Friday, August 20, 2010
Saturday, March 27, 2010
We had been walking, Benjamin and I, out on a hike to the west of town where it was warmer and spring had already begun weeks ago. The plan was to go, to shake off the funk, the melancholy feeling we attributed to another harsh Rocky Mountain winter. The place we chose is called Canyon of the Ancients. I love that name. Say it and you feel this great sense of profundity, of big-ness. In a chills up the spine kind of way. And it is. It’s amazing that we can get in the dusty little green Subaru and drive, down the windy road past Mancos, past Cortez, and then we’re there – Canyon of the Ancients. It’s beautiful. With its orange and red hued rocks that stand up in the landscape, demanding to be noticed. And we’re in the high desert – despite the fact that just across the road, snowy peaked mountains stare back at us, reminding us that we are still in Colorado.
Canyon of the Ancients. Not so far from its more famous cousin, Mesa Verde, the place where people go to see the impressive cliff dwellings of a long lost civilization. The Canyon of the Ancients has its ruins too, hence the name. The Anasazi, Navajo for ‘ancients’. It’s the great Atlantian mystery of the southwest – who were the Ancients and where did they go? They populated this region for a long time, and then seemingly vanished, leaving behind the ruins we see today. There’s lots of theory and speculation, some of it involving spaceships, but the most viable thought is that they became the Pueblo tribes of today. Still there is much that is mysterious about these people, and this place.
We walk for a ways, deeper into the canyon, until we can’t see the cars or the road or the houses. We leave all evidence of our civilization behind, as we trudge through the soft red dirt, stopping to read a deer print, or a pile of droppings. Past junipers and Mormon tea, yucca and little tiny cacti. Over rock formations, where stubborn trees choose to grow despite the obstacles.
And yet, neither of us can shake the mood we came in with. The sadness that just won’t go away. The sunshine, the earth, wild and expansive before us, none of it fully changes how we are feeling. A moment of reverie in all of it, but the feeling is still there, waiting – simply pushed aside for a moment like a book, face down and folded open to the page where we left off.
At least it feels peaceful here. The land feels right, all is as it should be, with the eagles and crows soaring overhead and the rocks that have been here forever.
We stop for sandwiches and reflection beside a great cliff. Above us, we see a small ruin – a brick wall, maybe 3 feet high and 5 feet in length. Evidence that humans have been building long before I can possibly conceive.
How long ago were they here? I ask Benjamin.
I think they left around the year 1300, and before that they were here for thousands of years. I think there were a million people here at one point, he says.
I try to imagine a thousand years. That means they had their own history to look back on, their own ancestors and predecessors who found this place. Long enough to feel that things would always be so, that they would always live this way, in this canyon residing in cliff dwellings of earth and stone. And a million people. That number is inconceivable as well.
Funny, I say. It doesn’t feel like a former metropolis. The ruins have become part of the land in this way - they merely continue the line of the landscape rather than feeling artificial or superficial.
The earth has a way of replenishing itself, he reminds me.
And I wonder if New York City will be like this, thousands of years from now, the ancient subways and skyscrapers appearing as if they grew out of the ground, birds and trees everywhere and the earth feeling ancient and wise, like an older person who’s been around the block enough to know but doesn’t need to tell you so or prove anything – just sits there and smiles at you indulgently.
It’s amazing really. People come, and they build, they have whole lives, they trade, they hunt, they eat, they have sex, they shit in the dirt, they cut down trees, tread on the ground, build roads, have celebrations, births and deaths, and then it’s all over, just a memory.
That’s when we start talking about the 2012 thing, as we’re sitting there, by a grandfather juniper. He’s taking water from his Nalgene and mixing it with the soft dirt, so that it forms clay. He rolls it in his hands, staining them red with earth, the very matter that those bricks must have been made with. I sit there cross legged, a few feet away, looking out at the snowy mountains in the distance, and up at the sky, blue with scarce clouds like pulled cotton.
I don’t quite know how it starts, but I know that I bring it up, thinking as I am about millennia and civilizations. And we have a penchant for delving into heavy subjects of conversation. People have been talking about 2012, the Mayan Calender and all that for some years now, how the signs are there for big change – economic collapse with the realization of the failure of human enterprise to conquer all.
