The word 'authentic' gets used a lot these days. You know, like 'getting in touch with your authentic self' and what not. I don't know what that all means to be honest but when I paint what I want to make is the most authentic feeling in the moment. I want to express the sensations, the movements, the moments. What's going on for me in that time and space. It might be high or low or, as is most often - and as is with most of us - bobbing along in the between.
So what is the authentic self? Just that present moment day to day laundry list of sensations. Now it is like this. Tomorrow it is like that. And so on. Yet the I who feels it - the I that is the culmination of all of those sensations - the I remains. Until, perhaps, in a flash, a moment, it doesn't. And in those moments of clarity, of light piercing the veil, we see a little further.
A number of excursions recently to downtown LA - a place of a thousand flavors- it's dirt and it's grime, it's old art deco buildings and the motifs that sometimes get lost amongst the construction, the plywood, playbills and graffiti. Here, in this foyer, a ceiling of mosque-like moulding leading to pricey lofts extolling the virtues of the thriving Downtown LA art scene. There a bit of an art deco sidewalk, half of it left, beneath a layer of old bubblegum, ten billion foot prints and car soot still shines tiles of red and gold and white and blue, partitioned off by golden brass fronting against a store selling stereos, karaoke machines, congos and trumpets. The neon signs and blitz and bling reflect on the 20's style lines underfoot. Around the corner you see a curving arch overhead, twisting and twining with intricate grandeur, welcoming you into the marketplace of a dozen shops selling nintendo knock offs, hair extensions and piñatas. Delicate corners and cornices drop down to boarded up windows, the smell of urine and mexican grocers, sewing machine repairs, and parking garages, art galleries, sushi restaurants and a 50's style diner replete with jukebox and checkerboard tiling. This is the old town of Downtown LA - the part that came before the sleek glass and steel and polished granite high rises exuding modernity and shunning this dirtied rough and tumble corner that moves into the fabric and fashion districts, lying in the shadow of the business centers. The corner where, with a bit of dusting off, one might find architectural treasures, if only one knows how to look.
Juxtapose all of that with the rocky coastlines of Sonoma and it's an intense contrast. There - there is no 'modern' vs 'rough and tumble' - no new cliffs that transition to mexican grocers and burrito shops and the odd stylie sushi bar. There - the cliffs are the cliffs. There is no difference from the top to the bottom other than the smoothness of the lines - how much one section has been smacked and sculpted by the crashing waves more than another. The waves come churning in - wham! bam! ka-boom! Into little inlets that drop down between the rocks and then up! - up along the sides of great jutting corners - no angels or gargoyles upon those corners, no sculpted fleur-de-lis. Just raw rock, at times sharp and craggy, at other times stippled - pock marked like sand after a hard rain and then dried to a hardened shell. Along these lines, echoing the rhythms of sea, wind, and storms, we might cast anthorpomorphized suggestions of a face or the reminiscences of a body, a hand, a heavenly choir. All of it left to the imagination of one or another and the ground left to the cast offs of the ocean- kelp and other types of seaweed, smoothed by the sea driftwood, the elbow of a lobster, red and dry in the sun, or the body of a crab, brittle and speckled in delicate patterns, waiting to be divided up and cast back to the sea.
But what of our fearless adventurers? Adventure: One man's adventure is another man's walk in the park. Wherever we find our edge - therein lies the adventure.
I found Violet's hiking edge while we were making our way back to the trailhead in Bryce Canyon. We'd decided to hike the Fairyland Trail - an appropriately named trail that leads in and out of the "hoodoos" as they are called that make up Bryce Canyon, Utah - tall sandy spires, sometimes many stories high, looking like a series of towers in some child's drip sand castle. The spires glow with an orange/sienna sand stone, streaked now and again with white or subtler colorings of green or purple or red from mineral deposits. Dappling them here and there are twisted gnarled trunks of juniper, bristle cone pine and, deeper into the base of the canyon, Douglas firs, thick-trunked and towering over the little washes and scampering chipmunks.
"What are you thinking about at this moment right now?" I asked as we sat on the cool stone in the shadow of the massive red rock stone arch spanning out over our heads. This arch was a giant circle hewn from the stone by decades of wind and rain. The blue sky beyond it spread out rather infinitely with just a few little cumulus cloud puffs floating through it casting delicate shadows over the red rock towers and cliffs in front of us. We'd hiked up from a grassy valley to the stone towers and the aptly named 'Marching Men' rock formations and then onwards, trudging through beach like sand, passing wind blown sand dunes, delicate curves etched in their crests, and winding twisted junipers, aged and grey.
