I have just returned from a short visit to the wonderful Big Bend National Park in southwestern Texas, USA. I’ve been traveling here off and on since the spring of 1962, taking photos and video, hiking and camping, and doing inner work and vision quests. With some extensive new photography equipment in hand including a Nikon D5300 and a computerized slider, I’m setting out to shoot new cinematography and photography of the park in multiple seasons. This is to remake an artistic film I created some years ago using standard definition video. Now, I can remake it in full HD with professional rigging for camera moves.
I’ll post more of the video elements later, but for now, here are some of the still photographs I made this week, accompanied by some script excerpts from the original film.
I hope you enjoy them!
I urge you to click through to the larger images for much higher quality!
In Big Bend
The scale of time is different from
our time – the observers, ourselves – who come.
It is a different scale of time and of movement than
our time – our movement.
We are too fast to see it.
We cannot slow down.
There is an enchanted doorway –
a wonder and a sign.
A Temple of water
And walls of determination.
We briefly enter – and return again.
There is nothing between this sand and that yonder star
but empty space and a thin breath of blistered air.
A Weight Bears Down.
We cannot escape.
Our branches grow tough – and dark.
Our water, our blood, our thoughts
Dwindle . . . down.
The white light sears our flesh into dust,
and there is no wind to blow it away.
The desert does not sleep.
It is an endless movement – the motion of survival.
We look and listen . . . and there is
You can see it move if you are slow enough.
You can feel it, anyway,
if you are still enough.
Do not listen for it or watch for it.
This desert is young. This desert is old.
It depends on your speed, you see.
Some have come to change this land.
Some have changed it – some.
All who have come
Have Been Changed.
Some have gone now.
A fragrance lingers in secret places.
Their song echoes lightly on adobe and wood and stone.
The mesa shrugs, and it is gone.
She is clothed in riches. Bejewelled in green and yellow and brown.
An extravagance on this plate of rock – standing up, tasting the water.
Big Bend is not barren.
LIFE is everywhere in this Desert –
this Living Land.
Raising faces – arms to the air,
feeling deeply down for the lifeblood –
a watery current within.
Knowing how to keep that – and to hold it.
The desert is a mirror.
The desert is a portal.
It reflects our souls back at us,
and then offers a Way
into another Realm.
We are opened up
and slowed down.
The soft voices of the Plants can be heard.
The wordless brotherhood of the Animals is known.
The marvel of the Eternal Moment can be felt
In our very ground.
Big Bend is a Heart Land.
A place of shifting Shapes.
It is a healer of the Spirit.
A photography post for this hot summer’s day.
Here are some of my images from my last journey into an amazing landscape in southeastern Utah. Please click on any photo for a larger, better view.
I will be heading back into this area this fall to do some more photography and cinematography and I will look forward to sharing some of that with you then.
Here is a manifestly magical landscape where, as the ancients said, “There are more rocks standing up than lying down.”
Entering this land, we feel like we have stumbled into a giant, ancient, Atlantisian cityscape – thousands of massive buildings, scatter far over the rolling hills and loom profoundly next to our tiny forms. They are frozen in time as the wind and sun slowly melt the magnificent masonry into curious shapes. Long, inspiring parks of green and orange still echo the aesthetic design of a masterful and artistic urban planner. It is a scene that seems populated or that seems it should be – filled with milling crowds. When the black raven caws and the wind sighs around the rocks, however, we realize that it is too quiet for such crowds. There are few humans here. The rock pillars themselves form the sense of mass congregation.
Perhaps it is all mere sand and wind. Perhaps.
As we stand, dwarfed, by a reddened wall topped with curious minarets and colorful balanced spires, we may sense that this primordial cityscape was designed this very way by spirit beings or unknowable men and women of mystic vision, serving some need of the soul and heart that still resonates in us today. We feel the rocks ringing and singing their long songs, gazing ever into eternity.
Spirit hand prints of the Ancestral Puebloans who passed this way some 500 to 900 years ago. With time so long and slow in this magical land, it seems that the red paint should still be wet to the touch.
