Archive for ‘Traveling’
Observations, Experiences, and The Great Convergence in Egypt
Dec. 13 – 25, 2012
“We must be some kind of important,” I chuckled quietly to Violet as the six tour buses of revelers traveled quietly down the twisting desert road away from the Giza plateau and the Great Pyramids and a party so unbelievably perfect that the bus is actually quiet and now here we were led by Egyptian police on motorcycles with lights flashing whisked down down down through the sand and back into the city and decrepit neighborhoods and little fires on the sides of the road, old man looking up and taking note and not a traffic light to be stopped at, straight on through back to the safe bubble of the hotel, six busloads of tired mind blown ecstatic alive and wild people.
Wow, was all that many of us could say.
As I sit now in Alexandria in this spacious high-ceilinged café along the Mediterranean, drinking a creamy cappuccino (possibly the best coffee I’ve had in Egypt, save for those from the night before with Jimmy and Violet) and watching the minibuses and old German cars and newer Japanese cars pass by on the busy Corniche road that runs along the sea, it seems far far away. It seemed so very far away too with each moment that led up to it. Just before Thanksgiving we were invited, along with our good friend Jimmy (founder/curator of the Temple of Visions gallery in LA) to attend – to live paint and display artwork. Once tickets were in hand, the gears were set in motion. We were going to Egypt! It was surreal and real. New passports were ordered and expedited (the old ones were expired). I got really sick and hoped I’d get better. It all worked out. I healed thanks to Chinese Medicine and the passports arrived several days early. Packed and sorted and there we were, meeting Jimmy at LAX and getting on a plane bound for Cairo after a layover in Frankfurt where we ceremoniously ate sausages and sauerkraut and drank a beer.
Landing in Cairo in the night time, we exited the terminal into the thrall of taxi drivers all vying for our attention but my eyes locked with the suit jacketed attendant of a transportation desk in the main lobby. Young and clean shaven he spoke fairly and sported a shiny belt buckle that looked like a berretta. He arranged for a van to take us to the Giza train station where we’d booked an overnight train to Luxor. The cab driver, like most cab drivers, was happy for some listening ears and, in broken English, wanted nothing more than to tell us about Egypt, how expensive the apartments near the airport were (in the Heliopolis neighborhood – a million dollars a piece, in USD), how we shouldn’t trust anyone in Luxor (Not entirely true. You can trust most people most of the time just not all people all of the time so proceed with caution.), and how Egypt is very good, very safe.
Once we circled around Cairo and into the rush hour thrall of Giza not much different than downtown LA. Street vendors and everyone walking driving riding honking. It was just a bit dirtier and a few more halogen bulbs and no bacon wrapped hot dog vendors. Cars passed within inches of each other and at first you think it’s amazing that no one hits anyone else but then you see how every car is scratched and dented and a bit worse for the wear.
“Ah,” said our driver, “Egypt is great but traffic. Traffic is a problem!” A comment heard uttered by many a taxi driver after him.
In the coldly lit office of the young station master in the Giza train station I tried to explain how I’d purchased tickets for the night before because didn’t realize that the time change from the US to Egypt would make us lose a day and would it be possible to use those for today. We went back and forth with the cab driver translating. I was never sure who was pulling my leg. Violet and Jimmy waited in the cab. Finally I bought new tickets. There was no way around it. I’d have to eat the $127. It’s things like that which make people in some countries think that people from other countries are made of money. We’re not. We’re just on different value scales.
The train showed up and our cabbie through much fast talking got us onto a car, into two sleeper cabins, and the cab driver is telling me that he needs me to give him all this money so that he can go pay for our tickets but I wasn’t born yesterday and it’s best to take care of transactions yourself, in any part of the world, so we gave a a handful of US dollars to the car attendant or whatever he was, the cab driver was off the train. The doors closed. The train started moving. Our two cabins had a door between allowing them to open to each other and there we three were, bound now on the night train for Luxor.
We’ve been in Egypt for four days and its been incredible. We arrived into Cairo airport several days ago. An opinionated cab driver navigated us around the outskirts of Cairo and into the noisy evening traffic of giza to the train station where we boarded an overnight train to luxor. The trains aren’t fancy but the bed was nice after the many hours of sitting on the plane.
For whatever reason the train arrived three hours late even though it left on time. From the train station we were picked up by our hotel and brought to the lovely nefertiti hotel. Its a smaller place located across from the temple of luxor and the avenue of the sphinx. It’s run by younger well educated men with a penchant for laughter. I appreciate the shared opinions and ideas as we sit in the al-sahaby restaurant whose tables line the tiles alleyway and smoke shisha (flavored tobacco) from hookahs and drink strong Egyptian coffee and talk and laugh. O the revolution! It could do so much! And they – the more educated populace – certainly don’t want to be ruled by fundamentalists…. Its obvious that is the road towards becoming like Iran.
With the call to prayer waking us at five in the morning – the garbled often off-key praise to Allah ringing from minarets across the skyline at dawn we’ve had daily breakfast on the rooftop of coffee and eggs and dates and breads and tea at low tables looking onto the morning street scenes below. Donkeys and carts and children and men in robes and old leathery faces and men in suits and nice cars and women robed and covered in various ways.
