Desert Flowers

What would life be like if we could thrive only for a few weeks each year?

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If, for the rest of the year, we had to lie dormant in dryness and heat, exposed to wind and relentless rodents that assume everything that’s not rock or sand is edible?

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We would do our best to make these few weeks count. All our prickly defenses would make place for a display of attraction.

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The pictures here were taken early 2001 in the Joshua Tree National Park, at the peak of the wildflower season. All these plants are strangers to me, as I am a stranger to their home, the desert.

 

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It was still good to be a guest, because even the most alien forms of life can teach us something.

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Persistence, in this case.

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West

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“West” has meant different things at different times. It (still) signifies a cultural attitude of possession: This planet is ours, we can transform it at will.

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It has also signified exploration, and transcending imagined limits.

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Settling at such a limit point signifies an attitude, the willingness to accept being a Stranger in a Strange Land.

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Esthetics here is necessarily a potpourri of ideas and cultures that do not create a harmonious whole by itself.

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The unifying theme is elsewhere.

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Every attempt to create one’s own little human space here is humbled by the vastness of the world around us.

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That we are allowed to be here, too, is a form of grace.

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Hog Nose (was: Massasauga) (Nordhouse Dunes 3)

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The Eastern Massasauga is Michigan’s only poisonous snake. This was my first encounter with a rattlesnake, I didn’t expect to find her at a beach in Michigan.

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The camouflage in the dried sea grass is near perfect, but the human predator trying to get a better picture annoyed her, so she moved.

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Why do us men think of snakes as female, and reserve the male attribute to her larger brother, the dragon (whom I still have to find)? 

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They are beautiful, elegant, hit you when you expect it least, and sneak away when you don’t look.

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Sometimes, they also just sit there thoughtfully and lick their tongue.

New Eden (New Harmony IV)

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Nested among a garden of fruit trees next to the Roofless Church in New Harmony is another sculpture by Stephen de Staebler, the Angel of Annunciation, which is easy to overlook, despite its tallness.

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A small plaque on the church wall nearby quotes a poem by Staedler that states that arms are for doing, while wings are for being.DSC 1886

This angel is deeply conflicted. The arm sticks out of his head like the wings. The head itself, whose face is just recognizable as such from the side, is split in half when viewed from the front.

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One of the two feet is cemented in, the other free to walk. Where does this leave us?

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There is another sculpture in this garden, without plaque or any indication of authorship: A piece of wood, hanging from a tree.

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It’s not a sculpture. It’s what is left over from binding the branches of an aging tree together to keep it from breaking and falling apart. An attempt can never completely be a failure. Doing and being can still be one.

Verweile Doch (Nordhouse Dunes 2)

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A river with its strict sense of flow is a universally used symbol for the passage of time. Resistance against that is, in contrast, best contemplated by looking at the relentless forth and back of waves along a coast line.

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Time is reduced here to repetition, it seems.

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The weeds and twigs shown are gone. Their only action then was to write on the water, invisibly, and immediately forgotten.

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But there is more. They are defending a territory beyond the water.

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They are also witnesses for an esthetic of complexity beyond the untextured and timeless water.

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And finally, they did leave their traces, elsewhere, in memory.

 

War & War (Nordhouse Dunes I)

For many years we went camping to Nordhouse Dunes at Lake Michigan, and an episode of nostalgia made us revisit this place one last time before my daughter is off to college & life.

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In László Krasznahorkai deliberately cryptic book War & War, the hero György Korin is depersonalized: He just symbolizes a single function of our lives, namely delivering the past into the future, becoming the horizon between the below and the above.

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This happens concretely by carrying an old manuscript to New York, a place that the four inhabitants of that manuscript haven’t seen yet. These inhabitants are cryptic, too, bemoaning the loss of the noble, the great, and the transcendent, this causing also the loss of peace, so that the world now consist of only war & war. 

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Korin realizes however that delivering the manuscript is not enough, he feels the calling to complete it, to find an exit for its inhabitants. There are several attempts for this, one being by writing on water.

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This year, the dune grass that so gracefully used to create sand drawings, is now doing this in the water, thanks to water levels two feet above normal. The water itself leaves very temporary traces on the disappearing beach.

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Is it maybe the author’s dream that his protagonists keep writing the story?

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Arrivals and Departures

This is an unusual post, marking arrivals and departures.

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Even worse, the sea creatures on display appear to have nothing to do with that theme. Let me explain. One of the arrivals is that of my daughter arriving at the critical age of 18, and one of the departures is hers to college in California. This provides a first link: The pictures are from the Monterey Aquarium, which we visited last year.

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When I see these astonishing creatures, I am inevitably reminded of Denis Villeneuve’s film Arrival, a rare example of an adaptation that works independently and as well in its own way as the source, here Ted Chiang’s The Story of Your Life. The departure I will associate with this is that of the composer of the wondrous film score, Jóhann Jóhannsson, who left us last year, too early.

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Arrival and departure sound like beginning and end, joy and sadness. This is treacherous, because each departure is a departure to a new arrival elsewhere. Arrival and departure are like a single contraction of one of these jellyfish. What you perceive depends of where you are: inside or outside.

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More important than arrival and departure are the stories that are framed in between, the mysterious creatures that propel our lives forward or bring it to a halt.

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I am looking forward to hear more.