What changes, everything

There are hardly words to describe what's happened to our lands in the last eighteen months in the Columbus Hillside Preserve in Salt Lake City. A network of ridiculous and overbuilt trails have been stamped into this liminal landscape in addition to the existing and extensive trail network long in place. And now, this morning, I was walking out to the area where I have seen literally countless animals and in two years have never not seen at least one raptor on a visit, which have been daily for long stretches, and came upon one of those moments that toggle between the literal and the metaphoric. Too much shock for the body to adjust.

There was a change in the air this morning the moment I got on the trail. A lifelessness that I hadn't before experienced here. It was so overwhelming I put my binoculars in my pack because I had the feeling the wouldn't be needed. A road now has been plowed right through the middle of this little arm of wilderness that swings down out of the high Wasatch range into the city. It provided me with countless lessons. Seeing a ten foot wide road dug into the hillside was probably the single most breathtaking moment I've had since I heard that my grandfather had passed a couple years ago.

The turned up mud stuck to my shoes. There were no birds. The fox I'd seen last week of course is long gone. When will we stop? The answer of course is that we can't until we're forced to. And we will be forced to. The question I ask is this then, if history is a manifold of intertwining stories, and civilizations are subject to growth and decay just as any other adaptive complex system is, will some of us be able to survive? And how? I tend toward the pessimistic side of this spectrum. I see only this modern industrial civilization toeing too far out into the growth phase, becoming too specialized, become too intertwined so that the merest shock to the thing will collapse it. And that shock will come. It won't be a road plowed through this author's favorite bird watching territory. It won't be a ridiculous excuse for a president. It will be the last dying breath of the last predator on the earth. It will be the last flap of the last Monarch butterfly's wings as it struggles to make it up a Mexican volcano. It will be a glitch in the financial system. A mix of a one and a zero. Meaningless usually. We cannot continue like this. It can be different. We can slow down. We can not think nature can be managed any more than we can. We can stop growing. We can stop the cult of growth. There are many places in which to mount a defense against this shared insanity. Where will yours be? Where will mine be?


What once was

I set out to write here about the writing of a book consisting of a series of walks last winter in which I went deep looking for kestrels and found, instead, my soul. What kestrelheart has become though, is an account of my experiences in the Bonneville Basin through several different interactions with it. A history. A geography. A notebook. A story, or, a manifold of collapsing stories that intertwine with all the others. kestrelheart is developing into a much larger book about the history of the Basin and of Salt Lake Valley most particularly. How did it come to be here, look like this, get to be disfigured so heavily by us. A season following non-migrating kestrels has become another winter, this one in the company of the incredibly powerful Falco mexicanus, the selfsame bird I saw last winter a few times out in the far west desert of Utah. Different winter, different lessons, different kinds of staying around, same home. We live into knowledge only after the experience, or I do anyway. Holy is the transfiguration of the moment into self - memory. What emerges from my fingers when I set down to write about it is liturgy. To wit, the first words of kestrelheart as I imagined them this morning:

"What is history but someone else’s story. Rather, an innumerable threading of myriad stories twining endlessly round others. History is an empty word, a misleading too-tended path on which it’s easy to convince oneself that one is not, in fact, on an entirely arbitrary trail burnished by countless others. There are different ways to tell the story. Once, I’m convinced, one steps off these trails into the pathless wilderness, goes after whim and deep attention to things, forgets the trails, in fact is distrustful of them, spits on them and scorns those who follow them only, only then does a history begin to emerge from the work, but only then, and only really then, does a history begin to limn itself somehow from the miasma of the ten thousand things. And then it really is there. A Gambel’s oak is really just another oak until we pay attention to it perhaps for ten years in all different kinds of days and then it might become a family member. Patience is history, then. Looking is history too. And then a consonant ringing is history which will be slightly different to each feeler and experiencer. Getting out then into history is getting off the trail and going into the wilderness for a while and not just once but really over and over again and really letting go of the going back into town to safety. History is trope and literal at the same time. Turning and facing like every wild thing. Then that fox just tailing around the corner, that’s history. It’s history too, the godly swoops and arcs and traces of birds through the sky. It’s history how men dig out mountains for their flesh and then abandon the wound when there is no more flesh. It’s history what lingers there when the men are gone. I live next to one such place and this book is a history of all the things I’ve felt and seen and heard and smelled and tasted there. I live in a diminutive time. All things are receding and getting smaller. History gets distended, weirder, more bleak the less threads we can discern, make sense of. There aren’t any big stories later on here. But there is evidence of god and of eternal recurrence. In fact, these very words, this one itself in fact, have been written the same way and in precisely the same order, endlessly before. But welcome anyway, because I also know this is your first time through. You’ll understand what I mean eventually."



I'm nearing one year of this project, a completely personal endeavor meant to make some of my daily writing and pictures available for later perusal in a digital environment. One of the gifts I've received, and which I cannot hope to adequately repay, is the vocal support from a blessed few people who visit kestrel heart to read my words. Whimsy is a wonderful thing and I've constructed this little enclave after Emerson's inimitable quote I first read in 2000 around the time of the Y2K scare as an undergraduate in south Mississippi, "I would write on the lintels of the door-post, Whim. I hope it is somewhat better than whim at last, but we cannot spend the day in explanation." I did write on the lintels of my doorways much to the chagrin of my mother who helped scrub them off when I moved out after graduating.

On Anima/Soul this week (ps://www.animasoul.org/2017/12/11/work-and-jobs/) there has been some great writing about the intersection of work and jobs and what each means for a healthy life. The question, at root, I think is the same 2500 years after it was first asked in the West (how young is the Western tradition!), how shall we live? kestrel heart is my humble example of work, the work that must be done if it feels as if it must be done. There isn't any money to made from it, it's a sustaining enterprise in other ways, in much more richly rewarding ways than money, in fact. Of course I wish I could trade some of it for food or living expenses or whatever. Perhaps that economy is not so far off. For now though in order to pay my bills I work what amounts to Jody Tishmack's excellent exegesis of drudge, though most people around me would assume what I do is anything but drudgery. kestrel heart itself, my forthcoming work on Utah landscapes, walking, thinking about birds, recognizing deep shamanic impulses within myself, these are the inscrutable vectors of a secret life, my working life. I wish all who read these words find their own satiating working lives and that perhaps, if they're really lucky, that they also someday "pay the bills". 

