Thursday, June 20, 2013

Summer solstice, so worth getting up for

I was so very lucky to catch a ride to an early-morning field trip to one of the solstice markers in the park. One of the seasonal rangers knew about this place, offered to lead a hike, and my hand went up like a shot.

We met at a pull-out near the Flat Tops area of the park, which is home to many mesas, which have flat tops. Funny how that works. It was an early meeting, 0430, because we had to be at the petroglyph before the sun rose. And this is what greeted us:

Predawn at Martha's Butte

We hiked through a dry wash to get to the petroglyph at a location called Martha's Butte, supposedly named for Martha Washington.

Exquisite morning light on Martha's Butte

Here's a close-up of the marker, with the rising sun casting a shadow that makes a slow regression across the face of the stone. 

In the photo above, this stone is the one on the right front that shows an arc of light across it. Now look to its right to the stone that has a notch in the top edge. That notch casts a curve in the shadow that crosses the marker. Also look at the fascinating glyph on the left face of this rock. I've never seen one like that. We were speculating as to what it could be. An eagle. A thunderbird. Corn. Of course no one knows. We just appreciate the mystery and beauty of the hidden messages.

The soft morning light is a delight to see. Even bare land like this glows in the low-slanting light.

Back to checking out the glyph. Further movement of the shadow brings the notch closer to the center of the spiral.

And here we are. The shadow connects with the center of the sun-spiral just so. It nestles in perfectly. How long, how many years do you think they watched and plotted before making the marker? How do you think they greeted the longest day of the year, these people who depended on the sun and the rain so they could live? With reverence? With joy and celebration? Another thing we may never know.

Proof positive I hauled myself out of bed at 0300 to be there. You can see the shadow moving off the right side of the marker as the sun rises.

After all the photos were taken, we walked around to the right of the Butte to see these other petroglyphs.

And this one. How wonderful is this?

And this one! I've never seen anything like it.  Look at the size of it, and the variety of forms. I saw at least three variations on the sun: the spiral, a partial circle with rays, and a solid circle with connected rays all the way around. It's magnificent.

We hung around taking group shots, reluctant to head to work on this gorgeous morning. That's Kevin, my ride this morning, shooting two-handed, and the long-legged group looking back.

Thought[s] of the day:

I'll tell you how the sun rose a ribbon at a time.  (Emily Dickinson) 

and another one:

We don't say 'good morning.' Well, now there's a way to say it in O'odham, but we never used to say it. Everybody just knows it's a good morning. Things like that are understood. (Danny Lopez, Tohono O'odham educator)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

One more look at Canyon de Chelly

I used a different camera than what I'm used to when I went to Canyon de Chelly last week. Since 2007 I've used two different Nikons and became a DSLR snob. Yes. I admit it. Point and shoots were for amateurs. I'm far from being a pro but I wasn't going to use something that never had to have a lens changed. I have several lenses for the Nikons, fancy specialty ones among them, and the entire entourage probably weighed 30 pounds. I didn't carry everything every time but I have them just in case. There was a certain cachet in pausing to change lenses. It made me feel smart. What a bunch of hooey.

I got to the point I wasn't carrying the heavy Nikon anywhere anymore. Maybe it's a concession to my age, maybe I've gotten smart. I like to think it's the smart option. I always had my iPhone with me anyway so that's what I used for photos, but it was too much of a swing toward minimalist. I needed something in the middle. So Friday at Canyon de Chelly and Saturday at Blue Mesa I used a new Lumix point-and-shoot model and I can't tell the difference in the quality of the images.

I don't need a tripod because this model has stabilization up and down, left and right, and at cross angles. It has GPS which I wish I'd had when I found the arrowhead in the Painted Desert. It has other features I haven't discovered yet but right now I'm happy with what I do know about it. If I get nostalgic about shooting based on aperture or shutter speed I can choose that but I'm pretty happy with the idiot side of the dial.

Here are the rest of the photos I decided to keep from that day trip. It can be so hard to show scale. Keep in mind that people live in the canyon, the roads you see in the pictures are not footpaths but carry vehicular traffic, and the trees are full-grown.


Yep, all from a point-and-shoot. I have a Nikon D300 and a slew of lenses for sale. Not for the faint of heart or body.