We went to see all the beauty we could find. We wandered through the ancient ruins of the temple of luxor and the towering pillars, carved with petals and cartouches. The four of us went with a guide to he Valley of the Kings, the tombs of the nobles, the colossi of memnon, the temple of hapshepsut, and the breathtaking majesty of medinet habu. Throughout the trip we saw enormous structures, crafted by the hands of thousands and dedicated to gods, pharoahs, and great events. The delicate patterns, the fine reliefs, writing can carving in the form of hieroglyphics over every surface – columns and walls and statues. And all of hem three thousand or four thousand years old. There is paint in the tombs that is 3500 years old. Yet, the lines are clean, the colors still bright and bold. Now the great columns and statues of limestone and alabaster just stand out there in the desert, riding out the rise and fall of civilizations…
I have found all of the people I have met to be peaceful, kind, holding a great sense od humor. You see – it feels incredibly safe here. Sure you know how easy It is to leave something and have it disappear or get swindled out of your Egyptian pounds by an unscrupulous sales person or horse and buggy driver – some going kid feeling at you hat he Will take you to the camel market for two pounds (the camel market is 100km away!) but that is the case everywhere – that there is someone wanting to swindled you. As a whole – people are genuinely friendly, helpful, kind. Children laugh and call ‘hello’ and old men nod quietly.
After the revolution started 1.4 million tourists fled the country. Now you see and feel the desperation in the sales men trying to entice you into their shops to buy a scarf, a bust of nefertiti, any number of baubles and trinkets. The good deal is for you, today, just come now and see this thing…. And its excessive sometimes – the sales pitch.- because business is tough these days. Streets that we are told are usually bustling lay empty and the beaded curtains sway gently with no one to push them aside.
The people we see and meet are proud of their country and their heritage. Temple guards in their long robes have taken us into inner rooms of temples – unseen by the public – to see chambers that display some of the most beautiful reliefs and painting and hieroglyphics that we’ve seen and there is pride in their eyes. Cab drivers speak of their country men with a sense of pride. You see, while there are differences for sure in ways of dress, traditions, food and drink – these are all surface things. At their core – in their hearts – people are all the same. Where it’s the little old man in the donkey pulled cart bringing his vegetables to town to weigh or the little boys and girls playing in the field or the guards at the gates to the temple… All and everyone wants to be happy. They just want basic happiness and basic freedoms.
Go visit Egypt of you can. It’s safe. It’s friendly. Its inspiring. It’s beautiful.
This past summer I painted a bus. It wasn’t just any bus… it was a pretty wild thing – still is. With a kicking sound system, velvet upholstery, embroidery, and multiple levels to it, it’s got some character. I showed up without a plan – just a loose vision. I figured to allow the character of the bus and the project shine through. The bus is named “Twist of Fate” and there is still yet work to be done on it. It was at Burning Man this year and a few other events. It’s mostly around San Diego, so you might run into it there if you happen to frequent that city. It is in honor of and homage to. It is a well-rounded creative vision. It’s a trip, all right.
We were on our way to Black Rock City, that visionary oasis in the Nevada desert, riding in this bus that I’d painted over summer. Driving up the 395, forty miles north of Bishop, past the sierra peaks of Mt. Whitney and other big craggy mountains, the road starts to climb up over the pass. At some point the radiator over heated and a crack that had been fixed opened up and we pulled over to the side of the road. Waited a while and this grizzled looking repair guy shows up. He took a look at it and suggested we come to the camp where he lives where he said hed fix us up. We all looked at each othera, wondering what that might entail.
So we coasted back down the mountain and turned off the highway into the grassy expanse of the Owens Valley. We parked the bus next to a snaking river and had the whole range of the sierras as our view. Not such a bad detour, all things considered. The folks were suer excited about the bus- what a psychedelic wonder!
The day passed. Nightime arrived and, in the cold wind, James, our repairman, showed back up and went at it on the engine. I fell asleep and, latean the others went and hung out with james, his wife, and some others.
Morning sunrise on the mountains, the grass a golden green, the twisting river a deep blue… Things were progressing along. Brown’s Owen River campground was a sweet stay. While we had intended to be on the playa early, this diversion wasn’t so bad.
And many many thanks to James and co for taking care of us. If you are ever up along the 395 and want a place to camp, stop by: Brown’s Owen River Campground. 760-920-0975. 5 miles east of Hwy395, 5 miles south of the mammoth exit.
Now, with the engine running, we are back on the road, on our way to the Black Rock City.
The Moksha Art party that occurred on Saturday night (and well into Sunday) was a particularly crazy affair with the silk dancers, performances, fire dancers, art art and more art, lights, music – live and otherwise, vendors, carousing, spoken word performances, multiple dance areas, etc etc. One person told me it was the best party she’d ever been to. Awesome.
I was honored with a chance to paint on the main stage alongside Shrine, Alex Grey, and Allyson Grey. The painting I painted through the course of the night is called something like The Immutable Core. It is pictured above. I like the idea of creating a painting, from start to finish in one night. Granted, I will, in time, sharpen some of the lines and clarify some of the corners but, for the most part, it is a complete piece. The painting had six stages to it and I knew what I was going to create from the beginning. The best part was the white line: o how beautifully it connects the whole thing – that simple straightaway. Delicious!
Live painting enabled me to get out some disparate emotions, dive head first into a painting, and bring it to it’s conclusion before the end of the night – along with bringing my own mind into a sharper focus.
The tough thing with parties of this sort – where the intended focus is on the art is that the art sometimes gets lost in the spectacle of it. I wish people had been there for the lectures or in the daytime for some of the other things going on – where there were some real opportunities to learn something. I think that, as such, the level of respect for the art and the quality of it’s container is, in some ways, diminished.
