Sine Qua Non (Si-Ni-ˌKwa-'Nan) : noun
1. Absolutely indispensable or essential.
2. The absolutely needed.
Sine qua non can be translated literally as "Without which, not” – a reference to the people, places, and things that are inherently necessary – the crucial elements required to create something else.
At James, we find inspiration in the idea of the indispensable. The people that make it all happen, and the tools they rely on. Yesterday, today, tomorrow. Everyday.
In Sine Qua Non – Volume 2.3 we catch up with indispensable mountain guide and producer Clark Fyans. Without Clark, there would be no “Art of Flight” as we know it. There would be fewer photographs, not nearly as many guitar riffs, and less people with amazing stories.
Clark is a self-described collector – tying back to when he was a child – and to this day has an affinity for geology. As a product of Utah, he grew up skiing in the Wasatch, exploring the backcountry and finding fallen quartz crystals. As a guide, his fascination with the forces of nature only grew, and to this day he surrounds himself with constant reminders of the power and beauty of environments around the globe.
Forces of nature.
"Quartz in particular is a really powerful stone, one that has almost transcended humanity. It has been used to monitor time, and was integral in early avalanche beacons and two-way communications. It's found on every continent, in multiple layers of the earth's crust, and in a myriad of environments. It's almost a full on sci-fi novel, yet all just based off a rock."
A lot of people talk about the energy of crystals. Clark doesn’t really have that type of feeling, but is absolutely fascinated by them. The timeless nature of their creation. The knowledge they seem to hold. And their connection to the forces that have shaped our planet.
Walking into Clark's place in Marina Del Rey, the geological artifacts are impossible to ignore. They are reminders of the passing of time – some of the crystals have taken hundreds of millions years to grow, and some of them are actually still growing. For Clark, the collection is more than a beauty thing, they are indispensable reminders of his travels around the globe, from the glaciers of Alaska to the tropics – physical connections to the places and environments that have shaped him as well.
"If you open up to a mountain, it will tell you when to go and when not to go. I strive to constantly be active and aware of every experience and make them special. I've developed a strong connection to the elements of nature and their capacity for story, for meaning, and for purpose."
Clark thinks that the connection to these objects is born from the level that he was exploring and interacting with the planet as whole – from Antarctica to the North Pole – a result of two decades of climbing in some of the world's most extreme environments. As a guide, Clark would consciously connect with the mountain and its environment, almost as if it were a living, breathing being.
Since settling down in Marina Del Rey and living a little bit more of an urban, domestic life, Clark has been drawn even more to surround himself with reminders of those elements of the planet – crystals, rocks, wood, and metals – and just down the boardwalk is the perfect spot.
Even in a new chapter in his life, he's still driven to surround himself with the inspiration of the marvels of the planet, even if they're just small tokens of remembrance. As luck would have it, tucked between the novelty tees and artists on the boardwalk is a small group of tables marked by an unassuming cardboard sign bearing the name Crystal Vibrations.
Clark met the owner, Daniel, nearly 7 years ago, and for whatever reason really connected with him. These days he might go a couple of months without stopping by, but periodically he will feel the need to go down there, peruse the tables and trays for (literal) hidden gems, and catch up.
Clark initially started stopping by the little group of tables as a way get himself into a different environment after stressful days – a time to reflect, put on headphones and cruise around the boardwalk. He found that he would come back home after and all that craziness and stress had kind of washed away, almost as if it were a reset button.
Bring it home.
It is natural to be attracted to nice things. Objects that are considered, that have a story, that transcend simply just being things. As he’s gotten a little older, Clark has started to harness his craftsman desire; the idea of conceptualizing, designing, and creating things.
When you start to focus on creating things yourself, you begin to appreciate things a little bit more, developing a greater respect for the care, effort, and craft that went into the objects. From his house in Baja to finding a way to incorporate minerals and geodes into the custom tables and furniture he creates on his balcony at home, Clark enjoys the long-haul projects that don't come easily. He describes his process as starting with a blip of energy. You have an idea, put your mind to it, and start creating something that all of a sudden you’re living in, or with.
"You could have that experience in another way, you could just rent a RV or a house, but creating something, there's a level of satisfaction and sense of achievement that is different. It's similar to getting to the top of a mountain, something close to magic. To know that you created this; the surroundings, the process, the culmination of energy, time, materials, and know-how to bring to life something that's truly special."
If Clark is going to use a knife, he wants it to be a meaningful thing. Everything he surrounds himself with has a story, a purpose, and a passion. When he looks at a Damascus steel blade he thinks about the folding of layers, the hammering, and all the steps that led up to the creation of that object – the visual stories and the layers of time within the tool.
"As I'm doing things, looking at my knife, it makes it more of an active experience. I want to be active and aware. To admire the levels of ingenuity and craftsmanship. From knives to watches to cars, I really want to surround myself by things that are well made and will last."
20 years in.
Clark collects for a lot of different reasons, and believes that each object is a special thing, especially when it comes to his guitars. If you start getting into the right kind of pedigree, each one has a story – they're more than just an instrument. He looks for guitars that hold the energy of their creators, that are really unique, and make the experience more profound.
His goal has never been to make it as a musician, but kind of jokingly wants to practice until he’s 70 and then play off to the side in an Italian restaurant. He enjoys music because you get to share it with people who are quiet, focused, and listening. You feel the energy and have the ability to share and let people experience it with you.