Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


2017 Miscellany

‘That packaging of time is a journalistic convenience that they use to trivialize and dismiss important events and important ideas.’ Utah Phillips

Hello, 2018, goodbye, 2017. I don’t always embrace the packaging of time into tidy calendar years — as Utah Phillips said, time is a river and we are in it — but I would like to wrap up and put away 2017. It was not an easy year; that seems to be the general consensus and it was my experience as well. But it wasn’t all bad, there were some good times to look back on. I’ve done these sorts of retrospective posts before, and it seems to be a healthy exercise; I’ve been feeling better as I look back at some of my photos and watercolors from the past year. I especially liked looking at Anita’s watercolors. We painted together pretty consistently throughout the year, and it was one of the main things I’ll remember. It’s been a long time since I posted any of her watercolors on this blog, but I like seeing them mixed in with mine. She’s been working with pattern this year, really nice in my opinion. A very incomplete collection of photos and drawings from the past year is below. Read the rest of this entry »

Palatki Cliff Dwellings

The third cliff dwelling site we visited was Palatki in the red rock country outside of Sedona. Someone told me it’s the best archeological site in Arizona, which may or may not be true, I don’t know Arizona well enough to really say, but it’s a wonderful place, amazingly scenic, with cliff dwellings and a collection of pictographs and a nice little museum. Docents lead tours right up to the dwellings and pictographs, and though I’m not always a fan of tours, the docents gave a lot of good information.

There are two sets of dwellings, tucked under the arch you can see at the base of the cliff. The dwellings were occupied from around AD 1150 to 1350 while there was a year-round water source. Nomadic people, understandably, decided the area was too beautiful to leave and built the dwellings.

It’s charming how they incorporated the boulders that were too large to move. Personally, I’d be leery of building a house anywhere that such giant boulders were accustomed to falling, but maybe if you sleep tucked against the talus it’s like sheltering beside your bed during an earthquake. The structure is still standing, so maybe that’s proof of concept.

There’s a lovely pictograph up on the cliff above the structure, an image outlined by a white circle. The docent said it may be a clan symbol, possibly based on a bear’s paw. The main collection of pictographs is in a shallow cave in another part of the site, and the docent did a great job explicating the different styles and ages, but it was too much for me to really process. This one, a negative-space image of a bear’s paw sited high on the rock face, was my favorite.

It’s a beautiful site. I’d never been to the Sedona area, but it lived up to all of the hype.

Montezuma’s Castle and the Sedona Chapel

After Bandelier, I visited Montezuma’s Castle near Sedona, another wonderful cliff dwelling site, this one perched in an alcove about a hundred feet up on a vertical cliff. The building is in good shape, though for obvious reasons you don’t get to go up into it (the park service website has some photos of the interior). I can imagine how much work it took to haul rock and mud up a hundred feet of cliff, but it was worth it. A spectacularly sited building.

On the same day, I also saw the Chapel of the Holy Cross about ten miles away as the crow flies. Another spectacular little building. They are obviously from different traditions — I’ve read a few versions of the chapel’s origin story and nothing mentions Montezuma’s Castle as an influence — but I was struck by similarities in the spectacle they both present as they perch overhead on the rock. I love how the cruciform shape is adapted to the contours of the cliff. There aren’t many buildings that do that, so it was striking to look up at two of them on the same day.

Bandelier National Monument

Before Thanksgiving I took a brief trip through the southwest, including visits to several sites with cliff dwellings. Bandelier National Monument was the first, and my first time seeing cliff dwellings. A lot of fun. I was perhaps expecting the buildings to be a little more intact than they were, but it’s a great place and I loved going up into the cavates, the little caves that had been carved into the cliffside. Climbing up the ladders and crouching to go through the openings took me back to that feeling when I first saw illustrations and read about them as a kid.

Read the rest of this entry »

Why I am Not a Painter

‘I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,

for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
“Sit down and have a drink” he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. “You have SARDINES in it.”
“Yes, it needed something there.”
“Oh.” I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. “Where’s SARDINES?”
All that’s left is just
letters, “It was too much,” Mike says.

But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven’t mentioned
orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike’s painting, called SARDINES.’
Frank O’Hara

This poem by Frank O’Hara is my favorite description of the creative process. I love the way the irreverent tone and seemingly arbitrary decision making belie a seriousness of purpose. I’ve also thought that O’Hara’s Lunch Poems, what he called his ‘I do this, I do that poems’, with their casual accumulation of meaning were one of the great antecedents of blogging.

I thought of this poem recently because a project began with an orange-colored wall as the origin for a design, but somehow by the time everything was done the wall was olive green. Probably too literal a connection to the poem, but it gave me all sorts of amusement. I even wanted to include sardines in the design but realized of course it would be too much.

Mitla Stone Mosaics

Along with Monte Alban, I visited Mitla, another Zapotec site but from a later period and with a much different feel. The ruins are in the middle of a town, which makes for a strange juxtaposition, the second stories of several houses peaking over one of the walls and the town’s catholic church incorporating a couple of the old walls into its construction. I wandered onto the site before I even realized it, and at first glance it didn’t seem dramatic. But then I saw the stone mosaic panels and I was completely enchanted. I’ve never seen anything quite like them.

The mosaics are wonderful, made with hundreds of individual stones fit together into repeating patterns, like brick diaperwork but with hand cut stone. I’ve read that the panels are based on weaving patterns. Though I think that theory is to some extent just speculation, it certainly seems plausible, and it’s fascinating to think of these as stone textiles and the masons as weavers. I’ve done a little bit of stone fretwork like this, and I am blown away that people did this a thousand years ago using just stone-bladed tools and maybe some form of abrasion.

The stone framing around the mosaic panels is quite sophisticated as well. The walls are three or four feet thick, and the panels are inset and laid as a veneer, with corniced stone courses overhanging them. It’s a more refined form of the detailing at Monte Alban, with a skill level that is obviously much higher, but also a stone that is easier to work as well. The stone is trachyte, a volcanic rock that is soft and relatively easy to work. The blocks have admirably crisp edges, though they are not standardized; virtually every course has an odd-dimensioned ‘closer’ stone to resolve the variations in the stones. Some of the courses are battered at the bases of the wall, and many of the stones are slightly trapezoidal instead of perfectly rectangular. Individual stones vary from fifteen-foot-long lintels and massive cylindrical columns that must weigh over ten tons to pieces the size of a finger.

The recessed stones in the mosaics were covered by red stucco when the site was occupied. Traces are visible if you click the photos to see them larger.

There are about 150 different panels. I didn’t take a photo of every single one, but quite a few of them are below. Read the rest of this entry »