Folks, This is Art

The road leading up to, or down from, Great Basin National Park is lined with several examples of “folk art,” a phenomena I’ve observed on most of my long trips. I doubt many of these pieces would ever end up in museums, but I love them and will usually stop to photograph them, at least when they are on a long, isolated stretch of highway where it’s safe to pull over. I think they stand as a testament to peoples’ innate desire, and need, for art.

More often than not, they display a twisted sense of humor, which might explain why I like them. Here’s the one that first caught my attention.


It was hard to miss that turquoise face as I drove by, though it took awhile to recognize that those twisted coat hangers probably represented an antenna. It’s not hard to understand why someone might feel alienated, or even threatened by aliens, living out here in the middle of the high desert in Nevada, though you’d think they might find some comfort in nearby casinos and bordello.

If you can’t find comfort in your moonshine jug, it’s probably comforting to know that you’re likely to die with your cowboy boots on out here,


which somehow brought back fond memories of the year I was five and last wore my cowboy boots in Goldendale, Washington. Now they’d have to bury me with my sandals on.

It wasn’t until I had passed these more dramatic set pieces that I noticed a number of subtler figures festooning the barbed wire fence.


Judging from the wire frame, I suspect the poor girl’s dress is a little the worse for wear, probably to be expected if the weather we experienced on our two days there were any indication of what the weather can be like here.

The last, or first, set-piece depending on whether you’re coming or going, was this old four-door with no wheels.


Hopefully it will be a long while and a long ways from here before my Toyota Tacoma Camper suffers a similar fate.

The Great Basin’s Lehman Caves

I’m certainly not a spelunker. In fact, judging from past experiences in large caves, I probably have a mild case of claustrophobia. At the very least, such places often make me feel uncomfortable, wondering why I ever subjected myself to the experience. So, I was a little apprehensive when we first heard about Great Basin’s Lehman caves and even more undecided when we had to decide if we wanted the thirty minute tour or the ninety minute tour. As it turned out the well-lit caves didn’t affect me the way most caves had in the past; I was glad we decided on the ninety minute tour.

I also questioned whether it was worth taking a camera with me, but the caves were well-lit so I was able to get several shots that capture the feel of the caves; it probably helped that I had an expensive camera and shot HDR. The hardest part was trying to find something to actually focus on, particularly since they used spotlights to light up areas of the cave.

It was hard not to capture fantastical shapes wherever you pointed your camera.


Somehow these stalagmites and stalactite reminded me of old, deteriorated Asian ruins.


I liked the way different levels of the cave were illuminated. Often, lights at lower level seemed quite practical, helping to light the way through the caves. Overhead lights seemed less practical, but definitely added to the atmosphere of the caves.


This shot was taken looking back at a large “room” that our group had just walked through.

Lehman4 Try as I might, I couldn’t eliminate the washed out area without plunging the rest of the photo into total darkness. Although we kept to a single walkway, it was obvious that spelunkers could explore other areas of the caves not commonly visited, Lehman5

though I was perfectly content to stay on the beaten path. Our guide showed us places where the original spelunkers were forced to crawl far too far to reach the next section of the cave, often with nothing more than candles. Needless to say, I wouldn’t have been one of those crawling through the darkness with a candle.

Only those who take the 90 minute tour get to see this huge formation a the end of the tour.


I’m not sure I would call it beautiful, but it was certainly awe-some, like some alien life-form.

Great Basin National Park

Leslie and I took our first long trip in our Toyota Tacoma camper last week, a trip full of some nice and some not-so-nice surprises. I’d been told a couple of years ago that Great Basin National Park in Nevada had some spectacular Bristlecone Pines and had wanted to go there ever since. Leslie read that they held a moonlight walk once a month and that appealed to her. So we decided to start our round trip at Great Basin.

I knew it would be a long drive through mostly high desert country, and it was. After nearly a thousand miles of driving I was more than ready to stop at the Pony Express Trail Memorial along US Highway 93 north of Ely.


Of course, I’d long ago read about the Pony Express, but actually crossing the same ground they had to ride across gave me a deeper appreciation of their accomplishment.

Unfortunately, the closer we got to Great Basin National Park the worse the weather got. If I’d had any sense, and a better weather forecast, I would have taken a lot more pictures on the way up the mountain, because the weather kept getting worse and worse as the day wore on.

