It is amusing to see that my own ways to look at things change faster than what I am looking at. 10 years ago, I took these pictures at the Fern Cliff Nature Preserve. Last week I decided to pay the place another visit, and fortunately, it hasn’t change much (in contrast to too many other things).
This is maybe because it is not so easy to find, or that the humid Indiana climate recreates whatever grows quite rapidly.
To the plants on the rock faces (bryophytes and ferns) these 10 years must seem like nothing. They have been around for millions of years.
So here we switch from wide angle to macro lens.
Some of the vertical walls are completely covered with soft mosses, liverwort, and other beautiful little things.
Maybe we would be ecologically more reliable if our skin looked like that. Collecting water has become an art.
Did I promise ferns? Here is an unusual one:
Mathematicians like to do things a little differently. An excellent example was the Mathematische Arbeitstagung, a yearly event held in Bonn, where the (mathematical) audience was asked to publicly suggest speakers.
Friedrich Hirzebruch would write the suggested names on the board (he sometimes misheard…), and then create a list of speakers on the fly. Sometimes they ended up with unexpected results. One year, Michael Barnsley was suggested, who had been working on a new fractal image compression method.
His talk was exciting for us graduate students, because we for once could understand something. The idea was to use special types of iterated function systems: Take a few linear maps that are all contractions, and use them to map a subset of the plane to the union of the images of that set under all the linear maps. This becomes a contraction of the space of closed subsets of the plane to itself with respect to the Hausdorff distance, and hence has a fixed point, which is again a subset of the plane.
It turns out that these subsets are highly complicated fractals, encoded just by a few numbers. For instance, all images on this page (except for the photo of Hirzebruch at the top) were made with just two linear maps, requiring 12 decimal numbers.
Barnsley claimed that he could reverse engineer this: Start with an image, and find a small collection of linear maps that would produce the given image very accurately. If true, this would revolutionize image compression. We went home and tried it out on our Atari ST computers and the likes. All we could produce were ferns, twigs, and leaves.
Paul Bourke has a nice web site where he explains how one can design some simple fractals, and has also some very impressive images of ferns using four and more linear maps. Below are the two simple maps used to create the polypodiopsida psychedelica above.
Our perception of reality is self-enforcing: We see what we are used to see. Artificially blurred, everything looks strange, ominous, threatening.
Still, we try to decipher an image and put it into the context of the familiar.
If this fails, we ignore it.
How much is out there that we ignore just because we never learned to see it?
What are blurred images good for?
Are they just there to cover up blemishes of reality or the lack of skills of the photographer?
Or is having more information always better? Shouldn’t at least something be in focus, always?
Or better, everything, with absolute clarity, so that nothing is hidden and no question remains?
Sometimes, I think, it is necessary to reconsider everything.
The canyonesque nature of the Fern Canyon State Park makes one forget that this place is next to the coast, which empasizes the contrast between the complexity of the ferns and the simplicity of the beachscape.
This is a place to enjoy the lack of presence, which has dissolved into a beautiful grainy gray.
Time passes gently,
and allows for modest reflection.
After the brief excursion to Northern California, we are back to Indiana. This state also has a Fern dedicated nature preserve, the Fern Cliff Nature Preserve, located a little west of Greencastle. Things are a little different, though.
We do have a lot spooky cliff and very little path, mostly dead ends.
But this means one can explore, and the patient visitor will find ferns that mingle with liverworts.
I took these pictures 9 years ago, but I don’t expect that much has changed.
A little bit off the (beaten) path are some views of the sandstone cliffs I really liked:
I will pay this place another visit as soon as the eternal heat wave ends.
After the modest ferns from last week, let’s indulge. One of the places to be is the Fern Canyon in the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, which lies, alas, in Northern California.
Most people who make it into the coastal redwoods that far north don’t bother to take the windy detour to that state park and trail head. Here is what they miss.
The vertical walls of the short canyon are packed with ferns.
Their gentle motion is impossible to capture in a photograph.
At some places, they appear to float before a darker background.
After seeing this, you will keep dreaming of a house with walls like this.