Week 22

No new computer, not yet! 

May 28, 2017 – SUNDAY

Photos of Bay hills / highway & meat

Departure: We made a hurried exit and shortly after leaving home we drove past hills we sometime hike. The green is fading to golden brown. We had hoped to see the hills in their emerald splendor, after years of drought, this Spring, but time slipped away and we saw none of the rain-bestowed glories of our local hills.

The I-5 drive is long and hot, blast-furnace hot! JM described it as ‘the hot empty.’ The sky is enormous. Smog pushes up against the distant hills. We stop at Harris Ranch for lunch, the place we stopped in 1980 when we moved to the state from Georgia. (The smell of feed-lot cattle precedes it by miles.) The food is not as good as it was on our initial foray into the state, and the waitresses now speak with that dreadful valley girl talk – high pitched, nasal and ear-shattering. I order ‘tri-tip’ and get a plate with only tri-tip. Well, Harris Ranch specializes in beef and I got a plate of their beef. JM’s meal was extra large, and I did not go hungry or without vegetables.

The pot-holed road seems endless, and now along that road oil wells pumping and new windmills churning, something encouraged by President Carter to break our dependence on Middle East oil. They have finally been built, but built long after Carter’s presidency and in spite of Republicans.

We are spending the night in Barstow, and the voices of the television newsreaders, all bad. They are from LA, and those in LA seem not to be concerned with what is said and how it is spoken, but concerned with only the view, that of a beautiful young woman. If they would only keep their beautiful mouths shut, then maybe I’d be inclined to watch the news. Get me out of here! I can take their shrill, nasal voices no longer.

May 29, 2017 – MONDAY

Photos of trains, red formations & sunset & motel

The Road Taken: The road goes on. Mile-long trains stretch out across the horizon. We drive through California’s hot dry landscape with its distant jagged mountains rising from low yellow-green plains dotted with sage and cacti under a baby blue sky with wisps of clouds. Those clouds seemed painted lightly with a flip of an artist’s wrist. Around Kingman, the tops of hill-mountains seemed cinched-in by columns. The sky sometimes felt like a blue roof. The towns we did see seemed of a kind, strip malls clinging to both sides of the road, Anytown, USA. JM said following what others have done “eliminates the need for judgement!” One stretch of landscape seemed playful: red rocks tossed about like marbles strewn by some giant hand.

We drive on and on toward Sedona, Arizona in the heat. The highway is testament to the heat. The roadway is littered with huge strips of black shredded tires peeled off of wheels by hot asphalt, and to me they seemed out-sized caterpillars. On one stretch of road there was a miles long ‘back-up.’ Driving on our side of the highway is slow but not stalled. We try finding a place to eat. YELP is no help and there is nothing at the address, nothing ‘there there.’ We thought of ‘Steak and Shake’ that used to have good hamburgers and shakes. JM said of them, “They started doing everything and then nothing was any good anymore!”

The trussed electrical towers along much of the route I though of as giant headless men, while Michael saw them as stylized cat faces. We continue the drive, continue on and on and then on some more. As we approach Sedona, traffic slows to a crawl, traffic heading south to Phoenix, winding its way through Sedona, slowed us down. We finally get to the city, but the Sedona of 35 years ago is gone. In its place a sprawling tourist town, but of its setting JM says, “Oh my god. It’s amazing!” Still the cliffs are as beautiful and red, even if the city seems to engulf them. Our motel, buildings gracefully set in a garden, lies atop a bluff from which we viewed the sunset. We would return to the city to stay again in such a pleasant place. We walked to the airport restaurant for cool cocktails and a delicious meal and just over the fence the airplanes of the rich and famous.

May 30, 2017 – TUESDAY

Photos: chapel & ugly house

Birthday: My older sister Mary celebrates her birthday today. The first time without our younger sister Lois to call with a happy birthday song. Mary’s birthday was always Memorial Day until they changed it to fall always on a Monday. Birthday wishes to you Mary, and Lois is now but ashes.

