Seeing in the Dark: A Meditation on Science, Art and Human Nature…part 1

I was walking the other day, as I like to do (it’s a way of thinking and breathing at the same time), when I felt myself walking into something and, you know, I knew the place. I walked right on… into where I already was.


That’s right, the hill above my house. A bit of sagebrush, a few skritches of bunchgrass, a saskatoon bush, snow everywhere (cactuses under the snow, soil between the grasses, under the snow, and mariposa lily bulbs under the soil, with the voles), and some fine Okanagan Valley winter fog. But, no, that’s not what I felt myself walking into. I was walking into the dark. Here’s some dark…


… yeah, I know, culturally it’s called light. That’s what makes it so fascinating. In light, the image above is an image of an apricot tree on a farm around the corner from my house, and a red-tailed hawk, on a fencepost (second post from the right), and some snow, and wild Canada goose tracks, too, honk honk honk. Note: they’ve given up on migrating. Circling and stomping around in the snow is more their thing now.


The hawk doesn’t bother with them. Look at him below. He has his back turned on them of all things! He’d probably put in ear plugs if he could.


But that image with the hawk in it there above is an image of the dark. Now, of course, in terms of light culture, there’s light in the snow and light in the grass there, and dark tones that have absorbed light in the fenceposts and the rose bushes and the hawk, and what they are is the absence of light. The things themselves we can’t see, in this light-world. We can only guess at what they are. Maybe as an extension of the puzzlement and joy-of-figuring-out in the image below…




obscured by light (and fog and falling snow).


… and maybe not. At any rate, the earth is black. What we see is something else, a system of signs that unite us with the world we view. Here’s an image of blackness, consisting of shapes of gravity, molecular pressure, air pressure, and other forms of physical energy bonding.



Obviously, the gull is using solar radiation just as we are, to make body images of its place in this dark, interpenetrating swirl of forces, just a few energies of which are the light energies which put the yellow in the gull’s bill and the blue into the water. We’ve all been trained in this story, and it’s a compelling one. You can see one of the major effects of using the sun in this way in the plum tree below.


Is the dark the absence of light, or light the absence of dark?

(California Prune Plum)

Because of a couple centuries of big-time training in this light-trumps-all theory and the forms of cognitive calculations that accompany it…

Book Illustration Depicting Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in a Train Cabin

Watson and Holmes Figuring Out the Tricky Deceptions of the World

Every Intellectually-trained Human’s quintessential model.

…the big cultural story in town these days is that humans are visually-oriented creatures, who like the light and are cognitively adapted to making use of it. Few people point out that humans see things this way because they’re trained to. That’s right, seeing has become a highly-specialized, highly-trained art form. Is this snow-crushed grass after the sun melts the snow away, or art?



It’s a good question, but as long as the “We are Light” theory of human nature is the main story in town, the question is unanswerable. After all, humans are so attuned to light, aren’t they, that at night they turn the dark into dreams, in technicolor, because without light the day cannot be laid down in memory. Perhaps that’s true.


Are those drops of water on this bunchgrass memory?

The  plant lays down seed because of certain molecular pressures, which, held in place by time, attract water, which attracted me The complex processes of molecular folding which creates the photosynthesis used by these plants in the spring and summer, is scarcely different. It is all retained behaviour, binding future and past into the present. That’s memory, isn’t it? It is, at least, so in light theory. For humans, so the story goes, a glimpse into the light is a glimpse into the power of the world itself. There humans see themselves.


Well, yeah, OK, they used to see God in images like that (and many still do), but a God who made man in his own image and woman out of a rib bone. Don’t worry about taking that too literally. It could just mean that male consciousness is oriented to light and female consciousness is oriented to touch and bone and blood and what you can hold in your hand, and that they are, ultimately, the same, in relationships worked out according to complex feelings of desire and rootedness.



Elder flowers scaring away witches. Gruyères, Suisse

For Swiss country houses, this feature, the goddess’s flowers put to use for the priests of God’s purposes (on the principle that what the man of the house doesn’t know doesn’t need to hurt him, especially if you give him an easier story to divert his attention), is as important as chimneys. (That’s all kind of how humans work things out.)

But I digress. According to the theory that humans are attracted to light like moths to a flame, other conscious functions of the mind, so the story goes, are subjugated to the information they gather from light. Humans live in the light, it is said. We are light beings. We cannot see the dark (or in it.) Here in a weeping willow for instance, we are in the threads of light, all that yellow and orange and brown and pink and red, so pretty:

P1650007 Such colour! And look at the light collecting in the drops of molten snow that are collecting on the buds of these twigs! That clinches it! It’s light for us!


Look at the colour the human eye can differentiate in light. Such molecular vibrations! We, the molecular vibration measuring devices, able to deduce birdness from colour, yay! And life, the colour of blood, just fantastic, too.


Of course, the theory ignores the fact that the original meaning of the attraction to light was proof of the existence of God, to whom humans were drawn, as they were of the same substance, which is to say that scientific exploration was a pathway to God, but that’s the way of theories… you have to ignore some stuff to get a handle on other stuff. The result of this creature-of-light theory is an entire world of surfaces, which humans read in order to deduce their depths. Or, in the case of some human surface making, the surfaces of the surfaces of the surfaces of the surfaces of the surfaces.


