Homegrown Paradise: the Kingdom of Heaven…Under Turkeys

Great American Hen & Young / John James Audubon / from Birds in America, 1827-1838

 

THE WILD TURKEY COULD HAVE BEEN America’s representative animal. The wild–nearly mythological--tale of Turkey v. Bald Eagle originates in a disparity between “Founding Fathers” (or could we say, founding feathers) Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin as to what iconic image would constitute the National Seal. According to wildturkeyzone.com,

On July 4 1776, the First Continental Congress selected a committee to design the Great Seal of the United States of America. It was the task of three founding fathers: Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson to select a political icon that best reflected the new country. ”

In democracy, majority consensus ‘wins’–and thus, the bald eagle was voted in as the quintessential American avian-hero. However, majority rule is not necessarily representative of better options or opinions (or even the ‘fairness’ democracy claims to pave the way for). Ben Franklin, a minority in the vote, stated in a letter to his daughter,

“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly…For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America…”

(Hmmm…voting in a representative for America who is of “bad moral Character”…sounds dreadfully recently familiar…)

John James Audubon observed:

“Male turkeys can turn their heads red, white and blue by controlling the flow of oxygen to their heads while strutting.” (wildturkeyzone.com)

Turkey / Daniel S. Masiel / oil on canvas /

 

 

(Now, I’ll say, that’s American!)

After several weird image proposals from the Founding Fathers (including a dramatic Exodus scene,  the rattlesnake from the Gadsgen flag, and some sort of Americanized Adam and Eve), the final image for the current-day National Seal originated from a sketch done in 1782 by Charles Thomson (greatseal.com), (below left), which was refined into the current Seal (below right) (images Wikimedia Commons).

The wide-spread spread-eagle eagle is depicted clutching the opposing forces of peace (olive branch) in one foot and war (arrows) in the other. In his beak waves the paradoxical banner reading, “Out of Many, One“. And let us not forget the reverse design, which can be seen along with the National Seal on every dollar bill:

Reverse of the Great Seal on the dollar. “Signals Enterprise” above and “A new order of the ages” below. Every time you exchange a dollar for something other than a dollar, you have this image in your hand. Image: Wikimedia Commons
iSelf 10 / Celeste M. Evans / manikin hand and paint pen on mirror / 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

American insignia for the 1969 race to the moon. Image: greatseal.com

 

Centuries after the National Seal was adopted, the Lunar Module named Eagle, manned by two American astronauts, landed on the moon.  On July 20, 1969, the voice of Neil Armstrong traveled through space, reverberating back to planet earth with the phrase “the Eagle has landed”. The winning Apollo 11 mission to the moon bore the insignia of a bald eagle landing on the moon bearing the olive branch of peace.

A turkey colonizing the moon. Image composition by Daniel S. Masiel.

 

Though turkeys (or bald eagles) haven’t (yet) been to the moon, there was no shortage of wild turkeys throughout America during its colonization. Audubon wrote in 1840,

“At the time when I removed to Kentucky, rather more than a fourth of a century ago, Turkeys were so abundant that the price of one in the market was not equal to that of a common barn fowl now”
(Audubon 54).

To this day, the turkey is the principle icon of the quintessential autumnal American holiday: Thanksgiving. Being an abundant source of food and already bearing spiritual and practical significance for the local Native Americans, the turkey was the natural center-stage hero in “the first Thanksgiving”, purported to have been in 1621, though the first recorded “official” Thanksgiving occurred in 1623 in Plymouth, Massachusetts (National Geographic Kids). The turkey appears as the center of a Ven diagram between Native Americans and Colonists, symbolizing common ground upon which the “natives” and “settlers” could peacefully feast together on. However harmonious the first Thanksgiving may have been, it was not, practically speaking, a lasting truce. “The peace between the Native Americans and settlers lasted for only a generation…the holiday is a reminder of betrayal and bloodshed” (National Geographic Kids). And however thankful the Colonists were of the abundance of the American turkey, like many species in the “civilized” (colonized) parts of the world, the wild turkey population declined drastically over the centuries. Both the turkey and the voted-in icon of the National Seal–the bald eagle–have, since the “founding” of America, endured episodes of endangered-ment (or, as in the case of the turkey, endangered-meat). Luckily, in time, human beings awakened to their errors and got their shit together enough to restore both birds to a non-endangered status. As change is the only constant, we must renew and revisit our thanksgiving continually, as nothing–from turkeys to bald eagles to peace between disparate groups to America as a whole–will last “forever”.

