Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Photography is about disappearance, not appearance

“So much of what photography has to say about appearance, it turns out, is really about disappearance: cultures and places changed beyond recognition, lives long gone, and the old arts of the analogue camera and the darkroom with them.”*

 It feels like just yesterday I took this photograph along North Road in
Epsom with my 35mm film camera now long gone and printed it in
my darkroom now long gone of my son whose childhood is now long
gone, swinging off the fence of a cemetery whose inhabitants are
now– even more – long gone.

*From an article about photography in the London Times by Jeremy Harding: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v34/n15/jeremy-harding/short-cuts

Monday, July 30, 2012

3 Ecologies: combating monstrous and mutant algae

I am reading what is, to me, a new, groundbreaking book, The Three Ecologies by Felix Guattari, although it is far from new, first being published in France in 1989.  Within it's covers, the author presents his concept of 'ecosophy': combining the three related ecologies of environmental, psychological and social worlds  into a single practice and vision for our future. He contends – and I agree – that it is only by broadening our views to encompass all three ecologies will we be able to affect real change in the world.

I love the following quote, from page 29 of his book; Although written 23 years ago, it is so fitting for our times, particularly now with our TVs saturated with 'degenerate images and statements' from our seemingly endless presidential campaign; and, better yet, with one of our candidates perhaps a worse vulture capitalist than Donald Trump. I have illustrated his quote with photographs I found online:
Algae in Venice, photographer unknown

"Just as monstrous and mutant algae invade the lagoon of Venice, so our television screens are populated, saturated, by 'degenerate' images and statements. In the field of social ecology, men like Donald Trump are permitted to proliferate freely, like another species of algae, taking over entire districts of New York and Atlantic City; he 'redevelops' by raising rents, thereby driving out tens of thousands of poor families, most of whom are condemned to homelessness, becoming the equivalent of the dead fish of environmental ecology."

A boy swims along the algae-filled coastline of China 7/15/11 (Reuters/China Daily)

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The world is self-similar, whatever the scale

Like the rest of our world, constellations are self-similar. 
But, whatever the scale, being pattern-seeking creatures, 
we will see what we will see.
The constellations Orion, Lepus and Canis Major. http://zyntara.com/VisualAstrologyNewsletters/van_April2007/VAN_April2007.htm
Here's a smaller constellation: a photo of our earth shot from space:
Finally, here's a constellation I photographed even closer to home: 
A swirl of bubbles and pollen floating on the frog pond
at Northwood Meadows Park: 7/28/12

Pollen Witch

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Look for shapes and patterns, not the actual object

Jean Stimmell©2012
Shapes and patterns...
Here's a straight, unmanipuated photograph, I took yesterday of a fabulous stone ledge, separating land from sea along Great Bay Estuary in Newmarket, N.H. To me this photograph is a good example of how Nature can be a source of inspiration as Marion Boddy-Evans suggests in the following quotation:
“When you’re looking for inspiration for an abstract painting, you need to change the way you look at the world around you. You need to stop seeing the big picture and look for details. To look at the shapes and patterns which occur, rather than focusing on the actual objects.” *

Telescope or Microscope: It's all a matter of scale...
I think Nature is a source of inspiration for all of us because, at a deeper level, Nature is the ultimate  way of knowing.
Solar flare on the sun**
Here's a photograph of a solar flare on the sun that looks for all the world like an illuminated one-celled organism, observed under high magnification through a microscope.

Self similar objects  reveal profound truths. For more: see this previous post of mine.
* Quoted from Abstract Painting: Using Nature as a Source for Inspiration, by Marion Boddy-Evans, About.com Guide
**Compliments of NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center: http://www.space.com/12581-stunning-photos-solar-storms-flares-sun-weather.html 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

How to Have Hope in an Era Between No Longer and Not Yet

Photoshop manipulation of my photo of the ocean at York Maine combined with
a Common License photo of the NYC skyline taken by Ian Britten
CC Jean Stimmell