You can hear Time pass by in a soft and curious breeze between the painted walls.
“A creature who has once passed from visible nature into the ghostly insubstantial world evolved and projected from his own mind will never cease to pursue thereafter the worlds beyond this world.”
-Loren Eiseley, The Invisible Pyramid, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1970, p. 151.
Bless me, O beautiful Earth.
Bless me, O beautiful Earth.
For I have come forth from You,
And, I return again to You.
Bless me, O beautiful Earth.
Bless me through my feet.
Bless me through my legs.
Bless me through my body.
Bless me through my arms.
Bless me through my hands.
Bless me through my face.
Give me your blessing
As I gaze at your beauty.
I return your blessing
With every movement and
Every sacred Word.
I am filled up with You.
Bless me, O beautiful Earth.
I am your Child.
I am Earth.
[Click any image for a larger view.]
“But to me nothing – the negative, the empty – is exceedingly powerful.”
– Alan Watts
“Beyond the edge of the world there’s a space where emptiness and substance neatly overlap, where past and future form a continuous, endless loop. And, hovering about, there are signs no one has ever read, chords no one has ever heard.”
– Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
“He found himself wondering at times, especially in the autumn, about the wild lands, and strange visions of mountains that he had never seen came into his dreams.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Autumn is my favorite time of year in Texas because it lasts longer than spring and the temperatures are such a relief after our hot summers, but there is little leaf color until early December, and then only a hint of the kind of color one sees in the northeast or in the mountains of the great American West. I love to make a special trip to see the aspens change in Colorado. Here is one of my photos for you – just an autumn greeting and a wish-you-well for the upcoming Thanksgiving and other holiday times.
I took this one just outside Silverton, Colorado a couple of years ago.
What does autumn go on paying for
with so much yellow money?”
― Pablo Neruda
This is a digital art and photograph collage, but the stone face is an actual formation I came across in a less-traveled region of a lightly traveled hoodoo wonderland called the Bisti Wilderness Area in northwestern New Mexico, USA (commonly called the Bisti Badlands). Is it pareidolia – an accidental shape that looks like a face, or is it an expression of animism? Yes, of course, and perhaps, I think, the other as well. Having taken myself down under the skin of consensus reality and once meeting a female Spirit of the Earth, I treat such things as this with respect and honor.
~ ~ ~ ~
Spirit Stone Woman (by David P. Crews)
Once, I was wandering through time,
Threading a tortuous line through
undulations and towers of rock and clay.
Sitting, resting from my efforts,
I looked up and saw her face,
Sudden awareness chilling my arms.
A crickle of power and presence:
I had come unawares into a place
of natural holiness.
I speak. I ask permission. I look.
I gaze into the sky as She gazes.
Who has spoken with her in ancient days?
How long has she watched the stars?
For whom does she wait?
A shape sits silent, breathing another air
poised on the edge of eternity.
Click image for larger size and better resolution.
With my upcoming trip to Peru, I’ve been blogging a lot about Ayahuasca lately. I thought I’d give you some unrelated eye-candy for a change! Here’s a photo I took a few years ago at the incomparable Monument Valley on the Navajo reservation on the Utah/Arizona border. This is a special place not only to the Navajo, but to all Americans. There is no other landscape quite like it or the other great canyon vistas of the Colorado Plateau.
[ Click the image above or here for the story from Science/AAAS ]
Thought I’d pass along an interesting report on a study about the possibility of chocolate being found in North American pottery bowls.
Chocolate was used by many Mesoamerican cultures, usually as a sacred drink for the elite, but not always (and not the sweetened drink or candy we know today, of course). The possibility of it showing up in North American bowls like these shows that a more robust trade was going on between the peoples of the tropics in Central America and parts of Mexico and those of the more northern zones represented by the U.S. This is controversial, but I think there is a high chance of it being so.