Preserved (for the time being) birds of prey (osprey, red-tailed hawk, golden eagle, bald eagle, condor, and turkey vulture) on display at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. Photo by Daniel S. Masiel.
Wild turkeys dwelling naturally in an Ojai orange grove.
And He said, “How shall we picture the kingdom of God, or by what parable shall we present it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the soil, though it is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil, yet when it is sown, it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms large branches; so that the birds of the air can nest under shade” (Mark 4:30-34).
Turkey hen on the loose in Ojai’s east end
Though wild turkeys aren’t exactly “birds of the air” (they are considered a “ground bird”), they are “agile fliers”, capable of flying in short but fast bouts (Wikipedia). They sleep in trees but nest on the ground. In one specific Ojai locale, their presence can be witnessed at dusk as large silhouettes perched high up in the gnarled arms of 100+-year-old oaks. As for turkeys in one’s vicinity, the reality of abundance–the Kingdom of Heaven–can–will–be found in one’s own ‘backyard’. Just as you cannot find yourself anywhere but where you are–here, right now–reality’s resources are to be found and used right where you are. It is simply up to the individual to choose to be aware of the abundance and potential which surrounds, the potency of which is HERE at all times. (Chances are, if you are reading this, you are a human individual–so do something with that!) There’s a world–HERE–to be found and cultivated, and no better–or possible–place to start but with oneself and one’s own backyard.
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I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven (Matthew 16:19).

Backyard binding of heaven unto earth, and vice versa.

View from below: According to a ‘native’ Colombian tribe, “If a weak person stations himself at the foot of the [Brugmansia] tree, he will forget everything” (Evans Schultes 128). Lying under the Brugmansia trees I planted, it is easy to forget that years ago there was nothing but dry dirt where I now have a garden.
View from above: Though I do not have turkeys in my backyard, two domestic Lagomorphs–Yettie and Sassquatch–appear as the “fantastical badu-win or two little girls in white” (163).
Solandra Maxima (aka Golden Chalice vine)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But Jesus said,
“Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these”
(Matthew 19:14).

“Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

Outdoor altar with various magickal objects and Skeleton and Simulation.

And He was saying, “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows–how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head” (Mark 4:26-29).

Various living edibles with up-and-coming summer fruits.
The peaceful sharing of a pea, cultivated by a human, with a local native caterpillar.

Working with what is already HERE–with the present, natural, and ultimately wild environmental conditions–is working with reality as it stands. All else is at best fantasy; at worst, psychosis. All else becomes Man v. Nature: the most vehement case of human ego delusion, a parasitic plant which grows in toxic soil, rooting down into the bowels of Hell.

In the case of growing a garden, whether it be for fruits or decoration (which it will ultimately be both), this means being aware, accepting, and working with the limitations of one’s immediate environment. As humans capable of ridiculous feats (like going to the moon), we can push the envelope of reality quite a bit: we can, effectively, grow a tropical oasis in a desert, if we set out to. (After all, tropical oases do exist on their own, so we are just copying nature anyway, right?). This construction of a new reality–a man-made oases–can be incredible, indeed, fantastical–but also downright impractical and unsustainable. Since in the case of agriculture the given environment may not on its own support itself, it is up to the individual (agricultural owner, landscaping company or corporation, in many cases) to sustain its existence. This is practical only so far humans are willing to cultivate it based on its predetermined needs (i.e. lawn grass needs constant watering a mowing). Lawn grass won’t thrive on its own in Santa Clarita, so it is normal–unquestionable and even justifiable–to see sprinklers going off at 3pm when driving along the 126 (right?). The lawn grass just has to be grown because the tract housing in the Santa Clarita valley depends upon it; homeowners must have their perfectly manicured lawn to contraction and cancel out the natural state of their environment (which is essentially desert). They simply must be able to buy their fantasy of living in a place where grass grows. (They don’t want the grass to be greener on the other side!) And growing grass for this purpose commercially makes sense because it makes money–end of story. The logic is: as long as it makes money, it makes sense! Unfortunately, Nature knows nothing of money nor cares for that type of paper greenery; and since Nature is ultimately “the Boss” and reality itself, money-making logic is rebellion against reality–a Luciferian psychosis.

Such is the ongoing logic of capitalism in America. And now the (not popularly elected!) 45th “boss” of the United States operates out of this logic. And as the curtains have been drawn back we are seeing a staged “problem” of “native” Americans (natural born citizens) opposed to supposed “illegal aliens”. The psychotic split of “us vs. them” is the ongoing drama, another version of the illusion of man vs. nature.

