Memory, they say, is particularly tied to our sense of smell. If that is so, the fragrance of coastal sage scrub carries me back to my spiritual homeworld on the neverending bluffs of the central California coast, where the Earth finally accedes and surrenders to an infinite horizon of gently rolling fluorite azure, dis-appearing into the net of fog, the very vestment of my heart.
This nexus of earth, air, and water is the refuge at the center of so much of my work. I have lived my life traveling to the north and the south along this ragged line, seeking some kind of solace or understanding which I still have only just begun to grasp. I have known where the enormous red sentinels of the foggy north give way to their dark and whispering rainsoaked cousins, the Sitka spruce and incense cedar. I have been to la tierra del sur where the scrub clings tenaciously to the creeping edge of the sun-bleached and thirsty deserts, greeting Opuntia and Echinocactus in dazed circles of repeating rock formations. While I love all of this land, no place feels quite like home as does the center of these extremes. My life has been a journey to the center.
What would the land be without those who inhabit it? Can we imagine a California without the scrub – the fragrant tiny forest grown to endure our cycles of prolonged drought and hovering ocean mists? What of all those who call the scrub home? Baccharis pilularis, a familiar friend particularly on disturbed soils (where humans have altered the habitat), has been known to associate with nearly 300 species of insect. How many birds' bodies are built from the bodies of those insects? How far across the earth do those wings built of insects carry them? The scrub is an entire civilization; a society of beings working and growing together, shaping each other's existence.
When I think about this interconnectedness, I marvel at the intricacy of its anarchy. Anarchy, literally meaning "without rulers." As with all of the Earth's intertwined biosystems, there is no king of the scrub, nor is there an elected official – instead it is a true community of beings taking what they need to live and giving back what they are able to give. They exist in a network of relationships, unspoken cultural agreements of conduct brokered by millenia spent living together and moderated for behavioral outliers by the swinging pendula of oceans, glaciers, droughts, storms at sea. After millions of years of coexisting, the members of this community fit each other like interlocking bones and muscles. They are inextricably a part of one another.
I think the bulk of my work is to explore the idea of finding meaning where there is really only existence. It is a hallucinatory moment, not unlike an image of horses and aurochsen projected on a cave wall, thousands of years ago – the blink of an eye. Am I still clinging to a childhood fascination with the paranoiac schizophrenic dream visions of Salvador Dalí, where one image somehow becomes two simultaneously? I think this is the essence and purpose of art.
What is the meaning of a scrub community? Hundreds of plants – thousands of insects, birds, mammals, and others – who knows? There is no meaning. The meaning is something I find in myself, when I find myself reflected by these beings surrounding me, here at the center of the world. As I look at myself reflecting in them, there is nothing there. There is only them, existing. I am them. My body disintegrates, becoming the tiny blossoms of wild buckwheat flowers, opening softly to salute the sun after the last rains of the turning wheel have blown themselves out along the ragged coast.
First salutations to the stars.
Thanks to all relatives and ancestors.
May all beings be happy and free.