American Art – Part I of III: Christopher Harris
In the words of one writer, “Best known for the soft, painterly effects in his highly abstract compositions, photographer Christopher Harris often employs a hand- constructed pinhole camera and long exposures.
With the qualities of a subdued painted surface and quiet gradations of colors, Harris captures tranquil scenes that present boundless Northwest scenery. He often works in series, which include explorations of the Palouse region’s vast, agrarian expanses; Port Susan, an inlet of Puget Sound that he photographed from a single vantage point through all four seasons from daybreak to nightfall; twilight scenes of the Skagit Valley; and blossoms from the urban gardens of Seattle. His ‘Two Coasts’ series features seascapes from Cape Cod and Southern California and the ‘Prairie’ series captures the remnants of the original ‘Tallgrass’ prairie of the America West.”
A Poem for Today
“Six Urban Love Songs
I. Central Park”
By Kate Light
Can one think, in sunglasses, in the park; think
with the children playing and the adult banter,
and someone smoking; and experiment, in ink,
through the invading dogs, and toddler-gallivanter—?
escape the Ice-cold-beer-and-Snapple hawking
and the ones who target you when you’re alone,
and so they stare, or come over, talking?
But how can I (who’ve been rather accident-prone)
forget it was just that dappled fate-and-chance—
and perhaps the shade of arrogance—
that brought me you? and though I tried to shake
you off (“Don’t bother me; I’m mean, I’m grieving”)
the discouragement didn’t seem to take—
so I came to accept that you weren’t leaving.
Then I’ll let these clowns distract me with their dance—
there’s a weird wisdom in persistence—
I’ll stick to my mount of grass and moss and clover,
writing things down, and thinking things over.
“Nothing is more dangerous than a dogmatic worldview – nothing more constraining, more blinding to innovation, more destructive of openness to novelty.” – Stephen Jay Gould, American paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, writer, and historian of science, who was born 10 September 1941.
Some quotes from Stephen Jay Gould:
“The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best – and therefore never scrutinize or question.”
“We pass through this world but once. Few tragedies can be more extensive than the stunting of life, few injustices deeper than the denial of an opportunity to strive or even to hope, by a limit imposed from without, but falsely identified as lying within.”
“We have become, by the power of a glorious evolutionary accident called intelligence, the stewards of life’s continuity on earth. We did not ask for this role, but we cannot abjure it. We may not be suited to it, but here we are.”
“I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.”
“We are the offspring of history, and must establish our own paths in this most diverse and interesting of conceivable universes—one indifferent to our suffering, and therefore offering us maximum freedom to thrive, or to fail, in our own chosen way.”
“We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures; because the earth never froze entirely during an ice age; because a small and tenuous species, arising in Africa a quarter of a million years ago, has managed, so far, to survive by hook and by crook. We may yearn for a ‘higher answer’– but none exists.”
“Skepticism is the agent of reason against organized irrationalism–and is therefore one of the keys to human social and civic decency.”
“Life is short, and potential studies infinite. We have a much better chance of accomplishing something significant when we follow our passionate interests and work in areas of deepest personal meaning.”
“Science is not a heartless pursuit of objective information; it is a creative human activity.”
“Homo sapiens [are] a tiny twig on an improbable branch of a contingent limb on a fortunate tree.”
“People talk about human intelligence as the greatest adaptation in the history of the planet. It is an amazing and marvelous thing, but in evolutionary terms, it is as likely to do us in as to help us along.”
“No Geologist worth anything is permanently bound to a desk or laboratory, but the charming notion that true science can only be based on unbiased observation of nature in the raw is mythology. Creative work, in geology and anywhere else, is interaction and synthesis: half-baked ideas from a bar room, rocks in the field, chains of thought from lonely walks, numbers squeezed from rocks in a laboratory, numbers from a calculator riveted to a desk, fancy equipment usually malfunctioning on expensive ships, cheap equipment in the human cranium, arguments before a road cut.”
“The most important scientific revolutions all include, as their only common feature, the dethronement of human arrogance from one pedestal after another of previous convictions about our centrality in the cosmos.”
“I would not choose to live in any age but my own; advances in medicine alone, and the consequent survival of children with access to these benefits, should preclude any temptation to trade for the past. But we cannot understand history if we saddle the past with pejorative categories based on our bad habits for dividing continua into compartments of increasing worth towards the present. These errors apply to the vast paleontological history of life, as much as to the temporally trivial chronicle of human beings. I cringe every time I read that this failed business, or that defeated team, has become a dinosaur and is succumbing to progress. ‘Dinosaur’ should be a term of praise, not opprobrium. Dinosaurs reigned for more than 100 million years and died through no fault of their own; Homo sapiens is nowhere near a million years old, and has limited prospects, entirely self-imposed, for extended geological longevity.”
“Obsolescence is a fate devoutly to be wished, lest science stagnate and die.”