In this, I think, is where the crux of the problem of how to bring this work to a broader audience lies and, as such, command a higher price point and find truly interested art buyers. While some might feel this sense of “monetization” is too mainstream or commodity oriented, the truth is: we artists need to eat and like to sell our work at a value that reflects it’s true worth. The broader audience is sometimes a bit put off by that porous container that this work is often presented in. Personally, I would want to give people some solid ground to stand upon – some firm footing for the ride the art might take them on. Also, while there are certainly differences between the way the work was presented (and the set and setting thereof) and perhaps a more austere and spacious setting, I feel there has to be a way to bridge that gap.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I like parties and have gone to many, many events over the years. Some were centered around art. Some around music. Some around music and art together. As I’ve gotten older however, it’s not that I’ve grown out of the parties, but, rather, I’ve become more and more aware of how the artwork is presented and the container through which it is perceived.
Looking around the rest of Miami, The Nada Art Fair, for example, was such a conflagration of booths, randomness, and unconsidered angles hung and strung with a mishmash of “contemporary” art that the art made even less sense than it might have edged upon otherwise. Scope Art Fair, with it’s breezy interior, bright wood floors and well-organized layout, seemed to support the edgy modernness it hoped to present. The main Art Basel event had all the trappings of a museum quality show that seemed to offer some reasoning for why they might be asking such absurd amounts of money for some seriously atrocious pieces of art.
Along the way, through these places, I ran across many gems. I saw some work by Jeff Soto, an artist I was familiar with but had never seen in person. It was quite lovely with a strange inner language, dreamy and dark. I saw an original Magritte, something like doves of stone agcruainst a blue sky. There was a beautiful chess set of brass fingers (literally) made by Dali, as an offering and response to Duchamp’s own Dadaist chess set, with small snow shovels as pawns (for whatever non-reason). There were all sorts of things and dreams like this, tucked away, along the many cubicles and corners. While, with all of these shows, there is a vast amount of drivel, there are also some really well done pieces. Such is art! Such is life!
When I looked at the Moksha Art Event through that same lens of “frame” and “container”, I had feelings that were about as mixed as my experience with all of the other events. Much of the artwork presented at the Moksha event was quite beautiful, well-rendered, and deeply moving. I was especially struck by a gorgeous piece by Autumn Skye Morrison and a large and truly impressive thanka-like painting by Luke Brown.
What needs to change, I feel, for this work to reach a wider audience – and, mind you, I want it to reach a wider audience – is for us to reconsider the container we present it in. If we really care about raising consciousness (and not just of ourselves and our friends and mutual appreciators) then we need to open our doors a little wider and consider a broader audience and how they respond to our container as well as our work. We need to really deeply and honestly consider the frame within which it is presented. I challenge the artists to push the envelope a bit and, at the same time, sharpen the edges of the container just as they refine the edges of their own lines and gradients. In doing so, they can create crisp and beautiful visions of reality as it can be experienced. I think the challenge is to find and create spaces that reflect that solidity of vision and work with those who seek to create such spaces. If this doesn’t happen then this artwork will continue to be relegated to the fringes.
But the “fringes” are not the “edge”. Perhaps there are those who would prefer to be on the fringes since the light there is dimmer and one can be less transparent. If that is the case however, then the work that is created there will forever be tainted by that dark unsettledness. Myself, I have no fear of darkness. It is the murkiness of that fringe that I am uninterested in. Murky, muddy colors: what good are those?
I’d rather step to the edge and experience the crisp endless darkness that lies at it’s depths because, only through that, can one experience the piercing light of day with a clear conscience. Yes, my friend, we have nothing to hide. The roots of our work, of the truly visionary art, lie in compassion and wisdom and that adds a depth and a height that these words will never be able to express.
The antithesis of “The Art Basel Art World” was the Moksha Art Fair, put on by a family of local lovers of “visionary” art and alternative lifestyles. Part art show, part warehouse party, part performance, and, for better or worse, a lot of craziness, it spanned Thursday through Sunday, with an all-night party planned for Saturday night.
Thursday evening, featured two panels of artists discussing their work – the process, intentions, etc. The first panel featured some of the “emerging” artists featured in the show: Amanda Sage, Andrew Jones, Nemo, Adam Scott Miller, and Shrine. The latter panel was older more established artists like Martina Hoffman, Robert Venosa, Alex and Allison Grey, Mark Henson, and some others I wasn’t familiar with.
The “emerging artists” panel seemed to have an interesting and positive take on what they felt their art was for, where they were going with it, etc. It was an interesting talk that nicely glossed over the world of psychedelia because, at this point, that kind of talk just seems redundant.
The latter “established artists” panel left me feeling somewhat disappointed. Asked about considering ones audience when creating their work, one answer was:
“Well, if they’ve taken psychedelics then they get it and if not… they usually don’t.” The artists didn’t seem to care much about the ones who don’t and felt that those who do get it required a key of some sort to understand. So much for helping the world to grow! But then, perhaps that was not the mission of said artist.
The truth is, and here is where my disappointment arose is that the entire panel seemed to devolve into a flag-raising, banner-wielding conundrum of ENTHEOGENS AND ART! LSD AND ART! to the sounds of a whoop or a cheer every now and again and, well, for me – that gets old.
Yes, yes, psychedelics are a doorway and a gateway and they can open one up to all sorts of interesting vistas and understandings. We know they are powerful, we know they are helpful but: tell us something different, please. The truth is: great art is not made by taking some drugs and grabbing some paint. Great art is made through patience, dedication, imagination, and vision. And all of that takes work.
I have always felt, and I may be wrong, that the work created by the “visionary” artists has some deep intentions around healing, spreading enlightenment, raising consciousness, etc. So I thought that the comment about work that almost requires the viewer to have had a psychedelic experience seemed selfish and self-indulgent. I considered my own artwork: should it require some kind of magic decoder ring in order to be understood? Sometimes the people who get it the most or who seem to be affected by it the most are the ones who’ve never seen anything like it before and now, in front of them, is this vision. And some little old lady reacts as if she’s waited her whole life to see it. It’s beautiful and affirming and rewarding. Some kid, fresh out of high school sees it and recognizes an element, an archetypal experience within it’s lines and colors.
