Seek No Further – Guinea pigs, Shamans and the Supernatural.

We are traveling to the hilltop Chullpas of Sillustani known for pre-Inkan circular funerary towers built of basalt and frozen in time. They are a product of arrested development, late in their building a group of explorers from Spain made landfall. The stones lay precisely where they had cut and placed. They went to meet this group of people coming into their lands, they never returned to their building project of Sillustani.

While traveling with our personal guide I was able to broach the subject of shamans. She looked me in the eye and said “guinea pigs and shamans are used throughout our culture.” I asked if she would tell me more. The story unfolded that live guinea pigs are placed in cloth bags and placed on various parts of the body.

The struggling and scratching guinea pigs are thought to possess special curative powers. Once again, my eyes grow large and she looks me over and believes I am receptive to her story. “Many, many people in my country use Shamans” I ask, “how many?” she smiles and tells me “ninety percent.” She goes on to tell me the important place that the guinea pig plays throughout Peruvian religious rituals. I thanked her for her frankness and forth coming.
I had a lot to ponder, do I believe that Guinea pigs have super natural powers or natural curative powers? I was reminded that most all world religions have a belief in some pivotal super natural event. I ponder my own upbringing.

A few days later we were back in Peru. It had been a long day and we were tired and in bed. Our friend Marcy was on the phone and wanted to take us to the Shamans Market in downtown Lima. I explained that I was in my pajamas and that we had had a wonderfully full day and needn’t see another market. At her insistence she said “I will be at your hotel in a half an hour and you can go in your pajamas” she hung up and we got dressed!

Marcy assured us that this market was the place where native Andeans living in Lima come for food and healthcare. Marcy smiled at me and said boldly “they have never seen a white guy from Minnesota at this market!”

It was a rambling ride through the depths of the city and it was dark and late when we arrived. A big white circus tent (100 yards long) was ablaze with and smaller 10 x10 tents inside. As we entered the loud and festive atmosphere, all eyes turned toward us. Not a casual glance, but a deliberate watch was placed on us. Most certainly, they were not used to fair skinned Minnesotans. We could sense that they were wondering what we might be doing here?

Our confidence level was not hindered, because our host (Marcy) set forth and began to show us around seemingly unaware of our apprehension. Language is an important device to communicate your standing in Peruvian society. Lima is a large community of perhaps nine million. It was understood that by her command of the language, Marcy was now the premier tour guide in this arena. Her abilities gave us complete access to this entire village of mountain people living in the city.

Each booth space had a curtain dividing it in half. The front half displayed all sorts of glittery and unknown products that might cure you of something. The back half of the booth housed the Shamans.
People were sitting in chairs in front of each tent, awaiting their time with the Shaman. Many, many tents and many, many Shamans.
I had had a conversation with Marcy’s husband about this and I was a bit alarmed when he explained to me that they could very well spit some herbal potion on you to make you better. Early in our vacation I had told him that I didn’t want to go anyplace where someone was going to spit on me…..and here I am?
Marcy explained that I was safe, because you have to pay them if you want to be spat upon and be cured. Well, I can now walk around knowing that I don’t have to worry about somebody else s bodily fluids.

Throughout the year we travel with a wide group of friends.  A native American (North American) we know had a incurable debilitating illness and went to South America, the deep rain forest.  He had a Shaman blow some unknown substance up his nose, probably dried blowfish and some other psychotropic concoction.   Upon his return he seemed a little less sentient.

The Shamans Market tour was a fascinating and curious place, bright lights, tinsel like products everywhere. Friendly smiles and a world class interpreter at our side.

Marcy knew full well that I was a complete skeptic. I place my trust in modern medicine and I view this as aboriginal folk cures, cures that have limited credence in the New England Journal of Medicine.  I do understand that the synthesis of herbal products have been of great benefit to society, in scientifically measured and quantified amounts.

No longer being able to contain myself I asked Marcy “If I had appendicitis am I going to show up at this witch doctors tent?” With some sort of compassion and understanding she calms my alarm and tells me this. “Bill, most Andeans trust modern medicine, but when a women loses her boyfriend or lover, they will come to the Shaman.” “The Shaman will either cause her boyfriend to return to her or he will do something bad to him!”

The Shamans Market now seems more understandable to this inexperienced tourist. The bright lights still cause the night visitor to squint as they enter this curious realm of the supernatural.
Billkeitel UnVarnished Essays – Road Notes January 2015


Trains, Planes and the Altiplano part 3.5

Our first train ride took us to Augas Caliente. We were seated with students from Galudette University. When we were seated across from them we realized they were deaf. My wife had the presence of mind to sign to them a greeting and her name. They realized we spoke english and were from the U.S.A. The bond was immediate. My cousins daughter has an affliation with Gauledette Univ. and we started texting one another in rapid succession. They were international students studying at Gauldette. They were from China, Saudi Arabia, Japan and Korea. The adventures we shared were kindred, most of which was made possible from a simple devise….the text messaging on our cellphones. The spirit of adventure was shared by all of us. I  admired their daring do. By the end of our short train trip hugs were distributed all around. The world is most certainly a better place than I sometimes envision.

