Thursday, October 27, 2016

SouthWest (Re)Connection

I decided to take a drive across Indian Country, across the Navajo Rez and the Hopi mesas.

I didn't know where I would end up, wasn't certain when I would return. I didn't quite know the direction I would take and wasn't too concerned when my iPhone GPS lost the signal. I figured at some point I would pick up a Hopi or Navajo thumbing for a ride and gain a bit more local perspective. I assumed I would find a safe place to camp. I expected to see a ruin in a cliff at some point and some fields of corn being dry farmed. I eventually turned right on Peabody Coal Access Road, passing many signs for high voltage, jet black mountains of coal. I listened to Hopi radio that would fade in and out, native singing and drumming mixed with NPR news of Clinton and Trump as signals crossed.

Just before arriving at First Mesa mid-morning I saw a Hopi in the wash next to the highway. He ran forward with his thumb up as I passed so I stopped. He carried with him a garbage bag full of cans and a grey hoodie sweatshirt that held more. He placed them in the back seat on top of my backpacks. Dirt streamed out of a torn corner of the black trash bag. He jumped in the front seat. "Thanks Mister, my name is Leeland. I'm just going to that double wide trailer up at the junction - that's my house. I been collecting cans for two days. I spent 12$ on propane yesterday so I been finding cans. I guy comes from Winslow Wednesdays and Thursdays to buy them- ain't no jobs out here so..." When he stepped out to the highway again a couple miles later we shook hands. He said that when I came through next time and needed a place to stay I was welcome.
At the edge of another day as the shadows grew longer I talked with Darlene. She was selling juniper bead bracelets and pottery from the back of her Ford pickup truck. I just got divorced I told her, so I didn't think I had anyone to buy for. "If you are just divorced then you probably need protection." She laughed and picked up a ghost bead charm. I bought a tiny handmade pot that told the story of the Canyon in ancient symbols and color.
What spurred this sojourn were the remembered words from a favorite but long forgotten author who said the words "It's a landscape that has to be seen to be believed. And as I say on occasion, it may have to be believed in order to be seen." NSM
Even after many years not visiting the secret folds of the Southwest these places are still alive in me. My body remembers when I return...

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Grand Canyon of Fear: A photo essay

I hadn't been back to the Grand Canyon for some five years until this early summer. The re-introduction was bitter-sweet.

On the one hand it is nice to see the upsurge in runners, day hikers and excited visitors experiencing the magic of the wild. On the other hand (call me a cynic) there seem to also be a massive upsurge in the "selfie-self absorbed" experience. I think it is great that people want to document their adventures and share them, but the ubiquitous presence of the selfie-stick was a bit disconcerting. The Park seem to be a nexus for this expression - especially when wandering the overlooks and road along the rim - once a half mile or so down the canyon it lessens - a bit... I guess it is nothing new - the self-timer and running to get in the family Christmas photo... yet I think this new explosion of smart phones and Instagram makes the promise of being a media hero all to the more tempting and thus exponentially apparent. The experience and connection to place seem a bit eclipsed by the sense of self and the placement of the primary focus - the image-maker, the human, in the vast wilderness... There was also an upsurge of neon apparel, dogs on trails, graffiti scrawled on rocks along the trail - happy faces and names scratched on to rocks... Perhaps this comes unconsciously from a place of fear...

I think Edward Abbey said it well when he penned this...

Alone in the silence, I understand for a moment the dread which
 many feel in the presence of primeval desert, the unconscious
 fear which compels them to tame, alter or destroy what they
 cannot understand, to reduce the wild and prehuman to human
 dimensions. Anything rather than confront directly the
 ante-human, that _other_world_ which frightens not through danger
 or hostility but in something far worse--its implacable

all images ©Bennett Barthelemy


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Yosemite Valley Dreams: A photo essay

The Yosemite Valley has been called the Center of the Universe by many climbers that frequent there. If I count both days and pitches climbed over more than two decades here it would be in the high hundreds.

Each and every escape here is a torrid affair for sure - of sweat, blood, fear, elation, epiphanies - of chance meetings with heroes of the vertical - crossing paths again with old friends who shared a rope in years long past - the only place I have every experienced such soul weary tiredness when I slept straight through more than 30 hours (after bailing from the Leaning Tower). It is the place that has re-birthed me, raised me, sustains me through my adult life...

History, legends, dreams are all alive and well here through a nexus of intention and shared experience... a love of the wild, steep stone - rock dreamers, dreaming ourselves alive...

all images ©Bennett Barthelemy October 2016