HUNTER~GATHERERS


Gene Roddenberry:
“Jump off the cliff first then grow the wings.”

HUNTER~GATHERERS

I quote an actor, sailor and explorer here, from his autobiography:

(On the road, Summertime, 1977)
“I have long been both dismayed and astonished by the disparity that exists between the world known in the dreams of youth and the world we find ourselves faced with…..They never taught wandering in any school I attended….Or that of writing a book. It’s all so mysterious and~~yes~~enchanting….the free-swinging, far-rolling time when, however rough the going you have the feeling: “Fuck it! I wouldn’t swap places with anyone else for anything on this earth.”

…Sterling Hayden. From his book: Wanderer

——————————————————————————–

He was one sort of big game hunter. The quarry? Robust life itself.

About hunting and hunters of animals? I don’t know your opinion of hunting animals of course. I find that I have apparently mixed pro and con in me, which I’m not sure I knew before writing this.

For instance, up until the age of ten I thought it fine to have a raccoon cap, though I surely did not literally (nor mentally) make the bloody pass from kill-and-skin to look like Davy Crockett when I wanted one to show me off in town or playground. Likewise it did not register in me that in order to get a handsome fringed buckskin shirt like Buffalo Bob (Howdy Doody’s best friend) or a suede frock like Princess SummerFallWinterSpring I’d have to bring down and skin a buck, shear off meat and bone, and sew the garment up.

Around that time my mother owned a fox stole in which two tails met somehow at the back and two fox heads met across her breasts. A furrier’s sewed-in metal jaw allowed for attaching one to the other. On some part. I’m not sure about the protocol. Such pathetically displayed foxes were certainly big middle class chic of the 1940’s and ’50’s. I don’t remember any moral repulsion in me, though I thought it vulgar and sad. I did not covet it. I did not pet it. I did not secretly try it on.

I was around nine years old being instructed on how to traverse the rapids of the Mississippi River in a canoe on an exciting voyage of two weeks. Alongside the mighty river on our second night out I watched fascinated (with the other five children) as our counsellor (by campfire) identified, ordered us safe distance from, then caught a deadlyImage result for COTTONMOUTH SNAKES Cottonmouth snake who’d set up camp before we had. She brilliantly trapped it behind its jaws with a forked stick (which she grabbed out of thin air a second after spotting the Cottonmouth) killed it with one swift sure knife swipe (drawn from her hip sheath), instructed us Missouri younguns about the placement of its organs, how to clean it, and before we reached home she wore it, having sewn it around her leather belt. I found it bloody marvelous. Thrilling.

I have eaten wild game caught and prepared by friends. I have not once (yet) in my life had to depend on hunting wild animals in order to eat in order to live. Though I’ve had some barren pantry stretches where I wish I’d known how to make that work.

I can catch little to medium fish, even large Atlantic Bluefish. And more common crab, catfish and trout. But I am not a true skilled hunter. Nor would I trust my survival skills in discovering the edible among a mushroom cluster beneath the mighty Sequoia, or coming face to face with the delightful fruit of an unfamiliar berry patch and being wise. Not even if distracted by ephemeral fields of seductive wildflowers.

So I am somewhat surprised that for the past few months I’ve grown fascinated by a group of people whose lives in the early part of the last century seem to have crossed brief or long, who learned the ways of desolate places, did depend on wild caught game, part for sustenance or earning a living or part for pleasure of the kill. In fact a number of them made a living out of leading expeditions through savage and spectacular landscapes for the restive wealthy. Every one of them interested in seeing how they might react if threatened with a horrible demise, yet surviving. Hunting as a way to test reflex and endurance and the heart’s strength.

I’m suspending judgement for the moment.  It seems to me if I go gathering a reflection of those various lives, they had developed an emotional dependence on feral experiences; on lives lifted slightly off the ground; on nights uncommonly wet or cold or days deep or high or dawn that came at them hot or dry and bloody.

