Sunday, March 28, 2021

Reclaiming Bouquet Canyon Falls

Something deep within us must cry out to be seen, to leave our mark.  Early ancestors left  impressions of their hands and stylized horses on cave walls or pecked symbols onto rocky outcrops. They might have been ceremonial symbols to the gods, recordings of important dreams, or communication to others. However, whatever the meaning of the graphics left behind, it is clear they were important to those early makers. Today we view those marks with a sense of awe and connection to history. We value and protect them. 

Yesterday, I saw the other side of that impulse to say, “I was here.” 

Minutes beyond the northeastern urban sprawl of Los Angeles, a ribbon of road slithers through a deeply shaded canyon as it enters the Angeles National Forest and the San Gabriel Mountains. After driving through the dark of morning from a different mountain range under a luscious Worm Moon (so named by the Indians because worm trails would begin to appear on the newly thawed ground),  I was nearing Bouquet Canyon Falls where I would meet Joe Lopez.

Entrance to Bouquet Canyon Falls

Joe posted on the California Native Plant Society Facebook page about a project he was doing with a group of people to rehabilitate an abandoned campground into a sanctuary for monarch butterflies. The idea fascinated me and I asked for more information. Joe said, “We’ll be there Saturday, come on over.” Without thinking much about the four-hour drive, I said yes.

Arriving a few minutes early, I walked along the road that had serviced the campground, passed a central stone circle, and continued toward the rocks and the falls. Joe had talked about how much the group had worked cleaning up trash and graffiti. Indeed, the trash cans were overflowing.

Four young hikers were climbing over the rocks when I saw the graffiti; it was everywhere. Spinning around, I gaped and then felt myself split. 

 


 
 

I wanted this beautiful place to be pristine. White sycamores danced against the clear blue morning sky alongside cottonwoods, a perfectly shaped redwood, pines, and two, tall, spindly eucalyptus, not all that happily planted in the circle of the campground-that-was; all shading a trickling creek tumbling over erratic boulders. What a peaceful paradise, or would have been. I felt heartsick.

At the same time, the paint colors also grabbed me, and some of the writing was charming and done with effort and effect. I could feel my mind flipping back and forth between being horrified and being enchanted.

When Joe arrived, we talked about how this project began. Even though he had lived in the area for 35 years, he had never been to the falls until he heard a woman, who had visited the falls often as a child, talk about how trashy and graffitied it had become. In 2017, Joe visited the falls and happened to meet Dan Chapman there at the same time. They decided to do something and began cleaning out trash, removing graffiti, and gradually attracting other helpers and donations.

Since cleaning up the stream, tiny fish have returned.

Bouquet Canyon Falls campground was a popular place that was renovated in the 1970s. However, with the Forest Service budget cutbacks in the 1980s, maintenance budget dried up and the campground began to deteriorate. Proximity to urban populations attracted vandalism and crime which led to abandonment by the public and eventually to closure by the Forest Service. Today, there are few open campgrounds in this area.

Nature still calls people to the falls for a variety of reasons. In addition to hikers, photographers, and picnickers, recently a spiritual group has been coming regularly to perform what has been described as a cleansing ceremony. Unfortunately, their ceremony includes leaving quantities of fruit to rot in the pool at the base of the falls. Although, seldom seen, a myriad of young graffiti artists (a presumption of youth comes from the difficulty of getting to many of the places which have been graffitied) layer color on top of color the group has recently removed. 

Lopez points out how much trash and graffiti has already been removed and explains that the environmentally safe paint remover they use costs $300 for five-gallons and they can go through that in a day. The group has been gifted with equipment and materials and Lopez has created a non-profit organizations so others can help by donating to the project. While they are far from finished with the graffiti removal, they have reached a point where people can enjoy the falls and they are ready to start planting butterfly-friendly plants to give Monarchs a place to lay their eggs and hatch them before the winter migration to their coastal habitats.

