|Odyssey||Spirit Caves||Mom's Bones||Tikkun Olam||Weaving||Totems|
Giant Cannibal Stone Bearers Sink the Greek Ships
8"h x 19"w x 17"d
Eucalyptus, maple, birch, clay, fiber, repurposed jewelry, stones, varnish
After seven days at sea, the small armada of Odysseus arrives at a rocky place with high cliffs towering above the harbor. The harbor feels to Odysseus like an evil jaw. Eleven ships of the twelve ships enter, but Odysseus holds back his own ship, securing it by rope to a rock-face beyond the harbor. The poet, Homer, tells us that in this new land, the land of the cannibal Laestrygonians, the sunrise so closely follows sunset that a man may as well forget about sleep and instead work double shift for double wages. (Not so different from today's round-the-clock communications!)
Odysseus scales one side of the cliffs that flank the harbor in front of the citadel of Telepylos (Far-Gate), and sees smoke rising in the distance. He chooses three men to scout ahead to learn the customs of the people in this unknown place. His scouts meet a young girl at the sacred spring along the way. As we readers know from other such meetings this young girl could be a goddess in disguise, or, in this case, not that! She leads the scouts to her home, where her mother, a wild giant, greets them and summons her husband, the king, who invites the men to dinner. He rips one apart, pops him in a pot to cook and rings the dinner bell. The two other scouts escape back to the ship, but before Odysseus can warn the other eleven crews, the fierce, gigantic Laestrygonians clamber up to the cliff heights and begin to fling huge rocks down like hail, crushing the ships anchored inside the harbor and forcing the Greek crews to abandon ship. Foundering in the water, caught within the tight mouth of the harbor as their ships sink all around them the Greek guests are helpless targets whom other giants spear like fish in a barrel. Eleven ships are sunk, their crews lost. Only the ship and crew of Odysseus survive. Back on board, Odysseus pulls his short sword from his belt and cuts the rope holding his ship to the cliff. He orders his men to row for their lives.
Have you ever felt small, as if those around you were giants? Or so inflated and overbearing that other people's needs meant nothing to you? Or felt as if you were being devoured by some immense unknown?
As a leader, or creator, do you trust your intuition to recognize such situations? Has your intuition ever warned you of danger? How? Do you recognize the warning in time? When you have only your intuition to guide you, do others follow? Do you have any physical effects if you violate or ignore your intuition? Do you ever feel that your relationships, your work, or your spirit have been cannibalized? What guides you when you enter a new realm?
In his poem Ithaca, the modern Greek poet Kavafy suggests in his last poem, Ithaka, that meeting a Cyclops or the Laestrygonians on our life journey is rare, and most likely only if we take them along with us. What is your experience? And as Jimi Hendrix would might ask, “Have you ever been experienced?”
Creative Invitations of this Sculpture
As you view the scenes in the photos, you will likely notice first see the cave-like mouth of the harbor, with the up-jutting bows of sinking ships, immense stones having crashed down mid-ship breaking many of the ships in half, sinking the sterns. You may also note the rich collection of stones that create the various landscape elements within the sculpture.
About the use of stones: it will help you understand how this interpretation of the sculpture came about if you know a little more about the source of the stones within the sculpture. I confess that to create this sculpture I plumbed the depths of our family "rock-box." When our boys were young, our family vacations were not the sort where the parents relax on the beach with a mai tai and a good book while the kids play quietly nearby in the sand. No – our guys were ACTIVE. Many of our vacations were camping trips and included tramping around the Southwest states and all the way up the West coast to Canada, exploring the dry washes of riverbeds, volcanic columns, or Devil's Post Piles near Mammoth Lakes, the "Bumpass Hell" of Lassen's sulphurous geyser pools, "glass mountains" of obsidian, glacial moraines, and --veering off at any highway sign that read -- "agate beach." We followed the "gem trails" in field guides to Nature's own amazing rock collections! Agate, jasper, obsidian, slate, crystal. The occasional trip to a traveling rock and mineral show helped us identify our finds and were especially satisfying for the boys if paired with a trip to the local knife, gun, or fireworks shop! A rock tumbler at home allowed us to polish up our finds.
Later, when our boys had left home and I went traveling on my own. I would often still find my eyes drawn to the ground. Anza Borrego Desert stones have made their way into my pockets. In the Scottish Hebrides, on the island of Iona, I picked up "Columba's tears" from the beach where St. Columba is said to have landed his wee coracle when sent packing by the ancient Celtic Christian higher-ups. On that same trip, I had the amazing experience of visiting nearby the smaller island of Staffa, a puffin refuge, with high promontories, and a profound sea-cave harbor, calm within, like the eerie calm Odysseus describes looking into the harbor of the Laestrygonians. Such experiences as these were likely influential when I found myself caught in this series and set to imagining the home of the Laestrygonians and the plight of their Greek guests.
Details of the Homeric narrative that particularly caught my attention were indeed the stones, the cliffs, the "mouth" of the harbor, Odysseus's intuition – and this time, his honoring that intuitive "early warning system." The sacred spring and the cannibal giants also gave me pause. The ship of Odysseus is the one to the right of the harbor, well out-of-sight, with its mast stowed, and with an easy-to-cast-off cable affixing it to the cliff. His is the only ship to escape that "Far Gate," as one might translate Telepylos, the name of the citadel in the story. When Odysseus reconnoiters the massive losses in the harbor, he urges his own crew to row for dear life on the odd chance that they may beat the worsening odds and true to his longing, sail for home.