Hemingway was there too, though peripheral to this particular lot. Most all of them wrote books that were, driven by empirical experience, hard to resist.
These were European, royalty:
Image result for saint exuperyANTOINE de SAINT EXUPERY ~~of a centuries-old French family. A bad student and school drop-out, he became an explorer-pilot extraordinaire adored by his country and then the world; he wrote marvelous books about being in the cockpit of the early aeroplane, spanning a clouded night sky across the dangerous Pyrenees then over endless Sahara to the civilized lights of Casablanca or Paris in honored mail-runs. French pilots, whose plane engines frequently dropped out of their planes and fell to earth, and (if they survived the landing, and if tracked by Bedouin) were captured and kept as slaves. Saint Exupery wrote about a child who lived on a far off planet with a petulant rose, sheep and volcanos (Le Petit Prince). At the age of 44 Saint Exupery was blindsided by fog-enshrouded White Cliffs of Dover on a wartime spy mission. He crashed then dropped into the sea, undiscovered until 2012.

  BERYL MARKHAM  Image result for beryl markham was two or three years old when her British father, C.B. Clutterbuck, who loved all animals, moved his family to Kenya to expand his career to Africa and set up stables to breed, train and race horses. Beryl’s mother went back to civilization less than a year later without her child. The father stayed and got famous, taught Beryl well about tame and wild things; the native children were her jungle companions, she learned to hunt with a spear, was gored by a lion, trained and raced horses, and led a life of the most stunning independence imaginable. The six foot tall, glamorous athletic blue eyed blond fell in love with airplanes and set unique flying records and wrote one fabulous book about her doings which is poetically beautiful and stirring to the core.

The gutsy Dane, adventuress and writer KAREN BLIXEN also led me into delicious far off places. I’ve loved my hitchhike on her magic forays to the fantastic (nom de plume Isak Denisen): the spartan human kindness of Babette’s Feast; the expansive Out of Africa; the curious Seven Gothic Tales. As well as her fascinating husband, lovers, movies, articles, and through casual reference to her fellows on similar trails in the three or four decades from 1900 next on. She wed an amiable royal cousin Baron Bror von Blixen for his title and her chance for an extraordinary life. They were in their early 20’s when they moved to Africa on her money to explore, to hunt, to farm. Along with sharing the most rare sort of life in unequaled landscapes under endlessly clarion skies, providing themselves an opportunity otherwise impossible in rigid Scandinavian society, and a chance for Karen’s ingenuity and courage to bloom large, Bror soon abandoned her (and their farm) for big game, lengthy safaris, short wars, and other women. He also infected Karen with syphilis, gotten from his casual romps with native Kenyan women. The Baroness never recovered in full from the toxic, devastating cure of the venereal disease, though she never stopped loving or admiring Bror. Indeed, though the alliance was unexpectedly costly she swore she never regretted it. She outlived him by 17 years; he tragically died at 60 from a car accident in Sweden~1946; she said she missed him til the day she died.

   DENYS FINCH HATTON ~~the swashbuckling son of an Earl; his mother~~daughter of the Admiral of the Fleet Sir Henry Codrington. He was schooled at Eton and Oxford, Captain of Cricket Eleven, President of the Music Society. In 1910 Finch Hatton traveled to South Africa where, on the west side of the Great Rift Valley he bought acreage–then gave it up to a partner to manage. Denys Finch Hatton went hunting. In Kenya he was close friends to European royalty including the Honorable Berkely Cole, aristocrat, brother-in-law to Baron Delamere who ran the Kenyan white colony. Denys Finch-Hatton and Karen Blixen fell in love. After she separated from Bror, Finch-Hatton moved in with her on the coffee plantation she’d built and continued to work for its success. Denys took the Baroness on her first flight. He also taught neighboring Beryl Markham to fly a plane, brought her along on his safaris, and shared her love of Africa. Karen Blixen returned to Denmark. Markham eventually flew herd-spotting flights for Bror Blixen’s safaris; they had become close and admired each other’s unique skills with wildlife, shooting, safari organizing, and flying.

I’ve read their own words, biographies about them, their autobiographical notes on each other. I invite you to drink at this deep remarkable well of human experience. It will boost your imagination, your spirit, and your courage as it has mine. I’m not sure the order of introduction matters; leap in anywhere.

