Favorite Installation Artists

Monday, July 27, 2009


Retiring from a former life requires diligent purging. The old chrysalis must be fully detached before a newly devised being, mostly of our own choosing, can continue along the chosen path. There was that life and now there is this life and all those old things won't fit. Belongings are easy. Paper is the bane of my existence.

As long as we are alive on this planet, we are going to leave a paper trail. Certainly if we maintain a home and vehicles, deal with money in it's various forms, expect to leave anything to the next generation or deal with any taxing authority. Someone, probably my Executor, is going to be dealing with that for years after my demise. Any Executor knows you are not dead until the IRS says you are, which is exactly the second after the time period you are required to keep records. Then, you are good and dead.

So, this is the month I rid myself of extraneous file boxes, keeping only what is essential. My parents and an uncle are now reduced to one section of an accordion file, each containing a birth certificate, a death certificate, a will and a closing statement. I don't even need that. But, these things are filed along with expired passports, marriage certificates and titles to all the properties I ever owned. The record if their lives are now stored with the other mementos.

All I need is memory to bring them back and of course, I have wonderful photographs. Still, something is irretrievably gone. The closest I can come to describing it is "voice". Most of that comes from the written word and none of these people did that. Certainly, autobiographies are for those who consider their lives above the fray and are capable of producing (without a blush), ego driven expositions that assume the public would be interested in more details of their lives than are generally known. Although autobiographies are always suspect, biographers and their subjects make fine reading. Neither applies to the casual writer.

What is needed here, it would seem, is a "commonplace book", defined as a personal journal in which quotations, essays, literary excerpts, quips and comments about one's own or other's observations are gathered. Quite a few exist as published material; one of the best is "A Certain World" by W. H. Auden. In fact, he described it as the closest thing to an autobiography he would ever write. It was "a map of his planet". These compilations require a curious mind, reasonable intelligence, some facility with language and naturally, something to say, for judgements will be made on whether we will be spending time with each other, or moving on.

Blogging, with it's freewheeling structure fits this description perfectly. The author's choice of subject matter, the manner of expression and the response to it are multi layered and more personally revealing than a formal narrative. The medium is so inherently flexible that if something you observe resonates within your psyche as familiar, a response can be made immediately and a communication established. Here is the vital difference between histories and blogs. Blogs are two way streets. Each is a personal vision of the author's world; the "voice" we hear. It is not only possible to see how someone's mind works in these circumstances, it is inevitable.

My name has not escaped me, yet. But, as it turns out, it is the least important thing you need to know.

* ("My Name Escapes Me" - Alec Guiness. Written upon his retirement - one of them).

Monday, July 20, 2009


Deep in the Southwest back country and accessible only by train, the pristine and protected Verde Valley, an ecosystem supporting a wide variety of flora and fauna, is situated in the otherwise arid high desert of north central Arizona. It is a place of incredible beauty and immense age. Where I see towering vermilion cliffs laced with green malachite, a trained eye begins with the primeval seabed and traces upwards along rock walls through ten named time periods spanning 350,000,000 years to end with the Mogollon (moo-gea-on) Rim which forms part of the Colorado Plateau. Yet, for all the ponderous weight of ages, time sits so lightly in the valley that fossilized remains of long extinct species still lie on the surface.

Prehistoric peoples in the region numbered in the thousands. Archaeologists regard the Verde Valley as an "aboriginal melting pot" that included tribes we call the Hohokam, Anasazi, Sinagua, Mogollan and Salado. No one knows what they called themselves.

The Sinagua flourished along the Verde River, but life was never easy. Over half of all known skeletal remains are those of children under the age of nine. Just 4% of adults reached 45 years of age. But while they lived, they evolved from hunter gatherer, pit dwelling societies into builders of soaring cliff dwellings that remain intact today. (See one here.) A cornucopia of trees and plants provided food, medicine, clothing and shelter. The wonderful "Three Sisters" triad (corn stalks supported bean vines while the squash leaves shaded all three root systems) and the plentiful fish and game gave the inhabitants a rich and varied diet. They became master cotton weavers. From the tall, hilltop, pueblos, they commanded 360 degree views and established trade with both coastal and tropical tribes as evidenced by the parrot feathers and seashells found at grave sites. (See one here.) And then, at the height of their civilization in what is known as "The Great Abandonment", these tribes vanished into history. Theories abound, assimilation is one, but facts are few. No one really knows why.

