and Snow ... a Multi-Media Art Exhibition by
dear friend in Connecticut had emailed me the picture. The
email's subject line: "Ashes and Snow." The body
of her email contained one word from her: "Go!"
The email comprised her one word, the picture, and the link,
picture she sent is the one pictured above, used here with
written permission: a sepia photograph of a monk-like child
of exquisite peace, kneeling in a very large barren field,
holding an open book, eyes closed. A scant few feet away
and facing the boy, was an elephant, radiating love, compassion
and peace, kneeling, eyes open.
Delicacy. Balance. Precision. Magnificence. Magic. Harmony.
the link, I found even more pictures to further mesmerize
and captivate me.
Ashes and Snow, the web-site announced. Pier
54 at 13th Street in NYC.
hours, a car ride, a long bus ride, a taxi cab ride and
a walk later, I was there.
nothing where you're going," the cab driver gruffed.
"It's only the NY Department of Sanitation down
there. You don't want to be going down there, lady."
Thank you. Please take me to Pier 54 at West 13th Street."
get there, Lady. Ain't no drop-off. I'll be having to drop
you off south of the Sanitation building. You're on your
own then. You're making a mistake. Ain't nothing there except
the Sanitation Department."
That's fine. Please take me to Pier 54 at West 13th Street.
Drop me off wherever you feel you need to. I'm going to
see this." I showed him the print-out of the photograph
my friend had emailed me.
of the NY Sanitation Department's buildings, on Pier 54,
stretched across the ancient-looking wrought iron gates
in front of the pier, waved a huge banner with the same
picture I had received in an email from my Connecticut friend:
the boy-monk and the elephant, both kneeling, facing each
other, in infinite peace and exquisite connection.
this must have just been put here. Ain't been nothing here
for quite a while."
staffer at a very humble wooden admissions booth took my
twelve dollars. I turned to enter the building, not a building
really in any considered sense of the word. Parts of large
freight shipping containers arranged carefully and geometrically
in checkerboard formation invited the feeling that this
was a shipping dock. Which it was, Pier 54 in NYC. Except
the unusual construction is The Nomadic Museum, a fully
sustainable building created ecologically to house the art
installation of the most amazing multi-faceted exhibit I've
seen in all 23 countries I've been in throughout the many
decades of my life. The building and the art travel together.
The building IS approximately 150 containerized shipping
cartons, some of which house the exhibit when it travels
and some of which are rented when the exhibit gets to its
and Snow, it was called simply. A photographic exhibit.
A multi-media presentation. An art installation. A book
of 365 letters.
turned to enter the building, I suddenly found myself in
pitch darkness. I simply could not see. I heard and smelled
water lapping below me.
the void," I found myself thinking. "This
is how we started, from the void, with the light of consciousness
creating life through water."
I recognized the feel of wooden planks below my feet. I
saw a glimmer of light and moved towards it.
moved towards the light, I heard:
the beginning of time, the skies were filled with flying
Too heavy for their wings, they sometimes crashed through
the trees and
frightened other animals.
the flying grey elephants migrated to the source of the
They agreed to renounce their wings and settle on the earth.
When they molted, millions of wings fell to the earth, the
them, and the Himalayas were born.
blue elephants landed in the sea and their wings became
They are whales, the trunkless elephants of the oceans.
Their cousins are the manatees, the trunkless elephants
of the rivers.
chameleon elephants kept their wings but agreed never again
land on the earth. When they go to sleep, the elephants
always lie down in the
same place in the sky and dream with one eye open.
stars you see at night are the unblinking eyes of sleeping
who sleep with one eye open to best keep watch over us."
I was feeling chills going up and down my spine. I knew
I was home in a very deep way.
emerged into the light, I felt more wooden planks below
my feet, very much like the board-walks of the Atlantic
Ocean Coastal Resort towns I enjoy. I heard music, beautiful
instrumental music, the kind of music that touches a soul
longing for a higher and deeper level, along with the male
human voice speaking words. I smelled the moistness of the
seaweed and phosphate pollution of the water around and
below me. I looked forward and saw the insides of a relatively
narrow building, perhaps 65 or 70 feet wide, yet a very
dramatic two foot-ball fields long. Extremely large unframed
photographs mounted on sepia linen canvases hung freely
from thin moving cables fastened to ceiling girders about
3 dozen feet up. Dividing the space was a diaphanous hand-made
curtain I would later learn was made of one million pressed
paper tea bags from Sri Lanka. The canvases hung lightly
several feet above a bed of river stones flooring the entire
building, upon which were a planked walking path about 12
feet wide. Above me was a simple roof of triangular gable
design supported by ceremonial columns and echoing the atmosphere
of classical European cathedrals I love.