He reflects that the earth will continue to have ‘flu symptoms’ as he calls it. The tsunamis, and earthquakes, the fires and floods, volcanic eruptions. The things that terrify us humans but are right and natural and just part of the process in the lifespan of Gaia. Like coming down with the flu.
Neither of us want to think that the end of humanity is on its way. We’ve got too much to do here and it wouldn’t make sense that it was all for naught. No, there will be changes, there’s no doubt about that. Old structures and monuments, physical and otherwise will become but a faint memory, held by the ground, the rocks and the trees. And, like the Anasazi, humans will move on, or evolve into something else entirely.
I suspect that this sadness we are feeling is the necessary sadness that comes with all change – when you have to let go of the old ways because they just don’t work anymore. Because I’ve noticed that it’s not just us. Most people we have talked to or come into contact with lately are feeling sad like this too. I do believe that this mood - this weird funk everyone seems to be in - is part of this bigger thing.
It was Benjamin’s birthday. We went out to dinner, listened to the other people talking and eating. They felt sad too.
Earlier, I thought aloud: If this feeling is all around us, because we’re picking up on this general tone of melancholy, then it probably isn’t ours to begin with. So if it isn’t ours, then we don’t have to give in to feeling this way. Just recognize it, acknowledge it but don’t get lost in it. I don’t want him to be sad on his birthday, so I say it, before moving on to other topics of conversation. My thought, as far as I am concerned, was just a thought. It may as well have been a nice smell or a pretty song, soft and lingering for a moment before dissappearing on the breeze. And yet...
We’re sitting there, in the booth, eating and talking, in the thick of this melancholy stew of people, when Benjamin says: It’s working. Every time I start to feel that way, I remember that I don’t have to – that it’s everybody else, and I push it away. It really helps.
Ok, I try, taking my own advice. I mean, fuck it, why not?
We take shots of silver tequila with lime, and grin. I pay the waitress and thank her. Then we skip home, avoiding the cracks in the sidewalk. And I’m glad to be alive. We’re so unbearably small in reality, and for some strange reason, this fills me with profound and abundant hopefulness. Hope in my life, in my destiny, and in this incredibly powerful, scary, loving and beautiful planet that we walk on every day. Why not rejoice in it a little bit? It is Spring, after all.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Ahh, The Empress. If ever there was a witch of the week it is she. As ruler of the manifest world, this powerful lady fulfills all potentialities-- gestating them, birthing them, and then nurturing their growth. The divine feminine expresses through the image of The Empress as nourishment, fertility, abundance, and healing. She rests perfectly in the flow of Life, a master of the giving and receiving of Love.
The Empress is traditionally portrayed as a fecund woman sitting on a throne or luxuriously adorned chair. She holds a scepter and wears a crown of stars. All around her the natural world bursts forth in full bloom, ready for harvest.
The Empress teaches us to nurture ourselves and our gifts, that we may give them to the world. She reminds us to be patient with ourselves, to relax into the flow of Life, and to trust that all good rewards come to those who have synthesized everything necessary to the proper care of their hopes and dreams. She helps us to fulfill hidden promise and to manifest dreams into reality. She encourages us to create, create, CREATE!
If you would like to be in keeping with The Empress and her mysterious powers of manifestation, here is a spell for you: Before you sleep tonight, ask The Empress for a vision. Ask her what the next step is for you to take toward a dream you have been nurturing. Ask her to show you the seed of a new dream that you have may not considered. And then ask her to show you the way to an open heart, so that you can receive the abundance you deserve!
Monday, February 1, 2010
Marta Beckett. Get to know this woman. I think she was born in the 30's and knew she wanted to be an artist by the time she was four years old. She danced professionally in New York for a few companies and had some success choregraphing many of her own ballets. But then she saw some psychic woman who told her she would be leaving the big city and would find herself in a small town starting with the letter "A". She would do the best art of her life there. Well, it happened. Driving through California, I think it must be the late 60's maybe early 70's by now, she stopped in Death Valley for gas. There she found an abandoned theatre and knew this was where she was sopossed to be. She never made it back to New York. She has spent the rest of her life in Death Valley, the towns original name Armagosa, (the psychic was kinda right!) renovating the theatre and performing for her small town constantly. As it is somewhat well known that Death Valley is haunted, she has had several expiriences with the spirits there, has photographs of them, and when she passes she plans on staying there as well. Pretty fucking rad. Her story is one of incredible dedication to creativity and her talent is huge. She is still there today and still dancing. Next time you pass through check out her art, it will blow your mind.
