art, Holy Wild, Nature Photography

The Sights of Santa Fe

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Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe

Even just a few days in Santa Fe can leave me speechless…

Partly because I’m parched — my rain-soaked soul, so used to wandering the misty shores of Puget Sound, rebels against the high elevation and incredibly dry climate…

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But mostly because, in the midst of the desert, the astounding color and diversity of human culture overwhelms me with amazement and gratitude.

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From the unique architecture…

The Lensic Performaing Arts Center

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The New Mexico Museum of Modern Art

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IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts

To the spirituality…

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Prayer flags outside The Ark Bookstore

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The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe

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The local flora and fauna…

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Arts and crafts around every corner…

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From the sense of history and ancestry…

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To the worst of modern tourist traps, where southwest native culture is mass produced and plastic wrapped…

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I find myself entranced by the patterns and textures of the place…

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And all the beauty there is still to see…


Want to see more…? You can find these photographs and more from my recent trip to Santa Fe on Flickr.

Holy Wild, Poetry & Music

Muse Abused: Ars Poetica

Mire and Light

Muse Abused: Ars Poetica

She sleeps with fists
clenched and wakes with bruises
in her palms.
She is reversible.
She folds colored paper along creases
that could break
open the skyline,
then quietly she unfolds it again.
The moon rises.
She knows the empty
roads, long and wet with rain, punctuated
by streetlamps,
are what whisper
along the necks of sleeping girls, absence
of unwoken hours.
She pretends subtlety.
Shadows cling to the hem of her
dress, ends of her
hair, broken strands
of moonlight that ripple down her back.
She moves first
with her silver eyes;
her body follows like fog slowly melting.
She does not breathe.
The stream breathes
of her. She cradles thick riverbanks
like an instrument,
touches three strings.
One chord moves the air, three drops
of rain entering
the same pond.
She traces circles back to their beginnings.
She is afraid of
losing the source
of things. She understands dissipation.
She bathes her old
soul in oil pastels
and touches three strings with charcoal
fingertips. The stars
circle their beginnings.
She sleeps with fists clenched and wakes
with inky palms.


This post is part of the 7th Annual Brigid Poetry Festival.

Holy Wild, Nature Photography

Solace of Perfection, Beauty of Decay

Dragonskin - Bouquet
Dragonskin – Bouquet

Let’s just say that life has been a bit stressful lately with everything going on. Back in high school and college when life was understandably a bit like being high strung on a high wire, I would throw myself into poetry. I spent long hours playing with words and sounds, line breaks and juxtaposition. Now, since writing is kind of a career for me these days, I find that I need some other creative outlet that I can throw myself into head first without worrying about being good at it.

For the last couple months, it’s been nature photography. (Really, it’s been longer than that, more like years, but I’ve really ramped it up this autumn.) Until only a week or so ago, all I had was a dinky point-and-shoot camera with very few setting options. If you’re anything like me, here’s some advice about hobbies: having shitty equipment can help loosen the grip of perfectionism and challenge you to get creative.

Steampunk Leaf
Steampunk Leaf

This autumn, I’ve been obsessed with rot and decay. The forested park at the end of my street has been beckoning. When I’ve felt overwhelmed with bills and deadlines and looming to-do lists, I’ve slipped my dinky camera into my pocket and headed out into the woods. I’ve spent hours hunched over taking odd close-ups of half-disintegrated leaves and bent-and-broken twigs. People walking past with their dogs have slowed their pace, wondering if I’d spotted some rare creature among the detritus. Nope. Just the detritus itself.

Dragonskin - Molting
Dragonskin – Molting

It’s not like I can afford any fancy photo-editing software, either. Just the free version of GIMP. Which means another excuse to spend hours making painstaking adjustments for even the simplest bit of clean-up or mood effect that might take two minutes with Photoshop or Lightroom. I obsess over pixels the way I used to over iambs — in that utterly free way that doesn’t matter to anyone but me.

Antiqued Wildflower
Antiqued Wildflower

Now I have a new camera — a fancy Canon DSLR that I was able to get for myself as an early solstice present thanks to the prize money from 1000kalema. A whole new bunch of features and settings to master, new details to obsess over, new lenses to work with…. I’m hoping this step up in equipment will keep me busy at least through the end of my Saturn Return. You can probably expect the photographs about decay, death, time and eternity to keep on trickling in.

