Waking up too early but going to bed too late… my brain has this issue: once the light starts passing into them through the drawn blinds – once the field of color over my eyelids is no longer black but now varying shades of speckles of the movie screen coming to life – it awakens. And now even having gone to bed at, what, six o clock – enough time to see the sky over the rows of San Francisco streetlights down below, the park across the street, the occasional up-too-late or up-too-early car to be making it’s way onwards and upwards – all this was growing light and I’m trying to be the voice of reason – saying that I must get to bed and get some sleep (or I turn into a pumpkin dontchaknow.)
I’d say that ‘somehow’ I found the energy to keep going last night. To keep painting and moving and talking but I can safely say that the caffeine found me (with a bit of seeking on my part) and, well, it helps. Turns out that ‘live painting’ is sorta fun – having an easel, a canvas, the paints and just going for it and it’s much like when Im just painting anyhow but now the music is way loud. I’m dancing, I’m painting, moving, foot tapping, in a groove because the music is in a groove – at least when it’s good – and it’s just going and i’ve tuned everything else out – the voices, the people, the eyes, the dancing, the flashing lights, the lasers – and yet i’m quite aware and feeling it. Good times.
The first band was just not my thing being some kind of hip hop mcs with a live band in the back. Interesting but too much “Make some noise!” to end up being, at least to my non-hip-hop-tuned ears, a lot of noise. Second up however was the band Particle. It’s been, what, ten? twelve years? since I last heard them. That was at Higher Ground in Burlington, VT. I wasn’t all that into it at that time. It was just, sort of, meh. To say the least. So I had very few expectations. So they came out and really just powered through what was like an hour and a half of non stop jam rock electric intensity, took a breather, and then came back for another hour and a half and, for the most part, it was hard, electric, funky and rocking (they should relally just lose the sing song parts – or take some vocal lessons perhaps). And it was fun to paint to. What if I’d been there to see the band? Don’t know, couldn’t say. But it was a rocking soundtrack.
And at that moment, late into the night with little sleep the night before, having woken at 6:30 to get on a plane at 9 and then a long day of the travel situation and laboring through thef set up – art display, banners, etc etc… It was good not just to have some caffeine running through my blood and brain but also to have the music from wherever they were going.
And what did we paint you ask? An overly ambitious painting that is 38″ x 52″ and has some sort of mayan themes, spirals, lights, a galaxy, some leaves… It’s the Day out of Time Party after all and , while the origins of the concept of the Day are debatable – did Jose Arquelles (celebrated and sometimes questionable source of all things Mayan who, in his own words, claims to be the reincarnation of Pacal Votan. To each their own.) really just invent it based on his own counting of the calendar as many claim? Do the Mayans really have such a thing? Why this day in July? My loose internet research turned up a Wikipedia article on the Day out of Time that forwards to the entry for Jose Arquelles and then other articles that either reference Arquelles – either as a reputable source or a questionable historian – or are written by Arguelles and the discussion sort of ends there. I’d almost say ‘nuf said, but the debate goes on and I’m going to leave it to the debaters and instead I’d just like to focus on the fact that it was rocking time in a super sweet venue – the Regency Center in San Francisco.
The Regency is seven floors of gorgeously hewn freemason architecture built in 1909. It was built as the Scottish Rite Temple – a freemason society gathering place. The level where the party was held was the freemason lodge with massive curving post and beam architecture reminiscent of a gothic cathedral, made from massive timbers, stained glass windows, red carpets and velvet walls – surrounded by deep rich wood everywhere. Pretty slick and magical. The stage itself has twenty different hand painted backdrops depicting a variety of scenes. The “tree grove” backdrop seems to be the one that was chosen. Some of the painted trees were cut out and a bit forward to provide a sense of depth. They were painted in a style reminiscent of Arthur Matthews, a Californian artist from the early 20th C. noteworthy for his soft use of color in an Arts and Crafts inspired romantic impressionism. Lovely stuff really and, with the lighting, the stage looked really quite elegant.
Violet and I were off to the left of the stage with an easel set up and some really bright lights that made it so that we could rally never quite tell what was going on behind us. This was the first live painting experience I/we’ve had so it was pretty epic, framed by a sweetly magical location.
On and On and On.
This is the last chapter. I promise. Cause we’re back and unpacked. But it was a while in getting here. The last stint of driving – from Sedona to San Diego with a stop in Quartzite to look at rocks in the insane heat went quickly, with us getting home at a reasonable hour. The rental car – that giant Toyota Sequoia we’d been driving – was returned without any issues the next day after a thorough cleaning but we left the Bonnaroo Vendor Vehicle sticker on it by accident. It drove off into the rows of Enterprise Rental car fleets, a little wiser, a good adventure under it’s belt. The other cars looked at it with respect.
Sedona was a treat. Tasting wine, looking at art, an early morning hike into the giant red rock formations and climbing up onto their curving feet – high up so I could see the valley. Breathing with the world – the birds and trees and dirt and bugs and rocks and clouds. I’d like to open a gallery there one day.
Stay focused. Work hard. The universe responded.
A day or two before we’d been at the Grand Canyon which, following my morning hike and our drive around to the South Rim, was a bit less impressive due to the fact that cloud cover diffused the light to such a state that depth was a bit hard gauge – the reds and purples and oranges along with the insane fractaling depth to it were a but hard to read. Instead we were greeted by the subtle fractioning off of every curve, every bend, every cliff and drop – it drops, it ends, it curves, it drops more… down down down… almost as deep as every canyon of my own mind.
They say the Grand Canyon makes one feel very small. I felt just the right size for it. Like I could stare at it for a long long time.
I’d like to mention that, while we were there, I learned of an architect whose work I admired for it’s nuanced attention to detail, no matter how trivial. That would be Mary Colter, the designer of the Watchtower at the Desert View area of the South Rim. Built in 1932, it’s a simple building that is delicately rendered. According to Wikipedia she was “a chain-smoking perfectionist, she cared about backstory and attractive features.” After the gift shop on the first floor – full of trinkets, knick knacks and expensive Native American pottery – the walls and ceilings of the subsequent levels are painted in Hopi murals by artist Fred Kabotie – delicately rendered, large, graphic, symbolic – they speak on many different levels and were something I hadn’t expected.
The view from the top was very much the same as the view from below. Gaining 50 feet of elevation at the Grand Canyon doesn’t change the fact that what you are looking at is very huge. At that proportion, your 50 feet higher is a drop in a bucket.
We enjoyed our last night camping, our morning breakfast, and then packed up, on our way to Sedona, where we spent the night at a hotel, tasted wine and at cheese at the Page Springs Winery (not bad, all things considered), poked our heads into a few art galleries, and had an enjoyable meal at ChocolaTree – a raw/vegan restaurant in town.
I woke in the morning, went for a hike, as I mentioned, and then, after a breakfast in the mountains, we were on the road, destined for home this time – as the final stop – to join our friends for a barbeque on the 4th. A lovely tour of the country. Our country might be short on brains sometimes but it has some priceless landscape. I hope it is treasured for a long long time.
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:
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.
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