Thursday, January 28, 2016

On a clear day you can see forever. Flat water and a flat Earth at Burgoyne Bay!

I walked at Burgoyne Bay this morning just before the return of heavy rains once more and explored some high trails below the peak of Mount Maxwell, camera in hand. Scattered across the steep tree-covered slopes were many conglomerate boulders, some bigger than houses, that had chipped off the cliffs above. I walked under low cloud, a rising wind sighed in the tree tops and creeks roared in full spate  down to the bay far below. Eventually I arrived at the granite headland at the northern entrance to Burgoyne Bay and then began to walk back to my car waiting at the head of the bay just as the first raindrops of the deluge began. To this point it had been a normal, solitary exploration. Then things began to take a more technicolour turn.

A young man, maybe in his thirties, sat beside the trail and asked if he could walk with me. What I did not understand then was that I had been seized upon by the Ancient Mariner in Coleridge’s poem who 'stoppeth one of three'. He turned out to be a flat-earther and his role for the next half hour walk was to convince me that this 3D. round earth idea that so many of us share was a result of brainwashing by a massive financial/ governmental conspiracy. Now, I can be pretty sharp sometimes, so I realized that I needed to tread carefully as this person was in the grip of a powerful delusion and would cling to it, perhaps fiercely, if I outright laughed in his face. Besides, I will talk to anyone and I was interested in his belief processes. It is not so long ago after all since Galileo came close to being burned at the stake for saying that the ( round) earth revolved around the sun. Human beings have shared varied sets of beliefs over the centuries and have defended them to the death.

OK, so we got down to the nitty-gritty when I used the example of being on the open ocean with a circle of tossing waves visible from on deck of about three miles radius before the curvature of the earth hide the rest, and the freighter that came up OVER the horizon showed just its masts and funnels at first. No, no, he argued, it was just the vanishing point. If I used binoculars or a telescope I would see the whole boat! Presumably if I looked far enough the rim of the flat earth would show up - on a clear day you can see forever. And the sun was small and circled around, sometimes it was even in the clouds. Well, you can see that either he or I was employing some pretty creative thinking and I appreciate that in people. Unfortunately he was also getting more and more excited. He knew that I and so many others languished in the grip of a powerful delusion that he had been struggling to correct for a long time, so I backed off in friendly sort of way and it all ended peacefully as I dropped him off at the main road.

But here is the thing, we mostly share a set of common beliefs about the composition of the world and humankind’s place and function upon it. As Kenneth Clark says, a civilization falls apart when its members no longer share a common world view. Most of us presently accept a round earth, gravity, and so on because it seems to explain a lot and it works. Once though, that was heresy. So it pays to listen carefully to seemingly odd ideas, they may simply be an older order on replay, but on the other hand they may contain the germs of a future one.


Something I skipped carefully over is the whole issue of mental illness, and I do not mean to make light of it. Was this man temporarily in the grip of drugs, an irrational episode..... ? What I thought of was the internet and the whole area of conspiracy theories. It was more real for him to believe that the whole space program ( with those fabricated round earth photos) was a multi-trillion dollar con job. But whatever his constructed version of reality, it may have been a last ditch effort to keep his mind from spinning completely away. Looked at that way, he needed to keep his ship, if not on an even keel, at least still swimming.

      Listening to NXNW this morning on CBC radio I was treated to June Goldsmith's explanations of Chopin. Not only did I receive a deeper understanding of his music ( and music in general) but perhaps more importantly it set me off on a thought journey of my own. Since last weeks encounter with the 'Flat Earth' person on my walk along the shore of Burgoyne Bay I have been thinking about how our minds get organized: what gets attention, becomes a dominant way of thinking and behaving, and what gets dropped through lack of use. We may be aware that 'genius' personalities are somehow so often very specialized, but never make the leap to think about what passes as normal. With the flat earther it was not difficult to recognize aberrations in his thinking, but what about my own? After all if I could question his thought processes, then I should become more aware of my own. That is the value of challenges*, they make us question and that is the first step in creating something new, in reality or in thought.

      *The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” C.G. Jung 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Robbie Burns Day.