Money, money wasted on the ugly, the super ugly; money destroying beauty while the owner believes he has created it. On our way out of town (Sedona) we stopped by the Chapel of the Holy Cross, subtly built, gracefully built under red bluffs, and from there we looked out onto one of the ugliest structures I have ever laid my eyes on. The house so completely ugly it should not be termed a house lies below on top of the rounded stone formation it destroyed by its building. That structure destroys the view of the valley and the hills and towering pinnacles beyond. Who could have built such a place? The architect who designed it should have had the fate of the one who designed Saint Basil’s Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow, Russia, so hideous is it. That architect of St. Basil was made blind by the Czar to keep the him from designing a more beautiful building. The architect of THAT house should be prevented for conceiving of and/or designing another monstrosity. I who love color, I who love rounded forms, could find nothing redeeming about the building below in spite of the fact the structure has curves and color. We were told that the man who had it built invented Lasik surgery. Why improve anyone’s vision to behold such ugliness? The building is hideous. The house is physically repulsive. It is tastelessness without bounds. It should be torn down. The ruins could only be an improvement. Why have money if one cannot spend it well, but then again, the man of no taste might believe that what he had created is lovely. He has eyes to see but created complete, unrelenting ugliness because he cannot distinguish between beauty and not beauty. Good vision cannot make one see the difference. As I view the deformity, I wish the Fountainhead architect would do to it what was done to the ugly buildings in the novel. Atomize it, rid the landscape of that great abomination. They could not have made it uglier, built uglier, if they had tried. They, I believe, strove for beauty, but it was not in the vocabulary of client nor architect. Here in this beautiful place it is a witch’s wart, one that needs to be removed. I would look around at the beauty, but like a wart that draws the eye, the wart-house draws my attention. I must leave and we do and travel around cleverly designed traffic circles with curbs of lovely color as we leave town.

Canyon de Chelly, Navajo Country: No building in this valley ancient or new offends me. We forge streams; travel down rutted roads surrounded by red towering cliffs though a valley once inhabited by various ‘Indian’ tribes. We view petroglyphs and ancient structures and young people camped under a wide overhang near an ancient pueblo dwelling. Just as in the outback of Australia where aboriginal people created outlines of their hands, those same hands (some outlined and some drawn in white) are here, too, painted on red rocks.

We almost missed the tour. Arizona is not on daylight savings time, but the Navajo nation is. JM researched the time zone but failed to catch that fact. Thankfully he left an hour of flextime, which allowed us to arrive just as the jeep loaded up for the tour. The canyon valley, a place of red waters and green trees, is magical. I would have remained longer, but a 4-hour tour is tiring. I did see up close and personal my first cliff dwelling. An emotional experience as we heard the telling of how our American predecessors marched the valley’s inhabitants away, killing them along the way, to claim this land for their own, which chilled me to my bone. It is a pretty place with a sad history. We humans have a great capacity to do damage to nature and to each other.

May 31, 2017 – WEDNESDAY

Photo: Canyon de Chelly & 4 corners & blue valley & tin buzzards

This place reminds me of Carole King’s song ‘Clouds – I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now, from up and down and….’: We drove around the rim of Canyon de Chelly. How different the cliffs look from above compared to below. Same place (almost), but different. At one stop I bought a piece of petrified wood from a young Navajo woman studying engineering in Texas. We could have spent the entire day on the canyon’s edge, but we had a long drive ahead and left after viewing only one side.

Point Divided: A point is a point. It cannot be divided mathematically, and yet it is divided here at this spot, Four Corners. All at once we are in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. If we were not in Navajo territory we might wonder what law applied. Touch the point. We did. We were in all 4 states at once.

Humans have divided the world by latitude and longitude and surveyed the land, calling out place in relationship to them. The division and measuring done so we might understand the world and literally our place in it.

Place is a construct, not a real thing, but nonetheless survey lines are the bases on it, laws declare it, so it is so. Something that is nothing is something. I am here, but there and there and there and all are here. What a construct!

We arrived at Mesa Verde, Colorado, after passing through the town of Cortez, where steel buzzards topped a tin building, those buzzards dissecting an auto. Who could resist? We turned back to photograph them and were glad we did. The physical landscape gorgeous and, here in the human landscape, a touch of whimsy.

We arrived at Mesa Verde in late afternoon: Above navy blue sky; in the distance navy-colored rain pouring down on a deep navy valley; and this place, not green, but dark blue. Beauty was expected, but not the color.

June 1 2017 – THURSDAY

Photos of pit houses and cliff houses

Bucket List: I had a bucket list long before I’d heard of a “bucket list.” High on my list, seeing the ruins of Mesa Verde. Today we toured the remains I knew existed and those I knew not of. We toured not a single ruin, but several. The cliff dwellings all located on the North face of the canyon, placed there to gather the Winter’s sun and to protect from the Summer’s rays. In a matter of hours we traveled through eons of history. We climbed up and down stairs and rocks and ladders. They must have been an agile, sure-footed people, both those who inhabited cliff dwellings and those who occupied the mesa in dugout huts.

