Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Eternal Energy

"You, yourself, are the
eternal energy which
appears as this Universe.
You didn't come into this world;
you came out of it.
Like a wave from the ocean.
We are the eyes of the cosmos.
So that in a way, when you look
deeply into somebody's eyes,
you're looking deep into yourself,
 and the other person is looking
deeply into the same self."

Alan Watts (1915 - 1973)

Friday, February 24, 2023

Gentle Traces and Imprints

"The past I know is gone;
the present never lasts.
Time glides by without a trace.
Who can be wise in this constant flux?
I take each day as its own
sustaining myself until I’m released.
After so much wandering,
I have arrived here—
twenty years seen through a cloud."

- Taigu Ryokan (1758 - 1831)
The Kanshi Poem of Taigu Ryokan

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Tree Talk

"Whether we can somehow listen in on tree talk is a subject that was recently addressed in the specialized literature. Korean scientists have been tracking older women as they walk through forests and urban areas. The result? When the women were walking in the forest, their blood pressure, their lung capacity, and the elasticity of their arteries improved, whereas an excursion into town showed none of these changes. It's possible that phytoncides have a beneficial effect on our immune systems as well as the trees' health, because they kill germs. Personally, however, I think the swirling cocktail of tree talk is the reason we enjoy being out in the forest so much. At least when we are out in undisturbed forests.

Walkers who visit one of the ancient deciduous preserves in the forest I manage always report that their heart feels lighter and they feel right at home. If they walk instead through coniferous forests, which in Central Europe are mostly planted and are, therefore, more fragile, artificial places, they don't experience such feelings. Possibly it's because in ancient beech forests, fewer "alarm calls" go out, and therefore, most messages exchanged between trees are contented ones, and these messages reach our brains as well, via our noses. I am convinced that we intuitively register the forest's health."

- Peter Wohlleben (1964 - )
The Hidden Life of Trees

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Another World

[There is a...] "...long shamanic tradition wherein the shaman-storyteller himself is transformed, no longer storyteller but a character, an animal, a god, a goddess, or a natural force that is not his everyday identity. And these moments, when the characters come alive and the author disappears, take us into another world."

- Hal Zina Bennett (1936 - )
Spirit Circle: A Story of Adventure & Shamanic Revelation

Monday, February 20, 2023

Bound by Time-Space

"To look is important. We look to immediate things and out of immediate necessities to the future, coloured by the past. Our seeing is very limited and our eyes are accustomed to near things. Our look is as bound by time-space as our brain. We never look, we never see beyond this limitation; we do not know how to look through and beyond these fragmentary frontiers. But the eyes have to see beyond them, penetrating deeply and widely, without choosing, without shelter; they have to wander beyond man-made frontiers of ideas and values and to feel beyond love. Then there is a benediction which no god can give."

Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895 - 1986)

Friday, February 17, 2023

Memory is strange

"Memory is strange. Scientifically, it is not a mechanical means of repeating something. I can think a thousand times about when I broke my leg at the age of ten, but it is never the same thing which comes to mind when I think about it. My memory of this event has never been, in reality, anything except the memory of my last memory of that event. This is why I use the image of a palimpsest - something written over something partially erased - that is what memory is for me. It's not a film you play back in exactly the same way. It's like theater, with characters who appear from time to time."

 - Gore Vidal (1925 - 2012)

Thursday, February 16, 2023

What's a Photographer to Do Without a 'Real' Camera?

"The best camera is the one that's with you."
- Chase Jarvis (1971 - )

As I wrote about in my last blog post, my wife and I recently visited our youngest son in college. Since the trip was only for a few days (cross-country, no less: we live in northern Virginia, but our son's college is in California), and our ostensible purpose was to attend "Parent's Day," I reasoned - foolishly, as it turns out - that there would be zero time for "real photography" (meaning: photography with what I call my "real" camera). Note that I intend no disrespect either to my iPhone (which I always have with me) or to anyone who's "real camera" is an iPhone. The iPhone is a great photographic tool and is more than capable of capturing wonderful images! I use this phraseology only to convey a truth of my own reality: if I am without the camera(s) that I am usually armed with when I go on my photo safaris I somehow feel less than whole - disarmed, as it were - photographically speaking (which in hindsight of course is, again, rather foolish). Which is not to say that my "eye" is not constantly searching for something to photograph (even as the brain behind the eye laments not having my "real camera"). 

