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Drawing our breath

August 8th, 2018

Drawing our breath

The hills above Tehachapi, California are lined with windmills because the wind seems ever present. On our arrival there on a long weekend a few months ago, the wind buffeted the car as we exited the freeway and parked at a local motel. It's the wind that yanks the car door handle from your grip when you open it and sends a thousand plastic bags to their doom excoriated on barbed wire fences to be shredded into nothingness. But for a few hours after dawn, I found it slowed to the gentlest breeze while I was out shooting.

I wonder about silly things sometimes, breathing in this gentle breeze I wondered where it had been before it had arrived here, did it cross an expanse of the great Mojave Desert? Did it sidle down the mountain valleys of the Sierra Nevada? Did it waft in over the coastal ranges from the mighty Pacific ocean? And with my exhale do I send it on it's way back? Or push it on into the Central Valley to blend in with the smell of newly disked earth and dance with the waving tassels of yellow corn?

To recognize that I too take part in this sometimes gentle sometimes violent flow of the forces of Nature is humbling. That just as my breath, my molecules of carbon dioxide, intermix with the Earth's own breathing makes the world feel differently to me, that our lines of demarcation, our flags, our borders, our us's-and-thems are not as clear cut as we think. We breathe the Earth, the Earth breathes us. Maybe that's all we really need to know about the place we think of as home.

And here is a picture of Tehachapi mountains (where the windmills did not grow) where I drew breath for a time.

The weight of these

January 22nd, 2018

The weight of these

I don't know why toys from a bygone era interest me, as a subject. I have always been a fan of history. I like to know what forces were at work when an item came into being. Toys made from steel, like the locomotive pictured here, were produced during the industrial revolution, undoubtedly in an era when some segment of society had enough disposable income to lavish gifts upon their children.

But I also think that these items carry the energies of their owners with them. That just beyond the escape of rational understanding, there is an unbidden understanding in which I can tell about every person whoever touched or cared for this toy, as is I have just seen them holding it. It has a preternatural history of its own. When I see or touch them myself, I wonder about those who held it before and what might have become of them.

In that wondering, the items are not so much objects of steel or historical artifacts, they become part of a rich and fluid drama in time about human happiness and discovery or maybe loss and sadness, about love expressed and reciprocated between parent and child or favor bought and sold. To hold these items is to feel the weight of these, not in pounds and ounces, but in lives that have come and gone.

Where Land and Sea Meet

November 28th, 2017

Where Land and Sea Meet

Water, as a theme, has always represented the spiritual to me. For many years my dreams were of leaky houses (the spiritual trying to find a way into my life) or being adrift on the ocean, giant swells lifting me up and setting me down, or being on a tiny boat as massive ships moved all around me. This image represents balance to me, the spiritual mixing naturally with the physical, an interplay between the two strongest forces on the Earth. In the physical universe, in a place like this where land and sea meet, the sound of waves washing in over rocks and then retreating is a comforting sound to me, more than a gurgling, less than a roar.

What Shelley said

April 14th, 2017

What Shelley said

One of my favorite memories of Easter is the sweet bread-basket that held a hard boiled egg. My grandmother made these every year. One for each of us, the sometimes colored egg would be nestled on a tiny dough basket with more dough criss-crossed atop the egg for handles. The bread was coated with colored sprinkles and it was a trick to eat all the bread from around the egg without breaking the shell.

As a high schooler I remember going to my then girlfriend's house and watching Godspell on TV with her. Her parents weren't home and I was pretty well behaved. I must have managed to subdue any impure thoughts in the presence of a TV Jesus. That happens to be one of the few musicals I like. Mostly I believe musicals were sent by God to punish me, but I think that one in particular seemed to stick with me because I was a teenage Jesus freak and because a hip, singing, Good-News Jesus suited me more than my Catholic school prescribed tortured-on-the-cross Jesus.

Now I think more about the symbolism. I think of Jesus as the best example of a seed planted in the ground, human with latent divinity, and coming forth, as a seedling from a seed, as divine. How we each suffer and die to these less than divine aspects of ourselves and how we are refined and become the children of God. I think about how we “hide” the eggs which are like a seed (that grows into new life) and then we go about finding them. I think about how the egg is carefully nestled in a basket made of bread and passed from one generation to another and with it sustenance that is both sweet and at the same time sustaining.

