One way I stay in touch with Austin is to meet my friend Dottie at Ladybird Lake on Saturday for a stroll. The skyline is changing and there are new xeriscapes popping up here and there but the trees, the people are consistent, like the guy we say hello to who shares our time and space every Saturday but whose name we may never know. Some of the dogs are regulars too, a few are pictured below. People love to gush about their dogs. It’s a growing phenomenon, one that blurs the lines between species. PBS did a series on the plasticity of dog genes. They are so adaptive they can change physical form within a few generations. What we’re doing to the psyche of our dogs is worth considering. It used to be our kids, but now dogs are the new frontier in behavior mod. Take the undercover pug, better know to his fans as Ms. Douglas Bean. While I applaud the style with which Bean flaunts his neutered transexuality, did the pug get to pick the outfits?
And what are our dogs doing to us? Are they underscoring our pack mentality or could we learn a lot about unconditional love from our wards? I think guardian is a better term than owner, particularly given the expense to maintain our little buddies. Now is certainly an opportune time to wait out the great recession by generating a little side income in doggie paraphernalia. I’m hoping Addy will write that advice column I asked her editor about. The imagination is unchained. . . time to rethink the master/pet relationship at the very least.
Bill and I had fun in San Antonio, staying at the Hotel Havana on the Riverwalk. I was given a membership to the McNay Museum as an early Christmas gift, signaling the start of a new series of photo abstractions. I’ve included a few, but most are in development. Friday evening we dined at the famed Liberty Bar in its new location in the King William district (housed in a former convent). A lovely meal, nice appetizers and a particularly tasty Cotes du Rhone, easily 3.75 stars. Apparently, Black Friday was cause for celebration and a river parade, adding a little glitter to the experience and a lot of traffic. The Havana Bar was a fabulous dungeon with underground cellar or hotel elevator entrances, good drinks and quaint alcoves. While it was busy, Bill, Carol and I managed to take over a sitting room with little fanfare. On Saturday we visited the Pearl Brewery farmer’s market, had a drab cup of coffee and a questionable taco. Off to La Villita looking for blankets then back to the King William district for an outstanding breakfast at Tito’s. For a convenient overnight trip, this was a lot of fun. I recommend everything but the Hotel Havana for a quiet night’s sleep. Charm trumps comfort there.
Perused several art complexes in East Austin: on Smith Road, Bolm Rd and Shady Ln then back to the Eastside Showroom for good food but alas, poor service. Off to the Davis Gallery for an opening, and the Saxon Pub to see a classic performance by Miss Lavelle White. Be forewarned, at the Saxon the headliner plays at 8:00 (WTF) so we missed seeing Malford Milligan. Live and learn, even a well-worn path holds surprises.
Seeing life as art finds beauty in odd places. I include a few random objects in the gallery below. Makes for fun sauntering.
I’ve been going to the Austin Pow Wows since they began. The grand entry begins with the color guard (military veterans) who are followed by the gourd dancers, another group of warriors. First, the eagle staff is carried into the circle, followed by the American, state and tribal flags. Then, chiefs and headmen enter, followed by head dancers and royalty (i.e. honorary Powwow Princesses)
Other invited dignitaries are next to enter followed by the men: traditional dancers first, then grass dancers and fancy dancers. Women enter next: traditional dancers, fancy shawl dancers and jingle dress dancers. They’re followed by junior boys, traditional and fancy dancers, and the little girls, traditional and fancy shawl dancers. The dancers dance clockwise, around the arbor. The people coming together, uniting heaven and earth in a sacred spiral.
A classic outing, beginning with breakfast at Sazon on South Lamar. Aside from the red bordello patterned wallpaper, the migas tacos were good and the coffee decent. After a walk at Ladybird Lake, where a rowing regatta took center stage, we headed to the Mexican American Cultural Center for their day of the dead celebration. Since we arrived early, we wandered down to Rainy street for a beer and a trailer taco that had more flavor than substance. Enjoyed the Icenhauer patio, shown above. I’m sorry for the inconvenience to the denizens of Rainy street but I like the new development there. It’s fun and somehow reminiscent of old Austin. There are some who will disagree but playing ping pong over cocktails . . . .