'My love is like a red red rose' is a favourite poem from the Scottish Bard. Real love lasts forever, it says, and this beautiful piece is part of a large and continuing body of love poetry that follows along the same lines. And naturally enough. Imagine winning a life partner with “ My love is conditional on good behavior and will alter with the circumstances.” Not only not very poetic but it seems so practical and realistic.

Perhaps we should see these kind of poetics as similar to the mating dance of many birds. Its all about attracting a mate, and wishing that this might be the one that lasts. Burns wrote hopeful poems for a string of 'true loves'.

But then, this poem has outlived generations of lovers and we can still feel it in our hearts. Here's to you, Robbie Burns!

O my Luve's like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve's like the melodie
That’s sweetly play'd in tune.
As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I:
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:
Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.
And fare thee weel, my only Luve
And fare thee weel, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.
                            Robert Burns

Hikihg up Mount Tuam. Choosing camera compositions

Another hike with a large group, this time in an ecological reserve at the south end of the island. We will hike up the rugged side of Mount Tuam and our leader says the hike will be 'shortened' because we cannot pass some trails when they are washed by streams too wide and deep for hopping across. We climb steeply up moss-covered rocky outcrops and through arbutus, cedar and fir forest. The sound of rushing water echoes up from the deep ravines that score the flanks of the mountain. We climb over and crawl under windfalls and wade through wet salal.

Finally we wander up to a spectacular falls that surges and crashes down a rocky, moss-covered cliff. Out comes my small camera ( I have stopped trying to carry my heavy expensive Nikon) and I try to catch the feeling. Falls are dramatic, but like any other subject matter one still works with the fundamentals of what the camera can best do technically and what I can think of in terms of camera angles. There are the safe and traditional ways and the more original ones. Here, I settle for some standard shots.

Later, and further up the mountain, I notice another photographer beside some interesting boulders snapping a photo of the group and turn and take his photo also. Later I will take another look at this snatched image and recognize that I have collected something of interest - to me at least. Unlike those at the falls, this one presents some unusual challenges. I have placed three forms side by side - boulder, boulder, man - , so there is a repeating, but broken pattern and the trees in the background provide a steady repetition of forms and textures. It is the assumption that the human figure is not the dominant subject, that it is shoved off to the side and seems ridiculous in its posturing in comparison to the enduring beauty of rocks and trees, that makes this image worthy of consideration. Something is being communicated that goes beyond the 'beautiful' and while I have my own ideas about what those may be ( including my own role as 'Photographer') this image is open to the individual interpretation of every viewer.

We look to the arts to provide a commodity (beauty), and usually that is conventional in subject matter and composition, but Art's other role is to provide questions and challenge our familiar assumptions. Usually we react with anger or rejection to any new ideas that upset our equilibrium so no wonder most art we see does not challenge but seeks to please.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Cutting down and chucking out.

Every year I cut down a couple of trees to provide all our next year's firewood. This is a time of tension for Heather, (will Bill survive the logging yet again?), and she is correct to fear an accident because while once this was a regular activity, now it happens but once a year, especially with big trees that stretch their length a hundred feet or more with a mighty thump. Cutting on a rocky slope added some extra challenge today, but down they came and here I am writing about it. Tadaa!

Later. After taking a selfie of myself beside my mornings work( A ten second timer shot. I had to run like mad to get into position) I found Heather beside the front door disposing of her splendid gingerbread church. Sad, but then, she already has plans for next year!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Should old acquaintance be forgot?

 I found a video hidden away in a box yesterday that I had never viewed before and I watched it with rising tension. In 1999 ( how old that seems already) we were scarcely launched on our sailing adventure in our wooden schooner 'Shiriri' when off the coast of Cape Mendocino, California, we were caught in hurricane force winds and immense, closely packed waves. To cut that story short, we lost our steering and were eventually hauled in by the US Coast Guard ( bless 'em). They took a video of their rescue and we received a copy. After a couple of week in Eureka repairing our ship we continued on our way. From then on we knew that our boat was very strong and that any weak links were due to our own frailty. Sometimes, experience is hard won.