I honor and commend this group’s great work to reclaim this area of natural beauty; however, I am left with many unanswered questions:

            We write; we make art; we spray graffiti.
            We make marks that tell the world we were here.

            What is the honorable way to be in nature?

            Who judges what is good and what is not?
            What determines historical value,
            spiritual significance, or the definition of beauty?

            Who does this land belong to? (A different question than Who owns it?)

            What does it mean to protect our public ... our sacred ... lands?


The GoFundMe page for this project is Bouquet Canyon Falls Cleanup if you would like to help.

Addendum: The name for Bouquet Canyon began in a slightly more mundane manner. A French sailor nicknamed, "El Buque," Spanish for "The Ship,"established a ranch in the 1840s named, "Rancho del Buque" and since then the misinterpreted version of his nickname just stuck.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Cherry Tree's field of dreams

 In 1989, the hit movie Field of Dreams launched what we would now call a meme … “if you build it, they will come.” The fantasy sports film starred Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta and Burt Lancaster in his final film role. Around this same time, I was working on a book contract with Berkley Publishing (now part of Penguin Random House) for a book titled Transformation Thinking.
 
My goal was to bring powerful thinking tools together in one place and tell stories about how those tools were used to transform various organizations in business, education, and community development. 
 
Through a series of synchronicities, I met Charlie Soap, a community development leader of the Cherokee Nation and husband of Wilma Mankiller, activist and the first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. Charlie told me a story of community development that surprised me as it began with building a ball field. In a poor community with endless needs, it seemed like an odd place to start … until I heard the story and saw the field for myself.
 
 Here’s the story excerpted from Transformation Thinking (out of print), time early 1990s:
 
State Highway 59 winds south out of Stilwell through the gentle Oklahoma hills. This is heartland America: a person-to-person place not much concerned with high tech problems and international feuds. The two-lane blacktop cuts through farm fields and pastures friended with buck brush and scrub oak woods.
 
However, the serene, muted beauty of the countryside belies the troubled history of Cherry Tree, a community just off the almost-deserted highway. It is familiar territory — a poor, rural community plagued by drugs and alcohol, crime, and a sense of defeat. Kids with nothing to do, adults with no hope … more a cluster of misery than a community. However, Cherry Tree had something special … and it did something remarkable.
 
Most of Cherry Tree’s 300 residents are members of the Cherokee Nation, and by 1990, The Nation had participated in several uniquely successful community development programs under the leadership of Chief Wilma Mankiller. Hearing of those successful programs, the Cherry Tree parents who were tired of losing their kids to drugs, crime, and alcohol, thought there might be a way to solve their problems. They approached Chief Mankiller for help but her schedule was already over-booked so she volunteered her husband, Charlie Soap, Director of the Christian Children’s Fund for the Oklahoma area.
 
“I remember the first time we met in 1990,” recalls Soap. “The parents came and asked me to help them do some youth projects. They didn’t know what to do or how to get started.” Charlie Soap’s life is deeply etched in his strong, dark face. His voice and eyes are gentle and protective as he speaks with passion about the Cherry Tree project.
 
Among that first group of parents was Ron Gonzales, father of three boys. For years Gonzales had gazed across the pastures and scrub oak but instead of seeing the northeastern Oklahoma hills, he saw a baseball diamond and players in white uniforms standing on an emerald green field. He heard shouts and cheers of families and friends. He saw a community of people playing together. But, the vision had always faded into the reality of trees and weeds.
 
When Soap asked the parents what they wanted, Gonzales immediately replied: A ball field!
 
“I was amazed,” stated Soap. “They had all these problems — vandalism, drugs, school drop-out … an amazingly high suicide rate. And they wanted a ball field. So I asked why.”
 
Gonzales had an explanation, “The kids don’t like each other. They’re fighting all the time and always getting into trouble. If we could form a baseball team or several teams throughout the community, they would become teammates. They’d support each other and become friends. They wouldn’t be fighting; they’d be playing ball together.”
 
