Sunday, January 8, 2012

A New Year in Anza Borrego

I took off on a January road trip and visited fulltiming friends dry camped in Anza Borrego for the winter. Mild evenings, cool mornings, pleasant days -- not freezing-the-pipes nights like Bishop.  Lotsa fan palms, date palms, teddy bear cactus. A bowl of alkaline earth, circled by mountains.

An Afternoon at The Slabs and Salvation Mountain
Websites to fill you in:

Slab City was one of Chris McCandless' stops on his way to Alaska in the movie Into the Wild. We visited the Range Stage where he sings his duet with the young trailer lady. The irrigation canal at the "back" of the grounds was newly earth-worked and fenced. The place did not seem as crowded as I had imagined. We waved at many folks coming out of RVs at the end of the day to sit on folding chairs and chat. 

I had seen many photos of the the heart slope but I was unprepared for the spectacularly colorful interior armature of Leonard Knight's Museum rooms constructed of straw bales, branches, clay and paint, paint. The late afternoon light lit up the branching ceiling structures, falling through small irregularly spaced windows -- although the word "irregular" is impertinent here, for the regulation is evident, but it is not derived from an engineer's blueprint but rather seems to mimic the fractal growth patterns found in nature. The colors glow and reflect into one another like sunlight refracts through stained-glass windows in old churches. The interior spaces are very small and close, but while looking up into their ceilings, the armatures appear to extend into a greater space than is actually present. I was reminded of the Watts Towers, cathedrals, playground jungle-gyms, color-coded illustrations of neurons in the brain, the painting classroom at Immaculate Heart College with its banners, puppets, blocks, and Mary's Day parades, and the boxfulls of photographs I have taken and continue to take of trees and thickets, thickets. He painted no figures -- it's all words and flowers and waters (the blue and white striped areas are the Sea of Galilee).
Alas, I came too late to meet the artist himself. Here is some of his work:

Winter Colors

Dry and cold, late autumn and early winter in Owens Valley. Donkeys, mules and horses stand in the sticks, nosing up to the fence when I stop to take pictures. 

Winter colors rarely appear in postcards. Stripped of the stuff of vacation fantasies, the armature of winter stands stark, leaning into shadows, then catches for a moment the late horizontal sunlight as it strikes across the valley before dropping behind the ridge. What lies underneath, what remains, what still contains the power to surge into summer.