Andy Warhol Being Norma jean Being Marilyn Being Marilyn Being Marilyn Being Marilyn

(Being Mechanized Pigment Application Processes)

According to this exploration of the world using surfaces, humans track meaning, given to them by clues of light. Without that, they’d be lost.

P1640713Any dog half worth his schnoz would be able to deduce a novel from these tracks by smelling them. Humans do it by looking at them.


Ah, deer! We say, following a track up through the weeds to the vineyard where, I’m sorry to say, temporary foreign workers from Mexico chase the deer around on four-wheeled motorcycles, whooping. Hunters to the end, that’s the human soul, it is, in the world of light.



Tracking Pheasants

Or is that what we’re doing? Perhaps these colours, and all this light…


Cat Tails Soaking In Water and Light

…are really shades of darkness, not hues of light. Perhaps, the world is one unified thing and light is something else, something like the flight of birds, terrestrial creatures who live in air, or the branching of trees,



Western Red Cedar with Hoarfrost

… that live in light yet are rooted to the ground.


Perhaps the image of an abandoned fence line below is not an image of light but an image of darkness, and what is seen as colour isn’t an effect of light but an effect of darkness and form, created when light enters the darkness and darkness expresses itself in certain forms of radiation, or in reaction to them. We see darkness, agitated.


Of course it is.


I don’t think this is just a game of changing perspectives and renaming light as another thing, even as its opposite. That’s the thing I realized when I was walking. This is something that is within every moment. In the image of sagebrush and invasive cheatgrass below, which is brighter? The white light on the sage? The radiative colour of the grass? The darkness at the core of the sage brush?


No, those are surface effects. They’re all equally intense. They’re all what the sun looks like on earth. Humans, however, are earth creatures, which is to say not just surfaces. In the image below, captured with a light capturing device (a kind of imitation human that is all eye) held to a human eye, there’s a lot of light, some of it in the form of light shadows of a few starlings, a honey locust, a rowan, some frosty firs in the distance, and some more of that Okanagan fog. Certainly, but note how the absence of colour in the high-contrast of the trees and the birds allows us to see something other than the story of the light in the willows above. We see form, and the darkness it lives within.


In that image, light and dark become visible by contrast. This is scarcely a different observation than that of the poet scientist Goethe, whose A Theory of Colour put forward the idea that colour was created in the human mind as an edge effect between light and dark — a kind of resistance, shall we say, or a record of emotional states within the body of undifferentiated light. Goethe invented the colour wheel by creating as part of his argument this image of emotional states recorded in light (and transferable by it, too.)


What’s more, the idea was continuous with the world. By that I mean that according to Goethe’s theories, the colours of this image …



… differ from this apricot in its tree (in my garden, with its nesting American Robin) below …



p1120945 … or this tree (the same one seen in the fog above), in Autumn.cot

These, Goethe pointed out, were moods of the world, and humans, embedded in that world, shared these moods with the same progression as the apricot tree.


Feral Apricot in Bloom, Bella Vista

The idea was discredited by Newtonian science, because very clearly colour can be shown to be a series of gradations of energy in matter — a series of precisely-focused refractions and reflections, recasting matter into the story of its ability to absorb light, which can be carefully observed, to reveal the properties of the matter hidden behind it. In other words, according to this theory, what humans know of the world can be deduced by measuring the light that objects cast off, or by otherwise viewing them with light or by other secondary processes, including intellect. The actual object, however, cannot be apprehended without an intermediary form, either of light or of a re-formation in the mind. Just try, for instance, to find our red-tailed hawk again in the image below, without the aid of light.

Well, more specifically, without the aid of the contrast between the white sky of fog and his dark bulk sitting on an orchard post. Perhaps Goethe wasn’t so far off, after all. It’s just that he was talking about something quite separate from the Newtonian science of light and ruined his argument by dragging it in. Sure, there’s light in the image below, but, I promise, if you touch one of those cones in this ponderosa pine, or even the tip of one of those needles, you will feel it prick. What’s more, if light draws the human mind out into the world, where it reimagines and reinvents itself directly in the stuff of the earth, then this image below is an image of a human body …P1640466… but not just any human body. This one is in wild and fantastical form. It is a creature of the earth. It is in this manner that the earth views herself. And this:


Think of those filbert catkins not as a story of light or illumination but as a series of edges and boundary zones, which reveal your emotional state, which just happens to be the emotional state of the earth. Does this theory lose many of the fine qualities of individual human consciousness and of Newtonian science? Yes, of course, but it adds others to it. But that’s still not what I walked into up on the hill. I walked into form and darkness, and I saw my way through it, in the way if I close my eyes I know where my hand is, or if I walk out on a dark night I can largely find my way by memory and the feel of my feet on the ground. Darkness is also human. It is the body, and I don’t just mean this tottering creature of bones and legs and arms and grey-haired bits. I mean three-dimensional art…and I mean to discuss that tomorrow, on the model of the German philosopher Herder, Goethe’s mentor. Here he is living on in Dessau-Wörlitz, where the modern world was invented, on his model.

