As visual creatures we’re programmed to respond to faces. We project faces and human figures onto landscapes, the moon’s surface, cloud formations, etc. We make quick judgments about others on the basis of their faces and habitual facial expressions. And up to a point, we’re often justified in doing so. After all, we feel most comfortable around those who look like us. The “looking” part is key. Eyes tell us a great deal, and who hasn’t wanted at some point to remove the sunglasses from a stranger’s face so we can “read” the person’s eyes?
In particular, the properties of “cuteness” — large eyes relative to head size, rounded features, a set of proportions frequently common to young animals and humans — induce a “cuddle response” which the Austrian Konrad Lorenz asserted motivates adults to care for the young. Subsequent study has confirmed that the response is universal, crossing cultures — and incidentally allowing such things as Japanese cartoons like Hello Kitty to catch on in the West.
Of course there’s a large element of “warm and fuzzy” sentimentality in such images, and in how we react to them. Marketers know this and capitalize on it. And environmentalists, not surprisingly, find they can succeed more easily in garnering support to protect an endangered bird or animal that happens to have some features of cuteness over one that may be grotesque or otherwise off-putting. The Ugly Animal Preservation Society makes this point through its official mascot, the Blobfish. As the UAPS president notes, the group is “dedicated to raising the profile of some of Mother Nature’s more aesthetically challenged children. The panda gets too much attention.”
Perhaps this is why cultural images that actually possess real power can shock and startle us into waking up a little, because our increasingly sentimental cultures seem to have produced fewer of them in recent times. We may even fear the archetypal and subconscious energies that emerge in such images, because they can reveal the hollowness of much of our emotional and spiritual lives, as well as pointing out ways towards greater depth and integrity. We don’t know where we are with such images, and we may turn away in discomfort or disgust, or accuse the visionary or artist who helps manifest them, or misunderstand our own dreams where such archetypal images and figures may also appear, instead of understanding them as prompts to look inward.
The Wishram Indians of Oregon U.S. tell a story about Tsagaglalal (tsah-GAHG-lah-lahl) “she who watches,” whose image appears on a stone above the site of an ancient village. In part it’s also a story about Coyote, the archetypical Trickster figure of the Americas. Warning Tsagaglalal of a coming time when women will no longer be chiefs, Coyote tests Tsagaglalal’s resolve to protect her people. When he finds her worthy, he changes her to stone to guard the village she overlooks.
Visitors can see the combined petroglyph/pictograph of “She Who Watches” at Columbia Hills State Park near Dallesport, Washington. A guide now accompanies you — the image has been vandalized in the past.
[On a side note, when we lose our connection to the sacred, we may access a subsidiary glimmer of the original energy through the act of profaning it. Degradation and blasphemy do generate power of a sort. Human spiritual history testifies to this in figures and movements who have explored their possibilities. If they were too public in their explorations, they outraged the sensibilities of the wider culture. In the end, such practices seem consistently not to deliver what it is we seek anyway. Like the "withering away of the state" in Communism, human limitations sully the abstract ideal.]
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Images: Hello Kitty; Blobfish; Tsagaglalal;
Maui — Landsat satellite view. Blue area is Haleakala — max. elev. 10, 023 ft.
Hi Lorna – thanks for your recent comment on “The Land is a Chief.” As usual, you dig beneath the surface and grapple with good challenges. You note, “To return … a sense of the sacred to landscapes … that have been viewed as profane” – that’s surely a major goal, if not one of THE central goals, of much Pagan and earth-based spirituality. At least I hope it is, or will be — it still feels like it’s in embryo form nowadays, in many places. Because there’s also a strong self-oriented strain that sometimes overshadows physical and spiritual work with the health of the land. It prioritizes self-fulfillment and personal realization and growth — important processes, yes — over the healing of the place(s) we find ourselves.
Of course it shouldn’t be an either-or: “You can’t have one without the other.” Many people struggle with spiritual ills that are manifesting, among other forms, as health challenges. Our honoring and reverencing of the old gods and spirits is one healthy “symptom” of practices for healing the land AND ourselves. We can’t hear and communicate and work with them if we’re too out of balance with ourselves and the land.
