Thursday, June 28, 2018

A guest post from Janneke Brouwer

The Fire Lookout

Aangezien ik veel Engels sprekende volgers heb schrijf ik dit verhaal in het Engels.
Since I have a lot of followers that speak English, I’ll write this one in English.
This morning the weather report told us that it would be better to wait one more day to go to the Sierra Buttes Fire Lookout. Today chances of being caught in rain or thunderstorm would be high and the view would be mostly ruined by the clouds. So Gary and I decided to go tomorrow and hope that our view tomorrow will be blue sky and distant lookout.
After my morning coffee and oatmeal breakfast Gary looked outside and saw that the weather here was actually not too bad. He asked e to go with him to the Fire Lookout next to Taylorsville. That seemed to be a nice replacement activity which would be only a couple miles away in stead of a two hour drive. We packed our bags with hot coffee and an extra jacket to stay warm. Up there it might get cold and windy. At the top of some of the mountains here is still some snow. Oh, this reminds me…. I haven’t even took one sip of coffee or water out of the two bottles that I took. And here is why…
We drove all the way up the mountain and Gary parked the car. It was a beautiful view over Taylorsville, Quincy, some lakes and valleys. I had to close my eyes and walked with Gary about 10 meters / 32 feet to the front. Then I could open my eyes and wow there I saw this very gorgeous lake that appeared right below me. It was created by a glacier high in the mountains, had clear water and Gary told me he even went for a swim up here once. When we sat there and just listened to the silence and to the birds singing he told me that this was the place where he really felt home. Ever since he got here with his father and now, years later, this is the place where he really feels home. I told him I can totally understand that. This is such an amazing place with clean air, lots of green valleys and beautiful mountains and views. He’s lucky to have this.
He showed me around the top of the mountain and there we saw a Fire Lookout. A small wooden house. I climbed up the stairs as far as I could and could imagine myself staying here for a while just looking around to spot fires. Again at that place we just sat for a while and looked at the clouds how they shaped and became darker and darker, to finally rain down somewhere.

After one last look, when we walked to the car and wanted to go home we saw a car passing by. Gary became excited and said: “Oh that must be the man that stays at the Fire Lookout! We heard a radio earlier that morning so he must have let that on while he went shopping or something.” And Gary was right. The man stopped in front of the Fire Lookout and we walked up to him. Gary said to me: “Just wait, probably I can talk him into showing us the Fire Lookout from the inside. I’ll just tell him about your around-the-wold-tour and that you’ve never seen this before.” Well, Gary didn’t even had to put much effort in it because when we arrived we both saw that the man had his car fully loaded and starting to carry this up the stars to bring inside his house. Groceries, books, a printer and even a small trampoline. 🙂 So after greeting the man we offered him to carry the boxes up to the kitchen and to his office in the top of the Fire Lookout. Wayne, that was his name, was happy with the help and after I carried the trampoline inside – which he uses to stay in shape! – he was also willing to tell us about his job as a Fire Lookout.
The way Wayne told his stories and his energy were very intriguing. It made me think about Jan Bakker from Amsterdam and Eddy Scott from Russell. Somehow these men probably never loose their young spirit, energy and their fascinating stories. They will never forget to learn, to enjoy and to have fun. Later on, when I was back here at Gary’s log house I read Wayne his blog and I was right. His photography and his writing are truly inspiring me. I think I’ve read three stories without even blinking. The link to his blog is and here are some of his photo’s, that I found on his art gallery, which I found uplifting.
At the Fire Lookout he will stay most of his summer days. When the lightning strikes he has to be aware that there could be a fire starting. He’s watching through his binoculars to spot smoke and uses the radio to report this to center where they mostly send a helicopter and someone on the ground to check it. Natural fires are generally started by lightning. But last year they had a man who would start three fires at one day and several others, one even in someones back yard. He also caused a big fire close to town and got apparently 25 years to lifelong sentenced to prison. Wayne’s job is to spot the fires and make sure they can control them i time. He told us that some storms have up to 200 lightning bolts strike the earth’s surface.
Today is just another inspiring day where we, because of  ‘bad’ weather, experienced something truly unique. If you just get out of your house, new adventures are sometimes just around the corner. Life has so many gifts to discover and so many lessons and wisdom to give us. This world has so many magnificent miracles to reveal. If we just try to catch a glimpse of it, if we just understand a little part, we will find our peace, we will find ourselves. The book is endless and the story always goes on. If you go and open your eyes you will find it. If you stay where you are you may never see it.
Something special happened at the end of our visit at the Fire Lookout…
YesterdayI wrote this in my book:
Traveling the world seems to be something very special. Even though I’ve met so many people, young and old, who have been traveling or are still traveling the world. For most people the biggest surprise is that I’ve been doing a big part of my around-the-world-tour alone. They don’t understand why, would be scared of doing something like this and always tell me to ‘be careful‘. Then there’s the other group of people that I’ve met. The ones that are curious and excited and would love to do this themselves. The ones that have seen something more of the world. The ones that know the feeling of being free to do whatever you want to do and find amazing adventures. They mostly tell me ‘have fun!‘.
Today when Wayne told me goodbye…. guess what he said. 😉
Thanks Gary for this nice day and making me realize any adventure can be just around the corner of our own house.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

