BLOG: To Become Visible

Motif
  • Blowin’ in the Wind

    I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin’
    Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
    Heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin’
    Heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’
    … And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

    How many times must a man look up
    Before he can see the sky?
    Yes, ’n’ how many ears must one man have
    Before he can hear people cry?
    … The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.
    - Both excerpts from Bob Dylan songs, 1963.  https://bobdylan.com/songs/

    Does wind appear in rock art?  Does rain?  I don’t know. I do sense some petroglyphs as atmospheric.  Certainly changing weather, influencing rain and snow, yearning to start or stop the wind, figures in many stories and ethnographic reports in the West, indeed, in all times and cultures.  Cupule boulders are often viewed as related to wind and rain control. My testimony here with these four “abstract” images, below, is less reasonable.

    Rain - hard or soft - doesn’t fall; waters are pulled by lusty Earth. Gravity’s desire.  Wind - soft or hard - doesn’t blow; airs are twirled by the Sun. Solar whim.

    Archaic petroglyphs bear witness to wind and rain, to gravity and solar.  Deities of the Stone.  Forces natural and super.  Sensed here, now, soon to change, as the Weather.

    Below: Four photos from the High Lakes region of the northern Great Basin

  • Rock Art, Rugged Beauty, Targeting

    Bull’s-eye.  1. the circular spot, usually black or outlined in black, at the center of a target marked with concentric circles and used in target practice.  2. a shot that hits this. 3. the center or central area of a military target, as of a town or factory, in a bombing raid. www.dictionary.com (2017)

    Matter is an aggregate of “images.” And by image we mean a certain existence which is more than that which the idealist calls a representation, but less than that which the realist calls a thing, an existence placed half-way between the “thing” and the” representation.”  Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory (1911)

    We are meddlers born. Caitlin DeSilvey. Curated Decay (2017)

    “Rock Art and Rugged Beauty” reads the headline of the New York Times Travel Section, July 30, 2017.  Gold Butte, in Southeast Nevada, is one of three recently designated monuments explored by three writers is this feature.  Rock art  presented to an international audience as integral to the purpose of our public monuments. [1]

    One photo includes concentric circle petroglyphs, each with two circles. (Image below)  As labeled by the New York Times writer:  “bull’s-eye.”  A convenient Euro-American image of a target. As defined above “bull’s-eye” would literally indicate the center of the inner circle.  Where does meaning reside? [2] [3]

    Consider some of the sentences in the Gold Butte article:
    - “The bighorn is considered one of the greatest trophies among modern hunters.”
    - “The signs are peppered with bullet holes. This is a common affliction among signs in the Gold Butte area.”
    - “Gambel’s quail flushed off to my side. They are prized game birds among Western upland hunters.”
    - “I hiked around and found … water tanks, an old stovetop range, a collapsed corral, metal drums …  Most of these items had been used for target practice.”

    Targeting. In these times allusion to targets, hunting, and shooting may be sharply fitting.  On July 30, the day the Gold Butte article was published, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spoke at a news conference near Gold Butte National Monument in Bunkerville, Nevada.  Zinke was finishing a review swing through Western states and as per an executive order must have recommendations for 27 recent U.S. monuments by August 24. [4]

    NOTES
    [1] In Gold Butte in Nevada, Ancient Rock Art and Rugged Beauty: The national monument, which the Trump administration is reassessing, is full of life — Joshua trees, prairie falcons — and stunning petroglyphs. (online version) by James Card, July 25, 2017. (IMAGE BELOW)
    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/25/travel/gold-butte-nevada-antiquities-act-national-monument.html

    [2]  “Bull’s eye” occasionally appears in rock art studies.  For example, Loendorf and Loendorf describe petroglyphs with a central dot and one or more concentric circles as bull’s eye. They expand: “Among the world's cultures, concentric circles and bull's eyes are generally associated with the sun, water, whirlpools, and earth centers.  The association of the motifs with two apparent opposites like sun and water is somewhat hard to understand, but sun and water are frequently juxtaposed.”  Larry Loendorf and Chris Loendorf . 1995. With Zig-Zag Lines I’m Painted: Hohokam petroglyphs on Tempe Butte, Arizona. 130-131

    [3]. The NYT writer labels another figure: tortoise.  An image of a quadruped perhaps touching or perhaps touched by an arching double half-circle.  What is claimed by “tortoise?”  Whether this was intended by the original carver as “tortoise,” “rainbow, “coyote,” the question ever emerges: with what cultural meaning?  Say it is a tortoise. Is this meant as representation?  Does a tortoise imply a sacred presence? Food? Tenacity? A clan? If an image of a rainbow, a prayer for rain, gratitude for rain? for sun and rain? For patience! A chain of speculation.  I suggest:  simply look.  If a tortoise, she/he will speak.

    [4]  Amid monument review, a pro-energy Interior emerges: Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke is filling his office with extractive industry insiders. Tay Wiles, Aug. 1, 2017, High Country News
    http://www.hcn.org/articles/interiors-energy-priorities-undergird-sweeping-monuments-review

  • Tule Lake: The Dying Grass

    Feeling historical: the ground shifting. Suddenly there are serious questions about our grandchildren’s future. And this sense of insecurity, no doubt related to cyclical processes of political economic decline, is intensified by long-term ecological threats that can no longer be managed or exported. Historicity at a different scale: that of a species among other species, the past and future of a whole planet and its ability to sustain life.  James Clifford, Returns: Becoming Indigenous in the Twenty First Century (2013), [1]

    For over a century the petroglyphs of the Tule Lake area have attracted speculative and interpretive imaginings of popular and academic cultures.  The soft granular surfaces face wind, rain, ice, seepings; absorb peering eyes, snapping cameras, studied tracings. The distinct visibilities of intense grooves, the dense clusters, spark deep in the psyche. The walls of incised markings emerge emblematic of historical moments, mirroring desires to define origins.  

    William T. Vollmann in his recent epic, The Dying Grass: A novel of the Nez Perce War, imagines the musings of U.S. Army Captain Joel G. Trimble  [2]  in 1877 as he recalls a day in May 1873 by the eastern shore of Tule Lake, in northern California, eating lunch with other cavalrymen:

    “with their backs against a swallow-ridden sandstone cliff which the Modocs had pecked out with depictions of setting suns, full suns, peculiar insects which might have been moths if moths could skeletonize and if their wings had ribs; then there were armbones descending into triple-taloned claws, parallel wave-forms, squares pecked out to enclose right-angled groove-labyrinths, snake-grooves crowned with spreading fingers like the lodgepoles atop an Indian tipi, buglike schematic humanoids, mushrooms or perhaps phalli, nested double circles, Y-shaped incisions and lines of short vertical markings like tallyings, and there was something resembling a heart above a long vertical groove, while a birdlike figure spread her downcurving arms, and from a certain oval rose a long hooked, neck as to represent an egret bending down toward the water to troll for fat insects; then there was a vertical slash topped with nested inverted V's; had there been only one of those latter, the vertical stroke might have been an arrow, but the way it was made, Trimble supposed that it must be a grass head; after all, so much of this tall greenish-yellow grass grew about; and then here was grooved something like the inverted or falling seedhead of a stalk of what must have been dying grass, which made him inexplicably sad — why even consider dying grass?”  [3]

    Vollmann’s language refreshes. He does not say: this is what it is.  He says:  this is how it appears to me.  He does not treat the petroglyphs as objects, rather the event in a life as subjective encounter.  They are equal to his presence.  They change and endure, he comes and goes.