Our campsite, though, was quite beautiful. The birch trees had already started changing color at 10, 000 feet and even the meadows seemed a golden-green.


Unfortunately, as the hour for the moon walk grew near, the skies were an ominous grey-black. We figured the walk would be canceled since there was little chance of seeing the moon, and we were right. The ranger told us that it was the highest percentage of rain they had ever gotten in the park.


As it turned out, I was very glad that we hadn’t started out on the trail. Within an hour we were surrounded by lightning and pounded by the hardest rain I can ever remember experiencing. Of course, the aluminum roof on our pickup probably amplified the sounds of the rain. It turned out the storm was the result of their customary monsoons and the Hurricane that hit LA and Phoenix the day before. I think they nearly matched their annual rainfall in two hours.

I must admit that for the half hour or so I enjoyed seeing the sky light up and immediately hearing the thunder shake the pickup. By the end, of the storm, though I was more than ready to go to sleep, but the storm kept me awake. It wouldn’t have been so disappointing if it had only rained that night, but the skies looked equally ominous the next morning when we drove down the mountain to visit the Lehman caves.


Despite having driven nearly a 1,000 miles to see the Bristlecone Pines and the moon, I didn’t want to spend another day of our limited vacation sitting around waiting for the rain to clear. I figured if the trees had managed to last 4 to 5 thousand years, they would still be there when I got back the next time.

Luckily, the trip wasn’t a total loss as the Lehman caves, which I’d never heard of before, turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip.

Sky Above, Great Wind: The Life and Poetry of Zen Master Ryokan

Recently I had to drive to Portland to get a special rear bumper put on my Toyota pickup. I figured that I would get a poetry book to read since I was told that I would have to wait at least three hours to have the old bumper taken off and the new one installed. Considering how many partially read poetry books I have laying around my den, I decided I would buy the Kindle version of Kazuaki Tanahashi’s Sky Above, Great Wind: The Life and Poetry of Zen Master Ryokan.

It turned out installing the bumper took nearly 6 hours, not three, so I managed to finish the book in one sitting. It was hard to ignore the irony in waiting to have a $4, 000 bumper installed while reader Ryokan’s poetry extolling the virtues of the simple life. It is indeed a strange world when camping out in a small pickup with a small camper can be considered “living the simple life.” After a lifetime of backpacking, I’m amazed at how spacious my camper seems. But every time I pull into a KOA campground and hook up to water and electricity next to a huge motor home I’m reminded that everything is relative.

Despite owning far too many things, including poetry books, I still identify with the spirit of Ryokan’s Zen poetry. This is the second book of his poetry I’ve purchased, but it has been so long between works that I really can’t compare them, though I’m sure that Tanahashi’s collection contained several new insights and a larger selection of Ryokan’s poems.

In the introduction Tanahashi contrasts Ryokan with the two other great figures in Zen Buddhism in Japan:

Unlike Dogen and Hakuin, Ryokan did not engage in the training of monks in monasteries. Instead, he practiced alone in extreme austerity without producing any dharma heir. He dropped out of society as well as the Zen community and could therefore be seen as a failure as a Zen teacher. Having no possessions may not have been the most effective way to attain freedom. It was nevertheless Ryokan’s way of life. Creative thinking and mystical encounters often unfold in silent solitude. The more intricately engaged in society we are, the more we may need to be in retreat. Humility is the highest means to selflessness, clarity, and compassion. Through his utterly modest and unaffected life, Ryokan unfolds a vast realm of serenity that can inspire us all.

Poems like

I don’t regard my life
as insufficient.
Inside the brushwood gate
there is a moon;
there are flowers.

while advocating the simple life seem to suggest that Ryokan also knew that many people saw his way of life as a failure.

Part of Ryokan’s appeal to me is precisely that he left his practicing community and practiced the dharma alone:

I don’t tell the murky world
to turn pure.
I purify myself
and check my reflection
in the water of the valley brook.

Withdrawing from the practicing community, he walked alone through mountains and villages, ringing a belled staff and chanting a verse of a sutra at each house. He treated everyone with respect and loving-kindness. Whether people offered him food, ignored him, or harshly drove him away, he was determined to remain true to his path as a monk.

