The River Road, Part Two

Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout, Yellowstone River (photo credit: FishEyeGuy)

Yellowstone River

I learned this interesting fact as I started doing research for my trip to Yellowstone National Park: The Yellowstone River is the only river in the contiguous United States that is not damned. The 692-miles long river rises in Wyoming on the Continental Divide, flows through Yellowstone  National Park, runs northwards into Montana and finally flows into the Missouri River near Buford, North Dakota.

The River, a tributary of the Missouri, is known for its trout fishing. One of its forks was a favorite fishing spot of author, Ernest Hemingway. In 2011, an oil pipeline belonging to ExxonMobile ruptured in the river. Only with the passing of time will we understand the extent of the damage. No matter where in the world we are, we seem to manage to despoil our rivers.

Hudson River

Unlike the Yellowstone River which I only recently started learning about, I am quite familiar with the Hudson River. The Hudson was the site of many environmental studies and environmental activism during many of the years that I lived in New York. Along with the Long Island Sound, the river had been under severe stress. The details below are an apt description of the Hudson of the 1970s and ’80s, and perhaps, of the ’90s too:

“New York City was dumping 1.5 billion gallons per day of raw sewage into the River, the paint from Tarrytown’s GM plant dyed the River a new color each week, the Indian Point power plant was killing millions of fish each day, the National Guard was filling tidal wetlands at Camp Smith, and Penn Central Railroad was discharging oil from a pipe at the Croton Rail Yard. The oil floated up the Croton on the tide, blackening the beaches and making the shad taste of diesel.”

Man, business and government were killing the river. Today the Hudson has rebounded, thanks in part to a Riverkeeper boat that patrols the river in an effort to protect it from environmental lawbreakers. But other problems like the introduction of non-native invasive species (example, water chestnut and zebra mussels) have altered and impacted the aquatic animal populations. What will the river look like in ten years, fifty years, from now?

The Mississippi River on Exhibit

If you ever read the adventures of Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn, you will recall that one of the biggest stars in both books is the Mississippi River. Just like the Morant and Yallhas Rivers in Jamaica (See The River Road, Part One), the Mississippi held a special place in my childhood fantasies.  I read and re-read Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn and pretended that my local river was the Mississippi upon which steamboats ran and adventures were to be had. Now my old friend is on view at Stanford University’s Cantor Museum.

Tom and Huck rafting on the Mississippi
Tom and Huck rafting on the Mississippi

In an exhibition that runs until June 2013, photographer, Richard Misrach brings the Mississippi River to life in a way that is far different from Mark Twain’s version of it. Though invisible in some of the photographs, the river is still very much a presence in each of the twenty-one images. The larger than life scale of the photographs (each is about five or six feet high), makes it unlikely that the viewer will soon forget the subject matter. The title of the show? “Revisiting the South: Cancer Alley.”

Cancer Alley is an eighty-five mile stretch of the Mississippi River, from Baton Rouge through to New Orleans. There are innumerable industrial plants there. All are drawn to the region because of favorable taxation policies. The first photograph that the visitor encounters upon entering the gallery is to the immediate right. The photograph is striking for two reasons: First, there is an ethereal light beyond which the viewer cannot see and so, cannot imagine what it is that the woman in the photograph is looking at. The second striking thing about the photograph is that the lady doesn’t seem to belong inside this house. Is she standing in a museum looking outwards? Is she the owner of the house or merely a visitor? As you move closer to the photograph you learn from the wall tag that she is a tour guide. The plaque reads, “Tour Guide, Nottoway Plantation, White Castle, Louisiana, 1998.”

