The area surrounding the Grand Canyon in Arizona is interesting on multiple levels. Nature supplies the region with thick firm plants, multicolored rocks filled with reds, browns, grays and even shades of green. The rock formations are massive, jagged, and far reaching. When you see them in person it is almost too hard to comprehend they are real.
Below the shadows of the rock mountains you will find vast fields and small homes or even huts every 10 to 20 miles. You may spot boats left to decay in a field, old cars or trailers. Farm animals are something you don’t see as much. Gardens and landscaping are equally rare.
The high school graduation rate in Arizona is not on par with the rest of the country. Arizona ranks number 44 on the list for having one of the lower graduation rates. On the flip side, Arizona residents seem to enjoy better health with a ranking of 28 on the list. They also rank at number 17 on the list for having the fewest hospital re-admissions.
Depending on where you live in the mountainous / desert environment you may receive notices from the National Parks Service to conserve water. One of those notices is in effect now.
Bottom line: A trip to Arizona is like a trip to a far away planet. It looks too unreal to be real. It is amazing in every way. It is beautiful yet strangely scarce.
I took this photo this past Saturday in the "Valley of Fire" park just outside of Las Vegas in the Mojave Desert.
The formations of red rocks are artistic in the way they bend, drop and overlap one another.
On a side note: The Valley of Fire was used as the secret headquarters for the fictional black militant helicopter known as Airwolf. The TV show aired on CBS from 1984 to 1987.
The Hoover Dam in Nevada along the dividing border of Arizona is a massive structure that was built between 1931 and its opening of 1936. It was always a work in progress, so I am not sure anyone could factually state that the construction ended on a particular date.
During the construction of the dam, 96 men died in accidents that were labeled as “Industrial Accidents.” It has been rumored that some bodies are beneath the concrete walls of the dam, however that has never been proven. If bodies were left in the concrete, it would actually give way to decay. In other words, it is likely to be a tale as opposed to a truth. The Department of Interior says that no one is buried in the dam.
Enough concrete was poured to make the dam to actually build a two lane road from Seattle, Washington to Miami, Florida, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior. The project took 21,000 workers to construct the dam.
The goal was to generate electricity and to tame the Colorado River. Taming the river would prove to be as hard on engineers as it was on a jokey to tame his horse long enough to make it around the tract to claim victory.
Inside a Las Vegas Casino at 5 AM sounds very much alive, but a quick stroll will prove it is really a ghost town.
The History Channel reported, “During the 1950s and 1960s, mobsters helped build the Sahara, the Sands, the New Frontier and the Riviera. Money from organized crime combined with funds from more respectable investors—Wall Street banks, union pension funds, the Mormon Church and the Princeton University endowment.”
In 1999 he was 36 years old, which is when he decided to make a cross country trip from Chicago towards the West Coast. Evidently, he had jobs lined up in the construction trade. But, when he arrived in Las Vegas the jobs had been taken over by others.
The massive blow took an emotional toll. He now works a mix of day labor jobs and collects cans to recycle. He has lived on the streets of Vegas since 1999.
He is originally from Los Angeles, California, but a number of years ago decided to make the move to Las Vegas because rent is cheaper. After arriving, he was unable to find work as an artist and soon lost his eye right eye.
“How did you lose the vision in your eye,” I asked him. With a breath of cool morning air he said, “I had a microscopic infection in it and before I knew it, I couldn’t see.”
We then talked about his artwork and how it is much harder for him to draw now as opposed to before due to the blindness.
I pointed at his shopping cart, “Is everything you own right there?” He looked towards the ground with a frown, “That’s it… that’s everything.”
The 59 year old wants to get an apartment as soon as possible. Until that day happens, he will live on the streets of Vegas.
"Vegas means comedy, tragedy, happiness and sadness all at the same time." - Artie Lange, American comedian
You may recall the U2 album entitled “The Joshua Tree” in 1987. Up until this past weekend, I did not know such a tree even existed and was led to believe it was only found on the cover of an album. .
The Joshua Tree can be found along the Grand Canyon in Arizona. It is known to represent Prophet Joshua from the Bible. Like the tree, Joshua was known to be a man of strength. He was the leader of the Israelite tribes up until Moses died.
The English name of Joshua means “Yehoshua” in Greek. The word Yehoshua means Yahweh in Hebrew and “Yahweh is Salvation.”
