The Muse Connects

The community pueblo at Wupatki National Monument.

North of Flagstaff, Arizona, are the ruins of the Wupatki Pueblo. In the years between 1100 and 1182, a tribe of approximately 100 Native Americans lived there, in several buildings and a large, complex community room. Within a day’s walk, there were 1,000 other people from various clans. The stones that built the Pueblo are found on the ground in slabs. They are still there today. Their shape is smooth and regular, so stonemasons would not have needed to be hack them out of a quarry, just trim and place and mortar them into place. The walls look, after 900 years, fresh and even and modern.

Wupatki Pueblo is in the high desert, and the climate today is harsh–hot in the day and cold at night. A hundred years before Wupatki was settled, Sunset Crater, a volcano about 10 miles away, erupted, spewing lava and ash for many miles. The ash helped keep moisture in the ground, and the box canyon on which the village is built collected water during rains. The climate may well have been milder, modified by the volcanic explosion. Although some of the buildings are built close to natural wind blocks–canyon walls and arroyos.

The Hopi believe that the lessons learned about living and tending animals, making peace and making war, are still there, taught by the spirits of the village population that died there.

I took a photograph of the community building, showing a wall through a window. I thought about life in that community, the hard work that had to happen every day. And I wondered how the tribes had avoided war for many years.

Collage: Black paper, painted with metallic inks, covered with Japanese washi paper, pierced. Words cut from a history book.

When I got back, and took the idea into the studio, I wanted to make a collage in light and dark, with spaces to see through and spaces that look onto a different view.

For me, found poetry–a gathering of random words into meaningful ones–is like hearing bits and pieces of an ancient conversation.
The poem reads:

It is no longer
good enough to cry
Peace!
We must
Act peace,
Live peace.

For me, the photo and the collage have striking emotional similarities–the look through an opening, the prayer for peace, and the realization that peace is work. It doesn’t just appear, it needs to be acted out and lived. Daily.

The muse brought one from the other. An entirely satisfying experience, all the way around.

Flagstaff is a “Dark Sky” city. No lights shine into the sky at night. Lights that work at night all shine down, toward the earth. At the Wupatki Pueblo, you can see a sky full of stars and the Milky Way, much like they were 900 years ago.

—Quinn McDonald believes she is standing at a point in time, on a road that has been traveled for many years. She has been here before.

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12 thoughts on “The Muse Connects

  1. In the San Francisco bay area lights are (supposedly) required to try to shine only down because of the Lick observatory. It must work to some extent because the Lick is still a working observatory even though it’s pretty close to an urban area.

    Even better, of course, were the street lamps John Carter found when he went to Barsoom; they didn’t shine “up” at all: “The light waves leave the lamp, pass along a prescribed circuit and return to the lamp. There is no waste nor, strange this seemed to me, are there any dense shadows when lights are properly installed and adjusted, for the waves in passing around objects to return to the lamp, illuminate all sides of them.”

    • This is really interesting (everything you say is new or interesting to me), and Flagstaff does have the big observatory. As does Tucson, which is also a Dark City. It’s getting harder and harder to make that work. Even in my neighborhood, which has only one street light, everyone leaves spotlights on at night.

    • I’m not really pleased with it, but I know it will continue to evolve, and that’s the important point. Rainer Maria Rilke said “No emotion is final” and most artwork isn’t final at first pass, either!

  2. I wish all cities (and towns and villages and hamlets and even individual houses) would be Dark Sky! We waste so much light and energy with bad lighting design. The worst of the lot are commercial greenhouses: you can see their lights reflected on low hanging clouds for miles and miles away during autumn and winter. Just imagine what it is to drive by one in the dark! Darkness is not scary, no-one is able to see you in pitch-black (not even the lions hunt in a moonless, cloudy night). Brightness is not an indicator of safety, there is so much you can’t see in bad lighting.

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