Today’s Nottoway is a tourist destination. In yesteryears, it was a slave plantation. Not so long ago, this woman would have been a slave in this place. She may have been in the fields or she may have been in the house but either way, she wouldn’t have had time to stand around, looking out windows.

cancer alley
Tour Guide, Nottoway Plantation, White Castle, Louisiana, negative 1998 (photo credit: Richard Misrach)

This show makes me Jim, the runaway slave (in Huck Finn) kind of sad.  Today there is destruction of communities, the river and the environment. The entire show is dressed in poverty, destruction and degradation. In Huck Finn there was hope — hope that Jim would be free, hope that he wouldn’t get sold down river, hope that he and Huck would remain on the island in the river, happy and undetected. If you read the book as a child, you know all about hoping, hoping, hoping, against all odds. Today, after viewing the show, I hope that the:

  • Mississippi River, poisoned and polluted as it is, will make a comeback
  • people, like the woman in the photograph, will be able to continue living there
  • petro-chemical factories that pollute the area be forced to stop degrading the environment and everything connected to the River (including the nearby communities)
  • cancer rates in the area will subside/lessen

As is the case of the pollution of the Yellowstone River, only with time, will one have answers to these questions.

References:

http://museum.stanford.edu/news_room/misrach.html

http://www.paloaltoonline.com/weekly/story.php?story_id=18694

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Ye Olde Arab Fling

Crawling out of the same old womb

they headed their separate ways

he, a seeker of fortunes,

she an itinerant with no place of her own

unlikeliest of pairs.

Magpie and dusky footed rolled into one,

he lined his world with trinkets, baubles,

blood red garnets, platinum, aluminum, bauxite,

until several of his houses, filled to the hilt,

exploded into a dizzying array of colors.

Blues of the bluest blues

floated along on the wind

radiating skyward, outwards.

She, his other half,

hungered for some safe place

folding inward

on gossamer wings

shining, iridescent

reminiscent of youthful treasures

like the barrette she’d been given

to contain her hair

on the cusp of dawn.

A slight wisp of a silver clip,

special even after it had lost its luster,

the glistening paper-like synthetic slowly peeling off

to reveal the transience of her gift,

adhesive and plastic,

glued onto a shiny metal base,

the cheapest of alloys,

tin really,

sparkling randomly,

releasing prisms into the air

raining diamonds

alongside shadows

upon the land.

Elusive, no two the same

never again seen

yet continuous in places

long discounted:

South America, the Caribbean,

Asia, Eastern Europe,

and now, today

this Arabic spring.

*****                    *****                    *****

One of the Four Rs & Into Cow Pastures We SailedYesterday I came across the old video in the link below. Although it presents some  of my ideas of what travel and tourism ought to be about – grassroots, local and community-based – it caused me to re-examine the idea, taken so lightly in the video: “Once these wheels were turned by slaves.”

Enjoy the people and the place as you watch the video. Make a toast to great rum everywhere. Most importantly, pay homage to the genesis and evolution of rum in Jamaica and the rest of the “New World.” My doing so resulted in the poem, Ye Olde Arab Fling.

http://www.bing.com/videos/watch/video/jamaica/17wz1p937?cpkey=67be0d62-10c0-4650-b540-910a25bb467e%257c%257c%257c%257

 

Into Cow Pastures We Sailed (A Jamaican Tale)

2012-12-30 10.05.33
St. Thomas Cow Pasture

Long before the bobsled team ever was

my sister and I

slid down mountain slopes

past yellow beaked sentinels

stalking about

on their spectacularly long legs.

Into cow pastures we sailed

on our flattened cardboard boxes

stopping only when faced

with the asses of cows.

Momentarily happy

we scrambled  to our feet, giggling,

delighted we were wise not to

aim for barbed wire fences

fronting ancestral cemeteries

with their pale Jamaican ghosts

***                ***          ****

Some information about the parish of St. Thomas (Jamaica) where this story takes place can be found here:

http://thesourcefarm.com/about/st-thomas-jamaica

Just a Simple Bacon and Egg Sandwich, Please!

Not on the Menu

Since I got here/I’ve been chasing/the elusive/some say unattainable/bacon and egg/on a roll./Saturday morning at Davenport’s Cash Store/breakfast burritos/but no bacon and egg sandwiches/none whatsoever.

6 - lilies
winter lillies, davenport

Bay Area, I love you, but why can’t you just do this one thing for me? Why can’t you serve me a simple bacon egg (and cheese) on a roll? I’m willing to take any old roll. I will forgo the ubiquitous sesame seed rolls of my New York years. I will. Davenport Cash Store, your house coffee is excellent but why couldn’t you make me a bacon and egg sandwich? You offered me breakfast burritos instead. If breakfast is over, how come you are still serving breakfast burritos, huh? HUH?

