Nowhere More Than Here

By Katharine Haake

As we enter our last days here at Djerassi, I think it’s safe to say that a shift has occurred in all of us, even as the omnipresent marine layer of the first couple of weeks moves out to hot blue days and breathtaking views of the water itself. 

We have owls—both at the house at the Artist’s Barn down the hill. Nights, we watch as they begin their hunt. As they disappear into the gathering dusk, they become the stump they stalk from until, just as we think we have lost them for good, a rush of flight and the white of the underside of their wings swooshing above us.

It’s a full moon now, so we, too, are out at night, moving surely down familiar trails, now changed by their darkness. The photographers are having a blast, taking moonscapes galore.

I no longer quite know who I was when I drove down the hill the first time a month ago, anxious and tired after the seven-hour drive up the long state of California, soaked with gasoline from a refill mishap in wind-blown Soledad, uncertain what awaited me in what already looked like paradise to me. But you never know, you know. So much depends on the community one finds—or builds. And the narrow, winding road in greets you like a final challenge: are you sure? Are you ready? What happens next?

I am, however, coming to know the person who’s sitting here now, looking out at the view which, very soon, will no longer be mine and determined to keep taking it in as long and as deeply as I can. It’s going to have to last us a good long time, let’s say, the rest of our lives.

A few days ago, some of us learned to make paper from one of the artists, who generously opened her studio and offered her supplies and expertise. We have to wait a few days to see how they come out, but when I check on mine, one is translucent and well-formed, the other stinks weirdly of what may be the snake skin I tried to stick in it. Somehow, this outcome reminds me of writing.

Today, I play in the shop with another artist, who shows me how to roll small balls of clay along the surface of the world to pick its textures up. Later, she’ll fire my strange little objects, like prehistoric fossils from another planet, and if they don’t explode, they’ll emerge hard and white and otherworldly. I like the adventitious nature of this process, which also reminds me of writing.

The artist who teaches me clay has made a ladder of bones and rope. The rope is real, but the bones are clay rungs that just look like bones. During Open House, it hangs in her studio, like a double helix, the white of the bones startling in their empty hanging space. I happen by mid-way through the explanation of her process to some visitors, something about a highway overpass, a ladder hanging down from it, a photo she took from below that shows the ladder going all the way to the moon above—and it’s a full moon—borders and the throwing of ladders over walls, what’s going on now, the helplessness we feel. I can’t really hear everything she says, but I know what she means.

A few days later, I’m out walking in the woods, and there’s her ladder hanging down the steep hillside on the other side of the creek. Against the dark earth and mossy greenness, the bones of its rungs seem almost to be those of an animal from another planet. Donald Judd says that the placement of a sculpture in its site—in the world—any world, I imagine, this one or another one—is as important as the sculpture itself, a principle that’s in full evidence everywhere at Djerassi, but nowhere more so than here. I stand there for a long time, admiring this work, which is at once a grim reminder of the world we live in and a luminescent gesture of grace.

So here is the person I’ve become in my time here: of course, I want to climb that ladder all the way up to whatever moon it leads to. 

One moon is never enough. 

Djerassi invites you here to “just be.” We don’t really know what that means, at first, and then, over time, we do.