Desert Trilogy

Verse One – Origins

Years ago, I chose to live in the desert to be close to my sculpture mentor, Gordon Newell, and to see and learn from the golden raking light.  Since I go into great depth in my memoir, Seeing into Stone: a Sculptor’s Journey, about Gordon, I will just briefly recap that story here.  Gordon migrated to the desert for a couple of important reasons: fire and losing his lease at his studio on Cannery Row in Monterey.  He had already discovered the ghost town of Darwin, California, in the Mohave Desert, and transported an old house and a blacksmiths shop from Darwin’s abandoned mine to set up a house and studio where he could carve his stone in solitude without having to consider the needs of other people. He didn’t have a business head—he wasn’t interested in all that.  He just wanted to carve his stone in peace and enjoy the golden raking light of the desert. 

I made pilgrimages to Darwin to continue my apprenticeship with Gordon. Later, Henry and I honeymooned in Darwin and eventually moved there to live and work for a couple of years. 

Verse Two—Golden Raking Light vs. Moist Green Light

Raking light is a golden light that comes in at a slant and is usually accentuated by purple blue shadow.  Raking light is found in an arid environment, such as Darwin, CA, in the Mojave Desert and is essential to a sculptor because it reveals defects in the sculptural form.

A golden raking light can appear at sunrise and sunset, and also when the sun breaks through a dense occluding cloud. As Gordon said, raking light reveals the imperfections of the sculptural form as well as the imperfections in the sculptor’s soul.

In contrast, moist light is green and diffuse. You don’t see raking light in a moist place, such as in the Pisgah National Forest in Asheville, NC, where we went during the millennial shift. We were seeking out a community of artists and craftspeople with the intention of moving there.

Although the green light and mother-goddess trees had a magical fairyland quality, I couldn’t wait to come home to the golden raking light and space of the high valley desert where I could see and breathe again.   

Verse Three – Why do I continue to live in a high desert valley?

Yes, it can be harsh, hot and windy in some seasons, cold and barren in others.

The desert is also wild and relatively unpopulated and generally uncontaminated by city lights.  In fact, the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in the San Luis Valley is known for their dark skies. The Park is protected by a Dark Sky Initiative. This darkness would be impossible in the glaring lights, chaos and hubbub of a city, even in a high desert city.

Just as I am in love with the golden raking light, I am also in love with having a dark unpolluted sky in which I can see the Milky Way and the celestial bodies in their stately and eternal procession.

However, some people can’t handle the wild open space of a desert such as the SLV and literally don’t understand why I would continue to choose to live here. I think for some people, the contents of their hearts and heads might reverberate too loudly or they’re used to a certain decibel level and pace of life. For someone not practiced in listening to the quiet of a desert, this experience could be unnerving.

To me it is invigorating because I can hear the silence and see and breathe across the width and length of the valley, not to mention the majesty of the infinite night sky.

One comment on “Desert Trilogy
  1. Carol Sanoff says:

    This is a lovely tryptich. I, too, love to listen to silence and look at an unencumbered night sky.

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