LENNIE KESL, Onward and Upward 1926-2012

LENNIE KESL, In Remembrance

When I went to bed last night, the stars were spinning one way–when I rose this morning, they had slowed and turned, their music darkened, gravity stopped for the briefest moment; my dearest Friend, my Mentor, my ‘Master’ of ‘Creative Joy’, my brother of courage, my father of belief, and my child of wonder… has slipped away from this plane of existence; Lennie has returned to the unalterable ocean of Light and Dark, leaving us to ponder, as we always do, as we must, what lies there in the richness of the immutable.

Lennie has died. His death was swift and accidental. He died at the age of eighty-six from a sudden fall with art in each hand and joy in his heart.

I had so hoped to be able to get back to the United States this Spring to visit him, to spend time with him, to be re-nourished, re-kindled, to have my mind’s data bank wiped clean by his exquisite energy, to grab his coat-tail as he soared out to his little boat on the blue sea, into the bright sun, with his iconic women, cats and birds, his elephants and irrepressible self, holding tight the kite’s tail of delight, the ‘Golden Section of Certainty.’

painting by Lennie kesl

As I write this, outside my bungalow in Northern Thailand, so far away from where he fell, the river cries crossing the dam…but from exultation rather than lamentation, for surely our tears are not for the loss of him but, rather, of gratitude for the gift of him and the generosity of art.

Whenever I’ve struggled to find a clear vision, often having lost sight of ‘purpose’, The Lennie part of me will surface. I have always counted on it. I do so now. We spoke a month ago and his parting words to me were to hold tight to my art, to my painting. And so I shall.

Several weeks ago I had revised an earlier poem…a poem of questions. The protagonist to whom I inquire is not Lennie, yet it is. I dedicate this poem and whatever is left of me to Lennie, who remains my ‘Onward and Upward’ beacon of brightness.

RED TABLE WITH PURPLE FLOWERS   for Lennie kesl

There is, of course, the hue, I said,
and of the hue, should it be warm? Red, yellow,
burnt sienna?

It is blood, he cautioned, sun
and earth. But you also need what is cool—green
to blue to black, like
strata of the sea.

We were standing on the edge of a spent
field of grain that fell to the sun
and a raking mistral.
I brought only questions.
He turned to his work with a stoney silence,
chewing the stem of a cold, blue pipe,
facing the wind, the fierce
slapping of canvas, waiting for imagination’s raw nerve
to let go a vision.

There is intensity I said, and
purity, but how deep the shade,
how bright, how much white? Should I
consider the opacity
and the amount of light let through?
Should it recede or dominate?

Remember, he said, within the color
there is the passage. You might
expect it to end all at once. It doesn’t.
It often wants to modulate
from cold to hot, hot to cold.

Yes, but will the hue be held by line?
And of the line, will it be long or short,
thick or thin? I’m wondering how it
should be broken. Or should it?
Should it be continuous, holding
everything in? Should it be dark
or light? What value of line?
And should it shift? What weight?

Check for sincerity, he barked.
It could lie.
There are timid lines as well,
with low, slow curves that drift
unattached. Consider this: every line
has a beginning and an end.
Where and how far should you take it?
It might need only to be implied.
He turned away from, into the wind.

What about surface? I said.
The texture?
Should it be real or trompe l’oeil?
Is there a pattern? Should the surface
dance with a scumble
or a stipple? How clear
should it be?
How muddy? And what of the sheen?
Should it slide across like light in a dream?

He bent to the earth and drug up
a handful of dirt. I suppose
matte or flat would do, he said, scrubbing out
an unwanted passage.

I continued. What about
Chiaroscuro?
Sfumato?
How deep?
Should it be palimpsetically rendered?

Look, he said, you must consider this:
Beneath the surface lies
another surface. How many
must you uncover to find what you need?

I have yet to go that far, I said.
But what about shape? We mustn’t
forget shape. What size?
One large with many small?
Amorphous? Perhaps it would be nice to have
them all rather angular and richly defined.
They need to get to know each other.
Will they fight or make love?
I could tell by the movement of his ears
he was smiling.
He turned to me, away
from the breaching wind.

They often die on the borders,
he said. That’s where you’ll find
the mood.
The pleasure.
The affliction.
Would you have it cosmic and reverential —
a mysteriously immutable essence, moving
to and from the center? Might it be
something absurdly abstracted?
Or some political, social implication?
Should it be scratched, smeared
in blood — profane deprecation, a blind
gesture of nasty color? Death?

What about a simple landscape, I replied,
or vase filled with peonies?
There is always the portrait.
Always that.
I well remember Gachet’s portrait.
You painted the head with a white hat, the face
fair and light, the flesh tinted hands against
a blue frock coat, a cobalt
blue background, Gachet leaning
on a red table on which a yellow book,
sank beneath purple flowers.

A crescendo of wind-scattered clouds
and a rabble of feeding crows
sped across the burning fields, a flash
of black against the gold, against
the blue and white sky.

