Lands of Exposure

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Indiana Field, A. Sato

“Therefore, the places in which we have experienced day dreaming reconstitute themselves in a new daydream, and it is because our memories of former dwelling-places are relived as day-dreams these dwelling-places of the past remain in us for all the time.”
― Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

When I was a young girl, I used to spend many hours sitting on my grandparents’ porch, gazing at the wide field across the road. The field seemed enormous then – and frighteningly as vast as space itself. I remember a distinct sense of loneliness as I looked across that empty space and watched the sun descend. At the same time, just under the loneliness, a sense of hope, of fullness.

It’s been 6 years since I have been back. The old house is now in the possession of another family. Things, as they do when we age, seem smaller, more contained.

The last time I was there we said goodbye to my grandfather and buried him on the edge of yet another field, familiar as home since the bones of many family members rest there, too.

Before returning to the desert, I sat at the edge of that field, among violets and freshly mowed grass, and breathed in the enormity again, the space that made me feel so small against it.

I was born a child of the woods. Open space, more than the darkness of dense pine stands and overgrown creek beds, seemed to contain the elements of childhood fear: exposure, vulnerability, and enormity. In the woods I was never alone. I was surrounded by brother trees and sister animals – deer, feral dogs, squirrels, cows. In their life was a recognition of my own.

But something happened. I grew to love vastness.

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Creosote Hills, A. Sato

Throughout my adult life, my choices have always led me to the assurance of fields, prairies, deserts – perhaps to finally embrace the price of life, complete vulnerability to it.

As I now gaze across another vast terrain – one of thorn and rock – I still seek that fullness, that hope I felt as a girl on my grandparents’ porch. To meet the emptiness feels like surrendering to something more powerful than my hemmed in perception and fears.

No matter where I am, the edge of a verdant field or beneath a burning sun on blackened rock, there is always space – and in this space, possibilities beyond the imaginings of a girl and the regrets of a woman.

I know what it is I seek there… comfort.

Deer in the Desert: Scenes from the Sonoran and Beyond

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In the desert, everything awakens in autumn. I, too, feel my senses sharpen, my desire to leave the people world for the world of bewilderment. I am not to be found in the city on any given weekend, but prefer to spend my time traversing washes and slopes in search of new adventure. I become the kit fox that circles your campfire. I have a mind to run and roam, to kick up the dirt and steal some of your sanity, to lose my heart. Everything – from thistle to peak – burgeons, including my imagination and hunger for exploration and observation across the cooked basalt pavement and saguaro-laden ridges of my desert home.  This is a time of silence and recollection. There is something immensely sensual about the desert light in winter – the blues of a lover’s eyes and the painted doors of adobes – the pink hum of the mouth and tongue – the reds of embers and cool tiles – and the violets bursting through the robes of royals and the tapestries of a woman’s innermost thoughts. These colors keep me reeling in the beauty of what some people who have not experienced this home call stark. Austerity is a white walled room with no windows. Austerity is a false freedom we gobble up. There is nothing austere or dull about the desert… everything is in some form of changing light and shadow. Movement is slow but ever-present, and the landscape itself, comprised of grains and dispersed cholla, is alive with its shifting and yawning.

Lately, I have been perusing my photos from the past six years of living here in the Southwest. I feel compelled to share a sort of word journal and collage of imagination, of sites and sensual feasts, a poem to the land. Just by recollecting the moment my boots hit the entry point to a special wash or a hidden valley of water, I return. Perhaps this endeavor is also to share an intimacy of place with the reader who may never see or exist within the boundaries of this fevered land.

These are favorite moments, small time capsules and episodes of beauty that leave me forever related to this wild, immense dreamscape.

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Sunset on Babbitt Ranch, a place called Little Wild Bill… the air is starting to cool as I squint in the sun through the branches of alligator junipers. I look down to find a serrated projectile point, possibly archaic… antelopes run into my periphery, then into the horizon where something I want, an ache, awaits.

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A man walks out onto a granite lookout above Tonto Creek, near the Mogollon Rim. The black outline of rock and impending snow brings out the intensity of dark green and the hunger of deer. Who says Arizona is nothing but sand has never walked this place or seen the way a man’s shadow can look like a bird’s, like verdant hope.

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It’s July and the heat has settled into the concrete and breath of everything. I step outside to the perfume of queen of the night, those heavy moon-worshipers, illuminating asphalt, conversation and secrets. My collection of bones line the side of the house, a lovesong to death and the promise of something beyond this city, something creeping under highway metal and running towards home.

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Perry Mesa volunteer project … and down we go to the promise of an afternoon swim in the Verde River… the basalt boulders make for a wild ride as we ascend and descend, ridge after ridge. Beyond the clouds, the Mazatzals rise as stained purple tablecloths against this table of sand and time.

