Sunday, July 31, 2011

Big Thompson Flood

It was the summer of 1976. More specifically, it was July 31st. My sister was away at camp, and I was spending the weekend with my grandparents. As I quietly colored in the front room, I had no idea what was brewing in the Colorado mountains outside of Big Thompson Canyon. Staying in a cabin with friends along the typically peaceful river, my father was also oblivious to what fate had in store for him... He was about to become a hero, a lost soul, and a survivor of the worst natural disaster in Colorado history.

"I reached and grabbed Sue and told the others we had to get to the mountainside and, just as I picked her up, the water came from my ankles to chest deep and I remember turnin’ around and shuffling my feet and moving as quickly as I could... we both went under water."

As the sun began to fade, the hum of crickets filled the thick Nebraska air.  

"I was going to see if there was any way I could get across with the rope to help Ed, Ester, and Kim but, as soon as I got into the water, it just swept me right back into the shore. Propane tanks were coming down the river like torpedoes whistling... a station wagon came floating down clear over by where the road was, and they were pulling a small silver Streamline trailer. I remember the interior lights were on... you could tell they were in distress... and they just shot right on down the river."

I was safely tucked in bed, while my father's nightmare continued to rage on. 

"We went up the mountainside. Michael and I made a lean-to out of a poncho... everybody was soakin’ wet. We would run down the mountain... yelling and screaming for them, but we never did see anybody. The night was miserable, rainy."

My grandparent's house always smelled like coffee in the morning. It was Sunday... another day filled with imagination, time spent at the school playground up the street, and grandma's strawberry-banana Jello salad. 

"The kitchen was just a mass of twisted debris. There was another porch on the riverside that they had converted into living space for an extra little bedroom. That room itself was untouched.  Who would have ever thought that if they would have went into there, they probably would have survived. ~  I can’t remember walking up to the helicopter. Sue sat in my lap and we got all strapped in. When the helicopter took off to fly us to Loveland, I can remember putting my arms around her, and that’s when your daddy lost it. Very emotional."

As another summer day came to a close, the telephone rang. Without understanding what happened, I remember being ushered into the living room and seeing my dad on TV. Wearing a donated white t-shirt with red and blue sleeves covered in white stars, he was a vision of all-American survival. The phone continued to ring throughout the night with calls from family and friends who had recognized him on the news.

During the Big Thompson Flood, 144 lives were lost. Tragically, three of those were from my dad's party. Although he and Michael were unable to get back across the river to save them, they were able to save the young girls. Even though my dad still struggles with those difficult memories, I know what a true hero he is for not thinking twice before grabbing an innocent and terrified 11-year-old girl as the river attempted to swallow them whole. 

It would be 30 years before I would know exactly what my dad went through and the horror he witnessed. He kept this story to himself to cover his pain. When I returned to Denver in 2006, he planned to attend the 30-year anniversary of the flood. It was only because I was staying with him that I learned how much this devastating day impacted his life. Because I had been shielded from the truth, I asked him to tell me the story. I felt this would be an excellent way for me to better understand his experience, while acting as helpful therapy for him. Gratefully, he purchased a small tape recorder and shared his story. Since then, he had a special dinner reunion with Julie and Sue, the two girls who survived. I was lucky enough to attend that remarkable evening.

Today now marks the 35th anniversary of the flood. I know it still weighs on him heavily at times, so I write this in honor of him and the lives that were lost. I am so very proud of my dad for acting selflessly and with courage... and I am grateful his life was spared that day. 

Hug those you love today and think kindly of those who have hurt you.  Life is too short... anything can happen to any one of us at any moment.  

Additional flood facts: 143 lives lost, 418 homes destroyed along with 52 businesses, 438 vehicles, several bridges, roads, and telephone lines... This rare convergence of thunderstorms crested at an unfathomable 20 feet, with a peak water flow of 31,200 cubic feet per second vs. the normal flow of 210 cfs.

