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Posts Tagged ‘firefighter’

“A wall of flames 40 feet high was sweeping its way up the canyon, 400 yards away. At that point, they would have had about a minute. Since they couldn’t get to the safety zone, they had to make one of their own. Andrew Ashcraft and Travis Turbyfill, the two sawyers, started attacking the brush with their chain saws, while the rest of the guys swung their Pulaskis, frantically doing what they were trained to do: move dirt, and move dirt faster.  They dumped fuel from their drip cans around the zone they’d created, then set the chain saws at the outer perimeter, so that when they exploded no one would get hurt.

[The team’s leader,] Eric, got on the radio. The Hotshots’ escape route had been cut off, he said, and they were deploying their emergency shelters.

Eric’s voice was calm – some said the calmest they’d ever heard him. At 4:47, he radioed his last transmission: ‘Deploying.’ And then, just like they’d practiced, the Granite Mountain Hotshots climbed into their shelters.

Finally, at 6:30 – an agonizing 103 minutes later – the helicopter was able to get on the ground. The onboard medic hurried to the site where they’d seen the shelters. As he approached, he spotted the metal blade from a chain saw and a pickax with the handle burned away. The ranch house was unscathed. Everything else was a smoldering moonscape.

Experts estimate that the fire burned between 3,000 and 5,000 degrees. In the end, there wasn’t much left. But what there was told a story.

The 19 Hotshots were all together. No one panicked, no one ran. Travis Turbyfill and Andrew Ashcraft, the sawyers, were at the edge of the group, closest to the flames. They were cutting lines up until the end.

When Juliann [ed – Andrew’s wife] got Andrew’s effects back, his boots and clothes were gone. His metal belt buckle didn’t make it. His pocketknife. The journals that he kept. There was a piece of Velcro from his watchband but not the watch itself. Even the metal plate and eight screws in his leg, from when he shattered it in a rappelling accident a few years back, had disappeared.

Two things, she discovered, had somehow survived the fire. One was Andrew’s wedding ring, titanium. The other, shrunken and black, was the rubber wristband that said: be better.”

–Excerpt from an excellent and comprehensive article The Last Battle of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, by Josh Eells, for Men’s Journal.

 

Singed Wings - detail

Singed Wings – detail

I initially created today’s image to be a companion piece for this photo of Katie and I, honoring the fallen firemen in Yarnell, Arizona almost a year ago.

To The Lost

To The Lost

A childhood friend of mine, Andrew Ashcraft, had been one of the lost.  As I do with most painful things, I channeled my grief into my art.

Though it always makes me cry to think about it, there is such beauty in the men’s calm acceptance of their sacrifice, their solidarity, that they were a complete, solid unit until the very end. Josh Eell’s article says it so wonderfully.  They stuck together.  In the face of immediate, certain death, they did what they could and then turned to each other for comfort.  Shoulder to shoulder, they stuck together until the horrific last.

That unity, that love, that solidarity and bravery touched me more deeply than I could, or can, express.  The only chance I had at touching on it was through art.  I set up a shoot with Katie and Bryce to portray the doomed but brave men.  It happened that some tree branches and very tall bushes in my yard had just been cut down, forming what appeared to be a huge, natural nest.  Thinking of the Hotshots as birds with broken, burned wings helped me find the metaphor I wanted to use, a way into the truth I was trying to get at.

It was an easy shoot, what with all the branches having been set up for me by the workmen.  I lit a few smoke bombs, snapped the frames and it was done.  I loved what I had gotten from this shoot as I looked at the images later.  All the same, I found I couldn’t face editing the image.  It took many, many months before I felt like I could emotionally handle editing working it up.

