“A ritual is the enactment of a myth. And, by participating in the ritual, you are participating in the myth. And since myth is a projection of the depth wisdom of the psyche, by participating in a ritual, participating in the myth, you are being, as it were, put in accord with that wisdom, which is the wisdom that is inherent within you anyhow. Your consciousness is being re-minded of the wisdom of your own life.”
- Joseph Campbell
The Shape-shifter’s Tale
(a fragment of a myth)
He asked the Turtle, “Would you like to learn about things? Would you like to see what the world looks like for a horse?”
The Turtle replied, “A horse? That big thing? I don’t know what that would be like. It is too different from being a Turtle.”
“Yes, but you would learn what it is like!”
“I like being a Turtle. Turtle makes sense. Turtle is comfortable and safe.”
The Horse whinnied at him and said, “Neigh – OK, that was a joke. So is that little Sparrow. I’m a Horse and I am happy to be a Horse. That’s the mane thing!” And he whinnied several more times causing the Sparrow to fly away in disgust.
He did not bother to remind the Horse that he might learn what other things are like.
He came up to the Boy and said, “Would you like to learn about things?” The Boy smiled at him, so he continued, “Would you like to see what the world looks like for a Lion?”
The Boy said, “I AM a Lion!!” and, still smiling, he ran around the meadow making a roaring sound.
[Click on any photo for a larger image.]
The petroglyph panels above are from the remarkable (and remarkably accessible) Newspaper Rock State Park site, right along the roadway to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah.
I was recently profiled on a travel and camping blog by Daniel Lawton. He interviewed me about my shamanic experiences with Ayahuasca and my world travels.
Here’s the link:
Gazing out at this twisted and textured landscape, I ask myself, “Why does the desert interest me? Why does it have a different effect than, say, driving across Ohio or Kansas?” Certainly, the desert is harsh and calls to mind the counterpoint with living things that it represents. Certainly, the desert is hot or cold, but then so can be other places. Maybe it has something to do with what I expect. When I drive across “normal” places like Ohio or Kansas, I pretty much know what to expect. I know that I will see fields, farms, trees, grass, towns, and cities, that all look similar and fit a pattern that man has evoked upon the landscape.
In the desert, things are different – literally. You never know what to expect, or what may be coming next. It is this novelty that I think makes the desert so attractive to us. The key to understanding why we like the desert is the word Curiosity. We are curious animals and the desert is endlessly fascinating to that part of our psyche because it is always showing us something new and mysterious and compelling.
In the high dry lands of southern Utah, near Hanksville, the desert becomes something like a stereotype or parody of itself. It is a cartoon desert with sand and sagebrush for endless miles and the most unlikely orange and white stone castles and parapets sticking up at strange distances and positions. It has a gray-green-tan-iron red coloration and is so arid that what life there is out here is gray and low and crouches sparsely upon the sands.
It is an eerie place, a dangerous place. It sears the eyes and captivates them at the same time.
It is truly amazing.
The top photo is from Goblin Valley State Park, north of Hanksville, Utah. One of the wonderful hoodoos with Wild Horse Butte as a background.
The second photo is of Factory Butte, just west of Hanksville in the Cainville area east of Capitol Reef National Park. This is a particularly strange and wonderful landscape that continues to entrance me after 35 years of visits.
Note: Some of the text for this post is taken from an early website I made called “A Circle In The Desert,” which may be viewed at: http://www.newrational.com/circle
It features many more photos plus commentary, poems, and more.
A lifetime of knowledge earned
Along the paths of wisdom,
Will one day surely seem to you
Quite meager and in vain.
Not because you have failed to learn,
But that the universe has opened up
Infinitely before you.
- David Crews
The photo is of myself at Bonneville Salt Flats in the NW corner of Utah. It had rained recently, leaving a wonderful reflective mirror for the mountains to float above.
Ah, yes, those Bonneville Salt Flats. Thought I’d set a new speed record – for how slow I could go.
“The earth has music for those who listen.”
– George Santayana
No place on the planet is quite like wonderful Bryce Canyon. Erosion is caught in a still-frame by our short lives, and presented as a complex tableaux. Orange and white ripples and folds appear frozen, but are truly in the midst of melting down through their fractal forms into countless grains of sand, flowing down and down through the magnificent canyons below.
Are we not incredibly lucky to be here right at this moment, when we can see this particular frame of the movie of the Earth?
I have just returned from a lengthy photo trip through southern Utah and other parts of the Colorado Plateau. I hope you enjoy my pictures and I’ll be posting more soon.
(Click photos for larger size & better quality.)
POSTING PAUSE OVER:
FIRST, I’d like to say that I’ll be posting again now that I’m back from a 2 1/2 week trip to the Colorado Plateau. I’ll have many new photos and thoughts to share soon. Thanks to those who have commented or contacted me.
