October 1, 2013
I had no idea where we were headed when I published the first photo on my brand new site. I named it under1000skies because the sky is endlessly beautiful and different every single day. I’m grateful for the journey since then; perhaps not for every moment of it, but I’m definitely grateful for the lessons.
To make our new logo on our “About Us” page, 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.
During the summer of 2015, my oldest son Benjamin Archer 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 had been homeless by choice, living from his car, selling his hand-carved jewelry creations. 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. When he met Tessa in 2015, they traveled all over over the United States during the next few months. Ben taught Tessa how to carve the bison-horn jewelry, which he learned from Jimmy Hornfeather in Arizona.
Most of Ben’s 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 when I had 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.
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.
February 12, 2016
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 co-op 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.
February 14, 2016
On February 14th I e-published my first book Elanthian Love Songs and announced that 50 percent the profits would be contributed to under1000skies for buying artist packs. Once I paid off my artist and editor, it would be 100 percent. (We were able to do that by the end of 2016 so it’s now 100 percent).
February 24, 2016
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. 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 Ben’s being out of sorts was temporary, this wouldn’t help. We hoped he would be back when he was ready, so I unpublished everything.
February 28th or March 6th 2016 –and- “Maybe in April” 2016
In the meantime, Ben 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 Ben was allegedly 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.
After some family discussions, we removed all personal information about Ben from this site. We felt it might be embarrassing to him, that he had perhaps left by choice despite the sketchy circumstances. We restarted under1000skies and I kept any news about Ben on my personal blog.
In 2016 I met through one of our most generous contributing photographers, Nicole, our first homeless creative, John Olander (Johnny O).
A retired homicide detective in DC helped us, through NAMus.gov, to get Ben’s Missing Person’s case re-opened. This was crucial in order for his name to appear in their database, but it took nearly a year before our Chief of Police, Chief David Baylor agreed. To this day I have no idea why. Very grateful for Pam at NAMus.gov and Jimmy at the Delaware State Medical Examiner’s office for all their help during this harrowing time.
Ben’s page and info is here: Ben Archer: Case #33696
Then in 2017 I met through Simbi Cord X, another homeless creative in San Antonio. So we are growing.
This dream 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. 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,
& Volunteer Coordinator