200w_04092116155Johann Gottlieb Herder (1744-1803)

What I want to get at is the effect that light-bias has had on the state of the earth, and some corrective measures. I know, it’s a bold plunge, but when have I ever held back? Tomorrow it is, then!


Light and Dark and Colour are One

Light is a form of darkness.P1640732

Look at these leaves burn their way through the snow, precisely because they are dark.

P1640737 Darkness is a form of energy.

P1640725Notice how bright it is!

P1640708 Notice, too, that it is the snow that is dark.

P1620340 Against it, the dark trees are light (or, at least, bright).orchard In the earliest form of all European languages, black and light were the same thing. The glare or brightness of all the elements in the elm tree below were, to our ancestors, the same startling presence.elm3

You can see a discussion of that here:

Flame: the energy form of passage and transition, present, understood and anticipated, usually manifesting as a leaf of fire, the fire in a leaf, or the potential fire in coal.


Leaf Burning Through the Snow

That’s from my earth language blog

I’m working on what I hope will be tomorrow’s post, about how these observations about light and dark impact culture, science, and art, and what lies beyond the divisions currently accepted as ‘real’. I want to take the time to get it right, so, in the meantime, an image to contemplate:


 Sun Burning Through Fog Behind Giant Rye Grass

 Light? Dark? Colour? It’s all the same thing…almost. Tomorrow we’ll talk about that.




The Future of the Earth

I love the world that scientific method has uncovered, but I also know that there is a way of mapping the world that does not include scientific descriptions of the flow of energy. Science, for instance, can’t map this.


Yes, it can give mathematical models for the energy patterns in the water, and a separate set for the particulate load of the water (cedar root), and another for the light energy entering the water, plus a model for the pebble mass and wave energy that has laid the beach floor at the mouth of this tidal creek, but the whole picture is too complex. Science has no model for putting it all together. It can’t, for instance, point out that this tidal flat is the same.

seastar and blob


Willow Point, Vancouver Island

I think we could adjust the scientific model, to make this possible. In another example, there is a relationship between the yellow in the pebbles in the first image above and the yellow in the flowers on the elf hill below in Laugar, Iceland.


Science would point out that this connection is unmeasurable, and thus outside of scientific discussion. I agree that it is unmeasurable, using scientific techniques. I agree that it is outside of scientific discussion, too. At that point, I would like to add, however, that this observation speaks to a lack within science, rather than a lack within the complexity and dynamic unity of the world. But don’t misunderstand, please. I’m not criticizing science’s achievements. It is an amazing tool. I’m only pointing out that the project is incomplete. Here’s that yellow again, for instance.

P1610767 Or here.

IMG_3278 Photo, Anassa Rhenisch

Or here … IMG_3331

Photo, Anassa Rhenisch

In these cases, scientific culture would point out that these relationships are the business of art. Indeed, they are, but more than that, they are the visions of humans. There is, in other words, a measuring device that notices these yellows, as well as the precise placement of that yellow leaf with the geese in Chelsea above.The device is human. We, the humans in this paradigm, have a point of view that extends past the empirical data at hand. It shows up in everything we observe. Even here…


Ponderosa Pine, Okanagan Valley

Now, that empirical data is vital to science, of course, and is its great strength, and science goes to great lengths to eliminate human observation from its data, but there are some problems with that. First, it’s troubling that the world that applied science has created is becoming increasingly hostile to humans. I suspect that there is a correlation here. Secondly, a science that ignores the human point of view passes up the ability to be as large as the world. I think that’s an opportunity for growth. For instance, the yellow I pointed out in the images above is also present in this image of oregon grape, although it is active behind the greens of the leaves, as a hidden or catalytic energy …

oregongrape … while its absence is active in the observation of these sumacs …P1610116

… with their memory of this …


They too are the same thing. Science has neither language, method nor concepts to frame these discussions, so reverts to its founding principle, the concept of the focussed individual observation, limited by intellect to what is in front of it. Over three centuries, this lack has been adjusted by the invention of a science of human psychology, which is able to discuss the issues of human observation, within certain social codes. It, too, is an amazing science, with many powerful discoveries, but it, too, misses the big picture. These observations are on the same level of empirical truth as Newton’s Third Law Of Motion:

(When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the first body.) Source

To get some perspective on this discussion, here’s some pre-Newtonian technology, still working after all these years (1100, actually).

muzot The Poet Rilke’s Church at Muzot, in the Valais (Suisse)

There’s a lot of technology here. The cross, for instance, the path, the elderberry to bar entrance to witches, the pasture, the walls made of the earth, the windows made of texts illuminated by light … these are all symbolic technologies. They manipulate the mind, so that the man (or woman) manipulates the world in a certain way. That’s something that science doesn’t do, although it excels at figuring out components of how that works. Even so, what begins as art, or artfulness, or creation, ends as artlessness, technique, and manipulation. Sometimes this happens in subtle ways. In this salsify, for instance, science can explain a lot, but not the balance between petal and leaf obvious to any human observer. It would relegate that to mathematics, and then walk away. But look at it…


… there’s more at play here than just mathematics, or, if we want to be artful about it, music. That relationship between leaf and petal is the foundation of a new science. Such patterns abound. Entire sciences could be built out of each one of them. For instance, in the wet season we have entered in the last week, last year’s hips are finally ripened by cold and fermentation …


There is a mathematical order to them that scientific method can approach, but the culture of scientific enquiry cannot. It figures out the math, and then moves on, as if it has approached the rose hips.


