2023 KIAW Virtual Tour

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at CarrotRanch.com. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

October 3, 2023

Years in the making, the first Keweenaw Interactive Art Walk took place on Saturday, September 30. We couldn’t have accomplished this feat of art without the willing feet and pens of those who joined us. Twenty writers from the Carrot Ranch Literary Community each wrote a single 99-word story in response to twenty paintings from TOJ at Red Rabbit Art Studio. We hung the paintings along a wooded trail and across a bog not far from the shore of Lake Superior and posted laminated printouts of each paired story. We tied jars to the trees to collect 1-word, 5-word, or haiku reflections from those walking the trail live or virtually.

How do I feel two days later? Like I got a huge vitamin boost of joy. What can be more joyful than collaborating with fellow human beings seeking a connection between art, nature, expression, creativity, and each other?

The day began with a 3 a.m. wake-up call from Lake Superior who reacted to a warm front with enough thunder to shake the house and lightning to illuminate the pre-dawn. Everyone across the Keweenaw Peninsula felt it and woke up. Next, came a downpour, followed by frantic scrolling through a weather app. It would be over by 10 a.m. We moved forward with the event but delayed hanging the artwork. Participants also waited to see what the weather was up to and came later, granting us a cushion of time.

The woods glowed with painted images, turquoise benches, and a neighbor’s borrowed geraniums and mums in pots. Comfort and color found in the wilds. And it was silent; a cacoon.

No, there was surf. Chickadees. Wind in the popples. A woodpecker. Rain-laded boughs dumping drops. The slugs were silent, shiny, and stuck to the labels on jars. I told one slug headed to Ann Goodwin’s story, “That Girl” to think better of it — she’s a vanquisher of slugs. Insect Nation whispered, “We are here, too,” and as I accepted that truth of nature a mosquito bit my knuckle. Easily, I slipped into a meditative state and felt held in this image of intersection between art and nature.

People arrived. Neighbors, ticket-holders, local artists. A waitress from the DreamLand bought a ticket before her shift. Grandchildren of summer lakers down the road ran to the trail. Chatter and giggles, banter, and calls joined the soundscape in layers. People listened when I explained the author-artist pairings. They commented on places outside the Keweenaw, cheered Pennsylvania for a good showing (four authors!), waved to Canada, and marveled at how people around the world could write together.

They got the Ranch Yarns! They understood the game; that characters from an author’s head escaped into life of their own. A. Kid wrote a response, and someone asked if the author used that voice for Kid in every story she lets Kid write. I had to explain about Pal. Well, and the whole Marge crew, Frankie, the Legumes, and the characters from other authors’ heads, even Harry the offshoot wandering yarnist. The audience understood the writing game and slipped into play. There’s no greater validation than an audience agreeing to go anywhere with artists — literary, musical, movement, visual.

I watched people watch. They viewed the art from different angles. They stood, sat, crouched. The deep contemplation hushed the humans. The surf carried our thoughts deeper and deeper. One woman began to cry. “This story, this story Kerry wrote. I see the painting differently now,” I heard her say. Another woman joined her and agreed. They talked about the painting, the story, their lives, and how the story expressed something neither could articulate before they read. Minutes earlier the two were strangers. Now they were having a deep, reflective conversation. I cried.

Happy tears. Joyous release. This coming together in art and nature. It was profound.

My intent was to post videos to give you all a virtual walk-thru but there was no internet or cell service from my post on the trail. Which was good. I decided to post the videos for the next challenge, and that’s when I realized my error. I have no explanation for why I set the deadline for the “Blade of Grass” for October 7. A certain kiddo pointed it out to me today. As joyous as the Art Walk was, the countdown to Baby Boo time has started, and I’m on multiple deadlines. I have to find that balance between caregiving, income, family, dreaming, and creative output.