True art, something truly beautiful, should require nothing more than the senses needed to experience it – and that is really just two eyes and some mode of transportation to be able to arrive in front of the piece. If it is good, then it will be received as such and will be able to stand on it’s own. Otherwise, we are merely (and rather self-indulgently) painting pictures along the walls of our own castles, letting in only those whom we see fit and are no better or worse than the rest of the “Art World”.
We can’t change the world by living in our own bubble and waiting for others to make it through a door or a veil we have constructed. If that is the case then we have fallen prey to the same sort of selfish elitism the plagues much of the art world. If I sound cynical, well, in some respects I really may be, but I am also hopeful. Incredibly so.
In conversations with the so called “younger” artists (a category that I certainly fall into as well) I found, through subsequent conversations, a similar feeling that the old cry of “Entheogens and Art” or drugs-will-change-the-way-you-think-just-look-at-me should be taken out back and given a proper burial and a new and broader understanding must be integrated.
This art, these visions, doesn’t just come from some psychedelic experience. It comes from an integrated and holistic approach to life. It comes from personal exploration and deep inner work. It comes from yoga and eating well. It comes from deep inner work, a consciously aware mind, and a desire to push ones edge a little further every day. It comes from living a well-lived life. Some people, with a good imagination, might just hit on something along the course of that path. With an adequate amount of talent, they might just create something beautiful. If they have the passion for it and the drive, they might just continue onwards, exploring, broadening, unveiling profound understandings of how the world works and, along the way, create more artwork that reflects that, bringing visions into this world that speak of that well-lived life.
This is not psychedelic art. It is not “visionary” art. However, It is certainly art with a vision, and it is certainly based on many types of experiences – from the sacred to the profane, from the profound to the mundane. And it is art based on a long long tradition of exploration and discovery. It continues the narrative begun by those unknown artists who created the paintings and hieroglyphs we find along the walls of caves and canyons. It grew and changed: through the hands of ancient sculptors, painters and writers. It was Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Bosch, el Greco, Blake, Monet, Picasso, Boccioni, Kandinsky, Dali, Magritte, Fuchs, Klarwein, and many others, on and on, into today.
What is this art we create? I am waiting for a cohesive name that doesn’t make me cringe each time I hear it. Visionary. As if we are the ones with vision and everyone else was just doodling. I’ll tell you one thing, this art is as substantive as anything that came before it. Another thing: It is as relevant as anything in the pages of Janson’s History of Art.
And, for the most part, it is highly nutritious. Eat up!
A number of excursions recently to downtown LA – a place of a thousand flavors- it’s dirt and it’s grime, it’s old art deco buildings and the motifs that sometimes get lost amongst the construction, the plywood, playbills and graffiti. Here, in this foyer, a ceiling of mosque-like moulding leading to pricey lofts extolling the virtues of the thriving Downtown LA art scene. There a bit of an art deco sidewalk, half of it left, beneath a layer of old bubblegum, ten billion foot prints and car soot still shines tiles of red and gold and white and blue, partitioned off by golden brass fronting against a store selling stereos, karaoke machines, congos and trumpets. The neon signs and blitz and bling reflect on the 20′s style lines underfoot. Around the corner you see a curving arch overhead, twisting and twining with intricate grandeur, welcoming you into the marketplace of a dozen shops selling nintendo knock offs, hair extensions and piñatas. Delicate corners and cornices drop down to boarded up windows, the smell of urine and mexican grocers, sewing machine repairs, and parking garages, art galleries, sushi restaurants and a 50′s style diner replete with jukebox and checkerboard tiling. This is the old town of Downtown LA – the part that came before the sleek glass and steel and polished granite high rises exuding modernity and shunning this dirtied rough and tumble corner that moves into the fabric and fashion districts, lying in the shadow of the business centers. The corner where, with a bit of dusting off, one might find architectural treasures, if only one knows how to look.
Juxtapose all of that with the rocky coastlines of Sonoma and it’s an intense contrast. There – there is no ‘modern’ vs ‘rough and tumble’ – no new cliffs that transition to mexican grocers and burrito shops and the odd stylie sushi bar. There – the cliffs are the cliffs. There is no difference from the top to the bottom other than the smoothness of the lines – how much one section has been smacked and sculpted by the crashing waves more than another. The waves come churning in – wham! bam! ka-boom! Into little inlets that drop down between the rocks and then up! – up along the sides of great jutting corners – no angels or gargoyles upon those corners, no sculpted fleur-de-lis. Just raw rock, at times sharp and craggy, at other times stippled – pock marked like sand after a hard rain and then dried to a hardened shell. Along these lines, echoing the rhythms of sea, wind, and storms, we might cast anthorpomorphized suggestions of a face or the reminiscences of a body, a hand, a heavenly choir. All of it left to the imagination of one or another and the ground left to the cast offs of the ocean- kelp and other types of seaweed, smoothed by the sea driftwood, the elbow of a lobster, red and dry in the sun, or the body of a crab, brittle and speckled in delicate patterns, waiting to be divided up and cast back to the sea.
Later we walk amongst tall tall redwoods – 1200, 1400 years old – walking inside them where we were silent and still. Their stillness is comforting. It is like an ancient blanket knit by thge most compassionate and caring of elders that doesn’t stifle but instead incites within us a sense of ease, a sense of peace and envelops us in a holding that doesn’t constrict, a grandeur that doesn’t yell from the rooftops but instead whispers in rounds and creates one long bass note bottom vibration that is supportive, nurturing, warm. It is a subtle mystical experience.