I didn’t consciously realize we were coming up on the anniversary of their deaths, but I must have felt it subconsciously.  I’ve been haunted by memories of Andrew recently and finally felt that it was time, urgently time, to finish this piece.  As I finally brought the files into Photoshop and started working on them, more memories flooded my brain.  Like how Andrew, as a young child, had always said “Jee Jie Joes” instead of “GI Joes” and frequently got tripped up between “brought” and “brung.”  The trip our families took to Mount Shasta together.  Their shelties, who seem huge in my mind, but who I know were actually smallish dogs.  Drawing together, playing in the sprinklers, going to the beach, sharing snacks, going to the park, getting into fights, crying and making up again… all the things children do.

I’ve said before that one of the things I mourn in this is that I missed out on getting to know Andrew as an adult.  I’ve tried to remember that lesson and have made a point to stay in touch, or get back in touch, with people in my life.  I won’t get another chance at Andrew, but I can try and apply the lesson to other friendships.

None of these men deserved their fate.  They were true heroes, actively running into the worst, most dangerous situations.  That is what the Hotshots were there for; an elite team of firefighters comparable to Navy Seals or Spartans.  The only thing I can try and do about it is make an attempt to honor them and their sacrifice.  I know that I will always fall short in this goal, but it’s important to try nonetheless.  I am also keenly aware that this is not about me or my pain.  The pain of Andrew’s family and loved ones is something I can only imagine.

The Hotshots were trapped; birds unable to fly away.  There was no escape from the flames.  But what remained was love. Love triumphing over the flames by preserving Andrew’s wedding ring and bracelet with his personal motto.  Love for the people they were protecting, though they would never meet them.  Love for their families, though they left them behind in the line of their duty.  Love for each other.  Love for humanity.  Just love.

That love is what I wanted most to capture in this image and I hope it shines through.

Singed Wings - detail

Singed Wings

Singed Wings - detail

Singed Wings – detail

Singed Wings - detail One of the three smokey roses scattered through the photo.  I used an image I had taken of beautifully carved roses on a tombstone, which felt so fitting.  The delicacy and beauty they add are still tinged with sorrow.

Singed Wings – detail
One of the three smokey roses scattered through the photo. I used a photo I had taken of beautifully carved roses on a tombstone, which felt so fitting. The delicacy and beauty they add are still tinged with sorrow.

Singed Wings - detail

Singed Wings – detail

Singed Wings - detail

Singed Wings – detail

My heart goes out to the family and friends of all 19 fallen heroes especially as we approach the anniversary of this tragedy.  I’m sure it’s an extremely difficult time for all of them.

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It’s that time of year when everyone with a blog is required to take a look at the previous year and take stock.  I like this tradition.  It gives you a sense of accomplishment for the things you’ve done and also brings to mind what still needs attention.

So what happened in 2013?  So much!

I signed a contract with Conlan Press, Peter S. Beagle’s publisher.  This has already brought some very exciting things about, and there are many, many more to come!

In The Lilac Wood

In The Lilac Wood

I created what I consider the first “real” DreamWorld piece.  By “real” I mean a full-fledged character was brought to life with costumes and props which took months to create and inventing new ways to bring about my vision on a shoe-string budget.  The inclusion of birds would also prove to be a frequently occurring theme in DreamWorld.

The Court Of The Dryad Queen

The Court Of The Dryad Queen

I got to photograph Lauren Cohen, aka Maggie from AMC’s The Walking Dead.  The image also kicked off a sub-series of DreamWorld portraying the various steps along the Hero’s Journey.

Crossing The First Threshold

Crossing The First Threshold

I also got to photograph Paul Telfer, known for his roles in NCIS, The Vampire Diaries and other roles that require buff-and-handsome men.  He perfectly portrayed the angelic kind of being you would want watching over you while you sleep.

Prayer For The Frail

Prayer For The Frail

This year also brought about a new, ongoing collaboration and friendship with actor/model Katie Johnson.  I could write an entire post about how wonderful it’s been to have Katie in my life, both for artistic reasons and personal ones.  I will leave it at two main points; that she is a spectacular model, equally skilled at following specific, minute directions as well as being let loose while I just try and keep up with her.  Her friendship, strength and grace have been a great boon this year, especially during some notable rough patches.  Thank you, Katie 🙂

Perennial Parasol

Perennial Parasol

One of those notable rough patches was learning about the tragic deaths of the 19 Hotshot firemen in Yarnell, Arizona this summer, and that one of them had been a childhood friend of mine.