The artist’s dilemma is not to force your art to be your work. I got to experience the pure joy of creation and collaboration on Saturday and it makes landing in the profit-driven linear world hard. Thus, I’m going to use my error as a speed bump. So, yes — writers have until October 7 to submit to the September 26: 99-word Story Challenge and I will post that October 12. In the meantime, I also realized I didn’t complete the Blanket Collection and will get that posted before I leave for Wisconsin on October 5. I appreciate your patience.

If you want to have a writing challenge this week, please go to the Virtual Art Walk page and scroll down to the art and story parings, and respond in the comments on this post with a 1-word, 5-word, 99-word, or haiku response. Be sure to indicate which pairing you are responding to by its number. We will pick responses to include in our commemorative booklet.

Now, let’s take a walk! Visit the Carrot Ranch YouTube Channel for a Virtual Tour Playlist.

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  1. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Charli. This is wonderful. Ok, I’m going to have to come back to the video, but this post is wonderful on its own. I love the soundscape you provide with your words. I loved the people interacting with it all, with each other. I love that you got boosts of joy from this undertaking. Thank you for it, for sharing the experience here in the many ways that you have and continue to do.
    It’s good to turn that numerical error into a cushion of time. You’ve had a ton extra this past week, and family too! And more joy on the way. Have a joyous time in Wisconsin. Take your time and time for you. The Ranch and Ranchers will be here when you return.
    Congratulations to all involved in this Art Walk!

    • Norah

      For want of something more meaningful to say, I second this! Hear! Hear!

    • Charli Mills

      This is what all those wild visions in my head are all about, lol. Thanks for all the times you listen to me so I can think ’em into existence. I had a thought (go figure) this weekend that many writers seek joy in publication, but my joy is rooted in collaboration. I like to play!

  2. restlessjo

    Amazing, Charli! Simply amazing.

    • Charli Mills

      And it was! It’s tricky getting art outside but well worth it!

      • restlessjo

        I saw the follow up post. So glad it went well.

      • Charli Mills

        Thanks, Jo! We’l do this again next year and improve the virtual elements!

  3. Norah

    What an amazing experience, Charli. I’m so pleased it was all you wished for, and more.
    I’m pleased to have the extra time to post, extra time to tweak, my blade of grass. Thank you.
    Sadly, I don’t seem to be able to watch the video. Perhaps my computer, like me, is running slow at the moment.

    • Charli Mills

      With the unexpected cushion of time, I foresee reloading videos in my future, lol!

      • Norah


      • Charli Mills

        Hmm, somehow I lost that cushion! But I had a great time focusing on my son, his wife, and our nearly-here Boo!

  4. Jules


    It is truly amazing how much Fictional Lives Matter mixing with reality! Wow PA had for entries… I noticed there were more that just me… but I wasn’t counting as I was enjoying reading the stories along with the artwork. I think “Harry” has a bit of a puffed chest knowing that he was mentioned! Of course he wouldn’t even have been ‘born’ if Kid and Pal hadn’t started up the Saddle Up Saloon.

    I didn’t notice the extended entry date for ‘Blade of Grass’, but I am glad you have more time to relax and prepare for all that is happening in your life. One step at a time. (((Hugs))).

    I’m gonna have to come back to the challenge of words for the other artwork! All the best!!

    ~Jules (and Harry too.)

    • Charli Mills

      Jules, it was interesting that the participants were counting! People really enjoy the broad reach of a local literary thing. It connects us all, even in our Fictional Lives Matter yarning. Glad Harry could feel some pride in his journey. Hugs back!

      • Jules

        Maybe you can put a post with just the numbered/titled images, so we can put our ‘thought’s’ in the comments with them?

      • Charli Mills

        I like that idea except for the work involved, lol. My website is in transition which makes posting pages and posts a challenge, one I hope to overcome by the end of the year. It’s clunky for responders, but you can open the page where the images are numbered and respond in this post. If a particular image catches your eye, you can open that image in another tab.

