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Living Petroglyphs?

I finished a new painting, “Hawaii,” (doing one last touch-up on March 14, 2014, which is the image shown here.) It has three big plants and three petroglyphs, although the guy on the right is perhaps morphing into something more.


“Hawaii” oil on canvas, March, 2014, 40” x 30”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

This painting has to do with an experience I had about seven years ago, and which I’m currently trying to fashion into an SF story. For the rest of this post, I’ll just edit some of the relevant passages from my 1997 journals. And, following my usual fashion, the photos will have nothing to do with the subject matter at all.


[Photo taken from the air near Salt Lake City in winter. I call this one, “A New Map of the World.”]

So in August, 1997, my wife Sylvia and I spent a few days at a somewhat generic resort hotel on the big island of Hawaii. The place was called something like the Royal Wak. With its parking-lots, golf-club, and shops, it formed a asphalt island atop a desert of black a’a lava stones.

Among the local sights in Hawaii are the petroglyph markings.


[Paul Mavrides with his black velvet painting of the Challenger disaster.]

Stones bearing petroglyphs are viewed as sacred, but I noticed that the Royal Wak hotel developers had broken up some of them to decorate the little shops around the hotel. Sad broken glyph frags sitting in, like, the flower bed of a Benetton, with educational labels by the glyphs.

I was cuprous about petroglyphs, and I found a little book that talked the glyphs being in places where there is a lot of power, or mana. One big spot is in a lava field near the volcano Mauna Loa. Another was near out hotel, a spot called Puako.


[Greyhound Rock, north of Santa Cruz, CA.]

We went and saw the Puako petroglyphs two times. They’re in a field of smooth pahoehoe lava, which has cracks, making a background pattern like the plates of a turtle shell. The petroglyphs show men, animals, spirits. Many of them are drawn with their heads towards Mauna Kea, the highest peak on the island.

It’s hypothesized that the men etched onto the rock are perhaps projections of the artists, like shadows. I imagined the early Hawaiians of 1300 AD jumping up in the air, looking at their shadows, then drawing that kind of design.


[Rudy at a Pixies concert in San Jose, February, 2014. Hat knit by Georgia Rucker.]

The Puako petroglyph field is in a spooky place, overgrown with introduced exotic kiawe or mesquite thorn trees. In the old days, it was blank lava here, like the slopes of Mauna Loa. So much mana there that it’s a little scary.

There was a menacing warning note at the bottom of the sign at the petroglyph field: “Those who defile or mistreat the petroglyphs must bear the emotional, physical and spiritual consequences for those and those around them—we can take no responsibility for these effects.”

Somewhat foolishly ignoring this, I walked onto the petroglyphs with my shoes off—in my socks—to get a better photo. Immediately I felt like I was trespassing, that I had intruded.


[Anxious tourist, who appeared in an early draft of the “Hawaii” painting. Sylvia’s advice on this detail: “One word, Rudy. Palette-knife.” But I documented him before I scraped him off. He reminds me a little Bill Burroughs in the Amazon jungle, or rather, of a fellow-traveler whom Bill would have made fun of.]

A bit later, dizzy from the August sun, we lost our way and forked off onto a false path in the woods. The criss-crossing shadows of the kiawe branches seemed petroglyph men all over the ground, twisting at odd extra-dimensional angles like A Square coming up out of Flatland, and threatening, nay pursuing me, intent on extracting a terrible vengeance for my defilement of their field.

Back in the room, I heard a knock on my hotel-room door. I peered out through the peephole. A petroglyph is in the hallway—an intense stick-figure of a man, like figure made of glowing fluorescent-light tubes. I didn’t open the door.


[Rudy with old college room mate Kenneth Turan, now the famed film critic of L.A. Times and NPR. Great to see him up in San Jose this month. Photo by Patricia Williams.]

I did a two-tank scuba beach dive near Puako the next morning. It was good. There was an eel garden at a drop-off to the continental shelf. There were about a hundred eels, silvery green, each with its tail tucked into the smooth white sand, and its body floating erect, wobbling this way and that. A few eels were swimming around free, adjusting their position. They had long slit mouths partly open. Behind them was a huge, huge form slowly moving, a leviathan of the deeps. An extraterrestrial

I felt a sense of mystery, of vastness, a sense enhanced by incipient nitrogen narcosis. The guide and taken me a little too deep.


