Saturday, December 25, 2010

Sweet Light

Oh, for sweet light! People around the world rejoice in and praise it. Light represents hope, sustenance, and illumination.

Into my heart's night

Along a narrow way
I groped; and lo! the light,

An infinite land of day.
 ~Rumi


In Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA, where I live, there is an annual tradition of giving light on Christmas Eve. Paper bags are weighted with a layer of sand and a candle is lit and placed inside, then, scores of these “farolitos” (Spanish for “little lights”) are placed along paths, streets, sidewalks, on walls and even rooftops. Streets are closed to vehicles in an old and historic part of town along Canyon Road, where the art galleries line both sides of the avenue. As night falls, people gather in masses to walk among the farolitos, or gather at luminarios (bonfires) to sing carols and be festive. The tradition lights up the heart and soul, as thousands of people stroll. Amid joyous sounds of Christmas music, the revelry of friends and families greeting each other fills the air.

The lights have their roots in the 1800's. Small bonfires were used to guide people to Christmas Mass. Quite often they were set out during the final night of Las Posadas, the symbolic representation of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter in Bethlehem walking from home to home before Jesus was born.
 In later days, children carried small farolitos as they reenacted Las Posadas.

This year as I walked among the darkened masses of people and flickering firelights, Heidi of the Mountains walked by my side. “This is my first time!” she exclaimed with glee.

No matter how fast light travels it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.  ~Terry Pratchett

Your life is something opaque, not transparent, as long as you look at it in an ordinary human way.  But if you hold it up against the light of God's goodness, it shines and turns transparent, radiant and bright.  And then you ask yourself in amazement:  Is this really my own life I see before me?  ~Albert Schweitzer


A couple years ago, during October, I arrived in Varanasi, India, just at the beginning of Devali, "festival of lights"; an important five-day festival in Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Mounds of marigold blossoms were heaped in the streets, to be gathered to make garlands. In the evening, a man rowed me on the Ganges River to see fireworks and watch the huge cremation fires on the riverbank. As night fell, little handmade boats were floating everywhere—set upon their voyage carrying flower petals and candle, lit with someone’s hope.

My mind withdrew its thoughts from experience, extracting itself from the contradictory throng of sensuous images, that it might find out what that light was wherein it was bathed... And thus, with the flash of one hurried glance, it attained to the vision of That Which Is.
Saint Augustine

After I left India, by chance I arrived in Chiang Mai, Thailand, at the beginning of Loi Krothon, a festival where firelight plays a central role. "Loi" means "to float" and a "krathong" is traditionally made from a section of banana tree trunk. A krathong will be decorated with elaborately folded banana leaves, flowers, candles and incense sticks. A low value coin is sometimes included as an offering to the river spirits.

During the night of the full moon, Thais will float their krathong on a river, canal or a pond lake. The festival is believed to originate in an ancient practice of paying respect to the spirit of the waters. In Chiang Mai, night parades wind through the streets, with many of the costumed participants marching with candles aglow. Also, candles are lit under canopies of paper and as the warm air rises and is trapped, the lit paper bags rise into the air—thousands through the night, glowing all the way. It is quite the sight.



And of all illumination which human reason can give, none is comparable to the discovery of what we are, our nature, our obligations, what happiness we are capable of, and what are the means of attaining it.
Adam Weishaupt

There is not enough darkness in the entire world to put out the light of even one small candle.
  Robert Alden

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Serendipity

There are always two people in every picture:  the photographer and the viewer.  ~Ansel Adams

When I was in Kashmir, India, I went on a trek in the Himalayan Mountains, and during the journey stopped in a tiny hamlet to paint. I set up my easel to get a view of houses with the mountains rising behind. Children were the first to arrive by my side, but before long adults too, came to watch. I was entertaining them. Fortunately, I had my camera, and occasionally turned and snapped pictures of the onlookers. That day was quite memorable, and I came away with a painting, wonderful experiences, and a trove of photographs. Many are favorites from among 30,000 pictures I took in 2008. One in particular is a photo that came when I had finished painting and stood to smile at the young people. I motioned to a group that I wanted to take their picture and without a word, they quickly gathered and focused all their attention to me. In a second I had taken a marvelous photo, and then, a few more in succession. I have printed it as large as 34 by 44 inches and lived with it for many months . . . and never tire looking at it. The children are present, free from confusion and gaze openly with candor. They are dressed nicely in mountain garb, and have chapped skin from the climate. In some of the pictures, the village children show clothes that are stained and faces with dirt . . . and it's understandable since they do not have washrooms or toilets, but live close to nature. In the above photo, I like that they stand shoulder to shoulder as comrades.

I had similar moments of serendipity when in the briefest of seconds an unlikely slice of time is captured forever. For instance when I was outside a mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, and noticed a big congregation of pigeons bustling about. A homely woman turned to me, and in a moment I had taken her picture as she offered me seed to throw to the birds. She is smiling bashfully and missing teeth.

Some photos can be planned. When I was driving on the island of Corfu, in Greece, I came to a place called Ipsos and spotted a rickety dock that jutted into a lake. I stopped and as the gentle waves lapped the shore at my feet, set up a tripod and leisurely snapped photos. The result is a picture that has fullness and emptiness both. I call it Zen Dock. 

Sometimes, I knew a picture was waiting for me, but I would need to make special effort to get it. When I was in Hoi An, Vietnam, I heard of a fish market that was especially lively at dawn, when the fishermen arrived at a dock amid a crowd of clamoring and bartering women. Several mornings I rose with the sun to ride my bicycle to the place. Sure enough, I got great pictures. Among them is this shot of a woman who was squatting on her haunches, smoking a cigar under her straw hat.

Photos can record in a moment a picture worth a thousand words. While in Africa in the Serengeti game preserve, I met a group of Masai boys and could not have made a painting of them. But my camera was with me, and my brief encounter is now more than an isolated memory in my head.




