Tag Archives: Photography

Hiking Through the Rhyolite

Many millions of years ago a volcano erupted with hundreds of times the force of Mount St. Helens.  Later the earth would push the remains upward leaving the volcanic rock exposed to all of the forces of erosion.  But the erosion was differential.  Softer materials washing away first. Leaving columns of stone.  Statues in precision alignment.  Sort of like the Moai on Easter Island.  Only here, they face inward to the center of the collapsed caldera.  Covered in desert scrub, it is difficult to imagine the explosive forces that once coalesced here.

The monoliths can also have disproportional heads where the boulders appear to balance mysteriously on much tinier pedestals.  All standing shoulder to shoulder like soldiers lining up on the parade grounds.

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Before I enter these mountains, I sign in with the park ranger.  They need to keep track if people go missing.  Know whose body they may find days later if you don’t return.

They warn me that there is a high chance of rain, and the trails across the ridgetop I’ve chosen to hike will have me exposed to lightening.  But I don’t believe the Thunder-beings have any interest in hurting me.  They can be great messengers of the Earth and the source of replenishing energy.

I’m prepared for the 8-mile trek.  As much as I can be.  And as I wind my way through the monoliths I follow an undulating path.  Up and down, back and forth, snaking my way along switchbacks.  That image of the snake’s path accented by the mineral serpentine, mixed with green, blue and gold lichens, reddish rhyolites, and specks of glistening mica.  A colorful cacophony.  Discordant reflections of muted color that shift continually as the sun makes its daily journey across the sky.

Chiricahua - 8-9-18 - 13After a couple of hours, I reach the ridgetop.  Black char on skeletal trees, evidence of a fire from a decade ago, mixes with the light and dark greens of new pines and oaks.

 

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All of the washes and creeks are alive with a torrent of water.  Small waterfalls offer the perfect intonations for meditation.  Worn trails fragment as you hit flat rock.  And segments of it vanish completely.

There was a flash flood the night before and if there had been foot prints or trail markers they’ve all been washed away.  Erased as if no person had set foot here for eons.  And no one is here today other than myself.

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Often, I find myself in the wilderness where there are no other people.  But I’m never alone.  A troupe of Painted Redstarts moves through.  Lizards scurry away.  Butterflies seek out precious nectar from the red and yellow columbine that burst forth sporadically.

I come upon a pine totally splintered from a bolt of lightning, probably from the day before because its needles are still deep green.  No sign of this timber having dried.  Totally debarked with pieces strewn in a thousand directions.  I pick up a small piece of this now energy laden bark and place in my shirt pocket above my heart.  You can feel the energy throbbing.

I hit another point on the ridge where the trail has cloaked itself.  There are at least ten directions I could go.  Four seem more likely.  I climb up on a boulder to get a better vantage point and to my surprise a solitary white-tailed deer is right below me.  The doe doesn’t seem to know I’m there.  The wind coming towards me carries my scent the opposite direction.

I watch her quietly graze on low-lying tree branches.  Then she raises her head and sees me.  Stares right into my eyes.  But I’m surprised by her actions.  I expect her to panic.  To run away as most deer would.  She’s unconcerned.  Apparently feeling no threat.  And instead offers to help.
Chiricahua - 8-9-18 - 11She alters her path and circles back toward me and loops to my left.  We lock gazes, and I follow her.  Her gentleness lures me to the right path.  And then she’s gone.  In an instant.  A blink.  As if she wasn’t there at all.  Her spirit saves me the time I would have spent trying to find the right route.  Time is life out here.

Descending from the ridgetop, I make it to the center of the monoliths.  How long have these statues stood?  Holding this ground.  Carved by forces that no human sculptor could match.  They’ll be here long after my physical body has departed.  Silently keeping watch.
Chiricahua - 8-9-18 - 15I hear an Owl in the distance.  Its affirmation tells me I am safe.  I can take a break here. Take the load off my back.  Hydrate and take in some calories to replace those consumed.  Breathe in the surroundings.

Native Americans used to inhabit this place.  It’s sacred Earth.  I offer thanks for being allowed safe passage.  I’m not the top predator here, after all.  Black beer and mountain lions call this their home.