It’s BROR VON BLIXEN’s autobiography, African Hunter, [​IMG]that I’m reading now and that after already liking him a whole lot as portrayed in the movie Out of Africa by Klaus Maria Brandauer I confess to adoring the fellow again, only 100 pages into his book. Von Blixen came from a royal shooting and hunting culture in Sweden, thought of as a birthright, and a means of testing the mind’s cunning, physical skill, and durability. He prefered at least a stand-off. The animals obviously were not armed with guns. But the bullets fired (or misfired) did not always hit a mortal target yet wild prey were armed indeed with claw and tooth and athletic endurance. Baron Bror von Blixen never freed himself of severe malaria gotten from Africa, the bouts lasting his whole life never killed him. He reportedly withstood sickness and injury with an enviable constitution. Markham reported that Blixen dropped in place on the safari trail one day from malaria, unable to get back on his feet for 24 hours of convulsive fever after which he stood up and continued on his mission. He had numerous close calls with death brought on by furied elephants, vicious buffalo, violent boar, hippo, rhino, and self-respecting lions. Bror was generally loved and admired by men and women for his wit, deep friendships, good heart, and lust for adventure at any expense. Bror Blixen fell head over heels in love with Africa. He had come from a wealthy, titled family but turned from them and at 25 years old, headed (with Karen and on her money) into the dark continent to use the shooting skills, bravado, and determination cultivated by the aristocratic Swedes who had born and raised him. The irony of his death, a man who lived so dangerously stopped by an automobile in town, stunned his friends.

In 1928 the Prince of Wales first found Bror and Karen in Arusha en route to Nairobi, and ordered up a lion hunt. They developed a friendship and a common new interest in photographic and movie safaris. Bror later said getting a wild beast to come nose to nose with a camera you were holding was no less heroic than standing your ground with a gun.

Through their own writing you will not fail to see that side of any of these characters as blood-thirsty; self-involved; even sadistic. But you also need your imagination picturing the life which is a hard translate into our present day 21st Century, cosmopolitan world. They killed lions and elephants when possible, leaving the younger, lighter-weight tusked elephants and rhinos (under 100 lbs) for a later day. There were menacing man-eating lions near villages, happily hunted down and killed to stop the human slaughter, in one case over 60 residents. There was skinning the bounty to send off as trophies to delighted and grateful European nobility. And the especially handsome monetary reward of feeding the Asian aphrodisiac market for horn and tusk. They organized horseback hunting, men racing in full gallop across the Serengeti, across rocky plains after buffalo and lion (animals good in spurts but not endurance) and the speed, the roughly cratered ground, the salt sweat and saliva burst up from their horses as they hung tightly with their thighs and arms, being swatted by the odors of the trapped prey, and becoming the conquerors, hunting for murder and finding it and feeling lively from it.

It’s there for sure, no good pretending otherwise. There are other ways they could have felt life. I am not of that time or world, and excuse my slipping off it’s previously important cause to me now, because it is incidental to what draws me to them. I no longer care about the hunting. The more I read I also find them honorable and compassionate. And I need more of the other stuff of them. There were explorers like Thor Heyerdahl who did not seek to draw blood and I loved him first.

What draws me to them is this: I read each one’s story with their inclusion of bristling, chilling, dangerous discomfort. Tracking through unforgiving jungles past herds and packs of man-killers. Getting lost with no saving equipment or supplies. Making an airplane runway by hand out of dense thorny thicket in the hope of being spotted, found and saved. Crash landing their primitive planes on savage turf and only oneself to rely on, then finding a way to safety with a broken, bloodied body, and disoriented mind. Lost at sea and having only hope on which to ride safe to shore, which is somewhere, that way, maybe. Of weeks unending spent under roughest circumstances, without bathing, enough food, or water. Or out for weeks, then camping with companions, killing and staging animals for bait, preparing and eating rough cooked meat, and the jungle life altogether.

Well, read and picture it because you will not see it exactly spelled out on biographical pages, or often see an actor or actress spotted with blood, rarely looking anything less than laundered, starched and pressed. But these are the men and women who would skin a lion in the wild places, spot where they were shot to ground. Or would uproot the tusks from newly dead flesh with knife and chisel out of massive still hot-with-life creatures weighing thousands of pounds just shot between the eyes or in ear or into mouth. They got not just dusty but bloodied, the kind of detail of this particular breed of persons we might get to know more with the full picture. Karen Blixen I am guessing was a tough, imaginative, violent little broad more than the tidy, plucky cream-puff she has been played and Africa brought out the savage waiting in her, released it. I want to know her better, that aspect of her for what it might teach me. I did not think I knew her, nor any of them, not real knowing. Unless you imagine all the particulars of a life you can’t.