The underlying principle of the community development process used by Soap is that everything comes from the community. If they wanted a ball field, it was his job to help them organize and build a ball field. The group formed a Youth Council and began to hold fund raisers. The kids were excited about the possibility of playing ball and they started pushing their parents to help even more. A temporary site was found and work started with some of the kids working from early morning until late at night.
 
However, change doesn’t come easily. Several young bullies delighted in tearing up the field as fast as Gonzales and his Youth Council built it. Gonzales is a quiet, patient man and he kept the kids calm. He would say, “Don’t get mad. Don’t retaliate. Let’s just fix it back up and then ask them to come play.” But the bullies refused to join them and continued to vandalize the ball field.
 
The turning point came when the Youth Council was offered tickets to a Texas Rangers game. No one in Cherry Tree had ever been to a professional baseball game. The kids were all crazy to go, but they looked at their bigger goals and decided to share some of their precious tickets with the bullies … who accepted this offer. The trip made the bullies part of the group and they became champions and protectors of the project.
 
After that trip, momentum started gathering and more and more people wanted to be involved. In the group meetings, people began to think bigger. They wanted something more than just one temporary ball field. They wanted a permanent place where everyone could play … from the little kids to the adults. Someone remembered a plot of land owned by the Cherokee Nation, currently being used for cattle grazing but big enough for a recreation area for the entire community. They approached the tribal council with a proposal and suddenly Cherry Tree had 115 acres to develop. Gonzales’ vision flickered back to life.
 
Of course, it’s one thing to design something on paper and quite another to make it happen. Without tractors, bulldozers, or a building loan, Cherry Tree’s field of dreams didn’t look very promising. However, almost everyone in the community showed up with their garden rototillers, hoes, shovels, spades and rakes. Painfully, rock by rock and root by root, they carved a ball field out of a cow pasture.
 
Today (1990s), if you take State Highway 59 south from Stillwell and turn right at the Cherry Tree Head Start Center, you can follow a dirt road through the words till it opens up to a broad expanse ringed by oak trees. If you’re lucky, Gonzales will come down from the brand new community tractor and you can sit on the bleachers facing the first ball field and listen to him describe the rest of the Cherry Tree project: three additional ball fields, a t-ball field, a walking/jogging path through the woods, a bicycle motocross designed and built by the little kids, a gymnasium, a wellness program, and a Cherry Tree Project store.
 
And, the bottom line? Local law enforcement officials report that before the ball field project, 50 percent of all the calls they received were from or about Cherry Tree. Today that community generates only 5 percent of the total calls. Each member of the community “owns” the Cherry Tree Project and there is a lot of pride in what they have accomplished and what they intend to accomplish. Cherry Tree has become a community with a future … a field of dreams with very real results.
 
Charlie Soap shared his three basic rules for all of his community development projects:
 
1. Definition of the problem and all potential solutions have to come from the people.
2. Participation has to be voluntary.
3. Find a way to involve the holdouts.
 
These principles transformed the movie fantasy of “building a field and they will come” into “if they want a field and they help build it, it can change everything.” 
 
Not as catchy, of course, but transformative.


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Entangled Life, or whose body is this anyway?

“Sheldrake awakens the reader to a shapeshifting, mind-altering, animate world that not only surrounds us but intimately involves us as well. A joyful exploration of the most overlooked and enigmatic kingdom of life, and one that expanded my appreciation of what it means to be alive.”—Peter Brannen, author of The Ends of the World

Imagine walking through a landscape of two-story tall mushrooms.  

Jurassic Park? No, these giants appeared some 400 million years before the dinosaurs stomped about. Long before back-boned animals waded out of the water, while the tallest plants were barely as tall as yard-sticks. But this giant, whose fossilized remains have now been declared a fungus, was only the first of this kingdom to amaze us.