I wrote this yesterday and it somehow seems appropriate: But now in fading light, the tremolo days come to a close, the night moltens toward its final apogee, the constriction of the hours of seeing, reaching into even the western aspected nooks of held-out hope against the drawing down. The flick of wings whose glint carries off. Even today, in Hell Canyon, with the fog close in and bulging, the tiercel kestrel flushes from his perch on the mute cliffrose above me as if I were somehow an annoyance, enough of a hulking dark shape to want to get deeper into the evening. His long darkly wings fling through space, tail flashes umber, the executioner's cap noticeable even in this white light. 

hoar frost



                           now      swooping

             high     arc

                        feather explosion

                                                                  eye does 

           not blink


A stoop, a gift, a reliquary

I saw it first from too far away to know precisely what it was - a whitish boomerang of a bird some one thousand feet up the hillside that was once under water during the highest point of the archaic pluvial Lake Bonneville. I stand below on the shoreline that the lake created after it broke through its moorings in Idaho and drained itself with the equivalent force of all the world's rivers for a year. The top of the hillside is burst with tufa outcroppings, a feature everywhere in the basin that I have come to love. I often see birds flitting in and out of the porous rock.

And then, with a casual grace, this white bird unzipped the air and flushed little birds up in wild murmurations, as if a mouth were mutely screaming. Falcon. Slender, pointed wings. Effortless transcriptions of power. It flowed out over the panicked songbirds gaining a hundred feet under its own sheer will in a second or two, flapped its wings deeply a few times and disappeared over the hill. I waited. It did not return. 

I called to my dogs and we turned back home. Content to have seen for a moment the great killer of birds. I looked back over the hillside looking for a sign of its return, and still it did not appear. Magpies flitted nervously out in front of me, the air still. Below us the refineries whined. Air Force 1 had just departed carrying the lunatic back to the east. One last glance over my shoulder.

A bird, canting along the top of the crest of the tufa face, too small at first, I thought, to be the selfsame falcon, continuing now through the crags and bending down, now, now, still no wings outstretched, down the runnels of the hill filled with damp light, the bird becomes still, somehow, and my mind makes it for a moment a floating cottonwood seed suspended somehow in the air eight months too late, somehow, but I suddenly realize that it is still this bird who has modified its flight directly toward me so the sense of forward movement is stopped only it's getting bigger until THERE it passes no more than fifteen feet in front of me not much more than that off the ground plunging - I can hear the air drawing together in its lee - jackhammer beautiful, perfect silhouette of falcon without twitching so much as a muscle plunges ever more down to the valley floor, sicles out, and there at the bottom flair a squadron of starlings wildly torquing and I bring up my binoculars to no avail, it is happening too fast and it is too far away, but with my naked eye I can see the falcon swooping through the birds wantonly on bright narrow wings, playing?,  flashing in the sun. I realize now what I have just seen. My heart stops and I do not touch the ground. The falcon has stooped along the hillside covering 800 meters in something like eight or nine seconds. 

Somewhere behind me the lunatic has no idea what he just missed. 

god's grandeur

Yesterday was the year's first rough-legged hawk above Columbus Hillside Preserve. Its wings were thicker, stouter and smaller compared to the red-tailed hawk soaring into the wind above it some distance. It had flown no less than three months to get here, its wintering grounds. Both birds reefed on the breaking wind, modulating postures as if living heiratic ciphers of some lost language as the west desert bellowed out its contents in advance of a particularly sharp low pressure system. To the south east, a foreboding darkening nimbus of sky gathered around the Wasatch. Virga limned the sky to the north over Antelope Island, smeared white, as if skywide hammers were held aloft over the earth, held in abeyance by who knows what mercy, or, for that matter, psychopathic force. 

The president is in town today and, after the snow last night, I'm going up to look at birds again while he signs away monument protections less than half a mile away at the State Capital Building. It is not really the president who must be resisted, I think. That seems to be the first lesson. I must resist mindlessness. Unflinching participation in systems whose teleologies all lead to the same cul-de-sac - our mutually assured destruction. But how? How do I keep mindful when public lands that I love more than anything, that matter to our survival more than anything are to be gutted? My mind restlessly wanders over anxious places, what to do, how to be, where to go, with whom to align? I leave my body and flit nervously in the sepia hedges of my own design. But there is no peace there. There is not heart out of light in the blasted garden. There's just suffering. Solutions that I cling to that still have not worked. 

And I realize as I put together my pack and stuff it with my two identification books, my small black notebook and pen, some water, and binoculars that this is resistance. To pay attention. I try to learn the names of the flying things and the grounded things and go out to greet them as often as possible. While the president can take away protections of sacred lands, of public lands, this is not "winning", it occurs to me. There is, I realize suddenly and lately, no winning. There is only the paying attention and the struggle of living or there is the mindless participation in it, or there is the actively trying to harm. So, I'll go on trying to protect what's left, and failing mostly, and understanding that this asynchronous way of living - of carrying on while knowing simultaneously that there isn't any point because I won't be able to actually change the downward slide of this civilization - is against all reason, a joyous way of living. I'm briefly filled with joy and the light not of my own memory but of this present moment in a snow covered fold with darkness just there, at the bottom of the hill. Both fold into each. Each is each. Light and Dark. Inside and Outside. I laugh as I remind myself that. Just one being. Just one world and then, ah, then the folding of wings for the last time and....


"And for all this, nature is never spent; 

    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; 

And though the last lights off the black West went 

    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs — 

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent 

    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings."    G.M. Hopkins "God's Grandeur" 1877



the underworld


where do the lupine go this time of year,

tumble around somewhere beneath us?

wheel south with the Swainson’s to bloom on the pampas for a few months?

the dead do still glisten.

some lessons of late autumn


And the tiny blue moths go down to the globemallow each night.

Under the sodium street lights even they are achroous strangely,

“Is that where the soul of this is,” she asked, “here at the terminus of this dream?”

The mallow stretched out, its peach-turbulent flowers molting.

"Run your fingers into the dirt. You’ll know what I mean."


Where is peace so close to the heart?


dried out balsamroot sing hollow polyphonies across the salient, gathering whispers of the dead

a late warm south wind

trembles old weathered sages in the instant before the ice returns,

and on the low rim of the sky a nighthawk careens toward Mexico too late


a she kestrel flits whitely along the edge of the escarpment in the diminished light far above us

as if swaying on impossible cordage, as if the mouldering sky were a just-unfurled sail


Connecting dots

Snow the texture of confectioner’s sugar.

