Why the Raven Calls the Canyon: Off the Grid in Big Bend Country

Why the Raven Calls the Canyon: Off the Grid in Big Bend Country

Why the Raven Calls the Canyon: Off the Grid in Big Bend Country

Why the Raven Calls the Canyon: Off the Grid in Big Bend Country

Synopsis

Fresno Ranch, an abandoned horse and mule operation located in a remote stretch of the Rio Grande River bordering Mexico, gives evidence of a human presence spanning centuries. The ranch saw a period of entrepreneurial mule breeding and ranching, and ownership by Texas artist and publishing heiress Jeanne Norsworthy, who built an off-the-grid, hand-constructed adobe studio on the premises.

Photographer and freelance writer E. Dan Klepper spent seven years, off and on, living and working at Fresno Ranch. By 2008, when the 7,000-acre property was acquired by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to become part of Big Bend Ranch State Park, the adobe studio dwelling and its associated structures had been sitting vacant for almost ten years--many rugged miles from the nearest electrical power line or municipal water system.

Between 2006 and 2013, Klepper assisted his friend Rodrigo Trevizo, park ranger and caretaker for the property, with the various chores required to keep the ranch in operating condition. The two excavated and repaired the primary water network, cared for the livestock, cleared brush, and maintained a small, solar-powered electrical system. Days of 110-degree heat, boiling water for washing and cooking, and keeping a wary eye out for rattlesnakes alternated with evenings spent in the flicker of kerosene lanterns, listening to the rasping of the ravens as they scoured the canyon in the gathering dark.

In vivid images and well-considered prose, Klepper reflects on his experiences at Fresno Ranch, "witnessing the unfolding of a natural world unfettered by the overpowering human footprint that has dominated so many of our remaining wild places." For aficionados of fine art photography, cultural and natural history enthusiasts, and fans of the Big Bend region and its austere beauty, Why the Raven Calls the Canyon offers a provocative visual journal of off-the-grid living that celebrates the unique landscape of the Big Bend.

Excerpt

E. Dan Klepper has written and photographed a fine book. It encompasses the overwhelming beauty of the Big Bend in far west Texas and at the same time describes the gritty reality of living off the grid in a harsh and unforgiving geological wonderland. But there is more.

Klepper’s photographs of the land, the animals, and the spiny plants elevate his work to a new level in Big Bend photography. Yes, there is the indisputable beauty of the land—impossible to ignore—but it is presented in compelling ways. His photographs demand to be studied, not just admired in a cursory manner. His work is not just another photography book to lay on the coffee table in mute testimony to a passing interest in the rough edges of the state.

Klepper’s talents as an image maker, artist, and writer have been hewn by a lifetime of experience. He works in many media: sculpture, painting, and performance as well as photography. His small studio is crammed with diverse items—some significant perhaps to him alone, while oth ers reach toward his many visitors. He dissects experience as he would a book cabinet, repurposing the components into a statement of their own while retaining an echo of the original.

This is what he has done with the experience of living off the grid. He has taken it apart, keeping the good and inspirational while discarding what is dysfunctional in a modern world. in his photographs and text, he dissects the Big Bend’s allure of a simpler, less complicated life, placing it in sharp contrast to the realities of urban routine: grocery stores, malls, hospitals, and easy entertainment as well as the need for police protection, traffic jams, pollution, and noise.

When visitors are seduced by the color, the vast expanse, the air, and the light of the Big Bend, they seldom realize the difficulty of embracing a simpler life in the twenty-first century. Klepper points his photographs and first-person text to the realities of the other side—the hard side. He notes the raven’s song: “listening to the ravens scour the Rio Grande River canyon near-by, their rasping calls echoing off the canyon walls, a raw song sounding in part rough and dispassionate and at times, it seemed, full of joy.”

This is the story of Klepper’s seven years living off the grid in the Big Bend: rough, dispassionate—and full of joy.

                     Bill Wright                         Abilene, Texas                         May 29, 2016 . . .

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