To The Lost

To The Lost

In a somewhat similar vein, I took my passion for animal rights to a new level after watching the documentary Blackfish.  This also meant that I finally tackled underwater photography, which I’d been quite nervous about trying.

Concrete Cell

Concrete Cell

I wrote an open letter to Jack Hanna criticizing his continued support of SeaWorld after the Blackfish allegations, which became quite successful and even garnered the attention of celebrities such as British actor Stephen Fry.

Stephen Fry Tweet

Stephen Fry Tweet

Like DreamWorld, the set of Blackfish photos has set in motion a more all-encompassing series addressing animal rights in other areas.  More of that will come in 2014!

A Drop Of Blood

A Drop Of Blood

In championing human causes, I got to be a part of the Kickstarter campaign for the documentary Canary In A Coal Mine, in production, about myalgic encephalomyelitis, aka ME, previously known in the United States as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/CFS.  The Kickstarter was an INCREDIBLE success, and we can look forward to seeing the film in late 2014 or early 2015!  I’m proud to have been a small part of the movement.  I also got to work a little more on my series on living with ME with the help of model/friend Aly Darling.

Martyrs To A Name

Martyrs To A Name

I visited a sheep farm to take photos of lambs and goats along with friends Katie and Brooke Shaden, to create a very personal portrait of my grandmother.  This particular lamb was appropriately named Too Cute 🙂

The Shepherdess

The Shepherdess

I had the pleasure of being interviewed on The Candid Frame, The Altadena Blog, and having some of my photos appear in the self-portrait how-to book, Shooting Yourself, by Haje Jan Kamps.

SP book all pages

I “celebrated” my 5-year anniversary with ME.  I’ve tried many new therapies this year to combat the ME, but with the exception of ART massage, it has gotten slowly worse and finally forced me to quit my day job.  In some ways this is a good thing, as my day job was doing my body no good at all, and it also means now I can concentrate fulltime on art.  But it’s also a bit frightening; will the ME get a little worse every year?  Will it level off now that I’m not pushing it trying to hold down a job?  There are many unknowns, which can be worse than knowing something bad will happen.  I try and keep a good attitude about things, but it’s also no good trying to simply ignore your fears.  They won’t go away, they’ll simply grow in the dark.

Vanity's Murder

Vanity’s Murder

This TED Talk sums up my fears, hopes and trials beautifully, and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone, especially any who struggle with depression.

I am still mourning Richard Harrow’s death (this was my light-hearted way of dealing with it) and I’m working on a photo to help work through those feelings.

On a happier note, I got to save a litter of opossum babies and was deeply moved by a beautiful new book.

But perhaps very best of all was getting to photograph author Peter S. Beagle, of The Last Unicorn fame, and bring him into DreamWorld as its King.  It was such a tremendous amount of work, but that just makes the resulting photos that much more meaningful.

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown

A year ago, I never would have thought I’d find myself not only merely talking to Peter, but actually interacting with him, making a costume for him, and casting him as one of the most important characters of DreamWorld.

Aerie

Aerie

If that all happened in 2013, what will 2014 bring?  I am very excited to find out!

Christmas Eve

Here’s to a great new year!

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During the five years of being chronically ill to the point of having to change my life to revolve around my illness, I have tried to keep my spirits up.  I’ll readily admit I’m naturally more of an Eeyore, but I also know that having a positive outlook can have a huge impact on one’s quality of life.  So I try to train my brain to be on the lookout for silver linings; for the beautiful amidst the ugly.