Still, the wildlife remains in the Verde Valley and among them are superstars. A pair of breeding bald eagles, named "Black" and "Decker" have produced offspring nearly every year since their release in 1993. Everyone strains to catch a glimpse of them, but since we are not food and no longer a threat, they remain oblivious to us and reign in solitary majesty, perched high on red rock pinnacles safe from predators and prying eyes. But, when they deign to soar closer and their huge wingspan casts a giant shadow that glides silently over the cliffs, you literally stop breathing. Think about that. How many things have you seen in your lifetime that take your breath away?

Riding along on the Verde Valley Railroad, gazing out picture windows while sitting in cushy sofas as someone serves you drinks, it is easy to get caught up in facts about geology, copper mining, the nearby mountain of slag, the Perkinsville ghost ranch or even running from side to side of the car looking for rocks that resemble turtles. Forget all that. Get up and go outside where every other car is an open aired, fenced platform with unobstructed views. Feel the sun on your arms and the wind in your hair and try to be still with your thoughts. Like time, people touched the earth lightly here and your trip has to be back in time to feel their presence.

Only imagination can take you there.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Gomez - The House God

Common Side Blotched Lizard
"Uta Stansburiana"

Please, is there anything 'common' about this little guy? Even his Latin name is longer than he is. Scientific classifications identify a species exactly; it names one specific thing and no other. Habits and range and diet are delineated in excruciating detail, as was the case with this fellow. Except for one thing. He is drop dead gorgeous.....and, really, really fast.

Camera poised, you can get within four feet as his eyes swivel around, checking your progress. But, just as you are ready to snap a picture, he skitters ahead a few more feet, rolls his eyes and waits. Until a car door slams. Then he moves so lightning fast that for a millisecond, you are left staring at empty space until your brain kicks in and records the fact that he is gone.

Like Gomez, he has a perky personality and fabulous color, so he is definitely worth pursuing. But you wouldn't know that by his name. Consider the following conversations:

ME: Oh! Look! A little blue and green 'Geico Gecko' lizard with a turquoise tail!
YOU: Where? (.....as everyone within earshot comes my way.)
ME: Look! A Common Side Blotched Lizard!
YOU: ........(No one is saying anything. They are all jumping up on the nearest benches before razor sharp teeth sink into their ankles.)
Do lizards even have teeth? Does anyone care? First impressions are everything. I wouldn't get out of the car for a 'side blotched' anything.

'Side Blotched' or 'Turquoise Tail'? I'm just saying.

Friday, July 3, 2009


Many years ago, in a different home far away, I was looking for nicely painted paper mache fruit for an impressive cut glass bowl that sat on a sideboard in the dining room. My search took me to a picturesque area loaded with antique shops and specialty stores, just the place I might find what I had in mind. Perched on a hill overlooking the Ohio River, this little hamlet had shaded benches lining a walkway along the river and on this particular spring midday, they were filled with elderly men taking in the view, some drawing seated walkers up close to use as footstools.

Having found exactly what I wanted, my friends and I were walking slowly towards the car, each with a yogurt waffle cone and I with my additional bag of paper fruit. As I was juggling this load, a pomegranate fell to the ground and rolled under a parked car. Aghast, (this stuff is expensive), I yelled, "Oh no, I've lost my pomegranate!"

Whereupon, elderly men instantly scrambled up and to the sounds of "clang, shuffle, shuffle, clang, shuffle, shuffle," scooted away in all directions on their walkers. What on earth!?!

Did that sound like "Pomeranian"? Did they have even a vague idea of what the danger could have been? I am not fond of Pomeranians, but I do like pomegranates very much, especially on a fruit salad with poppy seed dressing. I'm likely to serve it soon, because my trees are fruiting. My friends are welcome to come by and enjoy them.

But, if you go in my backyard, you are on your own.