end of the building, a very large screen displayed moving
images clearly in a film theatre, but difficult to discern
from my original vantage point. I turned right onto the
main walk, looked right and saw the first of almost two
hundred of the most amazing photographs of the human animal
connection I have ever seen.
and a lynx. Heads together. Lynx's eyes open. Boy's eyes
closed. Peaceful. Silent yet speaking. Ultimate and perfect
later, the same boy and the lynx, touching lips. Lynx's
eyes open, boy's eyes closed. The beauty of it made me cry.
world, this. The world of silent, peaceful co-existence
of all animals, including the human animal. The world we
pray for and believe with all our hearts is possible. Captured
here in photographs. Am I in New York City?
third picture, I realized all the animals' eyes were open
and all the humans' eyes were closed.
elephants lying on their sides in shallow water, heads almost
together. Between and touching both their heads, a very
small huddled human child.
contemplating a conch shell.
and an elephant in a very, very large expanse of shallow
water, several yards apart. Monk-boy standing, eyes closed,
elephant sitting, eyes open.
woman dancing eye-lids closed with the trunks of elephants.
author swimming-dancing underwater with a beluga whale.
up to her waist in milky water, kneeling in devotion before
a very large Antigone crane.
walking happily on icy terrain.
exquisite wisdom of an ancient elephant's one eye.
monk-boy with the wings of a bird like those of an angel
accounts, it took 13 years and 9 countries for Gregory Colbert,
the artist, to prepare this exhibit, hailed in its opening
in Zurich as the largest one-person photographic exhibit
of all time. I met the Canadian born Colbert on my second
trip to the exhibit. He is an extremely attractive man.
He was dressed in a double-breasted fastened black jacket
and black trousers. His longish hair was gathered behind
his neck. He emanated the centeredness and spirituality
of a creative master. He has had an affinity for elephants
his entire life. I felt his elephant heart.
purchased 10 accordion post card packs of the exhibit's
photographs to gift to friends. I asked him to autograph
them. He readily agreed and pleasantly and steadily signed
an animal communicator. This is my second visit here. Thank
you for this amazing contribution to consciousness,"
I offered. "I feel so grateful and blessed to have
found out about your work. I feel deeply touched by it.
I know you're closing here in a few days. Thank you again.
Where are you going next?"
Angeles. We open next in Los Angeles."
I found out that the precise location will be Santa Monica,
California, and the date of the opening, January 2006.
that he had launched 33 expeditions to places including
Burma, Sri Lanka, Egypt, the Island of Dominica, Ethiopia,
Kenya, Tonga, Namibia, and Antarctica to film and photograph
the wondrous interactions between human beings and animals
so incredibly and magnificently captured by his lenses.
Elephants, sperm whales, manatees, sacred ibis, antigone
cranes, royal eagles, gyr falcons, cheetahs, leopards, African
wild dogs, caracals, leopards, baboons, elands, and meerkats
are among the animals he has photographed. His human subjects
included Burmese monks, Egyptian and Sri Lankan trance dancers,
San people, and Colbert himself free diving with sperm whales.
free diving with sperm whales is in the one-hour movie,
which shows continuously. I watched it twice.
you going to make the movie available on DVD?"
in its time. Watch the web-site," he responded
movie starts with the void, then water, then life starting
from water. The small red ball in the middle of the giant
screen of water becomes the artist, his skin glistening
underwater as he unfolds bare-topped from a fetal position
to a swimming one. From there evolve wonderful segments
of the artist swimming underwater with whales and elephants,
and at one point with an exquisitely beautiful bare-topped
woman, dancing sensually under water.
watched I realized that some photographs which at first
look like they must have been posed, were shot from real
live motion film frames and weren't posed at all.
trance dancing with feathers and a large bird.
small fragile-looking sleeping human child half submersed
in shallow water a yard away from the silent, guarding feet
of an ancient elephant.
woman clad in the lightest of white cloths sleeping on the
side of an elephant on its side.
same woman neck arched in a shallow river dancing with the
trunks of elephants.
boy-monks standing beside and leaning against the ears of
a large elephant, each with his hand covering his outside
ear, leaning his head up against the elephant listening.
rising behind a monk-boy, with the wings of the bird looking
for all the world like angel's wings on the closed-eyes
monk-boy standing in shallow water with many elephants in
an even arc behind him, all facing forward.
artist swimming and touching with both outstretched hands,
the tail of a whale.
many, many more.