It's weird that photographers spend years or even a whole lifetime, trying to capture moments that added together, doesn’t even amount to a couple of hours.  ~James Lalropui Keivom


Photography records the gamut of feelings written on the human face, the beauty of the earth and skies that man has inherited, and the wealth and confusion man has created.  It is a major force in explaining man to man.  ~Edward Steichen


See more travel pictures:  Artistic photography by Steven Boone
Also my full website for photos: Graphixshoot

Sunday, December 12, 2010

God Within It

 My mother, who lives in Santa Barbara, California, called and left a message on my phone the other day. Her voice was emotional as she spoke slowly and deliberately. “Hi Steven, it’s your mother. Our dog, Sarah, died December 1st. I put a sign out front for the neighbors—to tell them she had died . . . because everyone loved her. And I put on the sign a writing from Baha’u’llah that said, ‘Nothing do I perceive but I perceive God within it, God before it, and God after it.'  I wrote the name of Baha’u’llah on it, along with a picture of Sarah. Then everyone knew she had left us.” Her voice trembled and she cried a little as she spoke. I noticed the crying because my mother never cries.

They had brought Sarah home after a previous dog died. Sarah was already three or four years old. A German Shepherd, she had been abused by someone and was not trusting. Once she became a part of my parent’s household, she barked at anyone else who entered the house. I went to visit them a couple months ago and Sarah always barked at me when I came inside, even though she was deaf and too tired to stand. I noticed that she did the same with my brother who lives near my parents and has visited thousands of times. I had to laugh about that.

Sarah was treated with great kindness and even reverence. When she slowed down and could barely walk, my father cordially walked slowly by her side as she went out to do her duty every day. Both my parents, who are infirm themselves, would help her when she could only climb halfway into the car, and had to have her back legs lifted and then be scooted in. They said kind things to her every day, even after she had gone deaf. When my father noticed she was not eating, he'd get on his hands and knees and feed her. She ate the same food as my parents. I once joked with my mother that I was eating dog food when I noticed she had the same food in the dog dish as on my plate. She said resolutely, “Sarah gets the same food as we do.”

The dog lived much longer than perhaps possible, due to the love she received. My mother liked to say she was “the oldest German Shepherd in Santa Barbara.”

I spoke with mother after she left her message for me. She said many neighbors had seen the sign and come with flowers, or gifts, and to pay their sympathies. Surely, they had noticed a great love and now part of it had gone away.

"The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is his dog. A man's dog stands by him in prosperity and poverty, in health and sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master's side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens” ..... Unknown  (Possibly from an early American trial re: the killing of a neighbor's dog)


Sunday, December 05, 2010

The Tightrope Walker

Being an artist is like being a tightrope walker, trying to keep balanced between creativity and staying in public favor. To lose either is to fall, but losing creativity is death, whereas public favor is capricious, not essential for life. Most artists depend upon public sanction and approval in order to provide for themselves and family. Everyone knows the tragic story of Vincent van Gogh (30 March 1853 – 29 July 1890). He passionately gave his talents to the world, but the public did not receive his gifts. Thus he was impoverished and depended upon the charity of his brother to survive. At the tender age of 37, he killed himself, and then some years later when public taste shifted, his work gained favor. Now, van Gogh is an icon and his work is among the most sought after in the world. And what if he had acknowledged and followed advice? We all would be poorer if he had conformed to the taste required by society and painted academic paintings with subdued tones and little flair or personality. Then, his unique and wondrous gift of authenticity would have been diminished and blighted and his greatest work would not have been achieved.

In contrast, Pablo Picasso (25 October 1881 – 8 April 1973) set the world on fire and after a brief initial struggle getting established, had the public eating out of his hand. Much of his work could not be understood, but perhaps because society was hungry for change and he was the man of the hour and capable of fantastic feats of creativity, his bold advances were met enthusiastically and he became very rich. His art is also among the most sought after in the world.

Common advice for an artist is to create a niche and be identified much as commercial brands are recognized. Then, grow the brand.  Most artists do this.  Norman Rockwell, Andrew Wyeth, or even Jackson Pollock, are painters who settled upon a technique and then harvested results. This practice extends to other art forms, such as poetry and writing, where some are haiku writers or fiction novelists, but not both. Very few are like Leonardo daVinci, a painter, inventor, sculptor, poet and scientist.

I admit that the public sometimes factors into my thoughts when I am in my studio. I have had success as a landscape painter, but other work has met with less enthusiasm. Some of my paintings, like the Hangup series, (faces hanging from clothespins on a line), have met with delight and wonder, but also revulsion and hatred. When I made the first, I was responding to a quirky inner vision, not public taste. I had decided to follow through with an odd momentary vision, and eventually produced thirty-five paintings. At one point I stopped painting, since I felt I was coming unglued, but now count the Hangup paintings as among my most important work. To prove the point, one of them, Van Gogh, All Hung Up is part of the permanent collection of the Foundation Vincent Van Gogh, in Arles, France, among paintings by luminaries of contemporary art.

Writing, photography, painting, drawing, making books, graphic design, public speaking, traveling, meditation, philosophy . . . the main thing is to follow the thread of the heart.



Visit the Steven Boone website.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Words

I use paint and brush to convey my artistic inspiration, but have also written a book and magazine articles and know the power and creativity of words. The Bible says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1

Imagine! One word was the beginning of everything that is. That word might have been Be. With the word Be! everything was created in an instant. 

Words convey meaning. And this is why dictionaries are useful, since the dictionary contains the generally accepted meaning of words, so misunderstandings can be settled. Philosophers always establish definitions for the words they use before continuing with their thoughts. In the English language, there may be a quarter of a million words, but some words have multiple meanings. For instance the word can, means to be able to do something, but also signifies a sealed metal container, as when we say, a “can of beans.”