Our second train trip was living larger than our normal lifestyle. We usually travel a step or two above hitch hiking. We had booked our travel as a package deal and this was the benefit. The Andean Explorer is a train ride from Cusco to Julica and Puno. The train consists of two passenger cars and an entertainment car. It is for all practical purposes….a private train! Our job was to sit and enjoy the culinary delights, the entertainment and the view. Our other job was to aclimate as we gained serious elevation rising up onto the altiplano, the highlands of the Andes.

Our “fancy” train starts its upward journey through the gritty neighborhoods of Cusco. We are already 11,000 feet above sea level. It is an eleven hour ride that gives us sweeping vistas. Free ranging herds of llamas are miles from any roadway or house. Always within a few hundred yards you can spot a herder nestled into a bush or crevice tending his animals. I ponder the lifestyle of the Andean as he spends day after day watching llamas grow wool. We stop at a Catholic mission outpost, one of the highest points on the train journey.

Andeans set up a quaint market to sell their woven goods to the tourists that stop once a day. I can see five to ten miles in every direction. There is not a house, not a telephone pole, not a fence and not a pathway in any direction other than the rodeway and the train track. The market consists of a mission church and wooden racks on which to drape your wovens. Our tourist dollar means a great deal to these industrious people, I regret not purchasing more from them.

The train whistle blows and we travel on. After a few more hours on the Altiplano we enter the city of Julica at eye level. Hundreds of vendors booths are within five feet of the train window. They blur past until we slow down. Since we are in a train our evevation is at their roof level. We can look down into their booths or we can look up on their roof tops. On the sheet metal roof tops we spy many drying fetal pigs or else guinea pigs……I’m not sure which? I decide to use caution and keep my dietary habits simple and cooked. We experienced no intestinal problems while traveling, we ate only cooked foods and vegetables and did not drink tap water. We were not inconvenienced by this regime. Puno is a big bustling city, it is the port of embarque’ if you want to visit Lake Titicaca, Uros, Isle Taquile’, Bolivia. Thor Heyerdahl brought great attention to this region forty five or fifty years ago when we built an ocean going raft out of the reeds that grow in this lake. It was his intention to show that South Americans could have been expert seafarers and populated the Southern Pacific with their seamanship. (Do the research yourself) The island of Uros is an island comprised of reeds. The people that live here are obligated to buoy their lifestyle by adding layers upon layers of reeds to keep their lifestyle afloat. We arrived after a two hour boat ride and the inhabitants were ready to greet tourists. In the past year they had built a boat they called the “Mercedes”.

It was one step above all the rest, they had painted the bow of boat yellow. This is marketing at its simplest, build a bigger and better boat and you can capture more tourist dollars and better your lifestyle. It was a tasteful and in keeping with their native craftsmanship. It was a treat to ride and appreciate the efforts of boat building. Consider the history behind this type of craftsmanship, consider these reeds are quite similar to the reeds that hid Moses from the Pharoh.

The people of the floating islands are quite gracious. Tourism is an industry for them, but it also creates the burden of public relations on people that are trying to go about their daily lives.

They do it with grace and dignity. Uros is an island that has meaningful interaction with the outside world.


We board the boat and head off to an Isle Taquile’ the island is reknown for the very best weavings. It is an upward hike of hundreds of feet. This would be of no concern but we are already at 12,500 feet and now we experience shortness of breath. It is time to saunter rather than quickly walk along the pathways that lead toward the city center. There are children, women and old men weaving in every nook and crevice.

Some actively wanting to sell and others just intent on doing their weaving.

We motor back to our port city of Puno ready to ponder the days events. Puno is a big city with twenty four hour activity. We ventured out late one evening to get more altitude medication. The pharmicia was a block or two from where the taxi had dropped us. I struggled blocks to find the pharmica and I struggled through a crowd of humanity just to reconnect with the awaiting cab driver. All went well and no ill effects were had by us “flat landers”. The days spent in Puno were beautiful and breathless. They were puncuated with late night gasps, at 12,500 feet we awoke, alarmed that we needed oxygen. A quick plane flight back to Lima deposited us at sea level and left us feeling like we had left a dream world. Billkeitel UnVarnished Essays-Road Notes (final essay-Waning Days of Peru)

Waning Days In Peru-Communique’

The last day spent in Peru was the highlight. Our host invites us to his silver factory.   This is the culmination of years of friendship.  We have sold their silver jewelry in our store and now we are able to see where it is born! We find our way down the twisted streets of Lima and wind up at a nondescript building that is three or four stories tall. The security camera’s validate our presence and the doors electronically allow us passage to the inner sanctum. Sunlight beams into this building from the open air above. Part of the building is shielded the elements and part of the building recognizes that this part of the world is a particuliarly beautiful environment and lets the year around warmth into the workspace.

We are immediately welcomed by Alphonzo, the Pader Familius of the Delapina Silver Factory. His daughter Marcy gets ready to translate our interactions. Alphonzo will have nothing of it! He explains to Marcy that he wants to give the tour and she can act as the professional interpreter! Alphonzo invites us into the building and the first object that is encountered is a very large bar of silver that lies on the floor. He invites us to pick it up and take it home with us.

It is a ploy, because it weighs one thousand ounces and we can not lift it!

I reflect on my four decades as a leathersmith and realize that he has spent the same amount of time as a silversmith.   We both have pursued  ancient artisanship.  We have both trusted in craftsman’s way of life, command over materials, tools, processes that keep alive the pride in cottage industries of the Americas. This is precisely why we share such a common bond.

