Polyland

Dusty Davis: 1976 – August 9 2014

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

 I met Dusty in Spring 2001.  He was a student in my English class at Cal Poly, “Ecoliterature: Reading and Writing the Landscape.” Though he looked no older than the others, it was clear from his quiet yet confident demeanor that he was a “mature student.” Our distant but warm friendship began when he took up my weekly invitation to extend our Thursday afternoon class hikes with a sleepout somewhere on Cal Poly Land. We wandered above the railroad tracks and discovered a fawn left sleeping in the tall grass by its mother, a bubbling spring, and a patch of rare Mariposa Lilies.

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Another Thursday we camped above Stenner Canyon and the next morning found our way down Dairy Creek and crossed fences to get back to Poly in time for 9 AM classes. He was wonderful company, easy to talk to, easy to be quiet with, open to adventure.

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At the end of the quarter I asked each student to submit one piece of work they’d completed for inclusion in a class anthology.  I was planning to copy and paste them into a crude Word document and pass out duplicated copies, but Dusty volunteered to do a real graphic layout and then insisted on hand-sewing and binding 40 copies in order to learn and practice those skills. I remember him staying up till the small hours to complete the job, along with Elena whom he’d recruited to help, and the gasps of wonder when these unique artifacts were distributed to his classmates at the final exam.

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Dusty liked exploration, literary as well as physical, and I admired his discipline and talent.  The following year he joined another class hike and campout, again crossing fences, and this time taking refuge overnight from a downpour in a neighbor’s antique barn.

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A couple of years later, I was thrilled at the art installation Dusty created in the space of the Kennedy Library atrium by hanging dozens of green apples on fifty-foot lengths of nylon fishline, each swaying delicately and glinting in the sun. I enjoyed his large oil canvases, his eye-popping photographs and his vivid descriptions of the people, places and food he encountered on the long motorcycle voyages he chronicled in his blog, http://www.dustydavis.com/.

Dusty, the adventurer and artist was balanced by Dusty the deliberate perfectionist and long-term planner. When he decided upon graduation to pursue the career of web designer, he was hired by one of the most prestigious firms in town. He gave up that job to work with a thriving local e-commerce company in order to learn some of the technical and commercial skills required to create his own business–sans MBA. I remember the courage he summoned to finally take the leap and his excitement at finding the gorgeous building on Chorro Street at an affordable rent for the headquarters of Fertile Minds.

I had the privilege of working with Dusty on several more projects.  He designed beautiful invitations for a benefit for the Sierra Club.

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He worked with me and Jan Marx to create websites for several of her political campaigns, including her present re-election bid.

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And when I decided to start my own blog after retiring from teaching, I welcomed the occasion to ask Dusty to design it.

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The appearance and functionality of all these creations remain  as apt representations of the way I remember Dusty’s character: composed, elegant and clear.

Thoreau’s Buddhism

Monday, June 24th, 2013

A presentation to the White Heron Sangha June 23 2013

Henry David Thoreau was born July 12, 1817 and died at 45 years of age on May 6, 1862. His name is a household word, especially among those of us who grew up during the 1960’s, when his two most famous works, Walden and “Civil Disobedience” offered compelling guides to non-conformity, self-reliance, appreciation of nature, reduction of one’s environmental footprint, opposition to war and injustice and spiritual quest.

Although not widely appreciated during his life, since the late 19th century Thoreau’s works have become classics, admired by later writers, assigned in schools, and the subject of a burgeoning scholarly industry. He produced more than 20 volumes in a dense and quirky literary style, at times pompous and bombastic, at others intimate and funny.

Thoreau shared a philosophical outlook with his patron and early teacher Ralph Waldo Emerson and others of his circle known as Transcendentalists.  Like the European Romantic idealists, they abjured organized religion but shared a reverence and love for Nature and espoused a spirituality grounded in personal experience of a higher, non-physical reality. They were excited by the novelty of Eastern religions whose texts and practices were beginning to be disseminated in the West during the early 19th century. Thoreau admired the austerity and asceticism of Eastern mystics. He probably died a virgin and earned a meager living as schoolmaster, lecturer and writer.

Unlike Emerson, he was an outdoorsman in practice as well as theory.  He developed the skills of surveying, farming, and construction and became a precise observer and recorder of natural phenomena like climate variation, the dissemination of seeds and the succession of plants. Later in his life he made significant contributions to the budding science of ecology and the early environmentalist movement.

Thoreau’s writings and example have exerted changing influences throughout my life. “Economy,” the first chapter of Walden, helped persuade me and my wife Jan to leave the ratrace and move “back to the land” from New York City in 1970 to try our luck at living the good life in the wilds of British Columbia by growing our own food and reducing our physical needs to the basics of shelter and clothing.

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Nine years later and considerably disillusioned about Thoreau’s advice as it applied to a husband and a father and to my own capacities as a woodsman, I returned with my family to the States to complete an unfinished Phd dissertation. It’s topic was the relation of the pastoral ideal to the life cycle—in particular the irrelevance of that ideal to householders of middle age whose job it is to “hold up the world.” (more…)

Protected: Yom Kippur 2010 Morning

Monday, September 20th, 2010

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Protected: Yom Kippur 2010 Evening

Monday, September 20th, 2010

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