Travel in all its various guises is at the heart of surfing, so it was appropriate that there was a little of it involved for most of the people—Patagonia or otherwise—at this year’s Surfilm Festibal in San Sebastián, Spain.
They say that change is good and that exploring new places nourishes the soul, but Nora, my three-year-old daughter wasn’t letting on if it did. Changing time zones with a small child is a test of a parent’s reserves of patience. From her perspective, though, once we were in country and with day time operations revolving around Patagonia’s San Sebastián surf store—a casual glance away from the acres of white sand that make up La Playa de Zuriola—she’d died and gone to bucket and spade excavation heaven. Happy child, happy parents, happy days.
[The author chats with Otto Flores after a morning surf, just out the door from Patagonia San Sebastián. Later, customers were invited to make their own handplanes with the tools in the foreground. Photo: Mat. Turries / www.nordicsurfersmag.se]City beaches are amazing things and I’ve never really gotten used to them. San Sebastián has two, although from a surfer’s perspective, only one of them really counts. It also clearly counts for the ten thousand odd people that flocked to its softly sloping sands and cooling mid-morning sea breezes each day—Ipanema without the highrise, or the close-outs for that matter. A mere glimpse of the old familiar solitude was possible, even in this metropolis.
There was a small pulse in the interval during our stay and I levered myself out of the bed at 6 a.m. in the half-light and crept to the seawall. Not a soul in the water, just a single prospector leashing up on the sand and head-high lefts running fast and crisp into the rip at the east end of the beach. One was all I needed, which was lucky because each minute brought another head to the line-up. It is odd how both extreme solitude and the opposite, found here, can make you feel a little lost. Lost in space or lost in numbers—or maybe the opposite, depending on how your day is going.
Zuriola, looking east. Photo: Mat. Turries / www.nordicsurfersmag.se
Something to make you feel found, though, are familiar smiling faces and one of the real pleasures of making it down to the Basque Country was, for me, in the spreading of social wings. As a Patagonia ambassador living in Ireland I sometimes feel that I operate in some form of a vacuum. So it was a joy to meet some of the other faces that peer out from the website.
Léa Brassy appeared from the fog of bodies in the arrivals hall at Biarritz airport and packed us into her perfect little camper van. Casually getting to know each other as we buzzed south for the border, we realised we had unknowingly spent a summer surfing the same waves 13 years before in what is now my hometown. Somehow it didn’t feel that surprising!
Like us, Patch Wilson descended from the north, Kepa Acero from a couple of headlands along the coast. But the real miles were put in by Otto Flores whose Caribbean homeland lies well beyond the horizon. Other key players hopped down from the Alps and a handful crossed a continent and an ocean. A warm gathering of familiar names, if less than familiar faces, mixed and expertly blended by locals Arantxa, Gaizka and Sancho in a pool of old city streets, pinchos and Atlantic ‘olitas.’
Léa Brassy introduces her film Catch It. Photo: @simplevoyage
Kepa Acero. Photo: Mat. Turries / www.nordicsurfersmag.se
Alain Riou, Laurent Pujol and Patch Wilson during a training session for Patagonia's PSI Vest. Photo: ©Marc Gassó
With all that going on, it was sometimes easy to forget what the main event really was: surfing and the issues surrounding it, on film, in the delicious velvety cool of a gracefully aging auditorium. From soft focus, close cropped, slow motion grace, to high energy mountains of water. Arctic to Equator. Novice to expert. Indignant to indulgent. The full spectrum laid out for all comers—a veritable marathon of input, yet to be distilled.
Being no expert at or on this stream of documentary, I had to revert to instinct and braille my way through. And, amusingly, where worlds collide there is often the odd spark, not in a bad way, just gentle reminders that we were stepping from the sand to the pavement. A polite gesture from the manicured host to the salty visitor indicating that steps are for stepping on, not sitting on! And damn, these people look clean. I wish I’d remembered to get those new shoes before coming down here…
San Sebastián street view. Photo: Mat. Turries / www.nordicsurfersmag.se
Yulex wetsuit display inside the theater. Photo: ©Marc Gassó
Fesitval trailer video from Surfilmfestibal
Festival recap video from NORDICSURFERSMAG.SE
Kepa Acero's film My Best Surf Session Ever was shown at the festival.