So what now constitutes a “native” American? Am I “native” to America because I was born in America? Am I “native” because I am 1/16 Chickasaw Native American (though the Chickasaws were not native to California where I live!). Am I “native” to Ojai because I grew up here and have spent most of my life here–though I wasn’t born here? Is the turkey a “native” bird to Ojai because it roams and propagates freely among the Ojai agricultural ecosystem? Is the turkey an animal of my “native” heritage because the Chickasaw made turkey feather capes? Overall what I am curious about is: in this exceptionally globalized village, what makes something “native”? What makes something “indigenous” (as the word of choice to describe A.E.I.O.U., which stands for Artists of Earth: Indigenous Ojai Underground?) And what makes these distinctions matter?

(Ben in Chickasaw garb) / Bee LaFevers / oil on canvas / 9″ x 12″ / date unknown (~1960-75).

Above is a painting of my 1/2 Chickasaw great grandfather Benjamin Williford (on my mother’s mom’s side) done by my great grandmother Bee LaFevers (on my mother’s dad’s side). Both culturally and genetically, he was more classically “Native American” than I will ever be. But in today’s world, where there are dwindling numbers of half-blood (let alone full blood) “Native Americans”, what now constitutes a “Native American”? Point of arrival: what constitutes something as “native” must inevitably change and can no longer mean what it used to in simplistic terms.

A garb made of turkey feathers at the Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur, Oklahoma. Image https://awanderingwombat.com/

In the interest of growing plants, perhaps what makes defining “native” vs. “non-native” important has to do with taking into account one’s immediate climate and ecosystem (which, as anyone even partially aware knows, is on the broadest scale possible undergoing rapid transformation, for better or worse). My backyard oasis won’t grow well without my persistent and informed care-taking, whereas my frontyard “native” landscaping is designed to essentially grow on its own, supported by the local climate, flora and fauna. Working with what is already present–in the form of nature (reality)–is what allows for infinite abundance and continual life and growth. Optimistically (rather than opportunistically), humans have the capacity to both work with this and create oases in deserts–and both can be “sustainable”, simply because of the truth that nothing lasts forever anyway.

Perhaps being or becoming “native” somewhere involves tuning in and connecting with the immediate environment. This is the wisdom of the classic Native Americans: working with the nature that surrounds. Everything you need is here. Turkeys abundant!

“Native” landscaping with sky-high Matilija poppies (aka ‘fried egg flower’).

Frontyard xeriscape with lavender, Manzanita, California poppies, local wood chips and rock.
The lovely paradox of the human-made drought-tolerant river.

Alan Watts, that ingenious “bridge person” (as Terence McKenna would say) philosopher of East-meets-West, quotes in his book, The Book, an exceptionally alchemical passage from the Bible attributed to Jesus: “When you make the two the one, and when you make the inner and the outer and the outer as the inner and the above as the below…then shall you enter [the Kingdom]….Cleave [a piece] of wood, I am there; lift up the stone and you will find Me there” (Watts 19).

As a tenet of Hermeticism says:
As Above so Below

As the pledge of allegiance says:
One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all

As the law of Thelema says:
Do what thou Wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the Law, Love under Will

In conclusion, I would like to present the Caduceus song “Turkeys” from our debut album Saturn Return, released May 2017. Technically speaking it is my first musical composition that fruited into a complete song, and was inspired by a Zen-like moment of awakening upon witnessing the subject of the song.

Listen to “Turkeys” online here.

Local medicinal turkey tail mushroom.

References

All images except when noted by Celeste M. Evans

Audubon, John James. The Birds of America.

Evans Schultes, Richard and Hofman, Albert. Plants of the Gods. Rochester: Healing Arts Press, 1992.

Greatseal.com. <http://greatseal.com/committees/finaldesign/index.html>

Knowing Jesus. “21 Bible Verses about Kingdom of Heaven”. <https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Kingdom-Of-Heaven>

National Geographic Kids. “First Thanksgiving”. <http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/explore/history/first-thanksgiving/>

Watts, Alan. The Book.

Wikipedia. “Wild Turkey”. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_turkey>.