Poets use words to paint poetry. Politicians use words to convince. Enlightened beings use words to inspire and ennoble. A good string of words can become as iconic as the Mona Lisa.  Here are some famous quotes:

A thing of beauty is a joy forever. John Keats (31 October 1795 – 23 February 1821)

The Lord is My Shepherd. Bible, Psalm 23

Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.
 The Bible, Matthew 7:12

This above all: to thine own self be true. Shakespeare, Hamlet (Act I, Scene III)

An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind. M.K. Gandhi, (2 October 1869 – 30 January 1948)

Sometimes in my writing I have used phrases that are highly personal. I realize they might be hard for others to understand, for instance my expression, disappearing into the matrix of the earth. The word matrix I use in the sense of the womb of the earth; a place where life arises, but more, it is also where substance returns after death, to be renewed and reborn. So what I have sought is to be close to transformation, find the primitive beginning, and lose the normal boundaries that separate life forms. It is a mental exercise and emotional longing that has allowed me a greater feeling of oneness and unity with the universe and led to revelatory experience. The other phrase I have used frequently is THE DREAM. Everyone experiences moments when they do not know what is real and what is not. It may happen between sleep and waking, or during a slip of consciousness, or a moment of confusion, or during a disaster when the thought arises, “this cannot be real.”  I have taken these odd moments a step further and arrived at the determination that this world is really a dream and that at the moment of my death so much knowledge and truth will be revealed to me that only then will I see my life in the physical body as if I had been sleeping—but have now awakened. Also, THE DREAM allows my consciousness to flow, since it has a life of its own and I see I am watching my life unfold until that anticipated moment of my own death.


All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts...  William Shakespeare, ( 26 April 1564; died 23 April 1616)As You Like It

Finally, here is another beautiful string of words which is like a painted masterpiece:

“So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the entire earth.” Baha’u’llah, (12 November 1817 – 29 May 1892)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Mystery

"The world is incomprehensible. We won't ever understand it; we won't ever unravel its secrets. Thus we must treat the world as it is: a sheer mystery." Carlos Castaneda (25 December 1925 – 27 April 1998)

"The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery." Francis Bacon (28 October 1909 – 28 April 1992)

I rejoice in mystery because it holds possibility and surprise. The best way to embrace mystery is simply to not expect knowing the future, but simply let it unfold and watch. I know this practice goes against the teachings of most people . . . and that is to plan, plan, plan—so as to not be surprised by future events but rather to control the outcome.

Before I set out to travel around the world in 2008, I began anticipating the adventure. I told people that I wanted to disappear into the matrix of the world. One morning I awoke from a dream with a sentence I had heard fresh in my mind, (See my earlier blog, Grand Confusion). A voice had spoken for me to hear, and said, “The vessel he entered was a grand confusion between his world and the world outside of him.” I knew that “vessel” symbolized my being contained in travel, and furthermore the sentence referred to mind, because of the term “confusion.” I liked the thought of a “grand confusion” where the boundaries between my inner and outer worlds dissolved. This is the way I traveled and found many incredible experiences with people and places across the globe.
Yesterday, Heidi of the Mountains came to visit me, and in the late afternoon, as the sun was going down and the air chilled, we took a walk. I am new to this neighborhood and find that I like being elevated on a hillside so that I can easily see sunsets. As we began our sojourn, I noticed the western atmosphere changing, and the familiar colors of sunset coming on, but then, I made the mistake of slipping outside of mystery. After observing the sky, I confirmed mentally that this would be an ordinary sunset and not to expect any great surprise. We walked further, and the sky became more dramatic. Soon, I was giving myself entirely over to the mystery unfolding, and as darkness encroached and daylight ebbed away, the sky performed miraculous displays of color and it was if a great, unseen hand was painting a masterpiece before my astonished eyes. Without knowing what to expect from one moment to the next I frequently stopped walking to click pictures of the fabulous sight.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Surprise and Mystery


Recently, I went into the gallery that represents my work here in Santa Fe. The sales lady greeted me, and then she said, “Oh Steven, I need to ask you questions about a painting of yours." We walked into the room where my large mixed-media work, called Flying, hangs on a wall. This piece has been in the gallery a short while, and because I have been out of town, the saleswoman had not had an opportunity to speak with me about it. “People have made comments about this work . . . please tell me about the figure in the background.” Immediately I felt curious about what people had to say, so asked, “What comments have you heard?” She answered, “They like the piece very much but find the man in the background disturbing; threatening—as if he will do harm to the young woman.” Then she added, “One woman said she would buy it if not for the man in the background.”

I felt incredulous, and aghast. “That is a complete surprise” I said, “because the figure in back is my daughter! There are two separate images in this work, from two different days of photography. I put them together digitally.”

She said, “Someone said the mask is disturbing.”

“She is wearing a mask from Thailand.” I said.

I could not help but feel flustered and also miffed. The work has always delighted me and furthermore, I never intended anything threatening.

A couple years ago I spent time taking photos of models in my studio and had them play with cloths of white fabric as I snapped portraits. The images were made more dramatic because the studio was draped in black cloth . . . even the floor. So when the models moved about under my narrow skylight, I got dramatic pictures.

I put the two figures together in order to add surprise and mystery to the sensual scene, and make it more enigmatic.

How often is art like a Rorschach test for the viewer? Almost always.

To see more of my artwork, go to Steven Boone Fine Art

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Stopped In My Tracks

"As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness." Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau (born David Henry Thoreau; July 12, 1817 – May 6, 1862) famously wrote observations of life while living next to a pond. There is no pond near my current home in Santa Fe, but there are beautiful views, it is clean, quiet, and spacious enough, and I am in a good part of town, near the art galleries. I do not have Walden Pond, but just a short walk down a hill from my house is the Santa Fe River. “River” is a misnomer, because usually there is only a trickling stream of water that runs from a reservoir at the base of the mountains nestled by the city. Stone walls have been built alongside it in the event of an unlikely flood, but for much of the way, it is easy to walk by the stream and hop across with a couple jumps over rocks. Intermittent paths allow people to hike and enjoy the ecosystem.

While in my new home only a few days, life along the river has already captured me. I have not been able to resist taking long moments to look at the dazzling display of fall color occurring now. Especially the old cottonwood trees with their thick, gnarly trunks that twist upward and lift big branches full with displays of golden leaves.