The tree has thick dagger shaped leaves that poke anyone who grabs it. It is part of the Agave family of plants. The tree twists and turns like roots above ground.
“Desert sky, dream beneath the desert sky
The rivers run but soon run dry
We need new dreams tonight
Desert rose, dreamed I saw a desert rose
Dress torn in ribbons and bows
Like a siren she calls (to me)”
- U2, from the Joshua Tree Album, the song is In God’s Country
Glen Canyon, which is part of the massive canyons in Arizona and Utah, is where Horseshoe Bend is located. Edward Abbey, American author and environmentalist wrote that Glen Canyon was “a portion of earth’s original paradise.”
Many fail to realize, the water in this particular area was once much deeper.
In 1963, a dam was created to form Lake Powell as a reservoir. One of the goals at that time was to create hydroelectricity.
Since that time, numerous groups have asked for the dam to be removed allowing for the waterway to return to its natural stated.
Prior to construction of the dam, archaeologist conducted extensive surveys of the canyon in that area finding Native American tools, knives, ceremonial sites, graves, and more.
“A great photograph is a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense, and is, thereby, a true expression of what one feels about life in its entirety.” – Ansel Adams
This photo is the most recent in the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center “Hand Project.” The goal is to show the wicked face of domestic violence without actually showing the face of those who suffered.
This woman, who is 53 today, talked about her ex and the violence and torment he caused in a way that would make one vomit. At one point, he broke her ankle so that she could not run from him. When her left ankle finally healed, he broke her right ankle.
To hear a short clip of her story, listen to the audio below:
Everything looks a little more faded in the winter. The sun appears a little whiter as opposed to yellow or orange. Leaves from trees are almost a shade of gray painted with touches of brown.
Some think only third world countries live in total filth on mounds of trash… but. that would be a mistake to believe such. In fact, most third world countries are far cleaner than this homeless camp located in Nashville, Tennessee.
“Clean up your camp or leave,” the government authorities say without understanding. Who would not give such orders after seeing such a mess? Living in such scattered throw-outs does not make sense. Of course it fails to meet any logical explanation – only because there is not one.
Those with non-imaginable mental illnesses find themselves unable to muster the energy, the know how to search for a place to dump trash, so some live among the debris, the clutter and even the human waste.
"That is what madness is, isn’t it? All the wheels fly off the bus and things don’t make sense any more. Or rather, they do, but it’s not a kind of sense anyone else can understand."
—Audrey Niffenegger, Columbia College, writer
From the outside looking in: It is probably a $350,000 slice of land they live on. Too small for a high rise, but perfect for a small home a townhouse. It is walking distance to the finer dining experiences, baseball and football games.
They live in downtown Nashville, but lack running water, electricity and plumbing. It is a neat and tidy place with a third world setting.
The men who call this their home are kind, gracious towards guest and outgoing.
"The only thing you sometimes have control over is perspective. You don't have control over your situation. But you have a choice about how you view it." -Chris Pine, Hollywood Actor
She said that she moved to Tennessee to oversee the care of her brother who was hit by a car in Nashville, TN. She stayed with him at his apartment up until he was kicked out after a loss of income.
Today, he is in a wheelchair and she remains by her brothers’ side to care for him – both homeless.
“When everything goes to hell, the people who stand by you without flinching -- they are your family. ” ― Jim Butcher, American author
If sadness were a contagious disease, I would have caught it from Michael Martin.
He was asleep in a downtown Nashville McDonalds when I woke him up to ask if he needed a sleeping bag or tent. He cried as he told me that he has horrible anxiety and that his medication was stolen. He then said that the person he was sharing a campsite with stole all that he had.
Leo F. Buscaglia, a former professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Southern California once stated, “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
I listened as he poured out words he had been holding back. Some of the sentences thrown together by the soon to be 40 year old were that he misses his mother whom he once lived with. Evidently, she sold her home and is now living with a family member.
After handing him a tent and a sleeping bag, Michael shook my hand about three times. He was able to release the words that he thought no one heard.
I have noticed it sometimes rubs people the wrong way when I say that it is not our job to judge the stories we may hear from others. It is not for us to decide their twisted reality for that is how they may have interpreted their past – despite what other family members or friends witnessed. It is not for us to decide if the truth is behind their lies or if their lies lead to their truth.