Where is she? Connecting the dots. The dots are indicative of magical consciousness, one-dimensional (Gebser). The world, everything that is, can be connected by a line between two points. All is interconnected within the mode of this consciousness which is always already present in us. Synchronicity is this phenomenon rising to the surface – it is the magical come corporeal. These dreams of snakes writhing on and in the ground this past year prefigure my stumbling upon this bird – the bird, the chasing after the bird becoming by map of the world falling apart. The points are connected by the caduceus of my own individuation. I do follow her in the glowering winter mornings to find my dormant spirit. I dream of snakes at night. In the day I follow her upward to the heights. Years ago, I repeat myself, watching the massive golden eagle arcing on an invisible slinky skyward. I recognized the form of my Self even then but did not know it. Point to point. This goes further. This goes further. This goes to the yurt and to the golden eagle we saw there in the flowering of our relationship, to the wedding day when we saw golden eagle careening down from the highlands without twitching a muscle, and now to Columbus preserve where we see two daily who have taken up residence at the far end of the trail. Having not seen the kestrel in a few days it is possible one of the eagles has killed it. This goes further. Where I write these words, in the blink of an eye, geologically speaking, roughly 500 generations ago I was under 100 meters of water. Point to point. I am still under that water. It has not gone anywhere. The kestrel she sleeps up there hidden from the great horned owl in a Scotch broom or Gambel's oak. Perhaps she sleeps above the old waterline. I think she does.

Untitled, composed on the road in Wyoming in late 2014

the last of

the dying 

breath. think of that.

i think douglas fir is the shadow of god espaliered.

perfect stillness

and the rising and falling

and how good things multiply of themselves, bonum diffusivum est


i wake each night under Ursa Major

and each night too Lyrid meteors arc thru it

and the firs frame the dream - mandala -

as if gnarled fingers of the old earth cupped.


every night i rise to meet it one or more parts or the more of the whole of me


o lord i jumble myself before you

i am a solitary daisy cleaved to your chest.

you, love, are not god.

but an eddy, a form constantly      wondrously



overcome me         swirl away







A few nights ago I experienced a dream that will perhaps always elude my interpretation. I believe every so often the soul cries out in extravagance for itself to hear, perhaps to recognize, as a symptom recognizes its cause somewhere in the subcutaneous realms. Dreams are symptoms in gorgeous color. They are perfect alone, with nothing extraneous, nothing frivolous. A feeling or fear or a shame becomes a diaphanous corporeality, a fast-fading memory that lives forever in the gut, but is annoyingly fleeting to consciousness. It becomes a god, an all-powerful entity to which the dreamer is subject. And then it vanishes, seemingly. And so it becomes the frustrating task of waking life to decipher the tangle of wild metaphor, a wilderness of turning away from the literal, as if a wild animal on the scent of able-bodied  prey, in order to track down a semblance of what the message was. At best.

And so it went that I dreamed I was walking along a brilliant property of endless lawns with widespead perfect trees that was on the shore of the most wonderful lake. In the distance, on a little rise and to my right was an unassuming but perfectly lovely mansion. A female figure accompanied me. To our left a giant approached. An amazingly large man, sweating, with a kerchief around his neck, he stood apart from us with a shovel in his right hand. He seemed to know my companion. We agreed to follow him to the mansion. Except, of course, we did not. We turned left toward the direction from which he'd come. We followed his footsteps until we'd come to a small pond at the shore of the lake. On the far side of the pond, to the left, there was a bench and a blue statue of a man with long outspread arms who I understood to be Carl Jung. But our attention lay before us, in the silt beneath the shallow water along the shoreline. There, in perfect detail we saw the giant's footsteps going in our direction along with the much smaller footsteps of a girl. We saw the giant's footsteps going in the opposite direction too, back toward the mansion, but without the girl's. And then there, just on the other side of the pond there was freshly turned earth with some terrible linoleum laid on top. We dug frantically. A few feet down, covered in lime, was a young girl wrapped like a mummy. We turned and ran back toward the mansion and toward the giant who'd just seemed to realize we weren't behind him. He was furious, and the shovel in his right hand became an ax and he swung at us with a kind of cinematic ferocity. 

And then, it was over. I was awake. In my bed. Turned toward the wall. Something had shifted for me. I don't know what to make of the dream, but I did feel as if it were my soul crying out to me. Me, the symptom? What have I become?

I had this word in my head reverberating, as if it was dew, as if it were engrained in me somewhere suddenly- Küsnacht. 

Rattlesnake Ridge, 2010

From Rattlesnake Ridge


I think of Cumbria, of my origins, of the

sight of this valley in the Holocene (were we

here together, before these slow-made moraines?) of

the tawny pele tower bedaubed in May

with marigold and lilac,

heirloom splendors strangely achroous at

certain times of day. He is distant, difficult.

Fits uneasily on the rough-hewn cross

Robert de Cliburn must have had made. Did he

face this same charry brink alone? Or

the dance of a red-tailed hawk on flumes of warm air,

in full pivot-tilt on a wing of his own making,

the fabled arcs it's traced since learning to fly?

From where I am you are redemptive,

untouchable. Pushing stillness before

you, lifting even the wind from the

Earth, while:

Dawn picks through the dark thicket

through which I've just come -

smudges of bloom persist like just-

poured champagne, high-scents of wild sage

and sprucetips are in the air. Manes of hyssop and

lupine glitter in the sun.

Mt. Si the profile of a spent lover.

Who and where are you?

Loping unoriginally, you pass by unaware.