Someday, he said, someone will look at this
and find themselves amazed
to know they were here,
in this stand of ragged wheat
with all of these hungry birds.
This painting has always known its every hue,
its every nuance. It will live
or it will die. Don’t look for the mind
in all of this. It’s not you.
Or the two of us.
It is everything.
Or it is nothing.

Lennie with our friend Alvin Neely

Panom, Galen

The River Rises

Greetings All,

Since my last post, the monsoons have come in earnest. After last season’s severe flooding, the small river on which I live was dredged to a much greater depth and we can only hope the rapidly passing river stays well within its new channel. However, during the intermittent rains and the rise of fall of the river, its ever-changing currents, I’ve been given the opportunity to create another series of photographic images. MAEMNAN: Of Water, Of Light

Maenam 133

 Maenam 126

Maenam is the Thai word for river.

Mae is ‘mother’ and nam is ‘water’

Mother of the water. 

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And the book, Where Everything Is Water As Far As He Can See, is now available through Marrowstone Press and Amazon. As I mentioned in my last posting, this is my second collaboration with poet and writer, Peter Weltner.

Pond,  oil on canvas, 155 x 180 cm, 2010

included in Where Everything Is Water As Far As He can See

“Where Everything Is Water as Far as He Can See is a collaboration between the artist Galen Garwood and the poet Peter Weltner. Fifteen of Garwood’s paintings are reproduced, not as illustrations but as illuminations of and reflections upon Weltner’s three long poems, which all meditate upon life by the sea. The poetry and visual images speak to one another, as in a dialogue. The theme of the book is in part elegiac, a remembrance of friends lost. As you grow older, your past walks beside you, as if hand in hand. Or it meets you in unexpected places where those who have died wait for you. Garwood’s and Weltner’s book is a work of memory of a world that calls them back, an elemental world as much as a human one, of sky and trees, sun and water.”

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THE ONE-WINGED BODY/ Peter Weltner and Galen Garwood,

Marrowstone Press 2011

GALEN GARWOOD and PETER WELTNER have made a Valentine to Beauty and Arousal with photographs and poetry that are beautiful and aroused. Words italicized by arousal. Nakedness articulated by folds of cloth, a dialogue of flesh and flow that signals classical antiquity, but also the mystical inwardness of Mary’s mantel. If the body is a language, here it speaks, in itself, of happiness, fulfillment, lush utopia. Arousal is the wing that carries it upward. “Not wisdom through suffering but awe.”

But desire ignited by beauty, desire that submits to beauty—that’s another story, a story that may involve destruction, obsession and loss. And memory: our culture’s visual memory, like the pictorialist photographs of Imogen Cunningham or the “ethnographic studies of young natives” by Baron von Gloeden, who also carried his camera to Sicily, and personal memory, like the Ronnie’s and Bob’s of Weltner’s past.

John Keats called beauty truth. Is it? Weltner and Garwood are not suspicious of beauty, belittled by it, made ironic by it. What do we do with beauty?—submit to it, aspire to it, be ennobled by it, be destroyed by it? All of these.”

Robert Glück

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Both books are published under the Marrowstone Press imprint and coming soon is MORRIS GRAVES: His Houses, His Gardens. This will be a large, handsome book with photographs, including many by Mary Randlett, one of our most important Northwest photographers. We are currently in the fund-raising stage and anyone wishing to contribute, please visit The Morris Graves Book project.

This book has been a long and dedicated journey. It was written by Morris Graves’s friend Richard Svare and it chronicles Graves’s four remarkable habitations. “The extraordinary gardens that Morris Graves created at his private residences throughout his life were works of art in themselves that deserve to stand alongside his marvelous paintings. A fiercely private person, Graves would not allow images of his homes and gardens to be published during his lifetime and those few fortunate enough to visit the famously reclusive artist were deeply moved by the experience.  Richard Svare’s sensitively crafted book offers an unprecedented insight into Morris Graves’ personal artistic environment.”  Ray Kass, author of Morris Graves: Vision of the Inner Eye,  Braziller, NY, 1983

My friend, Merch Pease, became  literary executor of the book when Richard died in 2004, three years after the death of Morris Graves. We began discussing producing the Morris Graves book in 2005 and since then we’ve developed a strong project team, with The Museum of Northwest Art (MoNA) embracing the project and becoming our fiscal sponsor; poet and editor, Bill O’Daly, acting as chief editor; Process Media, participating as co-publishers of the book… and many friends generous with their advice and input.

LEARN MORE ABOUT OUR PROJECTS at FACEBOOK

It was only after creating the entity and with the coming of my first collaboration with Peter Weltner, The One-Winged Body, that I saw an opportunity to expand on an interest I’ve long had—collaborating, as a visual artist, with poets and writers. My first taste of this was many years ago with a book called Passport (Broken Moon Press, 1989), a book of my paintings and poems by Sam Hamill. We did another book soon after entitled Mandala (Milkweed Editions, 1991) which featured black and white mono-types and poems by Sam Hamill. This publication was an homage to Morris Graves. I’ve also done several collaborative books with the late poet and filmmaker James Broughton, the subject of the new documentary Big Joy

 I fully believe in the importance of nurturing collaborative projects of this kind, often over-looked by larger publishing houses. The importance of art remains constant wherever and however it is found.

panom,

Galen

HOUSE OF PROJECTS

July blog

Greetings Everyone.