      • Jules

        I’m so behind on other things. But I did see some very nice images that gave me pause. I’ll see if I can put two and two together, Names and numbers and some words…

        Transition can be a kicker, but hopefully it will all work out the way you want it (((Hugs)))

      • Charli Mills

        The images should all be clearly numbered, Jules. Even if you want to write something on your website, then link to it in the comments. Clunky for now. It will improve. And yes, transitions can be a kicker! Thanks! Big hugs back!

      • Jules

        One day at a time 🙂

  5. Colleen M. Chesebro

    Charli, what a wonderful collaboration with writing, art, nature, and community! I can’t wait to see how the book version of the Art walk comes out!

    • Charli Mills

      First book, first, lol!

  6. Jules


    I finally got back after morning errands to watch the tour… but it got stuck soon after you finished the boardwalk. I’ll try to finish it later. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Yeah, I’m going to do a different upload. Or you can come over and look at my phone, lol!

      • Jules


  7. Ann Edall-Robson

    Charli, it felt like I was there with you strolling though the trees, enjoying the art and written words. Are you able to provide a downloadable version of the video for us to share with the world. Maybe it will inspire others to create their own version of an artisans art walk. Congratulations to you and TOJ for bringing this wonderful project to life. 

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for writing and walking the path! I was really frustrated with technology last night. It took five hours for the videos to publish.I need to publish them to YouTube first, and then they will load better (I think/hope) and we can share them. Two videos did not load. Grrr.

  8. Anne Goodwin

    It sounds wonderful, Charli. I’m so glad you enjoyed it and neither the rain nor the slugs spoilt the day – the latter certainly made me laugh. I need to come back and read the stories and watch the videos. So proud to be part of this.

    Enjoy the time with your son and I hope all goes well with the birth.

    • Charli Mills

      Anne, I laughed when I saw the slugs because I thought of you and how humorous it might be to film slugs at the event. But they were not the highlight…the art and stories drew in people and no one seemed to mind the slimy little interlopers.

      Time slowed down, and I focused on presence with my son and his wife in their final days without kids. How different their lives will be. I was happy to help them on the cusp, to help fill their freezer with future meals and fold all the tiny newborn clothes with DIL as my son drilled and hammered in the nursery. They are good parents already.

      Thank you, I hope for a smooth birth, too.

  9. a-zend-life

    Charli, If some crazy random blonde writer just shows up to an event like this would I be able to just stand there and take it all in? Those photos are phenomenal! I have been thinking about traveling while I write, just me and my dogs???? and I have to come to the beautiful area where you have all this gorgeous outdoors landscape. Just to take my shoes off and let them touch the ground for a while would really reconnect me to life again! (Deep sigh) I am quite jealous that you have such amazing beauty surrounding you!

    • Charli Mills

      Absolutely! Writers are always welcome to take off their shoes at Carrot Ranch headquarters and dive into the beauty of this place. Mause loves dog-friends, too. Traveling and writing is a transformative experience, and if you do so, the Keweenaw is not a place you want to miss. It’s a “hike” to get here. But worth the inspiration.

  10. tnkerr

    Love it!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for stopping by for the tour!

  11. Nicole Horlings

    I’m happy for you that it went well! Sounds like it was an amazing experience.

    • Charli Mills

      It was on track with the kind of experiences I want to be a part of in my writing journey. Thanks, Nicole!

  12. Chel Owens

    So neat! So beautiful! Thank you for making these videos so that we could enjoy the walk as well!

  13. Norah

    I have watched all the videos, Charli. Thank you for taking me on an art walk through the woods. How beautiful. Your woods are very different from our bush. I love nature’s artistry. The colours are magnificent. I also love all TOJ’s artworks. I can’t wait to read the stories and see what the in-person participants contribute to the day. What a fantastic event.

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you for taking the Art Walk, Norah. It’s such a joy to share one tiny place across the world and to receive shared stories in return.

      • Norah

        I think it’s amazing. I’m in love with your woods.

      • Charli Mills

        They say they are in love with you, too, Norah! (Such loving, colorful woods they are.)

      • Norah

        That’s so sweet. Thank you, Woods. ????

      • Charli Mills

        ?????? ????

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