are you ever tired of being an atlas?

this morning i have the house to myself, my housemate gone to work early, and i feel very differently. when she's  here, nothing different other than the presence of another person. when that is so, i feel rushed. i have to do things quicker, better, as though giving a performance. 

of course, this comes from childhood, a mother who demanded a kind of perfection. i can't quite imagine what that perfection might have been, she herself very self-conscious of her looks and critical of mine. she thought i was homely, i know that for a fact, hearing her say so to guests, even as i gave myself my first shaves in the mirror. 

and having brothers and sisters didn't help. conflicts always brought problems, often tears (which i've rarely shed since), me, the oldest, most often held responsible. even if i was, and i don't doubt it, the feeling of failure strong. and she expressed great hopes for me. i would be a great man and straighten out the world. alas, in my mind i often try and make a mess of it, imagining using power instead of finesse. 

boundaries, they say, make the man (or woman), and i have trouble holding my own, since i always want to avoid conflict. living with a drunk uncle at age sixteen didn't help. i slept in the living room with no door to shut against his rambling monologues and bad advice. a few months of that and i was told my character changed. i became, i suspect, more defensive than active.

even with the door shut, i keep expecting to be invaded, chided, to have the sky fall on me. yes, the sense of a sudden disaster rarely leaves me. perhaps it was being a child during world war two. maybe it was moving thirty-two times before i left high school and many times since. i'm atremble within: all the uncertain actions of the world, the ambiguities. 

it does seem very foolish to be affected by childish things on the verge of old age. well, maybe that's when they affect all of us the most, the body needing a surgery here, a surgery there to keep going. even minor ones bring out my mortality. and the odd thing is, i enjoy sitting in cafes the most, drinking coffee, reading, watching the crowd! ah, out in the open, not trapped by four walls and my own insecurities. after all, i do respond well to emergencies. it's the needs of everyday life too big. 

Monday, June 4, 2018

can madness make us happy?

how can i define a state of which i was once so afraid? i read everything i could about it, fearing i'd go off the deep-end, especially in college when i felt so alienated from my body. i'd look at my naked self in the mirror and be appalled! i still find it odd i'm so much an animal (blood, flesh, and bone) with a consciousness that flits about the universe like a butterfly. 

i have had a few insights into the loss of control. for example, an adult acting like a four-year old, dancing, singing, sticking her hands in a potted plant and throwing dirt all over the place, that's exactly what insanity can look like. catatonia another matter, the stillness of the dead. and a child running out of the hospital into the street terrified, the input of stimulae way over the top.

apparently i get 4 billion items of information hitting my eyes every second, and i can manage forty. i need a screen to be able to cope. every successful person seems to be able to meditate or walk themselves out of this level of stress. i don't know why some people can't. it takes a certain amount of self-discipline and a  presence of mind for me to land on my feet after a set-back.

i remember sliding  off the road driving down the mountain in the rain. recently logging made the surface slip as ice. barely able to maintain control, i steered my vw bus into a stump, keeping from rolling over. but i was stuck, over two miles from town, night coming on. in this day before cellphones i had to make a quick decision. my brain focused and i realized i'd better walk to town and call a tow truck.

what struck me at the time was how fast my brain worked. usually i have a terrible time making decisions. however, i came almost instantly to a conclusion. i realized i must have reserves to call upon in an emergency. had i been mad i can't imagine what would have happened. growing old enough, i realize most people's personalities don't change unless they've been  brain damaged. 

how much trauma do people need to go off the rails? a serial-killer lacks empathy, and a truly insane person can't identify with anyone but his or her self. to be encapsulated in a totally private world seems to be one symptom of craziness. and when it comes to democracy, i shouldn't be surprised of those devoted to cruelty in the last election. 

americans live in fear of losing their jobs, if not their minds. and any threat from a foreign body feels like an illness. push this far enough, and you have a population on the edge of madness. the great irony, of course, is babies are a form of mass immigration and those fearing foreigners may populate themselves out of house and home. 

and now, can we define sanity? i suppose it means realizing i do nothing on my own. thousands have created and run this airplane in which i hover over the earth. and without a certain logic i'd never get where i'm going. in dreams i give up control while my body actually paralyzed so it won't sleep-walk. and if i acted out my dreams, where would i be then? alone?