Happy July. I trust all my friends are staying cool. We’re very much into the rainy season here in Thailand, but, so far, no evidence that floods will occur. After last year, the local government dredged the river that runs in front of my bungalow-studio, so hopefully we’ll be safe from flooding this year. Of course, nature only warns us after the fact.

Since my last entry, a great deal has been going on in my house of projects…so let me get started. First door on the right: The Morris Graves Book Project has finally moved into the fund-raising stage. We anticipate the book’s arrival in the Fall of 2013. You can find a good deal more about the project at the official Morris Graves Book web site, still more at the Morris Graves Book Project Blog, and further still, look for it on it’s own Morris Graves Book Facebook Fan Page. The book is being co-published by Marrowstone Press along with Process Media, in association with the Museum of Northwest Art. MoNA is an absolute treasure of an art museum, located in La Conner, Washington and dedicated to the preservation and education of our vast cultural heritage in the Pacific Northwest.

 

A mock-up of the book’s cover jacket.

The Morris Graves Book Blog has been created to reflect personal recollections, reflections, or influences by Morris Graves and the enduring impact his art has had on so many of us in so many different ways.  Please do check out all the various site activities, and we avidly welcome participation in the blog.

Before we leave this room completely, however, if you poke your head into the top box in the far corner, you’ll see a folder with the word ‘Sbagliato’ written on it. If you were to sift through the folder, you would see various notes written between web magician Tim Davies and myself. Tim easily cancatervates my ‘discombobulates’ with swift and proficient results. Together we’ve created all our various web sites and any one who might be interested in having a custom web site designed need only holler. Sbagliato offers custom design and online implementation at a very modest price. When Sbagliato’s own web site is completed, it too will have it’s own room. Stay tuned.

 

 

Ok. Down the hall, to the left, through the green door, we enter a room of nothing but windows through which there is only an expansive view of the sea. Here we have a new collaboration between Peter Weltner and myself. Last year, our first collaboration resulted in The One-Winged Body, a book of Peter’s poems and my photographs, published by Marrowstone Press.  Our second collaboration, Everything Is Water As Far As He Can See, will be out this summer and available through Amazon.com. Many of the paintings in this new book can be seen on my web site /art/Elegies.


 

As we leave the blog-house, you’ll notice other doors that congregate in the long hall, holding rooms in secret obedience, empty of all but air or thoughts that might eventually take shape. Or those that don’t–projects grown dark with procrastination as happens in the busyness of our elaborations. At the end of the hall is the main room, in which the hearth–fire of the heart– lives and illuminates those sacred dreams we call art.


‘Grass   Galen Garwood   ink on paper, painted with Papyrus blossom

 

Outside, across the river near an idyllic grove of bamboo and elephant grass, you’ll notice something new. Panom Tours is now sprouting. It’ll be officially launched in a very short time. In fact, I’ll be dedicating most of my next blog about Panom Tours with Chang Lek.  You’ll learn more about Lek, his family and his wonderful spirit. The tours will offer up-close experiences with our amazing Asian elephants, with an emphasis on why we need to protect them and not use them nor abuse them. There will also be special tours into the hill tribe country, among Lek’s Akha clan, and various other hill tribes, all co-existing in this remarkable country of Thailand with it’s pervading Buddhism, it’s art, its exotic culture, and exquisite cuisine. Lek has been working in this capacity with other groups of visitors for a number of years now and has finally decided to venture out on his own. More on all of this is coming soon.

Thanks for strolling through the house with me.

Until next time, panom, Galen

In The Eyes

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Greetings Everyone,

May in Chiangmai. It’s hot. Very hot! But we’re having some early rains and that helps.

As the saying goes: “I don’t get around much any more”, but even here, in this quiet little village that floats amidst a sea of rice paddies, I keep reasonably informed about the comings and goings of my home country; various media sources and information from friends filter through. I stay in touch. Probably more than I need to. Or should.

Before I talk about the feast for the eyes, a few comments about what does filter through. While I’m not surprised, I continue to be disheartened by the same old, ever-present, political antics from those who carelessly exploit the weakest and most unstable part of our social fabric in order to keep…what? the illusion of power? What inestimable damage done to all of us by such devious and dangerous codswallop; intolerance breeds intolerance and this is perhaps the most destructive weapon we possess in the arsenal of our ignorance. You can find more of my thoughts on the issue here at Ezine: Lean Out Into The World

I must also mention the continuing plight of the three elephants (Chai, Bamboo, and Watoto) still being held captive in Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo. It’s shocking that in spite of an avalanche of evidence from a wide variety of respected animal experts, supporting the strongest reasons for allowing the elephants to be retired into a sanctuary, the zoo folks and city officials remain utterly intractable in their decision to keep these three elephants in a space that is too small and serving no conceivable purpose which could possibly benefit elephants or humans. The struggle will go on, I’m sure, but eventually, just as a growing number of zoos have wisely chosen to discontinue what is essentially nothing more than animal cruelty, the zoo in Seattle will no doubt release them. That they don’t do it sooner, rather than later, is an act of stubbornness and stupidity at the expense of those things we can do to ameliorate the damage we’ve already done; in this case, using animals for our entertainment.

