Monday, November 29, 2004


Backbone Transplant

Cold slipstream brought tears to my eyes as I rolled down Ocean Park, but now, an hour later, the day has warmed and my speed is far reduced by the long climb. A few hundred feet below, haze obscures the beach but up here the air is dry and clear. The flowers and rocks shine.

Slanting light brings out the texture of the conglomerate that forms the ridge's top section. I finally have a digital camera that can do this justice and I happily look for compositions in the elegant wall.
"What are you photographing?"
"Rocks." Two women had walked past, then turned back. "I've always liked this wall."
"I'd never noticed it. It has interesting texture," one of the women says, and then they walk on down.

I keep shooting. The goal is to produce an image that is true to the original, while simplifying it enough to be comprehensible in the limited amount of data available in a photograph. Here, I have the benefit of touch, smell, movement, sound, to make the situation real. A photograph must abstract all of that and present it on a flat surface. A good picture transcends its limitations.

"What are you shooting?"
Two more women, same thing. Walked past, then turned around. "This beautiful conglomerate wall. I've always liked it, and I finally have the camera for it."
"That is quite a camera."
"I like it a lot. Just got it."
"I like what you're doing. Photographs are everywhere. I have a student who I hope will learn that. I should bring her up here."
"It's a good place. Especially at sunset."
She looks at her companion. "Photography is a good way to meet men. I'm hoping."
"It beats watching TV. And it has been good to me. People have told me many ways to meet women, but none of them ever worked. Now I know the secret: take pictures of rocks on a busy trail. You're the second group of women who has stopped to ask." I smile at them,and we all laugh.

This is very unlike me. It usually doesn't happen; I've done photography in lots of places without eliciting many questions, and if there were questions the conversation didn't go far. Today has been strange. I passed a mountain biker who was unusual for starting at the bottom of Paseo Miramar, and it turns out that she's like me in that she rides from home. Marina del Rey, about three miles farther away than my start. We rode and talked until I made my first stop for photography.

The women walk on, down. Then two men approach, climbing, and I hurriedly put my stuff away and grab a drink so as to be gone ahead of them. I don't like coming up behind hikers, with all my mountain bike noise. They catch me anyway and one of them asks me about Cougar. He mentions that he also owns a Turner. We talk for a bit, about mountain bikes and the steep hill, as I roll slowly along with them, and then I go ahead.

The big oak in the swale is in too much shade for a decent photo, but there's just enough light on the new season's hummingbird sage. I stop and get out the camera. The two men catch up with me.
"What are you shooting here?"
"Hummingbird sage. See the new fuzzy leaves?" I point.
"Yes." One of them reaches to a plant's base and pulls off a small fragrant leaf.
"See over here? Last year's flower spike. The flowers are a spectacular magenta-purple. I wanted to get a picture of the new plants, and then come back for the flowers. Later in the spring. Farther along this trail there's chaparral flowering currant, but I don't think I'll make it today. It's blooming a month early. Just a little ways up is gooseberry, but it doesn't have any flowers yet."
"That's great that you know so many of the plants. We walk right past."
"You can always tell when I've been up a trail by all the turn-around tracks and loops."

We stand there and talk for a few minutes, getting around to introductions. Roger and Gabriel. Roger is a sculptor in bronze and stone. They walk on but I stay to get more images of the sage, and the fuchsia flowering gooseberry. Thin clouds soften the light. Then I ride on, up the last grade, tempted to go all the way around to Trailer Canyon but there's no time. I turn around at the local maximum, where the woolly blue curls will come up in a couple of months.

Back near the hummingbird sage is a nice curving growth of tall new grass. I park the bike, get the camera out of my pack and sit on the trail and start experimenting. Naturally, the wind that had caused so much trouble as I photographed pearly everlasting has now calmed so the grass won't move. I still try various angles, and then Roger and Gabriel come by on their way down.

"That is a nice shot," Gabriel says.
The conversation goes on: sculpture, sand, technique, craft and the work required to become good at something, inspiration, where ideas come from, the fascination of creativity, what happens when people read. Gabriel turns out to be a writer.