“The human mind delights in finding pattern—so much so that we often mistake coincidence or forced analogy for profound meaning. No other habit of thought lies so deeply within the soul of a small creature trying to make sense of a complex world not constructed for it.”
“When people learn no tools of judgment and merely follow their hopes, the seeds of political manipulation are sown.”
“The facts of nature are what they are, but we can only view them through the spectacles of our mind. Our mind works largely by metaphor and comparison, not always (or often) by relentless logic. When we are caught in conceptual traps, the best exit is often a change in metaphor — not because the new guideline will be truer to nature (for neither the old nor the new metaphor lies ‘out there’ in the woods), but because we need a shift to more fruitful perspectives, and metaphor is often the best agent of conceptual transition.”
“Science is an integral part of culture. It’s not this foreign thing, done by an arcane priesthood. It’s one of the glories of the human intellectual tradition.”
“I had learned that a dexterous, opposable thumb stood among the hallmarks of human success. We had maintained, even exaggerated, this important flexibility of our primate forebears, while most mammals had sacrificed it in specializing their digits. Carnivores run, stab, and scratch. My cat may manipulate me psychologically, but he’ll never type or play the piano.”
“There are no shortcuts to moral insight. Nature is not intrinsically anything that can offer comfort or solace in human terms — if only because our species is such an insignificant latecomer in a world not constructed for us. So much the better. The answers to moral dilemmas are not lying out there, waiting to be discovered. They reside, like the kingdom of God, within us — the most difficult and inaccessible spot for any discovery or consensus.”
“The causes of life’s history [cannot] resolve the riddle of life’s meaning.”
“If we use the past only to creature heroes for present purposes, we will never understand the richness of human thought or the plurality of ways of knowing.”
“So much of science proceeds by telling stories.”
Reflections in Summer: John L. Culliney
A Second Poem for Today
By Robert Bly
A man told me once that all the bad people
Were needed. Maybe not all, but your fingernails
You need; they are really claws, and we know
Claws. The sharks—what about them?
They make other fish swim faster. The hard-faced men
In black coats who chase you for hours
In dreams—that’s the only way to get you
To the shore. Sometimes those hard women
Who abandon you get you to say, ‘You.’
A lazy part of us is like a tumbleweed.
It doesn’t move on its own. Sometimes it takes
A lot of Depression to get tumbleweeds moving.
Then they blow across three or four States.
This man told me that things work together.
Bad handwriting sometimes leads to new ideas;
And a careless god—who refuses to let people
Eat from the Tree of Knowledge—can lead
To books, and eventually to us. We write
Poems with lies in them, but they help a little.
Reflections in Summer: Ryel Kestenbaum
“The old school of thought would have you believe that you’d be a fool to take on nature without arming yourself with every conceivable measure of safety and comfort under the sun. But that isn’t what being in nature is all about. Rather, it’s about feeling free, unbounded, shedding the distractions and barriers of our civilization—not bringing them with us.”
From the Music Archives: Johannes Brahms
Reflections in Summer: Michael Pollan
“Anthropocentric as [the gardener] may be, he recognizes that he is dependent for his health and survival on many other forms of life, so he is careful to take their interests into account in whatever he does. He is in fact a wilderness advocate of a certain kind. It is when he respects and nurtures the wilderness of his soil and his plants that his garden seems to flourish most. Wildness, he has found, resides not only out there, but right here: in his soil, in his plants, even in himself…
But wildness is more a quality than a place, and though humans can’t manufacture it, they can nourish and husband it…
The gardener cultivates wildness, but he does so carefully and respectfully, in full recognition of its mystery.”
A Third Poem for Today
A Poem for Today
“Odysseus to Telemachus,”
By Joseph Brodsky
My dear Telemachus,
The Trojan War
is over now; I don’t recall who won it.
The Greeks, no doubt, for only they would leave
so many dead so far from their own homeland.
But still, my homeward way has proved too long.
While we were wasting time there, old Poseidon,
it almost seems, stretched and extended space.
I don’t know where I am or what this place
can be. It would appear some filthy island,
with bushes, buildings, and great grunting pigs.
A garden choked with weeds; some queen or other.
Grass and huge stones . . . Telemachus, my son!
To a wanderer the faces of all islands
resemble one another. And the mind
trips, numbering waves; eyes, sore from sea horizons,
run; and the flesh of water stuffs the ears.
I can’t remember how the war came out;
even how old you are–I can’t remember.
Grow up, then, my Telemachus, grow strong.
Only the gods know if we’ll see each other
again. You’ve long since ceased to be that babe
before whom I reined in the plowing bullocks.
Had it not been for Palamedes’ trick
we two would still be living in one household.
But maybe he was right; away from me
you are quite safe from all Oedipal passions,
and your dreams, my Telemachus, are blameless.