Or unless you live it too, in some way.

Nonetheless, it is a fascinating period seldom celebrated so much as it may deserve. I believe these lives were overshadowed by near biblical events, the dreadful horrors of WWI (1914-1918), the Russian Revolution of 1918, the Stock Market Crash (1929) and the Depression (1929-1939). History so carefully recorded disaster, not superficially or falsely, but through all that sordid angst and despair and death we fail to cast equal light on the swift and stunning growth of mankind’s freedom as the roads and skies were opened wide and conquered, lives of striking adventures were lived and written up by men and women. This makes me curious. And I suspect along with seeing the gore we need to see, to cherish, to honor, to cleave to, and search out the excitement of being alive.

The stupendous birth of flight was 112 years ago~1903~Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Thank you Wilbur and Orville Wright for your perseverance and sacrifice. You both nearly died trying to be airborne as others similarly experimenting did die. You gave the substance to human dreams of flight since the dawn of time.

Then there is also this:
Antoine de Saint-Exupery: Night Flight ~ 1932,
Beryl Markham: West With the Night ~ 1934
Baroness Karen von Blixen: Out of Africa ~ 1937
Baron Bror von Blixen: African Hunter ~ 1938
Antoine de Saint-Exupery: Wind, Sand and Stars ~ 1939
Consuelo de Saint-Exupery: The Tale of the Rose ~ c.1940’s (An autobiography of their life together, by the wife of Antoinne; posthumously published in 2000; it was discovered 2 decades after her 1979 death; written in the ’40’s and hidden away by her.)

For good measure (both of which you must read):
Jack London: Valley of the Moon ~ 1913
and half a century later:
Sterling Hayden: Wanderer ~ 1963

There are of course so many more. The Europeans were typically aristocrats, the Americans were not. And such a defining and oft forgotten boon to human beings is that America was uniquely, singularly, originally to the human condition and experience….classless. It’s what’s meant by American exceptionalism. It still exists despite detracting arguments to the contrary. It cannot be said or examined or celebrated enough. You do not need credentials to become anything under the sun. Europeans, indeed all other cultures on the planet were restricted by birthplace, heredity, education, accents….all unflexible. We didn’t like it and we sailed west.

But this interesting mix, it so pleases me to discover and re-discover these unusual women and men who took off into places brightly lit and dark as pitch to better understand themselves, the times and places and planet they live on, and have~~at the very least~~one hell of a romp in the process.

On a numberless page in the start of Wanderer, American actor Sterling Hayden dedicates his book to his wife. He writes:
To Catherine Devine Hayden
Who had the heart
To join with me
And plunge
Into the Abyss
Where books like this are written
Thanks, Sterling Hayden. And those who came before you and after and the breadcrumbs you all left along the path

for the rest of us. Yum.

 

Copy of Copy of DSCF2378

TO LIVE and DIE FOR DOWNTOWN


MISSING CIVILIZATION. OR MAYBE NOT.
To Live and Die For
LA, NY, SF, LONDON, PARIS, ROME, ETC

Recently a close friend, exhibiting a combination of harumph and tender concern, turned critic on me. Not the first acquaintance to note that I live somewhat isolated either, which was her complaint. And furthermore, that my insistence on doing so is to live dangerously. It was said with sympathy; a pinch of pathos underneath. She is a kind woman who encourages my endeavors generally.

She and her husband are retired teachers, scholars still living in their college town near the roosts they once ruled with considerable prestige. They remain honored by and involved in student and instructor life covering a broad span of age groups, associations with fellow educators of every stripe, and community doings. It suits them perfectly. I would never dissuade either husband or wife from their choice. But anyone knowing me would swoon at our obvious differences. My friend just supposes a woman living quietly alone (whose social life is fulfilled by traversing Safeway’s aisles three times a week) might be pitiful. From her point of view, of course.

