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a personal collection of original music, photographs, observations and other random stuff that happens inside my head…

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The Forest Floor

I was super-jazzed to capture these images last weekend. We were hiking a short but completely enchanting woodland trail; the entire path was covered in a carpet of emerald-green moss and strewn with a mosaic of fallen leaves. Some of the leaves boasted colors and textures that made them stand-alone works of art. I wish I could have recorded the sounds; a chorus of little frogs sang their wee hearts out the whole way, and at one point, we heard the repeated cries of an eagle on top of the chirps of other little birds loving life in their enchanted forest.

Having grown up on a steady diet of William Blake and Robert Louis Stevenson, I was just all excited when we spotted toadstools. Seriously. I was waiting for the elves to appear. Or not. One way or another, capturing three spiders in their webs on a single frond of dried milkweed was just as good. Enjoy!

The Forest Floor

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Posted October 22nd, 2011.

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Skagit River, Northern Washington State, USA

Anishinaabekwe, the Daughter,  You are the keepers of the water.
I am Nibi…water…the sacred source,  The blood of Aki, Mother Earth,
The force filling dry seeds to great bursting.  I am the wombs cradle.
I purify.

Nibi, the life giver…  Forever the Circle’s charge
I have coursed through our Mother’s Veins.  Now hear my sorrow and my pain
In the river’s rush, the rain…

I am your grandchildren’s drink.
Listen, Daughters, always.
You are the keepers of the water.
Hear my cry,
For the springs flow darkly now  Through the heart of Aki
American Indian, Ojibwa, Minnesota

Posted October 15th, 2011.

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Ebey’s Landing, Whidbey Island, Washington, USA

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.  Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. 

The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

~John Muir

The following images were taken last weekend at Ebey’s Landing on Whidbey Island, Washington, USA.   The preserve features hiking trails that make up a five-mile loop and boasts views of Mt. Baker, the Puget Sound, and the lush, fertile farmland that falls in-between.  The trail is moderately difficult and not for those who suffer from vertigo.  For me, it is like church.

Ebey's Landing, Whibey Island, Washington, USA

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Posted October 11th, 2011.

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Trees

I willingly confess to so great a partiality for trees
as tempts me to respect a man in exact proportion to his respect for them.
~ James Russell Lowell 

Trees

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Posted August 7th, 2011.

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Grandview Beach, Leucadia, CA, New Year’s Day 2010

And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.
William Shakespeare

These images are the product of an intensely spiritual afternoon;  I refer to them when I need to remember the world is a magical, beautiful place…  which seems to be happening more and more frequently these days.  Taken around Grandview Beach, in Leucadia, CA on New Year’s Day 2010, I felt as though I was walking within a dreamscape and all the world had been rendered to watercolor; the walls between worlds seemed thinner and blurred somehow, the temperature never varied and was neither hot nor cold, and the light remained in a constant state of  in-between.

It is true that Nature can quiet even the most broken of hearts;  this gallery is dedicated to everyone whose heart is breaking from the horrific violence and senseless death in Norway, in India, and everywhere else; to everyone whose mind is reeling from the climate of overwhelming disrespect so perfectly showcased by our media and our political leaders, and to those who simply wish to live, separate and apart from the madness.

Grandview Beach, Leucadia CA New Year's Day 2010

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Posted July 24th, 2011.

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Moonlight Beach, Encinitas, CA November 2010

One of the most intensely spiritual places I’ve ever frequented  is Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, CA.  In the evenings, as the sun makes its majestic descent into the horizon, the locals gather on the shore.  Some practice tai chi, some practice yoga, others just walk for miles  along the edge of the water, immersed in the white- noise- crash of the waves.  This is a series of images I took there last November.

Posted July 10th, 2011.

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Gallery: Union Station, Los Angeles, CA

Union Station, Los Angeles, CA

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For my blog on this fantastic architectural gem, please click here.

Posted June 18th, 2011.