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Sometimes I need to drive. When everything collapses, there is the road and bad coffee, crows and absolution. Every night there are shots of whiskey and motels. What destination can find you when everything else has fallen into the sky?

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Recognition happens in a moment. I stand on an old tree stump, a cut for the coming tourist season. I look out at the river below and the climbing sacrosanct peaks of the La Platas. Snow still covers the northern slopes. The aspens are thick with their desire – those pale women stand together, afraid of being alone. I am only five minutes from my home, a little strawbale, but here is eternity and I want to become this place, these cold drifts and promises.

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This is a bad sign and I am an intruder… there are hexes and omens I ignore for a peek down into the trail. The turquoise water snakes its course, one thousand feet below. I could jump. I could be nothing. I leave but tempt the night with a quick look back, over my shoulder, to where people left for the journey of salt.

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There are times when the wild doesn’t want you. I arrive with my head full of questions, hellbent or perhaps just bent by the disease of being too much with the cacophony of hell. I did not leave it. I brought it to the top. I wave my arms and scream out from the gang of pines. There is no song for the impatient. I am a closed coffin of betrayal. The wild wants an opening.

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I am a little like coyote in my stone house with my curious eyes and smile that conceals. I am the dirt bath and the morning run through washes, behind carbon copied homes, threatening the babies of suburbia. I am not a friend. I may eat at your table and shit on your bed.

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Making fry bread and speaking of horses near Narbona Pass – this is the way to learn. There is always something to do or fix, but afternoons under the trees with my friends, laughing and preparing dinner… this is the work of women, the skirt of chance.

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There is fire. There is the immolation of this destiny. The woods will soon be gone. The animals have fled. I cannot help but stay with the anger until the ashes fall.

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I came here to know a peace. I came here to write the names of those who have come before, to gather or to bleed. I came to write poems but have been silenced many times. Already, the ravens are waiting, singing.

Returning II

the way the crow fliesReverie and Acceptance

“To lose one’s self in reverie, one must be either very happy, or very unhappy. Reverie is the child of extremes.” ~ Antoine Rivarol

There is room in me now. Anything can take root. My life on the surface is as wide as a mesa, as empty as a forgotten cave, beneath debris and branches. Nature abhors a vacuum. Something must enter in. Where there was a home, a man – I fill these places with memories as verdant as leaves in a wet summer. There are moments I crave in my bones. Those moments I see behind your eyes – laughing on a blanket, the polished cow skulls and hot red dust.  Moments that comfort me – nestled under a metal roof as the storms of the summer rolled over us and the fire of our beginning was consuming, promising.

But I am just the red flame of wish now.

I see trains – I long for their miles of going everywhere and nowhere in particular. I read of the wilderness I have yet to visit and plan my exodus into a world that neither welcomes nor opposes my presence. I simply become a part of that world. Truthfully, that realization scares me. The wilderness cares little for my memories.

So I walk with them for now. The taste of coffee – the snowdrifts and my grandfather’s plaid jacket, where he stashed a day’s supply of tobacco. Stories told between the dusk and dawn by people with hushed voices and warm laps. I will never know them, just as they will never know me. My life is an amalgam of place and the senses. It is less purposeful than it is full of feeling. I want to rise to the surface of all of the things, these illusions. I want to wrap myself in the warmth of their promise, because it was in that promise, I felt most wanted. The future place was where I belonged, never quite fixed in the now.

In memory, there are copper bells hanging from an ocotillo. I catch lizards in the Sonoran Desert. Here, there is another new city – its Chinatown chatter and rumbling streetcars. There is the first time making love to him, and the ones to follow. There is the sound of teenagers smashing thin bodies onto still water, boulders of limestone enclosing us. And here, a young self holds a cat in her arms, dreaming of anything to take her away from home, from suffering.

These internal journeys take me away from the intense cravings for liquor, the stress of bills that continue to pile up, the death all around as age comes to friends and family. These journeys are my church of lessons, symbols of my prayers to the holy hereafter. The hawks and ravens show up just as I look to the pines. I watch the fearlessness of the lion and the freedom of wolves; the adaptability of the coyote running through alleyways into the ‘burbs.

I watch the acceptance of wild things, the deep integration into the land and life itself. I wish I could be so accepting. My resistance to accept that there are disappointments and horrors nestled and entwined in the beauty of those memories fuels my reverie. I cut out the weeds. I pick apart the skeletons and keep only what I want, the polished bones I can adorn with jewels. I can keep them as treasures.  My reverie is my way of being on the horizon of the next day. Never here. Never now.steps

Alcoholism crippled my ability to handle life in the present. Growing up in poverty and secrets, I learned to keep my eyes fixed on the West. I knew something wonderful was out there, just beyond what I could grasp… but soon life would be better, safer. In the midst of my disease, I learned to create my own secrets and covet memory. It was safer to believe that I had things under control, that there was love, there was magic. But, truthfully, it was a fragile illusion waiting for anything to splinter the image. Through my drinking years, I married twice. I traveled often. I lived in multiple cities, still holding on to that child-thought that I could be something else, somewhere else. 