American novelist Ernest Hemingway said, “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”
If you feel the urge to help someone, all you have to do is listen and not speak a word. Simply listen and it can change a life. If you decide to argue what they tell you – it will get you nowhere.
Bone Chilling Cold: “You have to know how to survive in this weather,” he told me. I asked, “What do you need besides a sleeping bag?” He looked down and then responded, “I recently got out of prison and they took my ID, Social Security Card – things get lost in there – but I need those things.”
The temperature outside was 16 degrees with a wind chill of 3 degrees that afternoon. By nightfall, the temperature had fallen to 12 degrees and expected to hit 7 degrees by morning with a morning wind chill of -1 degree by 6AM in Nashville, TN.
The lowest temperature in recorded history for Nashville occurred on January 21, 1985. It was -17 degrees. Looking back to January 12, 1918, the daily high was at 2 degrees.
“Nothing burns like the cold. But only for a while. Then it gets inside you and starts to fill you up, and after a while you don't have the strength to fight it.” ― George R.R. Martin
I met with David Lane today.
Lane, his wife and four children lost everything they owned in a house fire that occurred on Peachtree Street in Murfreesboro, TN on November 30, 2017.
Lane told me that the home was the only house his children have ever known, which made the fire so much harder. The home held their memories inside the walls along with photographs, clothing and more.
To make matters harder on the family, they did not have renters insurance to cover their losses. However, thanks to a teacher at Mitchell Neilson School who teaches one the Lane children, word that the family of six needed help fast.
Mr. Lane said that the community came together and helped them in a major way. In fact, he said that despite the loss this past Christmas was the best Christmas the family has ever had.
“I will be stronger than my sadness.” ― Jasmine Warga, My Heart and Other Black Holes
Imagine traveling the country in a bus that has a Volkswagen van for a topper… Imagine traveling the country with the idea of bringing art to everyone… That is what one family of four is doing.
Heather Platen told me that her family has been all over the country on the bus. Keep in mind, this is not your average bus. The lower half is a 1953 Chevrolet bus purchased in South Dakota. The 1969 VW van was purchased and added to the top in New Mexico. They have also been to places like Vermont, Baltimore and New York City, just to name a few stops.
I ran into the family of four when they decided to make a pit stop in the small community of Beechgrove, Tennessee. On board is Heather, her husband LeRoy Herr and their daughters ages one and five. Together, they take their artwork into communities far and wide.
The bus is self-sustainable and Heather commented that they went off the grid to be in total control of their life. “We were able to provide everything that we needed and more by reducing our need for income,” Heather told me. She went on to state, “By living a more simple life we were able to access that ‘extra’ that we wanted to provide for our kids.”
LeRoy said that he likes for the bus to be a conversation starter that leads to important topics like self-sustainability, monetary slavery and more. Meanwhile, Heather talks being creative with art. More photos below.
Listen to the complete interview below...
No Sidelines: If I were to put his speech into written word, it would illegible.
Perhaps it was a stroke that led to his way of communicating, but the cause is not important. However, it is important that he has not given up... ever.
What is motivational about this man is that he refuses to sit on the sidelines for the remainder of his life. He pushes a shopping cart, struggling to walk up hills while collecting cans to sell as scrap metal.
"You know I'm back like I never left
Another sprint, another step
Another day, another breath
Been chasing dreams,
but I never slept
I'm feeling glorious"
- Glorious by Macklemore
Be yourself, regardless of who others believe you should be.
Perhaps you're a dreamer? So dream.
Maybe you are a doer? Go and do.
Are you a fixer? Start fixing.
"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." —Dr. Seuss
I took this photo in 2014 and it remains one of my favorites.
The look in his eyes is of a faraway place that I cannot relate. His appearance is scattered as are his thoughts.
He stood outside of a downtown Nashville skyscraper at midnight and he told me that we were standing in a desert.
His sandy blonde hair floated in the breeze as he went on to tell me about his spaceship and then pointed to the window of a nearby business. Inside was a computer that had a screen saver of a commercial jet on it. He said that was his spaceship.
“This is a man in need. His fear is naked and obvious, but he's lost. . . Somewhere in his darkness. His eyes wide and bleak and tortured.” ― E.L. James