As many of you have heard, Chimney Rock Archeological Site has just been granted National Monument status today by President Obama. This is a welcome event, and something I supported in my recent post on the subject here.
Update: Just learned that the fire tower that was so out of place and obstructing the view of the chimneys has been removed already!! That is great news and makes today’s National Monument status all the better! The representative from the Chimney Rock Interpretive Association said: “the fire tower has been removed and that has dramatically opened the view of the twin spires.”
Time settles down as withered flakes
In the land of wizened stone.
Minutes and hours pile up.
One on top of another.
The essence of their measure
Baked hard into unyielding clays,
Filling each rocky crack.
Bajadas covered with arid months,
Arroyos layered with dusty days,
Until the desert is made of nothing
But time accumulated – waiting.
Released at last by some cosmic rain,
Floating free and blending.
A mass ascension into Eternity.
~ David P. Crews
Photo taken in the Bisti Badlands Wilderness Area, NW New Mexico, USA.
“In the desert, water in any amount is a tincture, so holy that it will burn through your heart when you see it. . . . If you want to study water, you do not go to the Amazon or to Seattle. You come here, to the driest land. Nowhere else is it drawn to such a point. In the desert, water is unedited, perfect.”
– Craig Childs, The Secret Knowledge of Water,(Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2000)xiii-xvi
A quote from one of my favorite books on the desert by Craig Childs, The Secret Knowledge of Water. It is unlike any other nature or desert book I’ve ever read. Simply marvelous.
My photograph is from Big Bend National Park, on the flats of Terlingua Creek. I was hiking to the right-hand fracture, called Brujo Canyon (meaning magic or sorcery). I almost did not make it back across due to lack of water and overexertion. A hard lesson. I almost died in that awful, bright, oppressive, scintillating, intriguing, dangerous, wonderful place. It was a white hot dance and a reducing to that which is most simple. Beckoning and deadly.
“Between here and there and me and the mountains it’s the canyon wilderness, the hoodoo land of spire and pillar and pinnacle where no man lives, and where the river flows, unseen, through the blue-black trenches in the rock.
“Light. Space. Light and space without time, I think…”
Edward Abbey – Desert Solitaire, 1968
The Colorado River with the Vermilion Cliffs in the distance.
“As I walk, as I walk, the Universe is walking with me.”
(from the Navajo rain dance ceremony)
Digital artwork by David P. Crews
The shamanic path gives us direct, personal experience of non-ordinary as well as everyday reality. These shamanic experiences underlie all our religious ideas. I believe it represents the source experiences that establish our core humanity. It is our birthright, available to all who wish to experience the universe rather than just read about it.
Sitting in the center
Sitting up high
Sing your song
Make the sky.
Sitting in the center
Weaving a web
Spinning our song
Make it spread.
Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “deh Shay”) is in the heartland of the Navajo Nation in NE Arizona. It is a very worthwhile destination for its scenic beauty, but take some time to learn about the trying history of this place as well. I have very mixed feelings about Kit Carson. He was more in-tune with the native peoples than almost any white man at that time, but then he did the Army’s bidding in Canyon de Chelly and the results still echo hauntingly off the canyon’s red-brown cliffs today.
“To the intelligent, nature converts itself into a vast promise,
and will not be rashly explained.
Her secret is untold.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson - ”Nature,” Essays, Second Series (1844).
Goblin Valley State Park is just one of the wondrous, alien landscapes in Southern Utah. This land casts a spell unlike any other place I know.
Of all the
I do love
- David Crews
“I am a being of Heaven and Earth, of thunder and lightning, of rain and wind, of the galaxies.”
A summer storm vies for attention with the setting sun in the Window in the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park, Texas. I’ve been visiting and photographing this amazing place on the planet for over 50 years.
The great escarpment of the Vermilion Cliffs lies just north of the Grand Canyon.
Time has a different pace in realms like this. To the ancient shamanic Taoists, vermilion was the color of eternity.
I’ve been making landscape photos mostly non-commercially for some 50 years now. This is some of my initial work in HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography.
“Perhaps time is after all merely a device to prevent everything from happening at once – or the illusion that prevents us from seeing that in fact everything is happening at once. For time really dwells within the vastness of Eternity – where all things exist simultaneously without any past or future: as that most ancient of all texts, the Rig-Veda, tells us so pointedly.”
– Paul William Roberts, In Search of the Birth of Jesus-The Real Journey of the Magi (New York: Riverhead Books, 1995) 278.
Note: recently reissued (more appropriately) as The Journey of the Magi.
By the way, this book by Paul William Roberts is one of a very few that have actually changed the course of my life and my philosophy when I encountered it by chance in the mid 90′s. He traces the history of modern religions back through Zoroastrianism to the Vedas. That logically leads the intrepid seeker on back to shamanism. I highly recommend his book for its truly important insights, plus it is also a great travelogue and one of the most outrageously funny such books I’ve read.