"War." replied Violet. "Endless war. The concept of 'inheriting war' is so... strange... and sad. That a kid feels he has to go off to war to be a man and have stories to tell about the war because he heard stories from his father..." She trailed off.
I left Violet at the lodge where her other philosophy friends from UCSD and UCI were having a sort of informal conference and drove up the road a piece to the Fuller Ridge Trail - drove up a twisting dirt road and parked at a gate. I started hiking... p and up. Into the still silence of nature abounding where there is no stillness but no incongruous sound, nothing is out of place. Bird song, bird answer. A woodpecker in the distance and another bird that zooms past me at breakneck speed. I sat for a while. Feeling my heart beating. My breath breathing. My joints and fingers and feet.
I hiked further and higher... into groves of towering Douglas Firs with long striations of bark in several dozen shades of brown and red and tan. I stood up close to it, my face inches from the bark and breathed in the musky woody scent, mingled with the cold mountain air. I felt it's tall peace and, as I stood there, felt myself - the roots and branches and leaves and fruits of my being stretching to the sun and the center of the earth. Maybe I looked like the "tree-hugger" type but that is such a misunderstood idea. A "tree-hugger" gets hugged back as well - but beyond that I felt like i was meditating there with this tree that was more than several hundred years old. It's bark attested to fires and storms that it has weathered - knobs and gnarls of knotted wood giving away where a brach was blown free in the wintertime and charred edges and the center charring - a tunnel within the tree that has been charred and blackened. I felt it and tasted it and thanked it. And moved on. I stuck my hand in the snow and stopped now and again to let my footsteps catch up with myself. And in that moment - the moment of being caught up - i found a center - and ever evolving moving changing and constant center.
Pausing, resting, stopping for a moment is when I have a chance to notice the silhouette of the sandpiper standing on a rock, dark against the blue of the sky reflected in the tide pool. It is when I see the glowingly green stone almost hidden by the ripples of the water and catch a glimpse of a magenta bodied starfish - its white dots like rows of little stars – clustered with three other starfish under an overhanging ledge of rock, peppered with barnacles. Some barnacles are the size of my big toe, others more the size of the nail of my little toe and the cliff hanging living – compact and confined, clustered tightly – blue lips of thousands of mussels. In the watery pools the anemone softly wave their blue green tendrils – a sort of fluorescent flower under the sea. Above the water, they have turned to gloppy blob like things speckled with the bits and pieces of broken shells and sand all clinging to them. When you see rocks stretching out in front of you with this blanket of shell particles it is not to be stepped upon. This is merely the pieced together shell of dozens of anemone, all clustered together, one after the other, in sprawling communities. Who am I to not want to also live in the sprawl? Perhaps sprawl is a natural occurrence. The only difference between the vast sprawling wasteland – I mean Irvine and Orange County – just northeast of me – and this is that this plays an integral part in the workings of a healthy ecosystem. Conversely, that spreading cancerous growth that is modern day living consumes and consumes and consumes in a seemingly never-ending power struggle and the waste? Plastic, toxins, runoff, etc… Garbage and poison. So. It’s the toxic nature of that sprawl that doesn’t excite me, the part that isn’t much like these rocks and pools and communities of sea life spreading out in front of me.
So I wander further down the beach, [picking up a shell and marveling at the intricate complexity of the lines of the rocks like giant shards poking up through the sand, rubbed and caressed into sinewy lines by years of ocean currents. Blues that merge into green that follow a line into a pool. In the pool is a rock with an orange glow and speckled with a pink coral sort of growth. The pink only glows when it is wet. If I take the rock home to admire it on my mantel, the pink will fade and I’ll be left with an orange rock and memory. So after admiring it for a while, turning it over in my hand and loving the way the sun through the water through the rock creates this glow in my hand, I place it back into the pool, where it settles in amongst the snails and seaweed.
Driving takes us northwards, into the mountains where we find ourselves passing into what seems like a gateway into the mountains in the form of mammoth curving red rock formations that end with a punctuation of a little white walled red terracotta roofed town, along a river rushing below. We stop to take pictures, of ourselves, of the rocks and river and trees. Driving further takes us up past cows grazing, sheep grazing, more mountains, into the trees and, as the sun sets, the shadows of the mountains grow until they tower over us, looming in the dark. We make our way towards Jaca a little mountain town in the direction of our destination but at an intersection we change course and head deeper into the mountain valleys passing through littler and littler towns until we arrive in Hecho where we stop to eat in the little village of grey stone, flowers, ancient streets twisting and turning, balconies. In the brightly lit restaurant/bar, half a dozen older men come in all at once from the drizzly mountain night. They stand around the bar, in front of our table and each quickly has a glass of wine, talks loudly and with much gusto and then leaves with the same sort of bluster. Our wine and potatoes and cheese are much quieter. When we are finish we get in the car in the cold wet dark nifhr and head north towards the dot-on-a-map village of Sirensa and finally, onwards further to the little Hotel Uson, but they are full for the night (Sunday) and we must turn around and make our way back to Hecho where we get a bare little room in a stone and wood hotel. Hotel is a loose term: it’s a pleasant enough little place on a corner with rooms, a restaurant… but whenever I think of “hotel” I am doomed to mental images of Motel 6’s and Best Westerns… they are never ever like that. They are almost always cute, pleasant and homey.
