J O U R N A L / B L O G


Sunday, September 6, 2020

Canyonlands National Park... and Roads

 'Ad Infinitum' jokes abounded between my partner and I on our (my first, her second) excursion to Canyonlands National Park in Utah. 

From Island in the Sky, you get a good sense of the repetitions of erosion that have incised the uplifted terrain stretching as far as you can see. It turns out that wandering through this difficult to parse landscape is just as you might imagine from above: confusing, and overwhelming. 

The bloated crumbling differently eroded surfaces all wash over you in a haze that makes it difficult to pick out particular places to remember. Being surrounded by boundaries that block the sky means you have little to orient yourself. On our second day, we hiked from Elephant Hill to the Joint, passing through Chesler Park on the way and heading a different way on the way back.

Chesler Park and the Joint stand clear in my memory, but the rest of the rises and falls through gaps and onto more views of an endless grid twisted into cacophony blend together differently than I had yet experienced on a hike. The layers of rock themselves were distinctive in shape and color but the endless parade of their manifestations are impossible to keep track of, as you clamber up and down the slickrock, through gaps, onto flats, into slots, over and under and through. It's a sandstone overload, and at any given moment you are more secluded, or perhaps simply more occluded from the rest of the world than on most kinds of walks.

Just as systems full of similar repetitions knit the fabric of our skin and teeth, so our lives fit neatly in the grooves carved by erosion, between deposited mounds that resisted it, and into a chain of cycles...

The Canyonlands are a strange place because there is no clear way to survive there other than by bringing in water with your car-- we saw no large mammals, no petroglyphs, and yet it is a landscape created largely by water. In that way it is like a ghost landscape, one that makes sense only with an awareness of vast and distant change. I believe there are a few springs in the area somewhere, but only a few if any.

Newspaper Rock is a site situated many miles from there which lies in a landscape more alive, where the water continues today, and clearly is not new-- where the rock was marked in passing and celebration with images of the forms that pass through, or that live nearby, in countless repetitions.

It is a strange privilege to explore a place like the Needles District on foot, having driven there across huge distances in a short time-- and a stranger privilege still to know that deeper access to places like this across America are the purview of only those who own a high clearance four wheel drive vehicle. I don't think any of those roads should be paved, but I also don't know that they should exist in the first place. 

This infrastructure is inherently inequitable. It is impossible not to notice when you are on foot and have hiked all day in 100 degrees: the disposition and casual entitlement of people driving in with jeeps and marking their names on the rocks, declaring both that they were in this place and are proud of it. Names are written for others to see. Those with access are proud of it. Most people who come here do not write their names, and often I am sure they do respect the place they are in as something greater than them. And of course, what they do when they write their names we have categorized as illegal graffiti in this kind of place, a national park.

Regardless of a name etched pathetically onto the rocks, we cannot be at home in this land. It is a shallow cross-section of the deep time on which we float, and it will consume all of our marks with complete indifference. That is not vindictiveness, that is grace. It is worth treating some surfaces as sacred. Do you feel you are your best person behind the wheel?

Roads are marks like names, declaring our sense of ownership of the land. Did the people here before us think they owned the land in the same way? The petroglyphs imply to my layman white eye that they thought the forms around them that allowed them to survive were more important than their names to record on the rocks. You can see a bit of this same spirit twisted in the marks left by white settlers: they marked their own technology as what was important in allowing them to survive: the wagon wheel. It makes perfect sense then, that the perpetuation of respect for technology and not food or life would result in our culture of roads and vehicles. Our culture and laws of ownership over animals, water, and the land that makes our life possible. You have to be able to at least get around and look at something in order to feel like you own it.

America wants to say: "Build yourself a wagon and you can do anything, and go anywhere, and own anything". But the lands are already divided up and controlled by the hundreds of millions of us that have spread across them. There is no more vast sense of freedom to steal from the people that were there before us. That was already taken. What is left is lots, acres, units, and parcels. Our consolation prize is the vast network of public roads available to us if we participate in the culture. At least there are more options. I think access in a national park being tied to the ownership of something wholly unnecessary for life is against the supposed purpose and spirit of the national parks. What am I going to suggest next, public transportation to the parks from the cities, as well? Anyways, the way it is done in Denali feels much better-- at least there, there is a bus that takes you down that dirt road and lets you get off at any point.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Colorado National Monument and Devil's Canyon

Here are photos from the first few weeks of being in Colorado National Monument, and from a hike nearby in the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area to 'Devil's Canyon'.

The lizard is a Collared Lizard, which we had never seen before! The sunset shows the Book Cliffs, which always can be seen across the Grand Valley from Colorado National Monument, and when you are down in the valley. 

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Black Lives Matter

Throughout months now of a global pandemic, and a rising tide of response to the terrible manifestations of the cancer that is deep inside America, it is good to try to think about the past, and take a step back. I submit this to my white friends and associates:

I hope we can all think about these things in terms of the long term-- because they can only be improved significantly in the long term. 

We should all be thinking about how we can avoid 'mob justice' in a time where there exists a mob whose hands rest on levers of power throughout our world, having rested there since seizing them through colonialism, bloodshed, slavery, and 'law'. This mob is white supremacy, and it is alive and well. It is the status quo, despite erosion and slow condemnation. 

We should remember that who is elected president of the U.S. matters comparatively little-- and we can be thankful for that, despite it meaning that person will never be able to make a huge difference for the better, either. 

I left Seattle for the summer at an in-opportune time, because for 5 years I worked on Pike and Broadway, right inside what is now called the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, or 'CHOP'. I wish I had been there still to be the voice of someone working in the area and who could confirm that I felt just fine going to work. Indeed, that I felt encouraged by what was happening in the city I grew up in. 

As someone who has worked in the Capitol Hill area, witnessed a (non-fatal) shooting there in the chaos of night several years ago, and seen the way it is generally on the weekends, I can say the only times I would have been afraid to go to my place of work in the past few weeks that would be any different now would be when the police were there. I say that as someone lucky enough to not have to fear the police in my everyday life. But through their response to the peaceful, or sometimes property damaging protests following George Floyd's killing, they condemned themselves to deepening a gulf of distrust with the public. Shouldn't it make perfect sense after Rodney King alone, let alone all the others, that this would cause an outrage? Shouldn't it be obvious, as is illustrated by every crime movie ever in which a mob boss must be taken down just right, that convictions and not charges are what matter? 

The right to live should come far above the right to own property and be compensated for its destruction, which was never threatened in the past few weeks. Those who are supposed to be the caretakers of 'law and order' should have known recent history and known that outbreaks of disease amplify the tensions that lead to civil disobedience. Regardless of all this, they took part with more violence than citizens would ever be allowed to get away with. They boxed in then attacked people with crowd control weapons that cause fits of coughing amidst a breath and saliva spread pandemic that has killed more than one hundred thousand Americans so far. 

It is the right time to consider how we maintain law and order in this country. It has always been the right time, and it always will be the right time.

I have no compelling images to share right now, and I wish that I did. I am not an artist whose work is likely on its own to be politically effective or moving. But I do hope to produce something which grants space to voices more effective and relevant than my own. And to support it with the full vision I have of the world...