“They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars—on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.”
- Robert Frost – from “Desert Places”
A Further Range – Henry Holt & Co. (1936)
Photo of badlands in Big Bend National Park, in west Texas, just north of Castolon.
Just one of the amazing rock formations in the Bisti Wilderness Area, south of Farmington, New Mexico.
The red wind whispers – calling me
Out to the sharp world, the cold land,
The place of polished stone, the land of keen breath,
The clean and parched country
Where the river of moments slows its crawl,
And the world runs far, far away to the
Uttermost limb of blue and brown.
The blank places beckon and chide, reaching
Long and deep to find my invented corner, to
Lift me up from my comfortable blindness,
To bring me out to my real house.
The hollow lands fill up my eyes
And the empty flank of the world
Supports my soul.
Illusions can be entertaining, but what if, suddenly, you realize you are living right inside one? Driving through the thick, green hills that ruffle up just west of my home, I got a glimpse – hiding in plain view – of just such an illusion, one that has haunted me ever since.
I love to drive and to travel, and deserts and wastelands have long enchanted my soul. Why, I wonder, do they so attract me, these lands of limited life and dangerous conditions? Certainly, there is a unique beauty to the sublime emptiness and harsh terrain, but there seems to be a deeper reason. After my recent startling discovery, I’ve concluded that this has to do with a grand illusion – the illusion of the ubiquity of life.
The illusion that now haunts me was revealed by a simple highway road-cut, sliced cleanly through one of the larger rolling hills near my decidedly non-desert home that made me pause. It was a wide slot, carved by man and his explosives to let the hard road through. I had driven through this rock-cut many times, but this day I noticed something about it and it felt like my view of the world had slipped sideways.
Living upon the dry land of this planet, we take as a given the world of life that surrounds us. Green grasses, great forests, flowers of every description, fields of crops, fresh water coursing over moss – all the very stuff of the world as far as we can see. Surely, all of this combined is what we consider our Earth to be truly made of – what defines it as Earth. On the continents, only the rarified deserts and mountaintops are thinned of this great green and living mass. Those are places with enough scarcity that we tend to think of them as exceptions to the mundane majority – accent pieces to the Green World. All this is true enough from our everyday perspective, but it is still a terrible illusion. The highway cut showed it to me plainly.
I saw the green hill as I approached in my car, then I was inside the cut. The Green World was not here. For a moment, it seemed some alien place had peeked out from behind its mask, giving slip perhaps to a false front that nature has arranged for our naïve comfort. This hill, this tiny lump of land, had risen up long ages past and now we humans had cut a slice right through it revealing it brazenly like some giant stony x-ray. Inside the fully green hill was nothing but stone. Of course, of course, but look how thinly the green grass and trees cling to the outer surface! Life on the skin of this simple hill is a vanishingly thin veneer. Underneath is nothing – nothing but stone.
It looked like a baked potato. The white rock here was skinned with a narrow dark green line that followed its every curve. Inside the hill? Nothing but potato meal. What was left of my green life was the extraordinarily thin “peel.” What if that peel was all that kept me alive, all that any of us can ever depend on for our very lives, forever? It made me shudder.
Then, it began to truly sink in. This is just a hill. It is a molecular protrusion – a mere grain on the side of an immense sphere, and that sphere is made up solely of more hill-stuff. Compared to the size of the hill, that green peel of life is gaspingly thin, but what of the ratio of that same green veil’s same thickness when gauged against the size of the entire planet?
I stopped my car and walked up to the spot where the grass shell’s edge met the face of the cut. This blade of grass at my feet and its roots extend some inches down into the soil. That tree descends perhaps several tens of feet. It all gives way in a breath to crusty dense stone that stretches thousands of non-air miles from here to the far foothills of another land’s evening, and there at the last blink, one more faint and incredibly thin curtain of green life clings to the stone face before the void beyond. In between these green ghosts? Only unbroken and ungodly fathoms of dense, unfeeling minerals twirling through the radiant night of space, viscous and fierce at the deepest heart where its own heady mass sits down. Is there red and glowing light at the very core, where no eye can perceive?
Perhaps this is the underlying reason I am attracted to deserts. The wonderful deserts! Where the green skin is worn away like a threadbare dress, revealing the true physical nature of rocky planets like ours, lurking beneath the living skin. Not that I disdain life – not at all! Rather, that it is here that the illusion thins enough to sense the reality of our situation. It is seeing through the illusion that gives me perspective. Life is thin and precious. We live by the benefits of an environment that is truly a soap-bubble skin – one atom thick and easily punctured, even by road workers with dynamite. Does our life-filled world of greenness seem so thick and full to us because we never really look below its broad, but incredibly thin face? Or is it because we ourselves are so amazingly tiny, lost within it? In the desert lands, one can feel the sizes.