An injury here can mean death.  Can’t let your guard down even as you grow weary.  Pay attention.

I hear a noise, and a Yarrow’s Spiny Lizard perches himself on a rock next to the path.  He does pushups and flares his neck in a display of dominance.  I stop to observe.  When I start to take my next step, I notice a large stone in the center of the path.  I had not seen it before and if I continued unaware I would have tripped over this stone and have possibly been injured.

Falling to right would have landed me on the switchback 20 feet below.  Falling to the left, into the rock wall there, could have meant a fractured skull.  Falling forward, a twisted or broken ankle.  I thank the lizard for his warning.
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Such is nature.  Be attentive.  If your soul is open, nature’s spirits will speak to you.  Warn you.  Protect you.  Give you energy.  Keep you on the right path.

The hike complete, it is time to center and reflect.  There are always forces around us at work.  This day was my mother’s birthday.  She passed away last year.  And I can’t help but think that maybe she is watching over me too on this day.  Protecting me from all the dangers that surrounded this solitary hike into the wilderness.

As I drive home, Hawks, Ravens, and Turkey Vultures line the telephone lines.  All facing inward.  Like the monoliths, soldiers.  These are the protectors, the shape-shifters, the visionaries.  And they guard my route.  Almost like a salute to a journey well completed.  So many of them.  Their numbers far exceeding and mingling with their prescribed territories.  An oddity?

Thank you, mom.  Love you and miss you.

***

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Photos: I took them all with a cell phone camera as I hiked 🙂

Published ! Thrilled and honored that my story was published by The Urban Howl on August 29, 2018, under the title “If Your Soul Is Open, Nature’s Spirits Will Speak To You.”

The Warm Desert Wind

The warm desert wind swept up from the chaparral.  Wrapping around my face before continuing its journey into the canyon, the place where I was heading.  Another gust comes from the opposite direction, the canyon itself.  A see-sawing of wind.  A vibratory force.  Alternating current.  An invisible infinity symbol.  The Mobius.  Lightly whistling at times.  Ever-bearing weight at others.

I was tracking up a wash.  A magical place that appears bone dry but it’s surrounded by vegetation.  What feeds it?  At different elevations, the hidden aquafer emerges.  Clear, cool, running water, disappearing beneath the rocks a hundred feet above and a hundred feet below.  Feeding Mohave Lupine, Sky Pilot, Scarlet Gilia, the Mexican Silene. Manzanita, with its dark, reddish-brown bark.  Bordered by purple Fairy Dusters.  A scattered box of crayons, melting into the brown, dusty earth.

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As lush and diverse as the growth is here, one might wonder whether this should be called a desert at all.  But there are different types of deserts.  And this is not a desert like the ones I’ve encountered in the furthest southern points.  So harsh that the ability to adapt can be short lived, as will you be if you’re stranded there.

Those deserts are bone dry and barren.  Every plant a spiky throwback to the distant past.  Where evolution stopped.  They tear at your ankles as you walk.  Shred your pants. Gouge your skin.  Like a pack of hungry wolves, they go for your Achilles tendons.  To bring you down.  Cripple you for the kill.  The earth soaks up your blood with a never-ending thirst.  The dryness, suffocating.

But where I’m at there are multiple biomes.  Sky Islands, so called because of the diversity that lives in each mountain range.  Volcanic uprisings now differentially worn by wind and rains.  Rhyolite columns stand like ancient warriors in the altitudes above the lowlands, guarding the pine forests and their inhabitants.

Chiricahua - Hike Droping Out of the Rhyolite Columns 9

And at the base of, or threading through the canyons, Sycamore, Willow, and Cottonwood paint ribbons of green along creaks, streams or rivers.

San Pedro River - 7

At mid-altitude, there are Pinon, Juniper, and Mesquite trees, as well as Emory and Silverleaf Oaks.  And in between these islands can be grasslands.  Vast stretches.  Tan waves of vegetation below blue skies and billowing clouds.  The land undulates, alive.

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In other outstretching plains below the floating islands lie infinite reaches of scoured desert floors.  Fictitious trails through Saguaro cacti, like standing in a perpetual hall of mirrors.  Where do they all lead?