Dia de los Muertos was just beginning at MAAC when we arrived; parking was already at a premium. The altars, uniquely appointed with memorabilia and favorite foods of the dearly departed, reminded me of my own loved ones. I would like to make an altar next year. The harvest cycle, death and rebirth, threads through every generation, Honoring the past, acknowledging death as a part of life is more restoring of sanity than yesterday’s parade I’m guessing.
Aho Mitakuye Oyasin….All my relations. I honor you in this circle of life with me today. I am grateful for this opportunity to acknowledge you in this prayer….
To the Creator, for the ultimate gift of life, I thank you.
To the mineral nation that has built and maintained my bones and all foundations of life experience, I thank you.
To the plant nation that sustains my organs and body and gives me healing herbs for sickness, I thank you.
To the animal nation that feeds me from your own flesh and offers your loyal companionship in this walk of life, I thank you.
To the human nation that shares my path as a soul upon the sacred wheel of Earthly life, I thank you.
To the Spirit nation that guides me invisibly through the ups and downs of life and for carrying the torch of light through the Ages. I thank you.
To the Four Winds of Change and Growth, I thank you.
You are all my relations, my relatives, without whom I would not live. We are in the circle of life together, co-existing, co-dependent, co-creating our destiny. One, not more important than the other. One nation evolving from the other and yet each dependent upon the one above and the one below. All of us a part of the Great Mystery.
Thank you for this Life.
The Native American theme continues the prairie dog and bison community feeling of the Badlands. The people I’ve met in my journey west have been genuine and kind, very down to earth.
After leaving the badlands and entering the Black Hills, we decided to join middle America for a tour of several national monuments. It’s easy to consider opting out of Mt. Rushmore but we were convinced to see it (definitely a once in a lifetime experience) after talking with the curator of the President’s museum in Rapid City, SD. Paying respect to the forefathers we then chugged along (shout out to Gideon Sjoberg) up the road to see the Crazy Horse memorial: http://visitcuster.com/nationalparksmonuments/crazyhorsememorial/. This was an opportunity to contrast the government sponsored production at Mt. Rushmore and the privately owned Crazy Horse Monument. Korczak Ziolkowski, (the sculptor who worked on Mt. Rushmore and was recruited by 4 Lakota chiefs to carve the monument to their warrior chief) was determined not to accept government funding for the project. His family continues to work on the carving, which will take another several decades to complete. I include a link above to the monument website. I’m glad we took the time to see the 20-minute story of the memorial.
Born on the anniversary of the death of Ogalala Lakota chief Crazy Horse, Korzak gave his heart and soul to the project. The adversity and the physical hardship he endured was truly astounding. He built the initial scaffolding by hand with the help of an old air compressor (Kaput) which often necessitated climbing up and down 700 rungs of the ladders to restart the old machine. Interviewed at the end of the video, his wife Ruth and seven of his 10 children continue completing the memorial. Several mentioned that they felt they were born to this, their life’s work. From the inspiration that Henry Standing Bear and the other Lakota chiefs had to honor this Native American hero, to the dedication of one man’s life to it’s realization, the monument is coming alive. The American Indian learning center to accompany the project will be the largest in the US when completed. While it may not be completed even in the lifetimes of Korzak’s children, when fully executed it will dwarf the Washington monument, Mt. Rushmore and all existing national monuments in the US. It is a fitting tribute to the people who stewarded the land for many generations. Hill City, SD was our last stop on the way to the Grand Tetons, a long drive and the last leg of our journey.