Thundercloud from onepalmMEDIA was another film shown at the festival.
That’s it. That’s why it is fun to get away. To look, listen and maybe learn. Absorb by osmosis and come away with a little more than you left home with. To be inspired, even if it is by something as simple as the wet footprints left by a surfer padding home on the still warm flagstones of a city street well after sunset.
Big thanks to Gabe and Lauren Davies and the rest of the Patagonia boys and girls for making a great event a memorable one.
Tom Doidge-Harrison lives on the western shores of Ireland, where he shares a small cottage with his family, charges barrels and shapes custom sleds for County Clare’s magical string of coldwater slabs.
Head-high peaks stacked in perfect rows, warm clear water, and glassy surface conditions were not the reasons for the best surf session of my life. Sometimes it’s about more than that. If you were asked to describe your most memorable surf session, what would you say? Would you scroll through your memories of surf trips to the South Pacific, or an epic day at your home break with no one out except you and the dolphins? That’s what would have come to mind before my experience with the athletes from the High Fives Foundation.
While surfing with this crew of hilarious, inspiring, adventurous folks, I found new meaning to surfing and, more importantly, the contagious element of positivity. The High Fives Foundation is a non-profit group, based in Truckee, California, that supports the recovery of severely injured athletes and helps get them into adaptive sports. I was lucky enough to join the group on a surf trip to San Onofre, California. This is where the adventure began and my life changed. It’s a beautiful thing when something that you love and are passionate about opens your eyes a little wider and forces you to reevaluate your perspective.
[Above: Cheering on friends. All photos: Trevor Clark]Being in the ocean, feeling the cool saltwater on your skin, the waves tumbling over your board and body, the rush of water under you, propelling you forward as you glide down the face—there’s nothing like surfing. This is where we find our flow and something magical happens. Sharing the experience and connection with this amazing crew of guys (and girl, Taylor Fiddymont) filled my soul. Their eyes lit up with excitement and the connection between the athlete, the board and the water was immediate.
Almost all of the High Fives crew had experienced some sort of traumatic injury that left them paralyzed or with little lower body strength. Most had never surfed before, but all of them were incredibly psyched. Despite their injuries they caught more waves than most of the people in the water, had the best attitude, and had more fun than anyone else. Their positivity was contagious and my experience riding waves with them was unlike any surf session I’ve ever had.
Imagine sitting on a 10-foot wave ski with shorebreak pounding on the beach. Your board gets flipped at least once or twice, and you take a couple board headers before getting buckled into the seat and paddling furiously past the pounding inside waves. It’s your first time surfing. In fact, you’ve never even been in the ocean. Your athleticism and survival instincts are all you have as you paddle as fast as you can to make it over a set wave that looks like it might crash right on top of you.
Once you make it through the surf, you sit, looking at your buddies next to you with huge smiles on their faces. You see some peaks lining up in the distance and turn around to paddle your ass off. As the swell rolls underneath, the surge of energy takes you in one swift motion and you feel the power of the wave connect with the board as you glide down the face. “Wooohoooo!” The adrenaline pumps and your cheeks hurt from the huge smile that’s stretching from ear to ear smile. As the wave tails off you take a deep sigh, turn and paddle back out, your friends offering high fives as you paddle by.
What's a good surf story without some wipeouts? Video: Shreddy Times
I think back to all the frustrating surf sessions in my life where the waves were too crowded, or I missed a peeling left or fell on the perfect wave. I think about all the times I’ve heard people argue, slap the water with anger and paddle furiously around with an irritated look on their face. What excuses do we have to act so immature and irrationally? The High Fives crew got hammered by six-foot sets. They were thrown off their boards into the churning ocean. Rip currents pulled against them as they frantically paddled, yet the smiles never left their faces.
Best surf session ever.
