Christo’s Umbrellas & Me

On a trip to the Bosque del Apache, Kathleen and I came across this barrier put up at a chemical spill.  It reminded both of us of Christo’s art – Running Fence and The Gates.  No insult to the artist is intended.

Years ago, Christo provided me, against my will, an understanding of the power of art.

When my aunt was battling cancer in the summer of 1991, I drove from Watsonville to Los Angeles several times a month to be with her – a five-hour drive through the Coast Range, part of the Central Valley, through the Grapevine and down into the LA basin.  I know the route pretty well.  So when I saw some changes in the hills around the Grapevine, I asked the locals about it.  They said Christo was creating one of his pieces on the hills.

I was not pleased.  I just didn’t get his wrapping of islands and draping of canyons.  Nature did the job just fine, she didn’t need all these trappings.  I love these hills around Gorman and the Tejon Pass – I’ve seen them yellow with poppies in the spring, golden brown in the summer and brilliant green after the rains.  I’ve seen them covered in snow.  I didn’t want any scars on them.

On each trip I saw the progression of construction.  Little leveled plots dotted the slopes.  Then what looked like poles.  I read that he was putting up umbrellas – yellow ones here and in Japan at the same time, a collection of blue umbrellas.  Still not making any sense to me.  I never told my aunt about it.  I didn’t want to add any negativity to her life.  I considered this art project to be sacrilege.

My aunt did not win this battle with cancer.  I continued to drive to LA frequently to sort out her estate.  In October, just after I entered the Grapevine grade, I was confronted with hundreds of yellow umbrellas scattered over the dry hills.  I had to pull over.  They were exquisite, like giant wildflowers.  And they belonged there.  I couldn’t believe how Christo had transformed construction sites into such a powerful statement.  And I couldn’t believe how much I loved it.  It felt as if magnetic poles had reversed.

Now I wanted to share this glorious sight with my aunt, but it was too late.  She would have loved it.

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