The Artwork of Michael Divine

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Category: Traveling

Kauai and Maui

September 2nd, 2014

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Returning to Hawaii 14 years later, Violet and I took a boat trip – time was short and the hike itself is long – around the north-western side up along Kalalau where I spent a month camping, being, and letting go 14 years ago in 2000 when I was 24. I’m a different person now yet, not so much as changed. Back then I’d hiked the Kalalau trail at least 8 times – once in only 3 hours. Had nearly had my neck crushed by the ocean, had been poisoned by the water, eaten a goat killed by a fellow camper and roasted over the fire, and then had retreated away from that larger transient community on that gorgeous beach. In a little hidden spot tucked away from everyone I lived in a tent alongside a river up in the valley. I dug a fire pit and had a sweet pool to swim in. I hiked, painted, got lost, found, sat, did yoga, grew my beard, mused and pondered and let myself disappear into the landscape.

“What made you come out?” asked Violet while we watched the sun cast sharp angles over the jagged edges of the cliffs.

“I was done, I suppose.” I replied. “Ready for a change…” And ready to see where I was at – who I was out in the world. You can only retreat so much. Humans are communal creatures and, ultimately, better suited to be of some service to each other. It behooves us, and our practice, to take part in the world at large.

At that time, after a few more weeks on Kauai (where I’d gone after spending four months on the Big Island), I went to Maui. I rented a room and puttered around, partied, hung out on beaches. Spent a lot of time drawing and drawing on all number of experiences, inner and outer. I was used to drifting onwards and eventually I drifted onwards from Maui and away from Hawaii.

This time around, we went to Maui first where we spent a couple of weeks in Haiku in a space graciously provided by a dear friend. We painted and shared sweet, loving, creative space – Violet and I. It is so easy to get wrapped up in the busy-ness of life. To get pushed and pulled by greater currents and the world we take part in and in the currents of our own oceans – conscious and unconscious. This human world doesn’t always lend itself well to examination of those currents -driven and hectic as it can be. It doesn’t always lend itself in to those necessary and tender pauses.

On Maui, there was a sunrise over Haleakala, hikes and swimming in waterfalls, rain and flowers, gorgeous sunsets over the Pacific. So many of our travels take the two of us to places where we want to run and see and do everything – great architecture and ancient ruins – or there’s events and all sorts of people and faces and conversations. This was quieter and we struck out into the spaces between each other and in ourselves and in the sweetness of our surroundings.

Afterwards, we went to Kauai and snorkeled and hiked and swam and had lovely dinners and laughter and sweetness and rainbows – all of the things Kauai is – and all the gorgeous epicness I remembered it to be. And, to go with Violet, up the Na Pali coast where I’d been blessed to call home for a month and share with her what I thought – and still think – is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been was perfect.

Egypt – Luxor, Giza, Alexandria, and The Great Convergence

January 2nd, 2013

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.

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Luxor, Egypt

December 18th, 2012

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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.

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The Magic Bus: Twist of Fate

September 16th, 2010

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.

The Magic Bus: Twist of Fate

The Magic of the Flow

August 29th, 2010

The Magic Bus: Twist of Fate

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.

Art Basel III: Moksha Art Fair II

December 10th, 2009

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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.

Art Basel II: Moksha Art Fair I

December 8th, 2009

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!

The Beautiful Juxtapositioning

September 22nd, 2009

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.

Canyons and Edges

July 2nd, 2009

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.

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