And I think that Easter is always and most importantly about hope, hope that we can be better, hope that life is not always a dark, hollow place, hope that there are Plans, hope that there is Love. Easter is a promise. I think of Shelley's words though he may not have intended this meaning:”The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind, If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?” Easter is the answer we have to the darkness of dreariness, despair and death.

With hope.,behold, it is WE who are risen!

If you celebrate, Happy Easter!

Virgins and votives

March 20th, 2017

Virgins and votives

Now that the time has changed I spent some time weeding in the yard after dinner. The sun went down behind the hills and a cool breeze came up. It feels good to move, to be outside and not perched at my desk as if something on a screen could save me. And now that its dark, it feels good to be here, my body tired and feeling ready to slow down.

Saw my oldest friend last weekend. We have known each other since first grade (thats 54 years!). Some of our best times were attending Catholic school together. One of our best friends passed away a year ago and I sort of dreaded the anniversary and talking with him about this loss we both have shared. He worries about me not being a proper Catholic anymore. I told him about a life-changing spiritual experience I had once that allowed me to be confident about my salvation without the guidance of Catholicism. His pragmatic suggestion was that perhaps I could be both confident and Catholic.

I know he worries for my soul. But my reality is that the scope of God is so much more than any of mans religions. That my friends understanding of this life and my understanding are as nothing compared to what Is. I feel entirely comfortable knowing that I cannot know everything. I just want to be an amiable traveling companion on this Earthly journey. The mortal and venial sins of my youth were just misunderstandings I had about who I was and who you were.

Mr. Leatherman

February 19th, 2017

Mr. Leatherman

Its a dull gray morning, droplets fall from the roof, the morning fog having condensed on the roof as it passes by. So, I am going to write about this image, one of my current favorites called Drawin a Bead.

Every part of this image except the man, the gun and his shadow was shot a few years ago at Mt. Ranier National Park in Washington state. Susan and I had been visiting my sister Teresa and niece, Mickey, in Olympia and we made a day-long visit to the Park. It was glorious, the bright sun, high mountain meadows and the snow-capped peaks surrounding were stunning to this flat-footed flatlander.

As with most of my composite images, I go back to the work of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographers, whose work is in the public domain. You would certainly recognize the Depression era work of Dorothea Lange, arguably the most famous of these photographers. The FSA photographer who originally shot this rifleman was Russell Lee. The subject is only listed as Mr. Leatherman. His worn blue jeans and less-than-white shirt tell me he works hard. The euphemism to draw a bead on something means to target or take aim at something. Whatever Mr. Leatherman was aiming at is outside our frame.

I like this image because it feels genuine. If you could travel back in time a short while, you might have stumbled upon this mountain scene. Technically, the sun and shade look right, he looks like he belongs here. The greatest difficulty was placing his shadow on the landscape and getting the correct degree of shadiness (sorry for the technical jargon). And Mr. Leatherman isnt posing, he is in action. In the next second you might see a puff of smoke and a sharp report from his rifle.

I like this image because in those days, I like to romanticize, we lived closer to the Earth, planted, hunted and lived on the earth. As my son has said, I may have been born in the wrong century but knowing myself as I do, I would last about a week before begging for the creature comforts I am now afforded. But I wonder about the life of Mr. Leatherman, if he found comforts of his own, a wife and children, a small bit of land to call his own, if he enjoyed the work and beauty of his day. In that way, we might be much alike, and that, especially, feels good to me.

In black and white

February 8th, 2017

In black and white

This one called Thirsty Boy. It is a composite image. The boy and well are from a public domain image and the abandoned house I shot in Caliente, California recently. The image is very much a metaphor for how I see my life at this stage. I see the house representing my body as I age, its been abused and neglected for far too many years. I have not treated it well. But it houses the thirsty boy.

I see the thirsty young boy as my spirit, ever in need of quenching. But filling my desire requires work (pump and handle). I cant just turn on a tap I must do the work that is required to satisfy my thirst. The boy seems oddly content here. Of course, I find my life in a setting that has seen storms blow through (fallen tree). And my entire life is colored by the past (throwback to black and white days).

I look at this image with detachment, as if it is but one of the many (thousands) of views of me in a lifelong volume of such images. I cant be defined by just this one image but as I age it preoccupies me for the moment.

