Big Sur 1993

To celebrate July 2nd, here I have some nostalgic pictures from 1993, scanned and cleaned up from old negatives.

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This is how the sun used to hover over the Pacific, seen from Highway 1, near Big Sur, where we were headed.

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It’s a day hike from the coast to the destination, so it’s good to get going in the morning and take advantage of the morning fog, until you reach the denser woods.

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Trees make bridges or block the way, like everything else.

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The destination? One of the hot springs hidden in the wilderness. I forgot the name, and I don’t have directions.

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I wonder how all this looks today.

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Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Ohio IX)

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Conkles Hollow is a separate small nature preserve belonging to Hocking Hills State Park, featuring two very different trails. These are like two (very) different aspects of the same person.

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One leads inside a deep and narrow gorge, and is as wild as it gets. Violence and darkness abound.

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The other trail leads up and around, with views of the cliff faces.

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During late winter/early spring, this becomes a study in black, white, and green. This is peace and serenity.

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Here, the trees seem to mirror the dramatic dance of the rocks below like dreams, occasionally joined by a counterpoint in red.

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Is this just one place?

The Passing of Time (Ohio VIII)

The longest trail in Hocking Hills State Park is nicknamed Grandma’s Trail, and it’s an 11 mile roundtrip.

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It leads to rather remote regions of the park, making it ideal for self-isolation. The six hours it takes to hike it is an opportunity to contemplate the passing of time, both our own, and the inherent time of the landscape.

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Spatial and temporal distance merge in rare views like the one above (from a fire tower). 

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Then there is an abundance of waterfalls and rock faces: Do we want change, or do we want permanence?

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Spectacular views like the one below are rare, reminding us that there is not only passing time, but also meaning.

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The trail ends at Ash Cave, another large recess cave with a waterfall.

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The enormous overhang provides shelter, but is also an ominous threat: How long will it hold?

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Horizontal and Vertical (Ohio VII)

From last week’s Old Man’s Cave, there is a path that takes you along the stream to two different waterfalls. Following either way becomes a meditation on horizontal and vertical motion.

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To reach the lower falls, you will need to cross yet another bridge.

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And again one has a choice: continue downstream, or climb the steep cliff for an alternate route back to Old Man’s Cave.

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The upper fall is even more spectacular.

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There are more bridges further upstream, including this double bridge at two different levels. This view finally reminds us that we live in a 3-dimensional world. 

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Old Man’s Cave (Ohio VI)

The most prominent feature of Hocking Hill’s State Park is Old Man’s Cave, reportedly the home of a hermit who lived there in the late 17th century. If not for the visitors, this place comes close to my ideal of a place for contemplation.

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The recess cave itself is very open, like a balcony, and unsuitable for permanent shelter. This is where we stop, free our mind of ourselves, and let the raw landscape take its effect.

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Another view is downstream, towards the bridge. This is the place to contemplate decisions. Three paths meet here. So one has a threefold choice: remain in the cave, or cross the bridge, and then continue either left or right. We will talk about the two latter options next week.

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From the bridge itself, one has the view onto a serene waterfall. This is the place to find focus.

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Finally, if we decide to leave, there is always the look back, turning presence into memory.

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The Personal Cave (Ohio V)

Part of Hocking Hills State Park is Rock House, with two short trails and one main feature, a preview of which you can see en miniature below:

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A cave from the outside can be a foreboding place. Do we dare to enter?

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The pattern of a cave per se doesn’t appear in Christopher Alexander’s Pattern Language, but there are a Child’s Cave and Secret Place, which relate to it.

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We can uncover the secret of a place only by having the courage to step into it. This is like entering somebody’s private space: When inside, we see the world from a new perspective.

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After a while, the darkness dissipates, and we feel simultaneously protected and protecting.

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After leaving a cave, something has changed. We will not be afraid anymore.

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Chance Visit (Ohio II)

Sometimes one needs a bit of luck and the right introduction to be admitted to a place.

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My second stop through Ohio was supposed to be John Bryan State Park, but my GPS told me at some point to leave the road. Obedient as I am I did, and ended up at a closed gate for the youth camp ground. When I started walking to explore where I actually was, I met Robert with his two dogs. We bumped elbows, and he explained to me the energy of the springs at this place, pointing vaguely in a direction where I should walk. 