We tour the factory from floor to floor. His sons are production managers and international sales managers, daughter Marcy returns home to Peru to design new jewelry for the company. It is detailed work that all starts with professional drawings, weights, measures of each project. This assures that when she has left Peru the attention to detail will be observed by the many artisans that will create the final products.

We are introduced to life long dedicated employees, they work in the factory by smelting & drawing the silver into products unimaginable. Women are soldiering silver chain, link by link.

The small furnace roars melting silver before our eyes. His employees are also an integral part of his business, they move and work with a sense of pride. They are his extended family and friends. Working in precious metals involves trust, these craftsman have been awarded that honor.

They emboss and deboss the flat panels of silver, they draw the delicate silver wire into chain. All of this is done by simple machinery and all by the hand of man (women also). At the end of the day sweeping and dusting catches the excess silver and it is smelted back into the products that grace the showrooms throughout Lima and the world.

When the tour is nearly over we are given privilege to the exclusive showroom. This room displays many of the products that are currently in production and also many one of a kind pieces. As we enter the room we encounter a near legendary piece of work by their company.

They were commissioned by the government of Peru for the Queen of Spain (upon her specific request). The Queen had inquired if silver craftsmanship was practiced in Peru as it was in past centuries? The result was a four by eight foot panel produced by Alphonzo and Delapina Silver Factory. The Queen was overcome by the craftsmanship. Delapina Silversmithing has earned a point of pride throughout the America’s and beyond. We were beholden to have had the opportunity to tour this place of historic silversmithing, silversmithing that has endured the ages.

Our time in Lima & Peru has been well spent, our host family has tended to our every need and we feel priviledged to have made this most kindred connection.

Bill Keitel/UnVarnished Essays-RoadNotes 2015


The Sacred Valley of Peru-Communique’

We leave Lima and catch a plane to Cusco. We will acclimate for a few days in this city of a million people. It is two miles high and at this elevation it will help us with our endurance in the coming days. A long awaited trek, to Ollantaytambo is up the roadway in the Sacred Valley. It is approximately forty five kilometers as the condor flies. We travel in a bus and dodge small herds of sheep and pigs, donkeys and chickens as we watch teams of oxen plow the potato fields. The verdant mountain tops are sunlit with scattered clouds, clouds created by the proximity to the Amazon. We are entering a biome called the cloud forest. At this elevation the mountains in North America are treeless and we would be above the tree line. However with this high humidity we are instead in a cloud forest it is heavily vegetated and there are terraces in every direction and at every elevation.


The oxygen gets mighty thin at this elevation and it seems to decrease exponentially with each thousand feet of elevation.


We hiked to the upper level of this religious plateau, taking forty upward steps at a time. Our hearts beat louder with each step. We rest for a minute and then have another go. Our new found hiking partner from Greece, he is a fellow windsurfer and is twenty years our younger. As we hike upward we contemplate altitude sickness, we have taken some preventative medication that was suggested to help us cope. Understanding altitude sickness is curious, it knows know age group or fitness model. The following night we get an alarming phone call. It is our Greek friend Alex, he is desperately sick. Alex wheezes “I need help, I am vomiting, dizzy and can’t catch my breath.” We find his hotel room and share our altitude medication and he is given some additional oxygen supplied by the hotel staff. Morning arrives and we receive a phone call from Alex. He has made a complete recovery and he tells us that we have made a friend for life! It makes us realize anybody can be at risk.

Early mornings in the Sacred Valley are meant for hiking. Ollantaytambo is a magnificient religious plateau. Ollantaytambo has a vista so sweeping that it seems to have a view of the entire world. It is indeed a view of much of the Inkan world.

The precision stone work (dry stone masonry) that we find on this mountain top is stunning. It is found throughout Peru. Today very few stone masons could replicate this craftsmanship. It is made mostly of basaltic materials and is labor intensive. The amount of terraces and stonework in Peru suggests that this region was heavily populated with industrious, organized natives that understood the value of level growing surfaces.



I have marveled at stone work in Italy, Stone Henge in Great Britain, and many Cathedrals in Europe. South American stone craftsmanship ranks amongst the best in the world. It has lasted centuries perfectly intact. Their building techniques and engineering are unmatched. The walls have a very diagnostic feature, they are canted toward each other at approximately 13 degrees. This technique allows gravity to play a more critical role in stabilizing formations by leaning the wall slightly toward each other to provide mutually applied pressure. This advent in building techniques creates structures that tend to be seismographically more stable, ie; earthquake proof! This is something that U.S. society has started to consider in only the last century.

The road get bumpier and the bus on which we are traveling seems to have taken the suicide pathway. As the road narrows and we stop abruptly for on coming traffic. It is a one lane road with very few turnouts, the traffic going uphill has the right of way. It is a test of faith and courage to consider backing a tour bus up this worn and beaten pathway. The drivers do it many times each day. I try not to fixate on their job and look out over the valley and spy a treasure. Staring directly at me, at eye level, I am face to face with an Andean Condor soaring two thousand of feet above the river below.

The Condor is considered the largest bird in the world with a wingspan exceeding ten feet. In my formative years reading about this bird sparked my interest in reading, nature and geography. A twenty second close up glimpse of this bird made my trip to South America complete. It is one of the animals revered by the Inkan culture. The condor carries prayers to heaven.