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Hollywood Forever, Part 2

Hollywood Forever Cemetery #2

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I have a deep aversion to the thought of being buried when I pass on.  After some self-analysis, I realize I have always experienced cemeteries as cold and foreign places. Having lost my father, all of my grandparents, several distant relatives, two schoolmates and another very close friend, I can say I have been to more than my fair share.  While beautiful in a surreal sort of way, the grounds of most of the cemeteries I’ve visited were manicured to the point that it appeared that they, too, had been embalmed; it was all too fake, too controlled.  I vividly recall deciding after each funeral I attended that I would never go back.  No matter how park-like or serene the surroundings, it was to no avail; there was no life there.  I remember feeling especially sad for my father, who was a true nature lover and who I’m sure would have preferred to have been scattered about an autumnal aspen grove in the Colorado mountains than to be stuck in a hole somewhere in the Midwest.   The whole process felt sad, somehow like the cemetery was a sort of interruption of the natural flow of things, and the dead had somehow been banished to their own equivalent of a leper’s colony.  Through preservation of their bodies the dead were no longer allowed to contribute to the flow of Life, nor were they in a place where such preservation would serve them well.

That’s why I was so surprised at being nothing short of compelled to revisit the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.  When I returned, I realized what had nagged on me after my first visit: rather than feeling like death, the grounds felt- and left me feeling – completely alive. Here was an ongoing acceptance and celebration of life in all of its stages. Interspersed among the hundreds of graves, giant gray geese made nests and the ganders strutted about protectively.  Rather than relocate the geese, a simple sign was placed to warn visitors:  “WARNING: Geese are aggressive”.  (And yes, if you unwittingly get too close to a nesting goose, be prepared for a four-foot tall hissing gander to come after you.  That’s just the way it is.) As I discreetly watched a woman who had come to remember who I presume was her deceased husband, I had to smile; after she changed the flowers at his grave and lit some ceremonial incense, she walked towards the geese and began speaking to them. The ganders relaxed – they seemingly knew her well, and I could tell it gave her peace, delight, and a continued sense of purpose.

As I continued to tune in to what was happening around me, it occurred to me that if you came to Hollywood Forever to focus only on sorrow, you would be hard-pressed to not be distracted by the Life that was going on right underneath your nose.  Wading through water lilies, a pristine white crane courted my camera lens, while half a dozen peacocks showed off for onlookers just beyond.  Across the grounds, a fantastic white swan preened his feathers and gazed at his reflection at the Fairbanks Memorial.   And never mind the droppings – in the ongoing circle of life, “Sh!* Happens”.  I was most touched by the undeniable respect and care given to the feral cats that inhabit the spaces between the mausoleums. Rather than trap them or chase them off, the groundskeepers opt to take care of them, and trays filled with cat food are set out and meticulously covered with little tents to ward off any rain.  In my humble opinion, that’s a sample of humanity at its finest.

Instead of focusing on the “I’m so sad you’re gone” aspect of death, Hollywood Forever chooses instead to embrace and celebrate the essence of lives well-lived – the “I’m so happy you were here” part.  This focus is backed by ongoing cultural events held right on the premises, which enhance the lives of the living, and include art exhibits, movie screenings on the Fairbanks Lawn, live concerts held on the grounds and in the Masonic Lodge, and even a spectacular annual celebration of El Dia de los Muertos.  I cannot wait to go.

Ironically, I recently learned of another famous cemetery in the Los Angeles area.  Here’s a small sampling of their Visitor Guidelines:

“·  Picnicking and lying down on lawns or benches on the grounds are prohibited.

·  Loitering is prohibited.”

Hmmm….  Compare that to today’s press release in the Huffington Post advertising Hollywood Forever’s classic film screening of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  Celebrating the life of Elizabeth Taylor, tomorrow night’s show will mark the beginning of the 10th Annual Cinespia Classic Film Screening, which is held on the Fairbanks Lawn at the Hollywood Forever grounds:

“Two Wheel It: Bicyclists who line up in the driveway before we open the gate are let in before cars. Help keep LA’s air clean and we’ll give you special treatment.

Pack a Picnic: Bring your favorite food, wine, beer or cocktails. Small tables with collapsible/screw-on legs are handy, and a couple small candles help set the mood. Barbecues, grills, and fires are not allowed. Travel light and use a cooler or basket with wheels to make transportation easy.

