A different sort of place

The work of fellow blogger Gary, of Photos and a Little More, provided my introduction to the art and emotion of Stone Stacking. I soon learned that there existed a deep divide in opinion regarding the practice. Artists were supportive of it and environmentalists were dead set against it. Stackers argue that not only is Rock Balancing a legitimate art form, but the practice has an emotional, even spiritual, component to it. Those who oppose the practice explain that stacks are not cairns (and could be dangerous if mistaken for them), they are pointless reminders of human ego, and lead to erosion of natural areas and to disturbance of the organisms living in them. I do not mean to imply that the opinions of these groups do not overlap, for they do, and I understand the concerns of both.

She wanted to walk. So we made for a place we had visited before. I’ll meet you in an hour, she said.

Having settled on a shallow cascade, I began. I hadn’t worked stone for quite a while and was surprised that it took time to find my hands. I pushed back against my propensity to rush. I struggled to focus and to avoid thinking too far ahead.

She says that the steady rhythm of the wheel, the coordinated motions of her feet and hands, and the feel of fiber slipping by the tips of her fingers and wrist, combine to transport her to a place of peace. For me, stacking creates a similar sort of space and being there has given me some idea of what it might be like to meditate.


Accepting the null

It’s not miraculous. Or surprising, amazing, or startling. Nature is, in my own view, awesome. But not in the negative sense of causing either fear or apprehension. Nature engenders awe, admiration, and wonder. Awe and Admiration, in the sense of respect. And wonder, expressed as an unending series of questions. For example.

I have always wondered why many organisms are so brightly colored. Surely they display to identify and to attract mates. But why would a fungus, living deep within a layer of woodland debris, be so boldly pigmented? Warning coloration, perhaps, and quite likely in this case. But what about lovely and luminescent Chaetopterus, a worm which lives within a parchment tube buried in ocean sediment? Or the opalescent layer of shimmering nacre found on the inside of a snail’s shell? I think rather than hasten to assign adaptive value to the ways of nature, it may be helpful to remember that it may not always be possible to do so. In some cases science is not able to tease and to discern the myriad connections between and among forces of causation. They may be indivisible and, therefore, unknowable.


A tale of two parasites

Several weeks ago I talked about a fascinating plant parasite called Ghost Pipe. Here’s another, Indian Pipe, which derives nutrients from mycorrhizal fungi with which it is found. Although both of these plants belong to the same phylum, they occupy different plant orders. Ghost Plant belongs to a group which includes tea, blueberry, and azalea while Indian Pipe is a close relative of herbs such as mint, basil, and rosemary.

In a genealogical sense, these plants are only as closely related to each other as placental mammals are to marsupials. Although I cannot tell you how long ago their common ancestor may have lived, I am certain that it was photosynthetic and not an achlorophyllous parasite. So, parasitism evolved, independently and de novo, in each line. It is surely an effective way of making a living and there is every reason to expect the niche to have been exploited by species from vastly different groups. Plant form is constrained by the chemical and physical nature of life on this planet. That two, unrelated, forms should express the same solution to the complex question of survival is to be expected. It is simply an outcome of first principles.


Threads of character

 Use it up.

Wear it out.

Make it do.

Or do without.

They are so much a part of her childhood that these words were spoken at our wedding. Having referred to them recently made me realize that I knew little about their history.

They are a conservation motto from a time of war and have been referred to as the Four threads of the New England character. The phrases are derived from another adage, one line shorter, which was in use a decade earlier as a call for domestic thrift and economy.

Eat it up.

Wear it out.

Make it do.

New candles are as rare as hen’s teeth at the summer place, where we celebrate her Dad’s birthday. Decorative candles are used and then saved, to be lit the next year, and the next, until they have burned away.


The way of things

A skeleton of countless
Atoms from out of air and linked by the invisible
To form molecules
and systems.
A plant emerges.
To gather radiant energies used to beget more of its kind.
And that is all.
To degrade.
The residuum,
A skeleton of countless
Atoms of carbon from out of air and linked by the invisible.


A Lady’s Slipper

The Showy Lady’s Slipper Orchid is a rare plant indeed. The USDA has classified it as endangered in seven of the fourteen states for which data are available. It is listed as threatened in four other states, as vulnerable in one and as of special concern in another. New York considers this species to be exploitably vulnerable, meaning it is likely to be harvested for commercial and personal purposes.

Specimens are often found alone, or in widely scattered groups of two or three. This place was unlike any either of us had ever seen. We walked among hundreds, forming a carpet along the ground.

The traditional photographic view presents Cypripedium from the front or the side. I wondered, as I sat, how to show it to you in a slightly different way. Without the distraction of the large labellum, this rear view emphasizes texture and symmetry. I like it very well.


Summer kitchen

The summer place is old and informal, an unapologetic amalgam.

They say it floated once, at flood, and settled a bit closer to town.

There is a large map next to the dining table, fixed to the wall at an easy height and surrounded by a frame of thin boards. It bares witness to both tiny hands and hungry insects. Storm surge brought the water up in ’38 and salt preserves everything below the level of my chest, everything higher has been tea-stained by time.

Sweet breezes and rain find their way in. One feels thunder through its walls.

Sand and toe prints mark a path to the door at the back. Partly used bottles of bug spray and tanning lotion wait on the exposed stud work.

It shouts modest among its neighbors.

It is a place where we have come to learn that it is true what they say about the best things.

Make it do, or do without. As such, and because it makes little sense to do otherwise, retired household items make their way here. To live out still useful lives, weeks at a time.

I find it odd that I should look at this image and consider it a family portrait, a genealogy of colanders. Its chronology is, I believe (oldest to youngest, and from the left) 3,4,2,1. If so inclined one could surely arrange any consanguineous group of kitchen implements in a similar way. To close my metaphoric loop, one cannot deny that colanders have changed over the years. I wonder if they have have done so in any predictable way. Surely each allows vegetables to drain equally well. I therefore conclude that change has occurred in no particular or directed way. Perhaps we should recognize that design, in this case, has been influenced by the vagaries of marketing and of materials. In any case, colanders don’t beget colanders. They do not play by Darwinian rules.


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