It hasn’t. It has relegated that to art. In fact, this delegation to art of important observational material that lies outside of a current logical paradigm is the impulse that created art in the first place. Before that, art was science and science was art. Perhaps that split was unnecessary. For instance, this year’s willows are kindling now (or quickening, hence catkin… nothing to do with cats, or pussy willows, sorry) and have already taken off their helmets (after an Irish king called Cat-kin, who did just that) in preparation for the, ahem (blush), thrust.

Hip and catkin are the same power. Sure, they are two sides, the proverbial male-female split, in sacred terms the goddess and the god, but they are both the expressions of one force, and in that they are one. What that force is that appears so profoundly differently in each, and yet which is linked, that is the force that will lead to a new science. Here is another image of it…


Last Fall’s Cottonwood Leaves

Still gathering light.

In the science we have, that evolved splendidly out of alchemical experiments and logical extensions of ancient Egyptian and Assyrian theological abstractions of magic, this ability is random, and only a shadow effect of the real purpose of the leaf: photosynthesis. It is a profound vision, but what if the ability of those leaves to capture and hold light is not random? What if it is this?

P1640149Cedar Waxwings in That Old Willow Down the Road

This all-encompassing science would lead to technological developments of its own. In them, the nest below is not just a space in which last year’s birds raised their young, as amazing as that is.


It has life that extends beyond that. It has life. That might be a clue to what this technology looks like. The following image speaks to it, too, imaged at the rising of the dark out of the day, from my blog

Between: the state of being in two states at the same time, without yet settling on one. It doesn’t describe a physical location but a condition of attachment.


Cedar Waxwing Between Perches

There’s something about energy in such language reborn out of its physical roots. For 200 years that has been the space of poetry. A great space, sure, but look at the technology that newtonian science brings to the earth now.

P1610361Vineyard at the Rise

Simplistic, mechanistic stuff!


Bella Vista Orchard, Vernon, British Columbia

So much energy …


… chained — and chained with technologies that miss most of it. Most of it is simply invisible, without the rigour of entering it completely.


This is the same energy:


Turtle Point, Okanagan Lake, January 27, 2015

It is not exactly the sun. Current science calls it Nature, and devises devices to manipulate it with, in small ways.


Howard’s Tractor at Dusk

But it is huge, and we are within it. And this is too…


Filbert Catkins

We are inside the future.

A Crown of Rowans for St. Brigid’s Feast Day

Today, I praise the rowan tree. This is her season, as ice breaks to the season of water and birds.


Rowans with Elf Stone, Eyjafjörðursveit, Ísland

She’s a tree, yes, but look how she wants to lie on the ground. None of the towering heights for her.P1350817

Rowan, Skriðuklaustur, Ísland

And when the light comes, ah, then she is a torch.


 Good Friday Rowan, Valpjofstaður, Ísland

The Rowan is sacred to Brigid, Saint of Holy Ireland, and to Bride (or Brigid), who came before her (and was no saint), and to Mary, Mother of Christ, and to Thor, god of lightning and thunder. The gender crossover is no big thing. Don’t give it a second’s thought. There was a time on earth when all things that signified the earth’s power most strongly were considered hermaphroditic, neither male nor female, and, after all, don’t humans, who come in several genders, tend to unite and make unions that are neither but are one?


Male and Female Fruit From a Hermaphroditic Pacific Mountain Ash

Wells, British Columbia

Unlike those sly sumacs and gingkos, a rowan has neither male nor female trees.She knows where she is. Look at her, earth tree, reaching up for the spring moon, with her feet planted firmly on the ground.


Skjaldarvik, Ísland

Wherever a rowan is found, it signifies the presence of her deities, who might have many names but are also one.


Thor, Brigid, Bride

For all of you who are of an empirical bent, don’t worry. Gods are just names for powers of the earth. The powers are present, even without the names, although perhaps not yet empirically defined. It’s just a kind of short hand. For those of you who follow the stories of the gods and goddesses, you know what I don’t have to say.


 Rowan in the Birthplace of the Gods, Ásbyrgi, Ísland

Much of (nearly treeless) Iceland was one treed like this: a few rowans, and a lot of willows and birches. Then people got cold. 

There’s more to the story of the rowan than is written down in history books, but not more than meets the eye. A lot of it has to do with environmental sustainability. A lot of it has to do with her name: in English, rowan, for red; in German, Eberasche, or red ash, or, more precisely, “red spear”. More on the spears in a sec. First, here she is, surprising us and all.