How to Have Hope in an Era Between No Longer and Not Yet 
According to a major new study1, the super rich are hiding at least 21 trillion in secret tax havens.  It’s hard to wrap one’s head around a figure that big.  Let’s just put it this way: 21 trillion is the equivalent to the entire size of the U.S. and Japanese economies combined.
Yes, the super rich fiddle – and self aggrandize – while Rome burns. And unless Mitt Romney proves himself innocent by releasing more of his tax returns, we have to suspect that he is himself, one of these super rich scofflaws.
Already many Americans have given up and no longer vote, feeling the system is rigged in favor of the rich and the powerful. If Mitt is elected, that will be another body blow to our belief that we live in a democracy based on fairness and equality.
The super rich and the corporations they control are driving a nail in our coffin in other ways, too, adding to the growing malaise and anxiety that is spreading silently across the land like toxic gas, paralyzing our ability to act.
Climate change is a prime example. The American people are finally becoming believers, joining the 99% of all scientists who have been trying to warn of the coming calamity all along.  Seeing is believing!
All we need to do is look around us. Most of the country is suffering severe drought; farmers are losing their crops; forest fires are torching hundreds of homes; almost daily the headlines blare news of unprecedented new damage. Worse yet, as Mark Bittman tells us, this is only the tip of the iceberg – and in this case, even the iceberg is melting. 2 
As Bill McKibben points out in a piece to be published in Rolling Stone on Friday, not only was May the warmest on record for the Northern Hemisphere, not only was it “the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average,” but it was also followed by a June in which some 3,200 heat records were broken in the United States.”
Bittman concludes, “The only sane people who don’t see this as a problem are those whose profitability depends on the status quo, people of money and power like Romney.
Unfortunately, the worst is yet to come. For instance, a forthcoming book from Climate Central projects that the biggest cities in Florida, and a great deal of the Northeast coastline, including New York City, will be underwater by 2100 – to say nothing of what the rising ocean level will do to the rest of the world! 3
Our backs are pinned against the wall by climate change now deemed irreversible. Good paying jobs are scarce as hens’ teeth. 40% of middle America’s wealth has disappeared with the recession. Each year we are being more marginalized and outspent by the rich and powerful.
What’s the average American to do?
So far, too many of us have stuck our heads in the sand to avoid dealing with this; we are overwhelmed and turned off.  And while it’s true that the time has passed to avoid calamitous effects, that doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless.  But, the longer we wait, the worse it will become.
As a nation, we are like an obese, out-of-shape middle aged man who is already slowly falling apart, but who now has discovered a tumor growing bigger by the week; yet he won’t go to the doctor because he’s afraid it is terminal – and can’t face the prospect of finding out he is already a dead man walking.
If that individual did go to the doctor, he might find that, yes indeed, he does have cancer but it is still treatable with surgery and chemotherapy, coupled with healthful lifestyle changes.
So it is with us as a nation.
The American people are formidable when aroused from our normal, blissful slumber. Look how we mobilized ourselves to fight – one for all, all for one – against the existential threat of world domination by our enemies in WWII.  Everyone contributed to the effort, not only our soldiers overseas but every household across our nation. Even children collected scrap metal and other items for recycling.
 Rebecca Solnit has written about such extreme events:  “An emergency is a separation from the familiar, a sudden emergence into a new atmosphere, one that often we ourselves rise to the occasion. 4
We, as a nation, excel at handling emergencies after they happen, especially natural disasters: We, as Americans, always come together selflessly to help each other after every hurricane, tornado, forest fire, flood or other emergency.
What we must do now is broaden our horizon of concern to include all of us, everywhere on earth, including that fragile, swirling sphere we call earth, our ultimate support network and home. As we progress toward this goal and become more mindful, we will find that we can preempt many emergencies before they occur.
Facing up to the problems we face and taking positive action is empowering.   It makes us feel alive. More important it builds community and gives our life meaning.
On the other hand, continuing to be in denial about climate change and the rising tide of inequality is isolating and demoralizing: Deadening in the literal sense of the word, both to ourselves and our world.
xxx (884 words)
3 “Global Weirdness”
4 Solnit, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster (New York: Viking, 2009), 10.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The earthly revelation of the ultimate mystery

I've long considered Thomas Berry – catholic priest, cultural historian, and leading advocate for deep ecology and ecospirituality – to be a true visionary and guiding light for accessing my higher self.  He found his calling at an early age, having an epiphany in a meadow at age 11 which became a primary reference point for the rest of his life. He later elaborated his vision into a set of 12 principles, the first of which states:
“The universe, the solar system, and planet earth in themselves and in their evolutionary emergence constitute for the human community the primary revelation of that ultimate mystery whence all things emerge into being.”
Long Sands Beach, York Maine: 9/9/11 © J. Stimmell

I am now reading the last book he wrote, a collection of essays entitled Evening Thoughts, published in 2006, three years before he died at the age of 94: The following quote is a good illustration of the beauty and power of his writing:

"The light of day gives way to the darkness of night. A stillness, a healing quiet, comes over the landscape. 

"It is a moment when some other world makes itself known, some numinous presence beyond human understanding. We experience the wonder of things as the vast realms of space overwhelm the limitations of our human minds. At this moment, as the sky turns golden and the clouds reflect the blazing colors of evening, we participate in the intimacy of all things with each other."*

*Berry, Thomas; Tucker, Mary Evelyn (2010-07-01). Evening Thoughts (Kindle Locations 1936-1940). Perseus     Books Group. Kindle Edition. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Things aren’t always what they appear to be.

A version of the following essay was published in the Concord Monitor 7/8/12

There is an old Zen Buddhist story about an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. "Such bad luck," they said sympathetically. 
"Maybe," the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. "How wonderful," the neighbors exclaimed.
"Maybe," replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. "Maybe," answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son's leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. "Maybe," said the farmer.[1]
So it goes.
The moral of this teaching tale is that things aren’t always what they appear to be. I relearned this lesson last Sunday when we set out on what first appeared to be a magical, evening kayak ride on the Suncook River, putting in just above the dam in Barnstead Parade. Mallard ducks, mud turtles, sweeping swallows, great blue herons greeted us, all silhouetted majestically against the setting sun. Swathes of yellow water lily cups lit up stretches the dark water like strings of tiny lights.

