Recently, wanting to feel and taste the sea, a friend and I drove up Highway 1 to listen to the heartbeat of the planet. We found it in the breathing waters outside the cliffs of Gualala. Waves are always remarkable, pounding and spraying sandy beaches -- so joyous with their shining sliver spray -- but when deep ocean reaches a shoreline without the gentle slope of beach that encourages the surge of waves, the water swells in great green mounds of longing that speak of an even wider joy, not as transparent or as brilliant perhaps as that wrapped in a perfect wave crashing onto shore but more transcendent, the kind of joy that is linked to loss, the joy that arises when we understand death, know life is indeed short, but exquisite and wondrous. As an artist this is the joy that sustains me.
I found the driftwood bird of peace (pictured above) on Stengel Beach and immediately fell in love with its grace. Someone (or some several) spent considerable time gathering armloads of seaweed and dozens of bits of driftwood, the bones of the sea and of the land, to create this bird, its giant wings outstretched on the canvas of sand, unafraid of waves, flying flat and high. I found the diminutive dog carved into the surface of a table top looking out to sea, a portrait perhaps of a small dog staring as I stared at the vastness of the sea below. Looking at these two images, I felt grateful for the spirit that allowed these anonymous artists to create these small gifts for those who might visit after they had long gone.
Travelers seeking beauty.
Art as art belongs to the human world, but we cannot deny the artistry of our great mother Earth. Wind, rain, seasons transform the ordinary into the extraordinary, and the power of such seemingly unintentional 'sculpted' beauty always wraps our hearts. I found these silvered and stubbornly graceful cypress along a cliffside path just south of Gualala. Their invitation was so genuine, so gentle, so determined, that I laughed, grateful for the wind that even on the clearest summer day slices across the cliff edge. Few sculptors can wield the great knife of the wind or the brush of light to create such cheerful beauty as can the planet itself.
But hooray for the human sculptors who engage in call and response with invisible sculptors of the sky, matching greetings of the wind with lasting greetings of their own. Bufano's totem, entitled "Madonna of Peace", is one such voice. First begun in 1962 and finally installed on a high cliff outside Timber Cove Inn in 1969, Peace is a lasting reminder of human creativity and responsibility. San Francisco artist Beniamino Benevenuto Bufano was eccentric and dedicated; he never "sold" his art. He was a pacifist and one who decried the culture of consumption, one who believed wholeheartedly in the power of art. He resisted all wars with such passion that when the US entered WWI, he sliced off his trigger finger and sent it to the President. He created thorough his heart, made art believing that art the both the power and the strength to encourage the growth of peace in human communities, convince us all that it is far better to celebrate peace and joy than to argue ourselves into an unending state of belligerence and war. Like the trees on the cliff, like Bach's Partita, we too can last in beauty.