Here, the sun bearing down causes an evolutionary reversion to the reptilian form.  Just basking in that sun raises your heart rate.  Exhaling water vapor that’s evaporated before you can see it.  Your skin desiccates and takes on the shape of scales.  It becomes armor you will need in this battle.

To tread here you must do continual 360-degree spotting, take snapshots in your mind, tracing landmarks for the path of your return.  At some point, your memory banks are full and the terrain all starts looking the same, and you must decide whether to turn around or march into oblivion.  Blood and brain broiling.  Unforgiving beauty.

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Rising from that depth, the air cools again.  The humidity rises.  Plants flourish.  Bare rocks become canvases, covered with Petroglyphs from those who knew how to survive here, how to build a community here, how to chart the stars here.  The songs of their storytelling still echo through the canyons.

For now, I’ll tread through the scrub land, rising into the pines and I’ll sit with my friends.  The deer, the javelina, the coyote, the falcon, the hawks, and my brothers the Owls.  And we’ll share the tales of our ancestors, for just a while longer.

Madera Canyon - 5 - Looking South From Josephine Saddle

***

 

Photos: I decided to include a few photos to go with my words.  Sometimes words aren’t enough to carry you there, to reveal the contrasts, the infinite beauty.

Freedom Begins With Speech

It was the end of March and the cherry trees were in full bloom around the Tidal Basin.  Across the water on the south bank sat the Jefferson Memorial.  A fitting memorial for one of our Founding Fathers and the principle author of our Declaration of Independence.

We were preparing to march . . .

While many can recite the most famous sentence in our Declaration, regarding self-evident truths, being created equal, and the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, I wonder how many have read this document through.  For you see, it continues with a petition of grievances against the British government.  It is a protest.

And years later, to solidify the right to protest in this newly formed independent country, the First Amendment was added to our Constitution.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The group I was assembling with was a group of nurses, some 25,000 to 35,000 strong.  Here in D.C. to protest unsafe hospital staffing conditions and use of unlicensed personnel in place of registered nurses.  We were protesting to support every patient’s right to receive the finest health care treatment available.

Yes, protest is a fundamental right in this country.  It is one of those many rights that generations of our military have fought to protect.  It is not a right to be lightly discarded.  It is not a right to be denigrated if any individual group’s cause is not your own.  It is not an inconvenience to be suffered should a traditional public forum, such as the sidewalk or roadway, becomes crowded with picketers waving signs.  It is a right that should be respected and honored.

We gathered at the west front of the Capitol.  The planned march to follow presentations would proceed down Pennsylvania Avenue and end at the White House.

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Particularly troubling to me is an all too familiar refrain when petitioners draw light upon an issue, that if you don’t like something, that if you believe something could be changed for the better, that if you see a different way, that you should simply get out.  Leave the entrenched and established protocols alone.  Leave accepted bigotry and hatred be.  Leave injustice unaddressed.  Leave the very democracy that supports the right to protest.  “Love it or leave it.”

This attitude, of course, if accepted in the late 1700s would have kept this country a slave to the British Crown.  There would be no Declaration of Independence, just sheep meandering the pastures, herded by an occupying army.

Now, I’m not saying all causes are good causes.  But the right to petition, the right to peaceful assembly, the right to freely speak your mind are rights that should be held in reverence.  These rights form the pillars of democracy.

And march we did, united in our cause against corporate profiteering off the ill and suffering.

The March to the White House

We, unfortunately, seem to be living in a time of growing intolerance.  Where even our leaders act in bigoted fashion.  Where those who speak out, or adopt silent protest, are vilified.  If you have a different point of view you are told to leave.

But the “love it or leave it” mentality demonstrates a lack of a fundamental understanding of US Government – which was formed by dissenters from authoritarian rule and built upon the liberal principle of humanism.  The Constitution built in safeguards for states from federal government, safeguards for both the majority and the minority views.  And it allows for freedom of expression and the power to vote.  Saying people should leave if they do not conform to your viewpoint is communistic, not American.

And I can’t tell you how exhilarating it is to speak out for a cause you believe in, and to know you live in a country where this right will be protected.  I would strongly recommend that everyone in this country take a stand on something they believe in, to become active participants in our government.

Four generations of my family have served in the US military protecting our rights, and I am proud when people exercise those rights and protest.  That is what makes this country great.