But soon we encountered trouble in paradise: Rising up out of the depths, long, feathery snakes of milfoil, writhing in the current just under the surface, formed an impenetrable mat, so thick it impended our forward progress, especially on the shallower, slower moving parts of the river. Not surprisingly, this exotic, aquatic plant, an alien life form to New Hampshire waters, is raising havoc, threatening the ecological health, along with the aesthetic and recreational value of many of our lakes and streams.

The menace of the unchecked milfoil growth struck me as an apt metaphor for our own exploding human population growth (and related unsustainable lifestyle) literally choking the living systems of the earth itself. As Bill McKibben has written, it is the end of nature. By that he meant that we have already done so much damage, the scale has tipped: Rather than mother nature reigning supreme and controlling her own destiny, now her future is in our hands.

Paddling along, I thought I saw a hopeful sign:  standing out among the yellow water lily cups, I spotted something pink. At first I thought it must be a half-submerged soda bottle or other human cast-off. But as I approached closer, I discovered a gorgeous pink water lily.

I couldn’t help equating the pink lily’s pristine beauty with that of the lotus flower made famous in Buddhist lore. I innocently concluded they were both of the same family when I should of said maybe as I found out when I got home and did some research: I discovered that, in fact, the lotus and lily are not related at all. They are two distinct species:The lotus is considered “emergent” because its leaves and flowers rise about the water level whereas the water lily humbly floats upon the water surface.

But maybe there is a positive: during my research, I discovered water lilies have their own unique claim to fame: they are now considered to be the critical missing link in the evolution of flowering plants.

Although our local pink water lily might be considered a poor cousin in some circles, one could make the case that our lily is more deserving of high status than the exalted lotus. The lotus flower is rightly celebrated in Eastern culture for representing good fortune because of its ability to arise through the slime and mud to bloom radiantly in the sunlight. Meanwhile, our lowly, local, pink water lily easily matches that feat while, simultaneously, fighting its way to enlightenment through an impervious mat of milfoil tentacles.

Perhaps we can learn a earth saving lesson from the sacred lotus and local lily: perhaps we can cultivate that same ability to rise up through the murk and bloom, to transform ourselves into a higher state, what the Buddhist’s call becoming awake or what the more pompous call enlightenment.

Albert Einstein was right, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” With scientists warning that climate change, population growth, and environmental destruction could cause a collapse of our entire ecosystem within just a few generations, we can procrastinate no longer: the time has come for all of us to wake up and chart a new, more skillful path. 

Speaking of being right: I just did some more research and discovered that the local pink water lily I fell in love with…well, I found out it’s not a native after all, just another transplant like the rest of us, arriving here at some point from some place else.

So it goes.


[1] http://www.katinkahesselink.net/tibet/zen.html

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Green Man Cometh

The Green Man is a powerful archetype, an untamed mysterious figure usually depicted with his semi-human foliate face entwined with plants and leaves. He is an ancient primeval character, representing the fierce verdant force of nature, the woodlands, and densely entwined thickets that once covered the land.

The Green Man is often included in stone carvings by artists and stonemasons; his enigmatic image adorns the crevices and walls of medieval cathedrals and churches all over Europe. Similar images occur in many cultures, representing the vegetation deity, the spirit of the trees, plants and foliage. *
J. Stimmell©2012
It sounds unbelievable but, while taking a walk along the Merrimack river in Concord on the morning of July 6th, I actually met the Green Man face-to-face! What’s more, I was able to take his photograph as he held court at river’s edge, etching himself into the sand with clamshell eyes, weedy hair, and a leafy goatee.

A few feet away I took another photograph of Green Man’s abode: chartreuse, silver maple leaves mirrored in impressionistic waters of reflected sky, clouds, swirling foliage, an infinite cast – all dancing on the sun-dappled, burnt umber muck of deep Being.

The image you see above is my artistic rendering, merging the two worlds: The Green Man and his milieu.

* http://celticartstudio.com/index.php?page=symbol&category=SYMBOLS&from=36&display=47

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Flowering of Human Consciousness

"Earth, 114 million years ago, one morning just after sunrise: 
The first flower [received] the rays of the sun..."  *

Much later, those delicate and fragrant beings we call flowers would come to play an essential part in the evolution of consciousness of another species...

As the consciousness of human beings developed, flowers were most likely the first thing they came to value that had no utilitarian purpose... that is to say, was not linked in some way to survival...

Seeing beauty in a flower could awaken humans, however briefly, to the beauty that is an essential part of their innermost being, their true nature.
Rhododendren Flower outside my office: 7/3/12
This first recognition of beauty was one of the most significant events in the evolution of human consciousness...

Without our fully realizing it, flowers would become for us an expression in form of that which is the most high, most sacred...

Flowers, more fleeting, more ethereal, and more delicate than the plants out of which they emerged would become messengers from another realm...

They not only had a scent that was delicate and pleasing to humans, but also brought a fragrance from the realm of spirit.

*  These quotes are from Eckhart Tolle's book, A New Earth, pages 1-2