That’s more like it.
Poets, photographers, sculptors and painters know how to read. That might seem commonplace. What I mean is that the knowledge dancers have of the movement of their bodies in space is embodied in this group of artists in an acute visual field, and the skills and traditions to pattern it deeply. What is normally taken to be a mood of colour, for instance, is a depth of information that can be read — not by spectrometers and other exquisitely conceived tools but by the eye.
In Western culture, these observations are commonly taken to be aesthetic, that is to say the concern of art. Should they be described in language which seeks to recreate them as intellectual models rather than emotional ones, they are called spirit, and left to religion.
That split indicates a bias at the heart of many common perceptions of art and science. Remember, artists and poets can read the rose hips above as easily as they can read a painting by Gerhard Richter or a poem by Olena Kalytiak Davis. They can read the autumn knap weed below.
The romantic split, which says the colours above have a mood, or the aspen leaves below are full of spirit, is a component of individual consciousness. It has a cost. The poets and artists who have learned to read the world can read the romantic moods in the leaves below easily. More importantly, though, the framing of the leaf by the camera was an individualizing aesthetic act that moved the image of the leaf into human space, so it could be read humanly.The viewing of that aesthetic image, and of the choke cherries below …
… is a secondary abstraction. There’s no doubt that the moods of colour can be read at great depth by this method, or that new taxonomies could be created based upon these colour moods. That would also, however, be a statement about individuality — a trap that poets and artists might not want to enter.From their traditions, many scientists describe the current age as the age of the Anthropocene — one in which humans determine the fate of most species on the planet, and are responsible for thousands of extinctions. It is, however, also the age of Gaia, the concept that the earth is alive… … and looking at herself. In such a conception, sight is not an individualizing impulse, but something written into the very energy structure of the planet. It doesn’t lead to individual perception. It’s not romantic. It’s not measurable by scientific procedure, but it is measurable by gesture. These gestures are called art, or poetry, which the culture that set them aside from classification and logical enquiry terms emotional responses. They are, however, part of the substance of the world, as is the distorting lens of human attention attached to them.The human gaze it is called, by highly-inividualized people who would like there to be no gaze at all. What poets know is that that too is a gaze, and a very chill one. The work is to see. If you see yourself there, don’t shut your eyes.Change your self to align with what you see.
Cascadia rises out of the seabeds of the continental plains, where a hot, conductive current rises from deep in the earth and shears and curls around the impenetrable ancient rock of the North American Craton. We call this column of fire Yellowstone.It is a wave of energy and resistance that creates mountains.
They rise from fire and create zones of cold, commonly called snow, in the ocean they made into the dry prairies of the Upper Missouri River. So are rivers born out of mist.
Rivers are everywhere in this ripple in the sky. They squeeze the sky onto the dry earth.
Just as they are squeezed by rock that is still rising in a massive wave.
Not all leave the fire mountains, having molten the sky, or at least not yet. First, they pour through the caldera of the volcano, in a country of fire.
They live on the caldera wall. Look at them lick with flame among the bones of their mothers. Look at them drink the molten sky. Look at them grow on the ash of old volcanoes. The fire is not still. It still drives hot water out of the deep earth: snowmelt and rain and water squeezed out of the beds of ancient seas. Here, too, fire pines burst into flame from the soil…
…and the water …
… and return to the fire.
It is not a linear wave. It is happening all at once.
It is the fire. We who walk here are in the fire. It is the water. We who walk here are burning water. And it is the sky. We who walk here stop, as the land has stopped, and give ourselves over to new forms. Some volcanoes erupt very slowly.
This is one. In it, water and fire are one.
In it, we live, who live in Cascadia.
Nature is a foreign word in this fire country. As soon as you see nature, you know you are not here.
As I was making an image of the pines below …
… a woman walking past looked up and said, “I don’t see anything there. Just a whole lot more pines.” She didn’t see this…
… or if she did, she didn’t see that this lone aspen is this hot pool…
… or these splashes of magma…
… or that there are creatures …
… who eat this fire …
Calling it nature makes it random and wild. Look at it…
… it’s not random. Look at it …
… it’s not wild. Humans have the capacity to be this energy.
… they invent nature, where, before, the fire rose up…
… and sang.
Without poets, we would be living on a dying earth. We would be dying and contemplating turning ourselves in to machines. That is the age that abstract culture has made in its own image. This is the world that humans live in…
But you do have to choose.
I have. I hope you can find your way to the earth, too.
Here are some images of music (or mathematics) from Yellowstone.
I know, we’re all used to hearing music, but look:
And we’re used to viewing photographs as visual artefacts, I know, but isn’t this music?
We’re used to seeing stuff like this as art, but look at those patterns. I can hear them, without sound.
Or, rather, isn’t the earth here the sound?
And the seeing?
Maybe it’s not the hearing that makes music. Maybe it’s the music in it.
At any rate, I’m glad of this physically embodied music…
… and awed to be standing within it. I don’t need to hear it.
I am music. The men below are not just fishing. They are music.
The Fire Hole River below is not just water.
This hot spring singer is not just giving voice. His body is as much the voice as his trill.
His body is the trill of the hot spring below.
All of it is song.The sun is composing it.
And playing it.
And rising up.
If we are to have a science, let us begin with the sun’s music, not mathematics.
We will arrive at the same place, just deeper within ourselves.
And that makes all the difference.
Above the Yellowstone Hot Spot, deep in the caldera of the super volcano, Mammoth Hot Springs cover hundreds of acres of ground — just a tiny corner of the heat coming up with water through the broken stone.
The story told in scientific culture is one of hot water that flows through deep cracks and rises as superheated steam to make hot springs. I no longer think that’s quite it. Sometimes it helps to look up.
Look at that, eh. The grass is catching the same light — it, too, is heat. In fact, the age of the rock here, from mineralization through fire pines to grass, and the hues of light they attract and repel, their heat, so to speak, can be read, easily. This is time we’re looking at. Everything here is a hot spring, including the stone, including the waters, including the calcium carbonate, including the trees and grass and the singers …
… and the life colonizing the hot springs and giving them colour …
… are a weave of time, that all exists at once, and is still opening. In the caldera, the past is also present. Call this life. I do.
There are a couple of species of “bear berries” in our mountains in the Northwest, but these sparse ones are the only ones that escaped the spring frosts. Kinnikinnick is also known as arberry, bear’s grape, crowberry, foxberry, hog cranberry, mealberry, mountain box, mountain cranberry, mountain tobacco, sandberry, upland cranberry, and uva-ursi.