In the morning, I go for a walk. The sun is rising, bathing the stone walled village in golden light. In a hillside field, one square of grass amongst others, with little stone barns, low stone walls and verdantly green grass, sheep graze in this place that place hasn’t changed for thousand years ago, save for the cars and the electrical lines. A dog sidles up beside me and follows me around town, keeping me company, showing me his hood, nice dog. When Violet awakens we have breakfast of, once again, croissants, ham, orange juice and café con leche, take a walk through town then head back to Hotel Uson with it’s quaint wood and stone farm house look, powered by solar and water and beautifully situated on a hill side looking towards the stone cathedrals of mountains that rise up out of the forests. We are given a room this time and leave our things and exploring.
Upon awakening, I rise and dress quietly and go for a hike, telling Violet I’ll meet her for breakfast downstairs. The main plaza is empty and vastly quiet in the morning light coming through the archways and pillars, casting long arcing shadows and igniting the towering bulbous shaped rocks that loomed overhead. I find a trail that winds up into the mountains and half-run/half-walk up the long winding trail of rocks and stairs, the rocks worn smooth underfoot, stopping now and again to take a picture, catch a breath or feel the great open winds that rush through me in the morning air- the chill of the earths breath mixed with the warmth of the morning sun. I crest ridge and find myself on a wide sloping rock face overlooking the valleys below and looking up towards the towering chimney like peaks of Montserrat. I breath. I sit. I relax into the earth, warmed by the sun and cooled by the breeze over my perspiration. But I am to meet Violet for breakfast and don’t want to keep her waiting so, with a good-bye to the peaks up there, I run down the stairs, glancing down at the picturesque scene of the monastery below me, with it’s bell tower and church of reddish stone illuminated in gold by the sun.
After a breakfast of coffee, croissants, Serrano ham, cheeses and fruits we go for a walk around the wide open empty square and then wander into the main cathedral itself, adorned in grey stone gothic curves and archways of white marble, through the main cathedral plaza and then into the vast open expanse of golden arches and pillars that is the cathedral. We file in line up past golden mosaics and into the little room housing the famed Black Madonna with Child (supposedly carved by St. Luke in 50 AD, rumor has it…), get a view from the nave of the church, up behind the altar and then chill in the little insanely ornate chapel behind the statue. Leaving there we stop into the art museum and are presented with a wide selection of Catalonian artists including Dali, Picasso, Rusiñol, Degas, El Greco, amongst others. We hang out for a while longer til throngs of tourists made the entire situation a little unbearable, so we pack our things into our little Citroen that we have named Narajazul (Blue Orange) and get on our way northeastwards towards the Pyrenees, stopping briefly at the market that has set up for some goat cheese, honey and fig pate.
Riding along the Amtrak on my way back to San Diego passing mountains and fields in afternoon golden sunlight. Rocky red mountains tinged with green, laden with it, draped over them. At the same time, Hard to tell if i am going south or north- the sun is to my back but the land passes me from left to right. This makes no sense to me.
Egyptian pyramids and kitchy lines of "The Mummy" play out on the screen of my laptop while my mind drifts to thoughts of the Casa Barranca Tasting Room in Ojai and the work I'll be painting a bit of detail work along the archways, stained glass looking motifs like tiffany windows or frank lloyd wright squares and rectangles or C. R. Mackintosh floralisms.
Sitting in the hot springs this afternoon, sunning in the sun, warm waters washing over my being. Cool breeze over perspiration laden skin. Red dragon flies buzzing through the air describe curved spiraling lines that linger in my vision. Reflected ripples of water, on the underside of a boulder overhanging the pool of sulphuric hot spring water, intertwine in accordance to the motions and intimations of the breeze, my movements, and their own echoes. A bead of sweat drips off my chin and taps the surface of the pool, forming concentric circles that merge with the larger ripples. Silence resounds around me in the form of bird songs, rustling leaves, water rippling and rolling, sounds of life drifting through everything: the trees, the rocks, the water, me. I breathe everything in deeply and exhale everything just the same. I twist and stretch and sit still. I smile and relax. I sigh. I surrender.