As if he were as powerful as his name-sake wizard, Merlin Sheldrake weaves a story that spins my head, setting off identity alarms with no known off switch. We are not a body, not a carefully evolved big-brained species known as Homo Sapiens. We are an upright-walking ecology of animal, bacteria, fungi, and who knows what else we’re going to find lurking in our inner world. 

As an under-educated wanderer setting out to explore the wonders of nature, I had little comprehension of the depth of my ignorance. Picking up a book about fungi with an engaging cover, I thought: mushrooms, simple little things growing in the dark woods … colorful and fun to photograph. It wasn’t long before I fell into an endless spiral of complexity rivaling Alice’s journey into Wonderland.

When I first learned about the tree of life, everything was either plant or animal. All too soon it got more complicated, branching forever away from that either/or pattern. Microscopes opened up the unseen world, and Domains and Kingdoms danced around in circles, baffling those of us who thought we had a firm grip on what life was. All those unseeable thingys were just waiting to demand their rightful place in the family.

By 1969, the whirling about settled into a 5 Kingdom certainty, but only after two mysteriously obscure Empires were invented. See 5 Kingdom below.

Unfortunately, for the average person trying to make sense of the world, this certainty lasted less than a decade before it became the 6 Kingdom proclamation. See 6 Kingdom below.

Faster than an eye-blink, that morphed into an 8 Kingdom movement and then the new 6 Kingdom model which lasted less time than its ancestors before the 7 Kingdoms became the final word … at least until the next word came along and basically scrapped Empires, demoted Kingdoms, and settled on 3 Domains. See 3 Domains below. 

Focusing on just the Eukaryota … those of us with nuclei in our cells … gives us plants, animals, fungi, slime molds and a bunch of other relatives whose names offer few clues about who they are.

I have zero confidence that this dance is over or that I will ever know exactly who is traveling with me in the body I thought was mine.

 

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_(biology)

Five Kingdom

Six Kingdom

Seven Kingdom

Three Domains

Overly simplified definitions:
Prokaryota: cellular organism lacking a nucleus
Eukaryota: cellular organism with a nucleus
Monera: single cell organisms such as bacteria which were among the first life forms to appear on earth
Protista: cellular organism with a nucleus that is not an animal, plant or fungus.

Note: A simplified version of this article will be part of The Granary Tree, Vol 3, a quarterly report on wandering through a world of wonders. Annual subscription: $55 via PayPal (jwycoff@me.com) or check - Joyce Wycoff, Box 292, Julian, CA 92036.




Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Love Letter #33: Learning from art how to pay attention

 

(We know the day we were born, but most of us do not know the day we will die. This love letter to my life is written on the day I've designated as my death day: the 17th of every month, and reminds me to be grateful for my incredible life.)    

In March, 1979, according to a publicist covering the exhibition of Judy Chicago’s "Dinner Party” in San Francisco, I was living in a cave. 

And, perhaps I was. I didn’t know anything about the fanfare surrounding the artist’s electrifying tribute to 39 women who had changed western civilization … and whom had then been promptly forgotten. I didn’t know about the hundred thousand people who would view this work or about the 400 people who had worked for five years to complete it. Hell, I had never even heard of Judy Chicago and could barely spell art. 

Making the cave analogy even more appropriate was the fact that I had no clue my world would flip upside down three weeks later when seventeen synchronicities danced a conga line through a weird night and then, with a flourish, announced the end of the marriage I thought would last forever. The lesson I learned then and have continued to learn, mostly, thankfully, with slightly less dramatic effects, was that I apparently wasn’t paying attention. 

Since then, I’ve been trying to wake up to myself and the world around me which, apparently, I slept through for years. Sometime after that life tsunami, art came for a visit and decided to stay. The first thing I did after my marriage ended, when some people might get their hair restyled or buy a new wardrobe, I bought my first piece of art and began a slow awakening through art into the larger world.

