Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Battle of Life

When I was 18 or 19 years old I read the Bhagavad Gita.  It’s an ancient Indian spiritual story that is a conversation between Arjuna, a prince, and Krishna, a god, about whether Arjuna should participate in a great battle. Arjuna doesn’t want to do it. He says he would rather die. Krishna tells him he must fight.   I didn’t understand why Krishna said this. I was against war. I saw it as stupid, horrible and wasteful.  I read it again when I was in my mid-thirties and still didn’t get it. I still thought that war shouldn’t be, that fighting was wrong, that participating in battles was not spiritual.

In my late fifties I moved from the city out into the wild. My wife and I live at a remote biological field station in the central Arizona highlands.  Our neighbors are thousands of species of plants and animals. It is very beautiful. At first glance it looks so peaceful - everything living together in harmony. When you look closer it becomes obvious that it’s a battle at every level.  Everything in nature is fighting for its existence as a species. The field of grass gently waving in the breeze in front of our house consists of a dozen or more different species fighting each other for limited water, sun and nutrients. The rabbit that just ran across our meadow evolved to more efficiently evade coyotes and mountain lions and the lions have evolved to more efficiently catch and eat rabbits.

In our guts, communities of microbes are at war with each other. Some help us digest our food and others keep them in check so they don’t take over. White blood cells course through our veins looking for intruding bacteria and viruses. Invading microbes are constantly adapting to better enter and live our bodies. The ability to respond to a million different threats resides in our genes.

We just had a scientist out here that specializes in studying adaptive mechanisms in a species of wild tobacco. In the leaves are structures called phytochromes that detect a certain frequency of light that means that it is in the shadow of a taller plant. This detection triggers the plant to grow taller so it can out-compete the other plant for light. Another mechanism in the roots somehow knows when another plant is too close to it. This triggers faster root growth to compete with its neighbor. There are hundreds of mechanisms like this in every living thing.  I think I am finally beginning to understand what the Gita was talking about. The battle described in the book is a metaphor for life.

Not only is life a battle, it’s not fair at all. Individual animals and plants vary in their ability to survive and adapt. We humans are the same. We each are born with unfair advantages and disadvantages and events and random circumstances during our lives can kill us, weaken us or even make us stronger and more able to survive. We are genetically designed to try to compensate for disadvantages, threats, etc. by strengthening defenses and offenses and/or by enhancing undamaged systems to compensate for the damaged ones. These are the strategies and tactics of war.

By now you might be pretty unhappy with what I have been saying. It really sounds pretty terrible. Peace is impossible. Life is not fair. The best we can hope for is to fight battle after battle until we inevitably lose and die.

The survival of individuals has never been the goal of life. It’s always been about survival of the species. The Gita poses all this in spiritual terms but you don’t need to believe in any god, reincarnation, or an afterlife to change your perspective. To participate in the conflict, not for our individual selves, but for each other is probably the only way to achieve a modicum of personal peace and equilibrium.

I believe it was Joseph Campbell who said, “When we quit thinking primarily about ourselves and our own self-preservation, we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness.This is not just some spiritual mumbo jumbo. There is a biological imperative behind it. It turns out that the battle can be glorious and fulfilling when done for a good cause. Being involved in something larger than oneself can be awesome, even if it doesn't even work out. I guess we are just wired that way.

We, as a species, can survive and thrive more successfully working together than working alone or at odds with each other. It’s not all terrible drudgery and war. Between and even during our battles we can enjoy each others' company, share stories, have some fun, and help each other out. What other choice do we have?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ridiculous Loads

This series of photos is for all of our friends who are packing their cars and trucks for the Burning Man festival, which begins in a few weeks. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Building a Temple in the Middle of Nowhere

A sunset gathering on the newly created floor of the Temple of Life

In September I met with Mark and Kate Sorensen who own a magical place in northern Arizona they call Gateway Ranch. It is on the edge of the Navajo reservation about 30 miles northeast of Flagstaff. It has been the location of many fun and interesting events over the years. We talked about the the idea of building a small chapel somewhere on their property. One that is not dedicated to any particular religion but is more of a space that inspires lofty thoughts and introspection. We decided to go for it and the adventure began. Construction started at the end of September, 2012.

