What is the vista of our days – that which appears when we look as far as our eyes can see, that which lay upon the horizon, or is the horizon? Does it call us forth to journey beyond, to walk to distant lands? Does it hold us in, like a cocoon, nurturing or trapping us? Is it one that we notice or look out upon – is there a beyond to see? Is it one that seems stable, unchanging as we go about our day, or is it one that seems to change with every twist and turn we make? And what is the relation between what we physically see with our eyes, and that which we envision inside? Just how does the vista of our lives, help frame our perceptions, and our lives? In turn, how do our experiences, thoughts and emotions effect what we see out upon the horizon?
Last week when i went to place a stone and found his home in front of a bench, with a sweeping view of the treed valley of the arboretum and the mountains beyond, all of these questions came back to me – questions i have asked many times, in many locales, with a variety of vistas that have effected me in different ways.
While this came to me, i know it had been silently gnawing at me for some time. Gnawing at me as i walk around the city of Reno, feeling caged at times. Comfortable, yes yearning for more, but not able to see the beyond. Reno sits in a bowl, on the edge of the Great Basin, that expanse of desert land where the few waters do not flow into the sea. A land contained, sitting between two vast mountain ranges – the sierra nevadas just west of here, and the rockies, a long journey away. In between are mountains and valleys, a land where little flourishes and grows, a land of rock and desert scrub that lay beneath an open sky, with little life on the surface to mediate the relation between the two. It is a harsher land, unforgiving at times.
in it i can feel the remnants of a life and history gone by, a time that once was, when seas and plants and large animals, even those that we call dinosaurs flourished here, a very different place it must of been, before it all collapsed, becoming desert and harsh, an environment that supports such little life – and i can only envision what happened – then i shudder and feel a sense of not quite horror, but something that comes close to it. I feel it in the stones, those that are this land, and i feel it as a larger presence when i pass through – as i have a few times. It is a place where people pass through, the booms and busts of the mining towns, those places where the the secrets have been stolen from the earth, where that which lay beneath the surface has been ripped out, exposed, and crushed, without respect to what it may say or reveal. that goes on still, the mining of the earth, and that is what some of the few towns that dot the land are about. but most seems empty, devoid of people, dotted with ghost towns or abandoned mobile homes and it is place i feel that us humans are not meant to live. for me, much of it seems to be haunted, a past gone, yet also a vision, a warning, of what might become.
And that is what i see when i look out in three directions – to the north, south, and especially east – to the brown mountains that form three sides of the bowl. They do not beckon or call me forth, but seem like barriers to a place i have no desire to go – though a place i must pass through if i wish to journey to the other side. A place both of my imagination and one that is real. A place i have spent little time, but have little desire to explore – although i know from my brief trip up a few of the hills, that there is more than meets the eye, there is wisdom in the land, a wisdom of old, a wisdom of ancient times, and also the follies of our day and the not too distant past. a future – of that i am less sure – and as for the present, the now – it seems harsh to me. And thus the vista becomes a barrier, or represents one to me.
In the other direction, to the west, stand the foothills to the Sierra Nevada, a majestic mountain range. The land seems more alive, with a smattering of green, and here my imagination can call me forth – at other times of the year. Winter comes early to those parts, and lasts a very long time, the lands covered in a deep snow, the mountain passes that one must cross to reach the promised land – the rest of california that lay beyond. One would be tempted to say California as the promised land, but the state line is not far from here, and as i know, Truckee is part of that state, a town where cars had a few inches of fresh snow on thier roofs when i passed through last June; a place which in the summer, has night time temperatures that are usually the coldest in the nation. But that i would not know had i not been there before, the vista itself does not tell me that.
At this time of year, i also recollect the infamous Donner Pass, that place where the donner party who were crossing the land all those years, but still not long ago, and got stuck and trapped in the winter snows where the few who survived did so by eating their companions who had died. This is something i know, not from the vista itself, or from experience (though i have camped a few times at the state park that is there today and named after them) – but from what i had read and been told – the stories of the land that have been passed down, stories that form part of our collective consciousness, and part of mine.
Those mountains that i see to the west, have beckoned many a time, for myself at other times of year, and for many right now – and not merely as a place to pass through heading the call of “go west young (wo)man, but as a place in itself.
Lake Tahoe is not far, though i would not know that from what i see from town. That magical lake of deep blue, a holy place gone amuck, with cottages grander than many homes elsewhere dotting much of its shore, towns, some state parks preserving the land, and the national forest that lay above – mainly on the california side. For me it is a place for the summer – of camping and hiking, for i do not ski.
Though it is gearing up as i write, the world class ski hills that surround the lake, that call so many forth at this time of year – a time anticipated with excitement, a time and a place that become magical and alive, a place and activities they are passionate about. And how different these foothills to the west must appear to them right now – for in them, the skiers see something completely different than I.
