Monday, May 27, 2013

Adventure is Out There

A shipwreck. A volcano shawled in snow. Blue, glassy seas.

We started our 60 mile journey from Homer, Alaska under perfect blue skies for a 3 day excursion to Iliamna Bay and Iniskin Bay on the western side of Cook Inlet. The excitement of motoring to a remote landscape we’d never seen before to beach comb for fossils and explore an old shipwreck site was thrilling and fed our never-ending, insatiable desire for adventure.

Weather is always the number one factor when considering this ocean trek, and we had a small window of time and low tide to make the trip. A memorial, of sorts, for our friend and companion, Steve Lloyd, who has explored this rugged coastline before; he is the author of Farallon, Shipwreck and Survival on the Alaska Shore.

His fascinating book tells the story of the treacherous winter of 1910 when the Alaska Steamship Company’s  Farallon struck the jagged Black Reef, stranding 38 men in the dead of winter, and how they survived day after day, week after week on the treeless, freezing and desolate shore.

A more barren, forbidding, forsaken place it would be hard to find…Shipmasters who know the place shun it as they would the gates of Hades. –John E. Thwaites, Mail Clerk, S.S. Farallon

We progressed cautiously along the legendary Black Reef and motored into Iliamna Bay that is ringed by rugged, scenic, remote country where cliffs hover over jagged surf-lashed rocks. Hardly the gates of Hades this time of year; we were stunned at the beauty and grandeur of the bay. Shuffling to shore on a dingy, we hopped off and explored the beaches, finding ammonite and petrified wood, kelp beds, volcanic rock caves and melting snow trickling into waterfalls down the mountainous terrain. At Iniskin Bay we explored an old cabin strewn with remnants of perhaps an old trapper, boatman, or spiritual seeker attempting to carve out a life in this remote and rugged place

Quinn, the Eskimo dog perched on a rock; he prefers ice over water

Fire on the beach. Eating hot soup out of the can, bread, hot tea and cookies…we rested for a while between explorations under a pair of circling eagles and the long bright hours of daylight.

We imagined the struggle of crewman surviving on depleted food supplies, trudging daily through knee deep snow to retrieve willow branches for their fires, sleeping in makeshift tents with just the clothes on their backs, in windy sub-zero temperatures.

And how five brave men, who upon leaving the group, went for help in a dory and crossed the treacherous waters of Shelikof Strait enroute to Kodiak. Five brave men who endured a blinding snow storm on ice caked seas, feet wrapped in burlap, in near-starving condition…and alerted the outside world of the Farallon’s fate.

In our windy slumber around a driftwood campfire, we thought of how well we would sleep that night: in the blue surge, under a pink moon rising over the menacing Black Reef of Iliamna Bay.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Doodle Mind and Writing

24 x 24 acrylic

The idea for this painting originated in Italy; after observing a tiled, stylized cross in a church, the shape reminded me of Native American capes that people wear at village dances and potlatches. I am deep in the process of writing a fiction project about a Yup'ik boy who comes of age while enduring the hardship of his best friend's suicide, in combination with his love for a visiting teacher who is, at best, cavalier with his feelings. Post high school, he travels to New Mexico to attend art school, and to his astonishment, realizes an expanded and compelling worldview. He finds, through sculpture and painting, the beginnings of renewed hope and healing; a newly fabricated sense of self and over-arching purpose that guides his future actions. In the end, he marries a woman from his village home, fathers a baby (with fetal alcohol syndrome), and carves out a life, fraught with pain and difficulty, though deeply lived with appreciation and great love.

Much of this derives, I'm sure, of my love for the Alaskan and New Mexico landscapes and people. Both  of them gritty, raw, wild, astoundingly beautiful. One whose winter sun barely clips the horizon for several long, dark months; another whose summer sun cracks the desert ground into patchworks of brittle clay. I am drawn explicably to both, and icons of both worlds, though largely imagined, are evident in this painting.

Donato Di Zio

At a museum in Florence, I bought a book of Donato Di Zio's work in pen and ink. I have no idea what it says, as the text is entirely in Italian, but his remarkable drawings are so engaging I couldn't put the book down; it just had to ride home in my backpack so I could peruse its contents many times over.  