This evening I experimented with re-photographing off the TV screen as the DVD played. Stopping at 'pause' gave sharper but coarser images while softer ones resulted when I just snapped while it played. Those softer ones caught my interest. I thought of the British artist Turner with his powerful swirls of colour and ill defined forms. Somehow these caught the feeling of those moments: exhaustion, focus on the job at hand, the immense power of wind and waves, and combined with all this a heightened awareness of the beauty of the ocean.

Looking back, we were privileged to have experienced these moments. Being on the edge of the precipice, struggling with our family to make it through, has sharpened our appreciation of the world. A part of the ocean in those moments remains in everything to this day. Hard won, but gold.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A poor day for a hike?

I woke this morning to something akin to a blizzard. Or at least what we West Coasters might foolishly think a blizzard must look like. Large flakes of wet snow were streaking down and blurring the edges of the trees at the edges of our clearing in the big woods. But soon it transitioned into rain, cold nasty rain with the temperature still just above freezing. Now this is more like our typical midwinter's day.

I went for a hike nevertheless and beside the sea, beneath the trees, it was beautiful. The salal and moss covered trees glowed and the rocks glistened.

Along the shore the ducks and loons went about their everyday business in the choppy waves stirred up by a chill, penetrating north breeze. There is something about a cold wind off the ocean that brings out the best in me. Perhaps all those Viking ancestors and northern England farmers in my past woke up and said, “AHHH! This is more like it!”

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Oh, Lovely Rock

The recent earthquake epicenter was only a few miles from here. I woke to hear the last rattles only, but then our home is firmly set upon solid rock and in other softer places it was more dramatic. It got me thinking though, about the nature of the larger foundation we walk upon everyday and Jeffers poem 'Oh Lovely Rock'* which has been a favorite poem for years. Often I find myself photographing, admiring, and attempting to understand our complex rocks, their kinds, origins and complex twists and folds. These islands in the Gulf of Georgia were formed thousands of miles away, - ancient coral reefs, volcanic ash sediments, sandstones, granites -, all rafted here over immense time periods on the Pacific plate and smeared against the continental plate as their plate conveyor belt was subducted beneath the continental one. In that process they were folded, tilted, cracked and metamorphosed. To see rock is to see drama, seemingly frozen but in reality still underway, still bumping along and rattling to earthquakes. Only because our time is so short, individually and as a species does all this seem permanent and set in stone.

What Jeffers does in his poem, and why I admire it, is to step beyond the science, the geology, and feel “its intense reality with love and wonder”.We are humans and have the capacity to both reason and to love. Oh, lovely rock!

*Oh Lovely Rock
We stayed the night in the pathless gorge of Ventana Creek, up the east fork.
The rock walls and the mountain ridges hung forest on forest above our heads, maple and redwood,
Laurel, oak, madrone, up to the high and slender Santa Lucian firs that stare up the cataracts
Of slide-rock to the star-color precipices.

We lay on gravel and kept a little camp-fire for warmth.
Past midnight only two or three coals glowed red in the cooling darkness; I laid a clutch of dead bay-leaves
On the ember ends and felted dry sticks across them and lay down again. The revived flame
Lighted my sleeping son’s face and his companion’s, and the vertical face of the great gorge-wall
Across the stream. Light leaves overhead danced in the fire’s breath, tree-trunks were seen: it was the rock wall
That fascinated my eyes and mind. Nothing strange: light-gray diorite with two or three slanting seams in it,
Smooth-polished by the endless attrition of slides and floods; no fern nor lichen, pure naked if I were
Seeing rock for the first time. As if I were seeing through the flame-lit surface into the real and bodily
And living rock. Nothing strange...I cannot
Tell you how strange: the silent passion, the deep nobility and childlike loveliness: this fate going on
Outside our fates. It is here in the mountain like a grave smiling child. I shall die, and my boys
Will live and die, our world will go on through its rapid agonies of change and discovery; this age will die,
And wolves have howled in the snow around a new Bethlehem: this rock will be here, grave, earnest, not passive: the energies
That are its atoms will still be bearing the whole mountain above: and I, many packed centuries ago,
Felt its intense reality with love and wonder, this lonely rock.

                                                  Robinson Jeffers