Blue Ridge Parkway
"(B)neath the attachments and appurtenances, the furnishings of selfhood, what we are is attention, a quick physical presence in the world, a bright point of consciousness in a wide field from which we are not really separate . . . in a field of light, we are an intensification of that light." Mark Doty
I've been going back through my six(!) years of posts to this blog. I found that it has changed a lot over that time. It began as an "occasional" blog and turned into a regularly posted one. I'm going to return it to its original intent: I'll reduce the number of posts (just Mondays and Thursdays), and focus more on images than comments.
I've also been working with a new wide angle lens, and will be exploring its advantages and quirks. A wide angle increases the apparent distance between objects and producers some characteristic distortions. I bought it primarily for my upcoming trip to Yosemite, but we'll see how it works around here too.
In Belden Lane's "The Solace of Fierce Landscapes—Desert and Mountain Spirituality", Lane focuses on the desert as a place of retreat (pilgrimage?) from the busyness and noise of our usual lives. He describes it this way: "I went hiking alone in the desert . . . determined to meet the landscape on its own terms, without expectations, submitting . . . to its sublime disregard for all my petty concerns. Abandonment, after all, is what the desert teaches best . . . its capacity to ignore is immense. Yet in that very indifference, one discovers an enormous freedom."
Thus, to encounter a "fierce landscape" (e.g., a desert or a mountain—or the sea) is to come face to face with a landscape that produces mixed responses in us. Reading Lane's book sent me beck to look at my images of the Arizona and New Mexico deserts (see the image above). And I was reminded of my first experience of the desert. I was driving north from Flagstaff to Tuba City. What I remember seeing is emptiness, spareness and aridity stretching out in all directions, a spare beauty that (coming from the green Midwest) was fascinating and attractive. But I also remember feeling vaguely threatened. I had read somewhere that if the car broke down in the desert, one should stay with it (friends had actually had this happen and was remembering what they said they experienced at that time). Wandering off in that landscape could quickly become life-threatening. Attraction and fear: a fierce landscape turns attention away from the self and toward (as Lane wrote) the sublime world one is experiencing but also helps one become aware of one's insignificance to the ongoingness of the whole that is that world. And in that awareness, one can also become free of one's concerns (at least for a time).
I've been reading a book by John Gray and he argues that those who believe humankind have progressed morally and spiritually are in error. I have thought that for a long time and I have come to the conclusion that there is not likely ever to be much progress in that sense. And, nevertheless, we go on planting the vegetables, sitting in the sun, quietly, drinking our tea and working against the violence and cruelty however we can, realizing that whatever we do, the sun will still rise. As Belden Lane wrote, nature is indifferent to our cruelties. In the long run, the world will go on, with us or without us . . . and I for one find some hope in that.
Pablo Casals: "In music, in the sea, in a flower, in a leaf, an an act of kindness . . . I see what people call 'God' in all these things."
"How can I number the worlds to which the eye gives me entry?—the world of light, of colour, of shape, of shadow: of mathematical precision in the snowflake, the ice formation, the quartz crystal, the patterns of stamen and petal, of rhythm in the fluid curve, and plunging line of the mountain faces. Why some blocks of stone, hacked into violent and tortured shapes should tranquillize the mind, I do not know.
Matthew Zapruder wrote about Wallace Stevens that for him "a poem is a reconfiguring of the elements of the real into new forms, ones that help us understand our lives and ourselves in different, necessary ways. In poems . . . the ordinary is rearranged, reconfigured . . . The poet transforms the material of the real in a more-or-less conscious way, in order to create a space of contemplation and imagination and possibility . . . this is not an escape from the world around us, but a different sort of engagement."
I think is true of photography also—it is part of what I try to do when I'm working in making an image.