Deep Creek Range pt.1

“If you free yourself from the conventional reaction to a quantity like a million years, you free yourself a bit from the boundaries of human time. And then in a way you do not live at all, but in another way you live forever.” 
― John McPhee, Basin and Range

While traveling in Utah's West Desert one often has the feeling of simultaneously living forever and, therefore, strangely, not at all. The longer I remain in Utah the more I understand, and appreciate, the complexity of the geography; a complexity, it should be said, that is rivaled by the cultural and political matrices laid upon the earth in this most unusual state. There are vast swaths of the earth called "Utah" that seem to have been purged unexpurgated from some Dantean dream, and it seems a great volume of that violent and atrorubent land is found west of Salt Lake City, thus the "West Desert", in and around the massive dried out Pleistocene lake bed named after the Indian killer Benjamin Louie Eulalie de Bonneville. It is here in this lake bed that one finds the strip of dead flat earth on which men drive beyond the speed of sound from time to time, foolishly believing that this act means anything but the end of days (where does one go after traveling faster than the sound of the traveling?).  It is here that one finds carved into every range tall enough the scars of ancient shorelines. It is here that one finds, under rapt unrelenting blue skies, abandoned communities of cutthroat trout who go about spawning each spring in headwaters that lead to nowhere but salt plains and rabbit brush. It is here that desert big horn sheep, the animal that fired Ellen Meloy's massive imagination, hang on by a sliver against not so much the swarms of mountain lions which feed off them, but against the humans that do not stay away (including me) from the great ranges that rise unaccountably from the salt flats more than 7000'. Big horns do not like to be looked at. 

One such crumpled agglomeration of rock is the Deep Creek Range which straddles the latter day Nevada and Utah border south of Wendover. The Deep Creeks have more relief than the Teton Range in Wyoming and at their apex, on Ibapah Peak, rise higher than the famed Wahsatch Mountains one hundred miles to the east. It is, even now, a remote place to travel. Of the two main routes from Salt Lake City, the Eisenhower legacy highway is perhaps the easier one punching, as it does, straight across the Bonneville Salt Flats toward Wendover. Interstate 80, as it's called, like it's sister to the south Interstate 70, is a paean to American "know-how" which should not be, in any way, confused with "knowing" or "thinking". For the first 150 years of our Republic, if Mother Nature stood in the way Americans just blew it up and laid down asphalt or rails. If ever you've driven west from Green River toward the San Rafael Swell on I-70, the gigantic hole in the shark fin-shaped rocks called The Reef through which you drive was not done naturally. 

The second way, which is the one I recommend, is the much slower Pony Express Trail. Though it is no different in the manner in which it was conceived, which was to cut across at any cost the vast "wasteland" of the desert between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains, because the men were on horseback, they couldn't simply ride over the mountains in a straight line without committing suicide. Therefore the road, unpaved, meanders like a sine wave through the desert on its way to Sacramento. It's beautiful and ironic to travel this way passing Pony Express Stations every ten or fifteen miles that seem perversely huddled against the howling winds and overwhelming sun. Though it lasted for less than two years, the Pony Express system was, like Moby Dick and the poems of Walt Whitman and the coruscating intricacies of Miles Davis's trumpet, a supreme manifestation of a peculiar American psychosis - a violent kind of loneliness. Willful in the face of failure, unable to see shades of gray, Americanism has a certain crumpling suicidal tendency at its core. What is plangently called Individualism is actually a kind of emotional self-flagellation, a brutal binary of good and evil warped, like iron, around the soul. And thus, the Deep Creeks arise above the adiabiatic plains of violent salt toward the empyrean. From here, the sun sets behind Ibapah Peak, a glacier scoured half-dome of granite as out of place here as the little town of Callao (pronounced Call-ee-oo). 

Whatever those men thought of themselves against the world, running their horses into the ground carrying $1000 per ounce mail through the wastes of White People's dreams, they had to have looked toward the Deep Creek Range with an awe reserved for things like seeing the Pacific for the first time or seeing one's betrothed after a year in the West. These things aren't repeatable. Here, if there ever was a nowhere, is a somewhere, a throne for high altitude Bristlecone pine, a seat at the table for humans to commune with what remained once the Pleistocene drained away an American state's worth of 500' deep water in a few months. The Deep Creeks are an island. We'll explore more of what that means in coming posts. 




Some observation notes on peregrine falcons at Columbus Hillside Preserve

The weather has turned warm and the sunlight lingers on the Columbus hillside until nearly nine pm. I ran last night out toward the open pits at the end of the trail hoping to see a kestrel or perhaps an owl. The evening wind had arrived and moved the grasses like huge invisible fingers pressing down on bed sheets, caressing the land. It was hot enough that I ran shirtless once I passed Hell Canyon and started out past the extravagant stands of curly dock (Rumex crispus) and the milkweeds (Asclepias) where the two deer carcasses have sunk back into the earth except for the dense parts of the skeletons. Their leering bleached grins and plangent look reminds me of the beauty even of death and its concomitant notion of renewal, of birth. 

When I reach the end of the trail I notice a dark shape whose wings are kept swept back in the shape of a boomerang. The shape easily traverses huge tracts of sky with a flick of a notion, an adjustment of the tail or wing not unlike a human pointing absently toward something across the room. With this the falcon's trajectory, on this evening wind's lift, runs down the gunwales of the hillside - a distance of 800 meters - in four or five seconds. And as though controlled by a physics different from the known, the tiercel Peregrine (Falco peregrinus), whose nest is in the adjacent City Creek Canyon, pulls straight up into the empyrean, halting its momentum over the refineries and using awesome power, hovers there, stationary, like a moth. I crouch behind some rhyolite and it spots me, dips its left wing and without seeming to try careens past me so close that I can spot its mottled white belly and executioner's cap before it breaks up a party of swifts circling out over the gravel pit behind me. And then it is gone completely. 

This is how it is with falcons. They come in quickly, unzip reality, hasten it, quicken the senses, quicken the land for it always runs out before them, and catching some unseen reins, fling themselves outward beyond the reckoning of the senses. Humans are left to pick up the pieces of their own astonishment. If we think we are good at what we do, which may be no more than destruction, the falcon is infinitely more capable at what it does, which is to say, keeping the earth from breaking apart.

"We will outlive the bastards"

Today the news finally made it to the national papers (it's been reported in the Salt Lake Tribune for several days) that President Trump is to sign an executive order tomorrow directing the Interior Secretary to give recommendations regarding every national monument created since 1996 - the year Grand Staircase National Monument was created by then President Bill Clinton. The principal focus is, of course, on Bears Ears National Monument given that Secretary Zinke is to report back in 45 days with a course of action regarding that newest monument. Scott Groene, SUWA's Executive Director called the move an opening salvo. Surely, this is long shot for those who would wish to see these designated lands stripped of their special status. However, there seems to be enough energy here to really do some damage to these places. 