Sticks and Stones of this sculpture
When a large chunk of rough wood presented with a crack already opening, the best-use opportunity was for me to pick up mallet and chisel and create that "swallowing" mouth of a harbor. Nor did it seem far-fetched to imagine the promontory cliffs of the story as the overarching walls of a mouth-like cave, like that at Staffa, virtually swallowing up the ships that entered. Then the image of the giant Laestrygonians, raining huge stones down from above, set me thinking about this tribe of stone-age cannibals – what if they actually gathered the huge rocks up on top of the cliffs on purpose, as weapons which they could drop or throw from above, through clever openings between the two sides of the cliffs that overhung the harbor. I looked up in my Homeric dictionary words that might have to do with the name of the people, the Laestrygonians. One word popped out, meaning "stone," spelled laas in the nominative case in Greek, laessi in the dative case, certainly similar in sound to the initial syllable of Laestrygonians. Okay! I felt my eyebrows rise! Maybe "stone" is a marked word in this story. I began to play with the idea of the Laestrygonians as "stone-gatherers." Any evidence for such an idea?In the Odyssey, a Greek word used for the verb "to gather" has the trug- element in Laestrygonians (y in Greek is transliterated as u in English) as trugao, – mostly applied to gathering grapes, grain, or honey, but what if these people gathered stones in the same way – not as food exactly -- rather first to maim, then to gather as their food, i.e. unsuspecting visitors who sailed into the seductive harbor and whose ships their host sank with immense boulders dropped from above.
And that's when I headed for the old family rock-box. You see, I am not one who collects fine china, or glittering crystal sculptures advertised as "limited edition" in the weekend section of the newspaper, or fine jewelry as proof of a husband's lavish richesse, or even first editions in bug-proof cellophane. Rather, I am one of those ignominious collectors of the physical instantiation of memory. I hold on to kids' art, wishbones from poultry, owl pellets, old letters, my mother's old hat, my father's old alligator-skin collar box, a grandmother's costume jewelry, journals from decades past, roots from trees that died in our old neighborhoods, all manner of yarn, books I have read and loved, and old rocks! Here, in this Odyssey series, I draw from all of it, collaging life's experience. So as you look at scenes of this piece, you may recognize some of the stones from our familly rock-box!
The glittering blue sacred spring toward the center of the sculpture, where the scouts meet the young girl – clearly more lure than goddess in this story, is an old rhinestone-bead lapel brooch my husband as a young boy gave his mother. She saved it all those years till her death, when it passed to us.
The incorporated gargoyle-like face on a tower was sculpted in clay by a young visitor. The crystal within the ritual obsidianf-floored cave emerged from one of those little fifty-cent grab-bags in bins near the doors at many Rock and Mineral shows. Clearly, the scale of things included within the sculpture is more about relative significance than architectural exactness. Such is the nature of this iconic transmutation of the text.
A word about big, small, and the size of what each of us may be doing: When I was a young woman living in Boston, where every landmark seem of significance seemed to be man-made, I would occasionally have a chance to return to Vancouver, where I had grown up, where the majesty of the setting and the immensity of Nature would help me get things back in perspective. No longer so afraid of the dark as when I was a young girl, I loved to stand on a high place, a hilltop like Burnaby Mountain, or a real mountain, Grouse, Seymour, or less often Whistler, in a clearing, on a crystal clear night. I would look up and there alone, on the edge of the encompassing "bowl of stars," I would recalibrate the "size" of things, including the size of my own concerns, my relationships, my troubles and delights. I would again be reminded – how small I was, how small I am in the astonishing twinklings of Night's visible universe. I would also again be reminded that those who made me feel even smaller than I was, those elements of the culture dedicated to keeping me smaller than I might be, frames of mind that imprisoned me or disguised the extent of my longing and capability, simply could not compete with the invitation to be part of something greater, something even more amazing, the cosmic "nature of things." Those evenings of "resizing" more than once rejuvenated my flagging sense of purpose!
A line of poetry has lingered with me from early on in the creative process of this series. As mentioned in the introduction to this series, when I created the first piece of this series, (Scylla, Charybdis, and the Clashing Rocks) I had no idea the size of what I was doing. Several times in my life I have found myself suddenly caught up in something bigger than I could ever, at first, have imagined. My awareness of that sensibility is now often supported by this line from a poem by Canadian poet Robin Blaser, IMAGE-NATION 11 (the poesis:
"The block of the image did not know the size of what you are doing."
I think of the giant Laestrygonians, and the scouts of Odysseus so small in comparison. Life on the sliding scale. I think of occasions when any one of us may feel "too small" to fully articulate our own vision, not yet recognizing "the size of what we are doing." I think of those gobbled up by someone making another feel small, or spat out by those claiming to be bigger, bolder, better, or of how one might suddenly, like Odysseus in this incident with the Laestrygonians, intuit the "bigger picture." I think of the Michelangelo's "blocks of the image," his blocks of stone sculptural attempts called Les Esclaves, seeming prisoners stuck inside stones that are not large enough for the image forming in the artist's imagination to fully articulate, or not yet fully formed in the imagination to emerge as completed emanations.
What, if anything, keeps you small, or artificially limits your capability? How do you recalibrate when things seem overwhelming? How do you honor the vision of others to grow or create when their vision differs from yours or is still in the delicate, emerging stages? How do you dance on that tense tightrope between the polar opposites within your life?