The Noise

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all pictures in this post are by the wonderful Maxfield Parrish…what a dream to dream!

It is late, dark, and quiet. Next to me, someone is sleeping sweetly, curled against a pillow and under a blanket. To my left, the air conditioner blows on and off, and to my right, a fan oscillates slowly back and forth. It is the quiet time, when no one and nothing stirs: if I go outside, all I can see is the guard light shining its amber glow, stars that flicker but remain in position, and occasionally, a passing car.

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My home is very quiet. A few weeks ago, a nice woman who is in Chinese medicine school but who moonlights as a phlebotomist came by to do some medical tests for our life insurance policies. She took her shoes off at the door. They were so small, black tennis shoes, that I thought they were a child’s shoes! She remarked how quiet it is here, and that was during the day.

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Lately, I find the external world so very loud: so much noise. News, social media, and people driving on the highways just seem to be shrieking, screaming, pushing, prodding, yelling: the common theme, fear of…..what exactly? Fear of the unknown? Fear of the inevitability of change? Fear of the direction in which our society finds itself? Fear of not having enough, or too much? I can’t put my finger on it, but I see examples everywhere.

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Currently, I drive 3 hours round trip as my commute to my school: this is about to change. I drive with hundreds of other people to and from Austin. I find that at least 10 each day drive so aggressively that they scare me, and I worry about finding myself in an accident like the ones I hear about every day. People chase around me in their cars, cut me off in their cars, drive just behind my bumper in their cars, and every time it happens, I wonder why. I hear teachers at my school yell or complain: I hear students do the same. I see article after article online and hear article after article on the radio about the President. Its as if the noise is catching: once it starts, it has to keep building to some mad crescendo.

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The presence of the noise makes me thankful for the quiet. I find that I catch myself in its moments rarely, and so, I try to cultivate them. Today I walked in the garden and checked in with the cotton and roselle plants, gazed at the sunflower seedlings. I pet the neighbor’s dog. I sit here, typing. I find the quiet helps me understand that the noise is just that: noise. Meaningless, temporary, distracting: the reality is the moments of quiet, the moments that I catch the mockingbird sitting on the garden’s arch, the arc of a cotton stem, the funny way that sunflowers bend toward the sun, the way children look when they are distracted and staring off into space, breathing. I suppose the task of the moment is to change the focus from the noise to the quiet: otherwise, where shall we go?

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Eaten By Wolves

 

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Today I went on a sunset walk with a friend. As we walked, the light changed from gold to blue and then became complete darkness, lit by a gibbous moon that rose quickly over our heads, to hang in the sky, over the path, back to a bridge over rushing, snow-melt water.

She joked that if we were caught in the dark that we would be eaten by wolves, and just after the sun disappeared, we heard their calls just off to our right, in the woods. Yipping and howling together, it was no doubt a group of coyotes living large in the forest. Their calls waffled between high-pitched, human-like screams and howls, and seemed to be very close to us.

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She grabbed a large stick from the side of the path and we formulated plans including climbing trees and calling for help and standing on the bridge and making ourselves larger than life. The moon, luckily, lit our way with its white light: shining down on snow and ice.

As we walked, a bit faster now, we saw the first one as it leapt across the path in front of us: a black streak with a long tail. We stopped, dead in our tracks, not knowing what to do as coyotes will circle people and dogs in the woods. It was then that we saw the second coyote run across the path, just a bit farther down than the first one.

Grasping each other and the stick, we forged on, beginning to yell at the coyotes to scare them off and looking back to see if we were being followed, but we weren’t. They simply were there when we were, and we were lucky enough to not be very interesting to them.

As we reached the stone bridge, the one that we had crossed earlier while staring down at the stream, full of roiling waters and lined with rocks, we breathed a sigh of relief; we were within eye shot of the car, and therefore, far enough away from the coyotes in the forest.

It is a magical and sometimes unnerving thing to live in nature; this place has very little separation between the wild and the domestic, outside and inside. In the times when the light fades, at the end of another winter’s day, and you find yourself in the woods, walking along with a friend, it feels better to walk softly and carry a big stick.