Thought of the day:

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)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Blue Mesa, redux

On Saturday I made another swing through Blue Mesa. It's not as easy to get to as the Painted Desert so I can't get there as often, but storm clouds were a-brewin' on the horizon and I hitched a ride.

There's not much to add to these images. Blue Mesa tells its own story.

This is on the road in, the one that takes you back 3 1/2 miles. The sky wasn't too dark yet but I could see promise in another part of the sky. I heard sky booms here, just a couple, and from far away.     

Nothing here at all except those bands of purple.

Gathering clouds but not much promise of rain there.

Here we go. This is more like it.

The rain stayed at a distance. A few sprinkles, drama happening in the clouds, but nothing like I'd hoped for.

The monsoon season is imminent. I've been promised by those in the know and I'm counting on it.

Thought of the day:

Excuse me while I kiss the sky. (Jimi Hendrix ~ Purple Haze)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Canyon de Chelly

On Friday a friend and I drove to Canyon de Chelly National Monument, a couple of hours away from Petrified Forest. This place and Chaco Canyon, over the border in New Mexico, have interested and drawn me for some time with their reputations as places of spiritual significance. I had plans to go to Chaco this spring before reporting to Petrified Forest, but learned that Grace would likely tear out another water line on the road in, so I've delayed a visit there for a while.

Canyon de Chelly is spectacular. Overlook after overlook leads to wide unfenced vistas of deep, sheer-walled canyons. It's dramatic and, yes, another place I've felt a presence of something outside of and more powerful than myself.

My last post, about the Painted Desert Inn, used a song sung by Dawn Boy on entering White House. I didn't know what or where White House was, but was delighted to learn it's here in Canyon de Chelly. I will return to spend more time, take tours of the canyon floor, and hike in to see White House. I hope to feel the connection Dawn Boy felt, the one that prompted him to sing such a love-filled psalm.

I've processed just a few pictures from that road trip. Like all other photos I've taken on this path of discovery, this path with heart I've been traveling, they don't do this special place justice or begin to show the soul-touching beauty, but they're the best I could do.

Thought of the day:
“If a man is to live, he must be all alive, body, soul, mind, heart, spirit.”  (Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Painted Desert Inn, finally some pics

I keep talking about the Painted Desert Inn and have put one or two photos of it here before. It seems every time I go there, which is often because it's only two miles from where Grace is parked, I take another photo. The look of PDI, as it's abbreviated by park people because it does get tedious to spit out five syllables (as opposed to saving two by saying PDI), and the look of the desert change with the light. In that way, they're like the canal I lived on in Washington. I thought I'd never get over missing the canal desperately, and while I do miss its character and constancy, I've found another love in the desert.

I'm not going to put a lot of commentary here, but want to show you a bit of PDI and the desert immediately near it. When my sister Margaret died, this is where I headed to think. There's a real, tangible peace here. If you ever come you'll feel it too.

Here's some history from the National Park Service site that gives better information than I could.

So here we go:
I've shown this before: the front of the Inn from the road.
A side terrace.
A terrace on the opposite side.

Photo taken with my back to the desert. The entrance to the far left, barely seen here, led directly into the bar.

A dining area as it was when the Inn was in its heyday. The murals on the wall were painted by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie. Coincidentally, I took a silversmithing class from his son Michael Kabotie, also a noted artist in a variety of media, and a poet.

This is the mural seen on the wall to the right in the photo above.

One of several hammered-tin light fixtures.

Glass panels painted by CCC workers in designs created by Fred Kabotie.

The restored soda fountain and snack bar. The furniture was built by the CCC and the place is authentic down to the original gray paint on the booths. Unfortunately, this is for show only. Milkshakes and burgers are no longer served here.

In the house of long life, there I wander.
In the house of happiness, there I wander.
Beauty before me, with it I wander.
Beauty behind me, with it I wander.
Beauty below me, with it I wander.
Beauty above me, with it I wander.
Beauty all around me, with it I wander.
In old age traveling, with it I wander.
On the beautiful trail I am, with it I wander.

(Dawn Boy's song on entering White House, "Navajo Myths, Prayers, and Songs,"
University of California Publications in American Archeology and Ethnology, volume 5,
number 2, Berkeley (1907). From The Colorado Plateau / John A. Murray, 1998)

Monday, June 10, 2013

Not all who wander are lost, at least not for long

Nearly all of my internet time has been spent on a folding lawn chair outside the post office here at the park. There's an internet router inside and I could get a signal. It was slow but it was a signal. The weather, though, has turned hot, hot, hot. When I got back to Grace after work today it was 107 degrees. I don't care if it's dry heat, it's still hot heat and I'm not sitting outside in it for a couple of hours at a time. I'm a slow writer.

