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.