Man playing guitar on stage

The Desert Journey: Artist's Statement

By Daniel Dutton

After completing the basic outline for The Secret Commonwealth in 1992, I began to search for personal images and experiences to provide insight into the theme of "life imagined as a journey." I chose the desert country of southern Utah as a destination and began my research into the history and ecology of that area.

On a winter night in March of 1993, I dreamed of being drowned, and then of rising from the bottom of a murky lake toward the light above. At the moment my face broke through the membrane of the water's surface, I awoke to the sound of a gunshot nearby. On the road near my home, I witnessed the shooting of a half-dog/half coyote.

Long line of people walking in snow Giant web in the sky

I headed west into a snow blizzard, noting that my journey began with an image of death. In the storm, I thought of the challenges faced by the travelers of myth and history. As I watched the hypnotic rush of the snow against my windshield, I remembered a visit made long ago to the snowy woods by a magical woman known as "Granny."

With her strange chant in mind, I entered the desert country. During a marvelous week, I explored the canyons and high sandstone cliffs that hide the abandoned dwellings of the ancient people called "the Anasazi." I traveled on foot, slept on the sand beneath cold skies full of stars. I felt wonderfully alive.

Each morning, before dawn, I walked in darkness through the fragrant sagebrush and climbed to a mesa top. As I waited for the sun to rise, I began to sing. The unforgettable beauties of those mornings, the cold night and emerging sun, light and darkness, life and death, are the recurrent themes of The Road. The scarcity of humans in the stark landscape led to another theme -- loneliness and desire.


I was often alone, but not the only or earliest singer on the mesa tops; coyote tracks preceded mine. I followed coyote tracks to the highest places. Suspended from a ledge on a rope, I imagined the courage of spiders who launch themselves into space, trusting the wind to float them to a new home.

Alone inside a kiva, a small round room hidden in a high cliff, I listened to the life-bringing waters of a spring rain flowing in the streambed far below. In that remote place, I felt at home and grateful to be close to the source of life. I thought of my mother's garden.

The little doorway glowed in the golden afternoon light. A small lizard looked into my eyes, then scurried away into the dusty ruins.

I wondered why the people had left their homes behind so long ago. Were they forced to leave by a hostile climate change? Were they hunted down by enemies? Did they perish in wars? Or, like me, were they wanderers by nature? Where would the road, traveled by humans for so many centuries, lead me?

On the last evening before returning home, I walked across red sand to a great spire of red stone. As I climbed, I could smell the resinous fragrance of the sage. Following the tracks of a coyote into the blood-red sky, I could see the road leading east, back toward my home.

In the night, I awoke to the call of an owl, hunting for unwary prey. The echoes of the call are a sign, a question, or a warning; death, for some, is the beginning of life for others.


canyon Feathery face-'drawing'

When I began work on The Road, I did not imagine that the journey would lead me around the world to experience the images and events of different cultures. It did, however, and responses to myths and ceremonies from Native American, Irish, African, and Japanese cultures have found their way into the piece. On the way, I met artists and friends who have shared the process of creating and performing the work, collaborators whose commitment and talent continue to provide inspiration and wonder.

The Road video is a record of events shared in the lives of a group of artists and friends. I hope that you enjoy our work, and I wish you the best as you journey on your Road of Life.

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