The vista changes throughout the year – at present the foothills have a light dusting of snow on top, something that has more recently appeared. Again. for i was here two months ago, coming out of the mountains from the north – from susanville, lassen national park, the lakes, down from mount shasta way to the north, and when i arrived the mountains called back to me, how i yearned for them, and wished desperately to go back, to go back to where i had been – and beyond. I went to tahoe and returned, and then an early october snow storm came in and covered all in white, a blanket which i felt closed the mountains to me – for a while at least.
Though i had planned journeys in my mind, to the south, the eastern route to yosemite, which i had not yet taken, and still have not, the time for that having passed by now, at least if i wish to bus and came. Another journey, to the eastern shores of tahoe, the nevada side, another place i have yet to go, and have thought of many a time. But it seems out of reach, The commuter bus to Carson City, the gateway on this side, only runs in the morning and at night, the last morning bus at 6:45am, and i have yet to go. And i ask what does it mean to have a vista shut off, to not be able to get to it? Or where the journey is most difficult? And i have asked this in other locales, where mountains appear, but i have no way to get there, the beyond seeming inaccessible – out of reach. It is then that one feels most trapped – a yearning, a call, one cannot fulfill, or so one believes, and then does one believe that is true for all?
But then i passed through, back to the other side, to the coast, a land of very different vistas that have spoken to me, in so many different ways, at so many times. So much to write about the vistas that have framed my journey, both those that are physical and those that exist inside. I know they are connected, not separate at all, one calling forth the other, until a shift is made, a shift which is often reflected in the other – be it inside or out. And these vistas i meant to write about, but for now it is time to broaden my vista, step out beyond the four walls of the room that surround, that are my vista as i write and type.
What do we see when we walk out the door? What is the physical environment that greets us each day? That which we are a part of, and that which is part of us. Is it something that makes us smile, calls us forth, or something that makes us want to run back inside? And to what extent can we adjust our lens – our perceptions – just what is our role in the dance? Is it merely changing the way that we perceive, or do we need to alter the physical landscape itself?
I awake in downtown reno, walk out the door of my cheap motel room. A parking lot below, a parking garage to my left, and across the streets to my right. A huge sign for a restaurant, that is a concrete box, and several low rise motels, all with signs, a few that glow in the night. On the next block, I see one of the towers of Circus Circus that rise above, the neon red name flashing off and on in the night. A wide street, with barely a tree. And just beyond, a few more casinos, the more old fashioned kind, that are places of gambling that do not pretend to be more; and more low rise motels, a hospital, a few shops selling nothing – trinkets, convenience food and alcohol – very little that calls. This is what i see when i walk out the door, of a nondescript room, institutional but clean, nothing wrong with it, but the spirit is not there – empty like that which surrounds.
I venture beyond, learn to adjust my lens, in the midst of this, learn to value the gems that are there, call them in and forth, and enter another world. The river which flows with life, the trees and rocks, the ducks and geese, down there; i find the oasis, the river walk, just a few blocks, but with something more, i find the parks, the hills above, a few old neighborhoods that are here before you enter that sprawl, the areas with feeling and spirit, that are few, but in this time have learned to value them so, to see differently, to appreciate them – perhaps because they are so few.
But then i come back to this – the lifeless concrete boxes, and can no longer pretend, for though i adjust my lens they are still here – like a factory spewing out contaminated smoke, of a highway that runs through, the constant roar of traffic that you no longer here, the area around full of homes and trees – just how long can you pretend it is not there. And though you may turn your attention elsewhere, focus on growing the life around in all, eventually the pollution gets to you and you see how it has affected you all along. And once you see it again, you can no longer pretend that it is not there. As much as you try to focus your energy on that which you wish to call in, the other still remains. But then to turn to that, you become a part of it, and the light slowly fades away. And it is beyond what you can physically transform, do you take a stab, or do you move away.
When i first arrived i was dismayed, could not get out of here quickly enough – staying in a Casino hotel at very discount rates, a lovely huge room with a view beyond, but being a casino hotel you needed to walk through the gaming rooms, past all the slot machines in a cavern that is neither day or night, to get there. And i left, and returned and left again. Yet something called me back.
I now remember a photo i took, of ducks swimming in the river, a facebook post a month ago, asking what do i take pictures of, what do i focus my attention on, the downtown zone – often empty, with the wanderers who have known better days, or at times those who come to party for the weekend, the reflection on the larger society, or do i focus on the ducks and the river of life. And that i did, and learned so much, opening up and not closing down, feeling at one with the all, seeing and feeling the presence of god, not only in nature, but in so many of the people around, those who jog along with their dogs, and those who spend a day on a bench with their worldly possessions packed in a few worn bags, to those who frequent my favorite coffee shop – with their diversity, to those who make their way through life and those who have stories of an exciting life once lived.
