Sing me a song of your vast salty spaces, of your sagebrush, sand, and stars.
God is always sending people into the wilderness. To the tops of mountains or into the desert for 40 years, to the great salty steppes of the Great Salt Lake valley. To learn what can be learned only in a wilderness, under blasted earth and blasted sky.
The sky tonight is no less than J. Alfred's evening painted and spread across a table. It hangs over the flats and the water in a periwinkle haze—is that the right word?—cavernous space, now that's the only word, space, with so much sky, so much salt, so much water, and as the water is a reflection of the sky the world is suddenly fractured and doubled—!
The ring of mountains holds it in. But only tenuously, just on the edges, blue bumps on the horizon, and if they weren't there the sky would fall into the water.
God's always sending people into the wilderness and maybe Robert Smithson is no different. "Go," He said, "Go out into the desert and create thy work." Which is why we've got a spiral out into the middle of nowhere, a black spiral in the pink and white sand, in the algae and salt lie volcanic rocks (to my untrained eye volcanic), a spiral on the flats on the water.
To walk the spiral is a meditation. A religious experience if you're so inclined, to worship at the altars of God or Art or Nature or maybe at some mix of the three. Like those labyrinths in churchyards whose journey is more important than the destination—pick your way across the white sand and black stones, there's nothing at the center but if you were looking for something maybe you should go back and start again.
The sand's filling in the spaces between the black stones, scattering, burying. Process and decay are implicit, Andy Goldsworthy said—but this is a Smithson, not a Goldsworthy, and I don't know how he'd feel about his creation sinking into the salt desert.
But he meant to sink his creation underwater anyway. He built it during a dry year—it spent the next 20 underwater. Now the salt sea is kept mostly at bay, held off by the slightest incline at 30 feet back—a choppy mirror mixing the teal and pink and orange colors of the sky into a dull lavender.
The moon's pasted on the horizon like a child's transfer sticker, full and orange, transparent and wan.
And the only thing left to do is to walk into the great salt sea that's named this region. The water in this half of the lake is pink from algae, the same temperature as your body, and so shallow you can walk out 100 feet before it starts to go up your calves. Only later will it start to sting and cake salt on your legs—for now, to walk into this water is to walk into infinity.
God always send people into the wilderness, into vast salty spaces where they can lose their minds.
But the thing about space—spare, sandy, salty space—is that it does such a good job of existing that when you're there you have no choice but to exist too. Because, well—there is nowhere to hide under that much sky. There is nowhere to hide on that barren ground.
And as the land is what it is, so must you be too.
God is always sending people into the wilderness. Because—well, as they say—because he who loses his life shall find it, now isn't that something....?
All photos by my perfect sister Julia, who doesn't have a website or even an instagram to link to. What a shame.