There is the sense of history repeating itself. When the Glen Canyon Dam was first brought online in 1962, Edward Abbey decried the idiocy of the destruction of one of the most valuable Indigenous places in the Southwest and certainly one of the most aesthetically pleasing in order to deliver water to suburbanites in Phoenix so that they could keep their Bermuda grass green, year round. And here we are again half a century later with the same inane politicians whose eyes are "hypnotized by desk calculators". I continually find it astonishing that white LDS men in this state find federal land ownership so abhorrent. I'm not sure I entirely buy the argument that bastards like Robert Bishop are bought entities. Instead, I think they are heartless bastards who, like insulted children on the playground, project their hatred onto the nearest thing at hand, in this case, two monuments created by a black man and a Southern philanderer. 

I suppose that if either monument were to be altered, it would mean a return to, at least, the worldview of the Monkey Wrench Gang. Yes, violence begets violence. And yet. Grand Staircase is dearer to me than I can possibly indicate in writing. I will fight vigorously for it remaining the way it is. This much is true: the bastards will never take my imagination and they can not take nor diminish my resolve to win. 


Presence and absence, not as duality with metaphysical implications but as the same process, the same consciousness, the same sky and mountain and earth and body. Presence is absence and both are the mystery. The kestrel bursts forth from mystery into my presence, the presence of my awareness and the presence of my consciousness and then the presence of my attention. She leaves and is forgotten but returns in the presence of my memory which is also absence but which unites us when the memory arises. A presence shared is also at the same moment absence shared.

Liminal: out of Latin’s limin and limen both of which mean something like ‘threshold’. Limen survives in English as a noun and “refers to the point at which a physiological or psychological effect begins to be produced” (Merriam-Webster). Let’s go down further. Subliminal thus literally means below a threshold. To sublimate is to push down beneath sense or awareness. As these things happen, I found this today written by Dougald Hine, the founder of one of my favorite places to read about the world:

The liminal is the space of the threshold, with all the vulnerability and potential of transition: the costliness of letting go, with no guarantee of what will come after. The liminal phase of a ritual is the moment of greatest danger – or rather, ritual is a safety apparatus built around the liminal. Whichever, the liminal is where the work gets done, where the change happens (Dark Mountain Blog)

I started this project by writing of the liminal lands of the wild land preserve that curved its way down into my neighborhood from the high Wasatch. I meant that word in its modern poetic sense of gauzy threshold. I see now more clearly than ever before that so much that has been sublimated is expressing itself in this corpus. The walking is the ritual. The looking is the ritual. The writing is the ritual. Beyond the ritual though is the actual limen. Ritual protects us as we take off the old skin and prepare to walk forward into the black where there is nothing to guide us but ourselves. As I take the bird into my eye she surely brings me into hers. We live in the same instantaneous tissue that lasts forever. We live in each other. I know where I'm going. The gauzy threshold is the point at which psychological effects are produced. The Columbus Preserve and I are the same. I am at home, have found a home. The She Kestrel is my guide, it is She who has sent the emissaries to me. It is She who has given me the gift of my own depths. She takes me to where Bear and Skunk wait for me among the sweet ponderosa pines and endless bramble berries that line the Chiwaukum Creek of my soul. From there Skunk takes me over the mountain to a beautiful lake. At the western shore of the lake we enter a cave which goes and goes down far below the lake. At the end of the cave is a glowing red stone - Archetype.

 I dream a few weeks later that I am in a house with my father and uncle. I notice a brilliant emerald snake, huge, come slithering toward the house. It is awful and at the same time beautiful - I know it means to kill me. When it reaches the back window, I go to that room and find Skunk staring implacably out at the brilliant serpent, nothing but a screen separating them.

Skunk saved my life in the dream. Kestrel brought me beyond the threshold of knowing that my life needed saving.

Liminal. Threshold. Movement deep down. 


"Procession of tumbled granite

Extending into the deep pool

Of the Chewuch. To watch bull bats

And bears, merlin and kingfishers

            Sacros, wheel of Rangarhuerli

Whose pole star

            Is written Ursa Major,

            Repelled and attracted by landnam

To return from the uncreated creating


I involve thee Surda Thalia,

Return and move brightly over the moor be not known,

Nor remove chthonically

Where I cannot see you,


            Have held for a moment

            The visionary company

            Call them diamond-bear

Three by three

Flame and wonder

Devour overcome

To still movement

To still movement

To look into the lion’s

Mouth without averring

To climb into the bowels of the bear and have the blood on me

To eat the digested meat, assume the form of the raven, fly into the cavernous empyrean"

Falcons & Indians

February 12

Cedar Mountain Wilderness. West approach even though we come from the east. We arc south at a well-marked Y. I spot massive tufa outcroppings a few miles down the road which always seem to stop me in my tracks. I am forever reminded when I see this residua of the Pleistocene lake that existed here for 22,000 years of the mid-aughts’ cinematic exploration of the work of Lewis and Tolkein whose mythological battles happen on wide grassy plains, and as the camera pans out, one finds that they are marked here and there by craggy menhirs of what is obviously limestone (of the Middle Earth variety). I pull the car over and bring the dogs with me up the old off-road trail that hasn’t seen much use since this place was made wilderness to keep the Indians from profiting off nuclear waste.

The 1964 Wilderness Act prohibits mechanized travel in wilderness areas and yet I see evidence that someone has driven a truck in here within the past few weeks. Inevitably in Utah the brown and green fiberglass wilderness boundary markers placed in front of traditional motorized trails are missing, broken at the ground, or otherwise vandalized. Utahns (themselves subject to two centuries of ridicule and persecution came to this place, called it The Place, and promptly ridiculed and heinously persecuted the Indians who’d been here for the preceding 10,000 years) tend to bristle at the notion of anyone telling them what to do with Their Place. In fact, the current congressional delegation from Utah seems hellbent on scuttling a century of federal land policy whether by fiat or through some more painful version - a kind of death by a thousand leech bleeds. One recent bill by Rep. Chaffetz would have immediately authorized the sale of some 3.3 million acres of federal land.  The Utahns in power also vehemently oppose Bears Ears National Monument which was created, in part, to honor a few of those humans who can trace their ancestry back to the place when there was no time and the mingling of human consciousness and the natural world made myth. Every square foot of Cedar Mountain Wilderness has surely been traversed by human feet for millennia and the stories that those humans told about every square foot are now long lost. In the same way, Bears Ears is a honeycomb of life lived fully since at least the time of the composition of the Odyssey.