Wild Turkey Zone, The. “Early Colonial American History of the Wild Turkey”. <http://wildturkeyzone.com/wildturkey/speciesb.htm>

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Quotes and Questions from the Kingdom

QUOTES FROM ARTISTS come in handy as quick injections of encouragement and clarity for the artist and non-artist alike. An insight encapsulated in a few concise sentences functions much like an image in that it can be grasped in a moment, and also ruminated over for many moments. With instantaneousness  being a definitive operative of today’s world, short messages can be highly effective transmitters of meaning. This effectiveness is manifest in the longevity of proverbs from ages past, the short-lived posts on social media, the popularity of quotation websites, and the endless array of inspirational quotes set to generic background images on Google Images. In many ways, quotes from notable people of recent times circulating throughout society function similarly to passages in the Bible, with both at times being easily misconstrued and misinterpreted–sometimes with disastrous results.

Interpretations of meaningful messages–whether from the Bible or the latest pop star–act as catalysts for the unfolding and making of culture and history. Mass-awareness can be been altered by an influential person’s words–for better or worse. Horrible prejudices have been constructed and wars waged based upon negative interpretations of positive words. Individuals have been wrongly venerated or condemned based upon what they have said. What someone says within the narrow window of a few words can in fact reveal a large totality of their perspectives and understandings. And how that is interpreted by other people is a whole other can of worms. A few words strung together equal more than the sum of their parts–just as in art, a few colors on a canvas are more than just those separate colors: a total unique art piece is created upon their collaboration.

White Center (Yellow, Pink, and Lavender on Rose) / Mark Rothko / 1950 / oil on canvas / 81" x 56"
White Center (Yellow, Pink, and Lavender on Rose) / Mark Rothko / 1950 / oil on canvas / 81″ x 56″

The combination of warm colors juxtaposed in differing amounts and intensities in this Rothko has a unique effect on the viewer which is more than the sum of its parts. The colors in shape and composition are unified into a distinct, autonomous entity

Now with internet platforms like Twitter and Instagram, everyone can be spewing out their own quotations every couple of seconds to the world. This may be the culminations of a wide-spread triumph of freedom of speech. But I still find myself questioning: what effect does this have on the actual efficacy of people’s words? Can the virtual nature of internet communication reveal the unavoidable disconnect between words and reality: that what someone says (online or otherwise) isn’t always demonstrated by their actions? Are Twitter users actually saying what they mean, or are their chatty intentions coming from the push to get ‘followers’ (which is essentially how politicians now operate)? Does the internet make everyone into an authority based on what they say and on how many ‘followers’ they have (which reminds me a bit of cult dynamics)? Finally, does social media have the power to make everyone into journalists, politicians, celebrities, or even Artists? 

These are all questions which (as someone who doesn’t know the answers) I can’t help but throwing out there. I find it interesting if not disconcerting that it seems very few people today are questioning these currents which surround and often engulf us. We are consumed by the novel powers of the internet and social media–yet do we really know what we are engaging with? The unknowing and ever-questioning perspective of the child–and also of the Artist–can’t help but inquire into the underlying nature of things past, present, and future.

Picasso is famously quoted saying, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist one one grows up”. He also said, It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child”. I assert (as do many other Artists) that the importance of retaining and utilizing the child-perspective is crucial to art-making–and perhaps living in general. “Growing up” in society essentially entails giving up one’s childhood perspectives in favor of a rational (i.e. limited, compromised, and standardized) understanding and acceptance of the world and existence. Being an ‘adult’ thus becomes a drab, tiresome, repetitive, and dampening affair. Despite expectations and appearances, I believe it is a type of psychosis: one afflicted by the ‘adult’ disease is out of touch with a crucial part of their own personal reality–an understanding and acceptance of the magic of the universe which is obvious to the child. Any sensitive ‘adult’ knows to never squash the magic awareness of the child–yet why is the ‘adult’ expected to give up their personal, inner reality in favor of a standardized, consensus reality based upon left-brained logic? Is it really necessary to give up one’s original, individual perception in order to ‘fit in’ and be a ‘functioning adult’ in society? (Perhaps!) And now, as the Postmodern and conceptual hoopla has been hammered into art for decades, nearly nailing the coffin shut, Artists have been subtly coerced into to giving up subjective awareness in their art in favor of presenting and proving objective, socially justifiable reasons for their art. Art at large has become mentally ill with the ‘adult’ psychosis, where institutional, rational, and politically correct authority reigns supreme, and ‘fitting in’ objectively trumps the expression of subjective, personal ideas.