The following day we are approximately 200 miles from the Pacific coast line and hiking up the trails toward the fabled temple of Machuu Pichu. The fifteenth century temple was built for the Inkan royalty in an incredibly short period of time, suggesting tremendous amounts of skilled laborers.  Below us is the Urubumba River, this river flows around the base of this mountain. Amazingly this river does not flow to the Pacific, it flows into the Atlantic Ocean approximately 2,700 distant. This river threads its way through the Andes into the amazonian basin and begins it journey eastward.  Along the river bank (a thousand feet below) you can see a small pathway, it is the Inkan trail. If you happen to be the ruler of this Sacred Valley you have access to eastern and western watersheds. You can request fish from the Pacific Ocean and some rainforest delicacy from the Atlantic side of the mountains. You have cultural, economic and spiritual communication with greater populations other than your own.


Once again, consider the terracing, it is the obvious tourist fascination and each terrace is called a pata. One pata, two patas equal patapata and so on. On these patas potatoes are grown and some linguists/people surmise that perhaps this is where the word patato or potato begat. I suspect this is linguistic conjecture. On each pata the elevation creates a small variation of microclimate. Rain fall and temperature varied at each level and to stave off starvation you would want many small fields at many different levels. This understanding of farming one or two dozen different plots assures your continued existence because crop failures at any given level were common place.



The lack of flat and tillable land made for the creation of these labor intensive terraces. Each generation took on the task of going further up the mountain. Looking at the mountain side you can envision an entire family lineage, their life, their work, their sustenance.

Twelve to fourteen thousand years ago their ancestors crossed the Bering Sea Land bridge or else followed the Kelp Highway along the coast. In a blink of time they are creating new societies, religions, arts, crafts, economies and studying astronomy.


During the height of their short empire boats from Spain arrived. The Spanish had arrived at incredibly opportune time. A civil war had recently weakened the entire social fabric of South America and then came a European disease. Small pox traveled faster than any explorer. It decimated entire populations of native South Americans long before the news of the Spanish arrival. They had no resistance to European germs.  

We have a place to sleep, we continue in the morning.



UnVarnished Essays-Peruvian Travel Communique’

I press the GO button. We’ve been to numerous Caribbean Islands and we’ve been to the middle Americas.   The chance to go to Peru has loomed large the past few years and at long last we’ve determined that it is time to go.

Our friend Marcy has family in Peru and they own a silver factory in Lima.   We handle their products in our store.  Her father has stopped by many times when he is visiting South Western Minnesota and seems to be intrigued with our buffalo leathergoods.   We neither speak each others language, yet through interpretation we enjoy each others company.  He came to visit this summer and told me “I am turning seventy and soon I will sell the summer home on the beach in Lima, come and visit me before it is  to late!”

We both share something in common, we both have earned our living in the smithy trades, by that I mean the trades of artisanship, silversmithing & leathersmithing.  I have a strong an abiding respect for anyone that dares to earn a living working with their hands, no matter where on earth they reside.   My Peruvian friend has a factory in Lima and employs nearly ten times as many artisans as myself.  I have no illusions that it will be anything like my humble workshop.

Their generosity of spirit is overwhelming.  His daughter tells me we will celebrate New Years like no other New Years.  It will not start until ten P.M. & we will party all night.

When the sun comes up over the Andes, we will lie like beached whales on the Pacific sands.  The past few years I’ve stayed up until midnight only because we were entertaining others,  an all night party seems a bit out of character for this fellow.

For a good part of my life I have been on stage playing the music, & watching other people dance.  Now it is time for me to learn to salsa and other latin moves!

 I ponder all of this and  I realize that travel is somewhat about “getting out of character.”  I am a late bloomer when it comes to international travel.   It has only been the last five or 6 years that I’ve intentionally left the continent each October and spent three weeks out and about.  Never once upon my return did a have a whit of regret and if I did, it was only that I should have stayed longer!

I have fond memories of late night street theatre in inter city London,   Gypsy Fairs in the Cotswolds.    Arriving in York  late at night, in dense fog, knowing the map I had memorized would guide us to that unknown doorstep. We hike  with our back packs for a mile  or two to the B & B.  The dim light thirty yards in the distance would signal our home for the coming week.    We hiked cross country through fields and pastures,  finding a dry stone mason that shared his trade/craft with us.  He was building a stone fence that went off over the hillside in the distance.  Three meters per day was his progress.  The industrial port of Genova found us hanging out dockside with deck hands of luxury ocean going yachts, as they readying the ships  to embark on the ocean crossings.  They were rowdy and nearly drunken, yet rubbing shoulders with the working class was precisely why we set foot.

We’ve visited and created friendships with common merchants like ourselves.  They  struggle to earn a living in the small cities and crevasses of the Cinque’ Terra region of Italy.

In most travel there has always been an aire of trepidation and anticipation.  Never once has there been regret.


Today we blink! and we are in the central plaza in downtown Lima we realized a inordinate amount of policeman are organizing, certainly hundreds.

There were forty to fifty on the plaza and many more strategically placed in alleyways in all directions of this beautiful area. They were hanging out of sight in case they were needed. There was a scheduled protest having to do with young adults and workers wages and it was planned to be a big national event. We also notice a tank a block in the distance.

The officers neatly fit the exact same demographic as the protesters. They were in the twenty to thirty year old age category.