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That turned out to be cross country for a few minutes, until I hit the well established trail system of Glen Hellen Nature Preserve, which I might have missed entirely had I found John Bryan State Park.

It’s indeed a curious place. Up above is a burial mound, and below the remnants of a bridge, maybe indicating that some chasms shouldn’t be crossed. The stubborn among us will keep trying.

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And it is indeed a place with many springs. The most iconic is Yellow Spring, whose orange-yellow color is due to large amounts of iron.

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The color persists for a while, causing ghostly reflections.

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Other springs feed small waterfalls. Four of them are named on the map, but there are more.

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The one below I discovered accidentally, by curiously stepping off the path. I was not the first.

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Erosion (Ohio I)

This blog post is about erosion as a design pattern, or about Terry Tempest Williams’s book of essays with the same name, or about the first stop at Caesar Creek State Park of my four day escape to Ohio, away from human interaction.

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We typically understand erosion as decay, as an increase in entropy, and we can observe it everywhere. This is one of the themes of Erosion, Williams’s very moving book. Erosion happens not only in geological matter, but everywhere: In the laws that should protect us, in our bodies, in our mental states.

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Resistance against this decay appears to be the essence of life. We lean against each other in support, until we break.

Caesar Creek State Park was a random pick for me on the way, and as such a disappointment. There is one long trail around the lake, which one cannot walk, because the bridge is under repair. What is a bridge that cannot be walked?

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But, as keenly observed in Erosion, there is another function of this decay: The creation of soil, of fertile ground for new growth.This becomes heartbreakingly intense in the chapter where Williams recounts the cremation of her brother after his suicide. This book is not an easy read, even for those of us who agree with Williams’s view of things.

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My return from the unwalkable bridge took me along the beach front of Caesar Creek Lake, which is not quite ready for building sand castles.

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But a closer look at the debris reveals that it is composed of older debris. Fossilesque, I would call that. Sometimes erosion takes a very long time.

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Read the book anyway. It will help you with your own, personal erosion. 

Berlin Alexanderplatz (10mm VI)

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In Alfred Döblin’s novel Berlin Alexanderplatz, the place of that name is being used to dramatically convey transformation: Franz Bieberkopf  is traumatized by the changes it has  undergone while he spent years in prison, and stands for the transformations he himself will undergo.

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Döblin’s novel takes place in the 1920s, and Berlin has undergo dramatic changes since. After the destructions of the Second World War and the division of the city, it was no longer the single city center. The architects of the Eastern part weren’t insensitive, they kept the space open and repurposable.

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Nearby churches were renovated and allowed other change to happen, later.

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After the fall of the Berlin Wall, many of the administrative buildings were taken down. The facade of the Palace of the Republic used to annoy the people of power with distorted reflections of the nearby cathedral. Not anymore.

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Radically modern buildings show that transformation is still possible. This leaves hope for Franz’s children.

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Marzahn mon amour

A neighbor and I exchanged books over the holidays (a forgotten art?). I gave her Christoph Ransmayr’s Arznei gegen die Sterblichkeit, and she returned the favor with Katja Oskamp’s Marzahn mon amour.

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Marzahn is a legendary suburb of Berlin I had never been to. The name triggered childhood memories of Frau Malzahn, the wonderful dragon in Ottfried Preußler’s even more wonderful Jim Knopf books.

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But this has nothing to do with Marzahn mon amour, nor do the pictures above, which show Alt-Marzahn, miraculously preserved among the Plattenbauten, the prefab buildings that provided a cheap solution to the growing housing problem of the former German Democratic Republic.

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Here is one of them, proudly announcing cosmetic studio at the entrance as if the entire building is that studio.

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And this is what the book is about: People living in these prefab houses, and being taken care of temporarily by the narrator, who works as a pedicurist in a cosmetic studio just like the one above (this one?).

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We learn to like them, the people and the buildings, maybe because they all have decided to cope with their large and small miseries by taking care of themselves, even if only symbolically.

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Most remarkable, however, is the insight of the narrator: That by stepping apparently down (in her case from struggling author to a pedicurist) one can in fact find happiness, and then by the way, write a charming little book.