Well, she had handed me that “you are isolated” observation about a week ago, despite knowing me. And though I have not spent much of my time on earth living my life to either mollify or impress people, what my friend said remained echoing in my head as a sort of curiosity to me, not yet entirely dismissed. Therefore I leapt to her theory when I awoke this morning to the sound of talk broadcasting up the coast from Los Angeles. It emanated from the radio I have on most all night next to my pillow. All the pretty things around me, my paintings filling my walls, shone back into my eyes in the barely pale blue moonlit air but would not block the talking man.

Not once identified by call letters or geographically telling adverts I couldn’t miss the home base: glossy Hollywood. A world I don’t notice much. This was a stunning reminder of why. Floating into my consciousness the unknown man’s voice saying (in a morning-drive-time-guy’s easy banter):

                                                ”So, we have an Iranian trainer, a woman, Jane and me, we both have this Iranian trainer, we share her, and she can really kick ass, she could kick your ass, and she has a really thick REALLY thick accent and barely speaks English so I’m teaching her I give her English words, I tell her go easy on me with workouts because            I AM A PANTYWAIST and I AM A WUSS.
So now that’s all she calls me:
‘Hi, Pantywaist, Hello Wuss.’ “

Then he dove into Los Angeles news: a wretched man living in a tent on Skid Row lost his contest with a policeman over the officer’s gun and got shot dead. Then the story of the young high school photography teacher everyone loved who hung herself in her classroom so at the start of school today her treasured students found her corpse.

It was still dark out. I’d heard that news through the night along with abundant theories. I heard the talk of Netanyahu coming to make the case for his country inside the indifferent heart of America’s political hive, and all the radio hosts and caller notions about it. I drifted through wake and sleep, opinions of my countrymen and countrywomen a low buzz in my ear.

But I couldn’t go beyond the opening salvo I’d heard, the Hollywood radio guy. I knew he was a type who really existed; didn’t doubt it for a second. I was really impressed by his high score during what couldn’t have been more than a 30 second spiel. I propped myself up and opened my eyes and by moonlight I counted the points on the fingers of one hand.

He and his wife/girlfriend/significant other
(1.) Had a personal trainer! Wow. Who
(2.) They shared! Wow. And
(3.) It’s a Woman! Wow. And
(4.) She is Iranian! Double wow! And
(5.) He teaches her English words which she uses…..to ridicule him!

I mean, wow, think about that. Followed by exhibits of compassion: he’s hip but he cares. He’s perfect! I was hopelessly inadequate in very short order, no match for any of his world and hadn’t begun to consider my failures. I do not have a foreign personal trainer. Even worse, though he hadn’t gone into it, I have not been asked to design designer sneakers, and was never arrested for public intox and indecent exposure off The Yacht In Dubai. Hollywood (I’m isolated so would I know?) is not presently (trying very hard) to find me.

Since the radio guy identified the trainer as Iranian, I’m betting that’s a big plus to him and his like-minded audience. The one-up from that would be, oh I don’t know, let’s see…..having a retired ISIS chef? a reformed suicide bomber for his chauffeur? For all I know that may have been covered in the second hour. He was way cool.

So then, lasooing the flotilla of my friend’s remark about my isolation, I thought:
Hah. Lookie there. See what I’m isolated from.

I used to swim with these fish. Ah yes I remember them well. Maybe I can be forgiven for my long overdue retreat. Maybe I even earned it. For most of over three decades back east and again on the west coast up until about a decade ago I had been keenly involved in the competitive world this radio man represented though I grew increasingly skeptical of its worth to me.

In fact, the Pantywaist DJ with the Iranian Personal Trainer was very much of a type I’d overdosed from. There is a non-stop, radioactive effort by such to out-do one’s contemporaries, neighbors, the world, in order to leave everyone else feeling small. I just don’t hear it much these days because I, well, I isolated myself from it.

I know its toxic pull. I know it is not hard to get caught up once you turn the knob, open the door, find the curiously isolated looking-glass, fall through, and on its other side to land in a room where you inspect and partake of bottles labeled Taste Me, Drink This, Go This Way. (Had Lewis Carroll’s generation done detox, a bottle might have been inscribed ”Colonic”).

I reflect on my (isolated) life (so far) in the face of all this, and kind-hearted protestations from more socially minded friends. Where, after all, am I now. Where did I head; where did I get; does it serve…or am I off the mark.