As we wend our way through the city plaza our cell phone rang and our hosts tell us to leave the Plaza immediately.  It was a beautiful sunny day in downtown Lima and the atmosphere was upbeat and friendly. I spied a republican balcony that had been turned into a second floor restaurant and thought we might have a birds eye view of the event as it unfolded. Our friend and analytical traveling companion pondered whether tear gas rises? It was a wake up call for me to take my instructions seriously.

 We heeded their advise and left the Plaza but not before getting a photo opportunity. I was left with an impression that the police were exceedingly friendly professionals. They were not jack booted enforcers, but peace officers doing their job. We watched the protest on televison that evening and the plaza was filled with tens of thousands of protesters. The tension was assuaged by the calm shown by the officers. Both police and protesters had a role to play and nobody got out of hand. I can’t help but think the police demeanor played a crucial role in creating an atmosphere of considerate behavior by both sides. The event was considered a success by both parties. Our first forty eight hours in Peru……amazing!

I invite you to come along on this four part series of Road Notes/UnVarnished Essays.  Andiamo!   billkeitel



Portobello Road-London


I was cast in a brass foundry in the Georgian Era sometime between 1804 and 1814.

I was sold on Portobello Road in London when a row house was being built , I was a final tribute to some semblance of individuality. The dwelling was set apart from the 1 million other people that called London their home. I was a simply cast door knocker.

For nearly 2 hundred years I enjoyed heralding visitors to this home. I endured numerous wars and a century and a half of coal dust. People knocked when they came to celebrate, people knocked when they came to give their condolences. I was the first contact, I stood vigil.

Fifty years ago a planning commission determined that my home was no longer relevant and that it should be torn down to make way for housing with newer amenities and greater convenience.

I once again found myself cast out on Portobello road, in amongst the two miles of outdoor street vendors selling antique hardware.

A man with a black backpack came wandering down this busy street in amongst 20,000 other Londoners. He is traveling with a person I suspect is his wife. They speak with a new world accent. His backpack has been unzipped at least twice by pick pockets in the heavy crowd. It was of no concern to him because he had nothing of value in the backpack.

My knocker is slightly bent after two centuries. My gaze and my poise have not been effected. I am delighted to be found of interest by this couple. They pay a fair price to the brass monger that holds my claim.
I am once again valued. I am no longer sold by the pound for the market price of brass.

When I was cast, the world was appreciating the age of enlightenment. Knowledge was (at long last) allowed to flourish and it was held in high regard. Intellectual freedom was most everywhere and a man named Darwin was born.

And now the world is most certainly… no longer flat. I have been purchased by a new world couple and they seem to appreciate me. I once again find myself positioned in a place of importance. I have boarded a machine that is lighter than air and have found myself on another continent.

I have endured the industrial age and I have survived world wars. I now have found a new home in a distant land. A home that respects my past and a home that appreciates my sojourns. I look out over a prairie lake and the tall grass prairies of the North American landscape.

My original sculptor spent time and effort creating me. He gave careful consideration to my features. He took his station in life seriously. My features reflect his abilities and his seriousness regarding his profession.

I once again have value, I once again hold promise, once again, I carry on.
billkeitel RoadNotes-UnVarnished Essays



1,000 Days of Festivals

I come from the land of Retail, I come from the land of Promotional Opportunity.

For the past 18 years my wife and I have traveled the countryside like modern day gypsies.   We have attended juried art festivals, horse fairs, National Bison Association Shows, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Exhibitions (referred to as , hook and bullet shows).

Many people go to an art festival once or twice each summer.  We attend these festivals most every weekend all summer and part of the winter months in the SouthWest.   It allows us to meet perhaps five or ten thousand people every weekend.  I admit that it causes us to have a little customer overload after this first few weeks.

As we pause and reflect over these past years we have come to realize that we have attended approximately fifty to sixty days of festivals each year.   When you multiply that by eighteen years,  you come to realize that this summer marks ” ONE THOUSAND  DAYS OF FESTIVALS!”   Is this something to be proud of?  or a sign of being stuck in a very serious rut?  We are humbled to have had the opportunity to exhibit at some of the top ten art festivals in the United States.


I have enjoyed understanding how each and every festival operates and how they produce revenue, advertise and promote their individual events.  I make concerted efforts to get to know most each and every festival organizer.   I have found this to be a curious journey because I have gleaned information from throughout the west, southwest and midwest.   Which festivals fund their events by using a gate fee,  which one has the most profitable beer garden, who has the best corporate sponsors, and which corporate sponsors are apt to been long term contributors and which sponsors to avoid if you are pursuing a long term festival relationship.   All of these questions can be answered by attending and getting to know each festival and their organizers.   Many of the concerns of festival building are similar, many are not.  Each festival is an event unto itself.

This information has been interesting to me.  I have compiled enough information over the years that I have been asked to share this information at various state and national level organizations.  It’s kind of a neat gig and it has allowed me to rub shoulders with some curious folks of national acclaim.

Lets get back to festivals!  Each fall we start applying to juried art festivals for the following year, trying to keep the bar high enough that we don’t end up on a street corner flea market.   We try to put together a cohesive schedule that allows to travel with some degree of prudent direction.   We start this process with a devil-may-care-attitude and wild ambition.