Pomegranate and Candle
Pomegranate and Candlelight

(If you want to watch the trickle in-real-time, I’m over on Flickr.)

Holy Wild, Muse in Brief

Muse in Media: Disturbing Gentleness

Timothy Morton, author of Ecology Without Nature and The Ecological Thought, is attending the conference on Eastern and Indigenous Perspectives on Sustainability and Conflict Resolution at the University of South Florida this week and has done those of us philosophy-grad-student wanna-bees an amazing service by making the audio recording and slide show of his talk, Disturbing Gentleness, available on his blog.

Morton’s understanding of nonviolence resonates deeply with my own. It is not a passivity or denial of violence and death, but something that arises from and gives rise to existence itself. We are inconsistent beings, and the rift within our very selves is what allows for movement, spaciousness, beauty and death. Nonviolence is simply allowing this inconsistency in ourselves, and others, without trying to reduce it or extrapolate away from it. In this sense, perhaps the deepest expression of nonviolence is acceptance of things as they are — it is in fact the very opposite of denial.

But as usual, I fear my summary is not nearly as eloquent or compelling as Morton’s talk (not to mention, my language is perhaps not as careful and nuanced as his). So I’ll step out of the way and let his words speak for themselves. Below are a few of my favorite quotes from the lecture, but be sure to head over to his blog to listen to the entire thing. (It’s forty minutes, but worth every second — especially considering how quickly he talks!)

“It’s not simply that nonviolence is a good idea. Nonviolence is existence. Existence is nonviolence.”

“Causality happens because of a dance of nonidentity taking place on the ontological inside of a thing.”

“There very attempt to tear myself away [from the interlinked, enmeshedness of things] enmeshes me further. Conscious coexistence with the mesh involves a form of nonviolence.”

“The knife of beauty is able to insert itself into the slit between an object’s essence and appearance.”

“Beauty is a nonviolent experience of near-death, a warning that one is fragile like everything else in the universe.”

“The inner fragility of a thing is why a thing can exist at all.”

“Things are the rubble of other things. Nonviolence means to coexist nonviolently with this rubble, to let the rubble be rubble, rather than trying to build a nice smooth golf course over it.”

“A reduction of an object to its appearance is a reduction of an object to consistency. An object is internally riven, it is fundamentally inconsistent. Thus the imposition of consistency is simply violence on the most profound level at which violence can manifest. Nonviolence, at this level of being, is allowing an object to remain inconsistent.”

“What the #Occupy movements get right is that sheer coexistence of people […] is a very powerful thing. Why? Because it is a living symbol of coexisting with coexistence as such, in all its inconsistency and fragility.”

(Morton’s description of the process and purpose of meditation and contemplation:) “Humans must get used to the depth of nonviolence in their being.”

Current Events, Featured, Holy Wild

#Occupy as a Work of Art

I’m a Druid. One reason for that is my love of poetry. Another is my love of peace.

The archetype of the Druid encompasses both the poet and the peacemaker. The inspired bard who holds the memory of the tribe in his songs; the half-wild, half-mad seer who lives on the edge of society, chasing the whispers of the gods in the dark woods and the deep caves; the satirist who can bring down a ruler with a single, scathing word. But also the adviser to kings; the wise counselor and judge; the calm, centered presence that cries Peace! in the midst of a battlefield, who can hold two opposing armies at bay with the strength of a word.

Sometimes I don’t spend enough time considering how the role of the poet and the role of the peacemaker work together and influence each other. It’s easy to think of the poet as the dreamer and visionary, protected from the noise of common society, fiercely guarding the sacred solitude in which she does her work. It’s easy to imagine the peacemaker and political activist as the motivated mover and shaker, always busy, always at work on a plan to influence those in power and change the world. These ideals have often been at odds in my own heart as I’ve struggled to understand my place in society and how best I can live my life as a member of the world community.

But the truth is, sometimes the peacemaker must rest, pause for reflection, turn an attentive ear to the currents or simply trust in the invisible processes of change that ripple through the larger community. And sometimes the poet must act. When the poet and peacemaker act together, not as opposites but as allies, the creative work that results can change the world in unexpected ways.

