Shape shifting in the gallery

The taxi driver's father came from England: an orphan shipped to Canada at the outbreak of the First World War who at eighteen, tired of his life as an agricultural laborer, walked across the St Lawrence, when frozen, to a new life in the United States! This story, and much besides, was relayed to me as we drove towards Fisherman's Wharf for a lunchtime meeting. I got the population statistics for the city (860,000), why its only intolerance was for intolerance; and, the miracle of people actually speaking to one another, on the street, as strangers, politely. He was himself gnarled, grizzled grey and fading hippy, and charming.

I had been to the de Young museum for American art in the Golden Gate Park. A striking building as built from over-lapping metal plates, austere but beautiful.

The first thing I saw was this remarkable sculpture by David Ruben Piqtoukun: 'Bear in Shamanic Transformation'. It is carved from soapstone. A bear seen from behind (as immediately above) is shape shifting into a human as seen from the front (as at the top).

In the time of origin human and animal inhabited a shared, seamless world, they moved between with understanding. It is out of that understanding, Inuit tradition was and is shaped. It is the shaman who has gifted access to the world of origin still. He or she moves between worlds of spirit, human and animal and sees - both the practical what is needed for healing, for example, and the metaphysical: the hidden contours of the world.

What struck me again, as with the Aborigine art seen in Seattle, was how deeply vivid and imagined this art is. You may not know what it is (in terms of its specific meaning) but that it is woven anew from the fabric of a living, if threatened, culture is utterly clear. It lives brightly.(

Then there was 'Looking into Myself' carved from whale bone by the Alaskan artist, by Susie Silook. A face opens and inside wheels turn and dance - the wheels of the mind that are the wheels of the cosmos. What is inside and what is out if you live in a world that is a seamless whole?

This gallery was so beautiful that is was difficult to spend time beyond it. I looked around but came back to it with the limited time available.

Later in the afternoon, I found myself in the botanical gardens. It seemed a fitting place to end the day. I sat in a grove of redwood pines, among the oldest living things, listening to the flow of water and the stillness of trees and wondering what returning to that original story would be like when one could talk the language of our common, now all too sundered, nature.

In a moment of wondrous synchronicity who should I see first as I emerged from the grove but a Japanese Zen monk in his traditional grey robes appreciatively walking down the path: looking through myself into unity. 


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