Never a great follower, I’ve discovered many of my own truths while hiking or camping in Washington and Oregon’s wilderness, far away from the classroom and the books that I’ve devoted much of my life to.

Tanahashi’s commentary is often as concise as the poems themselves, but it adds another dimension to Ryokan’s poems.

One of Ryokan’s death poems summarizes his lifelong loneliness, openness, and reconciliation with transiency:

Showing its back
and showing its front,
a falling maple leaf.

Though I’m not quite sure how the poem conveys “his lifelong loneliness, Tanahashi’s comment made me think more longer about the poem than I otherwise might have.

Many of Ryokan’s poems don’t need any commentary at all.

See and realize
that this world
is not permanent.
Neither late nor early flowers
will remain.

My recent travels have clearly shown that Fall is nearly upon us. I’ll be out enjoying our recent sunshine because Fall and Winter rains can’t be far behind.

Feels Like Home

Thankfully, September has finally arrived. August has been a challenging month for me. We’ve had considerable work done on the house, and even though I didn’t do much of the work myself I’ve had to be here while house-painters, window-installers and yard-workers have done their work. In other words, I haven’t been able to hit the road like I’d hoped, though I have managed to get out at least weekly, walking Theler Wetlands in Belfair most of the month.That should end shortly.

Summer birding around here isn’t nearly as exciting as Fall, Spring, or even Winter birding, but I do enjoy Theler every time I’m there and would probably make it a daily walk if it wasn’t a 45 minute drive away. I enjoy the four mile plus walk along the creek, through the woods, and next to the Sound whether alone or walking with a group of fellow birders.

Summer is the greenest month of all,


and there’s no place better to revel in the greenness of it all than in the mixed forests at the beginning and the end of the walk where small trees and shrubs crowd the feet of cedars and firs.

I generally see the same birds visit after visit, though occasionally there’s a surprise passer-by. Luckily, I never tire of hearing the warning cry of Killdeer as I walk by,


never tire of the golden flash of American Goldfinch,


never tire of walking through a flock of diving swallows, whether Tree Swallows, Cliff Swallows, or Barn Swallows like this waiting to feed its young until I pass.


It may not be exciting, but it feels comfortable, like home. I’m always thankful Theler Wetlands doesn’t belong to an individual owner and hope fellow visitors feel, like I do, that they belong here.

No News is Good News

I think that if I were forced to sit in front of the television or my computer screen every day for the whole year I would slit my wrists — the news of our world seems that bad, and, if the news doesn’t convince me that it’s that bad, the organizations I give to regularly would certainly convince me through their emails requesting funds/signatures.

Luckily, in the summer I manage to get outside most of the time, and there’s always something to see that convinces me the world’s a beautiful place if we manage to take care of it. More often than not, I find that beauty in one of the few places that retain their native beauty, but occasionally I also retreat to man-made places that gather beauty from all over the world in one place.

A favorite of these is the Pt. Defiance Dahlia Garden, especially this time of year when dahlias are in their prime. Dahlias must be one of the most diverse family of flowers, both in shape and color.

Some, like this beauty, manage to combine several different elements into a harmonious whole.


while others offer startling contrasts, like this red, white, and yellow flower.


It’s hard to believe this one is even related to the first two, startling with brilliant summer colors.


while this one takes on a peaceful lotus-like shape.


Hard to find a better way to escape the news of the day than a quiet morning walking through a dahlia garden.

This Economy is Giving Me the Blues

I think I’ve done a remarkably good job of limiting my political views to my Facebook account recently, but, since I’m already off on that vein, I thought I’d share these two things that happened to appear at almost the same moment.

I’d just received a notice that Playing for Change had released a new album, and since I support their initiative I went to iTunes and purchased their new album. After listening to the Keb’ Mo’ cut, I went back to iTunes and ended up purchasing his “Bluesamericana” album. This cut

was a favorite, perhaps because it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting from a blues album, though, in retrospect, I probably should have expected it.

As I was listening to the song I was also browsing Facebook where I found this Bernie Sanders quote


posted by long-time blogger friend Jeff Ward.

Together they go a long ways toward expressing my frustration with an economy that seems determined to undermine the middle class and pervert our democracy into an oligarchy, if it hasn’t already occurred.