Follow by Email

Thursday, October 27, 2011


AfterImage Series

Post 8

Canyon Faces

At the Watchtower

Judging Kids' Art

With the Mules

With the Mule Wranglers

The Great CheeseHeads with Whom I Watched the SuperBowl

At Hopi House

Hiking the Kaibab Trail

Rangers' Meeting, Very Early, in the Cold

Mary on the Rim

At the Archives

And Still I Kept Thinking About the Shadows...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


AfterImage Series

Post 7

Petrographs, Petroglyphs, and Rock Art

One biting-bitter afternoon I walked over to the Grand Canyon archives. It was about 18 F and the inside of my nose froze. It was worth it, though. Mike Quinn, the Canyon's official photographer, has photographed nearly all of the rock paintings and petroglyphs--rock carvings or engravings--in the Park and the surrounding area. Mike said he wanted to live in a place that tilted toward nature rather than people. And that he hoped his images would help get word out to others that it's still possible to come to a place like the Grand Canyon and have an epiphany moment. To find that supra-human perspective on time and space. 

We talked about our kind's age-old desire to fuse the human and the lithic. My wedding of the "snapshot moment" captured in photographic memory to the "near eternity" of stone, and Native Americans' use of the Canyon walls as a palette that they worked with brushes and knives. Anytime any of us uses stone for artistic expression, it's an acknowledgement of our mortality. Our marks will be here after us; stone makes communication possible across time and acknowledges heartbreak, simultaneously. Stone borrows its emotion from us.

 I had a look at the archive and made some sketches. I love the fat man in a panic.

While I was there Kim, one of the archivists, showed me some things that were supposed to be ephemeral but thanks to the Canyon's dry heat, turned out to have some eternity to them. These split-twig figurines are between 3-5000 years old. They were new when Stonehenge was going up.

After my archives trip I visited the Desert Watch Tower, a structure based on Hopi architecture of the Southwest, built by architect Mary Colter in 1933. Colter asked artist Fred Greer to copy some of the regions petroglyphs and rock paintings inside the tower walls. The image that starts off this entry is one of Greer's beautiful copies. Climbing the tower was like being inside an animist otherworld wedged inside a conch shell.

Despite all that painted whimsy, what I remembered at night was this image of a petroglyph, photographed by Mike Quinn:

It looks to me like an image carved on the moon. I lay in bed thinking of it several nights in a row--mainly because I couldn't sleep. Altitude sickness showed up in me as insomnia. Here's my journal entry on "Sleeplessness." I've chosen the image above as my personal pictograph--my own ideogram--of Me in My Canyon Nights.

Thursday 3 February 2011

            Day and night have more ying and yang at the Canyon than they do in Massachusetts.

By day there is not only light but near-biblical Illumination. Bright, unclouded light streams into the apartment, revealing tiny cracks that the dry air pries open in my skin, around my eyes.  It pries the Canyon open, too, and fills it with color and form and distance and ravens.

But at night the Canyon becomes a hole—a black hole that wouldn’t even exist without memory’s help. Around 6:30 each evening, after 5 beeps—the alarm setting itself—the last of the shop keepers leaves, and after that there’s no sound but the clock and the wind. Sometimes I play music, but even Bruce-up-loud fills only a corner of the dark black silence. He sounds like a kid whistling to himself on a lonely road.

So this is what electricity is for. I put small lights on in the bedroom and kitchen, marking my trail. The living room is well lit until I go to bed. Bedtime is more sport than activity. It’s like training for an endurance event—long-distance running, maybe—that you approach with fondness, dread, weariness, and a little excitement. You have your rituals, you stretch and prep, and once you get started you hope you’ll find your stride.

I enjoy sitting in bed reading. Books always compete with their surroundings, but in the absence of almost everything they win hands down. Reading at the Canyon is a vivid, holistic experience. I’m drawn wholly into the text. But at the same time I’m not entirely at ease. When I stop reading and look over the top of the spine, I see a double of the bed, the red cloth that hangs behind it to block the window, and a woman in bed reading. It’s the reflection in the studio window, two rooms away on the far side of the apartment, and without my glasses it’s only the suggestion of a reflection.