But allow me to turn the eyes to flowers. They are everywhere present in this tropical climate and this is month that many of the trees explode in color.

The tree above, Cassia fistula, or locally known as the Golden Shower tree is Thailand’s national tree as well as the state flower of Kerala, India. Not only is it medicine for the eyes, but it’s been used in herbalism for millennia, mostly as a purgative.

THe two images above are the Royal Poinciana tree, also known as Dton haang nok juung , the Peacock Tail Tree,  also known as the Royal Poinciana. Until it blooms, this lovely tree is rather reticent…almost lost among the more vigorously leafed trees. But then…POW! It’s magnificent. It’s pure visual strength lies in the fact that it’s brilliant red is completely on the opposite side of the color wheel…it’s direct complement is green and these two hues vibrates against the cones of our eye’s color receptors with agitating intensity.

Surely flowers evolved not for us and our various symbolic attachments but for and with insects in complete symbiotic orchestration. A negotiation. ” You can have my honey, if you spread my seed.”  Well, that’s the way is with most things, isn’t it?….but not everything.

I don’t know the name of above plant. It’s a small water plant that grows beneath  a healthy papyrus in my yard. These blossoms appeared overnight and lasted for little more than 24 hours. Perhaps someone can send me the name of it, but I’m calling it the ‘Cobra Lily’ for obvious reasons.

Another common Lily I have no name for. The Lilly Lady Gaga? That will work.

The two shots above represent the third largest display of flowering trees, seen in profusion along the roads and canals that carve through the rice paddies.

The above shot is the magic Plumeria, also known as Frangipani. Their remarkable fragrance, most intense in the evenings, is designed to arouse the nocturnal Spinx moth. According to ancient Southeast Asian legend, this flower houses the spirits of ghosts and demons but also it’s symbolically attached to both Hindu and Buddhist religious rites.

I can’t say for sure what  overly-aroused moths these are. I’ll call them Tiger-bee moths.

The above is what a banana tree offers passing insects.

And of course, the most noble flower around is the lotus blossom. It’s rich symbolic history stretches far back into ancient Egypt, India and Southeast Asia and here in Thailand it represents the Spirit of the Buddha and Panom’s Stone of Light

panom, Galen

CHRYSALIS AND MUD HUTS

GREETINGS 

As I sit here, looking across the river into a new morning, I realize its been a long while since my last entry, and even longer since I re-counted my travails of monsoon flooding. In the interval, the crew has gone, doing a reasonably good job, though leaving many things unfinished. Over the nine months I have accrued a wealth of handy information I’ll happily pass on to anyone who might decide to build here, managing their own project themselves; this is a guaranteed experience, certain to be fraught with adventure.

A day or so after I moved in, even though the place was far from finished, (and still is) I discovered a small brown leave floating near the ceiling of the main room; it was nearly identical to millions more that lay about the ground outside. Upon closer inspection, I discovered it was suspended on a small silk thread.

I took the tiny leaf in my hand, turned it over and discovered a small creature’s dwelling. Whatever it was, it lived hidden inside a well constructed and camouflaged pouch, obviously benefiting from such obscurity; once on the ground, among the many other dead leaves, it would call very little attention to itself.

For survival, many insects have evolved to appear as something else, usually as something potentially fearsome to a would be predator. However, this little creature simply recycles natural material for it’s home, allowing it to remain hidden, perhaps as a chrysalis, until it emerges as…what?  I have no idea. Perhaps it was a kind of silk worm riding the winds in its leaf chariot until it landed inside my house.

I took it outside and set it into a sea of similar leaves. In a way, I, too, am constructing a dwelling around me, as I, hopefully, build nothing unneeded. There are two small constructions, mine the closest to the river, set up on stilts and which will house my studio beneath. My adopted family, Lek, Paan, Gam, and Wei, live in the second dwelling.

And we begin a skeleton of landscaping, a bamboo fence upon which vines can grow and flowers bloom is first to go up. In this sub-tropical climate, it takes little time for a virtual jungle to establish itself. An outside kitchen and dinning area will eventually appear, and even an outside shower is sure to come.

PUN PUN

During the midst of construction and to give myself a day’s break, I took a visit a little further north to a place called Pun Pun. Here a group of dedicated folks from Thailand and elsewhere grow organic food, and hold workshops in the craft of mud-hut building.

young volunteer at Pun Pun making mud bricks

Mud hut construction at Pun Pun (common area)

...and, yes, there is a little shop where one can buy organic products, seeds, and the most delicious mango smoothies--the perfect ending touch for a day at Pun Pun. If you want to know more about the creator of this remarkable place, you can view Jon Jandai's Ted-X lecture here:

Back at Panomland, the work goes on. The idea of building a home from mud bricks is somewhat appealing, and certainly inexpensive. But not a good idea so close to a river; even small ones like the Maerim river would easily and quickly render a sun-dried mud brick home back into the mud of the river. But as you see by the above photos, the river has recently been deepened and widened to prevent flooding next year on the scale it occurred last season. For that I’m grateful and also that we’re able to use the rich soil from the river bottom for the garden.

