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Valley Oaks and fog at sunrise, Ahwahnee, California 2010

Through spare woods with bowed oak limbs heavy with old man’s beard, and the diffused ray of an afternoon sunbeam shooting from nowhere, he walked his usual path, no trail marked the ground.  Past the cushioned damp deadfall where mushrooms often bloomed after the rain. Past the rock outcropping that big as a bus cut in half, marbled with nearly every hue of the natural world and having a location that could only conceivably have come from falling out of the sky and arranged in rugged upshot forms, thick, girthy towers cut from the minds of genius, tormented architects.  Around the corner was another spread, another grove freckled with granite, softened by the tan dewy grasses matted from the past days’ wind and the hooves of migrant wild animals criss-crossing, who’s following who?  Nevermind.

This tableau hamlet has been in his journey for years, in his family for longer and part of the foundation of the earth before time.  To see it today is only that, myriad realizations through the interplay of light and atmosphere, every day a new place, fresh for the mind.  To breath in one moment and exhale the act of ownership.

Sitting at a picnic table under a Valley Oak surrounded by gnarled limbs and above, a cloudless night sky, she drank the last gulp of water out of her mason jar.  The two-piece screw-on brass lid layed disjointed on the top of the hewn table, and her eyes were fixed on the man straddling the seat next to her, staring back, albeit with mischief emanating from behind.  He asked her why she loved that mason jar so, what was it that brought such great joy from something so utilitarian?

She explained that the utter simplicity was the touch of genius in the object, that sometimes we find what we’re looking for when we don’t mean to and that is a part of life to be cherished.  They talked about the world being overburdened with excess and over-stimulation and shared solace in their mutual respect for the outdoors and the values nature imparts on us, values that don’t have sets of orders, that same touch of grace she mentioned earlier.

It was hot so they brushed their hair away from their faces and wiggled in their seats a little, that’s what they told each other.  Their hands lit up the air as they spoke and fell by a bare thigh, earlier brushing past a face leaving a trailing breeze for a brief second.  When they finished kissing she looked over at the table to grab her mason jar for the last sip of water and although there was no water a firefly was silently floating inside.  She gently picked up the lid and screwed it on the top of the jar, just for a second she said.  The firefly ignited it’s bottom almost on cue as the lid was sealed and equally on cue, her smile grew with the insect’s momentary flash.  “It’s so perfect” she whispered, “two incredible simple things coming together.”  And he moved his hands and placed them on her thighs, this time firmly, and behind his eyes was a confident understanding, like a sculpture realized from raw stone.

fireflies

They sat on the front porch of the weathered victorian house, it’s paint cracked and bubbled revealing the grey bleached wood underneath.  They sat in silence soaking in the vast golden hay field in front of them, and the epic Pacific seascape behind the house.  The silence was relentless, so they continued to sit, all but statuesque from its empiric sensation.  In the field a handful of cows meandered among the dry grasses, their heads hung, feeding.  He thought to himself how he could pick up all those cows in his one hand from where he was sitting.

There was no wind that afternoon, to a fault.  The sun baked their brows and when they did move, it was to wipe away the mild perspiration that formed as they sat on the slatted front porch steps.  Compelled, he reached out and took her hand and stared discerningly at her face with a look of being driven towards her.  He asked her “what is it?”  And she said “it’s this handsome gentle heat, it makes me flush.”

Gustave Courbet has  been one of my favorite artists since I began reading about him in high school AP art history.  I had a teacher, Michael Milan, who had a particularly demented view of how to teach young adults.  Looking back, Milan was kind of the originator of shock and awe.  He was no doubt gay, extremely cosmopolitan and most likely came from old money, the kind of money that allows you to not give a fuck about anything, including the health of your teeth.  Milan taught English, studio art and art history and there was a group of 4 or 5 of us that found him completely hilarious, mostly on Monday when he would flamboyantly talk about the weekend cocktail parties he had attended and how most of us in the room would have absolutely no idea how to function even on the most basic level in the elevated cultural settings of these aforementioned events.