But then i remember all the other places i have been, and as i stare down these hollowed out streets, the streets of a temporary state, of wanting the quick riches – riches that are false and cannot endure, I remember what i did not see, or rather did not appreciate. I think of San Francisco, Vancouver, Victoria, Montreal, even Toronto, the New Yorks – the cities that dance with life, and other landscapes of nature and wilderness – alaska, the oregon coast, vancouver island the mountains of many a place, elsewhere that i have been or smaller towns which are alive – Eugene, Kingston, and so many more, and ask why i did not remain there, so many wonders in those places, wonders i obviously knew, for it is their memories that return to me. And i remember how blessed i have been, something that i have often failed to realize, as the pain field that clung to me took over and that is what i saw, and as i began to see all that made any place less of an Eden itself, seeing what was lacking rather than what was there.
As i remember this, i try not to get mired in regret, but still i have stepped out of the now, and the magic fades away. I begin to plan for moving on and thus remove my energy from the place, something i am now aware of, as the disconnection begins to set in. And as i withdraw my energy the energy withdraws from me, and the magic begins to fade.
I notice the buildings that were built without spirit, and find myself walking, not through the old leafy neighbourhoods or by the river, but down the wide streets of low rise motels, casinos that have seen better days, shopping centers with discount goods and i begin to crawl in ever more, disconnecting from what is there. I then realize that this is what has allowed this deadened zone to be built, the disconnection from the all, from nature, from the spirit, from the magic of life, for what is matter but energy manifest?
Then i wake up in my motel room, and go to step outside, look around at what is there. look around at my life, and have a rude awakening – what is this – living in a cheap motel room, alone, in Reno – that second rate gambling town – with no where else to go, unemployed, in thrift store clothes, surrounded by men who have seen better days, or who struggle through life, and i ask what has my life become. And i know that others may see me as i failure, living this way. All the possibilities and opportunities i had, let go of or thrown away, a downward slide, as i remember myself living other lives, and i wonder what i have done, and that internal downward spiral threatens to take over me as i take on another lens.
But then i ask what is the reality? Is the joys of the park, the ducks, the life in all any less real that this? Have i not learned to see the spirit in all? Was it not that woman who i met on the street, everything lost, including her health, the one who talked about god, having faith, and living in the now? Was it not the man in the ragged pants, a major scrape on his face, who i met by the river, who talked of its beauty, the flow, the ducks how they swim and quack, the life and joy that is there, the magic of the place? And i know that this is what it has taken me to see, to fully appreciate the larger picture and the details of this life. And that exists everywhere – but it is not merely a matter of perception but of actively creating it, joining in that cosmic dance that is life.
Soon it will be time to step out the door again, walk through the parking lot and streets that surround, low rise motels and casinos, that speak of temporariness, and empty lives, and shine forth the light. For as long as i remain here, to be here fully, and focus the lens on the light in all – at times it can be harder to find, but to see it, and by seeing it, helping it grow. Not merely blotting out that which pains or feels dead, but looking through it, finding the hidden gems – those oasis of light that i have spoken of, but also the light in all. It is also time to create some too, and for that i feel that i may soon be moving on.
The dance with the physical world continues, for matter is really energy made manifest, and the interaction flows both ways – we speak to it, create our built environments, or bring ourselves to them, and it in turn speaks to us. What is the cycle that we create, or that is created in this dance – what energies feed back upon one another, thereby growing and manifesting themselves? The answer if not to disconnect, for much of what surrounds is a result of that, but to connect fully, and bit by bit make energies of light manifest, wherever we may be.
Nevada, the state where i find myself – home of the Nevada Test site, much further to the south, seemingly far from here, but in stones throw of the major city in this state, one that boomed more recently, but now a bust, a continuation of the cycle here, the boom and bust, mining towns, gambling, nothing to be sustained. In the land, this ‘great basin’ are remnants of another ancient time, a time where life thrived, now visible in the rock that makes up the landscape, above and below. Memories of eons gone by, of other life forms captured in the stone, still lingering on, transformed, but not gone.
i read a book, Savage Dreams, by Rebecca Solnit, she who reveals the mystery and history of the lands in written words. The Nevada Test site, it still remains, no longer a testing ground for nuclear weapons, ‘forgotten’ by many, or in the recesses of our minds – tours now pass through, but what was done there remains with us and for how long, It is less than 20 years ago that the last know nuclear test took place underground in 1992, but how long will its effects remain with us – the explosions that ripped apart the earth, leaving behind a chamber filled with radioactive rubble. The last test, of 928 that are known in this locale. After about 100 nucleur bombs were exploded in the air for all to see, the radioactivity carried far upon the winds, and deposited upon the surface of the land, they were moved underground after 1962, and while out of sight, they could not remain hidden away.
