My visual, audio and literary stuff is free here, but my hold-in-your-hands books, prints, and CDs cost real money. If you want to buy something tactile from me, contact me at stujenks at gmail dot com, or message me on Facebook. If you simply want to look and read for free, that's fine too, but don't hesitate to send me your sofa change. My snail mail address is P.O. Box 161, Tucson, Arizona 85702. Keep those cards and letters coming. And sofa change too. Love and light, Stu.
Spring: 2002. Dad's been dead nine months. Mom has to sell the river house so she can invest the cash and survive on the interest. Dad didn't leave Mom enough money to live on. Dad didn't believe in life insurance.
People loved my father, for he had the public persona of a funny, happy-go-lucky, smart, old Southern man. But his private face was darker. At home, he was a cynical loner who feared poverty and preferred his own company to that of his family.
But oddly, all that doesn’t seem to matter now, the man he was when he was alive, for I can feel him around me. I can call him to me, simply by saying his name. He seems to be this pure good soul now: loving, tender, accepting, and kind. I feel he actually likes me today. (And whether I'm making it up in my own head or Ghost Dad is really hovering around, the kind energy of my father is nice to be around.)
Months ago, I had to send Dad away for a week because the new-glowing-light-Dad was interfering with my grieving process of the newly-dead-Dad. I needed to be mad at my father for a while, but when God’s-Light-Bulb-Dad was around, I couldn’t feel that feeling and then let it go. But I called him back after awhile, after I released that rage. Unlike the living Stuart, Ghost Dad understood completely.
When I'm worried about money and going further into debt around my failing art photography business, I hear him softly say, "Don't worry, son. The money will come, and if it doesn't, it doesn't matter. You have the love of your friends, the love of your Art, the love of us." Other times, when I'm filled with self-doubt and internal hatefulness, I hear him whisper off my left shoulder, "I love you just the way you are, Son. You don’t need to change a thing." A month ago, when Ghost Dad was saying another ethereal message of Love, I actually said out loud, "Who is this guy?”
A little about Ed-Lil, The Jenks’ ancestral summer home on the Rappahannock River, which Mom is selling:
It was bought by Papa Edgar Jenks, my grandfather, in the 1920’s from Johnny Mothershead. It consisted of a two story house with five bedrooms and a bath, and a smaller one story house that had the kitchen, the dining room and a tool shed. My father deeply loved the Rappahannock River, the Ed-Lil house, and the people who lived along its banks. Loved them since he was a teenager.
Every August, Mom, Dad, Pamela and I would come to the river for two or three weeks. I hated the river as a kid. Hated the mosquitoes, the fleas, the stinging jellyfish but mostly I hated being around my parents. They were so judgmental, so critical, so volatile in bullshit ways. I couldn’t wait to get back to Raleigh and back to school in September. But then, 25 years ago, I started coming here because I wanted to, not because I had to. I always had a car, so I could come and go as I pleased, if things got too dark.
After Dad retired from IBM in mid 80's, he built himself and Mom a modest three bedroom house next to the old houses. He then tore down the bedroom house and the kitchen and left the old dining room as his workshop. The dining room/tool shed was and is gorgeous, with its ancient tongue-in-groove wood walls, the rusting gas fixtures from the 1920’s that still hang from the ceiling, and the tattered and stained white lace curtains that haven’t been washed since the Eisenhower Administration. The new smell of gasoline is added to the mix, that comes from the riding lawn mower that’s parked on the shed’s stained hardwood floors. An old map of Richmond County is pinned to the wall. It’s been crudely attached there since before I was born. Change is good sometimes, but consistency and tradition are beautiful, too, if they are humble. That is one humble map. This is one humble room.
I'm standing in the old dining room this afternoon, with the lace and the tongue in groove and the old map on the wall. A big rain is coming. Spirit Dad is here, but I sure wish Old Living Stuart were here right now. Dad and I so loved watching big storms cross the river.
The window facing the river looks great. So would a flame spiral next to it. Wonder if I can pull it off. It’ll have to be a short exposure, maybe ten seconds. I put all the red filters I have on the lens of my Rollei and hope for the best.
I open the window, get out the Zippo and wait for the storm.