“At least I have the flowers of myself,
and my thoughts, no god
can take that;
I have the fervour of myself for a presence
and my own spirit for light;
and my spirit with its loss
though small against the black,
small against the formless rocks,
hell must break before I am lost;
before I am lost,
hell must open like a red rose
for the dead to pass.” – From “Eurydice,” by Hilda “H.D.” Doolittle, poet, novelist, memoirist, and author of “Sea Garden,” who was born 10 September 1886.
All Greece hates
the still eyes in the white face,
the lustre as of olives
where she stands,
and the white hands.
All Greece reviles
the wan face when she smiles,
hating it deeper still
when it grows wan and white,
remembering past enchantments
and past ills.
Greece sees, unmoved,
God’s daughter, born of love,
the beauty of cool feet
and slenderest knees,
could love indeed the maid,
only if she were laid,
white ash amid funereal cypresses.
Reflections in Summer: Rob Schultheis
“There’s a silent voice in the wilderness that we hear only when no one else is around. When you go far, far beyond, out across the netherlands of the Known, the din of human static slowly fades away, over and out.”
American Art – Part II of III: Joe Velez
American Muse – Part II of III: Georgia Douglas Johnson
“Rise with the hour for which you were made.” – Georgia Douglas Johnson, poet, playwright, member of the Harlem Renaissance, and author of “The Heart of a Woman,” who was born 10 September 1880.
And who shall separate the dust
What later we shall be:
Whose keen discerning eye will scan
And solve the mystery?
The high, the low, the rich, the poor,
The black, the white, the red,
And all the chromatique between,
Of whom shall it be said:
Here lies the dust of Africa;
Here are the sons of Rome;
Here lies the one unlabelled,
The world at large his home!
Reflections in Summer: John Muir
Back from the Territory – Art: Ron Stephens
In the words of one writer, “Ron Stephens, reduction stoneware potter, painter and sheet metal sculptor, was born in Kitchener, Ontario. In high school, he took a potters course. The craft came naturally to him. After graduation, Ron hitch-hiked west in the late 70’s and found work in a pottery supply house in Calgary, Alberta. In 1983 he started his own wheel thrown high-fire production pottery business near Vancouver, B.C., distributing his wares throughout the west for 20 years.
His current love and inspiration is metal sculpture. Ron designs and produces by hand a full line of honest depictions of wild life and domestic creatures.
Each rustic metal sculpture is real rusted metal (just like his car). Ron delights in bringing metal to life by hand-cutting and bending and welding (like origami metal) and allowing the west coast humidity to slowly rust the surface, “bloomed” to develop a finish that is unique, variable and natural. Then the surface is sealed. Your hinterland creation may be used as an indoor shelf or outdoor garden ornament.
Because the sculptures are already rusty, you can leave them outside without any maintenance. The rust will act as a paint and they will not rust away, but continue to get that rich pitted textured surface. If you want to freshen up the finish, spray on some clear urethane.”
Back from the Territory, I share this with you, before I light out again.
Reflections in Summer: Edward Abbey
“I thought of the wilderness we had left behind us, open to sea and sky, joyous in its plenitude and simplicity, perfect yet vulnerable, unaware of what is coming, defended by nothing, guarded by no one.”
American Muse – Part III of III: Amy Clampitt
“The music is a vibration in the brain rather than the ear. ” – Amy Clampitt, poet, writer, and author of “A Silence Opens: Poems,” who died 10 September 1994.
First daylight on the bittersweet-hung
sleeping porch at high summer; dew
all over the lawn, sowing diamond-
the hired man’s shadow revolving
along the walk, a flash of milkpails
passing; no threat in sight, no hint
anywhere in the universe, of that
apathy at the meridian, the noon
of absolute boredom; flies
crooning black lullabies in the kitchen,
milk-soured crocks, cream separator
still unwashed; what is there to life
but chores and more chores, dishwater,
fatigue, unwanted children; nothing
to stir the longueur of afternoon
except possibly thunderheads;
climbing, livid, turreted alabaster
lit up from within by splendor and terror
— forked lightning’s
Below – Tracy Tauber: “Thunderclouds with Lightning”
Reflections in Summer: Sigurd F. Olson
“Wilderness to the people of America is a spiritual necessity, an antidote to the high pressure of modern life, a means of regaining serenity and equilibrium.”
American Art – Part III of III: Ed Kamuda
In the words of one writer, “Established artist Ed Kamuda creates abstractions that reveal a reverence for nature and a mystic bent that link him to Northwest School of painters such as Guy Anderson, Morris Graves, and Mark Tobey. The Pacific Northwest forests, Cascade Mountains and fields of rural Washington, especially the Skagit Valley are the inspiration for his works. He is known for his use of simplified shapes that symbolically and pictographically convey the essence of the natural landscape and the human experience. Form and line are reduced to primitive, bold elements, sometimes playful, but ever sophisticated.
Kamuda works with a palette knife rather than a brush, building up and scratching away oil pigments before finishing the surface with a wax varnish to enhance and give texture to the surface. This method results in lively, facetted surfaces that complement his bold lines and shapes, and serve to reinforce his interpretation nature strong and wondrous.”