BELOW: Eucalyptus* near Huelo, East Maui, Hawai’i
I wonder, though, how much we’ve romanticised “traditional” cultures for their practices and beliefs — beyond what the “average” person in those cultures may actually have done or thought or believed. But maybe such romanticizing is part of a healthy corrective, needed today, to help re-balance our attitudes and motivations towards our treatment of the planet over the past two centuries. At least it gives us an ideal to work for: if we’ve damaged a landscape, we can heal it, and redeem our obligation, fulfilling our ancient commitment and responsibility as spiritual and physical beings in this world.
That sounds and feels right. We (often) say and dream it and proclaim it. But like you, I’m not sure whether or how (or how much) it will happen. For you rightly phrase it as an open question: will it “ever be possible to return such a sense of the sacred to landscapes that for at least the last couple of centuries have been viewed as profane?” We’ll answer that question with our lives, not just our words. And people of the next couple of centuries will judge and live with the results.
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Image: Maui satellite view.
*My wife took this vivid image as part of a color study she is doing of native hues and patterns. Eucalyptus trees flourish along the Hana Highway, a very winding road along the northeastern coastline of Maui. Much of the area is tropical rainforest, though if you continue beyond Hana along the highway, the land transitions to desert in the southeast. One of the marvels of Maui and the other islands in the Hawai’ian chain is just how much climate diversity they exhibit over just a handful of miles in planetary terms.
Over a year ago, my wife’s aunt and uncle decided to celebrate their 50th anniversary by gathering family on Maui in Hawai’i, and very generously footing the bill for lodging as extra inducement, so we planned our car trip this summer to bring us to the west coast of the U.S., where airfares were — barely — doable on our rapidly-shrinking budget. Imagine seventeen of us — five families, with ages from 5 to 81 — piled into three rental condos.
I suspect the more green-minded among you are already saying, “But air travel’s so polluting.” And I’ll respond outright: it is. No argument there. So I’ll try to make up for such extravagance and excessive consumption through my witness, and through an attempt at some range in my reporting.
Yes, of course the islands are lovely. Even the sun-blessed sprawl of Honolulu can’t conceal the emerald hills that overlook the high-rises. Here’s a slightly blurry view to the north from Waikiki from our hotel room …
And, yes, you really can find the heart-stopping beauty you’ve heard about, often without stepping away from right where you are. Overhead, in a tree in full blossom, or in a striking run of notes of an unfamiliar bird-call, around a corner, or in one of the splendid national parks.
[BELOW: My wife's photo of a Hau flower, Wai'anapanapa State Park, Hana Highway, Maui]
But what delights me the most — neither my wife nor I are “sun and beach” people, though the steady crash of surf and the breeze off the water lull even the two of us into “aloha” mode most effectively — is the growing presence and importance of traditional Hawai’ian culture and language. Without a sense of where I am, mere newness or charm quickly turns flat and lifeless. It becomes plastic. It’s easy to fall into one-dimensional tourist mode, paying for flat and plastic experiences with plastic. We’ve all heard this, probably done it ourselves, so we know what we’re talking about.
But the handful of long-time residents we’ve encountered, along with tour-guides and wait staff, all seem to agree on a healthy cultural trend. Much was lost during the last two hundred years of Western influence and interference — that sadly all-too-common story in so many places — but much has been preserved. There’s a pride in the native Hawai’ian heritage that may be one of the best predictors for the future survival of old crafts and stories, language and custom. One more place to cheer, however tentatively. If tourist dollars provide one motivation in holding onto surface charm and, gods willing, deeper cultural uniqueness, well, let’s utilize whatever works.
[Along with cultural ferment, it's important to add, the island is striving in fits and starts to go green ecologically. Aging and polluting diesel-powered electricity generation is being supplemented (and eventually will be taken off-line) -- by three hilltop banks of wind-power stations. And Larry Ellison (of Oracle software fame) has purchased 98% of the neighboring island of Lana'i (the former Dole pineapple island), with plans to make it eventually self-sufficient in food and power, and generate revenues by selling excess solar/wind power to other islands.]