I take those experiences with me onwards into this life that I lead. The Downtown LA cityscapes with their business suits and dirty streets, the homeless and the hipsters – the cornices and pillars – the cliffs and crashing waves – the salt air and deep fogs – into the sunny San Francisco skies, hills and valleys, gold rush era granite mason buildings with their own sense of urgency that has been tempered with the passing of time into the friendly neighborhood cafe (one of which, the Blue Bottle Cafe, where I was led that last time I was there, had the best cappuccino I’ve ever had.) – and on and on and on into the redwoods and their solid spirits and delicate undergrowth of sorrel and sword ferns to the cab driver who is new at all this to a morning talk, in the fog of the Pacific, with the white bearded old man, herding his sheep, sharpening his knife, talking to me about the doves that live in his barn and how lovely it is to take the squab (a young yet-to-fly dove) add a nice dry rub, stuff an onion up inside and bake it at maybe 350 or 400 degrees. And now I know… And all of the experiences, and how they are perceived, support a movement – onwards, upwards, inwards – through life.
But what of our fearless adventurers? Adventure: One man’s adventure is another man’s walk in the park. Wherever we find our edge – therein lies the adventure.
I found Violet’s hiking edge while we were making our way back to the trailhead in Bryce Canyon. We’d decided to hike the Fairyland Trail – an appropriately named trail that leads in and out of the “hoodoos” as they are called that make up Bryce Canyon, Utah – tall sandy spires, sometimes many stories high, looking like a series of towers in some child’s drip sand castle. The spires glow with an orange/sienna sand stone, streaked now and again with white or subtler colorings of green or purple or red from mineral deposits. Dappling them here and there are twisted gnarled trunks of juniper, bristle cone pine and, deeper into the base of the canyon, Douglas firs, thick-trunked and towering over the little washes and scampering chipmunks.
We arrived the evening before when we set up camp, and showered at the main visitor area/store/etc. We were rather beat from three full days in Arches and Canyonlands – lots of hiking, play, sun, and late night star gazing. Plus I always tend to wake with the sun so I’ll usually go out for an hour or two hike in the early morning by myself. The angle of the sun and hue it casts upon the world at the hour – a sort of golden fuscia – is too precious to miss. I treasure those early morning hikes through the awakening world – usually undertaken after my morning espresso by the Coleman stove and then transcribed through notes and sketches in my always attendant sketchbook (The by-now-default Strathmore 5.5″ x 8.5″ recycled paper sketchbook).
The morning we drove to Bryce, Violet had been up late the night before, tracking Jupiter through her telescope. I, the early riser, beat from a long day, a tasty and satisfying dinner plus wine, and the warming orange glow of the campfire, had retired to the tent before her. I was up early too, enjoying the still crisp desert air. After we had breakfast and fnished packing up, we drove through the emptiness that seems to be most of Utah, segmented every now and again by ‘reefs’ – staggered and steep rifts in the earth looking as if the ground had been wrenched in two then shoved back together recklessly by some careless deity, leaving jagged cliffs rising out of the generally rolling landscape.
Traveling to Bryce on a Sunday left us with little in the way of replenished veggies and other rations – supermarkets all seem to be closed in Utah on Sundays.
“Mormons,” we muttered.
After setting up camp, showers, etc, we checked out the canyon. Yep, it was a big canyon. We went for a drive. We saw some antelope. They were shy, kept to themselves, did not respond to our entreaties. We made our way back to camp, went to bed early.
In the morning I chilled for a while, drawing and enjoying the crisp morning forest air and tall trees that surrounded us, a somewhat different environment than the Moab desert we’d left the day before.
When Violet awoke I made pancakes with apples and bananas and topped with syrup and strawberries a- good hiking breakfast. Then we packed up for a good hike. It was going to be 8 miles, not bad. I like a good long hike. The hike itself – somewhat uneventful. Bryce is certainly beautiful and I think if I’d not just spent the past few days enraptured by the iridescent quality of the sandstone and colors of Arches, then I would have found the soft glow of Bryce more inspiring. As it was, it was interesting, but not oh-my-frickin-god-this-place-is-amazing. Ah well. The landscape was gorgeous none-the-less and, the next morning when I trekked out early for the sunrise, the morning glow over the spires and hoodoos was quite a remarkable scene.
Well – it turned into a hot day, with occasional clouds coming passing overhead, a lot of hiking up, a lot of hiking down. Somewhere around mile six Violet said to me: “This is no fun.”
Admittedly, she is shorter than myself, with a shorter stride. I would think that maybe my 8 miles of walking is equivalent to her 5. The passage from Chogyam Trungpa’s “Training the Mind” on Exertion occurred to me. Here was the part where the fun was gone – the joy gone. Pain creeped up the leg, the feet were tired, the knees worked, the old track injury begging for respite. Yet, the car was not in the sight, the end not quite near, and so one had to push on. Where to find the joy? Where to find the energy of exertion?
We all have our edges. I might like to push myself with a good long hike and even when my own feet are tired, I rarely complain, but a few days before I’d had the most difficult time sitting drawing a landscape.
Some time back, my friend Robin and I were hiking to a waterfall in the mountains northeast of Ojai. The path edged over some very loose gravel and the edge of the trail dropped off rather sharply. She found herself without the ability to put one foot in front of the other. Joy: gone. Yet, she spends much of her life working with others doing spiritual counseling walking them through difficult mental traverses, and doing the same for herself. Yet, here, a physical manifestation of that experience and she was without a next move – without the will to put one foot in front of the other. The
It’s interesting how we all find our edges and when we push ourselves a bit further – we sometimes find an opening, a new view, a new vista. One way or another we come to know ourselves, the world, Life, just a little bit better, even if there are no words for that experience and that new found knowledge.