Mormons are astoundingly tone deaf to the ways of Indian life and their attendant claims to be heard. So when a destitute band of Goschutes wanted to host nuclear waste on their reservation as a way to make a meager living for their people, the powers-that-be in Utah found themselves on the very same side as environmentalists (a situation that will occur again in fifty years, no doubt, as the water begins to run out) and supported an emergency creation of the Cedar Mountain Wilderness in order to block rail access to the reservation. Thusly, in a stunningly obvious way, Mormons project their pathos onto Indians. This is the reason that Bears Ears stings so gallingly to Utah politicians. There are millions and millions of acres in the state with which to extract minerals and fuels – and we don’t, as a rule, lose out on those opportunities here (thanks, Rob Bishop). Believe me. But their opposition to Bears Ears is not about that. That Indians would have a federal mandate for as long as there is such an entity as the United States (and there are no guarantees that's a long term proposition), a seat at the table in the administration of a prized federal land designation, stings too much to bear for the whites. They must do unto the Indians as the United States does to them – tell them that they have no voice in the administration of their territory, or at least that’s how they’d prefer to have the narrative. Truth is, Utah has more land under federal ownership than any other state. Mormons, with a perpetual chip on their shoulder foment these states’ rights arguments in a thinly veiled attempt to redress psychological wrongs committed by no one in living memory. Except it’s very real to Indian tribes who continue to be vigorously ignored and dispossessed at every turn. The Mormon leadership’s alternative plan to the formation of Bears Ears would have stripped away 100,000 acres from the Ute Mountain tribe and threatened the water rights of 300,000 more. The situation even now developing in North Dakota between the Lakota and the governments of that state (and now, of course, with the election of a hateful and impulsive narcissist, Washington DC) mirrors the situation found here. The white residents of Bismarck would have nothing to do with a pipeline running under their drinking water, so let’s make it an Indian problem, they’re lazy, don’t have jobs, and live on scrub land that is good for only carrying crude oil across it. Water is life. That’s what whites don’t really get, even when they’re building the largest structures in human history to damn up water behind them flooding canyons replete with ancestral homes with water meant to grow rows of one or two plants in a fucking desert and also to keep the lights on in Phoenix and Salt Lake City.

Indians understand water. They pray to it, drink it, bathe in it, watch it, marvel at it, ablute in it, know how it’s carved the world.

The falcon understands water too for it knows that it will thrive in landscapes whose relationship with water is to slough it off in rushing shrugs when it falls the few times a year as sheeting torrents.

My dogs and I climbed a prominent shoulder at the end of which was a cliff heavily pockmarked with gnarled cursive hieroglyphs of tufa. To our left the shoulder rose to the high point of the range and to our right, where the sun was going, the Great Salt Flats fanned out before the horizon as if some kind of joke, ringed, here and there, by severely gnarled mountain ranges whose recalcitrant manner resembled some discarded numinous notion of ‘bedaubed crumpling’, an implosion of form which, it turns out, is also a form, at least to humans, at least for a few generations until there are no more here.

From the risen outcropping a darkly scythe came sliding around, clearly annoyed, banking right toward me; a bird more muscled boomerang than hollow-boned killer, whose deep shoulders bore the fierce face aloft on wings held perfectly flat for long intervals and then furiously shook, shaman-like. It spun in fervent circles, now canting down below the cliff, now rising above it, careening into the blue but never angrily or carelessly. I knelt down, brought up my binoculars and saw at once the dark streak down the front of the eyes, the vertical mottling of the milky belly, the black struts on the coverlets, Prairie Falcon. Falco mexicanus. Lord of the skies, lord of the desert. A mating couple in a wilderness area two miles from a toxic incinerator. Fierce life ripping the sky apart in Mormon lands, scrub lands. My home. 

The tiercel cried rapidly as he hewed  like a sledge hammer through the late morning empyrean.

Here on the edge of the world, I'll wait for the craziness to subside.


Bird-headed shaman

I suppose I should not be surprised to find that Clayton Eshleman has been as taken with the bird-headed man as I have been - synchronicity. I did not realize until today that he has written about the Lascaux scene somewhere else. From Hybrid Hierophanies (2016):

Theseus, a tiny male spider, enters a tri-level construction:
look down through the poem, you can see the labyrinth.
Look down through the labyrinth, you can see the spider-centered web.

              Sub-incision                Bud Powell
                              César Vallejo
                                          The bird-headed shaman

These nouns are also nodes in a constellation called
Clayton’s Tjurunga. The struts are threads
in a web. There is life blood flowing through
these threads. Coatlicue flows into Bud Powell,
César Vallejo into sub-incision.

                         The bird-headed shaman
is slanted under a disemboweled bison.
His erection tells me he is in flight. He drops
his bird-headed stick as he penetrates
     bison paradise.

The red sandstone hand lamp
abandoned below this scene
is engraved with vulvate chevrons—did it once flame
     from a primal sub-incision?

This is the oldest part of this tjurunga, its grip.

A response to civilization: shamanism. Written by a non-shaman.

The image of the so-called Bird Man at Cave Lascaux, France has long been a source of fascination for interpreters of Paleolithic art and of art in general. The image is reproduced in full below but to get a better idea of the dimensions, physical and meta-physical, I turn to Clayton Eshleman, who in Juniper Fuse, makes the case that, among other things, Paleolithic art is the process and the struggle by which Cro-Magnon man separated himself from the world around him. It is worth our time to quote him at length:

"The Shaft "scene' is much more formidable and larger than I had anticipated before actually seeing it in May 1997. Between 8 and 9 feet wide, it possesses its space with dense, aggressive, calligraphic strokes (Franz Klein comes to mind). In reproductions (sometimes undoubtedly due to camera angles"), the "scene" often appears cramped, with the bird-headed man and the bison done in a peurile, "primitive" fashion. In reality, the "scene" struck me as being elegant and as assured as the animals in the Rotunda and Axial Gallery [other parts of Cave Lascaux]. The black manganese glistens; the six dots behind the rhinoceros's anus shine, as if still wet! Below them, I noticed two slight smears that look like fingertips, and in the rubbly surface below the composition, blob like drops of hardened paint. 
Of the dozen or so Upper Paleolithic paintings or engravings (both parietal and portable) with credible shamanistic elements, the Shaft "scene" is the most substantial. The fact that the man is bird-headed and ithyphallic argues strongly that he is not a hunter. o hunter with disguise himself partially as a bird - and why would any hunter be represented with an erection? Surely the erection proposes fertility, and since this bird-headed ithyphallic figure is facing a wounded or dead bison, such fertility must be symbolic. It follows that the bird-headed man's diagonal position would also be symbolic (i.e., it does not represent a dead hunter stretched out on the ground), and if symbolic, one of sleep or, more likely given the bird mask, one of trance. The fact is, we don't know if this bird-headed man if falling or ascending but this is not a real interpretative problem, as either motion could take place, symbolically, in shamanic activity: He could be falling into trance or beginning a spiritual ascent" (Eshleman, 183). 