 Pacific Mountain Ash, Quesnel Forks, British Columbia

Mountain Ash, Rowan, Eberesche, Bird Berry, Thrush Berry, Sorbier, well, you get the idea: a rose all dressed up.

She is glorious in summer, but look at her in her winter time, just last week…


Rowan has a profound story. Don’t look for it on Google, though. This is one you have to learn from the birds.


 Yes, Today the Cedar Waxwings Have Come Back Home to the Rowans! Yay!

The story of rowans is a story of sacrifice, androgyny, magic, Christianity, nationalism, survival, life and hope — always hope. It is also one of the oldest stories of all. It begins with a Himalayan god of the air, Thor. He’s known today as a Nordic god, from Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Germany at the north of the world, but he started out far to the east and south, and migrated with his believers across the continent. Thor has a hammer, that’s sometimes an axe, and, as you can see below, blood spatter, a phallic spear, and a weird right hand, and, yes, he’s been repainted with good old-fashioned wheelbarrow paint. Hällristningar_Lilla_Flyhov-1

Thor at Lilla Flyhov, Sweden (c. 1000 – 1500 BC) Source

That blood spatter? Well, look:


Rowan Berries in the Snow

They don’t call these bird berries for nothing!

That weird right hand? Here:


Rowan Berry Cluster After the Feast

And that axe? Well, Thor, remember, is a thunder god, from a time when thunder and lightning were the same thing. This is where he lives:


Dragon Tales in the Sky

People used to be able to read this language. It was a kind of writing not in words.

Thor used the axe to split that sky apart, so that out of its unity came lightning (on the one hand) and thunder (on the other). That is the moment in which consciousness is born. Into this air, that is all one (and out of which thunder and lightning come)…


… a spear …


Rowans Were Traditionally Used to Make Spear Shafts

… is thrust. It’s a curious kind of spear…


You wouldn’t want to thrust something like that at a wild boar or something. I mean, how pointless (literally). Sure, if you’re thinking of weapons being physical things, with pointy sharp bits, ya, but weapons are also extensions of the mind, and for Thor, and people who believe in him, this is mind, given body in the world…


You might want to have that magic and balance on your side when you go out to stick a wild pig that’s intent on sticking you (especially if you have the other kind of spear from the other, straighter, kind of ash (spear) tree. The darned things grow in thickets, ready made. You just need an axe to cut one from the ground and you have a weapon that extends your range and does your will at a safe distance from your body. A rowan spear, though? It’s both the thrust and the moment of reception, which is to say that it is a kind of symbolism or visioning, which practitioners call magic. Look how the boar’s blood and the spear are both present at once, and how the weight of the blood lowers the spear.




The tree is the embodiment of action. The mountain ash doesn’t make a great spear, but it certainly is a great way of focussing mind and body on the act of spearing.


There is, however, another angle to this story (as there always is in the world of indigenous thought and the language that speaks it best, poetry.) The red blood is the blood of a victim, the blood of a virgin, menstrual blood, and both life and death in one. Thor of Lilla Flyhov said it perhaps as simply as it needs to be said: the spear and a phallus are one. It thrusts upward, pierces the belly of the sky, and rains bloodwild10



Wells, British Columbia

Sacrifice and birth, male and female, action and reaction, in one representation: this is Thor’s presence, the concept of creating action out of stillness and seeing in stillness the potential for action. It is consciousness, for sure, but it’s also the body. Look again at that weird right hand. rowan

It’s a placenta.rowant The tree has many of them. It bursts out into them all over. P1620927The rowan is drenched in the blood of life and death. It is Bride and Groom, or Thor, in one. He cleaves unity to bring it together in a different form. This is the ladder one climbs to the stars.P1620928I hope those of you reading this post for science aren’t scratching your heads at all this poetry and wondering when the science is coming. It’s coming. It’s just that this poetry thing, well, that was science once. I don’t mean bad science, full of childish explanations of the root of physical processes, the ones that science has done such an amazing job of parsing, or cutting part, after Thor. I mean, poetry’s way of finding correlations and moments of doubling, uniting seeming opposites or creating them out of thin air, applied to the world, is a powerful tool for understanding it and for manipulating it — not through manipulating its physical stuff, as contemporary applied science does, but through manipulating the minds of the people acting and living within it, and changing the earth through that energy. I know so many scientists with such deep concern for the earth, all looking for a way to bring their message across and effect meaningful change. Poetry, written out of the earth and with the language of the earth and human bodies, has always been able to do that. The other kind of poetry, the one written with words on a page, can do it among people highly trained to cast their selves within books and to bring back, so to speak, the fish of thought, but it’s not completely the same thing, and might just be the reaction to a passing technology. The thing about these sky gods, though, like Thor, is that they are embodiments of a central knot within hunting, butchering, and its ritual form, sacrifice: the act of killing in order to bring life. Thor’s not the only one. Christ stands in this tradition. The god Mithras, who also came from the East, and whose cult very nearly won Rome over in place of Christianity, was one. With his dagger, he slayed the sacred bull and created the universe. We are sprung from the drops of the bull’s blood.

P1620826And, like Thor, he had an axe (and a dagger, which is kind of a short spear, but does the trick.)