The next big project is placing the ancient Indian door in it’s new location. It survived the flood with little problem since, I do believe, it is too heavy to float. It requires six strong men to move.

Many good blessings for now. The sun is setting.

Panom, Galen

Announcements:

  • Panom and The Stone of Light is still available at Create Space, Amazon and also Barnes and Noble. This is a great gift for adults and children alike and helps support better understanding between ourselves and that which supports us.

IN THE NEXT ENTRY:

  • Updates on the elephant situation in Thailand

Roti and Ricefields

Greetings from Galen

ANNOUNCEMENTS

Since my last entry, the floodwaters have all receded or perhaps I should say have continued on down to empty into the city of Bangkok, a massive city still reeling from flooding. But up here, the monsoon season has departed and we are blessed with lovely weather-delightfully sunny days with cool mornings and rather chilly evenings.

Roti and Ricefields

Soon after moving out of Chiang Mai into the countryside, we kept seeing a young lad bicycling his small roti shop from one end of this vast valley of rice fields to the other; he seems never in a hurry, stopping only to prepare roti for the local farmers that live in the area and the occasional farang like myself.

For those of you who don’t know a roti from a goatee, it’s an Indian flat bread, but here in Thailand it’s often called ‘Thai pancake’, served as a sweet dessert. Usually the vendors are from India, Bangladesh,  or Burma, which has a rather large Indian and Indian mix population.

The raw unleavened bread balls are prepared in advance, then flattened with the palm of the hand, spun out a bit like a good pizza dough until it’s very thin. The word roti comes to us from the Sanskrit word रोटिका (roṭikā), and means bread. (thank you,Wikipedia).

The bread is then placed in a hot, flat pan with a bit of oil and butter. An egg is often added, followed by sweeten, condensed milk…if you like. Often a banana is added instead of the egg, or with the egg. The roti is folded and then an optional final dusting of sugar is offered. A diet dessert it is not. Without the condensed milk and sugar, it would be more like a pancake omelette. In the image below, with the egg yolk miraculously assuming the shape of a heart, one might imagine the entire concoction good for you. I suspect it isn’t. But it looks tasty…and it is.

About a year ago, at the age of sixteen, this young lad, whom I shall call A, managed to scrape together enough money to buy passage in a car filled with others in a similar situation – one of extreme poverty. They arrived here from Bangladesh after traveling several days overland through Burma. When he first arrived, he found a job working in a motorbike repair shop. He saved enough money to buy a used bicycle onto which he adapted a make-shift roti shop and set himself up in business. Though A. has never been to school, he quickly learned the Thai language and Chang Lek assisted me in my interview.

He lives in a small room for which he pays 1200 baht (40 US$) a month. Other than an uncle who lives in the area, he’s completely on his own, living alone and quite capable of managing the simplicities of his life. He’s on the road by 8 am each morning, seven days a week, working until 5 pm, but because he travels on his bicycle shop, he often doesn’t get home until 9 or 10 pm. Occasionally his bicycle chain will break and then he must physically push the shop back home which takes several additional hours. A. indicated that he generates, after paying for supplies – eggs, flour, butter, sweetened condensed milk, and sugar – about 300 baht a day (10 US$) which is the current official minimum standard wage in these parts.

In spite of being only seventeen, a boy still in most cultures, he wears the look of someone far older and even though he smiles easily and generously, there is something deep and serious radiating from the depth of his eyes, as if he’s already lived a long life.

He explained to us that he left because there was no opportunity for him back home and within the crushing weight of poverty and overpopulation, no one seems to care.

Given his circumstances, I asked him whether he had any hopes or plans for the future. He smiled broadly. Yes, in the future, perhaps he would replace the bicycle with a small motorbike…perhaps. And, maybe, even one day he would own two or three traveling roti shops and rent them out. But for now he said he’s quite happy with his life, peddling through the countryside, enjoying the wide space and quiet company of the rice fields and the freedom of his thoughts.

The Buddha said, “There is no fire like greed, no crime like hatred, no sorrow like separation, no sickness like hunger of the heart, and no joy like the joy of freedom.”