New-ish road-signs featuring the traditional ali’i or chief, like this one marking a church, say a lot. Native traditions and images, disparaged in colonial times, or made downright illegal like speaking Hawai’ian was, start to regain something of their original stature and significance, however incomplete, through their use as symbols and icons.
Since we’ve arrived we’ve frequently heard the Hawai’ian saying “Maui nō ka ʻoi” — “Maui’s the best”* — and without shamelessly trying to fake a non-existent familiarity with the archipelago (we’re here on Maui just 6 days, after all), we’re still inclined to think this particular island deserves its status: small enough to escape much of the busy-ness and hype of Oahu where we spent two days, and dramatically varied enough to provide rain-forest, tropical, upland, mountain and desert landscapes, all within a day’s drive on the “ring road” around east Maui.
In the end, though, for me as a brief visitor and interloper, it’s not the beaches but the mountains that call with the clearest voice of the spirits of place. He ali’i ka’aina, goes another local proverb: the land is a chief. He kauwa ke kanaka — we are its servants. To belong to a land …
Maui’s chief mountain is Haleakala, “House of the Sun,” though clouds often skirt the slopes. How instinctively we realize: mountains earn and deserve our attention as vivid gestures of our planet, and as ancient and powerful spiritual tools. Viewing them, meditating in their presence, ascending them, whether on a clear day or through a cloud cover that may cloak them in mystery, can mirror and induce a spiritual ascent.
Here we are part-way up and facing west, overlooking west Maui. You can see the ocean on the left, arching inward to central Maui.
Vegetation thins as you climb above the clouds, till bare volcanic rock dominates. This is no longer the beach and sun of tourist brochures, but land still being born, raw from creation.
Hikers can make the climb on foot; if you haven’t already noticed your car’s temperature gauge, the sign announces how far you have come above the sea.
When you enter Haleakala National Park at either the coastal or mountain visitor center, you can pick up a bilingual pamphlet (Hawai’ian appearing first, too!) that clearly attests to the re-emerging potency of native Hawai’ian culture. Yes, you can not pick it up, or pick it up and not read it, or read and forget it. But … After a short paragraph explaining the principle of kuleana, responsibility to the land, “passed on to us from our kupuna (ancestors),” the visitor is admonished: “Therefore, as you enter this sacred place, this kuleana is now placed upon you.”
Here is the otherworldly crater at the peak.
Imagine such words in every park, every public place across the land! “Therefore, as you enter this sacred place, this responsibility is now placed upon you.” Then imagine people respecting and heeding such words. Here is a start, a seed. Let there be many such seed-places around the world. May we plant them. May they grow from here, from every such place. We need them so desperately. And may beauty help lead us where we need to go. This for me has been a gift of Maui.
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*Maui Nō Ka ʻOi is also the name of a local island magazine, full of touristy articles and images.
After New Mexico and Arizona, we drove two long days, without tourist stops, on our way to Washington and the Olympic Peninsula (OP). Of course Utah, Idaho and Oregon have their own pleasures, but we’d focused our itinerary on some key destinations like the OP and its temperate rain-forests (with a side trip to Victoria BC). Besides, we were also due in Tacoma at a weaving conference my wife would attend. The contrast between high desert and rain-forest re-energized our tourist hunger.
With Seattle and Tacoma as our base (cheaper — and more easily available — hotels), we first set out counterclockwise, north then westward on Rt. 101, the ring-road around the OP. Dining opportunities were one major draw. With Hood Canal (below) oysters and clams and Dungeness crab from the Strait of Juan de Fuca to choose from, you too can fulfill your devotion to terroir with fresh and local cuisine, especially if good seafood is at all your weakness.
