12 November, 2010

June Revisited.

Beyond the mile markers and road signs, beyond the dirt roads and into the dirt ruts. We found the road less traveled  half an hour from Zuni and a stones throw to the Witch Well bar. Why would an eighty year old widow move up to the middle of nowhere, 4 hours from the Verde Valley and an hour from St. Johns? Why did the wilderness propel the trajectory of her life forward without regard to worldly success and safety? Fascinated by her road less traveled, we headed north to collect her stories, to share a lunch, and to check in on her general well being. I am familiar with the hermit personality and was expecting June to be nervous or agitated or even frail. None of which seemed to be her case. The 1970's era yurt hogan style home was filled with the general tools of usefulness, signs of the long haul complete with water bottles, bulk food bins fire wood and books. June settled in to a rocking chair near a front loading stove popping with seasoned cedar, and began sharing her story with out pause, nor regret. I come to believe this is the way she has governed the majority of her life. Formed within the austere terrain of the pioneer and rendered with art school, June is the modern woman, the warrior, the anti hero. I began to notice patterns between the two of us and our tie to a similar vein of life. We are both artists, goat people and homesteaders. it was a bit magical and sobering to see this so clearly after all these years.
How does an artist end up a homesteader?  

" There isn’t much difference. You don’t do it to make money. I grew up with the love of the wilderness, animals, and literature. I learned from very early on that I didn’t care anything about money. That’s one thing you have to learn about. It fits with goats as well as art. There is a spiritual connection  in art and nature. I was very religious as a child so I still have a sensse of spirituality. I do believe that the greatest of art is spiritual. That spirituality is in everything. As I said, I loved nature, I loved wilderness, and all kinds of domestic animals it is my ambition if I live long enough, to have a number of endangered breeds of animals. It’s quite a movement now." June  never based her life decisions on role models beyond her pioneer cowgirl childhood. She detoured the typical pattern of early marriage because of the war, a simple twist of fate  led to an unconventional life worth writing home about.
"All the girls in the family grew up quickly, my sister married by 14. The only thing that probably saved me from doing the same thing is that it was the second war and all the guys were gone. It was a life saver for me because I was a wonderful student. I had a very devoted teacher. She was a wonderful person. We had some combined grades . It was the same building where the historical society is. He didn’t have a gym, the school was so small there was only thirty something in the whole school. There were six in my graduating class, I was the valedictorian…My teacher and principal encouraged me to go to college. I graduated when I was sixteen. The principal came down to see my folks and told then if they let me go to college he would get me a scholarship, and would get special permission for me to work."

Junes family loved to come up to the mountains of Clint's Well, to run the family store . They lived in the back during the summers, all five of the children in a one room loft, with their parents down below. They opened the store from May till late September. Her mother did most of the work in regards to the retail space. She kept the store and the books, she  would drive down to the Verde Valley once a week to pick up groceries. She ran everything. Her father worked at the smelter in Clarkdale.
"My father Jefferson Davis York died when I was a month old, when I was three my mother remarried Frank Huff. My step father was a cowboy, he didn’t really care for the store. He was a very quiet, he loved to be out with the cattle.  So my mother ran the store . Seasonally, from May until September. Her store ran around the clock during the summer months. If someone came in they would get up and serve them what they needed as long as they weren't woken for booze. 
Some of Junes most enduring memories were with her  charismatic uncle who raised cattle, and would take June on his rides from Fossil creek up to the summer range spots along the Mogollian rim.
"I used to ride with my uncle down from Fossil Creek, he had a small ranch, then he had a summer range up in Clint’s Well. In the spring when we came up there would be baby calves, so we went slowly on a cattle trail, it took over a week. We would stop by mud tanks my father built, used to water the cattle. At this one spot there was a tank there that had a little bit of water in it. The cowboys used to tease the dudes, the green people and would say that they caught a salmon out of that tank, cowboys were big practical jokers. it would take over a week… I loved horses, I loved to ride.  I started at around age eight till I left home."
June excelled in school and received a full scholarship to Arizona State University. She had only been to Phoenix a few times in her life  and felt like a hillbilly, yet her life long pursuit of knowledge lasted as long as her pursuit of a life less travelled.
"I married before I finished college. I got pregnant. " June explained, prolonging her studies with a detour to California and Buffalo New York. They bought land in western New York to where she began her life long passion of goat breeding.
"I ended up in New York because I married a man from New York and he wanted to go back. I have lived in cities but never cared for it. I loved the wilderness. The problem was that even boys could not  live that life, of buying land in the west. Shareholders were coming and buying up large amounts of land."The marriage lasted nine years. After which June returned to Tempe with her three daughters and the gumption finish her art degree.

June returned to Arizona and meet John Henry Waddell , in the art education program, where she worked for Waddell running the art program at the training school, finding she could do a lot more than what people thought she could. The Waddell's would have her over for dinner and parties, though she claims they weren't of the wild, bohemian nature. She focused mostly on the pleasure of an intellectual crowd, the combustion of ideas. She explored different artistic mediums like pottery. During this time  Waddell set up a  studio in his garage and begun sculpting. June and Waddell kept in touch throughout the years, he curated a show for her at his home in Cornville, eventually encouraging her to return home years later.
"When I would come to AZ to visit, I would always stop to visit. At that time he had a sculpture fellowship program where he would have sculptors from all of the world to study. 
I was working on a lady Godiva series, so I got my work to Cornville. I helped me get a show in new York and I sold some paintings."
June remarried and returned to new york for thirty years. Not much was mentioned about this time,   except for her burgeoning passion for breeding Toggenburg goats, purchased directly from Carl Sandburgs wife Lilian, whom Sandburg referred to as the "champion breeder of champions."
  I would almost say these were the lost years, except  that 30 years are too many to loose. The impression I get is that June felt most alive when she was in the desert, despite the difficulties surrounding living a homesteader's life in high desert terrain. She returned to Camp Verde, Arizona in the late 1980's buying a house built by Hank Winfield, the man responsible for building the store her family ran years ago.
"The Hank Winfield house. I started an educational program there called Gadrian in 1991. It was 5 acres with irrigation and adobe house. But I lost the house because my son remarried and his wife wouldn’t let him help with the payments. John Bianchini ( former editor of The Noise) saw the ad listed for the farm and called. I told him the farm was sold, but I needed help. So john brought a lot of boys down there and helped me move north."

"I miss the Verde Valley, I was a child there. I tried to start an organization called Friends of Country Life. I wanted to save the country I still saw that is fast disappearing, it didn’t work.. I thought we were going to find people to run for office if city council who believed in saving the beautiful rural atmosphere. I thought we needed to work in politics to do that. I wasn’t interested in having little workshops on things like raising chickens…Some people infiltrated the group. And got everybody convinced we couldn’t play politics, that we couldn’t back anyone we believed in. So it didn’t work. I am not much of a team person, but I make wonderful friends. "

It seems she has almost made a complete circle returning to the ideals and wilderness reminiscent of her childhood, retaining the values of nature, independence and art. When asked what a great day looks like, she notes," In the winter here we have western bluebirds who come to spend the winter here. I look out at my pond and can see as many as 50 western bluebirds flitting around the pond. There’s lots of beautiful places. When there isn’t any tragedies or difficult problems… I enjoy the sun."

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