Ano Nuevo

This Friday at Ano Nuevo  was amazing. There were some great big elephant seal bulls along the paths. Oh they were corpulent, rotund, big. Such fat blubbery beauties!  There were also many newborns nursing down by the beach. As of Friday (1/18/13), the count of elephant seals at Ano Nuevo was 1,086 females, plus 575 pups and 258 males. Oh what squeals and yips and bellowing took place. It was a veritable wildlife adventure.

Davenport

Saturday I went exploring around Davenport, a small town near Ano Nuevo. Its Cash Store is a great place for coffee and it has the best pico de gallo I’ve had in the Bay Area. If you are passing through town on a Saturday night, stop in and see one of their shows. Last Saturday night a local group, Esoteric Collective, was the highlight of the evening.

1 -old jail
Jail Museum

Around the corner from The Cash Store is the Davenport Jail Museum. Although its Web site stated that it was open weekends from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., it was padlocked when I showed up around 1:00 p.m. It never opened that day.

Some things to do in Davenport are:

  • Hike the beach and cliff trails along Highway One
  • Check out the art in the Davenport Gallery (address 450 Highway One) which is next door to The Cash Store
  • Walk around the town (this takes all of ten minutes!) and visit the St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, at the end of Davenport Avenue. It and the old jail/museum are Spanish/Mexican-styled architecture and are the two oldest structures in the town. The church was built in 1915, the jail, in 1914.

The Davenport Cement Plant (Cemex) sits at the edge of town. Just like the cement factory in Jamaica, it is located near the water; that cannot be good for the environment.

Information on Davenport’s early history can be accessed at http://scplweb.santacruzpl.org/history/places/daven.shtml

2 -church
Church with its Mexican-style architecture from the front
5 -church
Side-view of the church, with a very New England style of architecture
12 -cement factory
cement factory

Across the tracks are some beautiful hiking trails. I couldn’t help but photograph the following bit of train track as I made my way to the bluffs above the beach.

9 -train track
graffiti speaks for itself
11 -beachcombing
beach combing along davenport beach
13 -davenport, looking towards big sur
marine terrace, view looking out towards big sur

Stupid NASA, Earth and Nature

Capture
credit: NASA

A friend sent me NASA’s earth art book and immediately, I started scribbling down place names for no other reasons than these: They are arresting names; and I wonder what goes on there. What do these places look like up close? Who lives there and how do they live in and treat these places and spaces? Are there open spaces for me to go wandering about in and exploring?

Ever since I arrived in the Bay Area, I have a renewed appreciation for open spaces that I have not felt since my childhood and my later adult sojurn in Jamaica. Just as importantly, this appreciation informs and colors my art. When I looked at the NASA pictures I thought once again, how cheeky, trying to create something, anything, when nature has already done it and done it so well. Here I am, getting ready to re-work my “the vees in picasso” sketches that I did last spring. I know not where the inspiration came from nor why it came from those particular sketches. All I know is I have a clear vision and I am going to move it from inside my head and out onto my canvas. But damned if one of the NASA shots isn’t an almost exact replica of what is in my mind’s eye!  Even the coloration and texture (hence the use of modeling clay on the canvas) are the same as what I envisioned.

I just got through experimenting with a light modeling clay and a golden bronze acrylic paint that I have been reluctant to use. The experiment was tedious and it took me a long time to master that paint. I tried working with this bronze before and it hadn’t been tactile. In fact, the wretched thing was and still is, a very heavy paint. It does not rest easily on the canvas. This is the same paint that I worked with in the “David at Yosemite” painting. Turns out this paint is truly a bitch to work with and not simply because the David painting was a difficult subject.