    [1] James Clifford, Returns: Becoming Indigenous in the Twenty First Century (2013), pp. 6-7.  Download the book’s Prologue
    [2] Vollmann notes, p. 353, Trimble’s role in the capture of Modoc leader Kientpoos, known as Captain Jack, on June 1, 1873. (The Dying Grass, 2015, p. 353.)  More: Robert Acquinas McNally (Indian Country Today, June 1, 2016) provides a carefully researched study of the capture: Who Really Caught Captain Jack?
    [3].  This quote is from The Dying Grass, p. 354.  Accompanying the Trimble’s musings, Vollmann inserts his 2013 photograph of a section of the wall of petroglyphs.  Vollmann acknowledges:  “Description of the petroglyphs in the Modoc Lava Beds — After a visit to Petroglyph Point (near Tule-lake) in June 2013.” (p. 1300)  

    Photos: Petroglyph Point
    More from the Tule Lake area (Petroglyph Point and The Peninsula) 

  • The Grain of the Moon

    It is not uncommon for today’s full moon to be called Hunter Moon.  A few nights ago I camped in the tall sage near an old corral.  Two hunters crept along, dusk, in their truck down the rocky road. We talked a bit. They, looking for mule deer, outfitted in full dress camo, kindly apologized for having disturbed me. I, seeking landscapes of rock art, in dusty fleece and levied twill, wished them well.  Though I don't kill animals.  Nor eat meat.  We each have our ways of being in this fleeting world, of looking and seeking.  What we give and take beyond our grasp.  Under the silver waxing moon and golden rising sun, I was lucky.  Circles embracing the grain of the moment. Laden, ripe, holding forth.

    Two Circles. Petroglyph images in the Washoe-Lassen borderlands, the country northwest of Pyramid Lake.

  • Living on Earth: A tough fragility

    Living on Earth means arriving, finding water, inhabiting, moving on.  A tough fragility with focused intention in a shifting landscape. 

    Figures appear in all four new albums from Southeast Oregon's Lake, Harney and Malheur Counties now posted at rockartoregon.com

    Interface: Similarity and distinction

    Journey: Emergence, seasonal round, blessed water

    Water: Fluid and hollowed, ephemeral and contained

    Scratched petroglyphs:  Marking Place

  • 10000 Years Plus or Minus

    Tao produced the One.
    The One produced the two.
    The two produced the three.
    And the three produced the ten thousand things.
          - Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching: about 2500 years ago [1]

    10000 years in the future.  What language do you speak?  How do you shape symbols, markers?  Gaze back to the Present.  How do you witness terrain?  What animals and plants do you see? How does the sky appear? 

    10000 years ago, early Archaic.  You are walking, what do you see?  How do you signal. Gesture? Gaze forward to this Present.  How would you make a Universal Warning Sign? 

    10000 years give or take, a blip in geologic time. Yet, an elusive temporal imagining for an embodied human. What image/symbol/figuration endures, holds meaning? How to chart it, graph it, digitize it, mark it, so… we get it?  As we inquire, we wonder - does it matter?  The Ten Thousand Things.  The eternal proliferation.  Back to square One of The Tao.

    Nuclear waste doesn't go away.  These are not simple questions with easy answers. Indeed they may be deadly important.  When Yucca Mountain, Nevada, was in serious consideration as a permanent disposal and containment site for “high level radioactive waste” (1987-2011) [2], how to warn future (human?) beings of danger spurred a design competition. A Universal Warning Sign was essential one that would be understood 10,000 years into the future. [3]

    The graphic image above is one part of the submission by Yulia Hanansen

    The first image below is a submission by Southwest Missouri State University's Brandon Alms.
    With the 2nd image below, not part of the competition, I offer as a counterpoint: a compelling art poster (1995) by Jaune Quick-To-See Smith.  She says, "I chose rabbits as an art icon because there is a cultural universality to them throughout the world."

    The 3rd image: a competition graphic by Yulia Hanansen.
    The final image: Archaic Petroglyph, Southeast Oregon, photo Douglas Beauchamp. 

    Notes
    [1] Lao Tzu, The Way of Lao Tzu, Wing-Tsit Chan, trans.

    [2] Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository
    [3] Universal Warning Sign competition (2002) for Yucca Mountain. Universal Warning Sign: Yucca Mountain.  Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman (2015), by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, provides a concise overview about the 2002 Universal Warning Sign competition for Yucca Mountain.

  • Sharp the Dark. Quick the Light.

    Let the snake wait under
    his weed
    and the writing
    be of words, slow and quick, sharp
    to strike, quiet to wait,
    sleepless.
    -- through metaphor to reconcile
    the people and the stones.
    Compose. (No ideas
    but in things) Invent!
    Saxifrage is my flower that splits
    the rocks.
    - William Carlos Williams, A Sort of a Song*

    In petroglyphs circles may weave in and out and through gatherings of elements - vague figures, abstract suggestions, ever-abiding.  Images loosely pecked or abraded drift, layering with time, softening, fading, weathering.  Change whispers its spiraling tale, with it some of what we do not yet know floats before us.

    Solstice. Full Moon. Seasonal Rounds.  Sharp sight of the Dark. Quick gift of the Light.
    Selected circling petroglyphs visited in 2015

    *Appreciation to Jarold Ramsey for leading me to this.

  • Diagrams: Finding out in the Oregon desert

    Carl Jung relates the story, in a larger context concerning transformation, of an old man, reputed to be a sorcerer, who sought refuge in a cave, “seeking to know what it was that he did not know, but which, he felt certain, was always happening. After meditating for a very long time on that which is beyond meditation, he saw no other way of escape from his predicament than to take a piece of red chalk and draw all kinds of diagrams on the walls of his cave, in order to find out what that which he did not know might look like. After many attempts he hit on the circle. ‘That’s right,’ he felt, ‘and now for a quadrangle inside it!’ - which made it better still.” [1] 

    Is it fair to invoke Jung and Euro-tales when considering indigenous rock paintings, red ochre on black desert basalts in the Great Basin? It is a lingering question I will always consider. Yet Jung’s concept of the underlying structure of human consciousness – and the unconscious – offers for me one avenue to deeper understanding of predicament: to find out what that which he did not know might look like.

    To the degree the human mind is a part of a naturalistic, animated universe, the stone, the ochre, the image reveal presence immemorial through the mind and hand of the painter.

    [1] Selected from Concerning Rebirth (1950) in C. G. Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Bollingen, Princeton University Press, 1959.  p.129 para 233.