Blessings  to all, Galen



 

PROJECT PANOMLAND

View of the Mae Rim river during a more gentle month of weather

Many of my friends look at me with cocked eyes—that ‘Is he out of his mind?’ look—when I tell them I’m building what could be my final nest so close to a river in a land known for flooding and that I would attempt the project at the beginning of the rainy season. They’re perfectly right to do so, but on the other hand there are some advantages, both esthetic and practical. Esthetically, it’s a lovely location, at least for me, and I think, in part, because the large trees that canopy up and out over the river with the vast fields beyond are reminiscent of my childhood on the coast of Georgia with those grand live Oaks bowing to the salt marshes of the Atlantic ocean. Here’s a few photographs of the progress.

view from the upper main floor in progress

And having begun building the place in the rains, with occasional flooding, has given me a good bit of insight as to what I should do and should not do. As of this posting, this is the most severe flooding in at least thirty years and it is surprising to see how many people have built without retaining or remembering the traditional building designs of their predecessors who built houses from teak and always far off the ground not only to accommodate occasional flooding but  also for keeping the interior dwelling cooler.

early construction

future studio or river boat launch pad

Today teak is scarce and prohibitively expensive so my simple temple is constructed of concrete, steel and tile for the roof. It’s material with which the local builders/ workers are most efficient at constructing, and in my case, I’ve set the place on rather tall concrete stilts and, yes, I will invest in a small boat.

The workers are all legally documented Thai Yai, a Burmese ethnic group, and all speak fluent Thai. Dtao, ‘the boss’ and the rest of the crew are quite proficient at doing all parts of the construction. However I’ll do the final interior finish work along with Lek’s assistance.

They erected, on site, a temporary bivouac of bamboo and grass to live in during the 5-6 months of construction. In the early stages, certain Buddhist rituals were attended to bring a successful adventure and good merit for the owner… This temporary ‘Spirit House’ currently embraced by the river will stand in for the permanent one to come later. And I was recently told that the long lasting one must reside in this same location, never mind that I had planned on this spot being within a future extension of my studio.

Temporary spirit house on which the workers daily place food and flowers

crew bivouac during flood

All the crew, along with my adopted Akha family, Lek, Paan, Gam and Wei, spends most days here. As is the custom, everyone becomes one large family and meals are made with great care and from as much food source as is naturally available. On the land they find numerous green plants quite edible and certainly there is fish from the river.  Currently we’re in Cicada season, which are not related at all to locusts, as some think, but to spittlebugs and leafhoppers. These incredibly edible creatures are perhaps the world’s noisiest insects. In the evenings, the young men take small flashlights and locate the burrows where the cicadas also bivouac, dig them out and then fry them up. Aroi aroi (delicious, delicious) they tell me. I’ve yet to try one but I’ve had the local ‘rot duan’ which are small white grubs that inhabit the interior of bamboo stalks. These too are often fried, and in both taste and appearance, not unlike a small French fry.

While this cicada looks like its been sweating from making too much noise, its really thawing out. I found it perched in my freezer. How did it get there? Who knows? I took it outside to photograph.

The floods have rather damaged the bamboo bivouac and more storms are predicted. It appears that ‘project Panomland’ is going to be delayed a bit more.

These look like rather primitive crutches. They are. They are used to hold up the concrete beams and floor during construction.

Working so close with Dtao and crew, everything having to be translated through Lek, can be frustrating. But it keeps everything wonderfully organic in the shaping of things. And to be close to the source of so much of the material, where it comes from, how it’s made and used and to witness the various methods of construction, which often seem very primitive by modern Western standards yet produce perfectly good results, all of these ingredients of building ones home keep it, for me, well within the realm of art-making; I find that delightfully satisfying.

The nearby brick factory and kiln.

Crew members No Problem and Kidtee watch over the tools during the flooding but still continue to set bricks for the walls on the upper level

Nearby rice fields

The floods have dictated a break. I’ll post this and send an update in a few months.

Many good blessings to all

Galen

A WAR THAT COUNTS: Homelessness and Poverty in the United States

For a while now a good friend of mine in Seattle has been sending me photographic portraits of homeless men and women he encounters around his small office in the Ballard area of the city. While the imagery cannot hide the dreariness of their situation, what my friend tries to convey in the portraits is a sense of commonality, a shared humanity. Most of us will cross the street in order to avoid confronting a homeless person. We certainly almost never wish to make eye contact with such a person, whose circumstances of life, for whatever reason, terrifies us. But my friend is an unusual individual, selfless and sensitive to the plights of others. He is not afraid to engage with the homeless, to inquire about their life, where they come from, and what might have been the circumstances that brought them such desolation, hunger, and an abject sense of being. For surely to look deeply into the eyes on any of us we find a bit of all of us. We cannot escape ourselves.

Photograph by Rex Hohlbein

Like my friend, there are many who are well aware that such a preponderance of privation in our country represents a societal illness becoming more and more difficult to ignore. In a way, the great ‘State of Homeless’ represents a completely separate state; think of it as the fifty-first state, the boundaries of which extend westward beyond the State of California, eastward beyond the shores of the Atlantic ocean, as far north as the Arctic circle, and as far south as the earth’s equator. It is a landless state, seamlessly woven throughout all states; one of desperation, poverty, and hunger with a population estimated roughly the same as the state of Connecticut’s 3.5 million people. At any given time, slightly over ten percent of our population is homeless. And it grows. It is difficult, of course, to know exactly what the real numbers are or how many children go to bed hungry each night in this country.