I finally finished this new experiment in bronze painting. It has turned into a painting called, Little Fairy Castles in the Cow Pasture (or Childhood at Belvedere Estate). When I finished it I thought, “That was really difficult but I’m ready to work on my “vee” painting. Now along comes NASA with its “Earth-observing environmental satellites in orbit around the planet”, to show me that it has already been done! They have all conspired to outdo me, NASA, Earth, Nature and those dim-witted satellites that never did anything except spin about in the skies. They never lifted paintbrushes nor tried to coax heavy bronze paint onto canvas! Adding to my chagrin, the NASA picture, shown at the top of this post, is of the desert outside of the United States that I have my eyes on. Yes, it is of the Namib area that I wrote about in an earlier article, the same Namib desert that I invited my Yosemite painting man to visit with me so we could photograph, paint and sand-board there. Sand-boarding and sand-sledding in Swakopmund, Namibia, was another of our Urban Daddy Magazine discoveries. But that is another story.

Here now are some of the place names from NASA’s earth as art book that stirred my imagination:

  • Painted Desert, USA
  • Desolation Canyon, USA
  • Lake Disappointment, Australia (childhood fairy tales and river myths come to mind)
  • Parana River Delta, Argentina (this conjures up images of piranha fish)
  • Anti-Atlas Mountains, Morocco (what does it even mean to be “anti” in a place name?)
  • Carbonate Sand Dunes, Atlantic Ocean (how do you even have dunes in the ocean??)
  • Ribbon Lakes, Russia

The following are not place names but oh, the conjuring up my mind does just thinking of these titles: gravity waves, ice waves, phytoplankton bloom, and Wadi Branches, Jordan (is this a geographical feature or a place-name?).

Oh, stupid NASA Earth as Art book can be accessed here: http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/703154main_earth_art-ebook.pdf and the artworks mentioned in this article are shown below.

Happy New Year and see you in 2013!

At Yosemite (mixed media, 2011)
At Yosemite (mixed media, 2011)
2012-12-29 12.44.20
early version of Belvedere painting
2012-12-30 10.05.33
final Belvedere painting
Remembering the "Vs" i (at the de Young)
Remembering the “Vs”, i (at the de Young)

Women and Their Losses

me about to kiss you -3.5.2011

He Has Forgotten

He puts his head to her stomach

her fifty-four year old stomach

and thinks,

“She carried three children here.”

While en route to hospital

she miscarried.

The fourth,

a girl,

he has forgotten.

*****                                               *****                                               *****

For Julie

I look for you

in the forests

the lakes

all along the shore

My spirit aches

for just one glimpse

on my easel now

but you are no longer here

My Very Trippy List

photo 1 (2)
Young elephant seal, photo by Coastside State Parks Assn., 2012

I will be out working with the seals all this weekend so I’m getting this week’s post in early. Sorry to throw you off with my early schedule.

So, back in May I stumbled across those crazy lost and found emails, remember? Thanks to them, I started thinking about my creative side and how that part of my life was being lost or shelved. In those emails I found I had done all this writing and photography and paintings – I created much more than I realized! What’s more, if I could do all that while having fun, how much more could I do if I set goals and got serious about my writing and my art?

So, here then, is the list of goals I set to help me focus on my creative side/work. If you are wondering about the inclusion of trips to national and state parks, don’t! Some (okay, maybe all) of my earlier posts relate in one way or another to nature and the outdoors. They feed my creative side and make me happy too. No wonder I’m so creative here in the Bay Area. It turns out that I have a new old muse. Hello Nature girl.

Creative writing

*Write a short play (done)

Submit said play to x competition (done and done)

*Work on poetry (done)

Submit poems to program xx (done)

Submit poems to program y (still working on it!)

Await outcome (I won’t have the results until April; am crossing my fingers and my toes!)

*Start a blog (done)

Maintain said blog and complete one post each week (done and done!)

Visual Arts: paint, paint paint!

*Painting/drawing/collages

Take a painting class or workshop (done!)

Create at least three pieces I am totally happy with (done!)

spectre
my best and favorite painting for the year

*Photography

Buy a good digital camera (done)

Learn to use and master said camera (still working on it!)

Blend writing and visual arts into creative pieces (done and done!)

Visit and overnight at one state or national park (done and done)

*Yosemite (done)

*Sequoia (done and done)

AND in 2013:

*Enter at least one art piece (a painting) into a local and a national competition

*Try to stop destroying writing and artwork that I’m not totally satisfied with (this is a work in progress)

*Enroll in a workshop at the Crucible or take a drawing class (hope I have enough money for this!)

