Category Archives: Landscape

Sageness in the Canyon Landscape of Prickles, Songbirds, and Sunlight


February 22, 2015

When I am in southern California I take a few hours and walk a canyon. On the backside of two weeks of traveling and meetings, I finally found myself walking a southern California canyon on a Saturday morning. Entering the north-south canyon before sunrise, I hoped to hear the canyon awaken as the sunlight made its way from ridgetop to canyon floor. Also, its being a southern California canyon just outside of Camarillo, I hoped to have it all to myself for a little of a while.

I hiked this same canyon in September. Showing the effects of the ongoing drought, the canyon was dry and brittle. Normally, hiking these canyons in the fall, there are the jewels of prickly pears hidden in the crevasses of northern exposures. Pears make hiking a wonderful taste. This particular canyon has an abundance, ripe for the picking. They also have an abundance of hairlike prickles called glochids, near impossible to see, covering them. Should you pick a pear, the prickles from the fruit detach and leave you with a handful of stickers. You can get around this by lighting a match and burning the prickles off. However, it being a brittle dry fall, it did not seem wise to start any fire, even if it was only a match, so I did without pears.

15.02.22b Continue reading

Coffee and the Art of Inattentiveness


December 28, 2014

5:15am, the morning after Christmas, and I am standing outside a McDonalds. Waking this morning in a home away from home, I negotiated pass bodies scattered on the couches and floor finding my way to the kitchen. I figured I would have a cup of coffee and write for a while. Looking at the coffee grinder though and glancing into the family room, I thought some of those scattered bodies might not think too highly of my grinding a pot of coffee at this hour. Then it came to me, I’m in the city! I’m not thirty or forty minutes from a coffee shop. I should be able to jump in the truck and have a cup of coffee in less than five minutes! I sneak out of the house, stepping on remarkably few bodies, start the truck, and head down a Christmas light lite road.

The off-the-beaten-track local bakery is only two minutes away, but it is closed. As they well should be—after all, should anyone really be out this morning away from family…can’t coffee be given up until a bit later, just once? The question comes and goes from my coffee deprived noggin; I’m not to be deterred. Two choices remain, Starbucks and McDonalds. I don’t like the thought of either, but my high minded virtues slipped away when I slipped out of the house. With sorry justification, I choose the closer of the two and turn into the McDonalds parking lot.

Some guy stands just outside and to the right of the entrance doors. Near him is the only car in the parking lot and I assume it is his. Shutting the truck door behind me, I quickly judge the scene. Continue reading

Spiritual Thermometers & Coffee


December 14, 2014

There is a basic thermometer hanging outside the kitchen window. I like its simplicity, though I have to put on my glasses to know the temperature closer than a plus or minus five degrees. The location allows me to grind coffee and imagine what the temperature might mean for a days work outside.

The thermometer has had a workout this autumn. Cool weather dropped into our valley mid-October. Temperatures have bounced from six degrees (I had my glasses on) to the thirties ever since. It being mid-October, the cold felt as if it were catching up with autumnal colors. We had an exceptional fall with trees taking on colors early. They held on to color for a long time, giving each morning a bit of brightness that called one to morning chores.

Morning chores include walking and checking on the animals. The regularity of chores lends themselves to spiritual practice. Hot coffee in hand on a cold autumn morning enhances morning practice. I choose heavy clay mugs on such mornings. The heft helps hold heat, but coffee cools quickly. It matters little. As light coffee bitterness gives way to cutting cold, crisp air sharpens ridge to sky like a second graders paper silhouette. Cattle move about eating grass and the bright cold raises the light crunch of hoof to grass. Crunch harmonizes with scratch as chickens look for bugs below leafs or cow pies. Purr chimes in as Lucy, the farm cat, rubs against a steer’s leg. Continue reading

Landscape Americans


November 30, 2014

Driving down the Columbia Gorge, Belinda and I searched for a radio to pass time. We came upon an interview with an American Indian woman. She was in the middle of making a point that Native Americans know their heritage better than non-Indians, and this has a lot to do with traditional story telling practices. In making her point, she said that while Native Americans could go back generations, Americans can seldom tell a story beyond that of their grandparents.