2009 reunion dinner at Chart House restaurant in Golden, CO
My father is on the right ~ Fellow survivors Sue (right) and Julie are in the center

Related Post: Read the full transcript of my father's detailed recording

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Green Cube House

The Green Cube House

Over the years I've been asked to take part in some pretty unique projects, and this latest opportunity will likely remain a favorite for some time. As a previous interior designer, I've always taken an interest in architecture; the perfect Sunday used to involve going out for coffee and then touring the latest model homes. That background, combined with an artist's style that often involves repurposed objects and works that are earthy yet distinctively modern, it was an honor to hear from interior designer Heidi Mendoza of re.dzine. She had stumbled onto my art online and felt my paintings would work well in the staging of an amazing house known as the Green Cube House.  We met so that she could view my art in person and take me on a tour of the property, which is nearing completion in the desirable and hip Lower Highlands neighborhood.

I'm proud to report that my work will be featured and for sale in Denver’s first LEED Platinum certified single family home (uses 40% of the energy as that of a standard home) from August 11th - September 6th.  Even more exciting? This house is part of the 2011 Denver Parade of Homes! If you're in the Denver area, I'd love for you to drop by and see how my work is integrated into this sustainable showcase home with a mission that successfully blends community activism, efficiency, and luxury.

** Update: Six of my paintings have been selected to hang in this beautiful showcase house!

Monday, July 11, 2011

After The Storm

The other day, a vibrant rainbow appeared right when I needed one; July has been a rough and stormy road thus far. What made the moment all the more spectacular, was that I had just spoken of my cat Libbey that very morning. 

It was her.  How could it not be... 

Thunderstorms have been a recurring theme in all major events in my life, so waking up to cloudy skies on the morning of December 22, 1997 was more than just an occurrence of nature.  It was the morning my beloved pet of 20 years was to be cremated, after two decades of unconditional love and companionship. She was my foundation. My best friend. Every decision I made in life had involved her well being.

Thunder. Lightening. The chaotic Arizona winter sky split open like a broken pinata, spilling its contents over the desert valley floor.
I was numb, but choosing to witness her individual cremation is what began the process of healing I so desperately needed. Not everyone would make that choice, but it was important for me to experience every last detail of her death. As I left the building, Libbey's cremains were still warm in my hands.  I walked slowly to the car, and it was then that I noticed it had finally stopped raining. 

About a mile from home, the sun peeked through the clouds and a beautiful full rainbow emerged.  It was at that moment that I was no longer able to hold back the tears. This difficult journey was coming to an end but, more incredibly, time stood still as I rounded the corner to witness this bright and stunning palette at the end of the cul-de-sac. I was in awe, and rainbows would forever hold new meaning.

Long before digital cameras were commonplace, I was grateful for film in my camera. I captured that moment and would do so again two days later on Christmas Eve, when another rainbow appeared in the identical spot it had that day. I looked up into the sky, and gently whispered "Merry Christmas, Libbey, I will always love you."

After nearly two decades of love, it was a loving yet painful goodbye I will never forget. The first real loss I had ever experienced, it would bring tremendous change to my life and begin my journey as an artist. For the next seven years, I recorded every rainbow I saw. Although I no longer keep track, every rainbow I see continues to hold importance. For me, they represent a sign that I am loved and that things will be okay... a message from the universe that I'm not alone no matter how alone I feel at the time. A reminder that I must look for the opportunity within each and every challenge that comes my way. 

If you've ever loved and lost something or someone, or have felt overwhelmed by the lessons life has presented, you no doubt understand where I am coming from. Whether you find hope in the stars, the rain, dancing butterflies, or elsewhere... may you always follow your heart and keep chasing your dreams. 

"We may run, walk, stumble, drive, or fly, but let us never lost sight of the reason for the journey, or miss a chance to see a rainbow on the way.”  ~ Unknown

Thursday, July 7, 2011

New Painting


24x24 Mixed Media on Panel

Seven canvas panels cut and applied to panel.  Rough, chunky, and extreme textures topped with a satin finish and 57 square nailhead metal studs.