*Visit and overnight at a state or national park outside of California (Yellowstone or Grand Canyon) and/or visit Picasso’s, Guernica, in Madrid museum (hope I have enough money for this too!)

Thank you for hanging with me. Next week I’ll give you my Jamaican Christmas cake recipe. I’ve been busy these past few nights making cakes for family, friends and co-workers. Let the festivities begin!

2,000+ Year Old Trees and Such, Oh My!

Some of earth’s largest trees are here in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Sequoia, the nation’s second national park, was established in 1890. The largest of the large trees in these two parks is the General Sherman, a giant sequoia that stands 274 feet tall with a base diameter of 36.5 feet. The shot to my left is my favorite photograph from my walk among the big trees. These trees look as if they are marching right along with me. No, that is not the General Sherman.

A Park is Born

As late as the 1860s, people came from all around to chop down the big trees in the Sierras for lumber. Thanks to John Muir’s nature writing and newspaperman George Stewart’s editorial comments, public opinion led to the formation of Sequoia National Park a few decades later. Today, there are a number of trails leading park visitors to the few isolated groves of sequoias that remain in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Some of these trees are said to be over 3,000 years old!

Mountain yellow-legged frog, courtesy/Adam Backlin, USGS

Endangered Species

Although the sequoias are not an endangered specie, other plants and animals in the park are. The mountain yellow-legged frog, the highest-dwelling amphibian in the United States, is one such creature. It lives along the headwaters of the Kaweah River in Sequoia National Park and hibernates nine to ten months of the year. Its numbers have collapsed by about ninety percent. For more information on this once-abundant frog, read John Upton’s 2012 Bay Area Citizen Wildlife Magazine article at http://www.baycitizen.org/wildlife/story/once-abundant-frog-may-deemed-endangered/

Of Beetles and Rocks

photo courtesy of MCZ Type Database @ Harvard Entomology

Trachykele opulenta Fall, a bore beetle, may or may not be threatened. It was discovered at Beetle Rock in Sequoia National Park around 1906. Because these beetles live in tree tops during their flight period, they are seldom seen. Their status has not been evaluated.

The photograph above is of an adult Trachykele opulenta Fall. This particular specimen was collected from Beetle Rock in 1906. It is part of Harvard University’s H.C. Fall Collection. If you go to Sequoia National Park, visit Beetle Rock. Maybe you’ll spot one of these creatures. I didn’t, but lying on this mass of granite enjoying the sun and views was enervating. When you visit Beetle Rock also go see The Sentinel tree, a 2,200 year old sequoia  that is just a stone’s throw away from the rock. Of course, don’t forget to go see the rest of the mighty giants in the Giant Forest.

Below are photos of:

  • Beetle Rock where Trachykele opulenta Fall was discovered around 1906, and
  • two of the mighty trees, the Sentinel and the General Sherman.
beetle rock, i
2,200 year old Sentinel Tree
General Sherman Tree, older than the Sentinel Tree(?)

Crystal Cave

About a forty-minute drive from our lodge (Wuksachi Lodge) is the marble karst Crystal Cave. Temperatures in the cave remain constant at about 58 degrees year round so there is no need to worry that it will be too hot or cold when you visit. A lightweight jacket is sufficient to keep you warm.

Crystal Cave consists of several large rooms with the most intricate designs. The patterns on the walls and ceilings will most certainly turn up in my paintings. The marble, the shiny crystal-like sparkles within the karst, the patterns that remind me of brain coral, all are incredibly beautiful. Look closely at the photographs below and see if you see any of the figures I saw in the formations.

Details to note
  • There is a half mile walk down to the cave. (Give yourself plenty of time to stop and enjoy the waterfall on your way down.)
  • Crystal Cave is open from mid-May through November.
  • Tours last around 45 minutes and tickets sell out fast. You must purchase your tickets in advance. (We bought ours at the Lodgepole ticket office.)
  • The last tour of the day is at 4:00 p.m.
  • Tours cost $13. (There is a candlelight tour that costs a few dollars more. These are offered from the end of June until mid-August.)

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