Some of his work is reminiscent of a Native American style of sorts; at least that's what came to mind upon first viewing. So fluid with motion, and little color to distract. I love how he uses thousands of little sperm-like creatures to make the piece come alive with movement.

Donato Di Zio

The Japanese artist, Sagaki Keita creates amazing drawings of classic works of art and other iconic images with a whimsical twist--look closely: the drawings are in fact made up of hundreds of cartoonish doodles.

I guess you could say he has raised doodling to a fine art!

Painting and drawing and collage-ing helps tremendously in igniting the process of writing for me.  The act of drawing (on paper with pens & paint; not Photoshop...which has another purpose) loosens the over-structured, root-bound approach I often take (hold-over from graduate school maybe...all those papers) and  lets in a deeper, more soulful indulgence to create without rules. 

I sorely need that, and give myself permission to sketch and paint and take photographs for no real or imagined immediate purpose; except the knowing that you never know. 

You never know how an image or poem or doodle may be used at a later time, and weave its golden thread through another fresh and creative project.

Monday, May 6, 2013

It All Happens in a Flash

Have you ever found yourself walking down the street, lost in thought when suddenly you notice a flash of perception, such as seeing a reflection in a plate glass window...and you pause?

One moment you are thinking of what you'll prepare for dinner that evening, and the next, without shifting your gaze, you are looking at the sky, or trees, or buildings or people reflected off the shiny glass.

For a moment, your thinking mind stops thinking and you enjoy an instant flash of perception. Within seconds, you are back in your head again, where conceptualizing thoughts stir round and round in the great washing machine of the mind.

These small gaps in thinking occur all the time, briefly, where you are shot out of conceptual thought and into a pleasant, vivid perceptual experience.

Many years ago, when we were house hunting in the Eagle River valley, where we live now, I experienced a very vivid flash of perception that stayed buried in my mind. We were looking at a house deep in the valley and all I remember about the visit is the flash of perception I experienced there.

I was standing outside looking around the yard when my attention was drawn to the expansive "great room" window facing east. The glass reflected the alpenglow of white capped mountains and the Eagle Glacier at the valley's terminus. For just a few moments, I was stunned by the beauty and I knew clearly, all at once, that this was where I wanted to live. The moment was captured. This was the so called "money shot." Gone was the deliberation of floor plans, well logs, property lines and in its place a sudden rich flash of perception connected the dots. Even though we didn't buy that particular house, I knew instantly (but not consciously) I wanted to live in this valley, in a house that reflected trees and mountains and sky.

In The Practice of Contemplative Photography, Andy Karr and Michael Wood explain further: Flashes of perception occur only when there is a gap in the thinking process. They happen in natural breaks in the flow of conceptuality where you stop thinking and just observe.

When a strong perception provokes a break in thinking, conceptual mind stops in its tracks. Staying with the flash of perception has a quality of motionlessness; you are not distracted, jumping at every little thing that happens and getting caught up in it. You don't project out. You just allow yourself to be in the stillness of the moment, appreciating whatever you see. These breaks take place all the time, but generally slip by unnoticed. When we have the intention to recognize them, these breaks become much easier to spot.

The mind is free from preoccupation, and this is when the eyes clearly see.

The thinking comes a few minutes later, though. Consider this photo. I am standing on the deck, shooting back into the house. An interesting array of objects come into view; you can see the stained glass window and a lamp in the house yet you are also aware of the chairs and table out on the deck...and further out, the trees and mountains. Items appear to be floating in space and are not connected to each other in a meaningful way. Interesting. There were no expectations about whether I was getting a good or a bad shot; this juxtaposition of objects is simply what I saw, what was unexpectedly perceived.

Here I am shooting into the bedroom, my eye goes in one window and out another revealing brown trees and a cold gray sky. Mountains tower over framed photographs on the wall above our bed. The  landscape here has not yet revealed all things green. The crocus and daffodils are still stalled under an icy ground. Snow still shawls our mountains.

But I wait patiently, with camera in hand.  I will watch for new and rich experiences in real time,  in the flash perceptions I'm aware enough to notice without labeling, categorizing and over thinking.

Just get the shot with a refreshed mind and the images will speak for themselves.

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