Recently my two teenage granddaughters began to think about being artists. To support their explorations, I decided to research women artists and maybe make a small book for them about what I found. I’ve often fallen in love with women artists, but Judy Chicago was just a name until I found an out-of-print copy of her memoir Beyond the Flower, The Autobiography of a Feminist Artist. It was interesting enough until I got to the “Dinner Party” when it blew me away with the scope and sheer audacity of her work as well as the history of women largely forgotten or devalued. 

Judy’s daring and courage to use “women’s art” forms (ceramics, embroidery, china painting) to tell the history of women makes my heart pound. Among the many things I've slept through was the women’s movement. I resisted the word “feminist,” never burned a bra, nor took assertiveness training or had a child. When I began to make art, genitalia was never a part of it. I think I tried to create a gender-neutral bubble in a highly gendered Universe. I thought I was being successful when, actually, I was living a Swiss-cheese life. Once again, I wasn’t paying attention.

Since returning from my two years in Mexico, I’ve been trying to understand more fully why I came back and, even, why I went. I loved my time in Mexico; however, in some ways, it was a continuation of not paying attention. Central Mexico is a colorful kaleidoscope of sights, sounds, and new experiences, captivating and distracting. It was easy to limit my attention to the outside world I could see and touch, without paying attention to my inner world or the deep river of culture, deprivation, generosity, and oppression running beneath the surface.

My return to the US, as well as the pandemic, slowed me down and gave me time to focus on priorities for the increasingly limited number of years stretching before me.

Botanical Abstract: Shall we dance ...

 

What emerged was a deep desire to truly connect with the body of nature, including my own physical, mental, and spiritual self. I want to pay attention to the beauty, and the pain, of the earth and feel the interweaving of myself with everything. I want to understand how the oak leaves breathing in what I breathe out and I are both part of this great cycle of life and how the sunshine that seems to be just a pleasant breaking of the long night actually feeds us both.

Recently, I’ve been reading and listening to Ellen Langer, PhD, thanks to the abundance of books, podcasts, TEDtalks, and YouTube videos available. Dr. Langer is is the first female tenured professor of psychology at Harvard University and focuses on mindfulness, which she disconnects from meditation. In other words, paying attention. Sounds simple, however, it’s a mindset, a practice, and never as simple as it seems. One of her quotes I particularly love is:

"When people are not in the moment,
they're not there to know that they're not there."

I want to know I’m here and, as much as possible, value the world surrounding me and the world within by paying attention. Art is a process of paying attention; for me, it begins with photography and continues through the addition of other elements and playing the colors and shapes until they reveal something new, something not noticed before. When that comes, I feel like I have been touched by grace. Discovering the delicate beauty of "Mountain Mahogany" gave me that feeling of connection.

 
Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party,” widely regarded as the first epic feminist artwork, was donated by the  Elizabeth A. Sackler Foundation to the Brooklyn Museum, where it is now permanently housed.
 

 


Saturday, March 13, 2021

Sidetracked by rainbows

Grace ... in memory of W.H. Davies

Snowed in with plans to visit a friend sidetracked. 

What to do? How to spend my day?

I’m “in progress” on making a memory book for the friend whose visit I’m missing so I decided to work on that project. All too soon, I’m sidetracked by a whimsical image which pulls me into Photoshop. 

That was fun; now back to work.

However, before I go, another image offers me this quote from an unknown writer:

"It was the Rainbow that gave thee birth,
and left thee all her lovely hues."
-- William Henry Davies, Welsh poet

Who is this poet I’ve never heard of? Wikipedia tells a story I didn’t expect after reading the lovely quote above. William Henry Davies had a hard life: his iron moulder father died when he was 3 and his mother sent him to live with his grandparents. He became a delinquent and then a “supertramp,” crossing the Atlantic at least seven times on cattle ships and doing seasonal work.

When he heard about the riches to be made in the Klondike, he set off to make his fortune. Along the way he lost his footing trying to jump a freight train and his foot was crushed under the wheels. His leg had to be amputated below the knee. Davies later said, “I was soon home again, away less than four months; but all the wildness was taken out of me.”