Laurel Winterborne is a freelance writer and producer at Trevor Clark Photography, and a former Patagonia Pro Sales employee. "When I felt myself becoming too comfortable in my office chair, knowing exactly where my path would lead me in 30 years, I decided to shake it up, take a leap and see where I landed." You can read Laurel's previous posts on The Cleanest Line here.
“It’s like you’re scared to move forward—you just need something to give you a little nudge,” says Jonah Manning. “You can call it support, but, really it’s just like a little bit of a shove forward. And I’ll never forget it, because Widge was certainly that for me.”
Today we bring you the story of Widge, the ultimate adventure partner. Sometimes when that metaphorical door of adventure opens, you need someone to walk through by your side.
Visit dirtbagdiaries.com for links to past episodes, featured music and to pledge your support. You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, RSS, SoundCloud and Stitcher, or connect with the Dirtbag Diaries community on Facebook and Twitter. The Dirtbag Diaries is a Duct Tape Then Beer production.
[Graphic by Walker Cahall]
I've found my favorite yoga and bodywork prop. Not only is it made of wood, but it's perfectly portable, fits into the side of any backpack or duffel bag, and takes up next to no space in a van.
It works kind of like other massage canes would (but it's not plastic, is way cheaper, and you can make it yourself), and a bit like a foam roller (but it's not foam and I lie on it instead of roll on it). I use it to apply deep pressure to sticky, stuck and tight places in my body. It's also great for supporting the spine or joints in different yoga positions, like a mini yoga block. Once the hips are quite open, it also gives just enough height to become a support for sitting meditation—placed just behind the sitting bones.
[Above: Mid-back (rhomboid) release. All photos Lydia Zamorano Collection]It costs less than $10 to make. I just get wooden doweling, cut it to about three feet long, router the edges, sand it, and apply a good stain or clear coat if i want it to be smoother.
Dowel Workshop wtih Lydia
Do: Find your trigger points and stay for 90 seconds or more. Work up to three minutes.
Don't: Use too much pressure. It immobilizes the tissue and puts the body into protective mode.
Do: Wait till you feel softening, releasing and increased liquidity (gel to liquid).
Don't: Go to the place where your jaw, diaphragm or bum muscles tighten. Approximate pressure should be like sinking hands into clay. Put a blanket over the dowel if you need to.
Armpit freedom (pectoral release). Place dowel about one inch below your outer collarbone. You’ll find a tender spot that will form a depression when you lean your weight onto the dowel. Pull your elbow out to the side.
Lydia Zamorano is a dedicated and joyous yogi from Alberta, Canada. She has been sharing yoga for the past 12 years and has over 1,200 hours of advanced teacher training. After co-owning a studio for four years, she now puts her energy into organizing workshops and retreats. Lydia and her husband, Sonnie, recently welcomed their first child into the world. Photo: Sonnie Trotter
By Gavin Back, video by Tyler Keck
Every year, Patagonia employees actively celebrate our own version of Bike to Work Week a few weeks after the national event. The Reno distribution center has a dedicated core of riders who regularly choose to cycle to work instead of burning gas. To kick off the 2014 Bike to Work Week festivities, we have a prepared a short video to acknowledge some of those regular riders, learn a little about why we prefer to cycle and inspire more people to get out of their cars and onto their bikes. Join us.
“Chile’s Committee of Ministers – the country’s highest administrative authority – has cancelled the environmental permits for the five-dam hydropower project, HidroAysén, effectively stopping the scheme that threatened the Baker and Pascua Rivers in Patagonia.” –Emily Jovais, International Rivers
This is an issue we've been involved with since 2007 and we couldn't be more thrilled. Check out International Rivers' blog for more on today's announcement. Congratulations to everyone who has worked hard on this victory, especially the Chilean people. The Baker and Pascua Rivers are running free!
