Meditation in Landscape through Creative Process: The Desert Southwest (Part 2 of 3)
We are two artists dragging a lot of sand from one place to another. To trace the trails of water past and present is to empty our liquid bodies into this moving stream of time. Do we embody time, or just pass through it? Do we record time or does time record us? We are moving through the desert southwest looking for familiar shapes in the rock, and creating a series of site-specific video performances. You can learn more here (link to: https://journal.waywardcollective.com/meditation-in-landscape-through-creative-process-the-desert-southwest-part-1-of-3/) We’re back home with a lot of editing ahead of us, but here is the rough cut. The daily musings and meanderings, an unedited response to the rocks we touched. Continue to follow us on the Wayward Journal for more weird rock art.
October 6, En route to Boise, ID
The half moon hangs, impossibly. As if before the sky, not in it. Holding a place in its own layer of the canopy. My chest is still ridding the remnants of a late-summer cold. My neck is tense from driving some 400 miles today. Afro-funk on the radio, my ears buzzing a rhythm from a different time, a different place. We’re propelled into thick darkness, filling the valleys with our deep-seat melodies. We can’t see the hills mounding up and around us on all sides, but we can feel them. The sound touching the landscape and bouncing back, careening onward like a swelling silver river in the night.
We roll over ground, alien to so much earth our feet won’t touch. Do you think the moon likes funk music?
October 7, Idaho
I wonder how it would feel to walk from the west coast to the east. How long would that take? I can only imagine the pain in my knees and the unquenchable thirst I would suffer from. I’d get to smell the air between cities though, and hear the sound of the ground underneath my shoes. No heat or air conditioning or even metal between my body and the weather.
In reality, the thought of all that is both too romantic and too harsh for me. The car feels like a satisfying in-between method of transportation for now, although not the most environmentally friendly. Propelled by gasoline, rubber, and coffee we can cover an average of 400 miles a day while still having extra leisure time to enjoy ourselves.
Every time I take a road trip down to the southwest, I think of Idaho as being an in-between place. A stop on the way that I don’t necessarily care for. I never think about the beautiful iridescent lava fields, the mountains, or the multitudes of perfectly-hot hot springs. Today, At sunset as bugs stain my windshield when they meet their demise, I stare through their delicate splattered bodies, and I enjoy the purple sky for once
October 7th, Craters of the Moon, ID
We are waiting outside the cinder cone, like it’s a crowded rest-stop bathroom, watching cargo-shorts tourists come and go. We beg for a gap in the pale legs and neon-colored, down vests so we can stage our video. But the tourists keep coming and the sunlight keeps going. We pack up our gear and head back to camp, unsuccessful. Why should we be granted the privilege of solitude here? Maybe we haven’t asked the cone the right questions. We’re so eager to make work, but maybe we aren’t listening deep enough.
October 8th, Lund, Nevada
The mountains we’ve been driving toward these last 100 miles are getting bluer. Is the sun setting or are they getting further away? I want to feel my chest cracking open from the pressure of the spaciousness all around us. I stop and buy a 6-pack of beer from a woman at a Chevron who is talking on the phone.
October 9th, Hot Creek, Nevada
Nevada is a lonely but beautiful pastel road.
130 miles from the next town, we pass sloppy graffiti on highway 93 that reads “everything comes at a cost”. In the land of grocery store casinos, roadside brothels, and dry cracked earth, this seems all too fitting.
For a moment, Nevada makes me want to drive 100 miles per hour in a red corvette to gamble away all of my money and time. Maybe I could win a chance at freedom, or fall in love with a one night stand. It also gives me the desire to crawl naked underneath a cottonwood tree on a hot day, and beg for shade. Befriending the ants who scurry over my bare toes instead of recoiling in disgust. And from a safe distance, I could drift off into visions of Las Vegas and the tower of illusion held up so carefully by 24/7 entertainment.
I still don’t really understand though, why such a magnificent distraction had to be built here. The grey-striped flat-topped mountains already look so beautiful against a pink sky. And anyway, I always thought Nevada felt the best driving down an empty road…bathed in the last moments of a cloudy sunset.
October 10, Valley Of Fire, Nevada
What of yourself do you give to the wind?
What of yourself does the wind take?
Is it O.K. to yearn for the layer of yourself that belongs to the next storm?
Is it O.K. to yearn for the layer of yourself that exists beneath so much earth?
I fall down into your chest cracking open
I fall down into your chest cracking open
I bend over backward to feel my chest cracking open
I loosen as I stretch
I come undone
I come undone
I come undone
And you put me in your pocket and carry me home.
The wind that shapes the valley of fire blows through the soft hairs on my exposed skin, throwing fine red sand into my half open eyes. I feel the immense pressure that the rocks must feel, imagining what a million years would do to the shape of my body.
If I walked beneath the afternoon sun for days in search of water would my skin turn dark red, and the soles of my feet feel like the rough and delicate sandstone? And, If I got lost on my journey would anyone find me before my skin shriveled up completely and melted away? Would the wind then shave my bones down slowly into lumps with spiraling ridges, and small crevices for the occasional bit of rain to live in? I hope that they would hold just enough water for a little bird to quench its thirst with, like the hidden pockets in a barren sandstone valley that provide respite for the weary traveler.
Surely, my empty metal water bottle would outlive me. Double insulated to keep its contents at temperature for as long as possible. The only intact and recognizable evidence left behind of my contents. Maybe another lone wanderer would eventually find the sad empty remains and think to themselves “rest in peace purple Hydroflask…I’m sorry you ran out of water so quickly.”