As I write this I have a reproduction of the scene as an etching, probably by Brueil. It is  strange to my modern mind. In the empty space beneath I wrote, automatically, "'I go up in the daylight; I go down in the dark'. Bird-spirit must travel through the dark at some point ("Birds fly in silence though us" Rilke). These figures emerge from the rock no different than our gods emerge appear to us in our dreams. They never appear to the same to us twice, and the never appear at all to others; each is a private experience dictated by our imaginations which are themselves suffused with our anxieties, our traumas, our fantasies. I see a bird, my wife sees a vulva". How does a mind brought up on the doubt and ennui of postmodernism approach this piece with wonder and openness? Eshleman offers a clue, and as I shall argue, a way of living into a world in decline. 

It occurred to me sometime in the past couple years that while looking at Indigenous Southwest rock art (by and large done in the open and not in caves), it was more propitious to "get crazy" while doing so. For me that meant being playful, telling jokes, pretending not to look too hard, imagining things that may or may not be there, et al.

For example:


When I saw this petroglyph at the Black Mountain site just east of St. George, Utah, I immediately thought of Freud's via regia, the royal road to the unconscious by way of dreams. That sheep, I imagined, was the soul of someone walking along a high ledge to a place only the dreamer or the dead go (dreamers return, albeit changed. The dead also do return but for them they are trapped in dream). Sheep as psychopomp. Sheep as shaman. Eliade constantly makes the point that one of the primary duties of the shaman is to guide the soul to the underworld. ("Birds fly in silence through us" right?)

Even now, writing that, I cringe because my rational mind wants to simply say it's a desert bighorn sheep walking along a ledge. End of story. Point is, though, it doesn't matter, does it? We'll never be able to access the moment of this panel's creation, at least I won't. Perhaps modern Paiutes may be able to, but I don't think even they have preserved the link to that way of being. What connects this petroglyph in southern Utah to the subterranean painting in France, aside from the divide of twenty thousand some odd years, aside the lithe and wonderful depictions of fauna, is a profound and dynamic sense of movement. Movement indicative of travel. Travel from where to where? If you allow yourself to devolve, to not focus on details so much as to allow each piece to live in a liminal space with your attention so that it begins to have real dynamism, real action, real smells (don't those bison entrails have a horrible smell!), the movement seems clearer to me...it is the movement with the viewer. The bird-headed man and the sheep are templates for me to leave where I am. I think it is not enough to interpret manifold possibilities of narrative arcs in the pieces themselves, I think we have to describe our own movements in concert with each piece. They are portals to the numinous right in front of us waiting to be entered. Is this sounding crazy yet? Good!

I am realizing that through the writing of my book Kestrel Heart, that I am really documenting my own journey across the aeons of Homo imagining, down into the underworld and skyward, beyond the sky and beyond all to the empyrean of Sophia. Without knowing it when I wrote "I go up in the daylight; I go down in the dark" I was describing a shamanic initiatory experience. Those words were written in response to my chasing kestrels during migration season in the brightest of light along the spine of the Wahsatch range. They danced and dove and signed their names in curlicues of the most delicate and perfect cursive as they described the shape of the wind. When I went home and slept, I dreamed often of snakes. The Gnostic symbolism is obvious. (And let's be honest, Gnosticism was itself probably an ossified form of the original fire, the original Fall, the period in which the Homo genus found that it was different from the world and yet still had to live in it). These are the oldest stories, and they are found on rocks, themselves the oldest things we have on the earth. Rocks have given us ourselves, in a sense, because they carry the soul, are soul. What does any of this have to do with living a life now?

I do not advocate removing oneself from the world. However, those of us who do feel deeply that we have had cause to stop in our lives and consider that the world is both immeasurably vast and that our way of life is coming to an end (endless supplies of things to buy, cheap oil, no inflation, plenty of water, plenty of food, the rule of law) have a private world accessible to us that only we'll ever know - the world of our souls. As Jung constantly pointed out, the world of the soul is not exhaustible, there is no end to it and its lands extend infinitely into others.

I've been quoting Rilke here. I think it's time to unveil the full excerpt:

One single space extends through every being:
An inniverse, the whole world's sky within. 
Birds fly in silence through us. O, the I
Who wants to grow looks out, and that is when
The tree grows in me....

It is probably clear that shamanism is no response to politics. Shamaning does not engage politics. By traveling along the inniverse I will not change the course of events. But that is precisely the point! The so-called course of events is a chronological fallacy projected by a rational worldview that keeps us enchained. So long as we think history is an arc bending toward some denouement, we are deluded. There is no arc, there is only life, and part of the real vitality of living, the deep, wild, crazy fun of living is to close your eyes and walk in a place of your own imagining, and meet who comes, and go where you'll go. Nothing is too far-fetched. It is all there, the whole shebang of all that's ever been is in your imagination. USE IT!

I am the bird-headed man and that is my staff with the kestrel head, I've eaten the heart to ascend to the light and I'm dead but I'm not. I've become what I know I am. No thing in the world means as much. I am the world when I follow the she kestrel. I am always already the world when I dream. Here, there. It is all the same. In the Fall that is inborn in us all, it is not the woman who eats the fruit, it is the human who can no longer remain ensconced in the world. We left the world to become the world to destroy the world, finally. We are not abnormal, we are a cancerous growth of existence. If we should destroy what we know as life on the planet it will not be abnormal. It will be and existence continues as will our souls, the souls of all things who have been. I am the sheep who walks alone toward myself though you can't see the other me. I do this until the merciful wind rubs me off the rock but even then I will walk forever inside the rock where you can't see me. I am the lesson for you to go toward yourself. Kestrel fly, sheep walk, bear sleep, fish dive. Go there, only you'll know how to get there. There's no skin for you to wear. There are no bones for you to use. There are no equations that make sense. Crack. Now I'm careening over the universes faster than any word. I'll see you soon. Take your own way here. 