The House as Sacred Circle: Their round houses – kivas – with long thin entrances had plans similar to burial structures in Crete and Greece. As a biologist / architect I thought the ancient Mediterranean structures shaped like a uterus / vagina. These structures, some sacred, are no different and it appears that the ancient buildings I walk among today were once matriarchal communities and each circle contained a spirit hole through which spirits came into this world. The building speaks of creation of life and perhaps of the female body.

Whatever the origin of the building plans, they were built in a singularly inhospitable place, a dry, hot, wind-swept place. Here the ancients hunted and farmed and gathered and built. The remains speak of human labor of unceasing labor. They built. They built burrowing into the ground and in hollows of cliffs almost certainly done to moderate extremes of the climate. They lived almost like animals in dark burrows, and like them brought air in low, expelled it high to provide needed circulation. They lived hard lives. Their numbers grew in spite of their short lives and high rate of child mortality. They were old at 30 (a female’s life-span) and 40 (a male’s life-span) and died with worn kneecaps and rotten teeth.

One wishes for a long, healthy life in which to love and learn, but life’s length is relative. By the standard of those who lived here hundreds of years ago, I am ‘ancient,’ but my knees and my teeth remain strong. And as I stand among the stone and mud dwelling I wonder how many lives were lost to gravity and the stone canyon.

Virtually 100% of the park has burned in the last 30 years. It takes centuries for the trees to grow to any size. A variation of a degree or so in the average temperature does have an immense effect. Global warming is not without consequence.

June 2, 2017 – FRIDAY

Photo: large rainbow & cliff dwellings

Near and Far: We visited the ‘Long House’ this morning, a well-preserved Anasazi cliff dwelling. Last night I dreamt of falling into the canyon as I drifted off to sleep and came to the conclusion that the ancient inhabitants of the rocks had not climbed up and down on a daily basis the shear cliffs using the carved indentions that still remain. If that had been their only means of access to their homes, the stone would have been worn deep, like steps at some Ivy League college. Those handholds, I believe, were there as an emergency escape ladder. There had to be stairs and ladders and rope drops carrying goods and people. I think ropes and hoist were used to transport things down from above and up from below. The energy expended climbing up and down vertical rocks carrying goods would have been too much for a community to sustain itself. There is always an energy balance, and if more energy is required to maintain a way of life than is available, that way of life will cease to exist. The cliff dwellers disappeared. Was their infrastructure destroyed? The burning of rope bridges, the dismantling of stairways, could have made the living in the walls difficult if not impossible.

Today, a young archeologist, spoke of what I had thought was necessary. He said that goods where lowered and raised in and out of the cliff settlements by ropes — down and up the cliff face. A 300-foot long rope has been discovered, and he thought that evidence of a delivery system. I suspect there – somewhere – are the remains of timber hoists (or indications of their existence) planted deep in the ground, which would have aided the lifting and lowering of goods. If I were researching the area, I would do infrared or other aerial photography, to look for them and look too for other evidence of access. I suspect that what the guide thought were water locks going down into the canyon are actually elongated stair paths that lead down (and up).   They were not located near any field but were adjacent to the path we clambered down to reach the cliff dwelling. I think I might liked to have been an archeologist. Alas, life is too short to do all one would like to do.

And then there were ancient trade routes — goods from South America and the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico and from North and East. The cliff people’s numbers were small, their culture might have been isolated, but still it had contact with a larger world.

We gave our afternoon tickets for a tour of another cliff dwelling away so that we might arrive at a decent hour in Santa Fe, New Mexico. On the way we stopped outside Durango at the Kennebec Café because as a child I lived on Kennebec Street. The Café was lovely and we ate the first ‘edible’ food we’ve had in days. The food we’ve eaten since leaving Sedona provided calories and little else. Some of it was on the verge of inedible and some was actually inedible!

On our way to Santa Fe, we drove through low plains, through towering eroding red, white, black and layered hills. I shot photos through windows as we drove. I wish we had had time to stop. Every turn seemed worthy of a thoughtful photograph. And the sky, the glorious sky, dark blue (and sometimes gray) in which a wide, wide rainbow base formed over one hill, the largest swaths of bow color I have ever seen. Green plain leading to white mountain against a black one. STOP! STOP! STOP! Stop to take in the beauty, but we had no time to do so and moved though it as if in some grand gallery were about to close.