During early morning and late afternoon, sunlight slants obliquely through the garnished trees, and I have been stopped in my tracks to be gathered into the sublime scenery. Leaving the street to clamber down embankments, I pause beside the stream and occasionally hear cars pass by, or see someone through the thickets. When a breeze blows, yellow-sheened leaves are shaken loose and drift lazily to earth, rustling as they brush against limbs and brambles and finally come to rest. Include the gurgling of a brook, bird songs, far-off dog barks and children’s laughter, the smell of water and freshly rotting leaves, dappled light and invigorating fluctuations of warm and cool temperatures in the sun or shade—and then I understand why Thoreau was inspired to write his book about the poetry of a pond.




 

"Aim above morality. Be not simply good, be good for something. "
Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Smallest Grain Of Sand

Life is so phenomenal that everything, even the smallest grain of sand, tells a story that can unfold into a book. I have been walking on a beach at dawn every morning and find poetry there.

At night a window in my bedroom stays open, and the air temperature is cool, almost cold when an alarm wakens me at 6:15 AM. My bed is warm and so it is an effort to leave the comfort of sleep and languid rest. But the earth is steadily turning and does not wait even a second in its course. My goal is to be at the beach at sunrise, so I hasten to jump up and get dressed, then drive ten minutes to the ocean. Along the way, I notice how few people are to be seen, but there are always early birds that are up and about before dawn. This morning, when I reached the shore, I was the only one on the beach, except for Heidi of the Mountains who was with me.

It rained last night and this morning the  darkened dawn sky had a stormy countenance. As the sun rose the clouds seemed to blow away while the sky lightened with rosy hues. The sound of the rhythmic pounding of waves and rolling surf cast its ancient oceanic spell, and the cold wind played all around, carrying smells of salt and brine. Seagulls soared about, crying out their salutation to the new day. Each moment as sun light increased, vivid warm hues reflected off the clouds and sea. When the sun ascended above the horizon and continued climbing, the stark brightness took over—and the magic of dawn receded.

It is incredible that every sunrise and sunset is different and unique, depending on the conditions that exist at the time.



Everything anticipates the cycles of sunlight and darkness. When it is dark, we eagerly anticipate a new dawn, and during the day, we hurry to accomplish as much as possible before sundown and the blanket of shadows comes across the earth to bring the inky stains of night.

The shifting sands, changing light, ebb and flow of life and death . . . all remind me that transformation is certain, physical existence is in flux, and human intellect cannot contain the mysteries of eternal creation. What is the power that holds nature together so perfectly and with such grandeur?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

236 Weeks In A Row


I have posted 236 blogs. That is 236 weeks in a row without fail; over four years. Somehow, the writing that began as a curiosity became a practice and a discipline.

Usually my subject begins appearing to me during the week. It might be a recent intriguing occurrence, an observation of a place, a memory, or a creative spark. Then, I have a bit of time to sit with the idea and turn it around in my mind and emotions. Very seldom, but occasionally, I come up empty and must scramble for a subject.

Today, I had nothing. I am living with my parents in Santa Barbara for a couple weeks. I easily adjust to being with them in their small home. My father is grateful that I will be by his side when he has an operation in a few days. In the morning we have breakfast together and read the newspapers. Then my father goes to his office and my mother does a couple chores and reads books. I work on my laptop or help with a task. My mother cooks soup and we sit down for lunch. After lunch we take a nap and my father and I rise after an hour and go to work. My mother stays in bed longer—3 PM (she gets up at 5 AM each day.) Then she has a cup of coffee and reads, and makes dinner at 6PM. My father returns to walk the old dog, and we gather for dinner. My father retires about 8 PM, my mother reads until 10, and I continue projects from my computer, i.e. working on photographs, websites, correspondence etc. Eventually I might read, and then go to bed.

Heidi of the Mountains is coming to Santa Barbara. She will be here for five days and fly back to New Mexico. I will drive to arrive in Santa Fe at the beginning of November.

While on my brother-in-law’s motorboat today, we watched seals climb up on a bobbing red buoy to flop down and lean against each other and relax.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Photos from The Grand Canyon

Here are some photos from the Grand Canyon, taken between October 15-18.


To see all 25 photos, go to: Steven Boone's Grand Canyon





This photo was taken along the Kaibab Trail, off the South Rim .




















The Kaibab Trail offers incredible views and steep drop-offs.


The ever changing light brings different moods . . .

To see all 25 photos, go to: Steven Boone's Grand Canyon

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Grand Canyon

 The last time I visited the Grand Canyon I was a brash and eager young man, footloose and on the road with a friend. We arrived and were struck with the magnitude of what lie before us,  then promptly set off to hike the famous Bright Angel trail that winds like a snake from the rim down the steep canyon walls to the river below. It was summer and although we were young and healthy, we were also na├»ve to think we could easily face off against nature at its grandest and swagger away. The temperature rose above 100 degrees Fahrenheit and our exertion eventually tired us so that we had to pull up short of the river and turn around. When we arrived back at the rim, we had met our limit and were bent-over exhausted.

In fact, many hikers overestimate their fitness level, become dehydrated and confused, and must be rescued. The Park Service, in an attempt to discourage hikers from feats which are beyond their abilities, now posts a picture at several trailheads of an attractive and fit young man with the caption, "Every year we rescue hundreds of people from the Canyon; most of them look like him".

Now, forty years later, I have arrived at the Grand Canyon once again; and appreciate it more. Such beauty and grandeur! It is 280 miles long, and the average width is 10 miles. Standing at the rim you see a spectacular panorama of sky and earth, with the canyon walls dropping a mile to the Colorado River below. And the colors make artists drool. Changing weather and light adds to the drama.

I hiked the Kaibab trail yesterday. It drops from the rim and winds down the steep canyon walls, eventually to end at the river. That would be a nine mile round trip so I only went part way, for six miles, stopping frequently to photograph. Perhaps because it is cooler in the fall and I am more prepared with snacks and power drinks, I endured the rigors better than when I was young. Sure, I am sore today, but will be back again and again. After traveling around the world, I can say this place, practically in my backyard, is one of the most grand and beautiful places on earth.

