Snows

Blooming in ice.

Ice crystal showers and no exact matches between them, foot after foot, later to water, then vapor. I love the story of Wilson Alwyn Bentley, dubbed Snowflake Bentley, who caught them on camera, against black velvet before they melted. He did it so well that no one else bothered for most of the next century. Ice flowers, he called them.

I remember making igloos big enough for one child to crawl in, belly-flat, and crouching, once inside, in the center room, looking out like a mole, surrounded by the display of the most recent storm, kneeling. How I would wait, taking it in, cupping tiny piles to my mouth, sneaking bites of pure winter, the quickening of my chest as it melted through me. I would repeat this ritual over and again, trying to hold it, holding still in the igloo, knowing it wouldn’t last.

I wanted to fall to my knees, Bentley said, of his first witness to what he called those tiny miracles, through his lens. Instead, he kept at it. He wanted others to be able to see, too.

Bears at Home

A Goldilocks remix.

This is tiring. I could use a break.

Here’s a spot. 

Are there people?

I don’t see any.

Look at the colors.

It’s been a long trip.

C’mon, it’s just us!

Feel this.

Oh, oh! I love it here!

Let’s stay awhile.

Inspired by this article about polar bears settling in abandoned buildings on Russia’s Kolyuchin Island where photographer Dmitry Kokh was delighted to discover them playing house.

Odds and Ends

Considering our chances.

If a swerve of atoms begat cause ever after, why one moment and why the next?  Any beginning can happen when two lines of action coincide, but tracing their independent paths only gets you so far. Cause may control speed and direction, but not collision of particles.

Take this body, evolving from protozoa by random mutation. Faith is one thing, but to abandon one’s determinism so completely ignites terror in many. To offer up is one thing, but how big is chance, really? The very word implies an endless plurality, and then what are the chances, on and on?

Too much to hold, that much is certain, and it is possible to turn a deliberate blind eye to what may not be understood. With vast unknowing extending in every direction, there may be some sense after all, in choosing a lens of unrelenting possibility.

Beings

Seeking foundational truths.

is          not

fact      fiction

reality  /

––falsehood?

Only in agreement

at the level of language,

Berkeley observed, can

we have any firm system

of sound and real knowledge.

Until some common understanding

of some common words is breached,

disputes will be in vain.  One response,

however temporary, is to lay these 

words aside, let them rest like sore

legs after a long race, like a hot pan

before you get to washing, like the

need to prove anything beyond the

texture of the silence as it breathes 

here, in the space before we speak

again.

Animal Legacies

Studies in the anatomy of inheritances.

If you want to eat, it helps to be able to crack what nuts you can find. If you are finding nuts and trying to crack them, it’s best when you have the right tool.

Some capuchin monkeys can crack nuts easily because their forebears left them the right tools.

A medium-sized Long Island hermit crab looking to upgrade their home has the best chance of finding a larger castoff shell that has been vacated, but a very large crab is going to have a harder time finding an upgrade, as there are fewer oversized shells in the average vacancy chain. In related news, hyena daughters born to high-ranking mothers are getting early access to fresh meat.

Scientists studying these phenomena are asking questions. They are hopeful that a better understanding of the mechanisms of inequality may be useful when it comes to fostering change. Humans, after all, are vastly more cooperative than other species, one scientist observes, and cooperation is an asset that can work in any number of directions, depending on intent.

Inspired by:

This New York Times article on intergenerational wealth in the animal kingdom, and this one on property transfer in hermit crab societies.

Common Sense

Which is more common, sense or the mysteries around it?

Not everyone is sold on the idea that plants have any, which makes it difficult to explain how trees harmonize, not to mention what mushrooms are doing without it. It’s generally accepted as a feature of humans, hence so many references to basic sensibilities, to sensible and senseless behaviors, and comparisons on varying levels of sensitivities. There’s plenty to be studied on an anatomical level––communications between organs, organisms, within and across regions, species, and time––most of which serves to reinforce a foundational understanding, however paradoxical, about the layers of mystery we’re dealing with. 

These are challenging regions to chart: the matter of spirit, realities of imagination, bodies of mind, to say nothing of the minds of bodies. Which of these oversees sense, and which is to blame when it goes missing? And when we refer to that which is presumed common, is it one of these, or that which evades such reduction? There is reason to believe that these questions will linger as we continue to explore unmapped spatial, spiritual, and imaginative terrains. No sooner do we begin to chart a territory when another opens. 

I suppose if there were fewer unknowns it might be easier to treat senselessness, to say as with a child’s skinned knee, show me where it is, to clean and bandage the wound, and say gently, there we go. All better! Which raises two questions: can a creature adapted to mystery survive when plucked from its depths? And, when this perception becomes the coin of the realm, what is lost?

First Friends

A tribute to original wonders.

Mine were a pair, and they were light: a couple of living spheres. I gave them names, told my mother. They had genders; I don’t know if I assigned these, or they came with. K. was amber and a boy. P., magenta, was a girl. They had the same shape, the same transparency.

They seemed older; they came from the same place. I never knew its name. I guess I was the third wheel, but they were accommodating on their visits, and when they left me I went on with other things, same as I had in their presence, but with less conversation.

Later, I thought maybe it was a mistake to tell my mother, because once I heard her telling someone else, as mothers do. She said their names and called them imaginary. 

I knew the word, a dividing line between what could and would not be. I was four, and they never returned. I accepted the fault as my own. Later, I read that a human is the only creature that doesn’t know what it is, and by then the words had weight. I also read that a friend will return you to yourself, and I think that before these first friends were gone, I knew what I was.

What would I call the time that began with their leaving?

I would not name it. I knew it was mine. This was my first lesson in distance. 

Lyric Suite

Room for discovery.

Sometime during the initial COVID lockdown, I came across The Artist Project series of videos by The Met, in which artists reflect on a work that inspires them. Each one I’ve watched has moved me to look at a work in a new way. It’s been a while since I visited, and this morning, a series of clicks beginning with an error brought me serendipitously back to Wenda Gu’s reflection on Robert Motherwell’s Lyric Suite, a series of one-thousand works of ink on rice paper, compositions that Wenda Gu describes as “lyric, bleeding ink” hauntingly suggestive of living forms: here a branch, here a horizon, here a suggestion of a person in silhouette, here a protozoa. The idea to use ink on rice paper happened when the artist was stopping by a Japanese store in search of a birthday gift. The paper he saw was called “Dragons and Clouds.” He bought a thousand sheets and decided to try painting without conscious thought. This was April 1965 and by the end of May, Motherwell had done six-hundred of these small paintings on the floor of his studio, all while listening to Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite (1925). Then he lost his best friend, artist David Smith. Motherwell was devastated. He boxed up the rice paper paintings and they stayed in the box for over twenty years. In 1986, Motherwell resumed the series, explaining “I half painted them and they half painted themselves.” Speaking of the harmony of seemingly accidental discovery moving through these paintings, Wenda Gu is quick to observe, “that’s the daily practice.” Here’s to keeping the door open.

Inspiration

Wenda Gu on Robert Motherwell’s Lyric Suite