The poem, the work of art, is a political act — for it articulates and frames the questions, struggles, griefs and desires of a community through the unique insight and self-expression of an individual. A work of art preserves the particular individuality of experience even as it communicates something universal, and in this way it can be even more powerful than the most carefully drafted philosophical manifesto. And if the poem can be a political act, then the political act can be a poem.

This is how I’ve come to understand the #OccupyWallSt movement as it grows and spreads all over the country and across the globe. It is a political act that is also a large-scale, public work of art. It invites participation and contemplation. It articulates the fears, angers and griefs of a community during a time of upheaval and uncertainty. And it does this not through abstract philosophies or political punditry, but through the direct expression of movement, community, bodies, feet on the ground, hands in the air. There is nothing more concrete and specific than thousands of individuals huddling in tents night after night sharing warmth and food and stories together, or marching together in rallies of support, solidarity and protest.

It’s continued to be a common and easy criticism of the #Occupy movement that it has no clearly defined goals. This may or may not be the case (#OWS has consistently released statements of intention and purpose articulating what they hope to accomplish and why). But either way, expecting specific, concrete objectives against which we can measure the #Occupy movement’s success or failure might just be missing the point.

How often do we judge works of art according to their effectiveness at accomplishing specific, objective goals? Works of art are cultural artifacts that help to shape the conversation and transform entrenched attitudes over time. Whether or not they accomplish specific, pre-defined goals is not as important as the new possibilities and soul-deep changes they help to inspire. We do not consider Thoreau’s Walden, Emerson’s Nature or Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac failures because they didn’t lead to immediate, specific changes in policy; and we do not consider Carson’s Silent Spring a success merely because it did. Instead, all of these works have helped to inspire generations of conservationists, environmental activists and modern Pagans not only to take active steps to protect the environment but also to cultivate a meaningful and honorable relationship with the natural world that reaches far beyond the implications of government policy. Similarly, many of the most influential works of art and literature in history have only been appreciated for their influence thanks to the benefit of hindsight. That influence reaches into the very hearts and minds of ordinary people, not just into the public’s wallets and voting booths.

How do we measure the success or failure of such art in the short term?

That question leads me to wonder if we actually end up serving the interests of those in power rather than the general public when we insist that all social acts of protest be “practical” and take the form of concrete, linear goal-setting. Such linear approaches to cultural change — like large-scale overhauls of economic and government systems — almost always require top-down enforcement . When such attempts are successful, they enable those at the “top” to claim the credit. When attempts at linear goal-setting fail — almost always because grassroots movements lack the political clout or financial support to succeed in a rigged game — it is easy to dismiss protesters as “fuzzy-headed” and disorganized. But this again only reinforces the basic assumption that the current power structure is the most efficient and effective way to accomplish change, while subtlety prohibiting any change that might challenge those structures of power themselves.

This is arguably why protests in the United States have been weak and ineffectual over the past several decades. By aspiring to practicality, they have in fact bought into the very assumptions that discredit their approach. Certainly when a current power structure is undeniably corrupt and incompetent at meeting the people’s basic needs (as it was in Egypt under Mubarak), the simple linear goals of a populist movement can manage to overthrow the narrative of those in power. But do we want to wait for things in this country to get that bad?

In the short term, we can look at the success or failure of the #Occupy movement by asking ourselves what it accomplishes in the here and now. Works of art are not only valuable for what they might accomplish in the future; they are valuable as unique expressions of meaning and social consciousness in the present moment. To quote the folk singer Ani DiFranco, great art, like mercy, “gives what it is and has nothing to prove.”

So what is it that the #Occupy movement gives? #OWS is an emergent expression of creative alternatives to the current power structure. It has helped to establish a new form of consensus-driven governance as a real possibility in the public mind. It acts as an on-going example of the power of nonviolence and civil discourse even in the face of police intimidation and brutality. It gives everyone — even those who disagree with its aims — an undeniable example of effective community living that belies the foundations of competition and greed on which our current economic system is based. It has lasted as long as it has because, like any great work of art, it speaks deeply to the needs and struggles of a diverse group of ordinary people. And like any work of art, its power and meaningfulness arises not from accomplishing some objective goal external to itself, but from its creation and persistence as an expression of public interest and experience.