Well, I am virtually residing in a botanical garden night and day DSCF4661where the sunlit air glows green, the moonlight coaxes pale tropical blooms, and abundant flowers of every hue prosper. It is my heart’s desire since infancy. I paint my paintings and write my stories, in both cases to continue learning how I may master those crafts which I embraced increasingly over the years to the exclusion of other imaginings. These are things which bring me pleasure. And I have only just discovered gardening. From what I have witnessed and been told I contribute in some small measure not just to myself but to the pleasure of those in the world who have found my work and like it.

So far, so good.

A little over a decade ago I was hired as Assistant-to-the-Cameraman on the new, wildly popular Survivor TV show; this was Survivor-Africa. It was too deliciously cool and actually a lot of fun, paid well, and got me somehow a much coveted admission to the Director~Producer’s Guild.Image result for SURVIVOR AFRICA It wasn’t very far afield from what I’d been doing over the years preceding it in NYC, but my first such excursion on the western frontier.

I had kind of done with careers. I had been waitressing at the wonderful Little Swiss restaurant in Carmel.  Image result for little swiss restaurant, carmel I had time on my hands, the wisdom of age, and liked the cameraman so I said yes when asked and off we went. We traveled all over the country, maybe 10 different states or more by car and plane hauling 11 huge aluminum suitcases of equipment, tracking down and filming the still secret hand-picked, yet-to-be-announced contestants. In each case when packing up to leave we’d have time for a meal and chatting with the excited winners of Round One. Only once did a contestant show curiosity about my life and the cameraman’s life. She was a twenty year old gorgeous physical specimen, a kick-boxer and model, on the doorstep of a terrific career, Image result for SURVIVOR AFRICA   about to be a TV star and win a million bucks, bright and educated, and she asked about us.

Had the cameraman indulged her with an answer revealing his life, beyond currently shooting several TV series and Survivor, she’d have learned that in the ’60’s he was the first to play electric violin and did so with The Mamas and the Papas; was an early courageous rock climber;   climbed The Himalayas twice; got into film and was currently an Extreme Sport filmmaker who shot documentaries, and the occasional Hollywood spectacular.

When she asked me, I told her this:

I am living on a horse ranch, in a barn’s tackroom on a hilltop out in Carmel Valley.Corozon at Barn Studio Out the door in the hundreds of acres of pasture in front of and around me are two donkeys and a mule, three goats and a ram, cats and dogs, opossums and skunks, owls and raptors, coyotes in the hills, rattle snakes, wild boar, mountain lions, dragon flies, frogs, and bugs. And closest at hand were 150 spectacular boarded horses, all filling the exquisite scenery owned by a multi-millionaire who rented the odd little painting studio to me which I’d remodeled into a home.Holman Ranch, Barn Studio, open door On weekends I help manage the ranch weddings. I am writing a novel (NOISE),NOISE COVER RED painting paintings and trying to get published. And I spend days on end not talking to anyone.Holman Ranch, Pasture, 2 Horses, Dawn
My earlier careers in politics and journalism I did not mention.

To my amazement, she said, near bursting with enthusiasm at the thought: “OH! How perfect for a writer and artist? How fantastic is that! I want your life! “

“You do?” I said,. “No kidding. I don’t know, I never lived like this before quite. I like it a lot. It amazes me that I’ve seen more people in the past month on the road doing this than in six months on the horse ranch, how I normally live.”Holman Ranch, Pasture, full view

“But that’s what writers need, and painters. The solitary life.”

 

“You’re right of course. It’s true. But well, it is kind of isolated.”Sparhawk mona lisa 2

 