    Diagrams: Finding out in the Oregon desert

  • Making Tracks, Leaving Traces

    Track. Trace. Trait. These words originate from the Latin tractus: drawing, dragging, drafting, pulling. They all speak to marks resulting from an action. A pen on paper, a foot on sand, a hoof on mud. Stone on stone. With petroglyphs a doubling results. The petroglyph itself marking stone. The image resembling an animal or human print or track in real space. Further, the modern photograph digitally traces the reflected light. The traits of the image store as bits subject to recall by the computer, displayed as something recognizable. Traces.

    Petroglyph images as tracks and traces, though infrequent among the thousands of mostly abstract glyphs in the northwestern Great Basin, stand out due to their resonance as resemblance. We recognize. We have an idea, a memory, a feeling. We say it looks like. We may ascribe values. Look from placement to place. We will circle back to our own hands. Our feet. Our digital self.

    Most of these petroglyphs are thousands years old. Embedded, intentional, and crafted markings, they embody as signs, signals, symbols, icons, or metaphors. Their appearances alter through time. Though powerful markers, for us they now lack social or cultural context, eluding meaning while producing a tension, an ambiguity of presence and absence of th human and the animal we know has been here, gone there.

    The thinking and writing of David Summers, Bruno Latour, and Michel Serres has challenged my understanding. Of course they are no way liable for the track I have followed! 

    Album: Tracks & Traces Petroglyphs

  • Where are the Pronghorn?

    Pia wantsipe toowenene’ iten
    Pia wantsipe toowenene’ iten
    Pennan tapai tatawento toowenene’ ite

    The big antelope buck-pe slowly grazing while standing
    The big antelope buck-pe slowly grazing while standing
    Sun beams flashing, hitting him while he stands and grazes. 

    "Antelope Song," a Western Shoshone round dance song [1]

    Pronghorns need to drink water every day.  During summer it is often several times a day.  Hunters know this. When hunting season opens in SE Oregon in August, many hunters will set up near waterholes.  And, camouflaged, wait behind rock blinds, brush, or on a low rim - if close enough to the water or a passage to water.  Scopes and high-powered rifles allow flexibility on what “close” means. About 2500 pronghorn antelope hunting tags are distributed by lottery by ODFW each year.  This is about 10% of Oregon’s estimated pronghorn population of 25,000. [2] 

    Indigenous peoples hunted and killed pronghorn for at least 10,000 years as testified by the remains in some archaeological excavations.  “Procuring” has been documented from the early Holocene in SE Oregon. [3]  Evidence in the Northern Great Basin shows communal hunts, usually with traps at drive sites with barriers/fences of stone, juniper, or brush, was an important method of capture and killing. [4} 

    Petroglyphs resembling pronghorn antelope are very rare in the rock art of SE Oregon, given the hundreds of rock art sites and the tens of thousand of images.  Bighorn sheep motifs are more recognizable and more frequent, but they are not common as they are in some other parts the Great Basin and in the Southwest. 

    Selected Pronghorn Petroglyphs in Lake County, Oregon 

    [1]  Transcribed and translated by Beverly Crum, ca. 1975. In Steven J. Crum, 1999. “Julian Steward’s Vision of the Great Basin: A Critique and Response." In Julian Steward and the Great Basin: The Making of an Anthropologist.  

    [2] Currently about 2000 pronghorn summer on the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge in Lake County. About 60 bow and rifle hunting tags issued annually for the Refuge.

    2015 is the centenary of a low point for pronghorn.  In 1915 in the western U.S. about 13,000 remained of the estimated 35 million roaming a century earlier.  Some experts were resigned to the species’ eventual extinction due to killing, grazing, and partitioning of open lands.

    [3] Two examples of studies including references to pronghorn remains in early Holocene archaeological contexts:
    - A Flaked Stone Crescent from a Stratified, Radiocarbon-Dated Site in the Northern Great Basin. Geoffrey M. Smith, et al. North American Archaeologist July 2014 vol. 35 no. 3 257-276.
    - Early and Middle Holocene Archaeology of the Northern Great Basin. 2004. Edited by D. L. Jenkins, T. J. Connolly, and C. M. Aikens, University of Oregon Anthropological Papers 62.

    [4] About 120 hunting features and kill locales are now documented in Nevada and Eastern California. See studies and reviews of archaeological research and ethnography in the Great Basin by Brooke S. Arkush, Brian Hockett, and Patrick M. Lubinski.

  • Ambiguities in Forms and Realities

    Something can be whole only by having a hole.  Bernhard Siegert*

    Two red images painted on light stone. Or a single image – the animal-like figure and the circle-form, each attending to the other. Circle unstable, perhaps a sphere. Or hole?  If so, emergence, entrance, or in-between?  Animal, shifting into spirit? Looking, the fading, slowly dissolving, oscillating painting provokes in me a presence compressing time into now.

    Stepping back expands the physical presence of the placement, the place, the space. To the left on the dark basalt petroglyphs appear - pecked markings by indigenous peoples, perhaps others, arriving, departing before or after the painter of animal/circle-spirit/sphere. Did each artist-maker look and wonder at those markings, recognize intent and being? Together the images, the stone, the sky expanse, and the distant valley all conspire to infuse the place with story, a changing narrative as yet becoming.

    Other photos: A Rock Painting

    * From "Material World," Bernhard Siegert in conversation with Geoffrey Winthrop-Young. Artforum, Summer 2015, 324-333.
    Note: Image below is digitally enhanced to better show the painting’s forms.

  • Crook Motif: Ever the More

    Last year I posted a consideration of the “Crook” motif as seen in Lake County, Oregon. [1]

    This simple and distinctive motif appears at times in association with other figures on panel and oft times as a “floating” figure absent any obvious referent.  Other than usually facing a water source.

    At their most concise, the abstracted form appears as a symbol:  a half circle arching upward with a brief extension on one side.  Perhaps it is better to not call them “crooks,” or hooks, or any name. 

    Recently I discovered paper by Bernard M. Jones, Jr [2], which to added new depth to my thinking about this form. I find his thoughtful investigation of power, or “powerscapes” as he proposes, quite provocative. Most of his examples include associations with anthropomorphs, as do the references I noted in my earlier post.  However, forms of the petroglyphs in the northern Great Basin vary wildly and generally depart from any anthro-association: Crook Motif: Expanded

    [1] By Crook or by Hook: Abstract petroglyph motifs in Lake County. Feb 18 2014

    [2] Bernard M. Jones, Jr. 2012. The Shaman's Crook: A Visual Metaphor Numinous Power in Rock Art. In Utah Rock Art Vol XXX, URARA.

    Look closely:  Two Crooks emerge, with dots and other figures - an old petroglyph as are most of rhe "floating" crooks in Lake County, Oregon

  • Free to be Wild. Again.

    Their survival means more than a wild animal among us.  Their survival, I am convinced, guarantees the tangible truth of our imaginations.  Ellen Meloy [1]

    In December, a group of Bighorn Sheep ran free in the Klamath River canyon after relocation and release by ODFW [2].

