Many of you, I know, are (or were) lucky enough to have known the dynamic duo of Dick and Marty Lemke who for 12 years were community boosters extraordinaire. Marty was a phenomenal textile artist and weaver and involved in nearly too many other activities to enumerate. While Dick, a classic still-life painter, was a master ham radio operator known for his magic fingers — he could still, tap tap tap out a mean Morse code. The Peninsula lost two amazing citizens when the Lemkes decided to move back to Ashland where Marty was still on the theatre board.
But after a couple years there, as Marty tells me, “We were back in Ashland and everything was fine — we liked the theatre and all — but Dick, he’s an old California guy, said to me one day, ‘Could we move somewhere warm before I die?! You know shorts and flip-flops.’ And I said, ‘That makes perfect sense … where would that be?’”
“We’d always kind of liked the desert scene, the colors and all. We’d driven through a lot. We’d hiked in Joshua Tree National Park, we’d hiked the border. One time we drove all the way to the Mexico border through Texas — we just like the way it feels here.”
“So we decided to come down to Tucson to look around. We rented a condo and we searched everywhere and decided northwest Tucson [around Silverbell, off highway 10] was the area we liked. It’s quiet, and we’re only 15 minutes from the University of Arizona.”
They looked at every house in their designated zone and actually returned to one that Marty had earlier crossed off the list based on a strangely deceptive ad. “We had made the mistake in Ashland of downsizing space when instead we should have been downsizing stuff. We didn’t want to make that mistake again, so both Dick and I drew up a list of the things we felt we absolutely needed in a house. Then we compared them.”
“When we walked in the door of this place, Dick and I both looked at each other — we didn’t even have to get out of the living room — we just said to our real estate agent, ‘This is the one!’ And she said, ‘But you haven’t even seen the rest of the house!’ We didn’t need too — we just knew.”
The stunning Catalinas
I have to agree. The minute you walk through their door and into the high-ceiled living room, you face an enormous picture window framing one of the most stunning views of the Santa Catalina Mountains. The Catalina Range is a gangly thing that wraps around Tucson, north northeast, with bulges and knobs, rocky outcroppings and craggy faces. The Lemkes’ view features a straight-on look at the crags with Mount Lemon, at 9,000-plus feet, at the tippy top.
After a quick tour of the house, we sat with our coffee and gazed at this mountain view. If I lived there, I would see little need to go anywhere else in the house — unless it would be the pool just off to our left, also with a view!
Needless to say, the Lemkes are continuing their charmed and artful life. The walls features fabulous art, much of it supplied by Dick, who as you may remember if you saw (or purchased) any of his work from the Bay Gallery, is a painter with a Renaissance touch.
I might mention that after their revelation in the living room — “Yes, we’ll take it!” — they were told by their agent that the house actually had another smaller house — in Sonoran parlance, a casita — adjoining the larger home. When not occupied by family or guests, this has become Dick’s territory. His ham radio set-up is prominently placed on a large table cum desk and, just inside the door, are the painter’s “companions” — two beautiful nudes he painted as part of his studying in Florence, Italy. He’s caught both the beauty of the model, her sensuous curves and flows, and her radiant flesh tones. The light he achieves is exquisite.
Marty has her own space for art in what was the dining room. A large loom is set-up there and she’s working on a holiday runner incorporating her own complex design in red, green, and white threads. (A smaller loom is discreetly set in Dick’s hideaway.) The large house also has office space with a library — “We both like to write” — and at one point Dick showed me a book he recommends, “A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest,” by William beBuys, which gets us into a whole other topic of conversation.
Part of the reason the Lemkes moved from their charming oceanfront home on the Peninsula was all the talk about tsunamis and the reality of sea-level rise. We Ocean Parkers all witnessed the “king tide” that creeped up Bay Avenue all the way to the old site for Full Circle (now at Adelaide’s in downtown Ocean Park), bringing driftwood and rolling logs in its wake. So you don’t have to be a resident of Washaway Beach to see the signs of climate change beginning even in our neck of the woods.
But why go from one extreme to the other? — from our soggy coast to the Sonoran desert? Dick is nothing if not prudent though. He has done a lot of research on the water situation in Tucson; and knows in detail where the current aridity stands. “I watch the level of the water in Lake Mead every other day or so,” he says. “And I also monitor a map of drought conditions. Central southern Oregon is in worse shape than we are right now.”
Arizona is currently in a collaborative effort with other states to re-evaluate the water needs serviced by the Colorado River. (We all remarked that growing cotton in Arizona and rice in California is craziness!) Tucson is taking the precaution of creating a water plan that refills local aquifers; and come 2020 other measures may be taken. (We are just at the beginning of witnessing a phase of ecological immigrants. Island nations are the first to move.) But all that taken into consideration, Dick and Marty are citizens of the world and, as Dick said, “We realized we could live anywhere.” So here they are, happily ensconced on a hillside in saguaro country.
And what do they do with their time? Instead of doing the man-thing and buying a “project car” — an old ’49 T-bird you tooted around in as a teenager — Dick has purchased one of the pieces of old-style ham radio equipment he worked on as a 16-year-old. “At the time I think it cost me $50 — now I’ve bought something for $200 that I’ll need to fix up!” Meanwhile, Marty, just back from a month in Morocco traveling with friends, is off to toast Jane Austen. (She’s already joined the local Tucson Jane Austen chapter).
In short, Dick and Marty are still as happy as two clams at the beach, or maybe I should now say two javelinas in a desert swale. “Tell everyone we miss them!” they call out to me as I pull away.