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  • Horizons Thicken and Compress

    Let me define wholeness as horizon rather than destination: a horizon which recedes as the journey through life unfolds. Anne Buttimer, 1985 [1]

    Humanity is inside the whale now, bumping up against that thing once taken as the ‘open’ horizons of nature and the future, which now feels claustrophobically close and foreclosed. … Inside that thing, knowing what it’s hard to not know about rising global emissions levels, defrosting methane hydrates and negative feedback loops, even mountain air is no longer clean and fresh. The air is now thick with atmosphere… Simon Bayly, 2012 [2]

    This decades-old juniper, on the edge of an ephemeral lake in the basin and range country of Oregon, the only tree as far as the eye can see, pulls power toward place -  a slim rock-cleft shelter, rock features, petroglyphs.

    In 2014, this solo juniper glowed, alive and well.  In 2016, brittle, desiccated and dead. Between: 2015, a year of continued drought and heat; the northern Great Basin wavers. 

    In our 21st century time, as horizons thicken, recession compresses, how and wherefore art the sacred power?

    To view:  Horizons

    [1] Anne Buttimer, Irish geographer, emeritus professor of geography, University College, Dublin.   Quote from "Nature, water symbols, and the human quest for wholeness." In Dwelling, place and environment, pp. 259-280.   Springer Netherlands, 1985. 

    [2] Simon Bayly, University of Roehampton (London), Department of Drama, Theatre & Performance.  Quote from “The Persistence of Waste” (online version and in Performance Research: On Ecology, 2012]

  • Lake Abert: Spirits as Witness

    A place is deeper than the sum of its aspects.  My thought as I travel the 15 miles of US Highway 395 curving along the east shore of Lake Abert. 

    The indigenous peoples who inhabited the lakeshore adjusted the location of their dwellings as the lake expanse fluctuated over many millennia. Rick Pettigrew’s archaeological scoping reveals dynamic cultural change. He analyzes the surface archaeology – rock features and rock art - demonstrating sequential occupations linked with lake elevations. [1] 

    Today people – and birds – find the lakeshore uninhabitable. 

    “Under Oregon law, Lake Abert has no legal right to any water at all.”

    In 2014 for the first time is 80 years Lake Abert is - completely dried. [2a & 2b] A migration stopover for millions of birds that rely on the brine shrimp and alkali flies, the lake offered nothing.  Significant among many converging factors are the human manipulations and extractions of the Chewaucan River, the terminal lake’s only steady replenishment. 

    Beyond the reality of the region’s multi-year drought, is the strange story of the aptly-named River’s End Ranch, or perhaps better: Lake’s End Ranch.  Not only is the private ranch reservoir thick with 25 years of land- and water-use conflicts, the property owner’s dam-and-dike building in the 1990s ignored protection requirements and severely disturbed ancestral remains linked to four recognized tribes. [3]

    This year, 2015, looks to be the same to me during my mid-July visit to a few of the dozens of rock art sites distributed on the Lake’s east shore. [4]  Spirits emerge as witness as they have since time immemorial. And as they will when humans abandon the arid basin-and-range valleys as global heating accelerates.  [5]  

    [1]  Pettigrew, Richard M.  Archaeological investigations on the east shore of Lake Abert, Lake County, Oregon. Department of Anthropology, University of Oregon, 1985. 

    [2a] Lake Abert Dries Up, a 15-minute video from Oregon Field Guide (OBP), April 2014. This webpage also includes links to some source documents.

    [2b] Oregon’s only saltwater lake is disappearing, and scientists don't know why.”  July 3 2014. Oregonlive.

    [3] Klamath Tribe near remedies over disturbed ancestral remains.”  May 2000. Indian Country Today Media Network. (Note: the Tribes concluded an agreement in late 2001.)

    [4] East Lake Abert Archeological District, encompassing 6000 acres, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.   This greatly expanded the 1974 nine-acre “Abert Lake Petroglyphs” NRHP listing. 

    [5] Warming Pushes Western U.S. Toward Driest Period in 1,000 Years

    Photos: Spirits as Witness

  • Dust, Drying, and Rock Art

    While Western windstorms have always deposited dust on mountains, some recent research suggests that the trend is worsening, likely due to a continuing drought but also to land use in the West that is exposing more bare soil to the wind. -Wall Street Journal, January 7, 2014

    Rapid climate change and potential catastrophic impacts are of major concern as they may severely challenge the ability of societies to respond and adapt due to environmental, economic, cultural and geopolitical constrains. [1]

    This is the grass that grows wherever the land is and the water is,   This is the common air that bathes the globe.  –Walt Whitman, from Song of Myself.

    Human activities and population growth accelerate the oscillations of climate patterns. One result:  increasing airborne dust from soil exposure and desiccation of the earth’s surface.  Three billion tons of dust release into the atmosphere every year - with complex effects.

    Dilemma of dust.  In a few millennia (sooner?) a few hardy observers and explorers will probe through sedimented layers of dust at the base of boulders and rims.  Luckily they will discover petroglyphs preserved though most of humankind will have disappeared along with many plants and animals from the desert west as we know it.  Some rock art will live on - a faint glimmer of trust in an unforeseeable future.

    Flip side of dust.  Dust offers one key to unraveling the past of rock art production. Cycles of airborne dust result in differential deposition. Layered markers worthy of study.  Findings help understand how changing climate shapes cultural sequences as peoples come and go, determined in great part by availability of the essential:  Water.

    In the Kimberley region of northwest Australia, a 1500-year mega-drought beginning about 5000 years BP coincided with the boundary between “the fine featured anthropomorphic figures of the Gwion Gwion or Bradshaw paintings, and broad stroke Wandjina figures.”  The dates were arrived at in part by studying the chemistry of airborne dusts deposited in the sediments of a mound spring. [1]

    In the arid western US, Varnish Microlamination (VLM) studies, refined over many years by Ronald Dorn and Tanzhuo Liu, have enabled more fine-grained dating for rock art researchers, David Whitley in particular. Rock varnish is a rock coating we usually refer to as patina.  Airborne dust in the form of fine clay minerals comprises the bulk of the sediments that form rock varnish on exposed rock. Notably, Manganese and Iron contribute staining and color - less so during arid times. Hence, discernible lamellae.  Whitley has integrated these studies with his extensive research in the Mojave Desert. The result is an important recent paper, far ranging, and provocative. I find Whitley convincing when he says, “The most conservative interpretation indicates that petroglyph production began in the western Great Basin at least 11,100 years ago and that it continued into the last 300 years.”  [2]

    Happily, both articles are open access:

    [1]  McGowan, Hamish, et al. 2012. Evidence of ENSO mega‐drought triggered collapse of prehistory Aboriginal society in northwest Australia Geophysical Research Letters 39, no. 22. ENSO?  El Niño-Southern Oscillation. 

    [2]  David S.Whitley. 2013. Rock Art Dating and the Peopling of the Americas.  Journal of Archaeology, Volume 2013, Article ID 713159, 15 pages.

    This 2007 article doesn't mention rock art – or dust – nonetheless a fascinating complement to the topic (PDF): Possible impacts of early-11th-, middle-12th-, and late-13th-century droughts on western Native Americans and the Mississippian Cahokians.   Notably, Senior author Larry Benson also led the team which recently established an early Holocene age of the Winnemucca Lake petroglyphs.