Along the Trail
Kafka may have written “The meaning of life is it ends”, but one could also hope he believed the meaning of life is to live it fully until it does. The paintings in this series are images and impressions of those places I’ve gone and the things I’ve encountered along the trail. I mean that in both a figurative and a physical way, with trail serving both as an actual walking pathway and a metaphor for this crazy journey called life. It grounds the sustenance and solace I find in the natural world in the real world and a constitutes a restructuring in thinking about my life, the way I live and how I want to live.
Trails are not always easy, some of them are long and the signs and directions are not always as clear as I might want them to be. A perfect metaphor for my life; it too has not always been easy and if I am so blessed and luck endures it may be long. Mountain peaks, cool grassy meadows, ocean shores, trees, rivers, rocks and wildlife all speak to me in a language that is older than any words I know; the challenge has been in learning to listen. The natural world I believe, is something to be communed with and not exploited.
The landscape is palimpsest, a manuscript page on which more than one story has been written and none completely erased, despite humankinds repeated attempts to do so through-out the often-barbaric course of history. The examples fill volumes, but the European settler attempting to write a story of manifest destiny as he landed on the shores of the new world serves as one. Despite his diseases, his guns and killing, the renaming of mountains, rivers, natural features, the political indifference that continues to this day, he was not able to completely erase the Native American.
Hiking along the trails, in the face and breathe of magnitude and beauty I can scarcely comprehend, I find it often impossible not to think about ecology. It stares at me, unflinching where the forest, soil and waters have been left seemingly defenseless against the grinding wheels of technological progress. I sometimes imagine I can feel the pain of the woods in the hacking and cutting away of its venerable giants. I hesitate at dipping hand into every crystal clear, flowing mountain stream, wondering if it too is contaminated by the poisons and pollutants poured and racing into the rivers and oceans of the Earth. Is the rain that falls full of chemicals and acids; are the fate of the salmon sealed in doom and how many more animals will be pushed into extinction under the tread, burden and impact of billions of short-sighted people?
On these trails I realize the essence of the wilderness and land, like the Native American, has not been completely written from the page. I want to spit out the word’s manifest destiny like broken teeth and blood in my mouth although I can claim some benefit from that march. The liquefying power of money to transform the world has created in its wake unfathomable atrocities they veer into the unspeakable. I wonder sometimes if turning a blind eye to the carnage a cost of a life lived in comfort and ease. I bulk at the propaganda surrounding the needed buying of organics, reusable bags, recycling, planting gardens or anything else I can do on a personal level as enough to make a significant difference. Certainly, and undeniably it will take all of us, but action is needed on a much larger scale to heal the planet of our self-inflicted wounds. Where, I wonder, is my part in helping to turn the hearts and minds of those who act without conscience and do I really have any power to do that?
For the Aboriginals of Australia places are stories; they tell them in their dot paintings, through their ‘songlines’. Building houses and plowing fields is not enough to settle a place; it is the stories that make them home. Although current law dictates it, I do not accept the modern fiction of ownership and property, it is not the final story I want to see on the written page. I cannot agree with any philosophy that does not recognize water, sky and land as being the birthright of all Earth’s inhabitants with exclusion to none.
I live most of the time feeling I do not have any place, home or community. Lacking the genetics for comparison to the aboriginal, regardless I have chosen to adopt the telling of story through a form of painting using dots. Through the written word I seek to gain greater clarity and solidify the story I am telling as I walk along this great trail of life. The labor of placing these words on a page is as much for me as anyone else. It is how I get my thoughts and feelings out of my head, put the voices to rest or a least hold them at bay for a time. They all become visual images, reminders, markers and reflective mirrors of who I am.
I do not do this not knowing there is real danger in this world. It is clear and ever present. The consumption of it has been made easy on television, the radio, in the movies and on the bookstore shelves. The greater danger is in misinformation and lies, both external and within. And as I count down the remaining years of my life, I wonder how many footsteps I have remaining anyway. Wouldn’t it be easier to consider the problem someone else, another generation’s, and go on living as if nothing has really changed? Although I do deal with my own stress, my life is not bad.
It is somedays, the lack of butterflies that asks me not to turn away. They are all still there just in declining numbers. It is the shortage of fish in the rivers and massive flocks of birds in the sky on others. It is the growing plastic island in the pacific that begs me to consider.
There are some unique parameters to living on an island like Hawaii. The post doesn’t get delivered to the house. The water I drink falls from the sky and is collected from the roof into a tank. We compost and take our own trash to the recycle center. On those days I’m reminded of this world of excess that surrounds us all. The cardboard, plastic wrap and containers, cans and bottles, the things considered non-recyclable. I long ago quit using any bags at stores that I did not bring myself. I’m not necessarily advocating that we all go without, but yoga has taught me life is a balancing act. One we perform with grace or not. Like art, it has taught me what it means to be dedicated to a practice. What it means to stick to a course of action, being flexible enough to give and the difference between knowing and not knowing where those boundaries lie. I’m far from ready for a tightrope.
I am one imperfect human being, and I say that knowing it to be hard to give up my sight on such an unattainable and ever moving target as perfection. In both life and in art. How hard it is to stop the reaching, grasping or desiring. I read through books on meditation, religion, self-actualization, the history and philosophies of the world and wonder if perhaps that is the trail I will always be on. The searching for a way around that impossible obstacle and for a better path with surer footing. All things not knowable, then again – maybe not.