    Bighorns populated central and southeast Oregon’s mountains, rims, and scarps until arrival of euroamericans with domestic sheep herds (competition and disease) and an efficient passion for killing wild ungulates.  Given a very few decades, Bighorns were extinct in Oregon by the early 20th century.  In the 1950s Bighorns were re-introduced into the basalt rims of Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge in Lake County. [3]

    Petroglyphs lakeside west of Hart Mountain attest to the special place Bighorn Sheep held in thought and expression of indigenous peoples.  Petroglyphs appear on the capping basalt blocks tumbled from the high rims, the preferred terrain of the sheep.  These selected petroglyphs, from a rich and varied tradition, are probably late Holocene, the last 1000-1500 years.

    Bighorn Sheep petroglyphs at Hart Lake

    [1] Eating Stone: Imagination and the Loss of the Wild (2005).  Ellen Meloy’s journey with the spirit of Desert Bighorns inspires through adventure, patience, and humor infused with a deep caring. Highly recommended. -DB

    [2] ODFW release notice with video (2 minutes), December 2014: http://www.dfw.state.or.us/news/2014/december/120514.asp

    [3] 1983 Bighorn Sheep report (10 MB download) provides habitat analysis for SE Oregon: http://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/pubs/pnw_gtr159.pdf

    Coda. As noble as restoration has been, and as tenacious as these sheep can be, the new normal of extreme drought in SE Oregon may result someday in petroglyphs speaking to a dry and silent world devoid of most of the creatures we now treasure. -DB

  • The Necessity within the Circle

    There is a difference of feeling between saying "the circle is a scientific or philosophical idea" and saying, "the circle is an archetypal idea." Archetypal adds the further implication of basic root structure, generally human, a necessary universal with consequents. The circle is not just any scientific idea; it is basic, necessary universal. Archetypal gives this kind of value.  James Hillman [1]

    We arrive to circles with a point of view.  A tension arises. Circle scribing universal form. Circle embodying a particular meaning for the people of a specific time and place.

    The value Hillman alludes to arises not from interpreting. Instead, holding close to the image. This allowing is to enter the circle. We may intuit a commonality emerging from the shared heritage of our human minds. Beyond that, as he says: “An archetypal quality emerges through (a) precise portrayal of the image; (b) sticking to the image while hearing it metaphorically; (c) discovering the necessity within the image; (d) experiencing the unfathomable analogical richness of the image.” [1]
    [1] James Hillman, “Inquiry into Image,” Spring, 1977, p 82.  (As cited in A Blue Fire, edited by Thomas Moore, 1989. 26-27.)

    Album: Petroglyph Circles
    Below, "Necessity within the Circle"  Hart-Warner Uplands, Lake County

  • Of Slicks and Glyphs

    One’s experience deepens when encountering bedrock boulders with grinding slicks and attendant petroglyphs. The dimensional surfaces of the in-place stones reflect material processes of habitation. Which came first, how and why, is not as important as recognizing these as layered markers of peoples living in and moving through this landscape.

    Photos: Slicks and Glyphs

  • Dark Shape Swimming

    Dark Shape Swimming

    A Stone Age painting
    on a Sahara boulder:
    a shadowy shape that swims
    on some ancient river.

    With no weapon, and no plan,
    Neither at rest nor hurrying,
    the swimmer is parted from his shadow
    which is slipping along the bottom.

    He has fought to get free
    from millions of sleeping leaves,
    to make it to the other shore
    and join his shadow again.

    - Tomas Tranströmer [1]
    This poem, written in the 1950s, may reference images in a Wadi Sura cave, on the Egyptian border near Libya - the Cave of Swimmers. [2]  

    [1] From: The Half-finished Heaven: the Best Poems of Tomas Tranströmer, selected and translated by Robert Bly, 2001, Graywolf Press

    [2] Cave of Swimmers figures prominently in the 1992 book The English Patient and in its 1996 film adaptation. The cave shown in the film is not the original but a film set created by a contemporary artist. Fame has taken a toll as an increase in visitors has increased damage to the cave’s paintings. 

    Photo by Roland Unger, all rights reserved. Detail of swimmers, Wadi Sur

  • Ghosts, Souls, Spirits – and the Numen

    Souls and ghosts are separate entities and again are sharply distinct from spirits. -Leslie Spier [1]

    With “a transition from the material to the psychical point of view… three dimensions become two as the perspective of nature, flesh, and matter fall away, leaving an existence of immaterial, mirrorlike images, eidola. We are in the land of the soul.” -James Hillman [2]

    Verne Ray discussed and compared what and how spirits, souls, and ghosts were felt and responded to among the indigenous peoples of cultural area he calls the Plateau of northwestern America. [3]

    Ray characterizes spirits as forms of power, which may assume animal, or anthropomorphic forms. The spirit does not reside in the human body, yet the soul is the “animating force in the body.” When the body dies and decays there is a separation of the soul from the body. “The soul becomes transformed into a ghost and continues to exist.” He adds: “unless it immediately goes to the land of the dead.” Leslie Spier’s 1930 Klamath Ethnography was one of mnay sources for the distinctions he discusses. [1]

    Robert David also draws on Spier’s work [4]. David claries the relationship for the Klamath. Spirits manifest as animals, as natural elements, or as “anthropomorphic beings.” They dwell in natural places. The soul is in the body, near the heart. As an animating breathe of life, all creatures have souls.  When a person dies, the soul separates and departs for the land of the dead. Differing somewhat from Ray, he says ghosts are souls returning from the land of the dead and, transformed as beings, are generally dangerous and feared. He emphasizes, following Spier, “Spirits, souls, and ghosts all play different roles in Klamath-Modoc cosmology.”

    How do we think-with rock-art images when the original intent or purpose has been obscured by time, weathering, and cultural change? This question came to mind as last month I studied these carvings on cliff in the Deschutes River Canyon [5].  Wondering… Are these figures? Do they represent? If so, what, and how?

    Among a variety of carvings on various cliffs, at one site eleven figures appear with human-or-animal-like attributes. These images float. They do not seem to represent persons or corporeal beings, rather dream or myth images. This group of unusual carved images locate approximately equidistant between the traditional tribal territories the Klamath peoples in south central Oregon and The Dalles on the Columbia River. Is there a connecting link or thread? A relationship to Plateau tribal culture? I don’t know. I am also not aware whether this group of carvings have been described or studied. (Note 1)  As is usual with petroglyphs, in the absence of reliable dating and known cultural affiliation or influences, discerning the intention or sequence is not possible.

    To extend this thinking-with, I turn to James Hillman, an archetypal psychologist working from the western tradition. Ray and David articulate too through a western lens, citing ethnologists, notably Spier, to arrive at the namings: spirit, soul, ghost. Hillman points out “shadow images … fill archetypal roles: they are personae, masks, in the hollow of which is the numen.” [6]  He encourages us, citing Jung, to look to the “significance of archetypal contents.” Hillman’s numen, as an animating or divine essence, infuses these realms and offers a useful concept as it reveals the depth of how human consciousness may apprehend the invisible.