Over the next 30 years, the ground shook, craters were made, radioactivity pumped into the ground, as testing continued, not only in the seemingly dead rocky ground, but a third of them in aquifers, the precious water deposits that were life, and some even further down into the depths of our mother. A time of peace camps and protests, how i once wanted to be there, of people speaking out, calling attention to what was happening there.
With the cold war a distant memory, this too seems in the distant past. But how much of it is with us today, what lingering effects in out bodies and in our lands, to remain for tens of thousands of years, leaching out, hidden, but when to be revealed, like the fossils and what relics we find in these lands, forgotten but never really gone away. In our cultural amnesia, the online world, the FB newsfeed, a blip of information, and then it is gone, forgotten, as we move onto the next thing, the next urgent matter, but like the data stored, never knowing when a statement made years ago will come to bite us in the back, a small thing, forgotten but never gone away.
i feel the ancients in this land, layers of history, and what layers do we leave behind, what energies are lurking beneath.
The ancients stand above, their figures cast in stone. They have not gone away but they are here, for us to see and honour if we only know how to look. To give us lessons, ones i am just learning to here, and a reminder that there was life before, life that stretches our imaginations and our conceptions of history. Rocks they say, beautiful rocks say some, but i know that they are more than that, they have told me so.
On a hill overlooking town, are jumbled piles, rock outcroppings, that stand above. For many a part of the scenery, or something they jog or mountain bike past, but they call out to me – and there are so many that i have not seen
I had gone for a walk, not even knowing that they were there, but i caught a glimpse and had to find my way up, and i did and another world opened up. and now, that i have been there twice i realize that these were not even the first outcroppings i saw, but the ones that beckoned me. And here are only a few of them, the ones that spoke to the camera, asking to be revealed.
So many heads around, once you begin to look, with both your eyes and your soul.
And now that i look at these photos, i wonder what lays beneath these heads.
But not all stand alone. One outcropping is full of tall thin figures gathered together.
As i turned and walked around this area, so many faces and figures came to me, telling me of a life that once was.
not all pairs are joined physically
and other creatures seem to be emerging from the rockpiles
The ancients stand above, cast in stone, and i ask why we do not recognize them. And as i was about to leave my first day, one area with an even higher energy called me forth, and i was to realize it had not always been that way. for what i came across was a place where the ancients had been venerated, by others in the past, a sacred place it felt (see part 2)
I finally went up today, and now i ask what took me so long? Up to those bleached out hills or mountains that surround this town, those that seemed to have no appeal, to hold me in instead of beckon me forth. But today i went, and am eager to go back again. For they are so much more that what appears at first glance.
At first when i entered that natural landscape of high desert that is this land, so different from the riparian zone of the river and the created treed landscape of town, i felt so off kilter and wanted to turn back. Was it because it is a landscape that is unknown, a type of place i am less familiar with? One that i admit i am biased against? Was it the magpies and ravens crying above, in the trees by the dried up creek, such a different vibration than the quacks of ducks or geese, or the cries of the seagull? Was it the crackling land, the low brush, the yellows and browns under the bright blue sky? Was it the coyote who i saw when i was still in the arboretum, before walking to the beyond, one that was wiley enough to evade the camera?
I became still, and the land revealed its life to me – for some moments i felt like i could be in a carlos castenada book, the low plants, the scrub as i say, danced with life, revealing its spirits to me. my step picked up, and i began to smile, heading up the canyon, eager for more, still unsure, relieved when a jogger or mountain biker passed by. and then i spotted it, a rock formation up above, one that i found a path too, and it was truly magical (post to come). And i realized that this land can have a magic of its own, one that i merely needed to open myself up to. the weather is changing, heard today was to be the last nice one, but i know i will make my way up there again. (still grateful for the arboretum on my way back down)
And as i was up there, i asked why not before? Perhaps i was being called. a few days ago when i walked my beloved river, and the setting sun played upon the hills, revealing a shapeliness i have not seen before. I knew they were there, but i was not time, connecting to the river, trees, and its rocks, giving it my love. but now, my horizons have expanded, like the larger horizon visible from there.
Leaf spirits reveal themselves to me – a form, a figure in the changing leaves – showing itself as i walk by, or calling me as the tree enters my view, dancing in yellows, or reds or oranges. i smile, take out my camera, but then what is shown is beautiful leaves; the spirits do not want to be revealed on camera. is it because they are so transient, like the changing leaves, beginning to fall, th…ere for a only few moments it seems. To see them, we have to be in the now, perhaps that it why they do not want to be digitally captured, removed from their time and place, to remind us that it is when we are “here now” that the magic of the world opens up. all transient like the leaves, though the length of the cycle variable, and magic is everywhere, when we open our eyes, hearts and souls to see