A line of rain crosses the seven-mile width of the river. The river slowly goes away, replaced by a dark gray of big rain. Halfway across the river now. Just a mile away. Almost here. Now it’s here. The storm is here.
Thunder crackles in the corn fields behind me. Lightning highlights the lace curtains. Heavy dense rain blows in through the open window. The river completely disappears.
I open the Rollei’s shutter and ignite the Zippo. I paint a spiral to the left of the window. I close the shutter after ten seconds. I do this a few times.
Then suddenly, in between exposures, a small gray finch flies through the open window. Confused and wet, it lands on the lens of my camera. We stare at each other. He's scared, fidgety and soaked to the bone. My first thought is, “Don't shit on the lens. Please don’t shit on my camera.” The bird's first thought is probably something like, “Where the hell am I? How did I get in here, and who is that guy?” He stays perched on my camera for at least a minute. We continue to look at each other. I don’t care about bird shit anymore. I just care for the little bird.
Suddenly he flies off the camera, but now, poor thing, he can’t find the open window. He’s feverishly flying around the dining room. I quickly grab a broom. I open the ancient screen door and prop it open with an old gas can. The finch is banging itself on the ceiling of the room, completely frantic now. I gently put the straw broom head on the ceiling and usher the bird to the door. He see the open door and streaks out into the pouring rain. Success for both of us.
I go back and paint another Zippo spiral, this one for the bird. The exposure feels right. I call it a day. I put the lens cap on the camera and sit in an old chair now, looking at a large puddle of water forming under the old cedar tree out front.
I love the River now. I'm going to miss it. But you got to do what you got to do. Mom needs money to survive, and she really doesn’t like living this far away from civilization anyway. She only came here because Stuart came here to live. Now, he’s gone. Now, it’s time for her to live where she wants, for her to have her own life now.
She’ll be soon living in a cute little house next door to the organist from church. Glen’s his name. He’s a wonderful guy. I'm hopeful. For all of us.
"The Labyrinth Walk, Grace St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Tucson, Arizona" (c) 1997, 2016 Stu Jenks
(From my hardbound book, Flame Spirals. Also available as an e-book, wherever they are sold.)
The sexton was nice enough to put up an extension ladder. I climbed onto the roof of the Parish Hall, that overlooks the maze. The Sun’s going down fast. Gordon and Judy, the two priests at Grace St. Paul's, have OK'd my shooting the Thursday Evening Labyrinth Walk. The parishioners have just arrived, about ten in all. From the roof, I tell the walkers I'm going to shoot their meditation this evening.
"And don't worry if you're shy and don't like your picture taken," I say. "I'm using real long shutter speeds so everyone will be a blur. That OK?"
"Sure that's fine," one woman says, others nodding their approval. But one woman walks to the side.
"Really, you can walk the Labyrinth. No one will know who you are," I say.
She doesn’t say anything, but she doesn’t return to the circle until much later.
Judy, the facilitator of the Walk, explains to the congregation how this works.
"One by one, we'll enter the labyrinth and begin to walk," she says. "You can have a prayer or a question in your mind, or you can just empty your mind. You can walk it fast or slow. There is no right or wrong way. I would just suggest that you stay as much in the moment as you can. Just be in the Labyrinth. And when you reach the center, stop for as long as you like, and then walk back out. And don't worry about bumping into each other or passing each other in the Labyrinth. It's really easy to pass and it’s OK to touch each other."
Some people chuckle.
"Also, I suggest you walk silently. All right, let's start."
Judy presses play on a nearby boom box and Gregorian Chants come from its small speakers. One at a time, the participants enter the labyrinth.
A little history about the Church and me:
I was born and raised in the Episcopal Church. Baptized, confirmed, the whole nine yards. My mother Mary is what I affectionately call a member of the Episcopal Mafia: A member of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Virginia, music director and a vestry woman at her parish in Lively, Virginia, and active in the Church since she was a child. Dad was Senior Warden for a time and designed the Memorial Garden at his home church of St. Mary's Whitechapel. He rarely goes to church in his retirement years. He doesn’t believe in God, much less Jesus, but he is still a cradle to grave Episcopalian. My sister is a member of the choir at St. Mark's Episcopal in Raleigh, North Carolina, but by her own admission, she goes to church to cover my bets just in case there’s a heaven. My guess is her church and the St. Mark’s community mean much more to her than she willing to share.
