A brilliant blue morning. Yesterday was a day of changing skies, muted colors and blurred edges, grays and purples and dark greens in the forefront. Today, everything is bright and bold, sharp-edged.
Went yesterday with my daughter-in-law and littlest granddaughter to see the Ömie bark cloth exhibit at one of the museums. The Ömie are a small tribe of 2000 people in Papua New Guinea whose women make cloth out of the inner bark of trees–rinsing, drying, folding, and pounding it into strong, fibrous cloth that they paint on with natural pigments. The designs, passed down from one generation to another and often modified by the particular artist, are about traditions, sacred places, the rainforests–a cultural history of the Ömie. One of the designs is of a giant spiderweb. The tribe lives right next to a volcano, and after an eruption sometime in the past, the first creatures to emerge from the changed landscape were spiders. Some are simple and bold, some very intricate, all are in beautiful, rich earth tones on the textured cloth, really wonderful stuff:
At the same time they’re creating these paintings for wall hangings, the Ömie women are also wearing the cloth. I know nothing about the Ömie and whether they live full and satisfying lives, but it did make me think how distant most of us westerners have become from the land we live on. In the US, especially in cities, most of us have no idea who lived on our land before we did, even less who might’ve lived here before Europeans.
Every now and then I read something about how there used to be a creek at the bottom of my hill–still is a creek, except it’s been diverted and covered over with concrete. In the Loma Prieta earthquake, one area where a friend of mine lived was badly damaged, while everything around it hardly shook. Turned out her street was on top of a creek, filled in and built over by developers, but basically unstable. Much of San Francisco is built on land created by filling in parts of the bay. We’re changing the shape of the landscape–ground where there used to be water, mountains topped and flattened by mining, bare hills where there used to be forests. Extraordinary arrogance, really, to think we can do what we want with the land around us. Fortunately, the earth will survive us, in one shape or another.
The extraordinary patience of things!
This beautiful place defaced with a crop of suburban houses-–
How beautiful when we first beheld it,
Unbroken field of poppy and lupin walled with clean cliffs;
No intrusion but two or three horses pasturing,
Or a few milch cows rubbing their flanks on the outcrop rockheads–
Now the spoiler has come: does it care?
Not faintly. It has all time. It knows the people are a tide
That swells and in time will ebb, and all
Their works dissolve. Meanwhile the image of the pristine beauty
Lives in the very grain of the granite,
Safe as the endless ocean that climbs our cliff. — As for us:
We must uncenter our minds from ourselves;
We must unhumanize our views a little, and become confident
As the rock and ocean that we were made from.