Granted, by the end of our journey, Violet found herself hurting a bit and a tad exhausted, but whatever doesn’t kill us just makes us stronger, yes? And she didn’t kill me for taking her on a long hike, so that must’ve made me a bit stronger as well!
The next day we left for the Grand Canyon and, after a circuitous trip to a grocery store, we set up camp at a reserved camping spot on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, looking out onto a softly fluttering grove of aspen, fortunately missing any of the heavy rain that that clouds seemed impregnated with. We cooked burgers of free-range buffalo over our fire, had a drink, went to bed.
And yes, the Grand Canyon is actually quite big. But more on that later.
“What are you thinking about at this moment right now?” I asked as we sat on the cool stone in the shadow of the massive red rock stone arch spanning out over our heads. This arch was a giant circle hewn from the stone by decades of wind and rain. The blue sky beyond it spread out rather infinitely with just a few little cumulus cloud puffs floating through it casting delicate shadows over the red rock towers and cliffs in front of us. We’d hiked up from a grassy valley to the stone towers and the aptly named ‘Marching Men’ rock formations and then onwards, trudging through beach like sand, passing wind blown sand dunes, delicate curves etched in their crests, and winding twisted junipers, aged and grey.
“War.” replied Violet. “Endless war. The concept of ‘inheriting war’ is so… strange… and sad. That a kid feels he has to go off to war to be a man and have stories to tell about the war because he heard stories from his father…” She trailed off.
“It’s been going on long before this – the Iraq and Afghan and Gulf and Vietnam and Korean wars… and all the little wars in between.” I replied. “Go way back – to the Crusades and such – and you have knights always going off to war and you are either going to be a knight, a farmer or a craftsman. Most people wanted to be knights – to have stories to tell of battle, to have scars… It hasn’t changed much.”
We sat in silence. I thought about a painting I’d painted five or six years before called “Breathing with It” about breathing with the tension, the inner wars and fires and waves that crash upon our mental shores. They all pass. A lot of people could use to learn to breath with the myriad phenomena that come up in their minds.
A stark black raven circled over head and called to another perched on a tall rock tower. The sun slowly circled to the west, We left our perch and climbed higher up on the rounded mounds of red sand stone, shimmering in the sun, the white sandstone glittering and the expanse of Arches National Park spreading out – interconneting cliffs, valleys, red rocks and segment of fingers of rock pointing straight up into the air.
We drove down an eight mile dirt road out to this red rock garden across a wide open grassy plain. We’d left the crowded expanse of the park behind us for this silhouette of fingers rising out of the horizon. Earlier we’d hiked through another massive arch peppered with sweaty tourists, out of breath from the quarter mile hike to the upper lip of the bottom of the arch. We had a plan to go sit on the opposite side of the curving rock wall that connected between the double arch and our choice of sitting spit. The climb down from the lip that most tourists stop at, peer over and gasp at was steep but not unpassable. With our sketchpads and camel packs, we scaled the wall, walked along the lower edge of the towering red rock walls and made our way to the opposite side where we climbed up and sat in the crook of a gorgeous arch that looked some some kind of hugely exaggerated Gaudi arch from Park Guell. It’s column – at least eight feet thick, maybe 24′ circumference – came down and twisted in giant stone chunks to the hot sloping rocks below. We sat there, in the bottom of it’s curving window, in the shade, drawing, laughing, talking and expanding.
I made a trip back along the hot expanse between the two arches and climbed up the other side where I entered back into tourist land. Tourist land in Arches Nat’l Park, Moab, Utah:
- Mom, Dad, 8 kids
- Two older women from the south. Why yup, that’s a big stone arch there.
- Healthy Dad, Healthy Mom, two healthy kids. Maybe from california or Washington.
- Kids who don’t want to be there, parents who are hot
- Younger guy off for a hike alone.
- Lines of RVs, all vying for a parking spot
I went to our vehicle and drank some ice cold strawberry lemonade (Santa Cruz Organics…. mmmm….), read a passage out of “Training the Mind” by Chogyam Trungpa about the value of effort to overcome laziness and that even with discipline, one still needs to exert a certain amount of effort to put your foot forward, one after the other on the path. Overcoming laziness is the act of engaging our practice and focusing the mind to hold it steady and not veer off course with all the different trains of thought that come up. I though back to the landscape sketch I’d been doing and just how hard that is for me sometimes – to stay focused on drawing the landscape without following my lines into imagination. Just another part of the practice.
A bit more to drink, a bit of reflection and I got some other things needed for a picnic lunch: manchego cheese, herbed salami, an apple, flatbread crackers, cherry tomatoes, a cucumber, a knife and a cutting board, and some Green and Black’s Hazelnut Currant Dark Chocolate and then I made my way back to Violet and our sitting spot. As I passed through the flocks of tourists, I worked hard at not judging what I seemed to immediately perceive as laziness. The overweight seated guy drinking his can of Coke, the parents who keep irresponsibly cranking out the kids, one after the other… all of them on their path, wherever they need to be in that moment. Learning to breathe with it.
I made my way to the first double arch and then, after a climb down, over, across and up (at which point, not paying as close attention as I should be, letting my mind wander a moment, I slipped and took a chunk out of my elbow) Violet and I ate.
We spent some more time drawing and this time I let my hand flow with inspirations from the patterns of the landscape: the streaked rocks, multi-colored by the minerals that have dripped down over them in various patterns and colors of burnt reds, siennas and oranges, yellow ochres, subtle metallic blues and occasional greens, in various sizes and proportions, nooks, crannies and the like and little swallows darting in and out of their homes made in the cliff walls. Their lines of flight made delicate cuts and curves through the air, juxtaposed against the massive tonnage of the rocks that surrounded us, as they darted playfully in and out of the arch we sat in.