We arrived at our friends’ grand gated house (3 to 4 times bigger than ours and certainly more beautiful) and drank refreshing margaritas. They prepared a glorious meal, set it on a wide wood table which overlooked Santa Fe and the mountains beyond at dusk. The table was set with flowers and candles and wine and pottery dishes, one containing 3 small dishes each with a different color of salt. If we had not know it was Santa Fe, we might have thought we were somewhere in the Hollywood Hills.

June 3, 2017 – SATURDAY

Photos: Lyle in her studio, pottery, studio art, side of building, trump with money falling from the sky, …

Unbelievable: JM said of Santa Fe, “A beautiful place to live.” To which I responded, “The sky is a large part of the beauty.” One sees not just the clouds, but also the rain they deliver, which JM likened to clouds “kissing the earth with moisture.” We both respond to the color of the place, its oranges and turquoise and blues and warm browns and light greens. The rounded forms of the buildings and fences and walls reminded me of the forms built from the red earth of my native Congo.

Our once-Berkeley friends drove us around town and to art galleries. One gallery had an installation of ‘salt-glazed’ pots. JM and I instantly knew they had originated in North Carolina. Before we left for Atlanta, Georgia, and my entering the architectural program at Georgia Institute of Technology, the Aumans, N.C. folk potters, offered us a place on their land to create our own pottery establishment. Dot Auman told me of a South Carolina potter who had my surname. I now know that was a relative because the Landreths and the Owens (folk potters) married some generations back, and I am part Owens, so the love of earth goes back generations. If we had accepted the Auman’s offer and become potters, that pottery installation might well have been created by us from that North Carolina clay. Had we become potters, we would have lived a different life, but not necessarily better. We would have made art of the earth of that place, our beloved North Carolina.

I lived in mud houses and was likely born in one. Mud is in my psyche, if not in my blood, and here in Santa Fe the buildings formed of mud (or the appearance of it) makes me feel at one with the place. While a student of architecture, I created sculptural buildings and was repeatedly scolded by a professor who insisted, “buildings are not sculpture.” He made me throw out my sculptural structures because they were not building. He was wrong, so very wrong.

And we enjoyed time with our friends, missed since they left the Bay Area. The money they have they have spent on a lovely ‘modern’ home, a home of light. We’ve known plenty of prosperous people who live in huge ugly homes and fill them with tacky possessions (rather like our now president), who seem unaware of the ugliness of their surroundings. Our friends’ home is beautifully sited, is beautifully built, nestled behind vegetation on top of a hill with beautiful views in every direction: north, south, east, west and above. Michael said of the house, “It is like staying at a high class resort and an art museum combined.”

I’ve visited buildings which photographed well but were experientially ugly, unpleasant to be in, even oppressive to be in. I have often wondered why some buildings photograph well but feel horrible. A building is a 3-dimensional experience. A photograph is 2-dimensional. Because of that, buildings should not be judged as ‘good buildings’ based only on photos. Buildings should be judged and voted as ‘good buildings’ only after those evaluating them have physically experienced them. A photo may make beautiful something that is not. Sight is an important aspect of experiencing beauty, but a building is more than what we see, it is a spatial experience, and as such our whole bodies experience space. That experience is a holistic experience, not one of a single sense. We see it; we feel; we know when we experience a great space, a great building. Surfaces and glitter may be there without a building being artful or beautiful or good in any way. Our friends house (like my parents house) has glass blocks and sliding doors and wood and picture windows. Its spaces flow one into the another and out to the out-of-doors. The home is beautiful to look at and to be in. The house is filled with light and bright colors and beautiful objects. We are glad to see money being used – in our opinion – well, used to create an every day life of beauty. JM & I say to them, “Lucky you to live not just on a grand scale, but to live artfully in an art-filled environment.” The house and its appointments of a piece, beautiful spaces, beautiful design, beautiful art (some visual art made by the owners who were once ‘word-smiths’) and what would photograph beautifully feels good too. It is a place to experience life fully, a place where all senses perceive the surroundings!

There is so much physical beauty in Santa Fe (even the highway overpasses are in color and festooned with art) it hardly seems surprising that a house or the City itself has art at every corner or that the buildings themselves are also works of art and color. We live in the Bay Area with its own kind of incredible beauty, and I want my city also to emphasize the beauty of place by bringing art into its heart just as Santa Fe has done. Our friends lived in a beautiful house in Berkeley, and its garden, rather like an oversized Japanese garden, was strewn with giant native rocks left there by nature. They now live in yet another well-designed home, and we know its selection was no accident. “Live long and prosper,” we say and they do.