No place changed me. I just continued to spiral downward into the grip of my dreams. I wanted to just wake up on the mesa and become a part of what I believed was soul-desolation. I saw myself being carried off on the back of a wild horse, the crescent moon cutting patterns into the indigo. I saw the man I loved – rooted into juniper branches, becoming the breath coming into my lungs – the long exhalation of everything I held on to in my stomach. The tiring ache of years spent hoping for happiness.

Part of coming into truth required me to lift the lace that was draped over the lens. I had to come to know how I ended up here, what I lived through, what disasters were of my own making. I had to let go of the child who waited for something to come and rescue her.

Arriving to self… There is pain and promise in this process of releasing memory to reality. It is a dangerous game to play with life and madness – to hold up one’s cup to be filled by anything and anyone. Some die. Some never return from the other side of reality. Learning to live with acceptance requires leaving a life of memory and reverie in search of today. Meaning takes on the full expression of what needs to be done now. One learns to kiss those darlings of the past goodbye and welcome in a new day.

There is room in me now. I want to be careful about what takes root. In allowing everything to be as it is, I am not denying that young self’s daydreams of wonder, adventure, happiness… I am simply acknowledging that not all of it will be beautiful. I am learning to be with the pain, too. I am learning to love the balance of chaos and contentment. I don’t need to be anywhere else but here.

Free Range Dreaming: A Necessary Plan of Action

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Reverie is not a mind vacuum.  It is rather the gift of an hour which knows the plenitude of the soul.  ~Gaston Bachelard

I approach dreaming as an action. I take the time to deliberately daydream and in this act, I see my future self engaging in what my present self cannot yet imagine.

In a frenetic life, we believe ourselves to lack the ability to be in the moment. I generally agree. However, I would also add to this that we lack the imagination to be in transit with our thoughts. Our thoughts, rather, simply mirror our reality – a random and sometimes exhausting plague of worries and nightmares about the swirling madness around us.

Fear is indistinct and amorphous. Fear occupies our mind and makes us believe we have logic to our thoughts, when oftentimes we are simply on a bullet train of the unimaginable.

Our creative mind, however, can transcend our reality. This interpretation of present day also informs our future. Daydreaming is future-forming.

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Dreaming Our Secrecy

“There are parts of me he’ll never know,
My wild horses and my river beds…”
~ Island, Heather Nova

Every day we are bombarded by people, places, things that demand to know what we are doing, thinking and feeling. This invasion of our private thoughts leaves little room for imagination, for daydreaming. There are times we even covet our thoughts (and sometimes twist truths in an effort to protect our mental terrain). The exposure of information of the personal nature, leads us to forget how we need and rely upon solitude and privacy for sanity. This exposure stymies creativity, intimacy, connection. It is only that we think we know others and ourselves. But do we?

In an uninterrupted space, ask yourself one question: Why do you have the life you have?

Have we been deluded? Are we bitter? Have we lost our way in an assault of shoulds?

Quietude helps us find truth: the ugliness of emotional and physical damage, the spine-real needs, and the unwieldy expectations. It is easier to cultivate than it seems, this awareness. It is animal, our blood-filled world of pulse and hunger, thirst and creation.

Just once, can you imagine yourself in a life you’ve actively dreamed and created?

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Memory: It’s Over-rated

“The party has begun… It’s not like I can feel you still…”
Strange, Tori Amos

In reflection, I never expected to find a grandiose meaning of life. I accept that being alive is enough, and I follow the basic path of survival as my ancestors, fellow species of plants, trees, mammals, birds, etc.. I am more comfortable with this notion: that life is simply about living, than I am about some esoteric or judgmental heaven or karmic wheels. I find peace in the life/death cycle that frees me to be in an unresolved yet beautiful vision of never-ending cycles.

When I think upon past significant moments, the manifestations of fantasy, rarely do I still believe them to be as monumental as they were in the preconceived state. In fact, as a protective measure of survival and thus, chance and risk, our brains are wonderful romantics. We are neurochemically predisposed to forget pain and exaggerate pleasure. This is a great asset when we need to advance our species or avoid being eradicated, but it can work against us when seeking to learn from emotional highs and lows, from addictive and compulsive behaviors. It is tough to resist nostalgia.