He's also something of an engineer. "I was talking with a paleontologist one time. He told me how they have to be very delicate to uncover the bones."
"They're like powder," Roger says.
"Right. They paint on cyanoacrylate glue. It's very thin, and penetrates the bone to hold it together. They expose an area, paint it, then move on after it hardens. I've been wondering if you could use that on your sand sculptures.
"That's an idea I've not heard about. People have mentioned sodium silicate, water glass, which they use in sand casting. I've never tried it. Or Elmer's glue."
"That wouldn't work. It would never dry."
"Yah. But whatever adhesive I use has to work with wet material, because the sand is damp."
"The cyanoacrylate should work with that."
"The truth is, I don't really care. If I start making permanent sculpture, I'll have to be a salesman."
"No, you have someone else do that. You stay with the creative side."
I look at them. "The truth is that what I really like is the process. I make sand sculpture because I like making it. When it's finished, the fun is over."
Gabriel says "There's a lot of similarity between what you do and the Buddhist sand paintings. Temporary, done for the process. Are you a Buddhist?"
I smile. "No. I'm a Christian." I can imagine what comes to his mind, but this is all of a piece. The situation and the people combine to make me very eloquent, and my words slide out as if greased. "I find that God is very supportive of creativity." Buddhism is as more acceptable subject, but following Jesus is where the life is.

We talk for a few minutes more and then they go on. I finish up, look at the sun and realize I'm out of time if I want to be at Phil's for Thanksgiving. I pass Gabriel and Roger one more time on the steep climb out of the little valley and then stop for a last photograph at the top. Then it's the long ride home and a shower; salt crystals don't do much for my appearance.

The drive to Whittier is uneventful. A real wonder. The first time I've been on the 60 freeway without being parked. Phil's directions were good. The problem comes in when I reach the door.

My spine, so recently upright and strong, turns to rubber. This man is a real Christian. Active in the church, family, hard worker, rebuilding their house in his spare time. Working to raise Godly kids. I can barely get myself through the day, much less anyone else, and here I just fold up. I'm not fit to be in his house.

Needless to say this attitude doesn't help the conversation. I just follow everyone else's lead, except for an hour spent in the back yard drawing extravagant chalk designs on his sidewalk. The kids have fun walking through the design and then leaving polychrome footprints on the concrete I haven't colored.

Failure. My tiny victories are meaningless. I know my foot is slipping. Why bother trying to stop it? Just let go. Slide. It's a long way down and I'm tired of trying. God won't let me lie to myself: If I'm depressed, then I'm depressed. Don't bother trying to cover it up. I just run away from everything. For two days.

It could have been worse. This used to go on for months. Self-judgment. Phil certainly never said anything, and he will be mortified if he reads this. Phil, it ain't your fault. It's all mine. You did nothing. All my self-judgment. A very bad habit. I'm trying to tell God what's good and bad about me, and beat Him to the punch. I learned long ago that judging myself hurts less than having others do it and naturally the same idea applies in extremis to God. Habit. He refuses to swallow the bait. He doesn't judge me.

All God asks of me is that I follow what He wants for me. Not what He asks of others. Why is this so hard for me to stick to when I'm around other followers of Jesus? We're not all alike.

My life is simple. Simple is all I can handle. I feel like a loser. God keeps telling me to follow Him and forget about everything else. What I have is a special kind of arrogant self-defense: see me whipping myself? You don't need to do it.

But God never whips His children. He chastises me, and constantly reminds me I'm not in His will while I'm trying to tell Him how screwed up I am. He won't let me ignore it, won't let me run away and hide. Intensive distraction is the only thing that works, and as soon as that's over, He's right back at it.

I'm easy to get at. I have no emotional calluses. About as tough as tissue paper. Except that somehow I'm still here, living in a hostile world. The contrast between feeling and reality. In any event, God has a very easy time getting my attention: all He has to do is let me turn away from Him, and I immediately feel the frost and stone growing back into my soul.

Maybe someday I'll learn this lesson and stop beating myself. I'm glad God is patient. He's the only one who can teach me. Saturday night I finally quit playing "Uru," turn off the computer and start listening to God. He is, as usual, very kind.

It doesn't last long. Sunday I'm even more crabby. Another day of "Uru," and all other plans thrown away. Distraction. Again, at night, I'm worn out and start listening.

The issue is neediness. Writing the first version of this story reminded me of just how much I need God, and I started running again. God waited. Needing anything is a problem for me, but an expansion of that idea will have to wait. This story is far too long already.

2004 November 27 (sent to WEML, forgot to send to Blog)
rewritten November 29

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?