[Above: May 19, 2011, Patagonia Headquarters, Ventura, California. In Chile and other Spanish-speaking countries they call it a cacerolazo – a stew-pot protest. Watch the video. Photo: Tim Davis]
By Joe Curren
When I think of my dad, I think of roughing it in Baja and traveling up and down the peninsula in a rickety old VW Bug. For three straight years, between the ages of 13-15, my dad would pick me up in Santa Barbara and we’d make the 1,000-mile drive south to Cabo on Highway 1. We spent six weeks in summer and two weeks in winter mostly staying at my dad’s place on the East Cape, but we also camped, surfed, fished and dove along the way, and always with his handmade foam and fiberglass dory.
The trips are some of the best memories I have of my dad while growing up. Yes, we did rough it, but a bit of hardening was good for me. Traveling in Baja is a rite of passage for the Southern California surfer and getting dirty comes with the territory, especially once you venture south of Ensenada. Shipwrecks, Scorpion Bay, Seven Sisters; as a grom it was the waves that drew me in. Many hours, of course, were spent surfing. But my dad really made sure I experienced everything the land and water in Baja had to offer.
[Above: The first trip when I was 13. Many adventures lay ahead. Photo: Pat Curren]With our surfboards tied down under the boat and our camping gear stashed in between, our pack jobs were quite an undertaking. The interior was stuffed to the gills as well. My dad figured out a way to customize a wood passenger seat that converted into a bed and, even with all our stuff, he could stretch out and sleep.
My dad has always been good with his hands, known for his beautifully sculptured redwood and balsa gun made specifically for Waimea Bay in the ’50s. Along with shaping boards, he’s worked as a surveyor, draftsman, a commercial diver, a finish carpenter and he has made a number of boats, including the 13-foot dory skiff perpetually strapped to our rig.
My parents split when I was seven. My dad moved to Pavones, Costa Rica, and then to Cabo when I was 11. Between Costa Rica and Cabo, he spent about a year in Carpinteria, California, building cabinets and doors for Frank Louda and Tom Jackson of Chismahoo Construction. During this time he also did some work on the America’s Cup catamaran, Stars and Stripes. This, along with the desire to get back south, led him (and old friend Alan Nelson) to build lightweight skiffs for Baja. (Coincidentally, my dad made two foam dories at this time, one commissioned by Jackson’s friend Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia founder/owner).
Magdalena Bay, trolling for dinner. Photo: Joe Curren
The purpose of the dory was to catch fish. We’d troll with it, my dad always rowing, getting the boat up to a really nice glide. It wasn’t always easy—we caught a lot of fish, but lost a lot as well. I remember him saying one evening as we caught a fish right before dark in front of our camp, “Good, we can eat tonight.”
Diving, on the other hand, we’d always come away with something. In Cabo we dove every flat day. We only had Hawaiian slings, so spearing a yellowtail was a special occasion. It was mostly sierra and chino mero, and oysters—we shucked a lot of oysters. My dad even found a large teardrop-shaped pearl in one.
I got a glimpse of the lifestyle my dad experienced growing up in Southern California in the ’40s, and of his time living off the land and camping on the beach of the North Shore. He and the guys from his era weren’t just athletic surfers; they were all-around watermen. They were so confident in big surf from all the time spent diving. Living an ocean lifestyle—diving, fishing and boating—makes you more comfortable in the ocean and a more knowledgeable wave rider.
We had a lot of down time on these trips and I enjoyed listening to my dad tell stories about the old days. He tried to teach me practical things like how to tie a bowline—something he showed me numerous times—and then would laugh at me for always forgetting such a simple knot. I watched his morning ritual of hand-grinding coffee and using an old sock for a filter. On the days when not much was said, we read mountains of books. When my dad started reading, I had no choice but to bury my nose in anything available—sometimes it was a novella like Of Mice and Men, other times Don Quixote, unabridged. But it was another lifelong lesson gleaned from these trips—I learned to appreciate a good read.
We also had plenty of misadventures. Sleeping outside in northern Baja in sub-zero temps in a sub-par sleeping bag. A bad case of sunstroke in Scorpion Bay. White-knuckle driving with buses passing on blind corners, the hood of our car flying open as a semi-truck blew past, and a couple close calls on precipitous mountain roads.
