Welcome to a blog of my own. Mostly I prefer to let the images do the heavy lifting, but sometimes, it helps to get a sense of the thought process that lie behind the work. Since writing is in many ways partner to my process, whether contemplative or whimsical, a few words now and again can prove illuminating.
Owens Valley, Land of Surprises
The Owens Valley is a source of continual surprise, even though I'm only there a few days a year. I travel with a group of painters from the Henry Fukuhara Workshop (although I do not paint). Watching them offers another way to look at things, although the underlying principles are pretty consistent. This year we were able to spend time in Swansea, courtesy of the Center for Land Use Interpretation and the folk who scout out and arrange places of interest. Swansea was a thriving miner's town back in the day (in the 1870s), taking its name from the hometown of the Welsh miners who came to extract, smelt and transport silver ore from the Cerro Gordo mines. That was before the 1872 Lone Pine earthquake that lifted the lake shoreline, and the debris flow in 1874 pretty much wiped out what remained. I looked at a Google satellite image of the area--I could follow the path of the last debris flow from a few years back; it flowed right through what was Swansea. However, there is an amazing persistence and resilience in people who live there that drives them to make things work out one way or another. Restoration and rebuilding are common themes. There is also an acceptance that nature is the 300-pound gorilla.
It is not an easy environment as regional author Mary Austin knew well. Referring to "this brown land" she called it "the land of little rain" in her writings. And it is not easy to believe that it was once, in glacial times, this valley was filled with 250 feet of water. But the glaciers are long gone and the landscape has changed many times over. What amazes me is the path that the Owens River still takes through the valley. It sways a slender green thread that slips through the brown and yellow land holding the grand crazy quilt together, refusing to give in.
Winter on the Madrona Marsh Preserve is dictated by the rains. The Southern California rainy season usually starts in late November and lasts through March, filling the marsh lowlands with its seasonally characteristic vernal pools. This makes March, sitting as it does on the cusp of spring, the beginning of new cycle of life in the wettest time of the year. The particular day in March when these images were taken (2013) was not during a particularly wet winter, but there was a good quantity of water collected in the tules and in the willows section, especially in the little hollows, across much of the marsh. That day was in many ways a typical walk on the land, although, for those who spend time on the Preserve, the idea of a “typical” day is an interesting notion because things are constantly in process. There is often a sense of the duality of time suspended and of continual change.
Within these two constants I often find magic at work on the Preserve. This is not the exotic kind of magic of movie sorcerers or magicians, but the mundane variety that comprise everyday wonders. It is the magic of the variety of birds on the land and their many different songs, in the stages of leaf growth and flowering and fruiting of the trees, the amazing chatter of the Pacific tree frogs, the parade and scurrying of ants, bees, butterflies, chittering of insects, the curiosity of dragonflies zipping by, the grace, presence and personalities of the wildflowers and grasses, and the magic unseen in the dark pools of water in winter that reflect everything off a profound black surface. This is the deep kind of magic that sneaks up and surprises with small whispers if you allow yourself to breathe, be still and listen. And there is always the interplay of light and life.
The five images in this exhibit offer an opportunity to sense the timelessness of time I experienced on that one day in March. These images, taken in the willow section of the pools of water are windows that look at the past and present and hint at the future. In the image one can see layers of activity: the spiky pollen and flowers that sit on the surface; the still bare branches and sky reflected on the surface of the water; the leaves from the previous year under the water that have yet to decompose; the branches fallen and slowly decomposing; and the deep dark underlayer of humus. The images are also an experiment in materials (fabric) and process (dye sublimation) in trying to capture some of the sense of flow in the essence and the magic of life within the Preserve.
View to a Kiln
Last May, I returned to an area south of Lone Pine called Cottonwood Creek. It is a dry sandy chunk of washboard road off the 395 surrounded by desert shrubs and, when there is a spit of rain, by hardy wildflowers out for their brief bright romp. The road, which heads toward the lakebed of the Owens Valley, ends at the site of the Cottonwood Creek kilns. These earthen beehive-shaped kilns were used to make charcoal in the heyday of mining in the area. They are fairly tall structures, now cracked open and mostly empty, their interiors exposed, dark black char at the base attesting to the heat that once created fuel used to smelt silver, lead and copper. The charcoal was made from wood – cottonwood - which was relatively abundant at one time. Today there are no cottonwoods at Cottonwood Creek, and there is no creek either. The landscape consists largely of woody shrubs and hardy plants in the fine, dusty sand and the remnant of a berm that likely channeled mountain runoff into the Lake Owens. And what also remains is the irony of a place name that hints at the past, as place names often do, of what once existed there.