I turned to Belinda and commented she had missed on this one. Not on the idea that many Americans can no longer tell a story beyond their grandparents—I think that is true enough, but in saying “Americans,” she included folk she did not intend. As she went on, it was clear her comment was focused on white folk of European heritage. However, in saying “Americans” she includes all folk of the America’s: American Indians, First Nation peoples of Canada, Indigenous of Mexico and Central America and South America, Greenlandic Inuit, and Alaska Natives. Belinda pushed back saying well you know what she meant. Yes, true enough, however, we need to claim inclusive language that honors both heritage and the reality of the landscape. With neither of us backing down, we had just enough to drive a conversation for the rest of the journey.

This last Sunday of Native American Heritage month I am thinking to honor heritage, place of birth and/or place of adoption must be distinguish and honored as well. Continue reading

Great Music is Country Music


November 16, 2014

All great music is country music. From Handles Water Music to Guy Clark’s Homeless, music that matters is music of landscape.

The landscape sings. Not metaphorical nor exacting music, rather the song of landscape rises from the mystical space of experiential and Déjà vu, from space known and unknown. Landscape singing tells stories, ancient and current, of creation; and great music, well, great music comes from those who listen well. This is why great music is genre-less. The best of the Blues or Native Folk, or Rap or Powwow or Western or Jazz or Native flute and whistle or Classical, comes from those who have tuned into the landscape, listened, and interpreted that song so the rest of us can hear—the nature of Creation, I think, is to hold on to her valuables until a caring ear or eye or hand comes along, gently leans in, and asks if they might interpret his voice so others might awaken.

Hearing the fullness of the landscape is to become whole. To sing well, in key or not, is to know the voice of place. The song of landscape is unique, but then, every landscape is uniquely its own. No other voice, no other sound can come out of her than that which is his own. Jazz, the Blues, ancient stick and drum, and Western sing of place. Classical does the same, but in human’s eagerness to classify, the songs of many landscapes have been bundled together and place of origin too often lost. Continue reading

Virtuous Redneck Liberal


September 1, 2014

Home was a small piece of sage canyon land butting against open land. As kids, my sister, brother and I and our friends never gave it much thought biking a mile or so to a friend’s house. On any Saturday we could spend a day riding canyon roads on banana seat bikes never intended for off road. Many of us boys learned to ride a horse but few were serious horsemen. Though we all rode a bit more during our teenage years when we grasped that most of the girls rode horses. We walked canyons and climbed Live Oaks to watch hawk and owl nestlings—we also learned to duck when mamma came at you talons first. We built box traps and trapped raccoons, possums, and an assortment of animals—we also learned the heartache of watching a wild animal die because it could not live in space other than the wide-open. As teenagers we arrived at school during hunting season with guns in the pickup and at last bell were walking steep canyon hillsides. In this landscape of canyons and open sky I became a young man and a redneck liberal

I have not thought about being a redneck for a while, but since I commented in AM Radio Justice about dumbass rednecks, I’ve given it some thought.

I was not saying rednecks are natural dumbasses. No one has a lock on that. From where I stand the are clearly as many dumbass liberals, conservatives, and moderates as there are dumbass rednecks. In other words, one is not a dumbass by virtue of being a redneck. Just the same, we all know many folk do not think very highly of rednecks.

Redneck notoriety begins outside. In the U.S., like many world societies, those people whose work life places them out of doors—normally doing physical labor (farmers, ranchers, construction workers, fishers)—and whose skin the sun has darken, are often understood as something less than. For white folk, the darkened skin is most notable on the neck, thus the redneck. Continue reading

What Is In A Name?


January 7, 2014

Blue Eagle asked me to consider “What’s in a Name.”  It wasn’t so much a specific invitation as it was a question to anyone following the Facebook page Landscape Mending: Restoring Harmony, Terminating the Doctrine of Discovery.  The crux of Blue Eagle’s question is, what language or terms do we or should we use when talking about folk whose ancient heritage is of the American landscape: Native American? American Indian? First People? Indigenous? NDN?  He jump starts the conversation by giving a link to Christina Berry’s article, What’s in a Name? Indians and Political Correctness.

Obviously, I enter the question as a non-American Indian white guy.  And doesn’t that sentence get at what Blue Eagle is questioning?  Is non-American Indian a term I should use?  Well, let me wonder with you about this for a bit.

