Lost — Yesterday, somewhere between sunrise and sunset, two golden hours, each set with sixty diamond minutes. No reward is offered, for they are gone forever. – Horace Mann
I recently returned from a two day getaway to do some writing at the coast – in this case, USA’s “third coast” in Texas at the Gulf of Mexico. Having grown up in semi-arid west Texas and loving the great desert southwest landscapes of our country, I have not spent all that much time at the seaside or on the water. Thus, it fascinates me and also daunts me.
My eyes are captivated by the water in its ceaseless motion and I delight in the sound of the surf washing over the sands. Like the stone canyons elsewhere, the beach and surf environments, when not overrun by development, seem truly timeless. A single day spent walking the shoreline and listening to the ancient fractal sound of the waves is a time span that might have been a week or a month – or simply extracted from our normal clock-time altogether. As I walk slowly back through the sandy dunes and the susurrus of the water fades into a sudden, stark silence, mundane time begins once again.
It is a good meditation and a healing.
~ ~ ~
I took this photo at Surfside Beach, near Galveston, Texas, shortly after sunrise.
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.
Sacred Datura – beautiful, powerful, and dangerous.
I was driving along the Potash Road near Moab, Utah, last month and was delighted to see not just a scattered few, but thousands of beautiful white Sacred Datura blooms all along the edge of the great Colorado River and the red sandstone cliff walls that contain that potent waterway. This species of Datura (datura wrightii) can be found from here down into Mexico and has been a ritual, shamanic plant in use for thousands of years by native peoples.
This species contains scopolomine and other alkaloids that are very dangerous when ingested. All parts of the plant are potent. The main issue is dosage, because the amounts of the tropanes are not consistent across individual plants or parts. The visionary experience can be useful and powerful, but it also can cause serious or fatal medical conditions.
Personally, I wouldn’t touch it on its own, although I might like to try what some have said is useful and safe – having a single bloom in my room while sleeping. Even the sweet fragrance is potent.
My only actual experience with this plant teacher was in the Amazon. The chemically identical plant in South America is the brugmansia or “Angel’s Trumpet,” which is the origin species. The bloom or leaf there is used as an admixture plant by many shamans or medicine people in their Ayahuasca brews. It is usually known there by the Quechua term, “toé.” See my previous post on this plant here.My shaman, Don Rober, used a very small portion of toé in his mixture of the Ayahuasca vine and Chacruna (psychotria virdis) leaves. This was to make the visions bright [“la Luz”!]. Like any good cook, he knows that a little spice goes a long way in a main dish.
“Datura may be the single most dangerous visionary plant in North America.
Well, maybe after tobacco.”
Dale Pendell – “Pharmako Gnosis – Plant Teachers and the Poison Path”, San Francisco, Mercury House, 2005; p. 250
Zozobra is “Old Man Gloom.” (Zozobra is “anxiety” in Spanish.)
Here is a link to a short (4 minute) film I made showing the ritual burning of the Zozobra in Santa Fe. It includes video, effected still photos, and some of my own original deep ambient music tracks. Run full size if you can, and please enjoy it!
Zozobra represents or symbolizes troubles, worries, and the problems of life. Once each year in September, the city of Santa Fe hosts a very unusual ritual: the burning of the Zozobra. This 51 foot tall statue is made mostly of paper and is actually a marionette – the world’s largest – which is ritually burned in front of tens of thousands of yelling participants, thus releasing all their collected sorrows and problems into the ether and bringing peace and happiness to all who engage with the rite. This ritual has been conducted every year since 1924 – for 88 years as of this year’s event.
[Click on any photo for a larger, higher quality view.]
I was lucky enough to be in Santa Fe on just the right day to attend, and I was truly fascinated to see this essentially pagan, shamanistic ritual played out in front of, for, with, and to a mostly typical American audience. Unlike some of the neighboring pueblo religious events, dances, and rituals that can be attended by non-Indians if they remain quiet and do not disturb the proceedings, this event, invented by a white man, is participatory by everyone and anyone. It is made to be palatable and acceptable to this presumably mostly non-pagan audience by one overriding fact: it is conducted as a very broad, humorous, tongue-in-cheek event. No one really appears to take it seriously and everyone has a party good time.
It struck me, however, that this is actually a very powerful ritual taking place here. Even through the fun and games, the essential and actual power of the symbol comes through for everyone who participates. It might be at a sub-conscious level, or buried under a layer of smirks, but there is no way such a grand metaphor, played out in live action, movie-climax style, cannot be effective as advertised. I have conducted similar rituals at home with friends and a backyard fire pit, casting our slips of paper all inscribed with our regrets and sorrows into the flames, and that was powerful even at that level. This ceremony is public, gargantuan, and potent.
Zozobra is an older manifestation of the modern “Burning Man” event in Nevada each year, but the shamanic ideas and the ceremony of the fire go much farther back in time than even Zozobra, of course. Shamanism is the oldest of the “religions” of mankind and one would think it to be fully buried and fossilized, but that is not the case. Shamanistic societies, tribes, and individuals thrive all across the world. Once in a while, a manifestation of it shows up like a lava intrusion into the solid granite of the orthodox religious cultures of our modern world. Zozobra is one of those, even if it is, perhaps, not intended to be by those who conduct the rite.
In my little film, I tried to show this multi-level contrast between the broad humor and the serious symbolic work by juxtaposing the circus aspects of the gathering and the undercurrent of true meaning by incorporating the intense, austere soundtrack of my deep ambient music. I hope you enjoy it, and I’m always interested in and open to your comments.
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.