process. The horses, dogs, cats, saddles, bridles, furniture and so forth are the work of many artists. I'll do my best to acknowledge them as we go from day to day.
This is the ongoing, unfolding story of grace little, manager of redbird ranch, and her little sister, skye