The VW Bug with the custom passenger seat was otherwise stock—not a modified Baja Bug or anything like that. It was taken on some of the bumpiest washboard Baja could throw at it. At some point in the trip, the car made a loud noise and it wouldn’t go into gear. My dad didn’t know much about cars, but he could rebuild an old VW motor with ease, thanks to the indispensable How to Keep Your VW Alive: A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot. Turns out, it was the linkage in the transmission box coming apart. He discovered that this only happened in first gear. If we started out in second there was no problem. This would work as long as we didn’t have to start on a hill. But numerous times he forgot and started out in first. This meant taking out all the gear, the seats and the floorboards and putting it on the side of the road while my dad tied the linkage back together with wire. On the way out of a camp spot in the Sea of Cortez, we had to be towed up a steep, dirt mountain road, since second gear wasn’t powerful enough. For a reason I don’t recall, I was at the wheel steering the Bug while staring down the side of a sheer cliff. At 13, it was my first time behind the wheel of a car and I was terrified.
Another close call was when I was 15 and my dad and I spent three weeks in Scorpion Bay. I surfed two to three times a day, almost every day. Our campsites were always bare bones. We had one small shade canopy, but never a tent. I always slept outside on my army-surplus cot. We got a lot of sun and I didn’t hydrate enough. I ended up with a bad case of sunstroke and dehydration and was laid up on my cot under the blazing sun. Two families from Carpinteria that I knew from surfing Rincon were camping next to us. I remember their campsite seemed so luxurious with snacks from home and AstroTurf to cut down on the dust. One time when I got sick, one of the wives gave me some Yoplait and I remembered it being one of the best things I’d ever eaten.
My fever wouldn’t break, so my dad thought it best I see a doctor. We headed out the west road for Loreto, the closest big town. At a fork in the road, we made the wrong choice and ended up on a road through the mountains that was made entirely of large boulders. It seemed like it hadn’t been driven on in decades, if ever. We made progress, albeit slowly. Once we got to the pass it was a struggle. We were in a newer edition Bug with bigger tires this time, but we couldn’t get up enough power to get over the top. Each time we failed to summit, we’d slide a little more backwards. My dad would rip the e-brake as we slid, but it seemed like we were getting closer and closer to the edge. I was seriously scared for my life this time. We were really far from help, it was scorching hot, and I was passing in and out of consciousness. After the fourth or fifth attempt, we finally summited, both of us letting out a big exhale. It was all down hill to Loreto from there. Once at the hotel, I chugged a gallon of cold water, took a shower and spent a night in the air-conditioned hotel room—all of which did me good.
I drove to Cabo one more time with a friend at 16, then at 17 I starting flying by myself to visit my dad. After that, life got busier and my visits became shorter and more sporadic. My dad, who until the ’90s, had only ridden single-fin longboards in small waves, was now riding a contemporary self-shaped thruster with a semi-gun plan shape. He said that he wished he’d started riding thrusters sooner, since, before trying them, he never preferred surfing over diving or fishing. But now he just wanted to surf. We were on the same page, and during those years the dory didn’t get much use.
About 10 years ago when my dad moved back to the States, he left the dory behind at a friend’s house. Around this time, my wife Teasha (who had also spent a lot of her youth in southern Baja) and I started going down there about once a year to stay with her parents, who lived in Baja part-time. At the end of 2012, I got an email from Patagonia product tester Walker Ferguson who met a guy surfing in Cabo who knew of a guy living in my dad’s old neighborhood that had gotten ahold of the dory and planned to fix it up. This was a surprise. I’d half forgotten about it and had kind of written it off. The last time I remembered seeing the dory was on the beach in front of my dad’s place. His place was simple—basic outdoor living—so there was no garage or anywhere else to keep the dory out of the elements. But even if it was kept inside, the boat had seen a lot of use since that first trip in the mid ’80s, and upkeep on anything in that environment is a challenge.
I was now living in Crescent City, a small town on California’s north coast, near my wife’s hometown. Inspired by my dad, I had been thinking for years about trying my hand at woodworking but always found an excuse not to—not enough time, space, tools, etc. But the move from Santa Barbara to Crescent City allowed me more space to work, and I eventually started a business making wood frames and also started shaping a few boards.