Monday, January 25, 2010
‘Rough town, good coffee’ reads the sign (complete with a picture of a bucking wild horse) in the Durango Coffee Company. It seems a relic of a distant past – yes, once this was a rough town. Early Colorado – miners shared the streets with prostitutes and gamblers. I’m sure there was some ‘respectable society’ here too, but this place was very much a part of the Wild West. In order to get here, a long journey had to be made, some pretty big mountains had to be crossed. And if you know any history, you know that the Rockies were brutal to the early pioneers. You had to be half crazy to get here.
These days, the town is safe, a lot of people never lock their doors, and leave keys in their cars. People raise families here, eat certified organic food, and pay ridiculous amounts of money to go skiing in the wintertime. The Wild West is but a memory, a way to sell tourist packages for horseback rides and fake cowboy shows. I enjoy the benefits, although it feels a little strange, a little false somehow. I can walk home at night without really worrying, aside from the possible encounter with a rogue bear digging through garbage cans. Maybe that’s why – we are nestled here in the beginnings of the Rockies, there is wildness in every direction outside of town. Within that, there is a desire for a certain kind of control, of safety here.
Sometimes in the summertime I see a handful of drunk Indians hanging out in the park by the river. That’s about as wild as it gets here. And even that’s swept under the rug. There’s this old dude in a little golf cart who rides around and enforces some sort of selective ‘no loitering’ policy, telling them that they have to leave as he eyes everybody else suspiciously. I’m not sure where they go, but I suspect they hang out in the hills, with the rabbits and the coyotes.
This past week we got a pretty big snowstorm here. Our courtyard was filled with waist high snow, and the snow was still falling. Over the fence, our neighbor was shoveling snow in his backyard. What was strange about it was that rather than shoveling a functional path, he was actually shoveling his whole backyard, a yard measuring roughly 5,000 square feet. He was out there all day, just shoveling. A pointless, thankless task, I’m sure he’ll ache for days, but there was this inherent desire for control in that act, like somehow he could carve out a controlled space for himself. Nevermind that you couldn’t really drive anywhere, or that the grocery trucks couldn’t get into town to deliver food or that just north of town the avalanche danger was blinking bright red on the map. People are funny that way.
This same neighbor, when the weather is good, he likes to pace around in his backyard, shirt off, talking on his cell phone, dispensing advice. You could almost make a drinking game out of how many times he says ‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you...’ or ‘I recommend…’ or ‘Here’s what you need to do…’ He’s the constant expert, on everything, it seems. The big secret is that experts are usually pretty freaked out by anything not safe or controlled.
So there I sat, yesterday at the Durango Coffee Company. The place is a yuppie haven if I ever saw one. I enjoy coffee culture very much, the endless variety of ways you can take your espresso, the sweet pretty treats on little white plates that wait behind the glass dessert case for anybody, like myself, with a decent sweet tooth. The truth is, yuppies have good taste. They have money, they know what money can buy and they demand quality. I happen to like quality too, but I don’t like yuppies. They’re the kind of people that demanded a certain level of ‘safety’ in this town, a certain degree of homogeneity – yes ‘quirky’ homogeneity (houses are painted in funky shades of dark purple, blue and green), but nonetheless… So it’s a little ironic, because I chose this place in part to enjoy some good coffee, but also because it has this really great view of the Strater.
To me, the Strater Hotel may be one of the last standing relics of the Wild West here and Durango. Last weekend, my sweetheart and I wanted to go on a little adventure, and so we decided to explore the insides of this still functional hotel. So we climbed the red velvet stairs, up, up beyond the Victorian glamour of the lobby, the sepia photographs on the walls, until we got to the fourth floor. We weren’t positive, but we were pretty sure the fourth floor was where Durango’s most notorious ‘ladies of ill repute’ dwelled. It had just the right amount of seediness, of haunted-ness about it. I loved it, although I would be hesitant to spend the night there by myself.