Some of the main features of this temple are that it will be built collaboratively by all who wish to participate. It will be totally covered (encrusted might be a better word) with found object art made out of trash, recyclable materials and cool junk. Once again, all who wish to contribute by making art for the temple are welcome to add their bit to it. Another feature is that it will be open to the public as well as available for private contemplation, ceremonies, meetings, or whatever other ideas we come up with.

A conceptual drawing
I have long thought it would be great to create little temples in unexpected, out-of-the-way places. The first one I build ended up being less of a temple and more of a tower. It is in East Jesus, California and still needs more art on it (hint, hint).

Gateway Ranch is a perfect location for a temple. It is definitely out of the way - 7 miles down a dirt road in a starkly beautiful area of grassland and cinder cones. The views are tremendous in all directions. We wandered all over their property looking for just the right spot. We definitely found it. It is awe-inspiring. The view to the east is of the Painted Desert. To the south is a large cinder cone. To the west is a spectacular view of the San Francisco Peaks and to the north are the Hopi mesas and Roden Crater, a huge earth-art project by light and space artist James Turrell.

We are calling this particular temple project The Temple of Life. It will be a fairly extensive project that will take a year or more to complete. It will be constructed during a series of work-parties held once a month until it's done. There will also be mosaic and assemblage art workshops held in various locations in Arizona. I think the first mosaic workshop will be in Tucson in January or February.

We finished the foundation and floor at the beginning of October and, at the November work-party, we got most of the walls up and sheathed. In December we will build the upper level framing and maybe get some roof framing on. The hope is to have the structural part of construction done by the end of the year so we can begin with the art and decoration part of the process.

If you are interested in helping with this project, or just want to keep up with its progress, I created a blog for it called the Temple of Life at There is also a Facebook Page for the Temple of Life at Gateway Ranch at The Facebook page is where we will do most of the coordinating for the work parties so, if you want to help, that's where to check.

We plan to to a crowd source funding program with either Kickstarter or Indiegogo. We need to pay for the building materials for the structural stuff and associated costs. I am thinking, if we raise $5000, that ought to be enough to get us mostly there.

The Temple of Life will be yet another fun, artistic adventure in the Zone. Come play with us!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Wonderland of Trash Art

Last weekend I and some friends visited Tio's Tacos in Riverside, CA. I had heard about it a couple of times and thought I'd have a look. I was amazed. Over the last ten years or so, this Mexican restaurant has been adding found object sculptures and paving the place with mosaic. I am guessing it's about an acre of land with several buildings and covered patios. Every table has a mosaic top. There is a chapel made out of cemented together bottles with a mosaic dome on top and another teepee-shaped structure also made out of old wine and beer bottles. There are several large figures made out of chicken wire filled with various trash items like beer cans, bottle caps, oyster shells, etc. There are figures covered in toys and dolls. There are several live palm trees wrapped with art, some of them form the bodies of giant figures. The roof of the tallest building in the complex is covered with dolls driving toy cars. There is so much to see that I want to go back and visit again. We ate a late lunch there and the food was very good and reasonably priced, too. There is no charge to visit and stroll through the site. Here is the address: 3948 Mission Inn Avenue Riverside, CA. If you are into assemblage in a folk art style, go check it out.

Click here for more photos

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Leonard Knight Leaves Salvation Mountain

Last week, Leonard Knight, the creator of Salvation Mountain, asked his main assistant, Kevin Eubank, to take him to the hospital. He knew he was having cognitive issues. The hospital observed him for 72 hours and then released him to a long-term care facility with some form of dementia. So the upshot is that Leonard is no longer at his amazing creation.

Fortunately, Kevin had been working with Leonard for the last couple of years and has been trying to organize things legally to preserve the Mountain after Leonard passes. Last night, though, I got the word that Kevin died in his sleep.

Salvation Mountain is important not only as a fantastic folk art environment but also because of Leonard's heartfelt message that God is love. He spent thirty years building the place and it now receives thousands of visitors a year. Up until now, Leonard has tried to greet every one of these visitors to share his message.