Artist in Residence ~ The Tiny Bungalow


                 Front entrance, bungalow In New York in the 60’s when competition was rough and fevered youth pressed in against the established grownups who dominated the Madison Avenue galleries, the Hampton houses, MOMA, scholarships, and got the Guggenheims (or at least to sleep with lusty Peggy), any bon mot crediting legitimacy in ART was sought and borne with pride.  It was a strange time when rules were changing and vanishing and the world appeared to have lost all ability to identify what meant something to their hearts as being a valued litmus test in the field of paintings, drawings, and doings of passion. DSCF5370                   It was 1967. I was three years back from St Martin’s School of Art in London, a stint in Paris, Berlin, Poland, jaunt across Europe to the Soviet Union, Ukraine, and again in the USA, in Vermont.  And still in motion, back to NY which I’d lived in and left in 1964.  Oh what troubling stumbling turmoil was every waking step, what nightmare filled daylight, what falling, standing, skidding to find my way. Was I a painter. How would I know.  I would accommodate the trappings to encourage and pretend, to see if I was faking, if anyone noticed, if I cared, and to see where that led.DSCF5380                    Through sheer good luck, and simultaneous with renting a third floor loft in Chinatown next to the Manhattan Bridge and a movie house featuring Chinese Action Adventure films and Manadarin Opera, I achieved the miraculous.  Printed on heavy paper, sanctioned officially with a number recorded in officially sanctioned record books, to be stationed: IN/ON/AROUND THE FRONT DOOR PREMISES, were the three magic words that put me in very nearly a class by myself:  ARTIST IN RESIDENCE.                   Well, who cared except the city which chose not to be sued by the estate of the crisply charred artist living in a loft building when mostly you couldn’t and didn’t and barely anyone wanted to and no one suspected you there.  Primarily, this was a notice to the NY Fire Department that some idiot painter was inside after 5 pm and before 8 am, possibly asleep, and find him/her please if you see flame and smell smoke.                Very few loft dwellers were in the city.  Somewhere in lower Manhattan shortly after he died, the widow of Thelonious Monk sold the fixtures for the loft they’d lived in, which included some lighting installed, and Monk’s piano.  I went to look following the ad in the Village Voice.  Whatever the pitance, and raw display, it was more than I had but I saw it and wept for him and his gentle widow years later when I learned what made it happen.  Like my loft in Chinatown it was stark. It had the wonderful-ugly of old New York City buildings of brick and wood with huge windows, the foul sweat of cramped labor, city soot too ground in to ever lighten, seamstress laughter, lads hard at light manufacturing. Sweet memory worth more than the multi-million dollar galaxies of pampered drug addict stars of any business that sterilize what had been more precious than they’d ever know.  Big Room Bungalow                      And now, in honor somehow of all the dozen peculiar places I have found to live is yet another for this artist in residence.  This bungalow is tiny, the ceiling is low, the windows few.  But the expansive meadow, the vast garden growing right up to the building’s wall are fragrant, colorful, enchanting, and cause me to swoon every bit as much as the 12 foot by 8 foot loft windows of Chinatown, the seven story building that shook when the trains raced across the Manhattan Bridge next to me close enough to almost reach out and touch, and the lyrical alien kung fu rising from the theatre below.  Sounds and smells of a city.  The palpable soil of uncovered land. I suspect that all geography and architecture are worth celebrating. Daybreak, outdoor studio

Where We Start and Where We End Up


                     Where We Start and Where We End Up

There are so many lessons to be had in the course of a day it astounds me. We may gain an education by thinking outloud, viewing something new, going for a walk, or even (as described by Reverend McGee) while asleep:

Hearing a thud in the night, and further alarmed by her child’s crying, the mother ran to her daughter’s bedroom where she found her little girl on the floor, in tears.
“My child! How did it happen that you fell out of your bed?”
she asked.
“Well,” said the child, “I think I stayed too close to the place where I got in.”

Bed In Summer, Robert L. Stevenson
Which is the sort of experience that may be tucked in a pocket and referred back to over an entire lifetime. We are more in danger of falling if we insist on staying put. It’s just antithetical to human nature.

Watercolor illustration by Barbara Sparhawk, Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem, Bed in Summer.

Water Flume, Clouds, House, Lilacs


WATER FLUME, HOUSE, CLOUDS, LILACS

Oil on canvas, 12 X 12   December 2014

Inspired by a painting of Monet’s actually, a house atWater Flume, Wind the sea with beautiful colors I had not seen by him before, which came into view because of a Christmas card.

A Sky is A Sky is A Sky (unless it’s an air show)


A Sky is A Sky A Sky is A Sky
(Or Except When It’s a Crop Circle)

Thanksgiving Day 2014, A

Skyward crop rows pulled eyes upward   Thanksgiving Day 2014, B
(yawning)

Through window frame      Thanksgiving Day 2014, C
(and awning)

To shocking striping
(most particular)

Egyptian corn braids
(perpendicular)              Thanksgiving Day 2014, E

Salinas fields and
Oz the Wizard
Racetracks for toads
Pinafore folds
Migration lanes
Peace for the sane
The orderly Planet Glorious.