Along Rt. 101 we passed through Sequim WA (locals say”Skwim”), which now ranks with Tucumcari as one of my favorite U.S. place-names, and a contender for an innocent word that nevertheless sounds suggestive. Dosewallips runs a close second or third. (As anyone knows who lives in or has visited the UK, place-names there merit their own special category of oddness and delight: as a random sampling, Dorking, Icknield Way, Dalwhinnie and Hail Weston do no more than scratch the surface. Check out the comprehensive and searchable Dictionary of British Place Names).
One of Sequim’s claim to fame, given its unique climate, is lavender farming. Though within crow-flying distance of rain forest with 12 feet (3.6 m) of rain per year, Sequim often sees no more than 16 inches (41 cm). As they tend to do world-wide, the mountains here dominate the weather, with the ocean-facing west slopes capturing the bulk of the precipitation, leaving the lea-side much drier. Image credit: Sequim WA lavender field
Rt. 101 hugs the south shore of Lake Crescent starting some 15 miles west of Port Angeles (jumping-off point for a ferry ride and day-trip — or longer — to the lovely Victoria, BC) and is a beautiful spot to explore, too.
But the lovelier leg of the trip, we felt, came the second day, clockwise this time, heading west out of Tacoma, again on Rt. 101, but this time north around the western reaches of the OP.
In the southwest OP, Rt. 101 curves inland up a fjord-like glacial channel into the mountains of the Olympic National Forest, revealing the jewel of Lake Quinault. The Quinault Indians (most “Native Americans,” we were told repeatedly, apparently prefer the older name) are another tribal group that’s survived into the 21st century.
On the lake’s south shore is a fragment of relatively unspoiled rain forest.
Below, in best tree-hugging mode, I give myself a visual reminder of how large so many of even the “average” trees are. Here we walked among many Greenhenges.
Ferns thrive, too, in the wet climate.
Everywhere you look is lush and replete with delicate mosses.
One sign explained how fallen giants serve as “nurse trees” for the next generation.
Such signs become quickly redundant with scenes like the one just below.
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I’ll close with several more images from the forest. The final three form a forest triptych: the crown of the great Sitka spruce and its whorled trunk.
Adruidway takes a break from its (ir)regularly scheduled blog to offer you images from the initial westbound leg of our trip. The historic Route 66, variously known as the “Mother Road” and the “Will Rogers Highway,” endures in fragments across the country. It first opened in 1926 as one of the first roads in the U.S. Highway System. We drove a particularly picturesque 12-mile section from Joplin MO into Kansas. Here’s an elaborate south-facing mural at an intersection in Joplin where we (eventually) picked up Rt. 66. Alert viewers will note we’re not in the left-turn lane — we missed the signs and overshot the turn itself because the mural drew our attention.
A second mural on the side of a True Value hardware store celebrates the old cross-country highway, which flourished in the first half of the last century.
Walk closer and peer over the low wall and you see the sporty red model below, which looks ready to roar off. But it’s actually just half a car, permanently attached to the wall.
Another fragment of Rt. 66 surfaces in Shamrock TX, where this old Conoco gas station has been beautifully restored.
The station now enjoys a second life housing the Shamrock TX Chamber of Commerce.
But its main claim to fame? A digital version of the station features in the popular 2006 Pixar film Cars, where the town was renamed “Radiator Springs.” And the red tow-truck in the background is the original for the character Mater.
Take a look at the “price at the pump,” of the 1960s era, forever frozen in time: 27 cents per gallon.
The last fragment of Rt. 66 we drove pops up in Tucumcari NM (one of my all-time favorite place-names). Dell’s restaurant still offers you “kicks on Rt. 66,” echoing the 1946 song written by Bobby Troup and first recorded the same year by Nat King Cole.
So many other things to photograph. Here’s the Kiva motel, reassuring passersby it’s “A-OK.” We loved how many surviving structures celebrate the exuberance of the old route with vivid colors.
In her comment on a post from August ’13, Lorna Smithers makes a distinction particularly vital for “Bardic types” that I want to take up here, especially in light of my last post:
The division between what remains in the journal and what to communicate is a question I confront continuously as a Bard, for unlike with a path that focuses solely on personal transformation through magic, Bards are expected to share their inspiration.