Art & Madness, April 18, 1985. a lecture to a literature class.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

"Focus on the next five minutes."

don't know where i read that. the advice was to do this instead of worrying about what you're going to do with the rest of your life. i arrived back at the lookout to find out another longtime firewatcher died during the winter. i'd never met him, yet we talked over the phone for twenty years. not long ago he'd been able to purchase his own house, after years renting in the woods a basic cabin no electricity. 

this has cast a shadow over my return. i've always been plagued by the transience of life, and even as mine reaches toward the end, i still ask, "what am i going to do with my life!" weird, isn't it? hope to the end? euripides writes the bacchae at 90. a woman on the news goes sky-diving at 102, says she's never thought about being old. 

the colleague's demise does make me aware how important our voices are. i never knew him except through his voice, yet his daily work and efforts came through. from another friend who passed last winter, i have no recordings. this allows him to fade from memory quicker than he should. i've always treasured pictures, but they don't tell as much.

for example, on 9/ll i was at the lookout. the relief called and told me to turn on the tv. for that short space of one summer i did have a tv and i watched as the towers burned and collapsed. yes, i looked at it once, maybe twice, and turned off the picture. i turned on the radio. the voices in  the street told the story much more dramatically, on a personal level, not with the even tones of an announcer. the shouts, the running, the screams, told all. 

and the voice may affect us politically more than any photo-ops with pretty pictures. hitler would never have been had television been around. it was the hypnosis of his speeches got him where it did. and talk radio just elected a president with very negative attributes, all through the hammering away of right-wing hosts. i'd always heard pictures more powerful than words. now i'm not so sure. 

talking to myself, i'm trying to focus on the next five minutes. planning out a life already taken place seems a bit more than foolish, it sounds downright mad. if i can take the first, right next step, the rest will follow as it will. the writer garcia marquez said, "i work the first paragraph over and over. when i've got the tone right the rest of the story follows easily and naturally." 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

on being a cranky old man

ouch, every once in awhile it comes over me, especially in the middle of the winter. too many cold days. too much coffee. not enough conversations to take me out of myself. i find myself critical. especially of those i know best, impatient with other people's answers to the meaning of life. like now, i have to sit down and shake myself, give myself a conscious talking-to. 

no stranger to all this, i still let myself slip into the doldrums. much of it comes from not having a 'project,' nothing to work on, nothing to create. i have been focused on the thought of finally becoming a street performer. lorraine, in australia, kept convincing me to give it a try. even in katoomba, though basically tourist town, she could pull in twenty dollars an hour playing the harmonica. 

that's more than i've ever made. so i've acquired more harmonicas, a couple of american indian flutes, pulled my ukuleles out of storage, and read a lot of street busking diaries from new york city, winchester, england, and london, a couple of novels of folks on the road. amazing amount of information out there, and watched dozens of videos on youtube. and now i've decided it's too much work! still, i wouldn't have to be that good.

it would pay, at the very least, for trips around the world and i'd meet a lot of interesting people. the trouble is, playing music always throws me out of orbit. instead of becoming more gregarious, i become more solitary, self-contained. i stop looking closely around me the way i did taking photographs or writing plays. this is not a new problem. i've been an angry old man on and off my whole life. 

music, though, why does it have such a deleterious effect? i remember putting on recordings and dancing alone around the house, in my father's churches. i tried to make a guitar out of a cigar box. in those days guitars not everywhere. i did take piano lessons, trumpet lessons, singing lessons. nothing lasted. i simply didn't have the patience for practice and repetition. i just liked to improvise.

that hasn't changed but has it's limitations. i know i've been improvising a whole life and i really wanted the artist's freedom. process has always been more important than product. alas, i, and maybe most of us, judge ourselves by results and can't help being envious of what others have to show for their endeavours: fame, fortune, kids, products of one sort or another. i've always known we leave with empty hands, birth giving us a return ticket. 

transience is haunting, yet every time i look into buddhism i'm appalled at its denigration of the body. desire as a motivation has its faults, it comes and goes, yet while it's alive, i feel alive. my urologist just gave me some samples of viagra. maybe that will drive this crankiness out of me. or will it prove the buddha right and i'll even be more nasty...