We are nearing the end of summer and we  realize that we have bit off more festivals than we can chew.   The end of summer “stretch”  is upon us.  We have traveled seven states in the past seven weeks.   Montana, Wyoming,North and South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota,  all of these art festivals have been hard work, yet enjoyable.   Most often we can enjoy a sunny afternoon (104-107 degree heat) or chance of rain (3 inches with the port-a- pots floating by).     We harbor no ill, our lifestyle dictates these bouts with nature.  We buck up and know that western South Dakota and a sprint to New Mexico are nothing more than one or two day drives.   Knowing that we have artist and musician friends that we will reconnect with, bouys our enthusiasm.  After the festivals are over for the day, we will spend the nights jamming and playing music with our artist and artisan family.  It’s a dreamy d& gritty world of hard work and trust.  Trust in the fact that few people will let you down.  Trust, in the fact that you will reconnect with those that appreciate your work  and you, appreciating them.

Our reconnection with our customers is paramount.   We love them, we need them and our mantra,…..we always keep our gratitude higher than our expectations.    If we work hard and have a good show, then we have to go home and work hard at production for the next show.   It is a vicious cycle and you have to feed the beast you create!

If I was a fine artist and sold a print  of my paintings, I would go and have a reprint made so I could sell another.  Alas, I am in the artisan catagory (leathersmith), when I sell a product, I have to work hard and make another product.

We travel with many different artists and artisans.   We travel together weeks at a time, much longer than I spend with my kindred friends in my own hometown.   We see artist friends in Arizona and then meet up again in Milwaukee, Wisconsin or Minneapolis, MN.

As a mobile and transient art community we suffer thru all the same afflictions that a sedentary community encounters.  This year we celebrated births and deaths and many emotional turmoils….common to everyone, everywhere.

We cross all manner of social biomes.  One night we take our little motorhome into the fanciest of neighborhoods (World Bank board members) and the next night we are encamped under an interstate underpass….in “Bloods and Cripes” territory.   We fancy ourselves as  masters of public relations….where ever we travel.

Vacations become a matter of question, because we are  working hard AND having FUN on the road, perhaps we need some down time?   That time might be spent in our own community just going to work.  Work at home seems easier and much more predictable when you don’t have to take in the elements of nature and doing an outdoor festival.  Many times we have questioned our efforts when a tornado warning is being announced and we are holding on to our tent stakes.   The brick and mortar store front seems quite attractive.  We acknowledge our employees back home and how vital they are to our success.  They are held in highest regard.

We have built a solid repoire with our patrons at each and every show.  When we return the following year it is heartening to reacquaint.  The renewal of our friendship is not predicated on making another sale.  The extension of that friendship allows us to explore further into their lives and their community.

Though we are a bit weary and sliding into the last grips of summer/fall, it is a fun adventure that allows us to meet our customers and patrons.   The arts and humanities are not just idle words to us.   The arts and humanities are our life and our lifestyle.  Our gratitude is always higher than our expectations.

Bill Keitel

UnVarnished Essays/RoadNotes

The Blue Mounds State Park – Birding the Big Blue!

The Blue Mounds State Park

Wu & Ling Min

– A Birding Adventure

My companions are my wife, Les and Louise Rogers and our new new found friends Wu and Dr. Ling Min from Taiwan. They have arrived in South Western Minnesota to spend a weekend and to build their life list of birds and friendships.

Dr. Ling Min is a wildlife veterinarian, she has pursued her studies at the Endemic Species Research Institute in Taiwan. Ling Min has been selected to serve a two year internship and is working with Dr. Julia Ponder-UMN Raptor Center-Veterinary Medicine College. Ling Min has been trained in handling American Bald Eagles, Falcons and other large birds of prey in the USA.

Her husband Wu studied political science and then became interested in wildlife & geography. After his military service discharge he chose to work at the Endemic Species Research Institute/Ornithology Lab and recently completed a two year field research project.

The Raptor Center is affiliated with the University of Minnesota and over the years it has garnered a well deserved National and International reputation for its expertise in the veterinary & conservation sciences of raptor rehabilitation, education & research. The Raptor Center treats injured bald eagles, golden eagles, hawks and owls of all species. All of these birds are federally protected so the area the Raptor Center serves, knows no state boundaries. Their reputation continues to grow as the public becomes aware of the good they do. The Raptor Center is celebrating its 40 year anniversary, they currently treat between 700 and 900 birds of prey yearly.

The alarm clock rang at 4:30 a.m., it seemed a bit early, yet we rose with great vigor knowing full well that we had a 50- 50 chance of bad weather and exceedingly high winds. With a devil may care attitude we donned rain gear and set forth in light sprinkles. Our destination was the Blue Mounds State Park. A short 30 minute drive from my home. The Blue Mounds is noted for its bison herd. It also continues to be one of the best kept secrets in the MidWest. It defies the topographic flatness that much of the midwestern tall grass prairie has to offer. If you motor by on interstate 90 you don’t get a sense of its presence, you can’t see the elevation and the 1 ½ billion year old rock outcroppings of Morton Gneiss, commonly called Sioux Quartzite. Few people know that this rock was positioned on the equator about 500 million years ago and recently the American Geological Society has come to understand that a curious phenomena occurred during this epoch. The Morton Gneiss was situated on a equatorial shoreline and yet there were signs of ice and snow at this geologic time & place.

