Sharon's Summer

Sharon's Summer
Sharon Chooses High Elevation and High Temperature

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Artist’s Voice

The smart ones go out on the hot floor of Death Valley at day’s end when the sun has lost most of its radiant broil.  During the day they stay slithered under sand, inside burrow, tucked in their air conditioned rooms at the Furnace Creek Resort or in the pool at Stovepipe Wells.  But in late afternoon, they go out to see the dunes in the long artistic shadows of evening.  I see their cars lined up along the roadside some two miles from where I took these pictures, ant-like dots along a path from their colony.  My car is among them.  From my compass, it bears south-by-southeast.  I would use this information if visibility fails.  With the air at 117 degrees, they don’t go far from the cool interiors of their vehicles.  Some have tripods and big lenses which they aim near the highest dunes on which I stand.  Perhaps they see a head at maximum zoom, small with distance, and record the tiny creature far out on a place they consider too hostile for hiking.  “This strong wind could get stronger,” I almost hear them; “We could be blinded by blowing sand.” 

I came to these dunes a few days ago in early morning when the wind was absent and the air much cooler.  No one had walked out here then, and my tracks printed themselves into the sand like first tracks on the moon.  The artist was absent then, and I photographed his work.  But today I met the artist. 

Wind, once theoretical, was forming the dunes before my eyes, and so rapidly that I was surprised to see my tracks disappearing within minutes.  I followed my tracks on returning, until, after the picture above, I could find them no more. I was experiencing the dune artist at work.  So must gentle Einstein have been surprised when his dreams about space and time flashed over Hiroshima.

Sand blows low to the surface as I walk, its grains too heavy for rising more than about three feet.  If it rose much higher its sting could turn blinding.  Where a dune drops off on its leeward side, a storm of swirling sand like the turbulence below a waterfall appears frightening, but I avoid these places.

I move over the loose sand, not with athletic speed, but with casual slowness of one experience, informed—not that I really am, but I move that way.  I see again the big waves left by wind that had blown several days ago and had sculpted the dunes from a constant direction for a long time, the same big waves I saw before as they lay dormant on the dunes.  I see those old waves today, but from another direction come new smaller waves forming in this evening’s wind, gradually eroding away the staid old waves.  A new creative voice rings at odds with old established creation.  It’s the way of breath, creation and voice, I think. 

I hear the artist as he works, softly as if thinking about his next strokes, speaking gentle to my side.  Then, when his purpose seems settled, a loud cry, pressing against me, calling me too into action.  But I only resist his strong suggestion.  I hold my traditional ground, not realizing that all ground, even that which I hold true, is moving.  I am beginning to understand that this artist is in control, and I am part of his creation.  In his words I live and move and have my being.  It might be best if I learn to cooperate.

I keep on climbing the dunes, hoping to ascend the highest one.  But the artist is hard at work at this focal point of his sculpture.  I reach the last ridge connecting the lower dunes to the highest.  To me, it is the south col of Mt. Everest, the final ascent.  I stand wide-legged and leaning toward the artist.  Then when loose sand gives way in a gust, I fall to my knees where his sting meets my cheek in a flurry, and his voice turns my little space within his picture into a garden of tears.  Clearly I can go no further into the life of this intense young artist.  He exceeds my ability to empathize and keep up with his innovative thought.  Still I want to say to him, “Sing them over again to me, wonderful words of life.”

Is it by these means that I keep people aware of my existence?  I wonder if I do this for the pleasure of their surprised and uninformed questions or for the lone pleasure of outdoor extremes.  They all seem to find abundantly within their own imaginations enough excitement without coming to places like this.  I can argue that mine are real, but I wonder.

Recently, I leaned toward the makeup mirror to inspect my tools and wondered that eye shadow and lipstick, while interesting, no longer thrill like knobby boots, safari shirt, and an Arab cloth held in place over my head with an elastic sweat band.  Some people see the years growing behind my eyes, the mouse growing a horse’s mane.  Looking past my eyes they might see when love was a slow stately procedure, and now I need this summer increasingly, a yearning like the rising tide about a rock protruding in a calm sea, as definite as a picture in a frame.

The night was still young when I returned to the car, and the gibbous moon was high.  I drove again to Badwater to see what happens on the salt flat in the moonlight.  I found white holes in the hard black dish, upside down and over me.  I took pictures at sixteen seconds and f3.5, and still they are not good.  I welcome suggestions.