Saturday, February 10, 2018

obligations as a source of existence

yes, limiting my obligations has been a way of life. no children, no career, no matrimony. at this point it seems rather strange. most of my friends have kept themselves busy. first school, then kids, then finding something to do after the house empty. though everybody loves a vacation, too much idle time weighs on one's hands. as has been said, "people yearn for an eternal life who don't know what to do with themselves on a sunday afternoon. "

true, i have had routines, many of them. in the greece of the 1960's i laid on the beach, drank wine, hiked the island, and chased women. this doesn't mean i didn't have bleak moments. eventually the romance of the famous and beautiful village of lindos on the island of rhodes wore off. the alleyways grew grim and the tourists tawdry. to re-stoke my fires i made for berlin. 

that's what i mean. in place of challenges on the job or in the home always shifting, i had to put my peddle to the metal. and without a little bit of difference in each day, i fall into desuetude. for the past month i've been shifting coffee shops. drinking caffeine, taking a few pics, and surveying the passing scene. plus, weather too gorgeous for februaryhas kept me going. i've signed up for african art history and history of art in the early 20th century. unfortunately they are both on tuesday, a long day of sitting.

and sitting is what i'm finding hard to do right now. four days ago i had a hydro-cele reduced. for those who care to know: fluid gathering in the sack around a testicle. starting as a chicken egg  grew into a goose egg. i decided not to wait for the football. the outpatient surgery a piece of cake. alas, now comes the waiting. i've never been good at standing in line. and especially not since i've found my power of reading reduced.

i got through about sixty years doing it. and as cicero said, always have a book with you and read everywhere. once i actually read a huge chunk of dostoyevsky and i got through coast guard boot camp reading thomas mann's joseph and his brothers, two thick volumes. in those days retreating to the library my action of choice. even today walking through a big library calms me down, like a ramble by the ocean. 

having missed being an artist, i shifted to photography and digital art. my site on the web has 35,000 pictures and over four million people have visited it: 
 so, i kept myself busy for fifteen years running around taking a making pictures, spending a fortune on upgrading my cameras. at last the gas ran out of that and i sold all the high-priced stuff and satisfied myself with a couple of smart phones. of course, i don't have the illusion of being a professional, which i enjoyed for a long time. 

i guess this is all about keeping busy so i don't worry about mortality. being cut into makes me all-too-mortal once again. i want to run out for a cup of coffee, walk in the nearby park, go to a movie. the time will return. someone said, success is spending time as you wish. i agree, but sometimes the minutes grow  longer, even as life grow shorter. 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

is all art pornography?

i've always resisted this point of view. now i'm not so sure. john berger claims every classic nude created by men for men, women the plaything desired. i'd hoped art would add a subtlety not reduced to mere exploitation and desire. in the age of advertising every thing's meant to sell me something, and every work of art, at one time or another, has been used to do so.

what makes sex such a hot commodity? is it merely the inheritance of puritanism? human reproduction not sacred enough? i tend to think we live in a world so highly structured with goods, house, streets, jobs, we're afraid to move too spontaneously. it may cost us our jobs, our family, our reputation. and sex the most powerful tool to throw us out of orbit.

at this moment in time many men honored for their creativity and power being dethroned by women accusing them of sexual misconduct. in many cases the men condemned as guilty without any trial: their pictures pulled from museums, their images as movie moguls and fun objects of entertainment toppled from their expensive pedestals. 

and here's where a definition of prostitution might be useful, i.e. selling the use of your body for profit. and i wonder in how many cases these women gained work and stardom by doing just this, letting them be used to sell movies, cars, dresses, paintings? and historically, an argument could be made prostitutes create fashion, if not today's, tomorrow's. 

who was it said american men so obsessed with work the women have to entice them away? and one friend came back from working in africa, amazed at the sexualization of our whole culture. and how can art be separated from it? i suppose one could say art creates a sense of peacefulness instead of desire. or, as in the religious past, it lifted one's mood from the trials and tribulations of being human. 

and yes, it was used to put spells on people, to cure them or to kill them. and that hasn't really changed. unfortunately, by making all art pornographic, it's more alleviating aspects get lost. and then when one stumbles onto a genuine  porn sight on the Internet, one is stuck by the pure animality of it, the lack of finesse. is art this defense of our losing control of ourselves?

as a long-life lover of art, a wanderer in the great museums and galleries of the world, i can't helped being alarmed by the renewal of censorship. politics and morality take a lot of humor and fun out of life. to reduce the graciousness to mere seduction, what does that do to us?