Saturday, November 18, 2017

Above and Beyond

The other morning, I strode buoyantly homeward after a predawn workout. I was feeling refreshed and invigorated by the physical activity and the clean crispness of the air. As far back as high school, I have had a love-hate relationship with early morning exercise. I hate to drag myself out of a warm, comfortable bed to initiate an hour or so of (what I consider) strenuous activity, but I love the feeling of having battled a more matronly figure one more day. I also enjoy witnessing the dawn of new beginnings.

As I walked home, I glanced to the west and witnessed a spectacular show of light and color. The sky dome overhead was a dark and dreary gray. It looked as if a curved lens cap of high clouds fit snugly over the world. The exception was a horrific-looking rift on the southwestern horizon. A ragged tear of incredibly bright orangey-red light split the horizontal separation between earth and sky. I thought to myself that this must be how the first primordial dawn looked.

Stopping in my tracks, I watched in wonder as the rift widened until the sun sprang forth, igniting the earth one more time. The fiery orb lit up and blended with the blanketing cloud cover and cast an ominous glow upon the surrounding landscape. It was a simple, yet glorious, moment. I wondered what ancient peoples might have thought of such events. The Sky World must have at once attracted and repelled them.

Working with local Native American artists has allowed Steve and me a deep and abiding interest in their creativity, and the myth and legend from which they draw inspiration. We have learned that the Sky World is of critical importance. Living in such close proximity to the natural world and her splendid wonders allows these artists a unique and exciting perspective that many of us can only imagine. To them, the sky alone implies a potent, thought-provoking reality.

The sky is infinite, remote, inconceivably immense, inaccessible, and eternal. From this upper realm, as with numerous cultures around the world, the Navajo derived their first notion of the divine. Native artists are inspired by thunder bolts, eclipses, storms, meteors, falling stars, phases of the moon, sunsets, and rainbows. The sky was (and is) an endlessly active dimension with a life all its own.

Although the Sky World was basically effected by human beings, it affected and motivated them tremendously. From this elevated realm evolved cultural and faith-based inspiration that developed into elements that were essential to their spiritually inspired, artistic lives. These, now iconic, images are projected through rug weaving, basket, jewelry, and folk craft.

The images include the Bearer of the Sun, who carries the light disk across the sky and can represent youth, endurance, virility, and strength, and the Moon, a more settled personality associated with knowledge, wisdom, compassion, and understanding. These two inseparable characters combine to present a harmonious, balanced persona. Big Thunder, Star People, and those beings with dual citizenship to earth and sky, such as the raptors and small birds, are now common to Native American art forms.

All of these images are instrumental and beneficial in explaining creation, existence, and relationships. The art allows us to experience a mystical unity with people of a unique perspective derived from the ancient past and the natural world. This grants us a glimpse at primitive richness common to the land in which we dwell and the people with whom we associate. Look to the skies, there is beauty and enlightenment there.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Old '59

Most Sunday mornings, I am the designated manager at Twin Rocks Cafe. That is my reward for not attending church. While the cooks prepare breakfast, fry bacon, steam oatmeal, and bake biscuits, I sometimes stand at the south-facing picture windows, waiting for the sun to crest the eastern horizon. When it ultimately does, the sandstone cliffs embracing our small community glow with a stunning pink-coral radiance. It’s enough to take my breath away.

Promptly at 8 a.m., we illuminate the open signs and begin welcoming hungry travelers. Last week as I stood admiring the natural light, a late model pickup turned into the gravel parking lot. Hitched to the truck was a gooseneck trailer loaded with a vintage Ford F-250. The transport came to a stop and a couple in their early 30s hopped out and headed my direction. I could tell by the way they hurried along, they were in desperate need of a coffee infusion, so I alerted the server.

Once the pair had settled into a booth and placed their order, I asked about the classic car. “It’s her’s .” the young man said, pointing to his wife. Pleased I had taken an interest in her truck, she said, “It’s a 1959. Has some scratches and dents, a bit of rust; body looks good from afar; not so great up close; not bad for an old one.”

Feeling unexpectedly self-conscious, I surprised myself by declaring, “I’m a 1959.” “Oh, that’s interesting,” the woman said, wholly unaware she had exposed a nerve. For some reason, I could not help thinking that in describing the old ‘59 she had illuminated my own characteristics: more than a few scrapes and scars, not bad from a distance, but don’t look too closely. All of the sudden, I felt a strong affinity for the vintage truck.

Considering the current state of affairs: scratches, dents, worn joints, wiring not firing so well, leaky valves, and noxious exhaust, I was initially uneasy. Then I began to envision the adventures that old truck might have had in its prime. I thought of it tooling down a country road, feeling the excitement of new power and straining to find the limits, everything working at maximum efficiency. Over the sound of wind rushing through open windows, I could hear Elvis crooning Big Hunk O’ Love and My Wish Come True on the AM radio.

I conceived of projects started and completed: loads of building materials hammered into a beautiful home, rocks for landscaping, and bags of leaves raked from lush green lawns as winter approached. I could see children piling into the cab, on their way to camping trips, birthday parties, school events, and athletic contests.

The miles sped past, eventually delivering me to the present. There we were, the old truck and me, with all our warts and bumps, monuments to almost six decades of experience, rooted in the past, but looking ahead. It was then I noticed the young man’s ball cap. “Life is Good,” it proclaimed. “No, life is great,” I thought as the couple finished their breakfast and left to continue their journey.