I had no idea where this was going over three years ago, but I'm grateful for the journey. Maybe not for every moment of it, but I'm definitely grateful for the lessons.
To make our new logo, I used the first photo I ever published on this blog. It was just a photo with the caption, “Before the Storm, Delaware City.” Over the next two years I published maybe six photos and poems, if that. Then I got the idea for Gems. The first two Gems were published on September 2, 2015, nearly two years after the first photo. Even at that point I hadn’t yet thought about the idea for getting cameras to homeless creatives. At first the photos were created to replace Rx-for-Healing, twice daily reminders to do mirror affirmations. I wanted photos to encourage me to get out and actually take them instead of sitting at my computer making graphics. Two photos a day got to be a lot, and I was running out of photos. I changed it to one a day on September 7th.
During that summer (2015), my son Ben and his girlfriend Tessa visited us. They both offered to contribute their beautiful photos and while they stayed with us we talked about the direction of under1000skies a little. Ben was homeless by choice, living from his car, selling his hand-carved jewelry creations, but he had some tough times when he lost his ID and all his money. He lived in the woods and built a shelter and got to know some of the homeless people in Durango CO. He was able to finally find his ID and then he met Tessa. They traveled all over over the next few months and he taught her how to carve the bison-horn jewelry, which he learned from Jimmy Hornfeather in Arizona. Most of his friends were, technically, “homeless,” but they didn’t see themselves that way. Ben preferred the term “nomadic.” I liked “currently between homes” when I was homeless. No matter how you say it though, for some the hardships are not temporary, and the pain is often unrelenting. Isolation is one of the worst pains of all. I felt that keenly even with a roof over my head. I wanted to find a way to create connection, to hear and see the stories that creative people tell. So some time during 2015 or so is when the idea for artist packs came to be.
We restarted on November 2nd, M-F, one photo a day. I put a call out for more photos and my friends graciously contributed even more. We featured some beautiful photos from Tessa, Nicole, Jo and Ben. Then Ben came to stay with us in January, 2016 after wrecking his car. He got me out walking a lot more and helped us with some great information about health and supplements. He was tireless, always moving and rarely home. On February 12th I wrote this about Ben:
My oldest son is staying with us now and has been such an encouragement and good example. He is learning musical healing techniques, Ayurvedic yoga, herbal healing and meditation. I’m learning with him! It’s been a joy to talk to him every day about everything he’s learned. I’m stronger and healthier than I’ve been in a long time using his suggestions and especially getting rid of all the toxins in our home. We eat really clean now, and almost everything is from one-ingredient organic sources. We rarely eat meat and most of protein comes from fish and plants. We recently joined our local, organic whole-foods co-op in Newark which also has a huge selection of fresh-cut herbs. This summer we’ll be growing our own herbs and vegetables. Our entire backyard will be rototillered as soon as the ground thaws. There will be lots of room for herbs and veggies. =)
On February 24th, I went for another walk with Ben and took this photo. I didn’t know at the time it would be our last together for a long time. On March 2nd Ben disappeared. I posted a lot about it every day on under1000skies but then we as a family decided this kind of in-depth information about him might be really embarrassing for him. If his being out of sorts was temporary, this wouldn’t help. We hoped he would be back when he was ready, so I unpublished everything. Also, he was reportedly spotted by two witnesses from our town. The first siting was at the library on the 6th of March (or not — the librarian wasn’t sure if she saw him before or after he disappeared but, based on her testimony, the police chose to close the missing person case). Then he was seen again at our local market by our neighbor in early April. Unfortunately, our neighbor didn’t tell us about seeing Ben until nearly a month later in early May and by then details were fuzzy.
Meanwhile we restarted under1000skies. I used public domain sites for photos rather than continuously bothering my friends. I wasn’t going out. After an extended illness and disappearing myself for months, I finally pulled myself up again. I got our artist packs purchased and mailed to our volunteer in Denver. I hope to feature photos from homeless creatives from all over the country this year.
This has grown organically, and very slowly. The journey of under1000skies is closely interwoven with my own. I had no idea when I took that first photo what would happen in the years to come, just like I have no idea what will happen in this brand-new year. None of us knows, of course. I think that’s what is so magnificent and challenging about our lives. This moment truly is enough.
Thank you for sharing this moment with me. May you find joy every day of your journey in this new year and throughout your life.
♡. Niki Flow,