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

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Gifts

Life is a gift, and every being is special and unique. Simply meditating on this can bring awareness of God. Each person carries gifts to share with the world, and although outer wealth varies considerably, I think that the richest people are those that abundantly share the gifts of their talents and innate abilities. A Navajo Indian saying goes, “A person may be lacking in hard and soft goods, but if he has a song, he is not poor.”

Each day I am aware of the gifts that come to me, and often hear myself saying aloud, “Thank you!” When I go to art openings at many of the local galleries on Friday evenings, I am able to stroll through rooms full of incredible artwork, made by the artists that have consecrated themselves to producing dazzling objects that broaden our appreciation and awareness of life and its possibilities. The crowds mingle merrily, partaking of refreshments provided by other people who also serve up their unique talents as organizers and brokers for the artists. Last Friday, after going to the openings, I went with a friend to an evening ballet performance at The Lensic, a stately performing arts theater downtown—made from the able vision of an architect and the skilled hands of craftspeople. To watch the dancers move beautifully and with √©lan to fulfill the inspiration of choreographers is sometimes breathtaking. Other talent comes in to play as well, such as set designers, lighting technicians, musicians and composers. All this genius consecrated to make the magic of a performance. This is true wealth.

Yesterday afternoon I received a rub down from a friend who is skilled in massage. I felt blessed receiving his loving touch that healed the soreness in my body and reinvigorated my tissues, muscles and bones. In the quiet of our communion, I could listen to the song of the birds outside, sharing their melodies with creation. Then, in the evening, I went with a friend to see a movie called Inception, a sci-fi thriller based on a concept of psychic espionage, directed by Christopher Nolan, starring Leonardo Di Caprio. This film is the result of a huge collaboration of talent among a myriad of individuals, culminating in my being able to buy a ticket, walk into the dark hall of a theater, choose a comfortable seat and let myself drift into a fantasy world that looks and feels real—sometimes more than “normal” life, and then while experiencing this alter-reality, receive the gifts of beauty, excitement, knowledge, and inspiration that are gathered inside.

Today, as is my habit on Sunday mornings, I went to a nearby store that serves refreshments and sells newspapers and magazines. I bought the Sunday edition of the New York Times, and then sat on the patio under a clear morning sky, in the shade of an umbrella with flowers blooming all around, to read leisurely, drink a cup of coffee and munch a pastry. The New York Times is substantial, and it takes me all week to read the Sunday paper since it includes many special sections. Here again, I appreciate the work of many, from designers to editors, journalists and photographers—all sharing their carefully crafted gifts.

Tomorrow night I go to a ballet, Madame Butterfly, by Giacomo Puccini at the Santa Fe Opera. An entire book could be written about just this one composer and the gifts of endowment that he shared with the world.

I know that most of the world’s people live without the plethora of opportunity and culture that I appreciate. Yet they find their own songs to sing. And so, I leave you with a photograph to look at carefully. This blind man was alone on a street in Hanoi, Vietnam, when I snapped his picture. He played his song on a homemade flute, and around his neck were many more flutes, strung from a cord. I suppose if you asked him, “How is life?” He would respond, “Good! As long as I have my song, I am not poor.”

Sunday, August 01, 2010

A Gathering Of Men

“What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.” Aristotle

This weekend I took it upon myself to join a gathering of men, mostly strangers to me, gathered in the remote seclusion of a pine forest, far from civilization. New Mexico Mens Wellness is an organic, from-the-ground-up organization devoted to mens wellness that has been active about twenty-five years. The main yearly event is in the fall, attended by about 100 men. The summer gathering is much smaller. I attended the big gathering once, in 2006. The theme for this summer’s conference was Intuition and Inspiration.

I only knew a few of the guys, but it did not matter because this was a time for male bonding and everyone would leave as friends. Without women around, men could relax without feeling competitive, or bound by a partner, and simply turn to each other in brotherhood and accord. I felt immediately at home in the forest, prepared to sleep in my van two nights.

I suppose a gathering of women would be similarly supportive and bonding, but they might need more comfort. It rained hard twice and none of the men complained, although two guys had their tent flooded while they were away hiking and had to leave a night early because their sleeping bags were soaked. The firewood was always covered so we always had a campfire lit at the center of our morning and evening circle gatherings where main topics were discussed and each man had an opportunity to talk. When someone had something to contribute, he picked up a special, sacred “talking stick”, and while he spoke everyone else listened. Then, he would place the stick down to signal that he was finished and someone else could pick the stick up. Serious discussion ensued and we also shared jokes, ribbing and laughter, musical recitations, singing, poetry, prayer, introspection and observation, and great appreciation of nature. Although women were not physically at hand, they were present in spirit because every man had deep relationship with females. The women could let their men go to this gathering knowing that it was good for them and they would come back home refreshed and stronger.

During an afternoon practice, the group became silent and each man went into his own inner space to be quiet. One by one, sacred sage smoke was waved around each body, using an eagle feather, and a prayer scarf given as a gift before the man was led to walk alone into the forest and find a special spot to stop and ponder in solitude. Everyone was directed to walk as though giving light to the earth with each step. As I stepped peacefully forth under a blue sky in the balmy air, all of nature seemed happy and whole. The earth underfoot was soft from moisture and covered with pine needles. I noticed delicate flowers and wild grasses, feeling my way among shrubs spread loosely under the tall trees. Before long, I had found my spot and sat down under a pine, near a young scrub oak tree. A flat rock with a delicate pattern of lichen spread on its hard surface was partly buried in the ground in front of me. I reveled that the plant was living not in ground, but thriving on the unyielding, barren surface. A slight breeze blew the nearby green oak leaves in unison, making a rippling chorus of light. I dug my fingers under the matted pine needles to feel the cool soil, and scooped up a handful to smell the pungent earthy fragrance. On the same ground were deer droppings, and I picked them up and crushed them in my fingers. What appeared was the same plant matter that was all around me. The deer are composed of the same elements as the forest.

As I pondered my inner life, I realized I have strength and happiness, but also pain and sorrow always within. This proves the manifest direct relationship of mental and physical forces—and I know something of the origins. For instance, I have always had throat issues, and this I trace back to a frightening dream I had as a small child. In the dream, I was laying sweetly on my back, in bed under the eaves of an attic, beside an open window with lace curtains. A gentle breeze swayed the fine lace and wafted across my peaceful body. In this idyllic setting, a beautiful woman appeared next to my bed, dressed in fine cloth that also swayed gently in the breeze. She leaned over me as if to plant a kiss on my forehead. Then her hands reached my neck and she began strangling me. I awoke, and tried to scream but could not move because I was so paralyzed with fear. When at last my body recovered, I leapt out of bed and raced screaming to my parent’s bedroom. And also of course, the loss of Naomi will always be an inner wound. I realize these issues are “scars”, and might always be with me. They are indelible elements informing my life—part of the unique assemblage that I am.

One of the men, Michael Schvarzkopf wrote a poem during one of his meditations. I was struck with it and include a selection of it here:

My heart sees deeper than my eyes
My eyes can see into your soul if you let me

How can my heart see?
We know it’s as true
As my heart knows . . .
How can this be?

Intuition may be the truest knowledge
Ritual, our greatest tool
Heart our best guide
And mystery is our greatest hope


I managed to get away for a couple of hours and make a painting, and include it here.