October 11 at Wire Pass, Utah
I’ve been feeling like a voyeur. Unsure in this land unknown to me. Who is this rock I objectify with my touch? What stories are compressed in her layers? I move too fast in my Subaru, with my gasoline and rubber tires. One place today, another land tomorrow. Who am I to this rock right here?
We pull into our campground near the Paria Canyon, and I seek my familiar shapes in these surroundings. All I want is to pause over this ground, to linger with this sand, and to listen to this wind. Instead we unload our things for camp and take off to another slit in another rock. I feel uneasy and rigid, unsure of my footing. But after eight slow miles down a red dirt road, we get out of the car, put on our boots, and follow the wash. I climb down down down into towering red rock, thick with its own language. My body is my home, I say to the rock, but mostly to myself. And then, this earth is a soft blanket. I nuzzle myself into the palm of the sandstone, and I feel held. Can I be here? I keep asking permission. When I squeeze into this place, I think I can only feel compressed. But I don’t, I feel open. The rock, the time, the water left this space open. For me? I’m not sure, but i do pass through.
I’m not a religious person but, I have found my cathedral. It is made from orange sandstone which is stained with long black streaks of desert varnish. You can find this cathedral if you follow a dry rocky river bed on a cloudless day. The doors are open during this hour, and they descend into cold, dark hallways which are just wide enough for my small body to walk through. Here, the sunlight filters in from above through gaps between the massive vertical walls, but rarely does it reach the cool soft sand that makes up the floor where I stand. The walls of this hallway curve like slithering snakes out into a warm open foyer with green shrubs and a few lonely trees who thrive in the afternoon light.
I could pray here, bathing in the light and soaking up the solitude alongside the trees. There are not really any animals inside the cathedral either, except for the occasional snake or tarantula. Sometimes a raven or a crow might also fly over casting a faint shadow from above. It certainly feels like a sacred place, carved out by generations of wind, and rushing water.
The contradiction of this cathedral lays in the feeling that one must not become too comfortable here, for it can also become a hellish place if you find yourself between its walls at the wrong time. A flood may sweep through carrying with it debris from above, and there is no one to call if you find yourself unable to climb back out of the long snaking hallways.
Perhaps to me, it is simply the perfect echo of the fragility of life. And I can feel this place centering my anxious, wandering mind…bringing with it the most basic, and peaceful understanding of being alive. So Instead of closing my eyes as one does when they pray, I open them and I take it all in for as long as I can until it is time to climb back out into the outside world again.
October 12, Paria Canyon, UT
Of this earth to give me and take me. It is some wholly unnameable softness to enter a landscape and feel immediately, intimately held. This canyon feels like a cradle to me, and I am safe. This sense of nurture by nature unlocks a childlike curiosity in me, and I explore these surrounding formations like they have something to tell me. I touch and respond, I sit and listen. I organize the pebbles and climb closer to the sky. Today, it is this undulating white rock–curving mounds of sandstone–that pull at my edges to unravel.
We carry a black volcanic rock from Idaho. We attempt to balance it between our bodies in a bowl of white carved out by water and ice. We pull the black rock to the top of a mound and push it back down. We leave the scattered broken bits of hardened lava here in this pit of pale sand. Far from its source, alien to this landscape (maybe like us?) Maybe like we are a glacier depositing foreign sediment thousands of miles away. There’s a metaphor here, I think, but the large lava rock was also taking up too much room in our car and we needed to leave it behind.
October 14, Mexican Hat, Utah
Mexican Hat is a sleepy village with less than 100 residents. In fact, it feels more like the back of a long forgotten postcard than a real place. We are sleeping in the Valley Of The Gods tonight; a sandstone valley that I’m sure has appeared in the eyes of America mostly via old western movies and television shows. I feel like a cowboy in search of his destiny here, surrounded by tall moonlit buttes and mesas. The three of us form a band underneath my Luci Lights, playing the same song over and over besides a warm fire. I wake up at sunrise the next morning realizing that I drank one too many beers the night before…and still feeling like a cowboy.
October 18, Abiquiu, New Mexico
We found water in the desert,
From the sky and the ground spring.
We followed impressions it left behind.
We found dear friends in New Mexico
Made of skin and bones and sand.
We cupped handfuls of yellow
And poured them over pink.
We climbed towers of white
And lay in a wash of red.
New Mexico land paints her colors onto us
And there must be some long pastel streak
Following us home.
October 19, Near Farmington, New Mexico
We have been in New Mexico for several days now. Santa Fe then Abiquiu. We have reached our final stop, a place I consider too harsh to survive in for very long. Familiar with its remoteness, I am quite surprised to arrive to a parking lot full of RVs. I lie awake at night, staring at my tent’s ceiling, listening to the loud buzzing of generators. I came here for silence, but I have to remind myself of how hard that is to find in the world these days. I remember reading about how dinosaurs once walked through here. Now, this land invites wild horses running together with cattle and groups of hikers wearing tripods on their backs.
In the morning we wait for the sun to warm up the earth before crawling out of the tent. There is a man living in his camper who is asking people to play chess with him, and a German Shepherd running around. Taylor and I start making breakfast and realize a colony of ants has invaded the back of her car, so we throw everything out of the trunk and stomp on them frantically as our water for coffee boils in a copper tea kettle. My hands are cold still, and the wind burns my face so badly over the course of the afternoon that my eyes are red for the next two days.
Things are not easy out here, and my body cries out for shelter while we explore the ancient hoodoos and bones scattered about in every direction. I get the feeling though that if it were any easier, this fragile place wouldn’t still be here. Two nights here is enough for the cold fall weather, but I promise to be back as soon as my life allows me. Taylor and I are exhausted as we say goodbye to our other traveling companions. We are feeling defeated by the weather and resign to stay in motels with electricity and continental breakfasts for our journey home.