Seating: Pillows and blankets will keep you cozy and comfy for the movie. A blanket is essential for your set up, and we recommend laying a tarp down under your blanket to keep it dry — it works wonders. We have a chair-free area in the center of the lawn; arrange your spread there for an unobstructed view. If you do bring a chair, make sure it’s 30 inches or lower with a seat that rests on the ground.

Special Needs:
We have areas reserved for wheelchairs and people who need special assistance. We also provide handicapped parking and restrooms — just ask our staff when pulling in and they’ll direct you.

Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Boulevard, at Gordon Street, (323-221-3343 or www.cinespia.org)”

While I still wouldn’t wish to be buried anywhere, when it’s my time, I would be more than happy to have a part of me sprinkled over the Hollywood Forever grounds –   especially the part of me that loves concerts, old movies, picnics with small candles, and art.  And when you come to visit, don’t forget the popcorn!

Posted May 13th, 2011.

1 comment

Hollywood Forever, Part One

Hollywood Forever Cemetery # 1

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initials carved into an old tree at the fairbanks memorial, hollywood forever cemetery
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antique lighting fixtures within a mausoleum at hollywood forever cemetery
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It was a cloudy, late afternoon the first time I visited the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.  I’d heard a little bit about it being the final resting place of many of Hollywood’s finest, including Rudolph Valentino, Tyrone Power, Douglas Fairbanks and his son, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and of Cecil B. DeMille, who was basically the father of the whole Hollywood phenomenon.   I’ve seen my fair share  of cemeteries around the world.  I figured this one would be like all the others, just with famous names attached to the headstones.  I was wrong.  Additionally, what I thought would be a casual check off my long list of places I wanted to see while I live here in Los Angeles turned into a place I’ll return to again and again.  Oddly, the words spoken by the VooDoo doctor’s wife in Clint Eastwood‘s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil have been on constant replay in my head since I first visited Hollywood Forever:  “To understand the living, you got to commune with the dead“.

Maybe it’s the way the whole experience presented itself.  I was standing in what should have been a cold, silent mausoleum looking at Valentino’s burial chamber.  I was aware of music playing in the background; it was increasing in volume, and it definitely wasn’t somber.  Just as I snapped my first photo, I realized that what I was listening to was strains of Fleetwood Mac’s You Make Loving Fun. At Valentino’s resting place. ( “Hmmm…”  I thought to myself. ” I’ll bet he did, indeed!”)   The music thumped along as I walked back through the hallways;  by the time I got to the long line of marble saints in the entryway, the music had changed to the GorillazFeel Good Inc. I know I have a better than average imagination, but something inside of me  half expected the gargantuan marble saints to break from their pedestals and start groovin’ to the beat.

Back outside, we  realized that the music was coming from some sort of party in a wide open grassy space that lay between two mausoleums and backed up to Paramount Studios.  Folks in all sorts of artistically casual attire poured in, Frisbees were flying, and the full bar was flowing freely.  Someone was having a really healthy celebration of LIFE, right there where he/she was buried.   The music changed again, this time to James Blake’s Wilhelm Scream,  just as we reached the gravesite of Johnny Ramone. How fitting.

The Hollywood Forever grounds are extensive and extremely beautiful.  I can’t say they’re perfectly manicured; to the contrary, parts of the cemetery  had a slightly worn, neglected feel to them.  Studying a site map of the grounds, I recognized the obvious names, but couldn’t help but wonder at the hundreds of names I was completely unfamiliar with.  Who were these people?  What contribution did they make?  I hadn’t known then about the fantastic Interactive Site Map on Hollywood Forever’s website.  In what must have been a painstaking labor of love, Hollywood Forever has created a place in which, with a simple scroll of a mouse, you can click on the location of a grave and get, at the very least, a photo  and bio of the individual interred there.   It’s a fascinating glimpse into some of the personalities who shaped the Hollywood phenomenon and their experiences along the way,  and I strongly recommend visiting the website prior to a physical visit to the cemetery grounds.

Leaving the cemetery that day, I had a lingering feeling that I needed to go back.  It was something I couldn’t put my finger on, and it didn’t register until my second visit, the details of which I’ll save for my next post…

Posted May 6th, 2011.