Today the Oak leaves are the size of squirrels ears and it means the spring warbler migration is in full progress. The conditions aren’t great, it’s windy, sky is grey and the humidity is begging the rain to fall. We arrive at the Blue Mounds at dawn and park at the historic rock quarry. We immediately see a dozen or so Turkey Vultures playing off the breeze that lifts and rises over the tall rock cliffs. This is my ancestral homeland, The rock quarry is a place that I grew up playing in the rocks and crevasses. I know most every boulder and rock. When the effort is made to get up earlier than usual you are allowed special privileges. You are able to heighten your awareness because it is quiet, no motor noise, just the wind building a stout breeze. This wind keeps our warbler friends closer to the ground and closer to the cliff line as they seek protection in the wind shadow of the cliffs. My new found friends have traveled some distance to go birding and I have an inkling of concern that I must not fail to produce some birds!

After a short walk to the quarry we see a precious few birds. Our companions make for good company and we dispel any notion of the fact that the weather might be getting worse. We decide to rock climb to the top of the quarry, it is a good climb for people that are not faint of heart and it is easier if you are blessed with long legs. Throwing caution to the wind, everybody made it to the top!

If you have not been to the top of the Blue Mounds you have a limited sense of the landscape in which you reside. The view is incomparable, if you have a spotting scope & on a crystal clear day you can see the water towers in Luverne, Rock Rapids, Magnolia, Adrian, Rushmore & my town (Worthington) that is 30 miles in the distance. You can also see Iowa and the glowing lights of Sioux Falls South Dakota on an ordinary night. You can sense the curvature of the earth from this elevation.

We catch our breath and commence to hike in the treetops of the mighty oaks that are growing at the base of the cliffs far below.
Mist is in the air and the rocks become slippery. We could not climb back down if this continues! Alas, as I peer downward into the boughs and branches of the bur oak trees we get a truly good sighting, an Indigo Bunting is a most brilliantly colored bird. You live a life deprived if you have never seen this jewel of nature. Bird books with all the latest photography & printing technology can not capture the essence of an Indigo Bunting. These bird are in our midst and yet they remain invisible to the public unless you seek them out. They are small and a bit reclusive, but worth every effort once revealed.

The enthusiasm our companions display is infectious. We all spot a hawk high in the sky and I hesitate to identify the species for fear of being wrong. Wu then speaks up and confidently states that it is a Broad winged Hawk and that it is 2 years old! I try to grasp how he is able to ascertain that information and turn to him and ask, “how do you know?”. With a smile he states that the tail feathers of this Broad wing are slightly different in marking than an adult Broad wing because of the juvenile molt. I am humbled by his knowledge.

The Tennessee Warbler is another bird that confused me and my binoculars. I ask Wu how he could so confidently and quickly identify this non descript bird? Wu stated “if you look at the white eyebrow, the dark eye line, the gray head, and the thin pointed bill & white under parts, there is nothing particularly identifiable… it must be a Tennessee Warbler!  Bird after bird, we walk through the bur oaks in the high elevations of the Blue Mounds. When we get back to the car, Wu systematically jots down every species that we have seen. I had hoped to present them with the sighting of a Blue Grosbeak and an Upland Sandpiper. Alas, they did not appear. Our friends were not disappointed because they had seen these in previous outings.

We spent the day in pursuit and by the days end we identified 54 or 55 species. Had I gone out by myself, I would have returned with perhaps 35 species. The Blue Mounds State Park Adventure added two species that Wu and Ling Min had not seen before. They were able to add them to their “life list”. My life list is perhaps 80 to 120 different species……I haven’t counted. I asked Wu about his life list and he was able to add the two additional species provided by the Blue Mounds trek & the total came to 909 species!

If you weren’t an avid birder the day was cloudy, cold, grey and miserable. Shoulder to shoulder we hiked with our new birding companions, we found the day quite enjoyable.

The miles we hiked, we came to realize that the adventure is in our own backyard.

billkeitel May 2014


Rock Art Ranch 2-17-14


We take the Winslow exit and drive south on highway 87 & 99. We head east on Territorial Road. If you have an aversion to dirt and dusty roads, stop and turn around right here!


Our destination is a place called Rock Art Ranch. Earlier in the day I picked up the phone and asked if we could come and visit. The ranch is far off the road, so a personal invite is almost required by the owner Brantly Baird. Mention is made that if it is raining, turn around because the roads are impassable for most tourist vehicles. We travel in a very small R.V. & pull a ten foot trailer. We consider ourselves somewhat nimble in the R.V. World. We have crossed little streams and driven up steep roadways at 10,000 +ft. and we have a small turning radius and can make u-turns in any intersection. This happens OFTEN when we are exploring.


My wife and I are avid hikers/walkers/explorers. When we are on the road we have a penchant to seek out natural hot springs and native petroglyphs. France might have the Musee d’Orsay and the Louvre but Arizona has a best kept secret…an outdoor art exhibit called Rock Art Ranch.


We travel 12 miles on gravel, then another 2 miles on dirt, then another 3 miles down dusty roads to our destination. We are met by Brantly and his son, they have unsuccessfully been trying to round up buffalo during the afternoon. The ranch is large enough that they never found them. They assured me that they are out there somewhere ….and then lamented, if they actually ran off, it would be a blessing. Brantly squints at me and says “our nearest neighbor is 17 miles away….and sometimes thats to close”


The dust settles and we peruse the ranch and the rather rocky landscape. At his homestead there are dozens of gigantic old tree trunks collected from close proximity to the nearby Petrified National Forest. As we break the ice I extend my hand and I comment that “it looks like you’ve had a problem growing trees around here?” He has a warm smile and says “they died about 80 million years ago and I haven’t been able to grow much since.”, “We’ve got a live tree over by the barn that is ten feet tall” Brantly says with dry wit.