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”

John Muir

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PhotoDiary – L’Automne

dan photos september 2013 549A natural reflecting pool, Route 1 near Milbridge, Maine

dan photos september 2013 544Marshland

Last week, I went out, with borrowed camera in hand, and took photos of the beauty that is autumn in Maine, autumn in our Acadia National Park, autumn on our island. I am so sad for people who are coming here to see our park and are being shut out or, in some cases, ticketed, for those of who live here can see it all the time. Maybe this glimpse will, at least, help for those of you who are not lucky enough to come and visit during leaf season. I, myself, have not seen anything like it in my lifetime. Once more, I stand ever thankful to be here, right now.

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”

L.M. Montgomery

dan photos september 2013 554One early fall morning at the Carriage House near Northeast Harbor

dan photos september 2013 553I noticed something miraculous and held in time…

dan photos september 2013 556Bricks, granite and leaves sharing similar hues!

dan photos september 2013 567These autumn colours are electric, especially when posited against grey roof tiles and trunks

dan photos september 2013 570dan photos september 2013 578dan photos september 2013 584A glimpse of the far side of Lower Hadlock Pond outside of Northeast Harbor does make you wonder how it all happens so quickly…

dan photos september 2013 586…you can see it again on Parkman Mountain in Acadia National Park.

dan photos september 2013 601The trees are beginning to rest…

dan photos september 2013 589…the grasses are sprouting rainbows from their bases…

dan photos september 2013 590…green is turning to gold.

dan photos september 2013 593Before it all fades to grey, it is time to bear witness to the rash of colours all around us!

dan photos september 2013 596dan photos september 2013 603dan photos september 2013 609Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”

George Eliot

Photodiary: Harbingers of a Maine Autumn…

We have entered the very beginning of the waning season: the light, less gold, more cottony-white, as I heard it described yesterday, slants sharply across the horizon and through the branches of trees. The swamp maples are already changing to red, the leaves are beginning to bleach, the seed heads on flowers dessicated, brown, crackled like bark or the wizened hands of an old woman, the reeds in the ponds are tipped with gold, no longer green from end to end.

Last year, one of my first posts here was of photos of my new, tiny town on the coast of Maine. Last year, everything was new and my life to come here was full of unknowns. Now, a year later, this place still surprises me every day with its dynamic change, its eccentric personalities, its size, and its amazing beauty. I think I am beginning to know it better.

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Photodiary — Snowshoeing on Jordan Pond

“Well, I know now. I know a little more how much a simple thing like a snowfall can mean to a person.”

Sylvia Plath

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Last week we had a huge snowstorm here. Nemo, we were warned, was the storm of the century, but it turned out just to be about two feet of snow and lots of wind. The wind woke me up that night because it shook the house. I dislike sleeping on the second floor of buildings: I am more comfortable on the first floor, and this apartment is very high off the ground. At some points it felt as if the whole building was twisting around its center point, and I remembered how, in the old days here, they used to bolt the houses into the ground using ropes and later, cables, that were driven into the bedrock to stop the houses from blowing away during the gales. The coast of Maine: so wild, so windy, with its daily changing weather and unpredictable light, dark, air, stars, water. Last week, during the storm, the seas were up to 30 foot swells and the boats stayed in the harbor, lashed down to the docks with nylon ropes. The sea roiled and boiled and changed color to a darker winter green as it swooped all around our island. A storm surge of 2 feet covered the rocks and froze the grasses at water’s edge.

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After the storm had passed, and I had dug myself out of the driveway, I went snowshoeing for the first time, down at Jordan Pond, my favorite skating spot that was now covered in snow.

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This place is a winter wonderland, and now that I am no longer scared of winter, and know what it is, and how long it lasts and how different it makes you feel, so reflective, I love to go outside and explore how it changes from day to day. Each day is distinct: as if the environment switches, late at night, when we are asleep, like the screens in that story The Veldt. Each morning when I wake up I see differences in the snow, in the ice, in the light; I hear different bird calls and the shadows on the rocks have changed. The idea of Earth as Dynamic is nowhere more true than here: where you can watch the landscape change almost before your eyes.