Mithrasrelief-NeuenheimMithras Killing and Creating

Relief from Heidelberg-Neuenheim, Germany, 2nd Century AD Sourcerowan8These placentas, though. That’s where Bride comes in, the Goddess. If the spear is androgynous, and holds in time both the fertilizing thrust of a phallus and the blood quickening in a placenta, then this is as much the goddess’s tree as the god’s. It has that power of transporting one from one state to another, like the Roman god Janus, who was a doorway, that went both ways equally and transported you from one state to another every time you passed through him (and who, dear scientists, wasn’t a god in a simplistic sense but a way of remembering that cognitive power, and focussing it, for what could come from its development), and, more than Janus, of being both states, male and female, killer and victim, at once. rowan1It is also, as you can see, drawn to the sky, and bowed down to the earth as a consequence of this grasping, which always ends in feminine fruitfulness. That is a good lesson. Another is how this tree’s lightning bolt shape …P1620839…ends in a flowing (quite the different thing), which is a hand, that has the capability of grasping. P1620843

 What does it grasp? The easy answer would be that the early church, needing to gain converts from celtic practitioners (the Celts, too, came from the East), simply replaced Bride (or Brigid) the goddess with Brigid, the Saint of Kildare.


Brigid, Saint of Kildare Source

St. Non’s Chapel, St. Davids, Wales 

The better answer would be that the Christian shepherd’s staff, and the rowan were recognized as one …

P1360606 P1620953 P1620535


The crook is there, with Christ’s blood, at the intersection of Earth and Heaven, life and death, and Christ cleaves them with his presence and the axe of his love, so to speak. This is no distance at all. The movement to Christianity wasn’t a conversion but an enlightenment, like the scientific Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries, a kind of purification, extension, or manifestation of what was already known.




For this reason as well, rowans were considered an effective charm against witches — not against practitioners of the old arts, but against practitioners who hadn’t moved over to the new understandings of them, finding flower and fruit in the Christian story.


Rowan, Hólar, Ísland

I’ve shown you all these images of Iceland for a reason here, beyond my love of rowans and the beauty of the place. In Iceland, where the trees were all eaten and grazed away, independence from centuries of exploitation and misery under a regime of Danish traders came about through poetry, and the replanting of lost birches and rowans in Iceland. The attempt was to make the country a poem again, to rebuild, so to speak, the first moment of settlement, and reclaim that creative potential and independence. It worked, or at least it helped. Today, Reykjavik is still rich with these nationalist trees …

ice6 … that are kind of in the way, but no-one wants to cut down such magic.ice5

They might try, but they just can’t go through with it. The trees have that much of a hold.



The churchyards are rich with rowans, too. They signify not only the transfer of energy from pagan to Christian understandings of Thor’s axe and Christ’s Word …




Mårten Eskil Winge’s Thor (1872) Source

Note that cross that Thor is wielding there, the clever lad.

… but the balance struck between them …



Icelandic Stallion Grazing on an Elf Hill Under a Nationalist Agricultural School Churchyard Rowan (Laugar, Ísland)

In Iceland, you throw nothing away, because it is all alive in time. That is the balance, too. 

The result is a way of being in balance in the world we live in and the world to come.



p1550060The Rowans of the Reykjavik Graveyard

Graveyards aren’t for the dead. They’re for the living. They focus the mind and so change the world. Every rowan does that …



… not just to those who know its stories, but to all who know how to read its language in the wild. By bringing that into our social structures, we become the world. We become changed, and the world we imagine becomes changed in turn, and so it comes to pass by the action of our hands. The ancients knew this, and worked hard to protect these relationships. For young men, Thor’s axe might have been there to gain advantage by cutting through the wisdom of the world and recreating it as action, but there were large social structures to guide that strength into productive and ultimately feminine forms.



In historical terms, it means that in the lands of the rowan, the Christian staff can be a magical one at the same time, with no contradiction. The rowan’s staff, or bloody spear, has led to such concrete social acts as the creation of states, science, and female power.



I hope you will find a rowan on Brigid’s Day and find your balance by being in its presence —for personal development, if you need that, for spiritual purposes, certainly, and for social development and renewal of the principles embodied in this tree and in the powerful, earth-altering symbolic life to which it has been dedicated.

In Praise of Wetlands

These are the people …


This is the time when the water rises.


It is the time when seed descends.


It is the time when rushes draw water from the cold…band

… because they once grew high in the sun …


… and did not let it go…


…(until now). Today, the sun they’ve held through the cold…


… is turning the cold to water…


… and the sun is being drawn into it ….P1620716 … deeply into it …P1620710… while the sedges have begun new growth …


… as their old leaves empty themselves of light between the rushes …


… and begin to fill the water …

P1620605… draining themselves of light …P1620630 … and quickening the water into life.


The water lives.

It quickens, multiplies …


… and becomes a world of spirit, making the old world new. It doubles it…P1620657

… , so it can replicate it.  This is the Way of Life. So, too, for the marsh grasses. The sun they kept for a year pours into the water in this season …P1620698

… and is born again, under the water, as new grass. It is not yet time for this life to be birthed into the air. P1620694

That time will come soon enough. For now, though, life has come.P1620636

It is never still. How could it be? It is life!

