Over Labor Day weekend three of us hiked into the Pecos Wilderness, climbed North Truchas Peak, and descended to the headwaters of the Pecos River on the other side. By the light of the waxing near-full moon we walked through the shadowy forest to San Leonardo Lakes. The next morning, after an invigorating dip we followed scree covered swales up and up to a long sharp ridge. The step by step labor carrying heavy packs of provisions and climbing gear in thin air induced a meditative trance-like mindset. The rush of air through crows’ feathers as they rode thermals up to our level, crossed the ridge and glided down the other side seemed uncharacteristically loud and full, the geologic upheavals ever more poignant and personal, and the wind stunted trees more remarkable. I welcomed this subtle shift in my mental landscape—from the ordinary to the supernatural. On good days this is the mind state from which I create. I was reminded of other trips that were portals to this realm.
Thirty years ago my wife and I snuck onto the White Sands Missile Range and hiked amongst the dunes. Their ever shifting sands momentarily revealed and then re-buried the past—bits of abandoned military hardware mixed indiscriminately with obsidian arrowheads and slip decorated shards of Native American water jars, relics of art of necessity on this ancient dry trade route. All day as we hiked, we chewed the ends of yucca fronds until only fiber remained. By mesquite firelight we copied and extrapolated designs from the shards with our yucca brushes.
During college I was a summer session teacher at a Colorado boarding school. At the end of the session I decided I was going to float into Westwater Canyon of the Colorado River on an inner tube, live in a cave, and weave a blanket on a Navajo style loom. Though Westwater is now a popular raft and kayak destination, at the time no more than thirty five people a year traversed its gorge. It felt like a real venture into the unknown. During my study hall proctor duties in the school library I studied art books and spent many hours designing and meticulously planning out the blanket using inspiration from the paintings of Picasso and Braque. After launching, it took me two days in the canyon finding straight sticks and lashing them together to build and warp the loom. During those days my mind calmed and opened to the point my design no longer interested me. I wanted to weave something less clever and more evocative of the energy I was feeling.
Westwater was the start of a lifetime of canyon adventures. On one ambitious off-trail Grand Canyon hike we invited a spiritual teacher/seeker/friend, twenty years our senior. What she lacked in hiking skills she more than made up for in fresh perspective. As we rested under a rock in the dry arm of Tapeats Creek she looked out at the view and in a trance-like voice said, “it is so important what you do—going below the rim, absorbing the consciousness of the canyon and carrying it back within you to a society that desperately needs it.” From my “above rim perspective” her words now sound a bit overblown but none of us thought them so at the time. None of us doubted that the timeless rocks exuded a powerful and vital consciousness.
As a Jazz improvisation student I was moved by Charlie Parker’s famous quote—“If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.” It is perhaps easier to imagine how a solo blown into the air in inspired moments would sub-consciously blend one’s cares and spiritual concerns with time, tune, other players, energy in the room, and the mystery of being a being on this planet. Is it possible to achieve that significance and freedom forging steel?
I have just completed another series of table sculptures. Aspiration #1 is pictured. I arranged their forms until I felt hints of the resonance in my core akin to that from the experiences described above.