Funding for programs specifically designed to help America’s poor and hungry are being cut at a time when we are simultaneously pouring money into a country with a population nearly identical with our ‘State of Homeless’. Since the onset of the Libyan conflict, we have spent over half a billion dollars with an expected continuation of 40 million a month without any guarantee of an outcome other than it feeds enormously the military-industrial complex and global corporate interests. This figure pales compared to the money we’ve spent in Iraq and Afghanistan, billions of that unaccounted for. It has been estimated that the money spent in these uncertain wars could have eradicated poverty and homelessness in the United States for the next century.

We would all do well to read, again and again, President’s Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell speech. Equally important as his warning about the danger of allowing the military-industrial complex (corporatism) to grow too large, are those words found in his closing paragraph. “We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; that those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom may experience its spiritual blessings; that those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibilities; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; that the scourges of poverty, disease and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth, and that, in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.”

He also wrote, “In this final relationship, the Congress and the Administration have, on most vital issues, cooperated well, to serve the national good rather than mere partisanship, and so have assured that the business of the Nation should go forward. So, my official relationship with the Congress ends in a feeling, on my part, of gratitude that we have been able to do so much together.” Today we can hardly imagine such cooperation for the greater good of the American people.

We would be foolishly in denial to believe there is no direct correlation between our wars and our homeless. Nor should we ignore the enormous percentage of US veterans who find themselves bereft and discarded, living in poverty on the streets.

There was a time, not so long ago, in this country and in others, those afflicted by poverty and hunger could come to a home in search of charity-a barn or back porch in which to sleep, a hot meal, kind words, and perhaps a day or two of work. Today most of us believe homeless people are nothing more than derelicts, alcoholics, mentally unstable, human debris.

The truth is quite different; the leading cause of homelessness is unaffordable shelter. The absence of jobs and low wages are other contributors of homelessness. Within the ‘State of Homeless’, there is also a high rate of mental illness and alcoholism. However with better education, social services and the availability of decent and affordable health care much of these contributing factors are treatable and the consequences of homelessness and anti-social behavior could be better prevented. In a way, it is an ongoing social conundrum. For thousands of families living on the edge, stress is a crippling factor disintegrating the bonds that are necessary for healthy family cohesion; studies have shown that stress alone can trigger the on-set of devastating psychoses in children. Many men and women, living on the streets today, diagnosed with mental illness, could have been treated at an early age and still could be.

Photograph by Rex Hohlbein

We blame one another to such an extent that the concept of ‘government’ has become an alien and negative separate entity. But ultimately is there anyone to blame but us? A man who falls asleep at the wheel and crashes into a tree, should not blame the car or the tree.

If government is less or more than the common rulebook agreed upon by the majority, the pages sewn together by democratic principals to protect the commonality of all, we have failed. When millions of our children suffer hunger and poverty in a country as wealthy as the United States, we have failed.

Rather than fighting foreign wars, which ultimately serve the already full coffers of the rich, our focus should be on wars against homelessness, poverty, and hunger in our own country. Our most effective weapon is our voice and our vote and we must fight for those who can’t.

Photograph by Rex Hohlbein

* The three photographic portraits in this blog were taken by my friend Rex Hohlbein. As part of his Seattle’s Homeless Project, ‘Homeless In Seattle’ he’s developing an idea of posting specific jobs that need to be done in the neighborhood that will benefit the homeless, such as fixing the drinking fountain where  they often wash up and get a drink. Bids will be gotten from general contractors to implement the work;  a PayPal account will be established to allow people to donate  toward the project. This is a remarkably positive idea because it allows all of us not only to help those in need but to be responsible, in part, for the maintenance of our city. PLease visit his site where Rex invites you to make comments and suggestions and to essentially ‘get involved’ in issues that affect all of us.    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Homeless-in-Seattle/172003812844870.

Elephant update from baan Panom

“Animals cannot speak, but can you and I not speak for them and represent them? Let us all feel their silent cry of agony and let us all help that cry to be heard in the world.”

Rukmini Devi Arundale

Zoo officials continue to try and inseminate Chai, one of three elephants living out a rather dismal life of captivity at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Washington. They do this in spite of all evidence supporting a high probability any infant elephant from Chai would be born with the same fatal herpes virus that struck down Hansa, Chai’s previous baby. In spite of the pain and suffering inflicted upon both the infant and the mother, the zoo seems more than willing to take the chance and the reasons are all too obvious. Just as elephants suffer from being forced to serve the curiosity of humans, we too suffer, ultimately, from our peculiar rationale about zoos. The idea that zoos play a fundamental role in protecting a species while their wild counterpart veers toward extinction is fundamentally flawed and almost always promulgated for reasons that have little to do with conservation.

Elephants, like humans, are a keystone species. This means they have a huge altering impact on the environment. The way their biomass has evolved and the way they move across the earth creates essential habitats for hundreds of other species, both plants and animals, which, in turn, affects even greater numbers of species. We cannot always see it – more often, we choose not to- but nature has been crafting itself for so long through such a compelling and urgent chain of events that, once broken, once dismantled and damaged, the results are tragic. We know this. We witness it everyday.