Not only is it imperative to dream but also it is equally important to deconstruct our dreams. An exchange of present wish-keeping must replace memories of the past, if we are to avoid getting entirely lost in reverie.

Remember: the ART of dreaming is an ACT. And, actions require time and dedication.

So where do we find the time?

  1. Walking: Match the movement of your pace and breath with the movement of your thoughts.
  2. Sweating: I frequently visit sweat lodges and saunas for total, uninterrupted mind-strolls.
  3. Riding in trains, buses, cars: Use your time as a passenger to let your mind wander.
  4. Moot meetings: I have done almost all of my creative brainstorming while in meetings that did not require any real presence.
  5. Waiting: How much of our lives are spent waiting for others? Instead of fuming, use the time to your free-range dreaming advantage.

I am sure you can think of countless other opportunities. The point is, dreaming is cathartic. Dreaming helps turn the tides. It is creative. It is our best life coach and planner.

Believe in the power of your dreams because they create your reality. They are the first manifestation of what most certainly is to come.

Live Each Moment…

 

 

Perhaps it is the two-day stomach flu bug that brings to mind mortality? Whatever the cue, I have been thinking about the cliché expression, “Live each moment as if it were your last” and realizing the absurdity and glibness inherent in this concept.

If I were to live each moment like it was my last, what would I do? I can start by telling you what I wouldn’t do:

  1. sit in an office
  2. listen to people I think are full of crap
  3. pick up dog poop
  4. pay bills
  5. feel obligated
  6. drive the speed limit
  7. worry
  8. argue

The list goes on and on. If it were my last – very last – moment, I would probably spend it somewhere under a canopy of cottonwood trees with people I love. Now, before you tell me I am being too literal, I point to the obvious number of references to “last moments on earth” with movies like the Bucket List and songs – sad, country saccharine songs – such as Live Like You Were Dying. Both follow the same conclusion that – given each moment was akin to our last – we would do the extreme, adrenaline-rush stuff we normally shy away from but secretly fantasize about. And, we do fantasize about final days in the arms of secret lovers, pirates, pilots and poets (consider the millions of dollars we spend on these themes)… Or we fantasize about being in those roles: of power, of intrigue, of mystery.

Maybe therein lies the crux of this quandary: Fantasy.

I once read a wonderful quote by a German author (whose name escapes me) that goes something like, “Before we can change the nature of our reality, we must change the nature of our fantasies.” I read this quote back when I lived out most of my fantasies in a reckless cacophony of bar music and road trip soundtracks. I did not live for much more. I had experienced life devoid of happiness, and with the most modest flicker of hope, and I was more than intent to live each moment FULLY and completely. But, I wasn’t happy, and I am not sure those moments – while sensual, reckless, or adrenaline-rich – were meaningful, other than in the life lessons they provided. My fantasy of happiness was a myth made in the lonely room of a lonely young woman. I had no basis of how to live the moment. I lived a fantasy day, a mirage on the sands of my twenties. My moments were blurred out, distinguished only by passing time.

I now am 38. I have bills, responsibilities, a job, a husband… a yard from which to pick up dog poop and lots of people to listen to, for whom I have little interest or respect. These annoying burdens in life seem to be experienced by all of us who decide to live something more than our own fleeting mirage of fantasy freedom. Of course, it is not all dreary and not all jobs are created with the capitalist system in mind… better than a job; some have a place, a purpose. With these responsibilities come the rewards, or outcomes. A house and yard, or a yurt, or a caravan will provide a nest, a place to raise kids or animals, and give shelter to a family of people who gather there. A spouse becomes one’s dearest, most cherished friend and ally. A job – like my own – can become a source of connection to other missions, people and concepts. Purpose provides the means by which we navigate our role in the world. But it isn’t fantastic, and it isn’t always something we would choose to do in our final hours.

More than fantasy and adventure, and more than structure and function, we simply need the space and willingness to be. How many of us ever, when asked, “What are you doing?” respond with a heartfelt, confident: “Nothing.” We suffer from an addiction to function and purpose, and when not engaged in function and purpose, we are defining our function and purpose either through colloquial dialog or in some mental health / pop psychological way.

So in the last moments… how would I be? What would I want?

There is no answer to that question, of course. The reality is most of us spend a lifetime being busy and, when we reach a point of sickness or very old age, we simply do what we have been doing all along, what we know, what we find comfort in doing until we can no longer do it. Then we go. I will no doubt do the same.

If there’s a soundtrack for this path of least resistance, I think it would be understated, modest and beautiful. The memory of a child’s voice, the sound of oak leaves moving under a slow, spring wind, the breath of our beloved dog at the foot of the bed, crickets near a lake, piano practice, the one we love making coffee. This is the music of moment. This is the way we live them out, one by one, each moment, until we are done.