One January morning 12 years ago in Los Angeles, I was driving to the dump in a pickup truck with a friend, depressed. My rowdy friend was weary of my malaise. In between throwing emptied beer cans out the window, he suggested that rather than continue wallowing in suffering, that we might instead celebrate the fact that we were still alive and free to move around. “Don’t be such a chickenshit,” he said.”
Curious to experiment with this novel approach to my persistent blues, I suggested a trip to the Kelso Dunes.
The Kelso Dunes are one of seven North American dune fields that produce “booming dunes.” The cascades of sand that walkers dislodge set off vibrations that sound like low-flying planes, and feel like standing front and center at a Sunn O))) show. We began our ascent after dark under a waning gibbous moon, our heads percolating with fifth kingdom remedies. Six hundred feet of elevation gain in shifting sand and howling wind took us around two hours. We descended in a fraction of the time, hooting and hollering as we tumbled down the dune’s face. A cold night sleeping in the open desert under a sky rippling with shades of deep purple followed.
Adopting this approach to depression – staying mobile in spite of anxiety and unpleasant thoughts – has been a life-changing practice. Embracing impermanence and indulging in the fullness of the present moment didn’t solve any of my problems, and it led to a cold night sleeping in the open desert. Six months later it meant leaving my life as a writer in Los Angeles to become a medic with Marfa EMS in a remote region of Far West Texas. After a few wild years in the Big Bend, the path led to residential practice at the Indianapolis Zen Center, and now to a rich and comparatively quiet existence, happily married in East Central Indiana. I’m still depressed sometimes, but I’m better at taking care of the depression, and not seeing it as a barrier to life.
I wouldn’t have talked about it this way at the time, but in hindsight these photos remind me of one of my favorite Alan Watts lines, from The Spirit of Zen (1936): The freedom and poverty of Zen is to leave everything and “Walk on,” for this is what life itself does, and Zen is the religion of life.
Scenes from the Secret Show, a midnight concert held in Terlingua’s Church of Santa Inez, featuring an acoustic performance from the McMercy Family Band. The show coincided with the Terlingua Green Scene, a festival of art, film, gardening and sustainable living strategies. I’m currently working on a long-form profile of the homesteaders and off-the-grid artists behind the Green Scene, soon to be published in Arthur Magazine.
Full moon exposures from the night of 9-10 May 2009. Documented at a backcountry campsite on the northwestern slope of the Hexie Mountains, near the Squaw Tank monzogranite in Joshua Tree National Park.
Fresh material from my most recent trip to Far West Texas is now up on the Arthur Magazine site. Click here to read “Dread Zeppelins: Letter from West Texas,” a short photo essay about the the U.S. Air Force’s tethered aerostat radar system — aka “the drug blimp” — based outside of Marfa, TX.
Urban outdoor lighting produces enough spectral pollution to turn the city’s night sky into an orange-grey dome, smudging out all but the brightest stars. Of the myriad organisms affected by humanity’s colonization of the darkness by way of electromagnetic radiation, plants are of particular interest. Plant life cycles revolve according to their light environment: Photoreceptors tell them when to extend stems or broaden leaves; when to germinate and when to die.
These images are an examination of photosynthetic organisms as painted with the palette of artificial night lighting. The viewer’s attention is drawn away from the horizon — where the natural light has disappeared — to emphasize the industrial lighting on the organic textures. Tree limbs are framed against the night sky, nebulous clouds of leaves reflecting the glare of sodium vapor security lamps; groundcover is shot from directly above, micro-landscapes rendered in the orange halide tones of residential streetlights.
All of these images were made after civil twilight — when the sun is six degrees below the horizon — using available light with exposures from 20 to 696 seconds.
My photographs from “Honest Work: Life on a Humboldt Cannabis Farm During Harvest Season” by Dave Reeves, are now available online in the December 2008 issue of Arthur Magazine. Read it online here. Download the complete issue as a PDF here.