Elephants kept in zoos, as well as most other captive creatures, no longer play an essential role in nature’s design. Nor will they ever because most cannot be successfully re-introduced into the wild. Zoos, circuses, and the variations of animal parks remain, quite frankly, what they have always been: human entertainment. It is often argued that zoos are considerably more humane than they were even half a century ago. Perhaps so, but that is hardly the point. An animal in a cage is still an animal in a cage. Can we possibly believe there is any real educational value in keeping animals in cages? Are there not better ways to educate our children about the profusion of life with which we share this earth? The only thing zoos offer children is the blighted notion that it is acceptable to capture, imprison and breed wild creatures to satisfy our curiosity, if not greed, or the idea that we can save a species by locking them up. Once you take a wild animal from its natural habitat it becomes less than it was; the natural gift of its presence within a full symbiotic spectrum becomes irredeemably altered then lost. If, for example, a last surviving Baiji Dolphin, now functionally extinct, were kept in a zoo, what purpose would it serve? Such creatures become nothing more than symbols of our utter inability to understand and properly manage what is essential to our own wellbeing. If, as some believe, we have been ordained by a supreme entity as caretakers of the land and seas and the creatures that inhabit them, we have failed epically. The world is and has long been loosing countless species from the direct impact of human expansion and exploitation and the loss grows at an alarming rate. In 2007 it was estimated that within ten years, the elephant’s survival as a wild species will possibly be beyond saving, along with the Tiger, The Asian Rhino, the Great Apes, Red and Pink Coral, the Porbeagle shark, the Spiney Dogfish, the European Eel and the Bigleaf mahogany, each one’s demise caused by poaching, over-fishing and habitat loss.

In addition to this bleak scenario, there remains a thriving business in the illegal capture and smuggling of exotic animals to satisfy the brutish whims and fantasy of a few for their personal zoos. Recently, one smuggler was caught at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand. In his luggage were found four leopards, one Malayan sun bear, one white-cheeked gibbon, one black-tufted marmoset, an Asiatic black bear and two macaque monkeys, all babies, all alive, all destined for Dubai. It’s a safe bet to assume most smuggling goes undetected. Whether pets for the wealthy or cures for the impotent, the smuggling and slaughter go on.

Clearly, for elephants already in captivity, sanctuaries offer the best solution, though they are not perfect. Sanctuaries for animals are much like a halfway house but at least, if properly organized, monitored, and protected from human interests, sanctuaries can provide something more sacred as it applies to any creature’s concept of home. We know zoos represent a diminishment of spirit for both captive and captor. Studies have shown that most adults leaving a zoo tend to feel more unhappy than happy, as if we take with us a part of the captive’s collective sadness, wondering for what reason have we put these creatures here.

When I speak of ‘spirit’ and what is ‘sacred’ I do not use the terms biblically. I use them with the same breath of awe from which writers of the bible were themselves elevated and suspended in the ineffable mystery of the world around them. I mean them as the Blackfoot orator, Crowfoot, meant when he said “[life] is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and looses itself in the sunset.”

Is there any place any longer on earth that has not been altered then damaged by the hand of man?

Thus the Native American proverb: “Things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life. He is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”

It seems as if we have bartered away this sacred knowledge at our own peril.

Panom and The Stone of Light, the Book

Greetings to All

It’s been a while since I posted news. I’ve been waiting on several projects to fall into their final phase. And now they have.

As I promised a few months back, ‘Panom and the Stone of Light’ is now available through Create Space.

Panom also now has her own:
Website: www.elephantpanom.com
Facebook Page: the Panom Projects

I’m dedicating a portion of sales to HELP FREE THE ELEPHANTS in their effort to free Chai, Bamboo and Watoto. These elephants, two Asian and one African, are kept at Woodland Park Zoo under conditions that even the former Director of the zoo described as unnecessarily cruel. The elephants have already been offered a home at the elephant sanctuary in Tennessee where they’ll finally have acres in which to roam and to enjoy a larger family of elephants. Friends of the Seattle Woodland Park Zoo Elephants have worked long and tirelessly to make a difference in the lives of these three elephants. We can all help.

The Panom book will make a wonderful gift for a child (and an adult) and you can have it shipped directly to them.You can help make a difference for Chai, Bamboo and Watoto as well as help broaden a child’s understanding of the importance of these magnificent creatures and the importance of not only making life better for elephants held in captivity but protecting wild elephants in wild habitats. The more we help and protect the environment with all of its resident creatures, the more we help and protect ourselves.

From the elephants and me,
Many thanks, Galen

Ps: More ways you can help:
Check out the You Tube narration of Panom and the Stone of Light
and Panom, Cousin to the Clouds, a documentary featuring an extraordinary and compelling sound score by composer/cellist Jami Sieber, paintings by children from the school for the hearing impaired in Chiangmai, Thailand…and, of course, Panom.
We encourage and appreciate all comments.

link: to learn more about Chai, bamboo and Watoto

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