Under Different Deities

Heading back to Austin from a brief tour of Louisiana.   I will catch up on posting when I am home.  I did see a sign in a gas station today that said:  “Jefferson Davis Law – No Alcohol Sold Between 2 and 6am.”  So that happened.  I am glad that the ghosts of the Confederacy are attempting to keep me sober in the wee hours of the morning.  

In Denis Johnson’s book Tree of Smoke, his epic Vietnam novel, one of the characters come to the conclusion that different parts of the world are governed by different deities.  Each area operates under its own unique set of supernatural laws.  When one travels the United States, one can’t help but feel the same way.  Louisiana is not Texas is not Colorado is not wherever.  It isn’t just different cultures and economic forces shaping human behavior, but almost nature itself.  The haunted swamps of Louisiana create a different emotional context than the comforting greenery of the Texas hill country.   “God is alive and magic is afoot.”  The only question is what god and whose magic?  Anyone that claims to know is deluding themselves…

Werner Herzog and the Violence of Nature

My output has been a little slow the last two days due to a one two allergy punch of a high mold count and what is known in Texas as Cedar Fever.  I love nature, but sometimes she hates my shit!  I am a big supporter of protecting the environment.  I find the natural world fascinating, beautiful, and full of mystery, but I am under no illusions about the nature of nature.  Nature and evolution are a nonstop story of things killing other things.  Although I love to spend time in the outdoors I know that if I had to survive in the outdoors I would probably freeze, get dehydration, starve to death, drown, be eaten, or meet any other number of unfortunate ends.  When I went to snorkel at the great barrier reef last year they gave us a lecture before we left the boat about what could hurt you if you touched it.  The list was so long I just remember thinking, “well just don’t touch ANYTHING!”  The Australian beach and rainforest were also full of what not to do lists.  When I was at the beach on the edge of the rainforest there were all kinds of saltwater crocodile warnings.  Thinking about this tonight reminded me of Werner Herzog’s speech above.  This speech is from the documentary Burden of Dreams, which is about him making the movie Fitzcarraldo with Klaus Kinski.

The Texas Hill Country, Nature Photography, and Hillingdon Ranch

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On my kitchen table sits the book Hillingdon Ranch: Four Seasons, Six Generations by David K. Langford & Lorie Woodward Cantu.  It’s a book featuring astounding photography that deals with one family’s ranch in the Texas Hill Country, but also with the larger themes of nature and conservation.  At some point I want to write a comprehensive piece on this book, but I’ve been slow to, as the visual arts, and photography especially, are not ones that I am as intellectually prepared to comment on.  Although I have some understanding of the machinations of film and television, with the other visual arts I often know what I like, but I don’t know as often how to describe it.  I am not as well versed in the technical language and the processes that go into painting or photography.

I do know that the photography in this book is absolutely stunning in the way that it hits you on an emotional level.  Langford has captured the Hill Country and the different seasons in all of their natural glory.  Anyone that has spent time in the Hill Country knows its allure.  There are many places in nature that are beautiful.  However, many places are filled with a lonesome kind of beauty, whereas the Texas Hill Country has a warm and friendly beauty to it.  There is something often comforting about it.  If you are interested in this region or photographs of Texas in particular, then I think this book is definitely one you should check out.

I think even if you are not familiar with the Texas Hill Country there are things that this book has to offer.  If you like nature photography in particular, there are many photos that look painterly in their composition.  The Hill Country has a wide ranging color palate from season to season.

I also think the book’s message of conservation and stewardship of the land are important ones to understand.  Not only is this aspect something that needs to be part of the larger environmental picture, but it is also a way to possibly reach people that might otherwise not be as inclined to act.

This book makes you see how nature is worth preserving, if for nothing else than the aesthetic beauty that would be hard to imagine living without.

Writing Exercises and Trees

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Writing is a constant work in process.  Last night my girlfriend insisted that I try some writing exercises.  I don’t intend to share all or even most of them, but I wanted to share one, as I think doing exercises like this are helpful in pushing oneself to be a better writer, even if the actual thing you write is not that great.  The following was written stream of conscious.  That is kind of the point, to push the mind in different places and to write about things you normally might not write about.  The question for the writing exercise asked me to describe the trees of my childhood.  I’m not claiming that the following is anything to be proud of, but I hope that some of you that like to write, and the world needs good writers, will push yourself to try new ways to approach writing.

I used to climb trees on a regular basis.  I had a giant maple tree in my front yard.  I would swing from the branches like a monkey while my friends and I discussed the things that young boys discussed.  The tree was a friend and a place of comfort.  Sometimes I would go out to the tree alone and feel as if I was in the company of another.  

In the summer the trees leaves were a deep beautiful green. In the Fall they became almost psychedelic as they turned vibrant shades of red and orange.  In the winter the tree empty of foliage, but the it still looked alive, like a patient in an induced coma that was going to be woken up once their malady had been cured.  
Later on the tree actually did get a malady and had to have some of its branches reduced.  My family thought the tree might have to be completely cut down, but it was stronger than we knew.  It was great to see this friend overcome it’s hardship.  
It did lose the branch that allowed one to access the higher ones.  By this time I was no longer light enough for the branches to support my weight anyway.  Life changes all.  The tree and I were different, but we still had a secret code where I knew we understood each other.  In our struggles we had grown strong together.  I loved the tree with not just the innocent love of a child, but also with the cold hard respect of an adult.  
When people cut down old growth forests I wonder how they can do this.  They have no respect for nature.  They are cutting down something wiser and stronger than them.  They are proving themselves to be nothing but fools.  What they do not know is that sooner or later nature will cut them down, and seeds will sprout up in place of the old trees, long after civilization has been dusted off the planet.  

Tour Poetry Day 5: Imperfect Cities

In La Rochelle, France
I once walked the crooked streets
In awe of its civilized beauty
Before long I noticed
There were no advertisements
Except the painted store signs
Crafted with careful elegance
By local artisans
Today, as I drove through the mountains
Of western Colorado
Where every bend in the road
Left you awestruck with wonder
It felt good to be free
Of the oppressive billboards
And the garish lighted signs
That fill so many of our cities
If only we had more self respect
We would tear down these aesthetic horrors
This blight upon our culture
And then maybe, even our imperfect cities
Built by the fallen hands of man
Might also stand a chance
Of wonder

Steamboat,  Colorado 8/3/14

In the Shade of Those Trees

If I want to possibly catch a glimpse of God
I’ll go out into Hill Country
Where the majestic oaks are more beautiful
Than any art made by man
How many people died raising the pyramids?
How many died building the cathedrals in Europe?
Not one died creating those trees
I’ll tell you where I won’t go
To church on Sunday
Where a person the same as me
No matter what kind of funny outfit they have on
Claims that they have some kind of
Supernatural information
Even though it was probably
Passed down to them
By some ancestor
That slew another
In the shade of those trees

Austin 7/28/14