Look for photographs soon.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Every Leaf Speaks Bliss

"Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree."
Emily Bronte (30 July 1818 – 19 December 1848)

The changing of season is nature in its most visible period of transition. Especially Autumn. Amid  colder temperatures and shorter days, leaves change colors while the bloom of summer withers and fades to rust. It is a time of departure and animals know that they must prepare for harsher days of winter, so they bulk up and gather nuts and seeds to hibernate under the snow.
There are many theories of how weather affects human emotions. (To learn more go to: Theories on How Weather Affects Human Emotions.)

This fall I have been particularly moody with temperatures dropping and sunshine dwindling. There is much to love about cool, brisk days with fantastic leaf displays, and I have made gorgeous hikes with Heidi of the Mountains, both in Colorado and here in the mountains of Santa Fe. That said, today is the beginning of 20 days of homelessness for me. The casita I have been renting is part of a larger estate that is being sold, so I have to go. I found another place but cannot move until November 1.

Flux, creativity and wandering are all part of the THE DREAM that is my life. Possessions do not burden me. I plan to live in my studio a few days. It has a bathroom but no kitchen or shower, and not much living space. I bought a rocking chair so I can sit and read at night. In a few days I will drive my van to California, stopping to hike and paint at the Grand Canyon along the way. Adagio Gallery in Palm Desert California represents my artwork and I need to deliver new pieces and pick up items that have not sold.  From there I will drive three hours north to Santa Barbara where my parents live. Eventually the road will bring me back here to Santa Fe, and a new home.

As promised, I have posted some photos from Kashmir.

I continue to work on a small website to show the handmade goods . . . that will come soon.


Sunday, October 03, 2010

Kashmir


During my ‘round the world odyssey, I stumbled into Kashmir, India by chance, or rather, as I prefer to look at fate; THE DREAM took me there. Kashmir is located in the northwest region of the Indian subcontinent. It is in a valley at the foot of the Great Himalayas and its civilization hearkens back millennium. In succession, the official religions have been Hinduism, Buddhism, and eventually Islam.  Most often, people have coexisted peacefully. Various nations have prized it and in recent history, Pakistan, India, and the People’s Republic of China have all claimed administration rights. Most of the people in Kashmir would like to have their own country and be autonomous. Now, India is the primary ruler and have troops stationed as occupying “peacekeepers”. It is a tense peace, and lately trouble has been brewing with frequent protests and killings of civilians by soldiers. That said, it remains one of the most beautiful places on earth.

I had not been in India more than two days when a man I met in New Delhi took me into his office and said emphatically that New Delhi was not a nice place to be and I should go to Kashmir. “I can arrange your travel and you can live on a houseboat with your own servant on a beautiful lake at the foot of the Himalayan Mountains. It is quiet, the nature is beautiful and you can do many things, like trek and visit the towns.” Then he told me the price, which was quite cheap. I had only had time to see the Baha’i temple in New Delhi and now my new friend was adamant that I leave immediately. It felt like a whirlwind had settled upon me, but I sensed something extraordinary so let THE DREAM do the talking. That afternoon I was flying to the city Srinagar in Kashmir. When I arrived, the man’s brother, Ash, packed me into his car and drove me to Dal Lake, where we were then rowed to my houseboat and I was introduced to my servant, Monsoor.

From the first, Dal Lake enchanted me. It is pristine and sparsely populated. Water lilies drift casually on its surface, amid reflections of snow capped mountains. The longer I stayed, the more local people I met, and especially vendors who paddled up to my dock and showed me their wares. A fellow called Mr. Wonderful The Flowerman arrived regularly, selling huge bouquets of chrysanthemum’s, dahlia’s and other brightly colored flowers.


As I bought things, I was also invited to special occasions, and at a wedding became the de-facto photographer, even gaining privileged entrance into the bride’s quarter to photograph her amid her retinue. October-November is the wedding time in that area, so sometimes weddings occur twice or three times a day during those weekends.

I have so much to tell about my experiences at Dal Lake and hope to go back to see my friends, but must wait for the right time. Meanwhile, I have been doing business with a dear man named Gul who sends me handmade embroidered leather and suede purses, leather and sheepskin gloves and hats, and embroidered sheepskin coats and jackets. The business I give him helps entire families survive. In the next few days, I will post a special look at his goods, and more photos from Kashmir, so watch for it.


Read about my journey to Kashmir: My Astonished Eyes.
More Kashmir: Surprises
See more artistic photography from Africa and India.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Dharma Bums

Yesterday, I paid a visit to Santa Fe’s most famous used bookstore. Since I am not one to turn on the television except to watch the news, I need to read. Nikolas Potter Bookseller sits quietly off the quaint downtown plaza. It is in an old home, with a small garden in front and along the front walkway a sign warns you to be aware that bees are buzzing about. Yesterday I arrived in the late afternoon and was gratified to see the front door open, so climbed the few short stairs and went inside.

Used bookstores all have an aura of intellectual refinement and usually a musty air of old paper and used items. In this store, the books are crammed along every possible surface, from top to bottom. The walking spaces are narrow and the place feels tight and intimate. Labels mark sections of the shelves; poetry, art, technical, mystery, etc. I sort of knew what I wanted and so browsed to the literature section to look for a novel or maybe a memoir. Eventually I found The Complete Short Stories of Mark Twain, and pulled it off the shelf. After browsing some more, I came to a Jack Kerouac book, The Dharma Bums and after glancing through the pages knew the book was resonating with me, so I had to decide which to keep. Both authors are famous individualists and known for breaking ground as authors. This day, Kerouac won out and I left Twain for another time.

I like Kerouac’s free, direct style of prose. He wrote in a manner that has been described as poetic jazz, blowing the words onto a sheet of paper like a sax player blowing into the night. I feel a kinship to him because he had little care for possessions and traveled freely across the land collecting experience and deepening his soul in the process. His most famous book is On The Road. He had an uncanny ability to transform seemingly everyday events into sacred moments of beauty. Kerouac took the risk of writing with little censorship and believed ‘first thought, best thought.’


