10 September 2008

Photo Today

One from the archives...I was flipping through old photos and came across this one, which brings me a lot of joy. It dates back a bit, to a visit we paid to Santa Fe's most famous stupa (the town is fortunate enough to have several), located at the KSK Buddhist Center on Airport Road. This place has so many memories for me. I've shot it as both part of a documentary film and in hundreds of stills, and I've spent many hours in amazement, gazing at its walls and ceiling inside. Truly one of the most awe-inspiring spaces I've ever seen. It was the place that first introduced me to Buddhism, back when I discovered it in 1992. And where I became educated about it, by working in and reading books from its store, Noble Peace.

And the photo of course brings to mind my Tibetan godson, Tenzin Rigdol, who lives in exile in India and has never been able to see his home country.

Two days ago, as I hung the first set of prayer flags in my new house, on the Thai pagoda in the backyard (yes, there really is one), I realized that I'd bought the flags in Santa Fe, thus completing some sort of circle.

And tonight, as I check the clock, I realize that in the city in whose shadow I was raised, it's now 9/11. And I send out prayers for all NYers and everyone else who is still feeling the effects of that day.

03 September 2008

Photo of the Day

When I visited Portland this summer, I took a bunch of photos in this warehouse area not far from the Pearl district. I turned a corner, and this woman was sitting so wonderfully poised in her way-cool 60s dress. While my subjects are usually less in the realm of the living, I couldn't resist this bit of street photography. Ah, the punch of those orangey oranges against the neverending expanse of grey and cumulo-storm-o in the Portland sky...

01 September 2008

Graver Matters

I never thought I’d be walking around an old cemetery listening to Bonnie Raitt do a sound check, but if there’s anything this year has taught me, it’s that life brings lots of things you’d never expect, suspect, or even inspect. This odd concurrence took place today in Jacksonville, OR, a historic district not far from my new home, which had once gained fame as a gold-mining town, the first Chinatown in OR, and now as an outdoor stage for the ubiquitous Britt Festival, which brings in all kinds of national artists. Like Bonnie Raitt. Now, I’ve seen Bonnie before, eons ago in Albuquerque, and have not been terribly impressed. However, I have to say that she provided a very interesting soundtrack to my cemetery stroll. “Let’s give ‘em something to talk about,” she bellowed. Where I was, no one was particularly chatty. Except for a very annoying woman walking her yellow lab, who insisted on calling, “Here, Skippy!” at the top of her lungs, such to wake the dead. Good thing these guys were sleeping but tight…they’d been under since the mid-19th, some of them.

This landmark graveyard is divided into sections, including those for Jews, Catholics, Freemasons, Improved Orders of Red Men (a fraternal organization with rituals modeled after Native Americans’—of course, the white men “improved” on them), Odd Fellows (odder than white guys parading around as Indians?), and City “fathers” (somehow their moms gained admission, too). I spent a lot of time hanging out in the Jewish section placing pebbles on headstones, as is Jewish tradition to signify that the grave has been visited. Some had so many, some just a few…I wanted to cheer up the ones that hadn’t seen much action.

Today I also confirmed a longstanding theory I’ve had: Jew, Christian, odd fellow, or Suzy homemaker--people generally die close to their birthdays. In this cemetery, the vast majority sought greener pastures within 3 months of their DOBs, most waiting to blow out the candles on the cake first. It was uncanny. So, I guess I should eschew hazardous objects and skydiving trips during late January.

Some of these marble and granite headstones were so artful, it was like visiting a lovely sculpture garden. With lots of wormy corpuses under the art. I was so preoccupied with shooting photos and thinking about their aesthetic that that fact didn’t dawn on me until I got home: Oh, yeah, I was walking around on people’s heads… A unique facet of Oregon cemeteries is that the markers portray lots of images of the natural world, often including mountains, deer, elk, or even turkeys. One looked ever-so-much like a Thanksgiving mural. It was like “Home on the Range” set to marble.

Buddhists are often encouraged to meditate in the charnel grounds, as it is in such places that we most directly experience the mortality of our bodies, the realization that just like the residents here, we will one day cease to exist in our present form, and that love and all earthly relationships are ultimately tied to the whims of time. The crossing of the hour hand from one number to the next or the tearing off of a calendar page, and life can be radically altered or completely cease—in its current form. And thus, we appreciate the time, people, and relationships we do have as they are unfolding before our eyes.