The illusion revealed by the highway cut was as if someone had taken life’s movie camera and tilted it down, clean off the green set, revealing the stage hardware and support beams below. This camera, I found, can be tilted up, also.
We’ve all watched a blue sky full of unreachable white clouds and imagined shapes in their fractal forms. To me, as a young child, this cloudsky was a vision into a deep, vast land full of unknown ethereal beings and golden cities that no earthbound human could ever reach. The sky was endless – deeper than any ocean. Surely none of our activities, even flying, could truly penetrate its awesome mysteries. When the first rockets rose to space, I watched in rapt pleasure, sensing even as a small boy that a completely new perspective on things was to be had. I was always intrigued to see pictures of the earth from the high vantage of orbit. One of the most curious views to me was that of the limb of the planet with the sun rising. Curving above the dark planet below was a narrow bright band of light. It was our atmosphere illuminated from behind.
But wait! This couldn’t be the sky I know! This skin of air was so very thin – so thin it looked like a mere hand swipe would splash it all off and make it float away into hard black space. It could not be the true nature of that deep and unknowable sky world that had always fascinated me! Yet, this was our atmosphere – our sky, our clouds, our sunsets, our fresh air after a storm, the very pulsing breaths we consume and that sustain us. So thin?
So, the vast sky above my head was another illusion. The camera had been craned up this time, out of the set, and was looking back down with a cold, real eye.
I once had a pet fish. It swam around in its round bowl, eating its fish food and thinking its fish thoughts. Did it know that the water in which it swam extended only a very short way out from the center? Did it presume, as perhaps I did of the sky, that it must extend great and grand distances because it appears to do so? If I removed it from its bowl, say in a small water-filled plastic bag spaceship, would it have looked back upon its bowl world home and exclaimed, “So small?”
Now, we have extended ourselves out of our bowl and into the hard, waterless universe beyond. We can look back and see that the illusion of the ubiquity of our life-giving environment is comforting but also dangerous. Now, we begin to see how our actions are affecting this incredibly crucial and fragile resource.
We truly live within a thin margin. To see it as limitless and beyond our ability to alter or even to destroy, is to succumb to the illusion – something we can no longer afford.
The stars in space do not twinkle from our high orbital platforms. They shine crisp and cold for we see them there from outside our potato skin of air. As we walk across our gossamer greenswards, we might pause and think of the illusions revealed by a road-cut. As those cold stars call to us, we might also look up and gaze into the forever night, wondering what new worlds might exist in, or perhaps even outside of, our visible universe.
It seems so big.
The old ones had their own names for the homes they made under the shadow of the cliffs.
Sometimes, their voices yet echo softly down the walls of stone. You may hear them if you are very still.
It was a good life, here in the protected canyon with its stream and its cottonwood trees. There was trade and there were crops of corn. The women wove the magic into the fabric of their clothing and baskets, and the men kept the farms and hunted on the mesas.
They gathered in sacred spaces to experience those things that connected them to the spirits of the land.
This ceased to be one day, as the people walked away from their elegant labors. We still do not know for certain just why.
With my eyes fresh from sleep
Like the naive gaze of a child,
I look out at the world beyond my simple bed.
The dry air is delicious.
The moonlight is delicious.
The sigh of the soft night breeze is delicious.
The stars are delicious.
The backlit clouds are delicious.
One thin veil of cloud has a fish’s shape and a star
Shining through it, just so placed to be its bright eye.
The spirits of the night sky are watching me sleep.
The Freemont Indians would have understood.
If I reached out my hand and held the Moon within it,
Would it burn me? Is its bright face hot or cold?
Would it, perhaps, freeze me so that I would
Quickly let go and drop it in its old track?
Would it scold me, then, in its dusty old voice
For having been so bold?
It is by the Moon’s cool light only that I write these musings,
So perhaps he would just gaze down upon my tiny form,
Then smile and sail away.
©2012 David P. Crews
Delicate Arch is waiting. Standing on the edge.
More than the effort of crumbled and windblown stone,
It is like a letter in some unknown alphabet
Set glowing and hard on the desert wall
Quietly hidden until it is sought, or,
More likely still, an entire word –
A statement waiting for some reader.
Is it then a symbol,
Spoken in a language not of words?
Is the speaker also the audience,
Or does he speak to men?
Does he utter such a thing
That shapes the land in reddened art,
Or say some other thing that lies
Beyond the sand and sky?
Delicate Arch remains, silently ringing.
©2012 David P. Crews
A poem I wrote many years ago, inspired by the incomparable Delicate Arch in Arches NP, Utah.
I once took my father up the trail there to see the arch and I read this out loud. It was very wonderful.