    SOURCES 
    [1] Leslie Spier. 1930. Klamath Ethnography. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnography, Vol. 30, No. 1, pp. 1-338. p.100 (cited by Ray 1939 p. 78)
    [2] James Hillman, 1979. The Dream and the Underworld. Harper & Row. p. 51
    [3] Verne Ray. 1939 Cultural Relations in the Plateau of Northwestern America. Fredrick Webb Hodge Anniversary Publication Fund, Vol. III.
    [4] Robert David. 2012. The Landscape of Klamath Basin Rock Art. UC Berkeley. pp. 18-19.
    To complement David’s work about the Klamath Basin, and to compare with the culture of the Modoc Plateau, see Verne Ray. 1963. Primitive Pragmatists: The Modoc Indians of Northern California. University of Washington Press.
    [5] About Central Oregon's Wild River Wilderness:  Oregon Natural Desert Association
    [6] James Hillman. 1979. The Dream and the Underworld. Harper & Row. p. 60-61
    Note 1: The Lorings (1982) provide a good summary of two other sites in the canyon of the middle Deschutes River in Jefferson County: Site 68, Peninsula, and Site 69, Steelhead Falls.

  • Traversing the Oregon Badlands

    Where else can you leave one of the microbrew centers of the West, drive half an hour and hike right into an official Wilderness? Well, Bend to the Oregon Badlands.  Where else can you traverse a dry river that during the wetter years of the Pleistocene was a rushing river cutting a gorge and narrow canyons through the basalt. Millennia of churning water also ground hollows, often called tinajas in desert areas, which can hold water long after the a seasonal river disappears.  These modest water catchments were an attractive, even essential, water source for desert dwellers and travelers.  And places where painted or carved symbols or signs may appear.

    One such rock painting is located on an oval rock face near bedrock tinajas in a Dry River slot canyon in the Oregon Badlands Wilderness, east of Bend.  Though now faded, the simple design is precise, even poised.  Whether marker, a prayer, a signal of gratitude, or perhaps recognition of the power of place, I delighted in the beauty of this quiet congruence.

    Note: This general area, along the Dry River Trail, is known as the Bombing Range, due to its use as a gunnery and, yes, bombing range in WW II.  Big Bad Lands. This pictograph place is thus so named in the Lorings’ compilation as site 83. There is another rock painting locale a few miles to the southeast within the upper Dry River Canyon (Lorings’ site 84), on adjacent, non-Wilderness BLM lands. 

    About the Badlands:  ONDA -  an organization instrumental is the 2008 designation of Oregon Badlands Wilderness by the then-do-something-good US Congress. 

    Below, tinaja in canyon's basalt near Dry River rock paintings

  • What is an image?

    This rock painting is an image, faded, now barely discernible.  But where does the image begin?  And, where does it end?  In this case the image is not simply the lines of red ochre forming a design. It is also the distinct, slender triangle of basalt pointing downward.  It is the crevices that set apart this sculptural form.  By extension it is the surround, the place, image embodied as narrative relationship, moving inward and out.

    Image is an elusive word for concepts used by many to denote a range of meanings.  I will go with James Elkins who said, in The Domain of Images, for his purposes, “an image is patterns on surfaces, taken in by the eye.” He adds, an image is the same as a “visual artifact.” [1]

    The second image at work here is the photograph, another pattern on a surface. The diverse images in the album display selected framings of this singular rock painting.  Some with modifications of contrast and coloration to help “see-again” the painted image. The painter saw, made, lived in, and understood a context very different than I as I stood before it.  And very different than the one you view on the screen, as a digital rectangle. Together, the images tell a story in the present pointing to a time past and implying time forward.  Now it’s your story.

  • Non-Rock-Art Visibilities: Missings

    Non-Rock-Art section under the Visibilities tab has been created.  The primary focus of this website is Rock Art Oregon.  I will continue to avidly pursue this intent. And, from time to time, I will add collections of images representing my interests in public art and cultural messagings in public places.

    Missings is a project that interprets loss and yearning through photographing the portrait photos on  Missing Pet posters found tacked onto utility poles.  

    Click for a recent Eugene Weekly article:   LOST: Douglas Beauchamp captures the poetry in missing pet fliers  Appreciation to Reporter Bryan Kalbrosky, Art Editor Alex Notman, and Art Director Todd Cooper for including this story in EW's Annual Pets Issue.

    To view the three initial sets:   Missings   (Feline &  Canine & Texts)

    Photo:  “Sophia & "White Paws" - answers to both”   (2013)

  • Mysterious…

    Mysterious… when we know little, when we confront an unknown.  Often I become skeptical when a sentence or a title begins with mysterious.  Yet it is the word that emerges when I discovered this spring these two images as happenstance from separate threads of my research. How can this be, I thought as I looked, then studied the designs.

    The first - a sketch of a sloping rock on the edge of river gorge in central India by Mr. Rivett-Carnac, an officer of Britain’s Bengal Civil Service. The drawing was one aspect of his investigations and published in the 1877.  The second - a photograph I recorded in April during a journey in the Owyhee River Canyon in eastern Oregon. 

    The stone in India has 291 cup-marks, two of which have circles, arrayed in near vertical and slightly curving parallels.  The Owyhee boulder has similar number of cup-mark pits, similarly arrayed. It has one cup-pit with a circle.  It is striking that these complex arrays are each distinctive from other design-clusters among the thousands I have viewed and studied.  Yet exhibit a powerful resonance with each other.

    To see a large version, click on the image below, you arrive at the Cup-Dot-Pit page, then zoom in.  May you enjoy the mystery!  (Noting, these two images are for visual comparison and are not to scale.) Your Comment – and insight – is welcome; please use the above tab.

  • What is an anthropomorph?

    Appearing to represent a human? Human-like in form? Human in spirit form? Does the commonly used term “Anthropomorph” reveal or distract?   I suggest the term misleads.  Forms indicating human-figure-like attributes reflect action, a place-specific performance understood as event. Perhaps “Action Figure” is a better way to characterize this presence.  Dashing figure, birthing woman, shaman, guardian, enemy, ghost, phantasm, or spectral being - all offer a presence, move as bodies through the animated life-world, heavy or ephemeral, actual or imagined, from the past toward futures uncertain.  

    Consider these six Action Figure images from a single extended basalt rim running north-south in the Hart Warner Uplands of southeastern Lake County.

  • Cups, Circles, and Golf Links

    In the universal language of simple forms, the circle (or the sphere) signifies both that which transcends man and remains beyond his reach (the sun, the cosmic totality, ‘God’), and also that which, at its own sub-lunar level, related to germinations, to the maternal, to the intimate.  -Jacques Cauvin [1]

    Where the (lava) surface is smoother, mysterious petroglyphs were carved… in this historic setting, the Kings' Course has been called a surreal golf experience.  -Waikoloa Beach Resort [2].