P1620628 It is always moving. This is the Way of spirit, that has held for all of human history except for the age when men and women replaced themselves with machines and machine codes. It is not a science, but it does have rigour, as great as that of any science.P1620627The life in the water is the shapes of the rushes, sedges and grasses, tall in the wind, and stirred by the wind, as it twirls the stalks, and gravity as it draws the water onward …P1620625 … and stirs it. P1620624 If you go out to meet this life …P1620622 … I hope you will set aside for a moment the good science you have been taught about the sun, and seasons, water and biological life (Although it is a beautiful thing, it is not the story we know in our bodies. It is not wisdom.) What you find may be simple, like this … the things of the earth are still….P1620614 … but the water is alive and quick.P1620611It will quicken you with wisdom, understanding, and new life (what science and the romance of the self call creativity), if you just live in your body for a moment, like the new shoots of grass among the old leaves …
P1620610 … woven with water and light …P1620608

… and being drawn, even now, into the sky (which is the breath of their ancestors) by the sun.



You, and the way you live, are art. And art is life. Now it is the time of quickening, but look at what will soon come, or, at least, it did last March 6, among the thulies (bulrushes) in Priest Valley, below my house.

P1160247 Bulrush tea.

P1160300 Add dissolving ice, then rain.

P1160307 Add sun.

P1160332 Perfect!

P1160325Let us praise.


Walking in the Snow

When the fog and the frost roll in and the snow crunches underfoot and the air nips at the fingers and the toes freeze in the boots, it’s time to go pruning fruit trees. In some cultures, it’s the symphony season. In others, it’s the season for trips to Mexico, to lie on the beach and turn brown (or red) in the sun. In my culture, which, unfortunately, as died out, it’s time to go out and prune fruit trees. My nectarine tree and all my memories are calling.P1610898


My apricot tree and the starlight I learned to prune trees by is calling.





My Fintry apple tree is standing in the open sky, rising out of the snow, with all my hopes for her as a native apple pie apple for this corner of the earth.



I know little about the seasons of Facebook or the intricacies of the poetry circuit in slam festivals in global cities, in which the young put their bodies on display, in electrified dances with their beautiful bodies, because I learned to dance with peach trees, and know them as my people. I learned to climb to the sky on a peach tree. I learned how to come back down to the earth: strange knowledge in the Anthropocene Age and the Age of Cities and Performance Art:



Nature is a creation of the Romantic Age. With the old, earth-based and community-based, consciousness set aside for revolutionary individualism, the place for the precise knowledge of how to move through and sculpt bodies in time, in concert with the earth and fruitfulness, has become an emotional reaction. That is such a profound romantic way of being in the world, that it is scarcely noticeable, yet it is what it is. The photographs that punctuate this note, with their emphasis on bodily perception and spiritual sublimation in perception, are a technology of that age, but I know an older technology. Its images are made in life, and in the channels of life.



Ah, Fintry, There You Are Again

There is knowledge in the romantic approach, and other knowledge in living inside the world it transformed. In my country, Canada, sadly enough, the pruning of trees is done just before harvest now, not as an art but as a technological intervention, to remove branches and to colour the fruit by exposing it suddenly to the fall sun. The fruit gains colour but no flavour, and the men who do this work (for it is men who do this work, men from the Caribbean) need no training and do not follow their trees through the years. There is no history in this. The result looks like this:



This is not pruning. It’s hacking, and the apples taste of it. In the country in which I live, an ancient art of gaining sustenance from the land, in which winter is a time of the greatest joy and creation, has become an unskilled industrial task dependent upon the technological insertion of chemical fertilizers to replace human skill, and, I’d just like it to be on record, of joy. Here are the pink blossoms of spring and the peaches of next summer. I have been caring for this tree for four years. This twig is an extension of myself. I am these peaches.



I don’t ask, or expect, you to understand. It’s an uncommon idea. Still, with that important social task, once shared by thousands, now being an almost private ritual of memory, I am left with memory and nature, not as loss, in the romantic sense, but as replacements for an entire language and wisdom tradition that was once known as art, and once in awhile a vineyard in the fog, planted much like a photograph.



It is for this reason that I have been wandering away from the orchards (and vineyards) in this blog, as much as they tug at my heart, and deep into the land that was here before they came.



My country was never about romantic images of the past. It was about definite knowledge and personal work on and with the land to create material of social use, with deep roots in the past and deep fruitfulness in the future. As a pruner, my job has always been to pay very close attention to growth, and to sculpt time. With the orchards now turned into industrial plantations, it is in old Indigenous land that I find a remnant of my culture. Yes, people in the romantic tradition of radical selfhood will call the image of a combined porcupine, mule deer and coyote footprint on a well used trail below a picture of nature …



… but to me it is joy. This is how life is spread across the land. This is how the sun is captured and winter is extinguished. You can’t get that by flying to Mexico. This is what the future looks like, rooted in the past. This is what I know when I’m pruning fruit trees: potentiality, which can be developed into new technologies for the earth. Strange, I know, but I want this knowledge to go on record, in a country which has, for the most part, walked away from it, while still claiming ownership of the land under the concept of nature. Don’t get me wrong. Nature is beautiful. It’s just that the sagebrush twig melting its way out of the snow in the image below is not nature. The image is.


