Light and Shadow in the Grass

I promised I would show you some images of a tension I’ve noticed in Western culture. It’s a living tension, that comes in variable forms. First…


 Shadows of Grass on Stone

… and second …


Lit Grass Within Shadow

… and a third variation of the same effect …

P1500604Light Glowing Within Shadow and Outside of It

… and a fourth …


Leaf Shading a Leaf

We could go on all day playing with such interwoven images of light and dark. That they are easily viewed as light and shadow is cultural, however. They could as easily be named as two separate forms of light, the light, for example, on the brighter cottonwood leaves below, and the dark on the others …


… but, really, they are all lit. There is a kind of light cast by the mind (call it naming, if you like), which consolidates understandings of energy by mapping out their recurrence. You can use it, for example, to map the same patterns as seen above in the image below…


Light and Shade in a Chinese Elm

You could go on to map the variations in this pattern in many different plants, and then make classifications of the effect. If you follow this path long enough, you can see the same pattern, extended across a season, and even across maps of evolutionary time, here…


 Fall Garden

That is largely the science of nomenclature, but it’s also the basic way in which culture operates in the West: it consolidates discoveries by mapping out all possible instances of their recurrence in the world. Heck, you can even find it here…


Red Dogwood’s Time Map

But, of course, if we’re going that far, we’re into the territory of naming as a power of extending patterns. That’s a second kind of naming. Here’s a big leap within it from light to hormonal patterns laid down by light.



Chinese Elm Sapling

On the one hand, there is a leap of understanding here, that the chemical map of the plant is the same as its interaction with light. On the other hand, the intellectual tools for mapping that effect were laid down long ago in different contexts. To view it here is to classify their existence in a new instance. There is no gap between these two forms of naming. They lie on a continuum. A further extension of the energy of naming as extension …

P1500206 … is found in the grasses that evolved to harvest this energy of extension. Each blade is a shadow of carbon in the light, and yet each blade dying in the fall holds a little more light than strikes it in any moment…P1500172

… in a complex pattern determined by the interaction of each blade and stalk with each other one around it, in a pattern continually transformed by the wind. The form of naming I mean here is the one that can see this pattern and add it to the realm of knowledge, so that it can be extended by the other, classifying energy. The two work together, like shade and light. When they don’t work together, effects like the wind-blown patterns of rain-weighted grass below (without the weight of rain, the wind would not have laid it down in its own shape, or at all) are seen as random.


They aren’t. They are a measure of grass health, sun, nutrients, rain and wind. In the grassland, such effects make the difference between productivity and drought. In other words, they make the difference between the continued survival of species in this landscape, including but by no means limited to humans. The tension between these two forms of naming powers Western culture, and it is through it that all who live within that culture view the physical world. In fact, this tension is the physical world, for people in this particular culture. This, for example, is an image of the tension between these two forces.


That these are late-season wild cherries is a part of the classification energy. That the fruits are laid down as concentrations of darkness is a part of the power of extension. Anyone who might suggest that these two energies are separate is likely to think that the world they see is not an image of their culture. It is dangerous to think like that too often.

5 replies »

  1. will have to reread this… i think what you are talking about is how carbon bonds are in fact extensions of light… among other infusions of light into time and form…. morphology as shadow… makes me think about how silica soils trend into morphologies that are radial and calcium soils trend into morphologies that are spherical… variations in how light is extended through soils as plants…. it is underestimated the effects of electromagnetic spectrum energies that are absorbed deep in the earth and then reradiate have in the form and health of plants… that is part of what topsoils strengthen with humus… also makes me think of stories I have heard about people here who have the “spirit power’ of reading shadows… the variations … that is a territory you seem to be opening up here…


    • Yes, I do believe that carbon bonds are extensions of light…and I thank you for your precise observations in this direction. Very helpful. Best, Harold


      • Yes… I have been pondering the last day how all that can be seen is emenating or at least reflecting light… and how ultimately all matter is stabilized patternings of light… and that the concept of shadow is a mask which obscures our participation with the layerings of light which emerge in the territory we name as shadow… this leads to thinking about the prevalence of the use of language in advertising and political propoganda to often name intiatives with words whose lineages are opposite the true intent… creating a shadow in which to fulfill deceptions… and to create chops of dissonance in the waters of meaning which obscure public scrutiny… and then closer to home… the way the language of the colonial state obscures the indigenous legal orders carried through story and word and the ceremonial ecological technologies which have empowered sustainable inhabitations and relations for 1000’s of generations until the state imposed its will obscuring such technologies with labels of religion or primitivity….


  2. Indeed, yes. I was making a further observation: these effects are placed into patterns by language; different language = different patterns. I’m still trying to open up the idea that if it is desired to heal the earth, or to “bring us closer to nature” or something, one of the vital things that stands in the way (to help or hinder) are words. Words aren’t actions, but without the right words action is not possible. If I want the river to fall again above the dam at The Dalles, and I do, it’s helpful to have words for how my identity and the river’s are one, plus the Yakama Treaty of 1855. Without those words, and many more, intimately connected among many people, from numerous directions, nothing could be done, because the only language would be of “Indians”, “Progress”, “Electrification” and so on, and those words would determine which actions were possible or which could be taken seriously enough to be active, and which could be illegal. I believe the entire concept of “Nature” is built up on foundations of words, and that the stories scientific research can tell are built on the strength of words, and limited by them as well. With different worlds, different patterns are in play and different stories (and actions) are possible. Amazing.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.