Of course, I can’t speak for everyone with ME, everyone with fibro, or everyone with other chronic illnesses.  These are just the shiniest of the silver linings that I have discovered personally.  Yes, there is a lot of bad along with this good, but that’s a subject for another time.  For now, I want to highlight the positives.

 

1. You Become More In Tune With Your Body

I, for example, have learned that I am quite sensitive to nearly all medications, even more than my small frame would account for.  There is a certain cold feeling I get in my stomach which is the warning for a bout of coldsweats and vomiting coming.  While I used to drink lots of caffeine and couldn’t get through an afternoon without some kind of energy dose, I now drink black tea in the morning, and rarely anything beyond that.  My body felt noticeably cleaner and fresher after I made the switch, and again when I became vegetarian.  You learn to listen harder to the signals your body gives you and take them more seriously.

Vanity's Murder

Vanity’s Murder

 

2. You Learn Who The True Friends In Your Life Are

After the fifth time in a row of my having to reschedule an outing due to the unpredictable whims of my body, most people would stop trying to make the outing happen.  I have been extremely fortunate to have wonderful people in my life who are as understanding about my forced flakiness as anyone who doesn’t have a chronic illness could be.   They know by now that evening events, large crowds and physical exertion are especially hard for me, but they continue to invite me to dinners and parties, always letting me know that it’s ok if I’m not up to it.  I love them for continuing to invite me, even when I have to say no 90% of the time, but even more for not holding it against me.

To The Lost

To The Lost

 

3. You Come To Terms With Your Mortality

Everybody dies.  That is an unavoidable fact.  I’ve found that I, along with many of my chronically ill peers, have given our lifespans much greater thought than our healthy counterparts.  Whether our disease is something known to shorten your lifespan or whether it’s a roll of the dice, we are generally able to come to peace with the knowledge we won’t be around forever much earlier in our lives than is typical.  This can even lead to what I call The Walter White Effect, which essentially says that when you have faced the fact that your life may not be as long as you had once believed, you are motivated into working much harder in the present.  It’s true, any of us could go at any time in an untold number of ways.  But there seems to be a quieter acceptance of this inevitable fate when you’ve had your body occupied with chronic illness for a long time.

All Hail The Queen

All Hail The Queen

 

4. You Life Distills Into The Most Important Components

I have days when there are only a couple hours (often scattered through the whole day) when I can actually get anything done.  Usually I’m able to get a little bit more done than that, and it helps that much of what I do can be done laying in bed with my laptop, but if you only had three or four hours to accomplish anything, what would you use that time for?  Lunch with friends?  Taking care of your pets?  Showering?  Taking photos?  Making love?  While chronic illness robs you of so much time, it also forces you to look long and hard at each of the things you do choose to engage in.  I won’t, for example, spend time editing photos which I’m less than satisfied with.  Which activities you choose to keep can say a lot about what’s truly important to you.

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown

 

5. You Look At The Big Questions

Can you believe in a god who would allow you to live your life so sick with no cure?  Would that strengthen your faith or wipe any trace of it from your life?  What kind of legacy will you leave behind?  If you’re too sick to work and thus always short on cash, how do you define success in your life when society places so much emphasis on status, power and wealth?  If you, like most of the chronically ill, had to scrap your original plans for what you wanted to be when you grew up, how will you find meaning in the life you’re given?  What is the meaning of life when that life is often confined to a single room?

In Between Awake And Asleep

In Between Awake And Asleep

 

This is, of course, an extremely subjective round-up, based mainly on my own experiences.  What will my distilled, concentrated life look like?  What causes will I champion and where will my energy reserves go?  Where will yours?  Chronic illness tends to create mini philosophers, whether we will have it or not.  And while I will never have all the answers, the questions are still worth pondering.

 

Fae Light - Dedeker looks like she's pondering Big Questions.

Fae Light – Dedeker looks like she’s pondering Big Questions.

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You all remember Andrew.  My childhood friend who grew up into the biggest badass.   And as a result of that heroism, he and 18 of his comrades died in the recent fires in Arizona.

