I returned home late last night from “Artist-in-Residence-Interruptus” at the Grand Canyon, which was shut down tight last week, due to the federal government shut-down, now in its 10th day. The trail heads are cordoned-off; roads to all viewpoints are blocked, with park law enforcement rangers positioned below the road. Visitors from all over the world, many of whom had saved and planned for years for this opportunity, were removed in two days-time. The rangers at the North Rim entrance, and down at Lee’s Ferry, where the rafters and kayakers put-in to the Colorado River, have been pressed into service with automatic weapons, barring entry. Everyone, save a handful of “essentials” have been furloughed, and are now leaving the Park. People who were initially resilient are pretty stressed-out. And finally, it was time for me to cut my losses, and return home. Very sad.
Though the impact of my truncated Artist’s Residency is settling in on me like a heavy cloud, I am also grateful to come home to such a gracious green place. People who live and work in the Canyon tend to demonize cities, but I must tell them that not all cities are made alike. It takes leaving and coming back to appreciate this. Portland is a gentle place if you can stay out of rush-hour. And I get the benefits of autumn, twice over; my favorite season. The quaking Aspen, turned gold at the North Rim, was a real treat…photos to follow.
The Grand Canyon and surrounding features of the desert Southwest are astounding beyond words. No descriptors are adequate here. Overwhelming, too. The brilliance of this creation and visual presentation of its formation and change over time is both deeply felt and impossible to apprehend. Commanding of all the senses; demanding of mind and body. I returned to my cozy 2-room cabin every night after hiking, thoroughly exhausted, partly by my physical effort at high altitude, but also due to sensory overload. A “problem of the lucky”, yes?. It’s not really a complaint, though.
What I’m struck by today, as I settle in, is how the Canyon presents you with a gravitational pull down into it, and this demands that you be willing to go down deep into the canyon of your own soul. I found this both compelling, and not at all easy. Fear arose in me. What if I fall in and get lost there? The analogy of the Canyon is perfect. It takes two steps back and the comfort of being safe at home to recognize the obvious. I berated myself for holding back, for being less than brave in this regard, and then relented… It was the best I could do, and now here it is to love. I invite vastness.
So I am just beginning to process on every level. I’m not sure what the work will look like, and that’s a good thing, I suppose. What will I bring back up to the surface? I know that if I yield to the process, it will arrive. It will, I think, be a rich continuation of the journey, despite the brevity “in situ”. Excitement about themes of erosion; sedimentation; uplift; the layers of red, white, sand, even black rock; the puzzle of hoodoos at Bryce: the power of wind and water; the commotion of wind that gives way to stillness; time made visible in the land; the true size of our worries; perspective through shape and color…. So much material to work with! Writing this post gets me excited. I’ll head for the studio in the next few days and begin to experiment with new ways of approaching the clay. Maybe I’ll put away my familiar tools for a time, in favor of other ways to effect surface.
Arizona is a place of such contrasts: It is arguably one of the most astoundingly beautiful, if not hospitable, places on Earth, in terms of its landscape and geological assets. It’s also home to hundreds of thousands of very poor people, many of them Native American. With some $90,000,000 (don’t quote me on this number) surplus in its coffers, the State has chosen to withhold the welfare checks of all of its citizens, due to the shutdown of the federal government. How do they get to do this? And where is their humanity? I digress, yes, but the political imposition on my tenure as artist-in-residence at Grand Canyon National Park is an undeniable part of the ride, so I allow myself a moment of bluster.
I’ll keep you posted as the work develops. Meanwhile, I welcome your responses, if you’re so-inclined.
Thanks, and best wishes to you all,