You look at this and wonder
how many astronauts and pilots and acrobats
and artists
were born of DSCF5314
this Thanksgiving Morning Sky?

Happy Thanksgiving to All
Looking up from Sparhawk’s Garden
27 November 2014

Gauging A Good Life


A Good Life

The elements of a good life. Very personal. To reflect, to assess our life, a life lived well has got to be an individual view to merit the time worth the look. What we think of what we’ve done is all that really matters.

Easier to look around at other people. The panoply of lives displayed before us gone very public because of skill or notoriety for us to ooh, ah, nod, and approve the choices made. Or head shaking NO!! find abhorrent that lad or lassie’s tilt, tinged with insanity or bravado or something we know wrong. What’s the standard, what’s the measure, or is there such a thing. The basic stuff of theatre, of parable, of song. But of ourselves, back to ourselves privately……..

For me, in my life, cataclysma is not long absent. More like the turbulent stream got diverted on a brief tranquil stretch; then round the bend and upheaval encore. Now a recent jarring has set me to evaluating how I have chosen to live. And to look at the benefits and downfalls of my directions, not for a final steely conclusion but to open a train of thought I may revisit and sharpen.
I am, most of all, left to wonder what measuring stick one takes in hand to hold up against such a galactic review.

I had an older brother whose pathway was chosen young, by him and by competitive family pressures. On the other hand, absolutely nothing was expected of me. Not even a good job, good marriage, prosperity, education, or competence. I was a kind of throwaway. It produces a life-long sad longing that nags somewhere along the back between the shoulder blades, up a bit from middle, now lower, yes there that’s it. It also produces, I discovered at long last, a kind of freedom in that whatever choices I made were not likely to bother, irritate, or delight anyone of any immediate importance or with the power to stop me in my tracks. So off I went willy nilly and topsy turvy. And I’ve been at that a long long time.

I have several very early memories, my infancy recalled with clarity even now. One was, I know, prior to attaining one year of life, and I was being driven through the Bronx Botanical Gardens in a little stroller of plaid cloth. I was very close to the ground and upright. The peat and humus of the greenhouse was intoxicating. The warm air of the glass building in contrast with the crisp cold outside. The colors, the weight of the air. The sound of my stroller wheels on the gravel paths. I believe somewhere in me I was struck with knowing that this was all that was necessary for life to be perfect whatever perfect was.

Another crystallized memory when I am perhaps three years old….I am alone and sitting (legs straight out) in a flowered frock and white socks and Mary Janes, on the floor of my upstairs totally unremarkable plain bedroom on the dark wooden floor and there is a window in front of me and light is coming in and I look up. I have in my hands and around me little square wooden blocks with the letters of the alphabet carved on one side and on the other notched parallel lines by which the blocks may be joined for building purposes.
I look ahead, and sort of out of the blue I have the thought that absolutely anything is possible.

Both these early experiences entered me in a kind of weighty truth. It was not with epiphany, shock, hallucination, laughter, tears. I was alone or had no impulse to share the thought with anyone. It was not instruction. It simply was; irrefutable and profound and I knew it.

In the long and current process of growing up I have lost and regained those important minutes a thousand times. And now they come back to me again in this search to understand how to quantify a great span as good or bad. This will have further to go with me, and I hope you think about it too. But at the moment the conclusion I have is this.

If, at the end of a given number of years, we ruffle the record’s pages and inhale the aroma given off and let go into a purely sensory assessment, and judge by this:

Have the years since birth been more than you ever expected for yourself. Has your life been more wonderful and terrible, more horrifying and gratifying, more challenging and thrilling than you ever dared to dream those many years before you even knew how to find your shoes or blow your nose much less see the road with your name writ on it. Has it been more.

https://thehawksperch.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/levitating-bather-sharp3.jpgWell then. Bravo to that. Mine has by leaps and bounds. I hope yours, too. And if not? Get busy. There’s always time, right to the final breath. I’m sure of that.
A surety which I chalk up to wisdom gained by for sure having done something brilliant once or twice on the long and winding road.