Circular souls

RW Emerson wrote in the strangely psychedelic essay Circles that "conversation is a game of circles". Last night I had the opportunity to attend a circular discussion, both in the actual words used and also in the employment of a seating arrangement that was a bit like an artist's rendering of Dante's Inferno I remember from childhood, though with fewer levels of horror and demonic unction. In the middle (or inner, as it was called by the moderator) circle sat the elders; a Ute woman from San Juan County, Utah who had been instrumental in the formation of Bears Ears National Monument, two or three eminent writers who live in Salt Lake City but whose "hearts" are in the red desert, several university students, a state senator, a two women who, like the senator, opposed the nascent monument. This was an opportunity for everyone to speak 'in a safe space', by which was meant without fear of reprisal. There were several rules by which the participants had to abide such as not speaking for anyone else, not interrupting anyone else, and not making anyone feel stupid. Good start, generally. What I found fascinating as I sat just behind the writer Steven Trimble in the second circle, was how, even in this space, people's words betrayed them. Presumably, of course, this was not inevitable in the eyes of those involved but, as Wittgenstein noted a long time ago, we are mostly not understood by those whom we most wish would. The monument supporters, I think, in general, love to hear themselves speak of their love for such places. They weave in imagery of their own experiences in the desert as if the desert were the perfect reflection of their ideas of themselves as sandy Narcissists. Their voices bray up an octave while simultaneously growing softer, a kind of miraculous and tenebrous timbre that tends to drive blue collared people nuts (and for good reason). Opponents, generally, also wax lovingly though a bit more bluntly (this is no great matter though) about their own experiences in pre-Bears Ears lands. The difference however is that they do not see the desert as worthwhile for its own sake. Yes, the 'beautiful' places must be kept secure, but the 'beautiful' places are relatively small and furthermore are not contiguous. Everything in between is 'resourceful', in other words, places that must be used by the civilization for the advancement of its interests which are generally extra-conservation.

We speak of President Obama as the great protector of lands, and he certainly was. He wielded the power of the Antiquities Act more than any predecessor. However, he also green lit the original Keystone XL project, he opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to fossil fuel exploration, and stood by while North Dakota was torn asunder in search of hard-to-reach crude oil. This list is far from comprehensive. So while the outgoing President is responsible for the new Bears Ears National Monument, he was by no means some kind of proxy environmentalist. And now of course we have an unpredictable djinn occupying the White House which means that everything the liberals held dear is suddenly up for the taking away. 

But we must not think Trump is some kind of aberration. He is merely the first harbinger of many, many more of the nascent destruction and decline of our way of life. How is this so?

Back to the conversation above in which the desert writers saw themselves in the now-protected lands of Southern Utah. This is projection. This is the luxury of prurient projection of modern liberalism. That we should save lands because of their inherent emotional value, their 'worth' as places to go visit, as places where New Age Wankers can go have vibration sit ins while 'shamans' tell their fortune for $300 a night under the sandstone bluffs, is a consequence of an excessive libidinal drive of the privileged classes. Tell me, how many wage workers across the country do you think have the time and resources to sign up for a wilderness immersion experience replete with morning yoga, afternoon meditations, and evening vibrations? There is a real divide in this country between people who have the means to focus on these activities and those who do not. By means though, I wish to go slightly beyond the economic definition. I wish to introduce the psychological element. Both those people who have the means and those who do not in this country project themselves into the world. This is an unassailable fact. The privileged classes in this country project a curious kind of eminent domain on these places, in fact on most places on the planet, because they see themselves as owning or having unfettered access to the entire planet. The result becomes an excruciating and vacuous case for conservation - a diversion for the excess resources of the few so. It has nothing to do with the fact that our way of life is fast coming to an end, that fossil fuels and minerals should be kept in the ground, that our only home is this earth and, that's it's too late do do anything about it without stopping everything. Everything. Stop driving, stop flying, stop buying groceries at the store, stop eating out, stop buying in general. Even then, we are probably in for a massive plunge into a hell that even Dante would find abominable. People who wish to encircle huge tracts of land in federal protection are not wishing it for some kind of largesse, they are doing it for their own obscure and deviant psychological reasons. Bears Ears must be protected for its beauty, its spiritual verve, and because its the ancestral home of at least four indigenous tribal bands. Great. But this utterly discounts the classes that do not have the means to access these lands in the same way psychologically because they have been raised to view themselves as a resource and thus project onto the land the same sentiment. How we are raised, and much has been said about this by Paul Shepard in his wonderful but mostly forgotten book Nature and Madness, sends us on our psychic paths with preciously few exceptions. 

Does this mean that Bears Ears should not have been designated or that it should be repealed? I don't think so. I support the designation and I do not think it should be repealed. However, by shoving it down the throats of a vast and hitherto now under-represented citizenry we have created the psychological conditions for a fierce reprisal, the shadow coming to tear down these edifices of liberal boredom with diabolical resentment. 

What conservationists must do, I think, and I am one, is recognize our culpability in this. We must approach the end of our world with an equanimity and grace. We must dance, not for anyone else, but in the privacy of our lives the dance that brings about the end. There is nothing we can do. In powerlessness is dignity and in dignity there is peace. These lands that have been protected will eventually not be and will be destroyed by us. But this is the natural course existence takes and we know not whither this goes. We will all die and so will our progeny and much of our lives and theirs, will surely be awful. I'm glad we have these few places to go and find solitude for that is one of the last gifts not yet to be taken from us in the West, yet it is fast disappearing. Do we fight vigorously and, if needed, to the death for the earth? Yes. It is our task to hold two simultaneous notions in mind. It is, in fact, our duty if we wish to stay sane. We must accept that there is no hope and we must simultaneously fight for the preservation of the non-human. In this we become whole and transverse our rational notions of life and death - we become the Kosmos once and for all. 

So, let's go then. It's getting dark. I know of a place where we can camp for a few hours before they find out which direction we've gone.