I’m drawn to it but in a wary way. I wait for it to do something I’m not doing. Or for something to appear that has no match in my room. That I can’t really see it makes this monitoring challenging. It’s pointless, yet irrationally essential.

Reading and looking are preludes to sleep, and sleep is the sport itself.  I don’t sleep well here and I don’t know why. After the lights go out I seem to leave the human realm and enter an older, more primitive state. Like an animal whose wellbeing depends on non-stop sensory input, I can’t entirely shut my antennae off. I crave knowledge of what’s going on in the absence of activity and light and company.

There are two sounds: the wind howling—how loud depends on how far I’ve opened the canyon-side window—and the gurgling of the humidifier. The only humidifier on earth that jets out icy-cold steam.

I do sleep. I want to sleep, that’s why I’m in bed. To do so, however, I’ve had to gnaw off the corners of sleeping pills and hope for the best. I fill my mind with imaged static. One night I catalogued my clothes. Another I shopped at Hopi House. The best strategy is talking to the pup, stroking her head as she licks my nose and saying like a mantra, “P knows. P nose. P loves Tenby. P knows.” That often works. I wonder if she feels my touch 3000 miles away, at home.

I wake often, and each time try to claw my way back to my human self so I can retract my antenna. How rested I am in the morning depends on how well I succeed. (Note: I’ve since discovered that sleeplessness is a common response to high altitude. At 7000 ft., the altitude is high and sleep is not forthcoming…)




Monday, October 17, 2011


AfterImage Series

Post 6

One day I went hiking on the South Rim Trail and 
stepped into a miracle. 

My footprint

Not my footprints (fossil footprints of an ancient creature whose name I did 
not record; let's call him Leon).

The miracle had nothing to do with my footprints or 
Leon's. Here's how I described it in my journal:

Grand Canyon Journal
Sunday 30 January 2011
"Wind "

You walk and breathe and walk and breathe. You breathe without thinking. 
You're doing all your thinking and feeling with your eyes. The Canyon's 
beside you and what you're thinking is how to mark this place on your soul 
and make it matter. Make it rearrange your bone structure and your 
metabolism. Make you get up in the morning for sunrise, which is some-
thing you've almost never done.

You're thinking these things and you're aware, on and off, that it's hurt-you
bright and that the innermost of the four layers you're wearing, the sweaty
one you thought you'd have to shed, is now essential in all this wind. You're
thinking that your hands are swollen from swinging as you walk, and too
cold at the same time.

You walk and breathe and walk and breathe. On a curve in the South Rim
Trail, tearing over low scrub oak silhouetted against the bright distance,
comes a gust screaming in. You don't know it's coming. It hasn't reached you
yet. Milliseconds before it arrives you stop walking and yawn, unexpectedly.
Walking is tiring and you're on mile four, maybe five, and the wind has
wearied you. As you open your mouth and inhale--a big intake of sharp
January air--the wind hits you with a high-pitched, hollow, beautiful, fluted

And there's your miracle. You're startled out of your skin. For that portion
of that second, until your relentlessly logical, you-damn-well-wished-it-
wouldn't brain shatters the harmony, you and this place are the same thing.
You're startled because your lungs suddenly had superpowers and sucked 
the air straight from the Canyon, and it came rushing to them with a 
surprised yelp and it filled you to your soul's brim.

This really happens to you. It's a memory, it's not a fiction, not a metaphor.
For one split second of flawless harmony, the wind was inside you, not out.
You were this place.

These were some of the things I saw on my walk.

And I met these people, too, about 10 minutes before I yawned. They were all from Hawaii, and they were freezing.
The hike had got me thinking about scale: my lungs
sucking the air out of the Canyon. The shock of contrast
was what stayed with me. I wanted to print my shadow
shots in a way that was true to this place, that captured
the shock of scale and the immensity of erosion. And 
the beauty of shadows. And I thought to myself, Hey, 
self, why not print the shadow images on beach 
pebbles? So much of the Canyon rock is lime and sand-
stone, products of ancient oceans...I decided when I got 
home I would collect tiny white beach pebbles from the 
Atlantic seaboard and print them with images of 
thousand-feet-long black shadow streaks from the 
Canyon. The results, together, might look lie abstract 
Native American geometrics...