A number of years ago, I was in Monument Valley enjoying the rare treat of talking with a loquacious Navajo man. Most Navajo are quite reserved, especially around strangers. This young man was very open and verbose, so we talked a good while about many things. In that discussion, I remember him bringing up the Kokopelli legend and iconic art image. Kokopelli was the humpbacked flute player that appears all over the West in rock art and in ancient legends and is so commercialized today on everything made to sell to tourists in the desert southwest.
He told me that in his tradition, Kokopelli was remembered as a real person – an itinerant trader who, a very long time ago (as much as 1,200 years according to current estimates), came up out of Aztec Mexico and even more southerly lands. He brought trade goods like the copper bells, shells, and parrot feathers that have been documented in the North. He was unusual in that he was able to move freely between tribes without being killed. This was because he was not only a tradesman, but also a healer. The legends tell and the artworks show him playing his famous flute, and my friend said this was probably to announce his presence to a tribe he was approaching. They knew his flute and song and allowed him to come without a violent challenge, even if he had just come from an enemy tribe. They did this because he could bring healing techniques and medicines from his southern cultures. Although I have no proofs of it, I would presume many of these were shamanic techniques as well. To these northern tribes, he was an exotic traveling shaman/medicine man. The humpback was probably derived from his large sack of trade goods that he swung on his back. Kokopelli took advantage of his celebrity status and the power it brought him. Although you won’t see it much in the tourist art, he is often portrayed with an erection, and was known to engage with the tribal women wherever he traveled. Modern archeologists even consider him a fertility deity figure.
I think there is so much we do not know about pre-Columbian people’s range of travel, capacities of trade, and interactions with distant, foreign cultures. Places like Chaco Canyon in New Mexico seem to have been religious centers linked to such trade of goods and ideas. It’s fascinating that, with our modern technologies, this new research is finding the traces of tropical chocolate still lying in the grit and whorls of these wonderful northern bowls.
“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
Late September is always a special time in one of my favorite places to visit: Silverton, Colorado. The mountains have yet to acquire their winter white and the aspens shimmer and dazzle the eye.
The famous Silverton – Durango narrow gauge steam train pulls in to the old western town, just like it has done since the 1800’s. I never tire of watching it come and go and hearing that incredible whistle and the rumble of the locomotive.
Shall I not have intelligence with the earth? Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould myself?
– Henry David Thoreau, Solitude, Walden, 1854
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.
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.
“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.”
I enjoy visiting and appreciating the archeological sites of the Ancestral Puebloan people of the desert southwest of the United States. I’m still adjusting to this new terminology, now arguably preferred by most Puebloans and archeologists over the more well-known term, “Anasazi,” which is derived from the Navajo word for “enemy.” (One writer, though, has pointed out that the term “pueblo” is from the Spanish conquistadors, who were much more of an enemy to the Puebloans.)
This particular site is in southern Colorado and I had passed it by on many trips to and from the mountains until I decided to make the effort to see it in 2008. I was surprised at the size and beauty of the buildings, here in one of the most northern Puebloan sites, nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. It was cold in the winter, but they built here because of the striking rock formation we call “Chimney Rock.” The Ancestral Puebloans used this feature as a lunar observatory. They built a large ceremonial Great House and Great Kiva, reminiscent of the ones in Chaco Canyon, off to the southwest in New Mexico. There are approximately 200 rooms in the complex which was built about 1,000 to 1,100 CE.
The lunar connection is important, as the moon goes through a positional cycle that lasts about 18.6 years. At the end of the cycle, the moon appears to pause for a while before “reversing course.” From the ridge where the Great House was built, that lunar standstill causes the moon to appear directly between the two “chimneys” of rock that protrude. The last time this occurred was in 2004-2008. The next Major Lunar Standstill will occur about 2022.
More information and some interesting photos of the event here.
This is a nice site to visit. There is a bit of a walk to see the Great House and kivas. Unfortunately, there is a distracting and out of place fire observatory on the site between the Great House and the chimneys. When I was there, they were talking about the possibility of it being removed at some point as it also blocks the lunar standstill view. I hope they do.
I also have some photos of Chaco Canyon and other sites that I will share as I can.
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.