I make mistakes.  My friends will be the first to tell you that!  One I made when I came to the Yakama reservation was to use the term Native American with a friend.  She quickly let me know, to my benefit, that she was not Native American but Indian.  Turned out many in my community are Indian.  Yet, I have found that not the case throughout the Americas.  Which leads me to understand the issue of naming is much more complicated than folk would like to think.

Dominate culture prefers simple language where it concerns American Indians.  Since, like it or not, most all of us are informed by dominate culture, we too have become comfortable with the simplification of language.  Simple means we don’t argue the edges, we don’t challenge the norm, and most of all, we don’t have to think.  Simple means we no longer converse with one another Continue reading

Walking With Dead In A Landscape Of Art

November 23, 2012

This month began with a Field Trip for a few of the My Future students.  Many of their artwork made up a Dia de los Muertos alter presented in downtown Yakima.  Like with other artful students, My Future youth helped create an alter asking and answering questions of life and death.

Being present and intentional with Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) calls an artist to consider the rightness or wrongness of their art.  For one whose ancestral culture is that of Dia de los Muertos there is a normalcy to participating in a long tradition of art that plays at that edge of death and life.  But for those of us whose culture is of landscapes other than that which birthed Dia de los Muertos the question must be asked, can we be artful and not disrespectful?

Many American Indians remind non-Indians their participation of Indian practices is a fragile one.  From sweats to sage smoke, flutes to the four winds, American Indians recognize many non-Indians appropriate their practices—Such appropriation not always for financial or social gain, rather, acts, such as the use of cleansing sage smoke, are done without embodying the fullness of the sage’s landscape.  Due to centuries of appropriating bodies from sacred burial sites for scientific study to decades of claiming religious and social practices for non-Indian events and ceremonies, American Indians rightfully question when non-Indians produce Indian-like art.  Such history calls the artist to carefully question their participation in cultural art that is not their own.

So it is fair to ask why does Dia de los Muertos have such a large presence in the art of My Future?  Fair and important, because the directors of My Future, Belinda and myself, are white, non-Indian, non-Latino/a, and Dia de los Muertos is nothing if not indigenous and Latino/a.

Not appropriating culture art is tricky for artists, because an artist’s being is wrapped around the constant wonderment of landscape.  Wonderment often leads to eternal questions of life and death, hurt and joy, love and rejection.  One instance of art where an artist found life and wonder outside his culture of birth is Starry Night.  In painting Starry Night the Dutch artist Van Gough beckons the observer into an intimate relationship with the French landscape.  Van Gough presents a landscape of swirling cypress, mountains, and sky, which calls the observer to open the door of finitude, walk out the angular home, church and steeple in favor of entering the cosmos of mystery and wonderment.

Another instance is Woody Guthrie’s song This Land Is Your Land.  Guthrie moves beyond the landscape of birth and asks the listener to consider the landscape of a continent.  Similar to Van Gough, Guthrie calls the listener to an experience of wonderment so large the listener must become fluid where tactile and emotion become one.  In this context of grandeur sky and land, plants and clouds, and water and voice, Guthrie destroys concepts of ownership and No Trespassing signs.  Artists, by nature, reach into the landscape in which they find themselves to mold and breathe life as to beckon us into creations texture.  Such reaching in, though,matters because embedded in the landscape is culture, and it is this life of the ancients which calls the artist to enter into a landscape conversation which strives for art to jump the chasm of appropriation and become an appropriate reflection of culture.

The landscape of My Future is one of America.  Not the nationalistic U.S. america, but peoples America of North, Central, and South America.  This is landscape of an imagined borderless continent where youthful artists walk freely because walls fade and land speaks freely.  Such a landscape does not assume, but speaks the voice of teacher.  This relationship, when done well, allows the student artist to awaken to their place in the culture of landscape.  This place of learning helps the student become a non-assuming artist who embodies the landscape’s voice.

Doing our best to listen to landscape does not mean culture is never appropriated, but rather, My Future staff and students hope their Dia de los Muertos art grasps to reflect their conversation with the landscape, presenting art that is reverent.