An idea that I haven't pursued: the shadows printed as musical 
notes on a scale

This is more like it. A series of shadow-printed pebbles...

Monday, October 10, 2011

AfterImage Series

Entry 5

Mary Diaz was one of my favorite people on the planet. I knew almost nothing when I arrived as a freshman at Brown, but Mary was on my hall and I knew I wanted to be her friend. If she was excited about something she'd grab your arm and shake it up and down. Sometimes she thought chocolate and Grape Nuts were more important than going to class. Being on time ranked lower than advocating for the world's refugee women and children. Tennis was good but ice cream was better. She had a strong faith, but she asked hard questions.

Mary and I were chambermaids together for a summer on Block Island. Once we ate an entire half-gallon of ice cream and a jar of fudge sauce for lunch. Every night we dug a hole in the sand, lined it with rocks, and cooked our dinner. We broke into a summer cottage just to go to the bathroom and cried over Tess of the D'Urbervilles.  After you do that, you're pretty much sisters, even though your DNA says otherwise. 

Mary died of pancreatic cancer in 2004. There's a great tennis tournament every summer in Columbus, Ohio in her memory, and that of William Copeland, which raises funds for PanCan research ( My artwork doesn't raise money but it helps me keep Mary's memory fresh and pertinent and beside me, whenever I travel. (This, for the woman who once got a passport on the way to the plane....) A few years ago I printed some rocks with Mary's image and decided to take one with me wherever I go, so that as art, she will continue to do and become and evolve along with me. 

The image that opens this post is the newest in the Mary Series, from my favorite particular place on earth, Pentre Ifan cromlech, near Newport in Northern Pembrokeshire, Wales. The ones that follow were taken at the Canyon. These images aren't part of my AfterImage Series, but they exist beside, and enrich, it.

I took some of these pictures lying on my belly on an escarpment that jutted precariously out into the Canyon. I carefully inched out there, and carefully inched back. This is what I wrote in my journal when I came inside:

Monday, 7 February 2011, “Mary & Pam”

 They had sand in common that summer. Sand on the floors they swept, sand in the sheets they changed. Sand in the shack where they stayed. Sand at the bottom of the toilets they cleaned that flushed away but always returned with the backwash. Sand in their sneakers, sand on the chocolate donuts they dropped on the beach and ate anyway. Sand under their fingernails after they dug fire holes at the beach to cook their dinner.

 Twenty years later one is sand in the other’s memory. Not quite a pearl. Not yet. But the grit is there and memory is working on it.

 Pam is lying on her belly on a precipice at the Grand Canyon. Not too close to the edge because her father warned her, and deep down, when it comes to things like this, she heeds her father’s advice. (She will never bicycle, ever, without wearing shoes). In front of her is a pebble imprinted with Mary’s photo. It’s lodged in a canning jar in a bed of sand and smaller pebbles. The jar is filled with water—a marker of the long-ago summer and the far-off Atlantic.

 Pam photographs the memory held in stone as early morning sun wakes the jar. Stone is all around her. Trillions of individuals sleep in this motherlode of stone. And yet only this one in the canning jar has a face.

 She scrambles carefully to her feet—she’s heard about mules going over the edge, and the condors who come to feast—and discovers she’s covered with dust. The remains of creatures that once sought food and safety and were genetically programmed to reproduce now cling to her black ski jacket. She’s brushing it off when she looks up. A mule deer is staring right at her. Very close. There’s another nearby, in the shadows behind her, picking her way carefully around the rocks.

Click on "The Mary Series" on the lefthand side of my blog to see more images from other locations. One of the mason jar images will be included in the National Park Service Exhibition, "Through Your Eyes," in 2012. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

AfterImage Series

Entry 4

One day I stayed in the apartment and took photos every half hour, from the same vantage point, of the shadows moving across the Canyon. I began at 7:45 am and finished at 6 pm. Here's the sequential sundial...