Besides the obvious sentimental value on hearing about the dory, I thought, well, if this guy thinks it’s salvageable, I would like to fix it up myself and use it at home on the nearby lagoons and estuaries. Maybe even take it rock fishing out on the ocean on a flat day. It also just seemed like a fun project.
With some legwork, I found the guy’s contact info. He responded to me right away saying that he hadn't started working on it yet, and if I wanted it, it was mine. In January 2013, on my next trip south, I picked up the dory in my father-in-law’s pickup truck, and then it was put on a friend’s empty boat trailer that was headed north. I picked it up at their place in Santa Cruz that spring.
I finally got a good look at the dory once I got it into my shop. I noticed things about it that I’d never seen before; details that I could now appreciate since I had started woodworking and shaping. The clean, sleek outline reminded me of one my dad’s guns and the perfect butterfly joint where the rails came together in the bow was beautiful. As for damage, there were a few large bubbles in the fiberglass and lots of smaller dings. The wood rails had dry rot and needed to be replaced. But overall, the boat was in pretty good shape, considering it had been in sitting in the salt air for so long, under the hottest sun of anywhere I’ve ever been. I thought it would be completely delaminated.
I told my dad I had the dory, how I had acquired it, that I planned to fix it up and I wanted to refurbish it to its original condition. He said, ”Good, I’m glad, especially if you plan on using it.” I asked him a few questions about its history. He said he got the plans from The Dory Book, by John Gardner, where I learned it was a 13’6” Chamberlain dory skiff. It was made with half-inch thick polyurethane foam with two layers of 6-oz cloth per side, vertical grain Douglas fir wood rails and brass oarlocks.
Prepping the rails for paint. Photo: Kanoa Zimmerman
I worked on the dory off and on over the summer and fall. Most of the labor was ding repair. I spent quite a few hours laminating and sanding. More enjoyable was replacing the wood rails. A friend in San Francisco who was working on a project demolishing an ice skating rink salvaged for me some 16-foot old-growth Douglas fir 1” x 6” boards. I did make one adaptation. The foam was weak in the transom handle so I sandwiched it with Doug fir to give it strength. Once all the repairs were made, I applied some marine-grade paint and the dory looked almost like new.
On a clear, late afternoon in October, I took the dory out for its first row on Stone Lagoon in Northern Humboldt. The first thing I noticed was that my six-foot oars were too short. Also, rowing against the wind was tricky. The dory was still pretty light (before all the ding repair I could get underneath and carry it on my shoulders like a turtle), and I was getting blown around. Adding more ballast, or another passenger would help (there were always two of us using it in Baja). But the real question was how did the boat feel once I got it up on a plane? Once I got it going, rowing downwind, it had the same glide I remembered from those years in Baja. Despite all the effort, getting the dory back on the water felt really good.
Looking back on those first Baja trips, I don’t think I appreciated the dory enough. Fishing and diving was fun, but surfing was all I thought about. I feel like my dad made the dory, not just as a way to catch dinner but also as a way for us to get a little more out there. He loved the feeling of the glide that we as surfers seek, and that’s a truly rewarding feeling on one of your own crafts. This, along with some of his other priorities, like spending time out of doors away from crowds and a DIY philosophy, has had a huge influence on me.
The trips with this little dory really taught me a lot. Slowing down, appreciating the simple things, and taking in everything that a special place like Baja has to offer, these are lessons I’ve carried with me throughout my own travels and in my everyday life.
Joe Curren resides in Crescent City where he runs an art framing business and makes handcrafted surfboards. Keep up with Joe, and his beautiful photography, on Instagram and Facebook. Photo: Teasha Curren.
A month ago, we headed south for our annual pilgrimage to the 5Point Film Festival and our live Dirtbag Diaries. Today, we share stories from two women, from two different generations who share a love for rivers. In 2013, Amber Valenti had the opportunity to paddle one of the last great free-flowing rivers in the world—The Amur River. Amber, along with three other women paddlers, documented the river from its remote headwaters in Mongolia to the wide-ribboned channels in Russia. Amber wrote and produced the film, Nobody's River, filled with hilarious antics and the soulful exploration of a new place and oneself.