People, places and things

November 22nd, 2016

People, places and things

This has been a year of transition. In keeping with the theme of change, we have changed houses, purchasing a modest home in a quiet little canyon where the coastal mountains transition to the Southern Sierra Nevada Mountains. Here, bears and mountain lions still roam (I have yet to see either in person). We are excited to make this new place ours but, as with all change, it's a struggle to stretch ourselves in ways we are unaccustomed. But, we can still learn and adapt and it's probably good for us.

In this process, I have taken a break from art. I look at my work and see I need to transition some things out to make way for something new. I don't know yet what the new is. That is the constant mystery of life, seeing all the potential but not knowing for sure where life will lead. But life always leads somewhere and we get the lessons we need the most, it seems.

Thanksgiving is this week. It will certainly be a time to remember that life brings us people, places and things. Some we deserve, the rest, well that's the mystery isn't it? Maybe it's grace or karma or fate or luck. I wouldn't know, since the move, I still haven't found the shampoo.

The power of words

September 4th, 2016

The power of words

They were in a dusty cardboard box at the back of a dark garage. I didn't come to the garage sale to buy anything. The real estate agent who was emptying the house for the old owners had promised Susan some small wooden tables and here I was poking around while they chatted. The box had been unopened and so I was curious about what was inside. What caught my eye was a bundle of envelopes, they were the old international air mail envelopes, dozens of them. I pulled one out and saw large unusual postage stamps of some important potentate and the return address was from Borneo. Although I didn't read the letter, it was several pages of rough but legible handwriting. The envelopes were all addressed to the couple who had lived on this property. Missives from a loved one perhaps, a relative or dear friend, they were cherished enough not to be thrown out, but stored away.

I thought seriously about buying them for a few seconds but the thought of clutter overcame the curiosity about other people's lives. Still, what remained with me was the power of written words from people far away. When I was in high school, I worked for two summers in a small touristy retail shop in a town in the Rocky Mountains. Back then, there were no cell phones and calling long distance was a costly matter that involved the use of operators. Consequently, letters were of tremendous importance being so far from home and I cherished then, as I do now, the words of my own loved ones set to paper for my benefit.

More than their words, a letter was a physical keepsake that could be read again and again. The handwriting itself, distinctive, and belonging to one and only one person, mirrored the speaking style and individual thoughts of that one person. Unlike emails whose contents are made of electronic ether and come in a variety of prescribed fonts, letters were a physical treasure, carrying the happy and sad travails, the loves, hopes, disappointments and tragedies of the sender, which we held in our own hands.

The power of handwritten words transferred all the emotional energy of the sender across whatever the distance, even from places like Borneo, and placed them in our hands to be relived and felt anew. The letter itself becomes a talisman of the sender, the sender we hold in our hearts, the letter we hold in our hands.

Unlocking the gate

August 27th, 2016

Unlocking the gate

Buying property is such a strange concept. On the one hand, it's nice to think "Oh this particular house is our home, it's ours!" There is usually
a deed which legally confers ownership of a duly measured parcel of land upon which is a structure where it's okay to have our stuff. And a good title company can provide a "chain of title" which shows every owner this plot of land here has ever had going back, presumably, to the days of the Mexican Land Grants (and maybe farther). On the other hand, the land a plot sits upon has been here farther back than humans have recorded history. "Ownership" may have been established by whatever brute claimed it, whether the brute was a cave dweller, an indigenous clan or tribe, an imperial country, a country manifesting destiny and, possibly someday, another post apocalyptic cave dweller.

But today, we think nothing of fencing off our small bit of refuge to demarcate ours from theirs. And the entrance, whether it is the door to a flat in a high rise, a small white wooden gate in front of a cottage, a secured entry in a gated community or a wide red ranch gate usually has a lock and our key unlocks our entryway to our home. But spending time here in the wide open spaces, I wonder about this notion of ownership. In the history of the land our ownership seem meaningless, a millisecond of an eon in which we claim our dominion over all we survey (within the boundaries of our deed, that is). And though the millisecond may be our lifetime, to the land, our paper deed is nothingness, it's not even the dot of the i in the word nothingness.

But we want a place anyway, even if it's for a millisecond, it will be our millisecond.

 

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