This is a concept so foreign, I expect, to people in my country, that I can do little except leave it here as a record that in 2015, one man had a kind of knowledge that came down from 20,000 years of human care (and likely more), and would like to pass both it and the earth down to others who followed, before they both are lost. I used to think that I could pass on this knowledge through poetry, which I learned from pruning peach trees, but poetry has become an industrial art, embedded in book culture and a complex culture of courtly social clues, not in the culture of the earth. Perhaps, though, I can show you a few footsteps I have taken through my days. Perhaps you will share them and pass them on, like these crabapples, that the waxwings will come to in a few weeks as they pass north …

P1620381 … or these filberts, for whom there is no winter, only spring and summer.P1620428


Perhaps you will come and walk with me for awhile in the snow.




When Horses Walk the Earth (A Winter Prayer)

Let us praise giant rye grass…tallgrass2 … that grows as tall as a horse …tall-grass


… and let us praise its dark seed …



… and the fog that blows through it …

P1620261 … and weaves it with the light …P1620260 … and the light that blows through it …P1620259 … and weaves it with the fog.P1620258 Let us praise the snow that brings giant rye grass down to earth as it falls …P1620257 … and the giant rye grass that weaves the snow with the sun ….P1620256 … and neither rises nor falls …P1620255 … but lives …P1620254


… sometimes taller than the sun …



… and sometimes collecting it on its dark seeds …



… so it can rise in summer, when horses walk the earth.


Talking With the Trees

Here’s a dolmen in North Wales. Note the tree.P1110021

The dolmen is thousands of years older than the tree. It has a lid, to keep out the rain, I guess. Like a tree. It’s rather held up like an offering, too. By its friends. Nice.


You can put your dead people inside. The lid keeps them in. Kind of as if the earth were a stone tree, really.

P1100995It’s not so different  than what the Welsh did a few thousand years later. Only thing is, they did all that masonry to build a gate, and inside, well, every person got a slate slab, stuck up on its end, as if they were men and women waiting for Christ to walk in that door.P1110064 Or to come from the sea.


The rocks have their way with us. “We will be men,” they say. And we oblige. And of those men? Well, notice how these 19th century Welsh have done with the tree thing. Their Christ does it for them all, hanging from his cross at the intersection of heaven and earth.  Before Christ came along, the Welsh had a dozen sacred trees like the rowan below.


By the looks of it, they cut down the trees. The rocks won. Well, not quite. The trees are no less finished talking than the rocks are.


Good. As long as they keep talking, so do we.

Here’s what I wrote about these Welsh stones in 2003 and included in my book The Spoken World in 2011.



Canada Geese Making Art

Geese eating rotten apples.geese2b2Geese making art.



The Dance of the Geese.


Mass choreography, with geese.


Never underestimate the perspective changing ability of a Canada goose. Here are some geese dancing to Bach.


Here are some doing the Stravinsky Honk.


No need to clap. Geese make their own applause.



Choosing to Be Human

“Gravity” is commonly understood as the force, devolved from subatomic bonds extended during the Big Bang, that brings things down. This vineyard hill above my house, for instance.


The same force brings a stone down from a high trajectory into the swirls of a river, where it then tumbles down slowly to land among flashing schools of mountain whitefish in the shallows where the current just begins to pick up again after slowing in the deep pool at the foot of a mountain, where black bears come down seven thousand feet from the high country, cross the thread of the river when almost all men are asleep, and shake the moonlight out of the fur like water. It can also look like this:

P1600326 … and this …P1600477

The Big Bang, gravity, God, the tug of molten dew off of the bowed stalks of bunchgrass, the energy rippling through the muscles of black bears and mountain rivers riding over a thousand feet of gravel left by a post-glacial river as big as the Missouri and inhabited by ancient, scaled creatures whose hands are specialized wings for steering themselves through water, those are all pretty much the same thing. It also looks like this:


The force is the same, and is unbroken — unlike the cat tail stem above, that failed to resist it. On a planet on which any difference between God, the Big Bang, gravity and a cat tail is not a quality of anything you can pick up in your hand and put in a vase in front of a window, but of experience, the missing variable in discussions of gravity is time. Rock, water, fish, moon, sun, star, man, log, bear, and fire, are not substances in the world. They are boundaries — not ones drawn around things but within them. For the things themselves there are no boundaries. The boundaries have to do with their extension, their thinning out, in time.



Time is the way in which gravity and the tendency of entropy, the way in which all energy (supposedly) decays, becomes spirit. That might be the nearly-abandoned farm of an elderly widow above, a woman born in an internment camp during the Second World War, but it contains a gift of life she is still trying to give to us. There are moments at which earthly understanding supersedes that of mathematics. There are moments at which the answer is to choose to be human. We are all born with the potential. Not all make the choice.