Saturday, November 30, 2013

Borrego or Bust

In early October, I hitched up my Santa Fe cigarbox trailer to my Tacoma pickup and drove blue highways to Borrego Springs, accompanied by stalwart old friend and sister-by-proclamation Kate Thornton. She met up with me in Barstow and we lumbered slowly down 247, The Old Woman Highway, to Yucca Valley where she treated me to steak dinner and amenity-rich ovenight stay in a motel. Next day we drove south 40 mph against a stormy, rainy headwind along the western shore of Salton Sea and west into Anza Borrego. Ocotillo and creosote all around us green from the late monsoons.

There's a new gallery in Borrego Springs: The Borrego Art Institute. A mid-century modern style building all boarded up and wasting away on Christmas Circle was rescued by inspired and diligent local volunteers and contributors and presented to the Mojave in splendid restoration and repurposition. They had posted a Prospectus to Artists -- bring 5 pieces to the gallery between Oct 5 and 10, and get a jury pass/fail on the spot for inclusion in Flora and Fauna show. I unloaded my entries and I passed muster! Our show reception was busy and colorful and I managed to find a buyer for one of my series of small owls.

Check it out: (this show is now archived)


I had planned to remain in Borrego Springs dry camped at Peg Leg 10 miles from town, possibly until December, but after two weeks there, I knew I couldn't stick it out. The valley is a rocky sandbox bounded by low mountains, containing sculpted mud playgrounds for off-road vehicle fans and creosote plains for winter RV parking for snow-birds. A haven for restless people; but even as a restless person myself, I was homesick.

I felt no spiritual connection to anything in Anza Borrego.

Spiritual reality is not airy-fairy, wispy, dreamy, moody or intellectual. It is physical, or rather, our spiritual being is usually manifest to us as physical experience in the material world. A good spirit can be an experience of nourishment, affection, communion. A sensual closeness with stones, plants, air, spatial arrangement, the tilt of the land, the color of the light. In Borrego I felt my roots withdraw from the ground; I was truncated, clumsy, burdened.  Local food tasted metallic. It was either too windy or too quiet to breathe.  No streams, lakes, river, ditches, or canals.  I could not paint, I could not write. I had felt similarly oppressed in Death Valley -- now I think I can guess why: no water. Eastern Sierra waters flow out of the mountains down the escarpment into the valley, and as dry as it has been these past two years of dry winters, there is still water streaming out of the mountains into the land. I wonder if this watershed is what founds and informs my sense of feeling "at home" in that country, and appears in my paintings as a harbinger of spiritual feeling, or longing for home.

I drove away through Joshua Tree and Kate met me again in Yucca Valley and escorted me again, returning on 395 under a light storm through the Johnson and Lucerne Valleys, past Barstow to Kramer Junction, then on through the tailings piles of Red Mountain and Johannesburg, past black and red volcanic forms in the Coso Range and past the salt and soda of dry Owens Lake, Cartago, Olancha and finally Lone Pine. I resumed photographing and painting the next day.

I will be spending the winter again in Owens Valley campgrounds, keeping faith with the series of paintings I began 3 years ago, camped at Independence Creek.

More later .... I have new paintings to post as soon as I declare them ready, and a solo show opening at Maturango Museum in Ridgecrest in January 2014.