the untended garden

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I’ve left this blog untended for quite some time, through a few years now of work, family life, experiences, and uncertainty over how to direct a sliver of a creative life. I’ve thrashed myself at times over an inability to develop any kind of consistent writing practice, although a streaky pursuit of free writing has at times yielded some fun and insightful moments. But hey, life gets in the way…

I’ve grown in my  enjoyment of photography and the combination of creating images and capturing the elusive thoughts and words that they inspire. Perhaps this is a space I’ll return to more regularly to see what happens if I occasionally drop a photo together with a few ideas from reading and writing. Sort of like the character in an infrequently-tended garden, with crumbled bricks and robust vines, much of the beauty can happen through just setting things in motion and letting nature run its course.

St. Andrews Cathedral, History and Mystery

We visited Scotland recently, and I left for home enchanted by the history, the culture, the architecture and the story of the people of that beautiful country.

One place we visited was St Andrews Cathedral, in its time one of the centers of religious life in Europe, and the largest church in Scotland.  After the Scottish Reformation in the 1500s (!), the church was sacked, looted and abandoned.  The remaining ruins are cared for by the Scottish government as a heritage site.  St. Andrews Castle is nearby, at one time the seat of the Catholic cardinal and site of a prison holding religious reformers.  From the distance of time, we see the relatively static after-effects of the Reformation, but looking into the history, many people gave their lives at the stake over hundreds of years in places like St. Andrews.

I’m captivated by the depth of the recorded history that has so much to tell.  While in Edinburgh, I bought biographies of John Knox and Mary, Queen of Scots, two important and colorful characters in Scottish history, and I can’t wait to dig into those books.  Knox was a leader of the Scottish Reformation, had run-ins with the Catholic establishment at St. Andrews and elsewhere, and actually precipitated some of the events that led to the Cathedral’s ruin.  Mary, Queen of Scots ruled Scotland at the time, and as a Catholic, she and Knox had several in-person confrontations.  Mary’s story is one of intrigue, wonder and tragedy.

I also experienced a personal moment of mystery while at St. Andrews Cathedral, and I’m still puzzling out its potential meaning.  While at contemplating the beauty, cruelty, and ultimate impermanence of Man’s works here on this Earth, I was anointed, on the right side of the head and across the back, by a seagull.

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Loss

She’s gone,
A tragic accident.
Her loss is incomprehensible.
She’s gone.

Today the sun has risen, the clouds race.
Rain moves in and across, and the racing clouds again reveal the afternoon sun.
Tonight the moon and stars will rise again.
Still in the field of time, all moves forward.

Helping loved ones absorb the loss,
We hurt, and look for the pieces of what has broken, and reflect.
It is a mystery, how this could happen, from nowhere, to one with such a long future.
What could have been, will not – and for that the grief comes hard.
What was, was good – and for having had it,
We give thanks, look back with longing, and smile through tears.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Forward

Forward progress revealed

Forward progress revealed

I captured this photo on a November hike, arrested by the hieroglyphic quality of the insect trail on the tree trunk.  Perhaps this is the dead trunk of an ash tree, and the grooves were made by emerald ash borer larvae, deposited as eggs beneath the trunk and munching to maturity while slowly killing the tree.  These little bastards have left thousands of dead trees in their wake across Michigan, just in the last few years.

In trying to put myself in the head of a bug that made these channels, it strikes me that they came into awareness in a dark location suitable for their growth, and started living their purpose, chewing blindly forward, ever forward, until something told them they were done and it was time to move on.  They came and left with only the narrowest conception of the tree, their host, as just the flat earth they wandered while they lived.  I can step back and take measure of the tree’s geometry from my perspective, the intricate three-dimensionality of it, the size and the volume of space it occupies.  Then mentally subtract the tree, and what’s left is a delicate cylindrical negative of the bugs’ road.  The destructive little bastards left us some art to attest to their one-dimensional grindage.

loop run

Straight ahead

This weekend I went for a run in a nearby forest, a few times around a 2-mile loop in the snowy woods.  Hills and tough footing made it slow going.  After all that struggle and conversion of oxygen into forward motion, I finished right back where I started.  But nothing was the same, including me.  As an aside, an hour of solitude in the woods offers solutions to many things.

