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  • The world has lost a couple of joy-bringers, and I feel all weepy and elegiac. Within minutes of waking up this morning, I learned that since I was last conscious and paying attention, both Shirley Temple Black and Leonard Knight had passed away. I’m sure you know about Shirley. Leonard is the man who build a giant every-colored, mountain for Jesus out of clay and paint out in the desert in California. It’s become a major folk art landmark and has appeared in several films. I first met Leonard in 2009, when I spent a month in Slab City, the squatter community next to Salvation Mountain. He was already suffering from dementia then, and on the short audio recording I made of our conversation, he mostly repeats the words,”Love is simple. Don’t get it complicated.”

    To have these two go on the same day gets me thinking about how people are connected. Shirley and Leonard were on earth almost all the same years (Shirley was 85 when she died, Leonard was 82), lived through the same wartimes, youth movements, art movements, cruelty, rock n’ roll, cults, gas rationing, perms, hysteria, joy, tupperware, life. Certainly Leonard knew about Shirley, would have likely watched her dance and sing in the movies when he was a little boy in Vermont during the Great Depression. I’d like to think Shirley knew about him too. In the version of the world I prefer to imagine, she visits him at Salvation Mountain. Stepping out of her car onto the hot dust, she turns and sees the impossible green and pink domes of the mountain. Leonard is there, holding one of his nameless cats. He and Shirley exchange kisses on the cheek. Wordlessly, he takes her hand and leads her up the striped path he spent years carving into the mountain’s face. From the top, they can see mountain ranges folding out on all sides. They can see the gorgeous, putrid manmade sea shimmering down in the valley. Puffs of steam from geothermal power plants rise gently into the blue. A light breeze lifts the hair off their foreheads and for just a moment, everything smells like peppermint.

    The world can always use another tap dancer, another technicolor mountain-maker. Sleep well, beautifuls.
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