After six weeks of whining and complaining politely inquiring about doing something about getting internet elsewhere, today I was lent a booster that's supposed to, um, boost a signal from a newly-extended line and it appears to be working. It's slow but it's working, which lets me post now from the comfort of home. Thank you, PFMA (Petrified Forest Museum Association) and to Kymberly, for putting up with me and dogging this problem.

Sunday I hiked in the Painted Desert for a few hours as reconnaissance for a camping trip I'm doing in a couple of weeks. I've borrowed gear here and there and have enough stuff to get me through a couple of nights; I'll be limited only by the water I can carry. This is wilderness camping, no water, no electricity, no loo. This is one of my out-of-comfort-zone things I'm challenging myself to. Enough with living small. 

Here are some examples of what makes the Painted Desert so special to me:

I love this shot of a slab of petrified wood, looking almost shell-like, resting among scattered pebbles on the desert's sandy floor.

Just one of the slowly eroding formations in this spare but beautiful land.

Every turn brings new beauty in the Painted Desert.

Petrified wood scattered like rubble. It made me think of giants shooting craps against the butte reaching to the sun.

An arrowhead just lying there!
I was playing Moses in the desert after I lost sight of my beacon, the Painted Desert Inn, up on the rim somewhere. It was there and then it was not. I really must learn to read a compass and get some topo maps. So I was just tromping around, calculating how much water I had left and whether I would embarrass myself for calling for help IF I could get a cell phone signal, when I looked down and saw this arrowhead just lying there like someone tossed it down. I didn't have to dig it out. It was just there. This photo doesn't do it justice. It's a beautiful blue and green stone and nearly perfect. 

The problem I had is I couldn't take it with me. What I found had to stay where it was found until people smarter than I am can evaluate the site for other good things. I didn't have a GPS. No compass, no GPS. A boy scout I am not. All I could do is stand up from taking several shots of this gorgeous thing and take several more of the landscape as I moved in a counterclockwise rotation. 

Evidently I made my way out, avoiding public humiliation but not a good amount of personal because the Painted Desert Inn was right where I had left it, but I'd overlooked it out of stupidity, pretty much. 

Today I showed the photo above to the park's archeologist. I was so pleased with myself: "Look, Bill, look!" like an elementary school reader. If I heard him correctly and I hope I did, it's from the Archaic period, which means Old. Old like 8000 to 2000 years BC. The problem now is finding it again. I had nothing to mark it with, only the photos of the landscape circling it. I hope he recognizes the area and can send some of the many lucky summer interns out to sweep the area and bring it in. I'd like to brag a little.

Thought of the day:

Mistakes are the portals of discovery. (James Joyce)
[So I should be discovering a LOT.]

Sunday, June 2, 2013

There's gonna be some changes made *

My oldest sister, Margaret, died yesterday. Two sisters in one month. I'm so sick of loss, wasted chances, wasted life. It's been a rough six months altogether.

I don't have anything erudite to say this time. No guidance or recommendations, no pithy words of advice. All I know is that if I can't learn a lesson from my two sisters' shortened lives, I don't deserve to walk the earth.

I've never been a risk taker. I've led a pretty narrow and prescribed life, have always been a rule-follower, adhering to convention, protocol, and others' expectations of me. I plan to change that, to start poking at the edges of external expectations, to move more and more outside of my comfort zone, and to really not give a damn what people think . 

This is something I wrote when I was trying to decide what to do and where to go when my marriage was imploding, and had thought of moving to New York. I regretted not having taken any risks and another thing I'm sick of is regret:

He says, "You always wanted to live there." Well,
no. Not always, but since the day we sat in a cafe
and my eyes opened to the life of the city. I am envious
of the young ones
who haven't let life fly by them,
who haven't been afraid to risk safety
to live a life self-defined. I, on the other hand, 
have taken safety.
A steady paycheck in exchange for a life other-defined.
What would my life have been if once, just one time, I'd said

Thought of the day:

Fear is stupid. So are regrets. (Marilyn Monroe)

*with thanks to Bruce Hornsby