(unfinished childhood piece) / 2002 / acrylic on canvas board / 16" x 20"
(unfinished childhood piece) / 2002 / acrylic on canvas board / 16″ x 20″

Before and after images of Unfinished Childhood Picture 7

Unfinished Childhood Picture 7 / 2001/2015 / acrylic on board / 16" x 20"
Unfinished Childhood Picture 7 / 2002/2015 / acrylic on board / 16″ x 20″

Above is a piece from my Unfinished Childhood Pictures, a series in which I resurrected 10 artworks I began between 1997 and 2002, but which were abandoned before completion. In 2015 I ‘finished’ these 10 works, including the one above, which depicts a rather naive interpretation of inter-species interaction. As an 11-year-old, it didn’t matter nor occur to me that zebras and tigers don’t exist together in the ‘real’ world; my awareness at the time was more focused on the (obvious) aesthetic relationships and also discrepancies between zebras and tigers. At that transitional time (from child into preteen awareness), with my creative perspectives being challenged by the impeding adult-minded demands of rational and responsible reality, I was unable to complete the work. When I returned to it nearly 15 years later, I infused it with the irrational rainbow-aesthetics common to (my) early childhood perception.

Evolving as a human involves going both forward and backward in time: it is a movement towards infinity, entering the Kingdom of Heaven. The Bible states: “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven…whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:45, 15). From an Artist’s (and mortal human’s) perspective, I suggest that the Kingdom of Heaven is to be found within the earthly realm, and upon having the receptivity, curiosity, and questioning of a child, one will be able to see the wonders of the world as they are: mysterious, magical and wondrous beyond limiting comprehension. To quote the book I am reading (which, along with many other good books, was passed along to me from Michael Melville), Ego and Archetype by Edward F. Edinger, ” The child signifies the young, underdeveloped aspect of the personality, that which is fresh, spontaneous, and not yet fixed in rigid patterns” (Edinger pg. 144). For the child, everything is changing and new–the truth of the universe which creativity emanates from.

When I was (physically) a child, my desire to make art came from my interest and intrigue in the world around me. I am finding, after having gone through those necessarily weird, ego-seeking transitional teenage years, into ‘young adulthood’ attending art school, to being in the ‘real world’ as an ‘adult’ with ‘responsibility’, that my interest in making art still comes from the same place and same desires. Despite having endured four years of art school straight out of high school, where the pressure to make ‘responsible’ art–art that is historically logical (i.e. Postmodern), art that is ‘responsive’ to artistic issues (i.e. addressing inflated intellectual concerns), and/or art that is ‘politically correct’ (i.e. challenging racial stereotypes) –was paramount, I find myself desiring to return to the receptive (rather than contrived) perspectives of the child. This is generally discouraged in school, art-related or not, which I believe is a  reason why the school systems in America, from elementary to college, are failing. Children love learning, while adults already know everything–so naturally, if schools are teaching adult perspectives, they are shooting themselves in the foot. People who know everything already (i.e. adults) don’t want or need to go to school, right? And in addition, why would they want or need art, which ideally shows us things we don’t normally or already perceive? And since everyone already knows everything via Google search via their iPhone in their pocket, who needs to ask questions anymore? (Does Ask Jeeves still exist?!!?).

What Artists have to say in words is as illuminating as the art they make. It is undoubtedly part of their artistic practice and should be taken into account as such. More often than not, if one likes an Artist’s work, they will be interested in what they have to say. But can someone be an ‘Artist’ based upon their words–can someone be an ‘Artist’ on social media and have that also be the truth in the physical (artistic) realm? Can someone be an Artist just because they say so? Don’t they need actual art (which involves more than just saying a few words) to back up their self-proclaimed genius status and evidence of supporters (i.e. ‘followers’)? Does it really mean anything when Kanye West says “I am Warhol. I am the No. 1 most impactful artist of our generation. I am Shakespeare in the flesh”. Does it really mean or do anything for an Artist to have 1 million followers on Instagram? Do people now, and will generations to come, equate Kanye with his word, or will we come to understand that words are no replacement for artistic efficacy in the tangible world? Will all the instantaneous tweets and spontaneous (though premeditated) instant posts add up to creating someone’s legitimacy or legacy? Will people of the future take an Artist’s words more seriously than their artistic output? Is Kanye Shakespeare in the flesh simply because he says so?

Of note, Kanye is also quoted saying, “The most successful artists are closest to who they were when they were 5 years old or 4 years old or 3 years old”. There is validity in that sentiment. And perhaps Kanye is speaking his truth: perhaps he was as self-interested and impulsive with words when he was 3, 4, and 5 years old as he is now!

As a conclusion, I must include the corrected version of a well-known proverb, which apparently dates back to the 14th century: “The proof in the pudding is in the eating”.