MONTAUBAN-SUR-L’OUVÈZE, France – Today we went to the source of the Ouvèze river. Eventually, the Ouvèze feeds the Rhône near Avignon, but up here in Haut Provence, just before the Alps take over, it is a trickle dressed only in moss-covered rocks. When you slip into the little spring it is clear and deep and when you feel the chill of the water in your flesh, it is strange to think that from this quiet place a whole river valley will take it’s name and many towns will append to their own that of the river on which they reside. It is also a reminder that good things start very small.
I have chosen to live my life in the city: the multiplicity of human lives and interactions is the terrain that I explore in my art. Yet, I am also strongly called by those who abhor the modern world and flee the city: the poet Robinson Jeffers, the writer Jean Giono born of this very land and Hemingway were early, strong influences on me. Part of me knows that one cannot trust the city and its ways. I live there but I consider myself an infiltrator.
Perhaps it is because I fear that when we huddle together, it is an attempt to distract our minds from what must eventually come: death and the solitude it will bring. It seems foolish to me to think that one can outsmart it through medicine, through accumulation or by turning a blind eye to its stalking approach.
But in this place, under the arching of the trees, I thought about life and the imperative to be brave in its crushing embrace. The mistral is blowing and as usual it promises to break things and sweep away our arrogance. But I believe that things that are strong do not break; they only transform. Strength is being broken and becoming something new.
Adventure and bravery and romance are within our daily grasp. As always, there are easier ways to get by but whose price is at first the numbing of the soul as a prelude to its later assassination. I have sought to live a life of courage and hunger. Complacency is what I most feared. Out here where wolves harrow the herds and the peasant farmers put out big white dogs to defend them, it seems clearer what is at stake each night.
I like these strong people who work the land. Underneath all our modern city veneers – our fashions, our technology, our obsessions, our self-deceits – we are human. We come from this raw place where life and death are waged. Just to live is a heroic battle that we are all engaged in. It is good to understand it that way because it is our heritage as human beings. Death is our mortal enemy but it is the very promise of certain death that gives this life its exquisite taste.