Here are some Jack Kerouac quotes:
"The best teacher is experience and not through someone's distorted point of view". On the Road

"Down on the lake, rosy reflections of celestial vapor appeared, and I said, "God, I love you" and looked to the sky and really meant it. "I have fallen in love with you, God. Take care of us all, one way or the other." To the children and the innocent it's all the same. The Dharma Bums

"Houses are full of things that gather dust"

"Life must be rich and full of loving--it's no good otherwise, no good at all, for anyone."
Kerouac: Selected Letters: Volume 1 1940-1956

"I have lots of things to teach you now, in case we ever meet,
concerning the message that was transmitted to me under a pine tree
In North Carolina on a cold winter moonlit night. It said that
Nothing Ever Happened, so don't worry. It's all like a dream.
Everything is ecstasy, inside. We just don't know it because of our thinking-minds.
But in our true blissful essence of mind is known that everything is alright
forever and forever and forever. Close your eyes, let your hands
and nerve-ends drop, stop breathing for 3 seconds, listen to the silence
inside the illusion of the world, and you will remember the lesson
you forgot, which was taught in immense milky way soft cloud innumerable worlds
long ago and not even at all. It is all one vast awakened thing. I call it the golden eternity.
It is perfect. We were never really born, we will never really die. It has nothing to do
with the imaginary idea of a personal self, other selves, many selves everywhere:
Self is only an idea, a mortal idea. That which passes into everything is one thing.
It's a dream already ended. There's nothing to be afraid of and nothing to be glad about.
I know this from staring at mountains months on end. They never show any expression,
they are like empty space. Do you think the emptiness of space will ever crumble away?
Mountains will crumble, but the emptiness of space, which is the one universal essence
of mind, the vast awakenerhood, empty and awake, will never crumble away because
it was never born."
Selected Letters 1957-1969 and is a letter he wrote to his first wife, Edie in 1957.
The Portable Jack Kerouac


"Don't use the phone. People are never ready to answer it. Use poetry."

See some of my recent photographs posted to Facebook: Colorado Sojourn

Monday, September 20, 2010

Witnessing The Sudden Change

The adventure to Colorado began in earnest when my partner, Heidi of the Mountains, and I pulled off the road between Albuquerque and Durango to rest a moment and pee. A spectacular profusion of chamisa bush bloomed bright yellow in the late afternoon light, and as I exclaimed aloud in delight and dropped my zipper behind a tall bush, a distinct warning sounded. I looked to my side and barely a couple steps away a rattlesnake stood coiled, rattling its tail and staring at me. I remained relaxed, then after finishing my routine, I thanked the creature for the heads-up alert and left.

From past experience, I judged that the fantastic changing of the color of aspen tree leaves would begin the second week of September. Here in Santa Fe, because we are further south, the change is usually first week of October. The “quaking” aspen is Colorado’s state tree and the name is ubiquitous and used for towns, hotels, restaurants and more. Aspen leaves turn golden yellow when conditions are right—shorter days and cooler temperatures—and can be seen en-masse on mountain sides since they grow in clusters, sharing their root systems. The display is only one week long, and it is difficult to pinpoint start and finish times. I felt crestfallen discovering that most of the trees were green when Heidi of the Mountains and I arrived in Ouray, sometimes called the “Switzerland of America”. I kept wondering how I could have misjudged the seasonal change, but determined to enjoy the moments anyway and said to myself “what you see is what you get!” I produced a painting in the countryside and made the aspen trees golden rather than the green that I saw.

The day I painted, we hiked and took a trip to Telluride where a blues festival was happening for several days. The town is in a fantastic setting and has good shopping and easy access to fun outdoors activities.

On Saturday, Heidi of the Mountains and I rented a jeep and headed to stark and unforgiving territory, on roads only accessible by all-terrain vehicles. Surprise! As we left town, whole hillsides had turned golden; seemingly overnight. In the morning light, it seemed as if nature had flipped a switch and turned on the color. The natural performance dazzled the senses and confounded the mind. Witnessing the sudden change turned my disappointment into joy and came as a gift: to be amidst the change as it occurred. Our jeep took us to dramatic places above 12,000 feet altitude, and along the way, the aspens blazed upward until they reached the end of their climatic comfort zone and where only fir trees grew. Higher up, in tundra regions, only small plants existed among the rock.

At times, the roads were so rocky and broken that the jeep rolled wildly from side to side as we inched our way along. Drop-offs were steep and perilously close to the narrow trails. Heidi of the Mountains insisted several times that I stop to let her walk rather than be in the jeep. We became lost a couple times but the views were so fantastic, I hardly cared. At the end of the day, we chose a route home that proved to be perilous and although I tried to assure Heidi of the Mountains that I would not let anything happen to her, she broke down crying. When we made it to the smooth highway, she was mad at me, but I could only say, “Look, Stevie has brought you back safe and sound! He won't let anything bad happen to Heidi of the Mountains.”

Our last day was spent hiking near Silverton. I returned to the same trail I had been on three weeks earlier with my ex-wife Jean and daughter Sarah. It is a hard hike from 9000 feet up to a lake basin area over 12,000 feet. Now, the aspen trees blazed gold colors along our mountain trek and when Heidi of the Mountains and I at last, with sore and trembling legs, gasping and out of breath, reached the top of our climb, an exquisite pristine and incredibly blue lake in a lovely basin surrounded by peaks dazzled our eyes. That evening we finally reached home at 11:30 PM exhausted but satisfied that we had experienced the fantastic.


I took many photos on this trip, and will share them after I have sorted and processed the best.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Burning Of Old Man Gloom

In Santa Fe every year at the beginning of Fiesta, people converge to an open field to watch the burning of Zozobra, also known as “Old Man Gloom”.

Zozobra is a hideous but harmless fifty-foot bogeyman marionette. He is a toothless, empty-headed facade. He has no guts and doesn't have a leg to stand on. He is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. He never wins. He moans and groans, rolls his eyes and twists his head. His mouth gapes and chomps. His arms flail about in frustration. Every year we do him in. We string him up and burn him down in ablaze of fireworks. At last, he is gone, taking with him all our troubles for another whole year. Santa Fe celebrates another victory. Viva la Fiesta! - A.W. Denninger

It is a tradition that is both a family event and a raucous frenzy. To gain entry into the field, people must pay a small admission that goes to charity, and have their bags checked for contraband, like guns or alcohol. Zozobra can be seen standing on a hill above the field. He is dressed the same every year, stands fifty feet high and stuffed with paper. His eyes are big and green, he has fat lips, his head swivels and his arms move, and he looks dapper and grotesque.