[Natural Bridges in Santa Cruz.]

After the dives I talked to my guide about the petroglyph who was stalking me. He asked, “Is it all the petroglyphs that are after you, or just one of them in particular? Maybe you can get a second petroglyph to help you deal with the first one. Maybe the first one was from a burial site. And the helper-petroglyph might be a turtle.”

“Where would I find a turtle petroglyph to help me?”

“There’s a lot of petroglyphs by the good fishing spots. Meet me this evening and I’ll show you. I go spearfishing near hear at night. The fish are asleep and you can dive and just pick them up. It’s like a supermarket.”

And then? Wait for the finished story…if I manage to write it.


[“Grandpa’s Birthday,” oil, 24 ” x 20 “, March, 2013. Note 67 candles, some on cake, some on strawberries.]

And, by the way, tomorrow, March 22, 2014, is my 68th birthday! I’m happy to have made it this far. It’s been interesting the whole way.

5 Responses to “Living Petroglyphs?”

  1. Noel Says:

    Happy Birthday!

  2. failrate Says:

    Happy birthday!
    This is allegedly proof confirming Turing’s Theory of Morphogenesis: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2014/03/05/1322005111.abstract?tab=author-info

  3. Buddy Burner the Bitumen Baron Says:

    Happy Birthweekend Rudy, while we’re on volcanoes —here’s some birthday blue lava:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQ-yGJIT-hA

    Interesting that petroglyph mana hotspot is named Mauna Loa… check the wikipedia page on LOA in Haitian Voudou —the Loa are the messengers of Bondye the Creator.

  4. Thomas Mannino Says:

    Mr. Rucker,

    I just had a wonderful moment I wanted to share with you:

    Let me preface with saying that I read Hacker and the Ants when it came out in 1994, and that book got me into Cyberpunk, a passion I’ve carried with myself for my lifetime. I consider the book part of my formative years. I’ve loved Transrealism, I’ve worked as a programmer for the past 12 years, and I hope to follow in your footsteps as a writer, as well.

    Just now, I was doing some research for my own writing, a venture I’ve been struggling to set out on for more then a decade now for various procrastinate-y reasons. I’m telling a big-world story with five characters, one of which I’ve deemed the ‘hero’ of the group, and in an probably obvious fashion, decided to base his story around an as strict as possible interpretation of The Hero’s Journey.

    A Google search later, I find myself reading a good article about how an author used The Hero’s Journey archetypes almost verbatim with one of his writing works. I find it insightful and interesting, and am interested in validating the knowledge: my eyes wander up to see ‘who is this person writing these things like they know what they are talking about?’

    Sure enough, it was your article on your blog. A huge smile got slapped on my face and I had such an awesome moment. The memories of that book and it’s influence on my life flooded back.

    I just wanted to pass this serendipitous moment along, and thank you for your inspiration.

  5. Rudy Says:

    Thanks, Thomas. I’m always happy to hear that someone has read and been touched by my books. Yes, the Hero’s Journey—which I tend to refer to as The Monomyth—is a good blueprint, although it means you’re gonna write a longish novel to get in all the steps. As you discovered, I used it as a blueprint for FREK AND THE ELIXIR in 2003-2204. You can find more detail about my precise process in my NOTES for Frek and the Elixir, which is online as a pdf here
    http://www.rudyrucker.com/frek/frekandtheelixirnotes.pdf

    Sometimes I think I ought to base another novel on the Monomyth, but I’ve never been that ambitiously programmatic again. This said, when I look back, I see that most of my novels do in fact use stages from the Journey, I’ve made up a chart of this that I revise every time I’m writing a novel, you can find the latest iteration (for THE BIG AHA) on this web page:
    http://www.rudyrucker.com/thebigaha/notesforthebigaha/Text/notesforthebigaha.xhtml#_Toc370566280

    Good luck with your own journey!


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