The (abstract) triptych above is an assembly of a few miscellaneous "shots" I took with my iPhone while waiting to board one of our planes. A few other "quick grabs" I managed to take during the trip included: (1) a shot of the ceiling at an American Airlines' Admirals Club (the "upside down" view of which I much prefer over the "straight" version) ...

(2) a shot of a chandelier at LAX ...

(3) a series of "fire abstracts" (captured while waiting for our dinner to arrive at a restaurant close to our son's college) ...

... and (4) - my personal favorite - a Wynn-Bullock-like "abstract energy-field" (that is really just a part of the tree ring structure I found in an old stump while hiking with my son in a local park):

So, what is a photographer to do without a "real" camera? Exactly what the photographer would have done with a real camera: look for pictures and capture them as best as possible given whatever camera happens to be with you 😊

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Infinitely Visible World

"Close your eyes, prick your ears, and from the softest sound to the wildest noise, from the simplest tone to the highest harmony, from the most violent, passionate scream to the gentlest words of sweet reason, it is by Nature who speaks, revealing her being, her power, her life, and her relatedness so that a blind person, to whom the infinitely visible world is denied, can grasp an infinite vitality in what can be heard."

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 - 1832)

Postscript. The picture above is of our youngest, Josh (the photographer), with whom my wife and I just had a brief weekend visit at his college in California. It was our first trip to his neck of the woods since dropping him off last August (although we did enjoy a few weeks together in our home in Virginia over the winter break). Since the book I was reading on the plane (well, re-reading for the second time) was Andrea Wulf's magisterial biography of Alexander von Humboldt, Goethe's quote that Wulf uses to set the stage for her book seems apropos. While Josh spent a fair amount of time happily composing away on a beach in Malibu, I managed to capture him contemplating the siren call of the "infinitely visible world" unfolding before his gaze, and enfolding him in its mystery. Not to be outdone, my wife captured me "capturing Josh contemplating the 'infinitely visible world'" 😊

Tuesday, February 07, 2023

One Model of Reality

"The world in which you were
born is just one model of reality.
Other cultures are not failed
attempts at being you; they
are unique manifestations
of the human spirit."

- Wade Davis (1953 - )

Saturday, February 04, 2023

Worlds Within Worlds

"It was from them [spiders] that I first learned of the intelligence that lurks in nonhuman nature, the ability that an alien form of sentience has to echo one’s own, to instill a reverberation in oneself that temporarily shatters habitual ways of seeing and feeling, leaving one open to a world all alive, awake, and aware. It was from such small beings that my senses first learned of the countless worlds within worlds that spin in the depths of this world that we commonly inhabit."

- David Abram (1957 - )
The Spell of the Sensuous

Postscript. The quote is from a remarkable book that has nourished my soul since I first read it in the mid 1990s (whose author, by coincidence, attended the same university as I did - Stony Brook, NY; I suspect we walked past each other a few times during our overlapping time there, though we graduated with very different degrees). It is part of a longer section in which Abrams describes an awe-inspiring encounter with a spider. Though spiders have no direct connection to the triptych above (which, for those of you wondering, is "just" a sequence of crepes that my wife prepared for our breakfast this morning), I had only last night started my 10th or 11th re-reading of Abrams' book, and had - by coincidence? - earmarked the page on which that wonderful combination of words "...worlds within worlds..." appears (page 19). Of course, while I almost certainly would have captured the same images whether or not I had been rereading Abrams' book the night before (since my eye is naturally tuned to seeing "ordinary-yet-not-ordinary" abstract patterns, I was instantly drawn to the crepes' tapestry of web-like forms), the serendipitous indirect enfolding of crepes and spiders brought an added joy to this morning's breakfast 🙂

Thursday, February 02, 2023

Photograph-Not-Taken, Taken

 "Without birth and death, and
without the perpetual transmutation
of all the forms of life,
the world would be static,
rhythm-less, undancing, mummified."