His life after the accident was grim, living rough on the streets of London and in shelters. Somewhere along the line though, he met poetry. He began writing his poems, trying to sell them door-to-door, burning all of them when that enterprise failed.

Poetry continued knocking and he self-published his first book of poetry at 34. When it was ignored, he began sending copies to wealthy people chosen from Who’s Who, asking them to send him the half crown price of the book. He sold 60 of the 200 copies printed.

One of the copies wound up with a journalist who recognized “…some of the freshest and most magical poetry to be found in modern books.” The journalist asked for a meeting and helped him publish his first trade edition of poetry. It was the beginning of the poet’s success.

George Bernard Shaw described Davies’ work as that of a “genuine innocent.” His biographer L. Hockey, said:

"It is as a poet of nature that Davies has become most famous; and it is not surprising that he should have taken nature as his main subject. He had lived close to the earth and in the open air, and had grown to love the countryside with its fields, woods and streams, its hedges and flowers, its birds and beasts, bees and butterflies, its sunny and cloudy skies and capricious moods: in short its infinite variety.”

Part of the speech which was given when Davies received an honorary degree from the University of Wales, included this description of him and his poetry.

“Natural, simple and unaffected, he is free from sham in feeling and artifice in expression. He has re-discovered for those who have forgotten them, the joys of simple nature. He has found romance in that which has become commonplace; and of the native impulses of an unspoilt heart, and the responses of a sensitive spirit, he has made a new world of experience and delight. He is a lover of life, accepting it and glorying in it.”

Sidetracked. The day is half gone and I have wallowed in the joy of being sidetracked. Almost like playing hooky, ignoring all the shoulds, meeting by happenstance a person, unknown before, but now living within me, inspiring me to persist when things seem hopeless. 

Seems like a fair trade-off. Maybe I should get sidetracked more often.

I reviewed several of Davies poems and found many of them dated in rhyme, sometimes charming, with glimpses of an indomitable nature. I wondered if his life taught him to put on a happy face … or maybe I’m just projecting. This one … “The Dark Hour” rang true, for me.

And now, when merry winds do blow,
And rain makes trees look fresh,
An overpowering staleness holds
This mortal flesh.

Though well I love to feel the rain,
And be by winds well blown --
The mystery of mortal life
Doth press me down.

And, In this mood, come now what will,
Shine Rainbow, Cuckoo call;
There is no thing in Heaven or Earth
Can lift my soul.

I know not where this state comes from --
No cause for grief I know;
The Earth around is fresh and green,
Flowers near me grow.

I sit between two fair rose trees;
Red roses on my right,
And on my left side roses are
A lovely white.

The little birds are full of joy,
Lambs bleating all the day;
The colt runs after the old mare,
And children play.

And still there comes this dark, dark hour --
Which is not borne of Care;
Into my heart it creeps before
I am aware.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

The Granary Tree, Vol 2: Snow Moon now available

 

The Granary Tree, vol 2, honoring Snow Moon is published! You are welcome to explore the online magazine (which will now be quarterly) for free. However, I plan to order a limited edition of printed copies. If you're interested, please comment below.

Here's the free link:

Back cover

 

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

yes, the world is going to end

Curly Manzanita

                                         yes, the world is going to end
                                         yes, democracy is in danger
                                         yes, COVID still sucks
                                         yes, people can be jerks
                                         yes, you can’t change everything

                                                                  however, 

                                          you can find and share beauty
                                          you can stay loving and peaceful
                                          you can be kind to yourself and others
                                          you can stop for a moment of gratitude
                                          you can live the one life you’ve been given

 Morning came with a gift of poetry, giving me recommendations for this strange time we find ourselves in.

I am in the wrapping up process for the second volume of The Granary Tree and the curly manzanita is the the back cover. I so love tree bark.