Now the city of Prescott is trying to deny paying his family the benefit package promised to them.   Because his poor widow doesn’t have enough to deal with after losing her husband and best friend, and is faced with raising their four very young children on her own.  No, what she needs is an ugly, drug-out argument with heartless state officials and insurance companies.

I sign a lot of petitions.  Really, a LOT.  But I very, very rarely mention any of them here.  Not this time.  Andrew’s father Tom (who I also remember from when I was very young) has started a petition to get Andrew’s family the benefits promised them.  That’s only fair.

SO much more should be given to this family.  After the loss they suffered… a loss of their main provider, in the line of duty while protecting the state’s land, they absolutely should not have to battle this too.

So please, take a second and sign the petition.

And while you’re at it, get a copy of To The Lost as a print, card or IPhone/Pod/Pad case.  75% of the proceeds go to a fund for the families.

EDIT: As my sweet husband Geoff pointed out, it’s the city of Prescott that refuses to pay Andrew’s widow.  The mayor sounds like a peach.  To quote the article, he said of Andrew’s widow: “She’s a neat little lady… but money took hold in this situation real fast,” he said. “This is big bucks when it’s all over, big bucks. And money seems to be leading some of the battle over the city’s participation.”

What a swell guy.  An amazing man.  Does he kick puppies in his spare time too?

Cote of Arms - a semi self portrait with Katie Johnson.  I think the love and comfort displayed by the characters in the photo fit well with the aim of the post.

Cote of Arms – a semi self portrait with Katie Johnson. I think the love and comfort displayed by the characters in the photo fit well with the aim of the post.

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As a continuation of my last post, this one will also be talking about Andrew Ashcraft, the boy I played with when I was young who grew up to be one of the fallen Hotshot heroes from Arizona’s recent fires.

I created a photo to work through my grief, as I often do, but it didn’t feel like enough.  I kept thinking about Andrew’s poor widow, left with their four very young children to raise, all on her own.  And then I’d think about the families of the 18 other firefighters and how would they get by, and I had to do something.

So, 75% of all profits made from any sales of To The Lost will go to directly to the families through the donation program set up This applied to anything and everything To The Lost appears on.  I have, of course, my extremely beautiful and archival fine art prints, and also blank cards, stickers, clothing, Ipod, Iphone and Ipad cases.

There are 19 families left without fathers, husbands, providers.  The last thing they need while they’re still reeling from the profound loss is to worry about how the bills are going to get paid.  Let’s give them some of the aid they need.

Image

To The Lost

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It was last Tuesday, July 2nd, that I found out about the tragic deaths of the nineteen firefighters in Arizona a few days earlier.  At the same time, I discovered my childhood friend, Andrew Ashcraft, was one of those lost.  It took a while to sink in.  Andrew, who I had played with for years, was gone.

Not only Andrew, but eighteen others of Arizona’s finest firefighters were lost.   They were called the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew; essentially the Navy Seals of the fire world.  They were trained to go into the deadliest, most dire situations and kick the fire’s ass.  They went in to make a fuel break for the devastating forest fire when the wind changed and trapped them.  There was no escape.

My heart breaks for Andrew’s widow, left to raise their four very young children, the oldest of whom is merely six, by herself.  It breaks for Andrew’s mother Deborah, who has to bury one of her children.  It breaks for the eighteen others families in the same situation.

Andrew with his family

Andrew was only 29.  He had been named the 2011 Rookie of the Year in the Hotshot crew.  He’d had to really work to get into the crew.   That was what he wanted to do.  He chose to be the best, bravest, most worthy of men.  I am in awe.

It’s important for me to state that it had been a long time since I’d seen Andrew… I was probably 13 or so.  But he and his brother TJ were a big part of my childhood.   Our moms were friends and would frequently trade babysitting, so for years my brother and I saw and played with the Ashcraft boys several times a week.  My brother was the oldest of us, TJ was next, then me and Andrew was the youngest, even though only four years separated us all.  It was just enough of an age difference that the older two boys would want to go off and do Secret Older Boy Things together (mostly involving GI Joes, as I recall) so Andrew and I were often our own group… which sometimes consisted merely of sulking about being left out of Secret Boy Things.  But we made our own fun.