I had not been to a Zozobra burning in years. As night fell, live music rolled out over the crowd and when the field lights turned off, the big puppet began slowly moving—as if drowsily awaking from a long time of dreaming. Cries of “burn him!” arose, and an official announcer arrived to say Zozobra, Old Man Gloom, is sentenced to death so that Santa Fe can officially begin the Fiesta festival, and therefore, the time of his burning is to commence immediately. The crowd erupts as a fire dancer dressed in a flowing red gown appears at the base of the effigy and begins her hypnotic dance. Rhythmic music plays and more dancers appear, some twirling flaming rods. Fireworks go off and Zozobra begins flailing his arms, rolling his eyes, wagging his head and groaning. Some people in the crowd scream as if they are in primal scream therapy . . . especially piercing are the screams of teen-aged girls. The groaning of Zozobra is actually a carefully orchestrated and traditional performance by a “groaner” who, like the Wizard Of Oz, is backstage, behind a curtain, but his voice is amplified through rock concert speakers so that the ground shakes. More fireworks go off, perilously close to Zozobra who moans with each conflagration. The fire dancer prances at his feet and the crowd anticipation and frenzy grows. Parents lift their children to their shoulders so that they can see. All of a sudden it seems Old Man Gloom is lighting up from inside. His big, green eyes roll, his arms flail and his head bursts into flames. He wails loudly as the crowd cheers, and then the rest of his body catches fire. Fireworks blaze all around him and then suddenly, he disappears in smoke and flame. The last of the fireworks go off and Zozobra has been reduced to a smoldering bonfire where once a fifty foot tall structure stood. It is fantastic, and the crowd disperses into the night.

Zozobra has burned 86 times now . . . but he will be back next year.

The burning marks the end of gloom and the beginning of Santa Fe Fiesta, the oldest continual community celebration in America. During the next three days are festivities and parades, dance and music, plenty of food and drink, and an art fair.

To see more pictures, click here: Zozobra Burning

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Places Unimagined

“What difference does it make how much you have? What you do not have amounts to much more.” Seneca, (5 BC - 65 AD) Roman dramatist, philosopher, & politician

When death comes, it is most important to have loved well, experienced much and gained wisdom. Possessions, no matter how great, will account for nothing, except as they are given away to others. Our bodies will return to dust and be gathered into mother earth again. So why do people obsess over things?

I have found that in the last few years of my life, especially as I have become a vagabond world traveler, I do not care to be in relationship with physical ownership. Rather, what I crave is freedom of movement. If the wind calls me, I must move with it and go where it blows. For some, this might be reason to say Steven Boone is irresponsible. He does not want to take charge of things and be “responsible”. But that is not entirely true, for it is because of philosophy that I am this way. I think that everything material is ephemeral and transient—only Spirit is eternal and breaks every barrier, including death.

These days, when I need to be in one place for any length of time, I find a furnished dwelling that I can inhabit and then easily leave. I wonder, will there come a time when I will want ownership and have a house with a garden, and collect things? Then I will make my surroundings my own. For now, I do not want title because it requires caretaking. In short, to be like the wind is to travel without care over the wide terrain and go places unimagined.

“The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”
The Bible, John (ch. III, v. 8)

Soon my six month lease at my casita in Santa Fe will be finished. I can either stay or move, and because I am an artist, I can move anywhere I want and continue working. I feel a surprise is close at hand, and might take me somewhere remote. For now, the next few weeks will be the most colorful of the year and this artist has plenty of inspiration close at hand to keep him busy.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Nature's Peace

"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”  John Muir

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.” Edward Abbey

My daughter Sarah, my ex-wife Jean, and I went for a four-day excursion to Silverton Colorado. Silverton only has about 500 residents, but swells with visitors in the summer because of its spectacular surroundings. It has been called “A gritty little mining town with Victorian pretensions.” The elevation, 9305 feet, makes it one of the highest towns in the United States. Originally it was founded during a gold rush, when silver and gold was being mined in the late nineteenth century.

The first day, we drove up to Animus Fork, to the ruins of old mines and miners structures. While Jean and Sarah hiked, I made a painting of an abandoned house with the mountains in the background. In the evening, we went to a restaurant, then came home and played cards. The next day, we hiked a rigorous trail up into the mountains to Ice Lake, a climb of about 3.5 miles from an elevation of about 9,900 feet to 12,000. We started late, and about half way up, hikers were already descending to return to town. Some people are hard-core hikers and even ultra-fit enthusiasts—and its always amusing to find that we are huffing and puffing and stopping to get our breath, when one of these people casually jogs past us. Our efforts were rewarded by late summer colors, wildflowers, mushroom varieties and astonishing mountains, but we were quite sore when we got back.

The other highlight of our trip was a jeep trip high in the mountains on roads only passable in all-terrain vehicles. The day went like this:
Sarah is the last one up in the morning, and when we arrive at the Jeep rental the time is 10:30.  Jim, the owner,  is a rough-cut mountain man who begins gruff but warms up as we go along. He tells us we have to wait until 1 PM to contract a half-day rental and have to return at 5. We look a little disappointed and he says okay, he can give us a new jeep that seats four, with a hardtop (good for rain) and he doesn’t care if we get back late. He plots out a course for us that includes going over mountaintops, visiting Lake City and Colorado’s 2nd largest lake, and then looping back over Engineers Pass and back into Silverton. Clouds are gathering and I ask him if he thinks it will rain, and he looks out the window and says, “Yes, I am pretty good at guessing the weather.” In fact, it did not rain that day. Jim gives me a lesson operating the four-wheel drive gears, and the most difficult part is that I have to have the jeep in neutral and rolling slowly to get into 4 wheel drive low-gear for steep terrain. Well, how am I supposed to be in neutral and rolling up hill when I shift in the mountains? He seems satisfied I will figure it out and then we say good-bye.