Usually this kind of insight comes with hindsight after time has diminished the pain.


  1. Everything is either beige or blue!

  2. Wow. You can really see the waves being formed!

  3. Wow Sharon! You sure do know how to 'keep people aware of your existence!' Lol Most of us would not venture out onto such a vast and ever changing canvas (117+ degrees) and get beat up by the slashing hands of an extreme artist at work! Personally, I think that you have quite the adventurous spirit and I applaud every step into this harsh existence that you take! I know that much research and preparation goes into all of your "extreme" adventures! Keep on climbing to the highest dunes if that is what draws you and now gives you delight! It is certainly delighting me to see a little portion of this through your eyes!

  4. Steven and Gail, artists both, your brush is the wind, your voice the voice of wind, your guitar strings undulate the driven sand. You are the makers of dunes, and a darn cute couple to boot.

  5. Sometimes pain is an absolutely integal part of the insight. To diminish one, either pre-emptively or through attrition, may foreclose some richness of the other. We mark your presence either way. Sharon R.

  6. I love the way sneak into my motives and morals, Sharon.

  7. I sing into your deep sleep now, dear Sharon friend, after a long day at the poetic dunes... both of us form unconciously the patterns in the wind's heart, mind the motions of breath over the invisible air... now by your pictures and words we are in tune with your solo footsteps... we step too, today, traveled afar and not so far and not so lone. But the song a refrain to your wild musings, not there, but here our fresh footprints strange the new sound on earth crunches into the unknown...

    A new poem for you, I read this today in Tujunga


    the sweep of yesterday
    is dark broken
    against the shore
    the future comes
    foam tipped

    by day by night
    the spectacle

    light crested
    now leans the now

    here and there
    thin branched
    weeping over the sea
    ready to be shaped
    by any wind


  8. What an amazing series of photographs! And to think this is California... unbelievable. How can you stand the heat, I have no idea. And how can you get up early enough! Congratulations, yet again, on challenging yourself and us, and winning!

  9. As Maja says... "to think this is California...unbelievable". It looks more and more like another planet. I am still amazed at the emptiness. Again there are no people, as I have noticed in your other journeys, and this one spectacularly so! Do you talk to people there, in between the dunes of days... I mean back at the cafe or motel, do you make human friends or does just the artist wind speak to you? It is hard to remember you are in calling distance when you post these pictures from another world. I called you on your arrival day. Does your phone work in those vast spaces on the edge of the earth that your photos show... or is it like a sand costumed Sierra wilderness... I will try... to see if the heat and wind have changed your voice!

  10. “Motions of breath over the invisible air” – creators who breathe into inanimate things the breath of life and it becomes a living soul. What was “dark broken against the shore” in Kathabela’s words, is breathed into by the artist and stirs us "to think this is California ...unbelievable" in Maja’s words. I talk to few people, meet few, spend my time mostly alone; it seems best to experience a quiet place with only its soft voices, devoid of human clutter.

    I did not post today because it was a long tiring hike and I got back to the motel late. Then there was a lot of email and cares of the world. Tomorrow I shall have to post twice, because today was too good to omit. Sleep well all.

  11. Two artists, two voices. one Nature at work, one mind at work.

  12. Oh, and Sharon, "I rose above hell today" is a good opening line for a poem, as are a good number of your lines in this blog. Hope you will mine this work for poetry, or perhaps keep it as a prose poem.

  13. Yes, Liz, I think they will wiggle into poems, it seems their natures. Do we speak and the thing is created? Or is it created first and then we speak it? Hmmmm

  14. Absolutely amazing photos Sharon. I love the moon dune photo!!!

  15. Thanks Lois, the near-full moon rising over the dunes was spectacular. I wish I could capture moonbeams better in photos.

  16. Yes... this is the most amazing page of photos I think... surreal, dreamlike, unworldly...(otherworldly) unknown... unseen by most.... like steps on the moon, yes.

  17. I felt out-of-this-world on these dunes, in the wind, sand rushing by. Much of mars is like this from the rover pictures. I'm ready.

  18. I'm waiting! what will it be...

  19. Sharons Outer Space Adventure -- yes, in another year