Our next guest, Katie Lee (featured in DamNation), was a force to have on stage. Feisty, poignant and ready to tell you what she thinks—Katie is not your typical nonagenarian. Katie started her career as an actress in Hollywood, but soon left it behind after taking her first trip down the Grand Canyon. But it was Glen Canyon that she fell in love with. When it was flooded in 1963, Katie used her voice to write songs and books about the river and the west. And she's still using her voice as an activist for the environment.
Warning: This episode contains strong language.
Visit dirtbagdiaries.com for links to past episodes, featured music and to pledge your support. You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, RSS, SoundCloud and Stitcher, or connect with the Dirtbag Diaries community on Facebook and Twitter. The Dirtbag Diaries is a Duct Tape Then Beer production.
[Graphic by Walker Cahall]
Winner – SXSW Audience Choice Award
Winner – Documentary Award for Environmental Advocacy, DC Environmental Film Festival
Winner – Mountainfilm Audience Choice Award
Winner – Best of Festival, 5Point Film Festival
On Thursday, June 5, Patagonia will present the award-winning, feature length documentary DamNation, in 23 cities nationwide. Free screenings will be hosted at Patagonia Retail Stores and are open to the public. For a full list of nationwide, festival and community screenings, please visit damnationfilm.com.
The following day, June 6, DamNation will be available at Vimeo On Demand for digital viewing. DamNation will be available to rent ($5.99) or buy ($9.99) for viewing on almost any device. As part of our unique collaboration with Vimeo, we curated a number of ecologically minded titles, including DamNation, in the Patagonia Collection on Vimeo On Demand.
Words and photos by John Bryant Baker
As the sunlight makes its way to my face, I can see my breath as it leaves my mouth and slowly rises into the crisp cold air. From atop this sandstone dome, my 360 degree view is uninterrupted. Wilderness stretches out across the horizon in every direction. There are steep, narrow canyons and broad, sandy washes. Yucca, with their long, wind-battered stalks cling to small patches of dirt, while the sweet smell of desert sage accompanies the slight breeze.
Mountains rise in the distance, the Henrys to the west and the Abajos to the northeast. Directly south, the mystical and sacred Navajo Mountain stands alone. It is a rugged place, this canyon country, vast and expansive. While on a high point like this one, it could easily be mistaken for endless. The sun is cresting over the horizon to my left as the full moon slowly drops out of view to my right. In this first light of morning, I sit suspended between these two heavenly bodies. This is a magical place. It is a place that I, as others before me, have fallen in love with.
[Above: Fajada Butte, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.]The desert is not an easy place to love though. Upon first glance, many consider this expanse of red rock to be a wasteland, far too harsh to inhabit. The canyons are too steep, the soil is too dry, and the distances too great. Interestingly enough, these are some of the same character traits I have become so enthralled with. There is an untainted beauty that lies at the heart of such ruggedness. It is a deep beauty, the kind that is often felt before it can be seen. Unrecognizable to the passing glance, it will not be found through the windshield of a car. This is a beauty that takes time.
There is comfort found in the harshness here, a comfort that is birthed out of the uncomfortable. To know solace, one must first know distress. Here, I experience the blazing summer sun as well as the soothing shade of a tiny juniper. I feel the bombardment of sand-filled winds and the encompassing peace of a still, moonlit night. I know the taste of parched, chapped lips and the sound of a trickling, life-giving spring. Hidden seeps, where water slowly sweats its way out of rock walls, can be found throughout this land. There are flowing springs to be tasted if one knows how and where to find them. Potholes and tinajas, natural water jugs, lie waiting to be scooped with a cupped palm.
This is a dry land, no doubt, but it is not a barren one. There is not abundance, but there is enough. The desert is a mentor in the ways of simplicity, reminding me of the importance of having only what I need. These canyons are continually revealing to me the truth that differentiates essential from extra.