The beauty of a poem is an affirmation of the existence of beauty itself. It changes how we see the world, if only in subtle, immeasurable ways. The #Occupy movement has already changed the conversation and expanded our horizons. It has already given us new cultural symbols that challenge and undermine our assumptions about what is possible. For that reason, regardless of what follows, #OWS has already succeeded.

Holy Wild, Muse in Brief

Saturday Surfing: Protest, Physics and Aesthetics, Oh My!

My gods, where did September go?! Oh that’s right, I got married. Woot! Then we had a fantastic honeymoon. Double woot! (More pictures soon to come of both.)

And now we’re home again, our days laced with the scent of falling leaves and lengthening autumn nights. It’s good to be home.

As promised, I’m starting a new feature on the blog where I recap some of the most interesting links and articles I’ve come across during the course of the week, for your perusing pleasure. I’m going to call this “Saturday Surfing” because I am, as you know, a huge fan of alliteration. So check these out:

“Lost My Job, Found an Occupation”

We came home from honeymoon to discover that while we were out galavanting around in the desert, folks back home in the east were speaking truth to power. Earlier this week, Yes! magazine published a “Declaration of the Occupation of New York City” released by protesters and demonstrators involved in the #OccupyWallSt movement.

Meanwhile Richard Wolff, a writer for the UK’s The Guardian, encourages #OccupyWallSt protesters not to be distracted or deterred by accusations of disorganization.

Let me urge the occupiers to ignore the usual carping that besets powerful social movements in their earliest phases. Yes, you could be better organised, your demands more focused, your priorities clearer. All true, but in this moment, mostly irrelevant. Here is the key: if we want a mass and deep-rooted social movement of the left to re-emerge and transform the United States, we must welcome the many different streams, needs, desires, goals, energies and enthusiasms that inspire and sustain social movements. Now is the time to invite, welcome and gather them, in all their profusion and confusion.

As the t-shirts say, if you want to know what’s going on, turn off your television and tune in to the movement.

Spooky Science and Dark Matter

Over on the Nature Conservancy blog, they’re getting in on the Samhain action this October with an article that asks readers, “Do You Believe in Ghosts?” But don’t be fooled! What writer Mark Spalding actually wants to talk about is climate change, and whether science can give us absolute proof of its dangers, or if the conservation and ecological initiatives require a leap of faith.

Also, physicist Lisa Randall talks with Wired about her new book, Knocking on Heaven’s Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World. Following up on her best-selling book Warped Passages, she explores a broad range of topics including everything from dark matter to modern art and projective opera, from parallel universes and the search for the Higgs boson to economic risk analysis.

Beauty and the Beast Philosopher

Thanks to the wonders of the almost endless ethereal mind of the internet, sometimes I stumble upon an article from a few years back, like Jim Everett’s “Spiritual Images of Nature,” posted back in July 2007 on his photography blog, I Took That!. It looks like he doesn’t post much these days, but I’m having fun poking through his archives and gleaning insights into how a professional photographer approaches his art. In this article, he looks at how we enjoy beauty as a spiritual experience in the natural world, and what challenges we face when we try to translate that experience into a work of art that can capture that beauty for others.

For the more philosophically minded, there’s a rich (but dense!) post about aesthetics, poetry, politics, ontology and death written by Adrian J. Ivakhiv, a professor of environmental studies, in response to a recent article by Tim Morton. Aesthetics and the philosophical question of beauty remains a fascinating subject to me, though it’s been years now since I was one of those unkempt students pouring over dusty tomes in the basement of a university library. Ivakhiv caught my eye in this piece when he challenges the usual duality we tend to draw between essence and appearance:

If the essence of a philosopher’s argument — the distilled, pure logic of his or her propositions — can be separated from the images, metaphors, and other guises in which those arguments come clothed, then we have already accepted part of that logic itself. The separation is a proposition, and it’s one whose acceptance carries costs.

For instance, if beauty is separable from form, if it is a matter of appearance-to-another-entity that is only contingently related to the properties of the object in question — if beauty is, in other words, on the side of appearance and not of essence — then it seems to me that beauty would not be able to truly take hold of an object. Its action would only be superficial. But is this how we respond to beauty?

The whole post is worth a careful reading, as is Morton’s original article. But be warned — I do not use the word “dense” lightly!

For more articles and links of interest during the week, hop on over to Links & Resources.