    One may say that we seek with our human hands to create a second nature in the natural world. -Cicero, 45 BCE

    Wooler Golf Club extends along the gentle sloping north side of Dod Law, a hill dome a few miles south of the Scottish border in north Northumberland, England.  Uphill from the golf links is the crest of Dod Law, the highest part of Doddington Moor [3]. During the Neolithic, beginning about 6000 BP, was a time when marking stone with rock-art became a common expression in Northumberland. Fell sandstone outcrops in highland areas attracted hunters and the first herders.  For photos:  Dod Law album

    Waikoloa Beach Resort’s two golf courses, near the South Kohala coast on Hawaii’s Big Island, surround the ‘Anaeho’omalu petroglyphs, now called the Waikoloa Petroglyph Reserve. Carving of petroglyphs began about 1000 BP on the horizontal and open pāhoehoe lava flows and was most intensive during the 14th to the 16th centuries. Bulldozing for the golf courses and artificial lakes in the 1970s-1980s eradicated at least half of the estimated 9000 petroglyphs encompassed within the original three-acre lava field. [4] For photos:  ‘Anaeho’omalu/Waikoloa album

    The two rock-art sites have in common a predominance of abstract markings almost all of which are cups, circles, and variations on circular elements, though spirals are absent from both sites. Both sites have "enclosure" designs, straight or curved grooves surronding other elements, usually cups. Yet it goes beyond motifs. Georgia Lee's observation, writing about Hawai’I Island, could easily apply as well to the rock-art of Northumberland. Indeed, it seems to me it is so clearly said it offers worthwhile insight when considering most sites:

    It is place and place marking, more so than the petroglyphs themselves, that are of significance.  Thus the petroglyphs gained significance in the association with place; and in the process of being marked, the significance of the places themselves heightened, inscribed with the powers that made then special in the first place. There is dialectic here, a re-enforcing rhythm that enables place to speak through symbol and symbol to speak through place. [5]

    References

    • [1] Cauvin, Jacques. 2000. The Birth of the Gods and the Origins of Agriculture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p.132. Cited by Richard Bradley. 2012. In The Idea of Order: the Circular Archetype in Prehistoric Europe. 
    • [2] http://www.waikoloabeachgolf.com/kings-course
    • [3] Dod Law, Main panel: http://rockartmob.ncl.ac.uk/main/d/   
    • http://rockart.ncl.ac.uk/panel_detail.asp?pi=35
    • http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/era/section/panel/overview.jsf?eraId=53
    • [4] Lee, Georgia, and Edward Stasack. 1999. Spirit of place the petroglyphs of Hawaiʻi. pp.56-64. 
    • [5] Lee, Georgia.  2002.  "Wahi Pana: Legendary places on Hawai ‘i Island." In Inscribed Landscapes: Marking and Making Place.  pp 79-92.  Edited by Bruno David and Meredith Wilson. University of Hawaiʻi Press.

    Below: (1) Dod Law (Main Panel A) and (2) ‘Anaeho’omalu (Waikoloa Petroglyph Reserve.)

  • Matters of this Place called Earth

    Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change. -IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri, March 2014. The effects of climate change, with rising global temperatures, already being felt across the globe, will likely be "severe, pervasive, and irreversible" in the years to come, impacting agriculture, human health, and water supplies across all continents, oceans, and ecosystems. (UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released March 2014)

    ... At the eastern tip of the backwater of Lake Celilo, the Columbia River impoundment by the Dalles Dam, basalt cliffs rise out of the still water. If you stand on the cliff’s edge, on the Washington shore, you will look south and east at the downriver face of the John Day Dam. Power lines lacing through looming gray lattice towers rise and fall conveying the river’s captured power to distant places. White, tri-bladed wind turbines form their own turgid lines of ascent and descent along all the receding ridges up and down the wide river plain flattened by ice age floods.

    This particular cliff-place, with its basalt block columns, offers the largest accumulation of “bear paw” petroglyphs on the Columbia, an estimated 150-180. [1]

    Two realities about these petroglyphs occur after careful viewing. There are very few petroglyphs of any other design at this site.  And: an enticing range of design variations on the “paws” motif is found here.   What this may mean is purely speculation and conjecture, meaning we simply don’t know. However, I will suggest whatever the glyphs-makers’ specific intents, this site was and is a place of power. If so, the irony is readily apparent. Power - accumulated, distilled, concentrated - moves far and wide. As the animal abides.

    It is entirely possible, should human systems collapse in the not-too-distant future, and the concrete abutments, towers, turbines fall silent, the animal markings will move from the stone walls outward, into and through this ever-changing Earth, alive to possibility.

    [1] This site is documented by Loring (1982) and McClure (1978), and mentioned by Keyser (1992.) It is accessible to the public.  Photos by Douglas Beauchamp, March 2014: Tower & Fishing Patforms; John Day Dam; "Bear Paws" on basalt.



    ...A final reflection from Jungian analyst Marion Woodman: The masculine struggle… as a relationship to the feminine, extends into a collective attitude to the planet - Mother Earth - distorting her natural rhythms until she can take no more. This disturbing situation is in large measure the result of a flawed solar myth that confers upon the masculine a heroic status, which now threatens us with extinction. From The Maiden King (1998).

  • By Crook or by Hook: Abstract petroglyph motifs in Lake County

    A simple and distinctive motif appears at a number of sites in the playa lake-basalt rim plateaus in southeastern Lake County, generally east of Lake Abert to the Guano Valley.

    Its form is a widely pecked and/or abraded vertical line terminating in a half-circle downward curve. It appears to be a highly intentional form, as if meant to be a hook, crook, or cane. Yet it is may not be representative at all. It may be a symbol or icon with a specific meaning, perhaps a holder of place, bearer of power, or a kind of sign-as-indicator.

    The motif, though unusual given the thousands of petroglyphs in this region, is always part of a complex panel. Sometimes the “crook” seems to be clearly older or more recent than the accompanying designs, part of a petroglyph panel comprised of traditions spanning centuries, perhaps millennia. The carver may have intended to augment an already marked stone, or its presence may have attracted later markings. As such it appears as a production within a sequence of traditions.

    Crooks are usually discussed in rock art literature as a staff-like design associated with an anthropomorph. Sally Cole discusses crooks in the Basketmaker tradition as commonly depicted and related to fertility [1]. She illustrates a solid pecked crook suspended near a “copulating” couple “graphically emphasizing a symbolic association between crooks and fertility.” Alvin McLane considers a variety of crooks in southern Nevada and Arizona [2]. The discovery on an actual southern Great Basin crook is the focus of a report by Musser-Lopez drawing on the ethnographic work of Carobeth Laird [3].

    [1] Cole, Sally J. "Iconography and symbolism in Basketmaker rock art." Rock Art of the Western Canyons (1989): 59-85.

    [2] McLane, Alvin R. "The Cane Man Petroglyph, Esmeralda County, Nevada." Nevada Archaeologist (1998): 31-29.

    [3] Musser-Lopez, R. A. "Yaa? vya's Poro: The Singular Power Object of a Chemehuevi Shaman." Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 5, no. 2 (1983).

  • The Place of the Heart

    This design calls to mind the Pit River mythological being World’s Heart, te-ga-te-hataji, according to Floyd Buckskin, in a joint paper with Arlene Benson (Modoc 75; 1985). The authors describe the many ways the upper divided triangular motif, as World Heart with the connecting line(s) and the circles below, can be interpreted in Pit River myth.  They also note how this panel unites concepts of Pit River and Modoc myths. Photo Douglas Beauchamp 2013. 

  • An Absence of Eyes

    Among the ten of thousands of petroglyphs in the Northern Great Basin you will not see eyes.  No human-like faces or forms with prominent eyes looking out.  Peering at you or past you. Yet, despite many rock art researchers obsession with typologies, styles, and motifs, this simple broad – even breathtaking - difference has not been studied or explained.