***

Photos:  I took these during the Nurses’ March on Washington D.C. in 1995.

Post Script 1: In my late teens I also participated in a much smaller local protest regarding voting rights.  It seems the 18-year-olds we were drafting into our military were allowed to fight and die for this country in Vietnam, but they didn’t have the right to vote.  The voting age was 21 then.  Nation-wide protests were organized, and the country changed the law.  But even if the law had not changed, I would still have been proud to participate in this established system for redressing grievances.  Dissent and protest formed this country.  These are honorable traditions.

Post Script 2: The Constitution should be viewed as a contract between the government and its people.  The government cannot infringe upon the rights guaranteed in this document.  However, private employers, to the extent other laws do not apply, can infringe upon those rights.  Thus, we have the current controversy about the NFL requiring their players to stand for the national anthem and not engage in protest.  This action is legal because the NFL is a private club and not a government actor.  But I don’t believe this action should be condoned by any government official who is bound to follow the Constitution.  For a leader of this nation to express intolerance of the people exercising their fundamental rights as citizens, rights that our men and women in uniform have fought for and died to protect, borders on tyranny.  And as is expressed in our Declaration of Independence: “A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

Post Script 3: By the way, health care is still not recognized as a fundamental right in this country.  Sad.  In fact, the only law I am aware of that requires the administration of health care is the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA).  The law requires that a patient, upon presentation to an emergency room, be stabilized before they are transported to a different facility.  The law was designed to curtail the practice of “patient dumping.”  Ambulance services and hospitals were redirecting and dumping patients in state-run facilities once they found out they had no insurance.  This profit-based practice was endangering lives.

Reflections

 

I hiked deep in the forest today,

Into the canyon.

Nature’s beauty all around me.

 

Mountain streams.  Pines and Firs,

Mixed with Sycamore, Willows, and Cottonwoods.

 

Loamy earth, perfumed wildflowers.

 

Colors dance in the wind.

The fusion of an artist’s palette.

En plein air impressions.

 

My body groans.

But my mind belongs here,

On this winding trail.

Surrounded by silence.

 

A young buck passes in isolation.

We nod to each other,

        The face in the mirror staring back at me . . .

***

 

Photo: A whitetail deer parallels me in the forest; the buck mirroring my steps.

What is Art?

What does the word “art” mean to you?

Traditionally, art was comprised of paintings, sculptures, and drawings.  And I think of the “Old Masters;” the fully trained painters prior to the 1800s.  But art forms have changed drastically over the years, and I’m sure all of us have questioned whether some of the modern forms are truly art – the giant badminton shuttlecocks strewn about the lawn of the Nelson-Atkins Art Gallery come to mind.

The reason I throw this question out there is, I’ve always wondered if people thought of photography as being true “art.”   You point a mechanical device at an object or landscape, push a button, and wallah, you have an image.  Not from your imagination or from an attempt to transform and express the external world by creating a new presentation through painting, drawing or sculpture – the actual use of the hands and the mind without mechanical assistance.  Isn’t nature the true artist here?

And if photography could be called an art, by observing the photographer does form a composition with what the lens will capture, and does make settings as to the shutter speed and aperture opening to regulate the amount of light and depth the image will reveal, what then of all the modern digital enhancements that can be made to an image once captured?  Clicking on more buttons on a computer screen.  Pre-programmed techno-algorithms that you can purchase in bulk.  Is thought and imagination even required for use of these programs?

Or, does altering the original photograph with all of the various mechanical features transform a simple image into a creative work of art?

While Merriam-Webster has a long list of definitions for the word “art,”  we can boil it down for purposes of this discussion to: the conscious use of skill and creative imagination” . . .  to produce “works as pictures, poems or songs” . . . and “creative visual works as painting, sculpting, and drawing.”  This definition certainly seems broad enough to encompass photography and all of its forms.

William Lesch - Light Storm Over Tucson

The feature image is a “photograph” by William Lesch called “Lightstorm over Tucson, Night and Day Thunderstorm Time (Montage).  My understanding is he uses time-lapse photography and color enhancements to produce his work, and I do think the picture is absolutely stunning.

But what do you think?  Is it “Art.”

***