Many times over the years some church or other would try to co-opt Leonard's mountain and message to serve their own, narrower vision, Leonard would not have it. His pure message was so universal, accepting and inclusive of all denominations that he could not see having it serve one particular dogmatic system.

When Leonard started having cognitive issues, which actually was more than a few years ago, to the rescue came Kevin Eubank. Kevin had had heart trouble and I think a heart attack which changed his life. He decided to devote himself to helping Leonard preserve the Mountain and its spiritual message and to protect Leonard from various vultures who sought to either take Leonard's money and resources or to take the Mountain for their own purposes.

It is interesting that, only a few days after Leonard was put into a care facility, that Kevin would die peacefully in his sleep. It is as if Leonard was the real attraction and his message was the purpose of the whole thing and Kevin was granted a few more years of life to insure that Leonard, the mountain, and the message would continue on. That job done, Kevin's work was through. It is hard not to believe that divine forces were at work. Although I am often very skeptical of this kind of thing. I feel that this is a great possibility and it comforts me to assume it's true.

The Mountain is being watched and protected against vandalism since neither Kevin or Leonard are there now. Efforts are being made by many to preserve the site, particularly to preserve it in the spirit that Leonard wants it preserved. Here is the latest update on the status of the mountain as of yesterday, December 14, 2011.
Here is Kevin's last update on Leonard's condition and how he is faring at the care facility.

I hope that Salvation Mountain does get preserved as some sort of park although the government's stance on religion may preclude their official involvement. It may be up to a private foundation or organization to keep the site intact and available to the public. Kevin had been in contact with an organization called SPACES, which exists to preserve art and cultural sites. They were instrumental in the long process to preserve and protect the Watts Towers in Los Angeles. I emailed them yesterday to tell them about Kevin's death. They said they will do what they can to help preserve the Mountain but said also that it is a difficult situation.

Without Leonard there, it will be a bit empty. People came from all over the world to see Salvation Mountain as an art site and they got the happy surprise of meeting Leonard, experiencing his loving presence and hearing his message to the world that God is Love.

Visit the Salvation Mountain website.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Cadwac Finds a New Home

My art car, the Cadwac now has a new owner. It is going to have a new life, too. Plans are in the works to do a major visual remodel of the car. Although it doesn't belong to me anymore, I will still be involved in helping with the remodel. Any metal work needed will be done at my shop. The new owner intends it to be used as a mutant vehicle at Burning Man next year as well as appearing in various parades and such.
It will have a whole new look - a darker, more steampunk look, with the addition of fire cannons and other effects, it should be pretty damn cool! We will add air springs to it and a trailer hitch as well as some special fog and lightng effects.
I am glad to see new energy and enthusiasm put into it. I will post updates on its transformation here in this blog.

One other thing, I fixed the link in my previous post so that you will actually get to see more photos of Charmingdale. Sorry I got it wrong the first time.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Move to Charmingdale

It's been awhile since I posted to this blog mostly because we have moved off-grid. In August we packed it all up and moved to a remote mountain location forty miles from the nearest town. We have to create our own power, pump our own water, and climb a ladder to make a cellphone call. We do have satellite internet though. After a bit of fussing we got it going at the end of September.

Charmingdale is what we call it. The name comes from one of the first post offices in the area. The residents at the time wanted to call it Charmingdale and they set up a post office and created a town - kind of. Not really a town, just a small collection of ranches out in the wild. The post office only existed for about a year and that was the end of that. I think this all happened about 1880.

We got here as a result of answering an advertisement in the Caretaker's Gazette. They were looking for managers for a remote biological field station. The site used to be a ranger station until the colleges got a hold of it. They got three hundred applications for the job but we were the lucky ones and got the position. Our job is to maintain the 8 acres of buildings, fences, and fields.

Our adventure in this Zone has begun and there will be many future reports on what goes on out here. As of now, we just had our first freezes as winter approaches. We have picked the pears from our orchard and are getting things battened down for the cold part of the year. It is a beautiful time of year in a beautiful place. We are keeping the location secret for now just for the fun of it.

More photos here