I rarely go to church. Christmas. Maundy Thursday. Maybe Good Friday. Not Easter. Funerals, yes. Weddings, when they happen. That's about it. I'm not a Christian. I don't believe in the Risen Christ. I do believe they basically fucked up the faith after the Nicene Convention in the third century AD, when they took out the Gospels of Thomas and Mary Magdalene and minimized the Sacredness of Women in the Church. Plus I believe in Reincarnation, the validity of all of the world's religions and the sanctity of the mystic's individual journey to God. Some would say that shouldn't exclude me from attending Grace St. Paul's, a very progressive, liberal, reconciliation church, but it does. Not in the minds of the congregation or the clergy, but in my mind.
When I do, on those rare occasions, attend a service at Grace St. Paul's, I add and take out words from the liturgy so I don't feel like a hypocrite. You'll often hear me say, “Though Jesus Christ and others” instead of “Through Jesus Christ our Lord,” and when the congregation is reading the Nicene Creed, there are whole sections during which I stand mute.
But my roots, both ancestral and personal, are in the Anglican/Episcopal church and to deny that would be, for me, like a Jew who doesn't go to temple, denying that he is a Jew at all. And I do like the ceremony of Holy Communion, a good non-shaming sermon from the pulpit, and strong loud music from a big pipe organ. I go to midnight service on Christmas Eve, primarily to sing “Silent Night” and, on the outside chance, to sing “In the Bleak Midwinter.” And even though I don't go to Easter services, I can easily hum the refrains from “Hail Thee, Festival Day” and “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.”
The Church is in my DNA and in my muscle memory, whether I like it or not, and I believe it's important to honor the spiritual practices of my ancestors, living and dead, regardless of whether or not I practice them myself.
And even though I don’t believe that Jesus was the only Son of God, I do believe in a number of his teachings, most important in my mind: That we, as human beings, have a moral obligation to help those who are poor in body, mind and spirit; that God is Love and Love is God; that God is a mysteriously magical healing energy, and that He loves me, no matter what.
He loves me when I’m sober. He loved me when I was a drunk. He loves me when I eat too much. He loves me when I eat my vegetables. He loves me when I give a kind word to a friend. He loves me when I’m a judgmental asshole.
One of my jobs while I’m on the planet is to try and love myself a fraction as much as He loves me. By doing so, I’ll hopefully love others a whole lot more than if I was trying to do that alone.
The Labyrinth is full of people, perhaps a dozen now. Some are solemnly looking down as they walk. Others are joyously swinging their arms around the corners of the maze. A couple are sitting outside of the circle. Me? I'm on the roof grumbling about how I'm losing the last bit of sunlight. My exposures are up to 5 seconds now. It’s not the blurs I mind. I want them. I just need some light for a good dense negative. I'm a little flustered. Breathe, Stu, breathe. I relax and take a breath. I see my friend Beth make a sweeping move around a sharp corner of the labyrinth. I open and close the shutter. Nice. I watch the changing composition of people below in the ground glass of my twin lens reflex. I wait, then shoot again. Wait, then again.
After a few more minutes I'm done shooting, yet the parishioners are still walking the maze. I climb down the ladder and walk toward the entrance of the Labyrinth. I take a breath. Did I get the shot? I clear my head of that worry as best as I can and enter the maze, slowly passing someone who is coming out. I follow the path. I look at my feet as I walk. I take one of the hairpin curves a little fast, allow my arms to swing wide as I regain my balance. I smile. And for those few moments, I'm grateful to be a member of this Episcopalian Tribe.
All photography and text by Stu Jenks (c) 2015. (except for the Goggle Maps screen-save at the end of the post)
No one knows who made it.
My friend Tom Baumgartner, who initially showed me his Google Earth screen-save of the place, did a thorough web search but found nothing on it. No names. No photos. Nothing.
So I packed up the truck the next day and drove the four hours to see it for myself.
(Full disclosure: the license plate on my Pathfinder reads "Spirals.")
By dropping a pin on my Google Maps, I found the spiral just outside an entrance to the Kofa Natural Wildlife Reserve. Without Google Maps, satellites, smart phones and computers, I would have never found it, for it can not seen from the road.