Brantly hands us a key and tells us we can head back down some dusty roads that trail off in the distance. The key opens a locked gate & entrance to the canyon and the walls that are the palette of ancient rock art. We are advised to lock all gates and since there are not amenities like electricity,running water and cell phone coverage……you are on your own. Brantlys son knows we have spend the past 4 weeks amongst thousands of tourists at various art festivals. He smiles and says “it might be a bit quieter than you’re used to” , another understatement.


It is mid to late afternoon and we take off quickly as not to miss the long shadows of the afternoon and evening. We arrive in a whirl of dust and drive into the corral, we shut all the gates around us. This allows us protection from the buffalo or the cattle that might want to eat the windshield wipers off of our vehicle during the time we spent at this remote location.

No time is spent preparing our site. We quickly hike down to explore the canyon and to find the artwork. With each downward step into the canyon we descend into what seems like another biome. The upper desert plains are swept by the Sonoran winds that stir the exposed sandstone into the air. The canyon offers relief from wind, intense sunlight, intense cold and has a life giving stream that flows off the very, very distance mountain toward Flagstaff.

Over the eon’s the light sandstone walls have developed a black patina that is a perfect chalkboard. For thousands of years native and not so native people have been using art and images to define their territory. Today our society uses spray paint on railroad cars. The Anasazi did not have the luxury of spray paint and had to resort to pecking the surface of the canyon with a sharp rock.

As we travel to various petroglyph sights throughout the South West, we remain curious and open to what they might signify and what they might be trying to relay to the viewer.

Rock Art Ranch is known for having exceptional Pre-Columbian petroglyphs including one called the “birthing mother” It is a rare petrographic depiction of the birthing event.


With each trip to various petroglyph sites we evaluate what we have seen and try to ascertain their meanings and relationships to the surroundings. Enclosed find a photograph that depicts what seems to be a complete family unite.

A family unit living in harmony, the larger persons are shown holding hands. There is much to ponder in the larger picture. Just two feet in the distance is another adult like figure. He is followed by a succession of dots. Dot, dot, dot, dot, He is either leading the way and taking the entire family unit to someplace else, or perhaps he has wandered from the family, and they acknowledge his absence by this image. It seems hard to determine. He has left an effect on his family unit and they pay homage to his distance by this portrayal.

The Anasazi surroundings are as hospitable as any place you might find in the south west. They have been provided with a tolerable climate, suitable water supply in an arid desert. Wildlife abounds throughout the canyon lands and the surrounding desert and provides a plentiful food source. The beaver trim the red willow along the stream, dam building and providing for the fish, turtles and frogs. In the quiet of late afternoon and early morning it provided us with an insight into their near perfect neighborhood.

For many years the Anasazi were thought to be a near perfect society, living in harmony with their surroundings as seen in this beautiful canyon. Recently, scientific research has shown that their society met with an untimely end. Their Anasazi-Chaco Canyon relatives were victims of anthropophagy, was it outsiders? Insiders or lack or resource, it is hard to know. Anthropophagy is commonly known as cannibalism.


This place was a valued and treasured resource thousands of years ago. It remains the same today.


Bill Keitel

Road Notes/UnVarnished Essays February 2014

Paul Gruchow-Diary of a young madman.

RoadNotes Feb. 22 2014

While traveling southwesterly a friend of mine sought me out and handed me a book to read. The book quite unexpectedly unleashed a wave of emotion. I had not realized that Paul’s memoirs had been published 14 months earlier. Much to his credit Louis Martinelli has recognized the importance of this work. He has worked tirelessly to see it to fruition.

If you have grown up in Minnesota or even the Midwest you probably have been given the opportunity to appreciate Paul Gruchow. Paul had won the Minnesota Book & Lifetime Achievement Awards in the 1980’s. He also edited the Worthington Daily Globe an award winning newpaper. As I remember Paul was invited to give the keynote address for the 75th anniversary of the Foshay Tower.

Paul was a dear friend to many Worthington residents, myself included. When the oak leaves were the size of squirrels ears, we would canoe the Rock River. We found it to have more wildlife per square mile than the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. We identified confusing spring warblers, Redstarts and Blue Grosbeaks that flitted in the tops of old cottonwood trees. One minute our canoe would speed down the rapids and next it would bottom out on a gravel bar. It was the gravel bar where the rare and elusive Topeka Shiner found its northern most home.

The memoirs are a lucid glimpse into the darkness of mental illness. Paul was a professionally trained observer. His incredible writing skills captured his journey into this curious, yet sad episode of his life. He was bedeviled in that he could not appreciate his own talent.

In the ensuing years I suspect psychologists and psychiatrists could use this book in futher understanding the daunting challenges of mental illness by the insight he offers.

My final conversation with Paul was prompted because I had just become aware that he was suffering. Our conversation was forced and uncomfortable. A good friend had grown distant……he was to busy writing his last book. Paul Gruchow died Feb. 22 2004

Diary of a young madman- A Memoir – by Paul Gruchow
foreward by Louis Martinelli