1 comment

“Taking Care”: 6 Visual Interpretations at Hollywood Forever Cemetery

hollywood forever - take care exhibition

Photographic summary of installation art exhibit at Hollywood Forever Cemetery April 23, 2011. Featuring Matthew Lessner, James Fields, Matt Amato, Alexis Disselkoen. Photography by Danica Waters.

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Last Saturday, April 23, 2011, I spent a good part of the night at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, CA.  I was only one of an impressive number of folks who turned out to attend an installation art exhibit called “Explosions In The Sky / Taking Care:  6 Visual Interpretations”. The exhibit as a whole was set to the music of the band Explosions In The Sky; each installation piece was created in direct response to a different track off the band’s forthcoming album entitled Take Care, Take Care, Take Care. Featuring artists Matthew Lessner , James Fields , Matt Amato, Jesse Fleming , Chris Lipomi , and Alexis Disselkoen , each piece was set in a different section of the cemetery, and each was a complete departure from the rest.

Needless to say, going to see installation art in a cemetery – in the dead of night – is an experience in and of itself.  The exhibit organizers played up on this, illuminating the vast mausoleum chambers with brilliant white lights at the far end.  To get to the installations, you had no choice but to walk into the light.  I made  my own journey down the cavernous marble hallways, following the backlit silhouettes of dozens of others before me.  I was completely aware that I was walking through chambers filled with hundreds of dead people,which should have been creepy.  Oddly enough, what I noticed was that the power of loving memory prevailed;  all of the flowers that had been left in the bronze vases in the mausoleum wall were glowing radiantly in the bright light ahead.  Even more strange, it felt better to walk with the silhouettes into the light rather than to turn around and return to the darkness from which I came.  Powerful stuff.  (And this little jaunt wasn’t even an installation piece.)

The first installation I encountered was by James Fields.  Set to the song “Human Qualities” several monitors were inset into empty slots in one of the mausoleum’s walls.  It was a brilliant collage of images that, to me, portrayed the infinite interconnectedness of human life.  Fields is a brilliant concept photographer and artist – check out his site.  The second piece I encountered was Matt Amato’s installation, set to the song “Trembling Hands”. It was a fantastic, technicolor dreamscape that transpired from behind the locked iron gates of a second mausoleum.  The projection contained whispers  of the four elements (earth, wind, water, fire) ,  and of the incredible nature and vast energy of the Universe itself.  Here, again, I had the odd feeling like I’d rather be “in there” than “out here”.  (No, I’m not depressed.  It was just really, really cool.)  I mustn’t have been alone in my thinking, because dozens of people of all ages and from all walks of life crowded together and laid underneath the warm, billowy, womb-like environment created by Alexis Disselkoen. Set to the track “Let Me Back In”, the craziest thing to behold from outside “the womb/cosmos/etc” was the look on the people’s faces who were inside the environment.    Utterly transfixed, they were restful and completely at peace with being sandwiched  human-to-human, at near-claustrophobic range between the graves that they lay on top of and the fibrous light show that they lay underneath.  No one was moving.  Again, I wished I was in there.

And then there were some installations that did not make me feel so comfortable.  Artist Jesse Fleming took us down darkened and much colder mausoleum hallways to a blackened chamber in his piece set to, oddly enough, a song entitled “Be Comfortable, Creature”.  At the end of the chamber was a simple projection of the numbers 1-5, slowly alternating up and down:  1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1.  My first thought was “primary numbers – some sort of code”, and my second thought was “primary numbers – kindergarten –  dumbed down – we don’t know the half of what this Universe is all about”.  Still walking away scratching my head, I went to Jesse’s website at graylightstudio.com to see some more of his work in an attempt to get a better understanding of his mindset, and I came away enlightened.  A couple of the video pieces I saw left me emotionally unsettled- not necessarily in a bad way-  just unsettled, the same way I felt at the installation exhibit.   The best adjectives I can find are “lonely”, “otherworldly”, and “almost -unexplainable-kinda-like-crop-circles-and-UFO’s”.  Check out his work “The Desert” and you’ll understand what I mean.