It’s funny this play of wildness isn’t it? It’s a little scary. It’s supposed to be. The uncontrolled always is. And that’s exactly what I like and simultaneously fear about it – the inherently unpredictable nature of it, the realness of it.
So I’m sitting there in this coffee shop, drinking my Americano, trying to write and I can’t help but eavesdrop on the man sitting at the table next to me. How could I not? The tables are wedged in so close that you are on such intimate terms with everybody there you can almost feel their body heat. And the man was talking so loudly. This guy who’s talking, he could be a stand in for my neighbor, except that I suspect my neighbor is a nicer person. This one, he’s got more of a pseudo intellectual coffeehouse flavor about him. And he’s talking about John Lennon, so of course I’m interested.
‘John Lennon was as blind as a bat,’ he’s saying, ‘he could hardly walk down the street.’ Apparently, the man goes on, young Lennon’s aunt used to force him to wear his glasses, but as soon as he had left the house, he would take them off. And those glasses, the ones he ended up wearing and popularizing later were the same ones his aunt used to make him wear. Those Lennon round glasses - the man was saying - they were actually standard issue glasses, the cheapest you could get.
I was enjoying this new little factoid, as the man paused after finishing his story, when he added, ‘But like most artists, I wasn’t very impressed with him as a person.’
What the hell? You prick, I thought to myself. The personality of John Lennon, that’s like part of the package, that’s the whole deal – how can you separate art from the artist like that? Like, I’ll take the song ‘Imagine’ or ‘Revolution’ but forget who the author was as a human being, it has nothing to do with anything. Seriously.
It’s clear where I’m going with this isn’t it? How can you separate the West from Wild West? Art from artist?
I really, really hate it when boring square people sit around and talk about eccentric artists, denigrating their personalities. This may have changed recently due to his death, but the same kind of thing happened all the time when people talked about Michael Jackson. Yeah, the man was fucked up, there’s no doubt about that, but at the same time, it’s the way that people used to talk about him, make fun of him. I’m of the opinion that everything, sooner or later needs to be made fun of, that’s just life, that’s not taking things too seriously, but this was different. It felt absolutely malicious.
I remember one day in the park awhile back how I overheard this fat guy in a grey sweat-suit saying, ‘I hear Michael Jackson’s gonna make a comeback.’
‘Yeah,’ says the woman race-walking behind him, also sporting a sweat-suit, ‘he’s gonna try.’
Like what have you ever done, ever contributed to society? We’re talking here about a man who revolutionized music, dance, fashion and the art of performance.
Yoko Ono would be another case in point. I mean, she isn’t afraid to be controversial, to push boundaries in art, to be a strong woman, strong enough to match the personality of John Lennon no less. And to a lot of middle America, she’s become fodder for a lot of stale, stupid and outright sexist jokes.
I find myself thinking about these two subjects a lot – the death of the Wild West, and the way people in this culture talk about artists. They’re both a kind of policing, a way of making people feel safe in an unsafe world. Everything in the natural world, and every human, possesses an inherent wildness about them. Van Gough’s paintings are beautiful because you can see the way the wildness comes out in his brushstrokes. Rock and Roll moves people because of this inherent ferocity that it possesses – this rebellion, this frustration with the status quo. That’s why the music of the new generation always upsets the previous generation. It’s supposed to. Art on the vanguard shocks and surprises like a howl coming out of the woods, it shakes and changes culture. And that’s extremely threatening to people who like things ‘just the way they are thank you very much’. It always has been that way. People seem to forget that, once it’s been integrated into the popular culture. Eventually, Bill Clinton’s taking his octegenarian mother-in-law to see the Rolling Stones, and they’re all shaking hands. And it’s like – remember when Mick Jagger’s overt sexuality was in everybody’s faces and parents everywhere were up in arms about it?
Meanwhile, here in Durango, actors playing cowboys stage shoot outs on the hour every summer for tourists who stand clapping outside the Strater Hotel. And I drink fancy coffee and wax nostalgic for something I never got to see.
Of course it’s not as dire as that, it never is.
There are other ways to live in the Wild West.