I find that some experiences are ok to share immediately, others need time to gestate for the meanings to evolve and take on a clearer form, and a select few may always stay secret.
I see good craftmanship to be the key [to] sharing experiences. In contrast to the vomit of ‘compulsive confession’, well-wrought craft lifts the raw material into the realms of art, creating works that affirm the awe and wonder of the magical world.
That Bardic instinct to share inspiration that may or may not have been shaped by art can get us in trouble. The desire to bring into physical expression something that’s going on in your inner worlds can lead to what Lorna accurately calls vomit. Sometimes, of course, awen really does drop a piece of loveliness in your lap. It arrives fully-formed, and you run with it, dazed and delighted and puppy-like in your enthusiasm to share the wonder of it with all and sundry, but that (the gift of inspired loveliness, not the puppy-like response) usually only happens when you’ve done plenty of the hard slog of shaping already, alone or with only yourself and your gods for support of a vision no one else may even know anything about.
Sometimes the time and energy your pour into nurturing your creativity can make you defensive if you haven’t “produced” anything visible. If you’re a writer, for instance, you’re not a “real” writer till you’ve “published.” Few will care about the months, years or decades of work that may lie shelved in boxes or occupy megs of space on a computer. The same holds true in comparable ways for anyone who’s devoted time and energy to a craft or art.
Artists who should know better sometimes like to hint, or let it be inferred, that this business of “awen on command” is how they work all the time, both mystifying us “ordinary mortals” and also doing a disservice to their craft and the nature of inspiration. Talent, oddly enough, responds well to practice, and no one works most of the time without effort.
The Anglo-Saxon bard was called a sceop, pronounced approximately “shop,” “one who shapes” inspiration into language and song. And the word bard comes from an Indo-European root *gwer- that means “to praise” or “to sing,” indicating two of the roles of the Celtic bard. The same root appears in Latin gratia, and English grace – a whole cluster of relationships — the gift and our response, our gratitude, and the quality in things blessed with awen, the loveliness and fluidity and rightness they often evince.
But if I opt to share something that’s not ready or right to share, I’ll usually regret it. Let me enthuse or gab about a story or an inner experience before its proper time, and it may lose its luster. It no longer thrills me enough to work with it, and I take what was a gift and cast it aside, its charm lost. The spell is broken, and I am no longer spell-bound, or able to do anything with it. Like the old fairy story of the goblin jewels, in the daylight of the blog, or the careless conversation with another, the one-time treasures that sparkled and shone under moonlight have turned to dead leaves. One or two such painful experiences is usually enough to teach anyone the virtues of silence, restraint and self-discipline.
Another half (there are almost never just two halves, but three, four, five or more) of the whole, however, is that keeping the flow going, trusting the awen enough to go with what you get, and allowing the work to manifest, brings in more. Jesus did know what he was talking about when he said (paraphrased to modernize the language), “To people that already have, more will be given, and from people that don’t, even what they have will be taken away.” While this may sound at first like contemporary government policy and destructive legislation and current economics, it holds true on the inner planes, in the worlds of inspiration and imagination.
Lorna herself is an exemplar of this Bardic trust and inspiration. As an Awenydd, one who receives and shapes the gift of awen, she demonstrates in poetry and photography on her blog and in performance the mutual bonds with the Otherworld and spirits of place that make up her path.
And so it was with considerable interest that I read her account “Personal Religion?” well into writing this post, while I was checking that the URLs were right for the links to her blog. She experiences a strong reaction on hearing about the OBOD Golden Anniversary celebrations, and launches into a series of probing personal questions without immediate answers which I urge you to read directly. The challenges she faces are those of one attempting to be faithful to a call, and she follows a path with honor. Her struggles illustrate the living nature of the Pagan path, with its many branches and trails. Her practice flourishes precisely because she strives to be faithful to her own vision, which may not always grow and bloom under the “big tent” of orders like OBOD.
Making that struggle visible is valuable — posting it for others to read, ponder and benefit from.
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Images: handbird; hard at work; walking.