Eventually it was time to change our spot and that’s when we opted for the less traveled dirt road across the valley to the distant rock outcroppings, much larger in person than from a distance. Just the day before we’d had an adventure off on some random roads when we’d gone to the Canyolands National Park.
The drive from Arches to Canyonlands was about forty five minutes and that day we went to the Island in the Sky area, the northern half of the park. A mile walk along the canyon rim, further than most visitors traverse, granted us an immaculate view of the layers upon layers of canyon walls, towering rocks and narrow passages that led down down deeper and deeper, deeper and deeper, to the canyon floor and the river far below.
From where we sat, there was no sound – literally: silence. Not a breeze, a bug or an airplane. Just this vastness spreading out before us and the warming silence we breathed in from where we sat under a rock, slanted and providing shade from the hot sun.
We walked back towards our vehicle and then started to make our way along the roads to other view points. Storm clouds were approaching and we stopped at an overlook, hiked out on some smooth boulders and watched the massive rain clouds sweep up through the canyons. Streaks of lightening cracked the sky and we could see the canyon floors getting soaked. The storm passed by us, leaving us dry but windblown. The intensity of the weather – the distant rain, the clouds, the lightening – coupled with the magnificence and colors of the canyon was exhilarating and we left when the sprinkles got a bit more intense and the wind was too strong.
A few more overlook stop and we spotted a dirt road off to our left into a wide open meadow. Why not? We’ve been driving a Toyota Sequoia, a big powerful SUV loaded with all of our stuff – from camping supplies, luggage, to our Bonnaroo art/vending stuff – so we had no concerns about the road. We sped down the orange/red dirt road, listening to some kind Brazilian samba music, across the open meadow, hoping to end up at the bottom of some canyon. The sun came out and the greens popped against the reddish stone backdrops.
Eventually the road twisted, turned, and popped us out at the top of a canyon that was painted with the most intense of colors – a bright turquoise green, deep lines of black, red and purples… the bottom, where a stream trickled, was the same bright turquoise green. We threw a stone in and counted how long til it landed and counted 150 feet to the first ledge before the bottom. We chilled there for a bit – dazzled by the colors of the canyons, made brighter even and more intense by the recent rain storm that had just passed through. As we drove out, we were sent off by a magic sunset over the bright green meadows, wet and sparkling in the sun, and the red rock canyons and spires that spread out to our right.
There is something magical about exploration and finding some unexpected treasure – inspiring beauty, a teaching, love, openness – at the end of that journey.
The next day, when we left the bluffs we’d driven out to in Arches our trail of dust along the dirt road shone gold in in the evening light and the rounded rocky bluffs we left stood tall, silent, and dark, as silent sentinels in the setting sun.
Later, after dinner, the star circled overhead and the fire case and orange glow over us and the rocks surrounding our campsite.
Now we’ve left the tall red sandy spires of Bryce Canyon – looking like drip sand castles on the beach – and are on our way to the Grand Canyon, somewhere I’ve never been and while these kind of places become icons in our minds, sometimes mocked, sometimes poked at, usually known at least in name by all, to stand in their presence, to soak in their memories and color palates, to be inspired by their beauty and grandeur, is as unique an experience as any.
Driving through the mid west there isn’t much to look at. curving sloping fields segmented by barbed wire fences and oaks give way to neighborhoods, shops warehouses and billboards advertising Nostalgia-ville with it’s 50′s and 60′s icons – Elvis, I love lucy, Betty Boop and Scooby Doo – a time they hope to remember as simpler and more innocent. It’s never simpler and innocent. Only different. There were wars and torture and drugs and sex and crime and corporations bent on poisoning the populace in exchange for a hard-earned dollar from father knows best. After Nostalgia-ville, Winery billboards pop up, maybe every tenth billboard, advertising wines – non-organic and not too special. Then we end up back with green wooded areas and cornfields. Endless cornfields. Soon, in the distance, we’ll be in Kansas with it’s own endless horizon of green. For now, wherever we are – Illinois? Indiana? – has become nothing but woods surrounding us.
"The Move Over Law" – a rule we don’t have out in California but I can see the use for. However, I didn’t know about it until a police officer kindly chose to inform us of it on our way from Nashville, TN to Bonnaroo. I’d made it a long ways at that point – all the way from San Diego – without any hassles. Safe driving, usually over the speed limit (except in Arizona where the red light camera are waiting at, seemingly, every curve to pop you and send a ticket your way). In Little Rock, AR I picked up Violet perfectly on time, right as she landed at the airport. She’d had final exams to finish, was without much sleep and I drove us to Nashville where we found a hotel. The next day, after going grocery shopping at the Whole Foods and breakfast at the Waffle House (not an ideal choice) we were on our way to Bonnaroo, early Wednesday afternoon, perfectly according to plan.
I started noticing unmarked SUVs sitting every mile or so as we got closer to Manchester and we knew they were keeping an eye on all traffic. One pulled out as I passed him and I could feel him waiting for me to do something, anything. With out packed vehicle and California plates, we were a prime target. So we pass a pulled over police car searching someone and the lights go on. WTF? I say. I’d had the cruise control set to the speed limit so I wasn’t even a mile over.
The cop sidles up to the passenger door, tells us about the move over law and asks for some papers… So next thing I’m in back talking to the cop about how we don’t have that in CA and he’s asking about our business here – vending, art, etc – and what that’s all about.
No drugs? Guns? You’re not on probation?
No sir. (Of course not)
And if I brought the dogs around they wouldn’t get anything?
No sir. (yeesh!)