Alan Watts (1915 - 1973)

Postscript. This lovely image was captured early this morning both before and after my wife and I took our after-breakfast walk through the neighborhood (a habit we picked up during the early "stay at home" phase of the pandemic, and which we still try to do whenever our almost-back-to-normal work schedules permit). The "before" part consisted of me simply noticing - then, more deeply "seeing" - this beautifully rhythmic dance of half-decayed leaves on display on a corner of a neighbor's lawn. More to the point, and by sheer coincidence, literally seconds before I "saw" this static-yet-living form, my wife and I were chatting about a book I reviewed over 10 years ago called Photographs Not Taken. As the title suggests, the book is a collection of short stories by photographers describing images that, for whatever reason, were never taken; of course, the book itself contains no photographs! I reminded myself of the (lessons in this) book after heading out on our walk without my camera (not even an iPhone!) and immediately commiserating about "another gorgeous dramatic cloud-ridden sky gone to waste!" A split-second later, my eyes fell on the small patch of leaves you see above. What did the intrepid photographer do? Nothing. I merely continued commiserating: "Oh, if only I had brought my iPhone!" (How has my muse put up with me over the decades?) The "after" part of the image started about a mile or so later, as my wife and I returned to our house to start our workdays; the book - and the siren call of the little patch of leaves - were both still firmly on my mind. I grabbed my "walk around" camera, ran back to our neighbor's corner house, and made sure that, today at least, this was going to be a "photograph-not-taken taken." 😊

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

The Original Mystery

"Let us consider, for a moment, the world as described by the physicist. It consists of a number of fundamental particles which, if shot through their own space, appear as waves, and are thus… of the same laminated structure as pearls or onions, and other wave forms called electromagnetic which it is convenient, by Occam’s razor, to consider as travelling through space with a standard velocity. All these appear bound by certain natural laws which indicate the form of their relationship.

Now the physicist himself, who describes all this, is, in his own account, himself constructed of it. He is, in short, made of a conglomeration of the very particulars he describes, no more, no less, bound together by and obeying such general laws as he himself has managed to find and to record. 

Thus we cannot escape the fact that the world we know is constructed in order (and thus in such a way as to be able) to see itself. This is indeed amazing. Not so much in view of what it sees, although this may appear fantastic enough, but in respect of the fact that it can see at all.
But in order to do so, evidently it must first cut itself up into at least one state which sees, and at least one other state which is seen. In this severed and mutilated condition, whatever it sees is only partially itself. We may take it that the world undoubtedly is itself (i. e. is indistinct from itself), but, in any attempt to see itself as an object, it must, equally undoubtedly, act so as to make itself distinct from, and therefore false to, itself. In this condition it will always partially elude itself

It seems hard to find an acceptable answer to the question of how or why the world conceives a desire, and discovers an ability, to see itself, and appears to suffer the process. That it does so is sometimes called the original mystery. Perhaps, in view of the form in which we presently take ourselves to exist, the mystery arises from our insistence on framing a question where there is, in reality, nothing to question.
Thus the world, whenever it appears as a physical universe*, must always seem to us, its representatives, to be playing a kind of hide-and-seek with itself. What is revealed will be concealed, but what is concealed will again be revealed.

* unus = one, vertere = turn. Any given (or captivated) universe is what is seen as the result of a making of one turn, and thus is the appearance of any first distinction, and only a minor aspect of all being, apparent and non-apparent. Its particularity is the price wo pay for its visibility."

G. Spencer Brown (1923 - 2016)