Time pushes us forward, usually not unidirectionally, instead on a tortuous path around, over, under, between and in spite of.  Even Brownian motion must still be forward, driven by the arrow of time.  We go backward in our memories while we move forward in time, forward on our path – whether it’s linear, forked, bifurcated, doubles or triples back on itself, we still have to move forward.

Blindly we make our path and trace our wild pattern in the dark substrate, unaware of so much, and never really appreciating the beauty and complexity of our winding course or the medium on which it’s traced.  And we’ll never have the vantage to see revealed in full the path we trace – but might someone else?

Forward is time working upon us, us working within time.  You’ll never read that last sentence again, for the first time.  You’ll never have this exact now again.  You’ve moved forward.

DP Challenge: Lakeside Contemplation

Knick knelt next to the lakeshore, then sat back on the slab of limestone.  It was cold, sucking the heat from him, and it felt as if it could absorb every last bit that his body would give up, if he allowed himself to sit there long enough.

The breeze was light, almost imperceptible, but still there was a slight chop on the water, advancing toward him from the other side, straight down the long axis of the lake.  He knew the lake was about 4 or 5 miles long in that direction, and he considered the time it took the air brushing his face to traverse that open water.  Did the air give its heat to the water over that span, or was it warmed by the water?  The water was calm but for that slight chop, and as he looked across the water he thought of those dioramas you could buy at the museum gift shop, the type that are built with colored oil and water to highlight the fluidity of immiscible interfaces, in that case incompatible liquids.  Here, he was in the diorama, a part of the display on the edge of the gas/liquid phase interface, and the water waves were being driven to him by an unseeable but no less substantial light breeze.  He had to focus to visualize it, but he recognized that the shape of the air matched and exactly fit the shape of the water’s surface, ripple for ripple, wave for wave.

He tried to note the exact point where the waterline met the shore, and noticed that although the surface of the lake was quite calm, the exact edge of the water was in constant motion.   The air in motion across the water, and the boundary properties of the air and water interface (both materials viscous to some degree), air pushing water like a hand smoothing wrinkles on a bedsheet.  Visualizing a bobber on the water’s edge, just a molecule or two in size, it rose and fell as the tiny waves approached the sand and fine gravel of the shoreline, rising, cresting a miniature crest, and receding.

Then he noticed the motion of the tiny pieces of gravel at the water’s edge, so small they were nearly sand, but by inspection they appeared to be small pieces of rock or zebra mussel shells.  Every few seconds a tiny wave would build, crest, and break, and all along the four-foot stretch of shoreline where he sat, the tiny rocks and shell fragments would roll and tumble.  As each wave built and crested, they’d be borne up, not floating, but riding the ascension of the water volume, and as each tiny wave broke and receded, they would land back on the rest of the aggregate composing the shoreline, and would frantically roll and tumble, drawn down and out by the infinitesimal rip.

The tumble of these particles drew him in and down until he empathized and could conceive to experience their motion.  They tumbled and bounced like boulders, and at the right scale he imagined he would hear the knocking of rock on rock as they rolled back down to be lifted and carried again with the next wave.

All this happened silently to his ear.  It would have been invisible to his eye, as well, had he not sat down here and inspected in such detail, drawn by the fine motion of the water on the shoreline.  But he imagined then the crashing and the pounding sounds, down at the level of these breakers and boulders, water lifting and tossing and crashing, boulders knocking and bouncing and breaking.  This was happening all up and down the shoreline on this side of the lake, a deafening realization as he continued to imagine placing himself at that level.