Another unsettling exhibit was located on the far side of the cemetery.  Adjacent to the Fairbanks Memorial, artist Matthew Lessner projected a silent short film to the track “Last Known Surroundings”. The images portrayed the more forbidding side of the death experience, depicting a man who is desperately trying to escape the very earthly, Natural Forces of Death.  Lessner, who grew up in what is described as an “insular logging community of Roseburg, Oregon, USA… developed a taste for the unusual amidst the seemingly mundane.”  His work has been showcased at Sundance, South by Southwest and Clermont-Ferrand, among others, and he’s taken award after award.  No wonder his images spooked me.

The final piece in the collection was the work of Chris Lipomi, which was set to “Postcard from 1952”. I hate to say Lipomi’s work was forbidding. Actually, it was simply realistic, right down to the materials he used to construct the work.  Sans the bright lights and technological tricks showcased in the previous exhibits, Lipomi’s installation was set in two stages.  Each stage was constructed of nothing but simple railroad ties.  The first stage was set inside the small mausoleum where Rudolph Valentino is entombed.  Surrounded by gargantuan marble statues of various saints, the piece was composed of a single rough-hewn beam standing in the center of other beams which “fell”  out from the center on both sides, each beam depicting various stages of “rising and falling down”.  I perceived “birth-to-death” immediately, but what took a while to sink in was that the railroad ties, amongst the the marble-hewn saints, smacked of biblical reference to the death of Christ, it spoke of the awkward stiffness of our corporeal beings, as well as leading one to ponder the role of our physical body as a “mode of transportation” – i.e. railroad ties/getting from Point A to Point B/ etc. (especially against an exhibit title of “Take Care”).    Walking out to the second stage of his exhibit, I found railroad ties stacked up on four sides to create a rectangular sort of stairstep that stood about 3.5 feet high.  When you climbed the staircase, you were confronted with a completely black chasm, like a grave.  Although intellectually I believed without a doubt that there was grass at the base of that chasm, and it should have been only a bit over three feet deep, the experience of looking into that chasm was truly daunting.  But I was even more disturbed when my depth perceptions were proved wrong.  Funny enough, a group of twenty-somethings who’d had a bit much to drink happened upon the exhibit at the same time I was in the process of climbing the “stairs”.  One of the more inebriated individuals spontaneously decided to jump into the hole.  Not only did he find himself in over his 6′ head, but security admonished him to “GET OUT OF THERE RIGHT AWAY!”  The man was  suddenly afraid.  We were all surprised to find him in deeper than we’d anticipated, and thankfully he had friends to pull him out.   Such is an effective trick of the mind.  But it all goes deeper than that, I suspect.

In a quick search of the events of 1952, and also in tribute to the meaning of Explosions In The Sky’s last track “Postcard from 1952” this is what I uncovered:

February 26United Kingdom Prime Minister Winston Churchill announces that the United Kingdom has an atomic bomb.

March 20 – The United States Senate ratifies a peace treaty with Japan.

April 23 – A nuclear test is held in the Nevada desert.

June 15The Diary of Anne Frank is published

June 19 – The Special Forces (United States Army) are created

August 29John Cage‘s 4′ 33″ premieres in Woodstock, New York.

September 2 – Dr. C. Walton Lillehei and Dr. F. John Lewis perform the first open-heart surgery at the University of Minnesota.

October 14 – The United Nations begins work in the new United Nations building in New York City, designed by Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer.

November 1Nuclear testing: Operation Ivy: The United States successfully detonates the first hydrogen bomb, codenamed “Mike”, at Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands in the central Pacific Ocean, with a yield of 10.4 megatons

November 4

wikipedia.org

That’s just a small sampling from a pretty packed postcard.

Sadly, I re-entered the last mausoleum to hear another older gentlemen exclaim, “That ain’t art!”.  Ahhh… but it is.  It just didn’t come in a shiny techno feel-good wrapper.

Hollywood Forever has become one of my favorite places to visit in Los Angeles.  I’ve been there so many times, the resulting photographs can’t be contained in a single blogroll, so I’ll do it in several consecutive posts.  I am completely enchanted, not only with the artists represented herein, but also with Hollywood Forever’s commitment to keeping the memories of all legends alive and present  in moments  of artistic exploration and celebration for generations to come.

Stay tuned…

Posted April 29th, 2011.

2 comments