This was ironic because he was teaching kids that were all interested in the same intellectual and cultural spheres that he was, nonetheless, he ruled in the classroom not by example, but by blunt mockery and elitism.  Like I said, he came form old money.  Where Milan excelled was conveying his own passion for certain writers and artists and sometimes it was more of a show to listen to Milan than make fun of him, to his face, which we no doubt did and mostly took it as far as we could before Milan got bored or called us immature and newt rapscallions .

Courbet was a favorite of Milan’s.  I remember the first time I witnessed L’Origine Du Monde, seen below:

This is not an easy piece of art to have come up on the screen when you are 17 and in mixed company.  It was absolutely shocking and perverse and one of the most in-your-face pieces of cultural conundrum I had ever been faced with.  The title is straight-forward enough (The Origin of the World) however, loaded with dense innuendo and contrast.  Courbet was part of the Realist movement in painting.  This is the depiction of everyday scenarios that did not emphasize style over stark representation, with a leaning towards the sordid and sometime ugly moments in our lives.

This blended perfectly with Milan’s style of teaching, he felt it was more important to challenge and show us the underside of our existences rather than encourage whenever possible and remind kids that they are all special stars in the sky.  The more we are coaxed into following a healthy, acceptable path of doing things, the more complacent we become in our thoughts and actions, ceding any notion of living of a life of true liberty.  While recently doing some reading about Courbet I came across this very anarchistic approach to how he lived:

“…in our so very civilized society it is necessary for me to live the life of a savage. I must be free even of governments. The people have my sympathies, I must address myself to them directly.”

No doubt Courbet partied like a rock star when it came to expressing his inner torrent of anger with institutionalized systems of thought and systems of rule.  As head of all Paris museums during the Paris Commune rule, Courbet lead the charge for the destruction of the Vendome Column.  This ultimately led to Courbet being run out of Paris and living in exile in Switzerland.  Whereas this may seem a troubled move, a man who is free in his heart and mind, is never the prisoner of any institution.  The quote of Courbet’s that inspired me to write this goes, “I am fifty years old and I have always lived in freedom; let me end my life free; when I am dead let this be said of me: ‘He belonged to no school, to no church, to no institution, to no academy, least of all to any régime except the régime of liberty.”

One of my great goals in life is to maintain a position where I can create freely and feel great satisfaction with my productions, a lover and fierce savage to the people around me, who I value and respect so much.

In the past 2 weeks I’ve seen this raccoon in the back garden twice now, both times very late at night. One time he was walking on top of the back fence, which I found very impressive since this raccoon is a heifer trapped in a striped fur body. He’s the biggest raccoon I’ve ever seen in real life or on film, tv, or the internet. I actually just spent some serious time researching pictures and video of raccoons on the internet because I think we’ve found the Sasquatch, Giant Squid and 250 year old, 500 pound catfish of raccoons.

The night he was climbing on my back fence was funny because I had just come home and I went to the back porch to water the plants. When I got back there I locked eyes with him and he went into frozen mode. He had nowhere to go and I’m sure he was using all of his fatty raccoon energy just to balance up there. I don’t think raccoons are particularly known for being nimble and there’s no way this huge bundle of fun is making any cat-like moves. Someone has got to be feeding him dinner scraps and then sending him out into the night. That or I should call National Geographic and let them know about this modern marvel.

The raccoon has caused a touch of strife in the house as I think they’re actually cool little (not in this case, doggies) animals. E thinks otherwise and would rather get her face painted with a 3 day old piece of cod rather than face the raccoon, even from the safety of the back porch. Until I can get my own picture of him as evidence, watch this raccoon fight and imagine if these 2 raccoons could morph into each other, and then add a third and you would be at about half the size of the burglar-eyed food bandit that traipses through my garden every now and then.