    The absence of eyes in the rock art of southeastern Oregon and contiguous regions in the Great Basin is a compelling visual cultural distinction, indeed perhaps a defining and characteristic difference, from the powerful presence of eyes in rock art and other art forms of the traditional cultures of Columbia River Basin and the Northwest Coast.

    Australian archaeologist Ben Watson offers an intriguing discussion, with a range of visual examples, of anthropomorphic faces with prominent eyes appearing in prehistoric rock art.  An emphasis of a frontal view with a high degree of symmetry derives from human perception and recognition, he argues. Watson highlights hunter-gatherer societies in many regions of the world and easily acknowledges faces with prominent eyes are comparatively rare in some regions [1].

    For decades anthropologists have studied cultural change and the dynamics of human movements and influences spanning many millennia throughout the intermountain realms of the Columbia Plateau and Great Basin [2]. I hope they will look more closely at eyes – or their absence [3].  Rock art, ever elusive, is there to be seen.

    [1] Watson, Ben. "The eyes have it: human perception and anthropomorphic faces in world rock art." Antiquity 85, no. 327 (2011): 87-98.

     (2] For example, the work of Luther Cressman, Mel Aikens and others at the University of Oregon and most recently the work of James C. Chatters, Kenneth Ames, Charlotte Beck, and George T. Jones, in books such as Meetings at the Margins: Prehistoric Cultural Interactions in the Intermountain West (2012) and From the Pleistocene to the Holocene: human organization and cultural transformations in prehistoric North America (2012). Also of interest: Don Hann’s 2013 paper “Is the Medium the Message?  Petroglyphs and Pictographs as Cultural Markers at the Interface of the Great Basin and Columbia Plateau in Oregon.” IFRAO 2013 Proceedings, American Indian Rock Art, Volume 40.

    [3] There IS a curious exception - in the northernmost Great Basin near Petroglyph Lake on the Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge.  See Eyes album.  More:  Eyes Petroglyphs along Puget Sound  and the July 19, 2013 blog.

  • Happy Archaic Year! (or is it Terminal-Paleo?)

    The Paleoindian record … is noteworthy for its paucity of unambiguous items of art and ornamentation. The real fluorescence of symbolically laden material culture in North America comes during the subsequent Archaic period, several millennia after the last vestiges of Paleoindian lifeways had disappeared from the archaeological record.  -John Speth, 2013

    There are four or five sites in Oregon that qualify as Paleoarchaic, that is archaeological components chronometrically dated in excess of 11,500 cal B.P.:  Paisley Caves, Newberry Crater, Connelly Caves, and Indian Sands (Curry County) (See Davis et al. 2012 for Paleo discussion.)  Rimrock Draw Rockshelter (Harney County) may be considered another.

    However, as yet no rock art in North America has been firmed dated to older than the end of what Davis defines as the late-Pleistocene marker of 11,500 BP (cal years), presumably the transition from Paleoarchaic to Archaic or the Early Holocene era. 

    Benson et al, in their ground-breaking study at Winnemucca Lake (2013), which cites Cannon and Ricks’ (1986) Great Basin Carved Abstract style, conclude, “We consider the Winnemucca Lake petroglyphs to represent an early archaic style characterized by distinctive design elements and motifs created using deeply carved lines and cupules. …  specific motifs that are common to both Winnemucca Lake and Long Lake sites are also found elsewhere in the western Great Basin from Oregon to southeastern California.”   

    As we revel this Newer Year, let's respectfully enjoy this very old Carved Abstract rock art – four panels selected from a site in the southeast Oregon highlands near Long Lake tilting south toward Winnemucca Lake. Settle into the beauty of the rock art itself flowing through times’ mysterious portal. Offer gratitude to the makers who crossed the lands and gazed upon the stones, the bones of the earth, long ago. And to those who explore the measure of human presence in these lands.  

    References

    Benson, Larry V., et al. 2013. Dating North America's oldest petroglyphs, Winnemucca Lake subbasin, Nevada.  Journal of Archaeological Science, Vol 40:12.

    Davis, Loren G., Samuel C. Willis, and Shane J. Macfarlan. 2012. Lithic Technology, Cultural Transmission, and the Nature of the Far Western Paleoarchaic/Paleoindian Co-Tradition. In Meetings at the Margins: Prehistoric Cultural Interactions in the Intermountain West,  Rhode, David, ed., University of Utah Press, 47:64.

    O’Grady, Patrick, Margaret M. Helzer, and Scott P. Thomas. 2012. A Glimpse into the 2012 University of Oregon Archaeology Field School at Rimrock Draw Rockshelter. Current Archaeological Happenings in Oregon 37(2-3):4-7.

    Speth, John. 2013. PaleoIndian big-game hunters in North America: are we misreading the evidence? Quaternary International, Volume 285, 197-198.

  • Boulder on a pedestal bears many meanings

    A photograph provides an instant of a phenomenon, not the essence of the phenomenon. Representation is unapologetically interpretive.   -Scott R. Hutson, in Past Presented, 2013.

    During road building along the Klamath River in 1948 a petroglyph boulder was re-discovered.  Immediately moved from Gottville 20 miles south to the then-new Fort Jones Museum and placed on an outdoor pedestal, the boulder was the focus of an influential and oft-cited 1953 paper by Robert Heizer, Sacred Rain-Rocks of Northern California. The boulder is generally referred to as the Gottville rain-rock (Heizer 1953), or as the Gottville rock or boulder, or the Shasta rain rock.  Dixon (in The Shasta 1907) did not see it and does not name it or speculate on its purpose. 

    Alongside the dozens of cupules and the four or more deep linear carvings appear several  pairs* of carefully-placed, well-articulated and deeply grooved “bear paws” petroglyphs, very rare west of the northern Sierra Nevada. It so the only cupule or rain rock boulder I am aware of that includes bear tracks.  The distinct images disrupt, suggesting multiple traditions over an expanse of time.  (*Heizer notes three pairs, but examination reveals several, even with the extensive weathering.)

    As with many labels, “rain-rock,” has a certain ring and takes on a life of its own as a convenient, albeit limiting, functional category. And as with most labels and namings contains as a drop of truth.  However, anthropological interpretation and the popular culture have a way of exceeding label-limits regardless of whatever purposes governed the original makers’ intentions. Citing Goddard’s early 20th century Hupa ethnology, Heizer notes the Sugar Bowl valley boulder, connected with influencing weather, “is called by white people the rain-rock.” The Hupa name for it translates as "Thunder's Rock." The Hupa occupy the lower Trinity River area, above its confluence with the Klamath.

    Recently a local writer offered a sweep of speculations: the stone was used to “entice the Great Spirit to give rain” or, by filling the cupules with mud, to “politely ask the Great Spirit to stop the precipitation.” She continued, “Some Native Americans claim these were made by bears. Others say the scratches were made to produce a white powder which represented snow. …  others say the scratches were a plea for food.”   She concluded, “The mystery of the rock is left to an individual’s beliefs. But the massive boulder is loved and revered by most visitors as a symbol of earlier residents of Siskiyou County.”