I parked my truck when my phone told me to stop and walked toward where I thought it might be. I found it, and immediately knew what it was.
Some man or woman or people had carved a 60 foot spiral into the desert floor as a meditative labyrinth. I know a little about labyrinths being a big fan of the two at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, and the one at Grace St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Tucson, Arizona. I have walked these mystery mazes many times. I know how to do that: Clear my mind as best I can or rather, in my case, be aware of the bat-shit-monkey-mind-craziness I'm thinking, acknowledging that with as little judgment as I can muster, and eventually bring myself back to these two important questions:
What time is it?
Where am I?
I had Pamela's Baby Rocking Chair with me on Friday. I set up my sister's chair on the edge of the spiral, put on the 28mm prime on my 5D Mark II and took a number of images. I got one or two I liked. I knew I had coverage. I knew I was done for now.
So now it's time to pray.
I entered the spiral with Pamela's chair in one hand and my iPhone in the other. I took some video for my Facebook friends and upload it to the web as I walked. I thought about my worries about finding a new studio, my worries about not having enough money to pay my bills, my worries of perhaps I need to gain so more hourly employment, my worries about perhaps not being as good a boyfriend I thought I was. My worries, my fears, my thoughts, my thoughts, my god damn thoughts.
And I walked and walked and walked some more.
It's a very big spiral, a very long freaking walk I tell you, but I'm grateful to the long freaking walk because after not too much time, I was back on those two questions again:
Where am I?
What time is it?
Then suddenly I saw the bigger metaphor of this spiral. It's symbolic of my life's journey from birth to death. My childhood in the outer loops, each taking a long time to orbit the center, like how a single day was an eternity when I was a six. That it took less time for each cycle around, as I lived life and loved and approached my death in the center of the spiral, the last revolutions taking no time at all, like how Christmases come faster and faster each year now.
And then I arrived at the center. I put down Pamela's Chair and sat. I took a quick photo of me sitting in her chair with my iPhone. I sent that up into the inter-webs too, then sat back down in my little rocking chair and took it all in.
I don't think I thought about anything for a few minutes. Just sat. Looked at the distant mountains. Rocked in my chair. I maybe had one or two thoughts about how much time I had till the sun went down but that was about it.
I suppose the spiral had worked its magic.
After a while, I walked back out, enjoying the journey back to my birth.
I took some more shots once I exited. I watched the Sun set behind some mountains to the west. It started to get dark. Time to go. I loaded up the Pathfinder but first I drove down the few hundred yards to the kiosk at the entrance of the Kofa. Quickly I realized I was in the wrong place. I didn't want to be there. I wanted to be back at the spiral labyrinth. I raced back and caught the last bits of light in the sky. It was glorious.
I don't know if my walking the spiral really changed me that much. I was still irritated with a narcissistic woman in front of me at the McDonald's in Quartzite, who special-ordered every freaking thing off the menu, but I did have a delightful brief chat with a trucker, as we both waited for our coffee and food.
"You on the road?" he asked with a smile, thinking I was a trucker too.
"Yes I am," I said.
To get to The Spiral Labyrinth of Yuma County, take U.S. 95, south from Quartzite, for around 10 miles. (or you can come up from the south from Yuma as well.) Take a left (east) on to Palm Canyon Road and drive toward the Kofa Natural Wildlife Preserve. When you get to the entrance to the Preserve, turn around and drive back on the dirt road for around 400 yards. Park your vehicle on the side of the road and walk to the south a hundred feet or so. It's over there somewhere. Enjoy and be respectful. Someone or someones put a lot of work into making this sacred space. It is magical.
"Connecticut Children's Spiral: The Arizona Trail, north of Oracle, Arizona" (c) 2012 Stu Jenks
The above image taken with a 70-200 mm on a 5D Mark II. The below image taken with a iPhone 4S with the panoramic feature.
And my prayers, thoughts and yes, this one not-so-little spiral, go out to those in Newtown, Connecticut and across our country and world.
Hug your children and your loved ones a little longer tonight, and tomorrow, and next week, and during this holiday season, and throughout the new year. Love is precious, and it can be gone in an instant, in so many ways.