I can't find a photo of th four of us together, but here's a photo of myself (in front), TJ and my brother in some strange church play.

I can’t find a photo of the four of us together, but here’s a photo of myself (in front), TJ and my brother in some strange church play.

One of the clearest memories I have of the four of us is arguing heatedly over who played which character when we would play Batman.  My brother, the oldest, was naturally Batman.  When he and I played it at home, I was Robin, and I felt that was my part.  But TJ’s slight age difference made a good argument in the logic of children for him assuming the role of Robin.  The debate was settled when we found out about Batgirl, who I would obviously play, leaving Robin to TJ.  But poor Andrew was always forced to play Alfred or some random henchmen; he never got to play a really good character.  I had laughingly told this story to Geoff quite a while ago, not realizing the irony that was to come.

Andrew grew up to be a real, living, actual hero.  He lived his heroism more than any person I know of.  He went out doing what he loved, with the men he loved, and if he ever felt fear, he never let it stop him.  I am so sad his family has lost him.  I am sad that the world has lost such an amazing person.  And I am sad that I never got to know Andrew at this age, that we lost touch, and I only discovered what an incredible person he was second hand.  The world is nineteen wonderful souls poorer.

As I cried into Geoff’s chest the day I heard the news, one of the first things he asked was how I was going to work through my feelings photographically.  This is just one of the many reasons I love him, because I was already mentally hard at work trying out different concepts and trying to figure it out.  As I was working through my grief and trying to put my feelings into a visual form, I was also talking a lot with Katie, who had recently experienced a similar kind of loss.  It was a great comfort to have her and other people in my life familiar with grief to talk to.  Katie and I already had a shoot planned in a few days, so I told her to just expect that we would shoot something to honor Andrew and the other firefighters.

This was another shoot done on a non-budget.  It took just a few big, yellow smoke bombs and the fresh flowers.  Also, HUGE thanks to Geoff for being my human shutter release!

Usually I edit things in order of them being shot, as that seems fairest, but this got bumped way up in line.  I really wanted it to be released today, the day of the big memorial service in Prescott.  You’ll see that Katie is playing the role of the rescuer, pulling me to safety, but not far from the danger herself.  The smoke wrapping around my body and throat actually happened exactly like that, straight out of camera, and seems to want to pull me back and not let go.  Katie is carrying nineteen large orange, yellow and red flowers, symbolizing the fallen heroes, and I like that there are smaller yellow flowers connected to the stalks; they seem to symbolize the fireman’s family.

When I searched for a title for this photo, I immediately remembered what Jimmy in Boardwalk Empire says before each drink instead of the standard “cheers” or “bottom’s up;” he says “to the lost.”  For Jimmy it was about his lost comrades during the war, but it seemed to fit here perfectly.  This is also only the second time I’ve ever done a square crop on a photo.  For the most part I stick very strictly to my 2×3 ratio.  This photo just called for something else, so I went with it.  There are some detail shots of the photo below.

I hope Andrew’s family heals as quickly as it can, along with the rest of the families.  There is nothing I can say or do that can make it better for them.  How I wish there was.  All I can do is try to honor the fallen heroes, with my words, my photos, and my many, many tears.

Andrew was a badass… but the very best kind, who hasn’t lost his softer side.  He was a true hero, like Prince Lir.  We didn’t know that Andrew was the biggest hero of us all.

He should have been Batman.

You can donate directly to Andrew’s family here.

To The Lost

To The Lost

To The Lost - detail

To The Lost – detail

To The Lost - detail

To The Lost – detail

To The Lost - detail

To The Lost – detail

To The Lost - detail

To The Lost – detail

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