    The three selected photographs via lighting, camera angle, cropping, and the inherent flattening, intentionally abstract - as instants of a phenomenon - the two-ton, richly dimensional boulder and its carvings.  Asking, where do we look?  How do we see?   For more photos of the boulder in present context:  Rain-Rock

  • What It Is: the elusive persistence of rock art

    Dog Creek Cave is, Rick Colman tells me on our stroll Sunday to view and photograph the pictographs, a grotto. Located a few miles northwest of the famous Steamboat Inn on the North Umpqua River, it’s two miles north of the river on Forest Service lands. The meander to get here, though, includes a 12-mile drive on four forest roads and a two-mile hike on a well-done forest trail.

    Why pictographs here, when there are so very few sites in the western Cascades?  And why such a variety in the few dozen motifs and figures at this remote site?  Writers and researchers tend  to generalize - “Columbia Plateau influence” or a spirit-power quest location - or particulate - “it's an insect.”  Maybe. The truth feels deeper, more nuanced, reflective of a way of being-in-the-world difficult to grasp for this 21st century observer. 

    Answers elude.  Yet, consider the observations of the Lorings (1983) about the similarity of some figures at Dog Creek to some at Picture Gorge on the upper John Day River and other sites east of the Cascades.  Too, somewhat similar to possibly older motifs at Bottle Creek, an isolated and modest rock shelter overlooking the Umpqua River about 60 miles downstream from Dog Creek.

    Below, details:  Dog Creek (top). Picture Gorge (middle).  Bottle Creek (bottom).

  • Beginnings and Endings: Multigenerational Diversity in Rock Art

    Using individual panels with distinctly different levels of patination helps to focus on time as one of the major factors in the variability of rock art elements. (Her emphasis) -Alanah Woody 1

    The desert:  the mirage of eternity, or close to it, not really a void only because of the deep calm of the wild waiting patiently to wrap itself around you.  -Ariel Dorfman 2

    Why do I seek and find inspiration among the cluttered basalt rims and canyons? Or is it insight?  In-sight into the expanse of time, beginnings and endings, explicit or elusive.

    Three journeys in September to the High Dry Lakes* of SE Lake County, Oregon, have taken me to multitudes of rock rims and multigenerations of petroglyphs, many thousands of years old, deep, dark, imbued with wind and weather.  Others, pecked or carved in the last few hundred years, reflecting light, revealing bright stone.

    Diversity of this region’s rock art stands out as an almost overwhelming richness of time, place, style, and tradition.  Almost?  There is a point where I seek to organize the variables into a sensible grasp of this variety. To make sense.  Rather than labeling, I offer a series of images representative of this expansive variability: Multigenerations of Petroglyphs 

    1.  Alanah Woody in Layer by Layer:  A Multigenerational Analysis of the Massacre Lake Rock Art Site, 1996.

    2. Ariel Dorfman in Desert Memories: Journeys Through the Chilean North, 2003.

     * The “High Dry Lakes” region I define as the roughly rectangular zone, in SE Oregon and NW Nevada, east of Warner Lakes Basin to Guano Rim.  And south from Poker Jim Ridge, on the northern boundary of the Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge, crossing the southern Oregon border to the Massacre Lakes region of Nevada.

  • Petroglyph Lake attracts lightning and visitors

    Petroglyph Lake, at the northerly periphery of Lake County’s high dry lakes region, is a popular and instructive place located near the northwest corner of the Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge.  A marked, two-mile easy road and a half-mile hike leads to the distinctive basalt rim on the western edge of a year-round desert lake.  The site holds what appears to be at least three distinct traditions of petroglyphs: recent “loose” figurative spirit motifs; archaic abstract, often deeply carved and patinaed; and a carefully articulated anthropomorph-lizard style. 

    In addition to Weides’ and Lorings’ descriptive documentation (site 146), Jon Daehnke and Anan Raymond of the US Fish and Wildlife Service published a thorough report in 2008 based on a detailed recording in the late 1990s of 65 panels with more than 360 design elements.  They also mapped rock structures such as cairns and rings. (The Archaeology of Petroglyph Lake: Landscapes, Publics Past and Public Present. )

    Arlene Benson and Floyd Buckskin conducted an unusual study in the late 1980s assessing possible relationships of petroglyphs to lightning strikes.  Their study was thorough but inconclusive.  However, they provide interesting ethnographic details, for example about lizard power (Achumawi, or Pit River) and the power of thunder and lightning recognized as spirits to many native peoples.  ("Magnetic Anomalies at Petroglyph Lake." Rock Art Papers 8 (1991): 53-64.)

  • Clarity of intent, certainty of form: Five-lobed motifs

    This image offers similarities to the other lobed figures I posted earlier, on May 1 and June 11. Again, the five “twinned” lobes.  Located in the Modoc National Forest of northeast California, east of Clear Lake in the Willow Creek area and west of Blue Mountain, this figure is part of larger basalt panel facing west toward Doublehead Mountain, which is sacred to the Modoc and Pit River peoples.  (Recommended: Arlene Benson and Floyd Buckskin.  "Modoc-75." Rock Art Papers [1985].)

    The four lobed images are discrete examples of a clearly articulated motif distributed over the expansive over-lapping territories of the northern Great Basin, Modoc Plateau, and Medicine Lake Highlands in what-is-now NW Nevada, SE Oregon, and NE California.

  • Cape Horn Pictographs Fading, yet Telling

    It is testimony to the patient observation and recording of the Lorings and of Woodward/Speciale in the 1970s that they were able to document a good sampling of the rock art at Cape Horn before it fades or erodes away. The pictographs are very faded, except for one that appears more recent with more thickly applied pigment. During a recent brief visit I found the rock art difficult to see well, or decipher, and many could not be found.  

    The stacked image below compares, from top:  an enhanced photo from a recent visit; the Lorings sketch (published 1982 as within Site 5); and Woodward/Speciale’s interpretative rendering (1982).  All the images are severely "displaced" for purposes of illustration and comparison - and to show the difficulty in seeing and documenting weathering rock art. And, by implication, the challenge of understanding the relationship of this site and its rock art within a regional context.

    The top image, dramatically enhanced (Aperture) and isolated for study purposes, is well above the high river mark on a basalt cliff face. It appears to be a shield figure, which would link it to the eastern Columbia Plateau; perhaps further south.  (I’ve seen a few similar petroglyphs in Owyhee Canyonlands.)  Woodward notes, “Unusual is the occurrence here of numerous elements that may be abstract representations of the vulva or shield motifs” (38).

    More photos:  Cape Horn, Columbia River

  • How is it?

    This image offers similarities to the two lobed figures I posted earlier, on May 1, one in Nevada, one of California. This, in Oregon, also with five twinned lobes (the lower lichen-covered), with a finial cupping, or blossoming, or offering.  The image may seem fixed. Our look, or the photograph, may make it seem so.

    The act of maker expressed experience of a way in the world.  The world continues, it opens, it moves. So to see and ask How is it? feels right in the presence of the image in stone, on the basalt rim, in this place, a playa south of Hart Mountain, facing east.