Dinosaurs were still on my mind as we packed our gear to hit the trail in the morning. Staying in Badlands National Park in a rustic cabin with a guest rabbit who visited every morning added charm to what proved to be a rugged climb up Saddle Pass. But I digress. One of the real treats during our stay came to us by way of the Cedar Pass Lodge diner. Breakfast is buffet all the way in the old West. While I normally don’t opt for pork, there was something compelling about the bacon. Bill conceded my point that the land still belonged to the dinosaurs “on average” pausing to bliss out on the best bacon either of us ever tasted. When I complimented the cook, who sat out back on a stump, he smiled through his handlebar mustache and said, “That makes me want to try a little harder next time.” The Tao of bacon; my first teaching of the day.
Lunar, Martian, frozen dinosaurs, ancient sea beds? The Badlands are eroding before our eyes, time rolling down the weathered, red and grey veined cliffs in little pebbles, the occasional boulder. Just another speck in the cosmos, I marveled at the vast, water carved history of the earth laid out before us, a living topographic map. Struggling up a steep, gravely trail called Saddle Pass, Bill and I emerged onto a prairie floor 1/4 mile above the other prairie below. The buttes were above us and below us with two prairies stretching in between. It was as if we emerged onto an African savannah through a narrow opening in the valley of time. I do not exaggerate, the dinosaurs will vouchsafe for me. Gave a little blood to the land, honored the ancestors and proceeded to the Buffalo Gap national grasslands, stopping at a lovely oasis along the way.
So came my second and most valuable lesson. The zen prairie dog who never blinked while I snapped several pictures from the window of the car was an elder in a town of chirping, cavorting, scuttling prairie dogs. There were always sentinels, looking out for the clan, who were very affectionate and frisky; a caring, lively community. There were miles of these towns along Sage Creek Rim road. But we were there to see the bison. It took us almost 7 miles to see a lone bull, standing under a tree and a few more miles to find several small herds, peacefully snacking on prairie grass. Parked on the dirt road in the middle of two hills of bison, we turned off the car and sat watching the herd. Bison are unlike cattle: their shapes, the look in their eyes, the grunting noises they make, the shaggy manes and little jumpy tails. While their rocking horse running gait was sort of comical, they seemed to glide along effortlessly when walking and grazing. The buffalo calves were goofy and played as comfortably with the big bulls as they did with the females and other youngsters, another peaceful, loving community in action. I wish I could describe the deep, noble feeling emanating from these large, soulful beings. White buffalo calf woman gave the American Indians the gift of the buffalo, which sustained them. The ancestors made their presence known. Again, I was humbled and deeply moved by the peace in the sound of the grass blowing in the wind. If human beings were as loving to one another as prairie dogs and bison are, our world would be renewed.
Leaving Austin for Brighton, CO at sunset, following the crimson trail while Venus illuminated the evening sky, chased the sun down to Mountain time. Setting out on the first of three long legs of our tour, rolling through the grasslands of Nebraska with miles of sunflowers, corn and sandy hills – prairie grasslands swaying a welcome to the Great Plains. Grass fur stretched out like the pelt of a giant beast, wanting to run my hands through fields that look softer than they really are.
Pheasants and grouse popped up from tall grass, thought I saw some sandhill cranes in the distance but mostly hawks circling fields, catching thermals. This was our only day in the grasslands, the driving destination being Badlands National Park. Taking a slight detour to Agate Fossil Beds National Monument was the first clue that we were stepping back in time to the land of the dinosaurs. The plains, first covered by a shallow inland sea, then evolving into a tropical forest after the upthrust of the Rocky Mountains, gave way to a Serengeti-like savannah as the climate cooled and dried. Many of the land formations in the park and in the Badlands speak to eons of water’s ebb and flow followed by the wind’s incessant, wearing erosion. Layers of sediment, paleosoils and volcanic ash combine to form the shapes and colors of hills and buttes that look like roaming dinosaur herds, still present as human beings enjoy our brief ascendancy. Stepping into the context of geological time was conveniently dwarfing, preparing us for the transcendent lunarscapes of the Badlands. Formed by only 500,000 years of erosion, the Badlands are a virtual hourglass of time, eroding to prairie over the next millennium. They are like nothing I have ever seen or felt, and emanate a deep and abiding peace.