My wife and I have found ourselves once again following the floor of a winding canyon, exploring and discovering a new sliver of this land we long to learn. Towering red sandstone walls engulf us on either side. The leaves of the cottonwoods are a golden yellow, fluttering with the sporadic brush of the wind. Perfectly symmetrical splitter cracks run from canyon floor to rim, interrupting the otherwise blank vertical walls. A passionate climber could spend a lifetime scaling the fissures found here. At sharp bends are huge, amphitheater-like alcoves that have been slowly carved and shaped by the floods of time. Sound reverberates off the rounded walls with a sharpness and clarity not to be outdone by even the finest concert venues—more proof that man still has a lot to learn from the earth.
We find ourselves at an unnamed, unmapped spring. Crystal clear water is gushing out onto the canyon floor, spreading and forming smaller braided streams that weave in and out of each other as they glade over the dark sculpted sand. Kneeling down, I cup my hands, bringing the clear cold water to my sun-dried lips. We notice animal tracks spread throughout the surrounding wet sand. Mule deer, raccoons, coyotes, a mountain lion, this place provides life for many.
Looking around while listening to the gurgling water, we notice figures drawn high on a ledge. Staring more intently now, we begin to make out human representations with arms and legs. In other clusters, we see mixtures of handprints and spirals. On the high bench above, remnants of a dwelling are now visible. Simple stone and mortar walls, these are all the handiwork of a people long passed, the first desert lovers.
Ancestral Puebloeans, Anasazi, the Ancient Ones. Over time, I have been blessed enough to see much of what they left behind: cliff dwellings ranging in size from one room to fifty, kivas with wooden ladders leading down into the earth, and intricately decorated pottery. I have found arrowheads and spear tips and the chipping beds where they were formed, held 1,000-year-old sandals fashioned from yucca fibers.
We scramble up the loose talus for a more intimate view, flooded with feelings of wonder, excitement, and reverence. I study the pictographs and petroglyphs while trying to imagine the stories they long to tell. Pieces of pottery and corn cobs are strewn next to the fire pit where charred wood still remained, as if it had been sat around, casting shadows on the wall, the night before.
In the grass and mud mortar that holds together the stone walls, fingerprints are still evident from the day the mortar was pressed and shaped. Staring at a set of these timeless impressions, I notice a slight inconsistency in the wall. There is a small opening just big enough to fit a hand. Not able to make out what is in the shadows of this nook, I blindly reach in.
Looking down at what I now find resting in the palm of my hand, I am nearly overcome with emotion. The carvings on the handle are intricate and the tip chipped and formed of chert, the two pieces joined together with pine pitch. I’m holding a totally intact, perfectly useable knife. Suddenly, the gap of time that separates me from them seems to dissipate. I stood there, wondering who was the last person to grasp this tool?
Looking back down the canyon and off into the wild landscape stretched out before me, I felt as though I was taking in the same view as they had so many years before. It was as if we stood there together, this family of hunters and cultivators, artists and dreamers, perched high on the canyon wall. More than anyone, these people knew this place. Their understanding was intimate and their connection mystical. The spring below was a gift from the earth, the full moon part of the heavenly cycle, the vastness and beauty of the land characteristics of the Great Spirit. Are these things any less true today?
For this rugged, wild landscape I am grateful. There is no pavement here to disconnect me from the land upon which I tread and no skyscrapers to encumber the view across the vastness. In this desert country I am able to feel. The harshness and the solace I experience here are humbling. I am able to connect with what is and what was. I realize and remember the gifts of the Great Spirit and the sacred quality of creation.
Just as the sand seems to find its way into every nook and cranny, every crack and crevice, it has also made its way into my blood. It has found its way into my soul. This land has fascinated and captivated the hearts and minds of many before me, and now I find myself as they did, powerless to its draw . . . just another desert lover.
John Bryant Baker is a freelance writer and photographer as well as a river guide, both in the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River and in West Virginia on the New and Gauley Rivers. In the winter, he's a high school teacher and wilderness therapy instructor who works specifically with kids dealing with addiction and self-destructive behaviors. You can read more from John Bryant on his blog, Time Well Spent.