Peace of Sky and Mountian

September 21, 2012

Belinda and I drove to Seattle the other day.  Leaving before sun break meant moving the irrigation line under a dark morning sky.  The early morning sky still had the better part of a full moon residing just a bit to the east.  Standing in the middle of the hay field, I took a moment and turned in circles while looking above—the sky took the opportunity to tell a story of perspective.  To the west, stars gave everything, brightly contrasting specks of light against the deep black background of wonderment.  However, to the east, it was as if the stars agreed to donate light to one without fire and heat.  The moon brightly took center stage, its dancing light masking the dark background sky.  Knowing home and self, eastern stars settled the light sky and gave supporting presence to a bold moon.  One sky gifting two unique and wonderful stories.

The moon gave way to the sun as we crested the Cascade Range a few hours later.  Claiming magical powers the sun did not so much give light but beckoned blended light—yellows, reds, oranges—from the Cascades eastern slope escarpment.  Cresting the pass and western slope speaks a language foreign to its eastern sister.  Diffused light summons mist and pockets of fog lie in the hollows.  A landscape of shadier stories lays in the western slopes drainages.  One range tells two unique and wonderful stories.

Before long, the smell of mountain timber falls way to that of water as we pass Lake Sammamish and Lake Washington.  As we arrive at the SeaTac departure terminal and open the car door the heavy smell of Puget Sound and car exhaust met us.  Wishing for a bit more Sound than exhaust, we quickly unload luggage.  Belinda and Katherine enter the terminal to check baggage and obtain boarding passes, while I head off to find a parking space.

An hour later as Belinda and I hold hands and watch Katherine walk through security, we hope for a secure journey and life in Ireland.

The experience of sending Katherine overseas is one similar to that of past generations in my family, with one particular difference.  Every time a young adult has gone overseas, since my family arrived to the American continent somewhere in the early to mid 1700’s, it has been to go to war.  Every time, government, society, and business has framed these violent actions as action of peace, freedom, and equality.  Thanks to the end of the draft in 1973 and happenstance birth dates placing young men between wars, meant the last young adult to go overseas to enhance world peace by way of war was my daddy in WWII.  The fifty missions he flew out of Torretta, Italy, made an impression.  What it was, I cannot really say because war was never a topic of conversation.  I can say the impression daddy made on me was to do everything possible to avoid war for war was not only a horror of experience, but also a shame upon humanity to require death to acquire peace.

Remembering what it felt like watching Katherine pass through security I can’t help but imagine that standing at the bus stop, the train station, or the airport gate and watching ones child go overseas to war as a gut-wrenching moment.  Though I have never lived such the moment, I have had far too many conversations over the last ten years with parents who have.  Moreover, there have been too many conversations during children’s tour of duty where parental fear was a constant in their eyes.  Too many and too often have parents lived such pain for the sake of peace.  And this reality is the very particular difference between those parents and Belinda and I.

Unlike our neighbor parents who have stood at the same airport at the same security gate watching their child head off to war, we watched Katherine board a plane to begin International Peace studies at the Irish School of Ecumenics in Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.  When her plane left American soil and headed across a water that brought my folk here so many years ago, Katherine became our family’s first American young adult to return to Europe to consider peace from a non-violent perspective.

For generations American folk have sung the African-American spiritual Down By The Riverside where the words Ain’t going to study war no more are sung again and again and again and again.  Even longer, folk have read and repeated the words of Isaiah 2:4, they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.  I would like to think no other young adult from my family, or any other for that matter, would ever engage in peaceful violence again, but know peace for peace sake.  I would like to think it is possible for peace, unlike the morning sky or the mountain range, may become a one sided story where violence for peace sake withers, blows away, and all that remains is peace for the sake of neighbor, for the sake of parents, for the sake of children.  I would like to think, I would like to dream, I would like to hope, I pray…

© David B. Bell 2012

Fog Listening

December 13, 2011
JustLiving Farm

One good thing about frozen fog mornings in December is the sound.  The sound of quite frozen fog mornings is unlike anything else.  Unlike mornings of snow-covered landscape that encases movement and sound, frozen air allows the wheatgrass to move with the slightest of breeze.  The grasses dampened rustle plays with the conversation of two chirping birds which mingles with crunching frozen grass below each boot step.  Frozen fog, a natural symphony of sorts.

© David B. Bell 2011