Well, see we don’t mind if people smoke for personal use but we are looking for quantity – weight. People coming out as "vendors" and then selling drugs.
I don’t even smoke pot (which is true!)
Can you open the back of your vehicle?
So i pop open the back and he can see that it is packed full tight. Who the hell would want to search that? I happen to have some small prints accessible and show him. I’m sure his mind goes to some interesting places but we check out so he sends us off with a warming ticket. Cool. Nice. Very little hassle.
So that was a new law and we were sure to tell some of our friends who were on their way. And now, with this long drive homewards, we see the "move-over" sign often when entering a new state and we’re sure to get over.
When we left Bonnaroo there were no SUVs looking for anyone (tho we did see a few people getting heavily patted down) and we collapsed at a Comfort Inn just north of Nashville. The next morning (because bedtime was 6pm or something) we went downtown to get some work done. Downtown Nashville isn’t, in my humble opinion, much to speak about. It was also mad packed with the Country Music Awards which we didn’t [plan to stick around for. Good stuff for those who like it. Anyways, we both had some things to finish – me entering data and emails from Bonnaroo and Violet still had a lingering paper to finish. We sat at a Panera Cafe, had some lunch (salad) some green tea and worked.
Outside the sunny day quickly turned dark. We heard talk of tornado warnings. The dark sky turned a deep charcoal grey and rain came down in sheets. We decided that leaving soon wasn’t an option and waited it out. Waited a little longer and the whole thing passed by – no tornado in downtown Nashville that day but it was quite a storm. We got back on the road as soon as possible, heading north east to Campbellsville, KY, a little town in the middle of not a whole lot and home of Violet’s Dad and (somewhat) younger brother.
We spent the next few days canoeing, kayaking and watching movies. The first night we went out for some decent Mexican food and then spent the night (and the next few) at a (very) nearby motel. "Lucky Vista" motel. The vista however was warehouses that cut the view between the hills and the observer and the subtitle sign to the main sign said "American Owned" " Country Charm". As if being American Owned makes a difference. I don’t care much one way or another who owns a place – if the person is compassionate, kind, caring, generous and patient (and at least semi-intelligent), then they get my business. The Comfort Inn we’d just stayed at was run by a couple who was of Middle Eastern descent. The woman told us she was from Riverside, CA and had lived in Nashville for 6 years and her daughter loved it. They were as American as anyone else I’ve met. Just because homeboy has a southern drawl, a pick up truck, and a shock of blond hair that doesn’t make him any more or less American than so many others.
And I could never judge someone on their race – whether running a hotel or not. Like I said, their compassion outweighs their skin color by infinite amounts considering that skin color amounts to zero in my book and compassion and wisdom are just about everything. Las night we spent the night at a Best Western. It was the last choice since everywhere else was full. We’d ended up in southern Illinois looking for a place to spend the night. Everywhere we went – right off the highway anyhow – was full. Turns out there was a giant amusement park right there. Holiday World. For people who it doesn’t take much to entertain. Anyhow, we get there at like 12:30am and finally get a room (last one and this is the third hotel tried) and we get to our room (pretty comfy) and the neighboring room to our right is a family that is arguing itself to hell. CRAZY! So a phone call to the front desk and it doesn’t end. That’s what you get amping kids up on caffeine and sugar water – i mean – soda. It’s nuts but we wear earplugs. We wake to the same thing. NUTS! So As I’m checking out I’m sort of filing a complaint with the front desk. It’s two older ladies and they say they’ll need to talk to the manager.
The point of this story is that his skin is just as dark as the extremely nice couple who ran the Comfort Inn but he is telling me "What can you do?". But we all know that if it were a bunch of partying kids, they would have been booted. But an arguing family? They should be booted too. Society shouldn’t be so accepting of such crude behavior. After some discussing and seeing that we won’t leave him alone, he tells the computer-inept front desk woman to give us a 10% discount. The point of this story is that, had he some compassion, he would have acted differently. Compassion is as non-skin color specific as being American or Indian or French.
That sense of compassion extends to Jarrod, Violet’s brother, recusing the dragon fly that had found itself drowning in the wide flowing river as we canoed downstream it. It’s wings fluttering, slowly drowning. We were in a canoe and a fair bit less maneuverable – at least for ourselves who aren’t super adept at watercraft. Jarrod, in his Kayak, paddled over and rescued the guy from the water. It was about 6 inches long and a beautiful yellow and black. Dragonflies had been landing on us and around us all day – buzzing through the air and tracing arcs and curves along the snaking Green River.
The river was pretty high for the time of the year but rain had been coming down off an on for days and now it’d cleared and the bright sunny day, big lazy clouds drifting overhead, and the multi-colored temperate rainforest of the Kentucky woodlands on either side of us. Occasionally we’d pass farmland or cows grazing or pass under some old rickety bridge but for the most part it was just us, gently avoiding the trees hanging over the water or the logs sticking up from below, startling great blue herons who would come swooping out of the trees and soar further upstream and hawks who would pass overhead. Dozens of little birds of various shades of brown and black, variously striped and the occasional cardinal would dart out over the churning water.
We came upon a thirty foot waterfall stretching along about twenty feet – in alternating sections of water, moss, and dangling vines dotted with pink and white flowers. We passed it by, a memory of the river. There wasn’t really stopping and once you’d passed it, on the river, there was no going back. The river flowed at a fair clip and it took a bit of effort to travel upstream.
Eventually, sun-kissed and satisfied, we reached our stopping point, where we’d left one car to shuttle us back to the beginning. The big oaks and sycamore dappled in sunlight – golden green and glowing – fluttered in the evening breeze and we drove back to the beginning, passing rolling Kentucky farmland, little houses and weathered red barns.