We take off driving the Alpine Loop and arrive at our first steep ascent, called Cinnamon Pass. I manage to jam the gears into 4 wheel low and begin the slow treacherous crawl upward over boulders and ravines. For those of us used to driving on smooth roadways, off-road mountain climbing in a vehicle on old mule paths is an extreme adventure. At times, you find your heart in your throat. Jean kept both her hands grasped firmly on the handle jutting from the dashboard . . . a well-placed jeep accoutrement. Occasionally vehicles could be seen coming the other way, but the right-of-way belonged to the vehicle climbing. It could be difficult passing because few places are wide enough to allow it.

At the top of Cinnamon Pass we are astonished at the view from near 13,000 feet in the tundra setting. I get excited and sprint a short ways to a rocky knoll to take pictures but immediately become out of breath and gasp for air. Soon, as we continue the course, Sarah asks to drive . . .  I agree and let her take the wheel—unless we come to extreme driving conditions. She does fine, and I am proud when other toughened drivers pass and notice a beautiful young woman at the wheel of the jeep on the hard mountain roads.

We are continually amazed at the settings we are in. Late summer wildflowers are in bloom and we see marmots, a furry mammal that looks like a prairie dog but is more related to squirrels.

After driving about 3 ½ hours, we arrive in Lake City and stop to rest and eat. Jean is told of a nearby hiking trail and we find it, then hike to a waterfall in the forest. I imagine that in a few weeks the Aspen trees will be golden and shimmering, and determine to come back then. Sarah and Jean take their shoes off and put their feet in the ice-cold mountain stream, giggling and laughing. We revel in the sound of the gushing, splashing water and pristine mountain surroundings. On the way back, Sarah collects wild raspberries. They taste very tart and fruity.

I am a bit concerned about time, and do not want to drive on off-road trails in the dark, so we forge onward along steep narrow passes that hug the mountain side with steep drop offs to oblivion. Switchbacks can be so severe that the jeep is barely able to make the sharp turn. The late afternoon light makes the mountains even more beautiful and we stop frequently to revel, despite the time. Near Engineers Pass we turn a corner and suddenly come to a big flock of grazing sheep. The scene is almost incongruous in such a harsh setting, but about 800 sheep are meandering over the mountain, grazing on the rich fauna. No shepherd is in sight, only two big Great Pyrenees dogs and their pup. The sound of “baaah, baaah” is everywhere.



When we come to Engineers Pass, at 12,800 feet the panorama is breathtaking. We can see mountains and valleys in almost every direction. The light seems to hang in the fresh, summit air. I feel like I am in heaven.

Eventually, we arrive back in Silverton at about 6:30. The owner’s wife checks in the vehicle and I tell her we had a great time.

“Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame!” William Butler Yeats

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Marvel

During my years of University study I took a course in philosophy, and I remember a day in class when the professor became quite animated during a treatise on whether God exists or not. He held up a diagram of the human eye and explained that such a complex invention begged certainty that only God could create such a marvel. I agree.

The human eye is enormously complicated and efficient in receiving raw data. About 40 components make up the system, including retina, pupil, iris, cornea, lens and optic nerve. The retina for instance, has approximately 137 million special cells that respond to light and send messages to the brain. The light impressions are translated into electric impulses and sent to the brain via the optic nerve. Then, the visual cortex interprets the pulses to color, contrast, depth, etc., which allows us to see “pictures” of our world. The eye captures so much information that the brain can interpret up to 1.5 million pulse messages a milli-second. No computer even comes close.



If anything were to go even slightly wrong in the creation of eyes, they would fail. Yet time and again, since the beginning of human life, mankind has been given the incredible gift of sight. It does not happen by accident, but rather by plan. If we think fairly about this one aspect of the human creation, we must admit that a Creator devised and implements it. Furthermore, all the best minds of humanity could not replace a single eye . . . the most we have been able to do in an empty eye socket is put in a glass orb that has no power of sight whatsoever. No, only God can create eyes. It cannot be “accidental” or by “chance”.

“To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree possible.” Charles Darwin, Origin of Species

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Worth A Thousand Words

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, and a Native American proverb says, “It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story”. Every painting contains stories, and that is the beauty of art—that we can look, and if the artist has been masterful and we are awake to the moment of observance and communion, stories can unfold.
There is a story behind my recent piece, called The Gypsy. It begins when I was visiting my friend Carol, who lives in a tiny mountain village, Darrical, in the region of Spain called Andalusia. Carol is Scottish by birth, but has lived in Spain for years with her German, accordion playing husband, Rolf. They lived a vagabond existence on a boat for years before finding their place in the almost deserted village of Darrical. While I was staying with Carol and Rolf, I met Pepa, a young woman artist who spoke English. Immediately I was struck with her “Spanish” looks—dark hair that flowed in wild rivulets around her broad face, olive skin, sparkling eyes, and an almost fierce proud beauty to her.
Soon we were friends and I wanted her to model for me, for photography, which she gladly agreed to. I told her I wanted her to dress in traditional Spanish garb and she found some dresses that worked, and we took her guitar for additional flavor.
Darrical has many homes that have been abandoned and are in various states of ruin. At one time the government planned to create a dam in the valley and made people move out of their homes before the water rose and flooded them . . . but the dam was never built and the homes remained abandoned. I wandered in and around these places, letting them tell me their stories and feeling the passage of time. Pepa and I spent hours exploring the village ruins and I took hundreds of pictures of her.
Now the pictures are available in my archives and I have begun using them in my artwork. I have developed a method of making mixed-media art that combines digital photography and painting. First I begin with an image I like, and then work on it in Photoshop, sometimes adding layers of abstract nuance. Next it is printed on canvas and stretched onto stretcher bars, like a painting. Then I coat it and paint on it as my imagination inspires me. In the end, a final finish unites all the layers and the art goes to my gallery. The new works are not the landscape painting I am known for, yet, I believe in the old Chinese saying “Perseverance furthers” and by nature I am an adventurer and like to experiment in my art.
Click to see more Steven Boone artwork