I was to purchase the book of 365 letters, "Ashes and
Snow: A Novel in 375 Letters." The author wrote one
letter a day to his beloved, one letter for every day of
silence he had allowed between them. Mr. Colbert has accomplished
with his pen to paper, the same energetic of precision,
love, balance, infinite creativity and perfection, plus
magnificent love of nature, that he rendered in his photographs.
the Princess of the Elephants.
disappeared exactly one year ago today. On that day I received
a letter. It called me back to the place where my life with
the elephants began.
forgive me, for the silence between us has been unbroken
for one year.
letter breaks that silence. It marks the first of my three
hundred and sixty-five letters to you, one for each day
will never be more myself than in these letters.
are my maps of the bird path, and they are all that I know
to be true."
book of letters holds the secret to the name of the exhibit,
I had been told earlier. As I read the book of letters,
I realized that I had heard many if not most or even all
of them read out loud as I watched the movie. All of it,
of course! I realized. The book of letters, read aloud,
is part of the entire experience, the entire presentation!
excerpts which particularly hold my heart:
"A compass and a pen can give you a reading on the
lay of the river, but no mechanical instrument can measure
the motion of the heart . . . One day, when you have crossed
your last river, you will stand before an elephant who will
measure the value of your life not by how many miles you
have traveled and how much you have seen, but rather by
how much you have loved."
"Man has been walking the earth for millions of
years, but the first letter was written only six thousand
years ago . . . Who was the man or woman who finally decided
that the tongue was not enough? . . . Were they trying to
restore the sacredness of words by writing them down? .
. . Now, thousands of years after the first letter was written,
the purity of written words has almost completely perished
. . . Maybe there is a way to speak to you through the lens
of my camera about a world without words."
"My imagined edens have no words. Images, unlike
words, can speak of silence without breaking it . . . The
subject's eyes are closed in the images of my books of eden
. . . Only when the eyes are looking inward can you see
the edens within."
"When I look up at the sky, I see the eyes of flying
all have one name.
"I'm struggling in relearning what I knew as a child
that enabled me to see animals with clear eyes. Without
that clarity even my ears seem to miss much of the sublime
music of nature . . . What a lonely species we have become.
The longer I watch the savannah elephants, the more I listen,
the more I open. They remind me of who I am . . . May the
guardian elephants hear my wish to collaborate with all
the musicians of nature's orchestra. I want to join the
dance that has no steps. I want to become the dance."
"I still have the first letter that you wrote to
me. I carry it like a garden in my pocket.
If you come to me at this moment
Your minutes will become hours
Your hours will become days
And your days will become a lifetime.
I am never sure if I am reading the letter or if the letter
is reading me."
"The fate of all birds is to fall, but the phoenix
is the only bird that transcends her own death . . . The
fate of man is to fall, but some find a way to transcend
their deaths. In this brief moment on earth, they succeeded
in singing their song. The list of human birds of phoenix
is long: [the letter names several dozen recognizable names]
. . . There are millions of men and women who are also birds
of phoenix, whose stories are unknown . . . but whether
they are known or unknown, man or elephant, all phoenixes
share the same dance:
Feather to Fire
Fire to Blood
Blood to Bone
Bone to Marrow
Marrow to Ashes
Ashes to Snow."
Having read them, I now know, the letters can be read backwards
or forwards, for the beginning is in the end, and the end
is in the beginning.
excerpts are from Ashes and Snow: A Novel in Letters,
by Gregory Colbert. Published by Flying Elephants Press.
All photographs are by Gregory Colbert and are used with
Elizabeth Severino, D.D., D.R.S.
Energy Therapist Animal
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