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Here I am, just past the point of no return for winter, when the first hints of spring are peeping in the tips of oak trees in the forests….when the birds are singing more than they have for three months. In other places, plants are bursting forth, but for us, we have a while yet to wait.

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While snowshoeing, I paid attention to the snow, and noticed how much it looked like sandstone in the desert. The wind had licked layers of ice crystals and made beautiful dunes that reminded me of being at the beach in England, or in the desert of California.

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After snowshoeing on top of the frozen lake, on top of the powdery snow, I took a moment to snowshoe into the woods at pond’s edge and look at the trees. So much like the setting of a fairy story, this wintertime; I am constantly on the lookout for wolves, or harpies, or secret, magic people dressed in capes, or….something. Mostly, though, I see no one at all.

snowshoeing16snowshoeing15snowshoeing17“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”

John Muir

North Wind

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In the midst of a meadow

A skylark singing

Free from everything

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There are hotspots on the ice, on the lakes and ponds of our island, that look like black neurons embedded in the hard, icy surface. The pattern they make echoes perfectly the endings of our neural cells, or the pattern of growth in reindeer moss, or the paths of rivers as they progressively etch the surface of our planet.

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Why are there such similarities in shapes and forms that are found in nature? Why is that the millions of bubbles suspended in the ice of a frozen pond mimic the lattice of old bridges, or that the edge of a huge crack in that same ice, one of the cracks that stretches thirty feet in one direction and 4 inches down, has the same structure and form as a chunk of granite a few feet away at the water’s edge? Why does ice, frozen under the lake’s surface, look like a field of daisies, or the surface of a sea urchin, or the tentacles of a jellyfish?

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Are we, as humans, so desperate to find meaning in our lives, however short they may be, that we find meanings and patterns in natural phenomena? Or are those patterns simply patterns: repeating shapes and structures that are big and small, in hot and cold, in water and air, all through our Earth system? When I look at photographs of nebulas and galaxies, I see shapes that resemble eyes and horseheads. When I sit on a frozen pond and stare down through the ice, I see shapes that resemble stars and clouds in space. Perhaps there is no great meaning in these similarities: perhaps they are simply a repetitive alignment of the atoms that make up all that is our planet Earth.

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It is very, very cold here at the present moment. Last week, on the coldest day of the year, I went ice skating with a friend on Little Long Pond, at sunset. As the sun’s light descended into peach and orange, all around us, the shadows stretched long and the fir trees reflected, black, on the pond’s surface. I skated to the far end of the pond, across a patch that, in summer, is a swampy bog of reeds and grasses. I skated over ice with brambles and grasses growing up out of it: it looks like hair growing out of skin. As I headed back to my boots as they sat on shore, I noticed the sunset, pink, reflected on the ice’s surface.

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Three times lately, I have been skating at Jordan Pond — an epic and majestic place with two mountains at the end of the lake, and trees on all sides. In summer, this place is crawling with people; now, not a soul. On my first and second visits, the wind blew, shrieking with all her force, out of the north with a viciousness and a bite that is unexplainable except when you are experiencing it. (Estimated wind chill was -33F!!!). I struck out on the ice, fighting the wind and battling forward along the middle of the pond. The pond narrows at the boat launch, where my boots and the truck sat, and funnels the wind into a tunnel of cold, strong air. The wind was blowing at 30 knots at least, and it almost blew me over as I stood up on my skates.

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Fighting forward, swinging my arms and legs side to side like a high speed Olympic skater in slow motion, I was dressed in mechanic’s coveralls over a down jacket, performance fleece, wool leggings, corduroys, a hat and a  hood on my head and a scarf wrapped around my face. I scooted, slowly over the ice, occasionally pausing during greater wind gusts, turning my face away from the inevitability of frostbite and giving my legs a break. Slowly, across an intense, bumpy ice flow that spanned the width of the lake, I inched my way toward the smooth center of Jordan Pond, and stared down beneath my feet at frozen bubbles and black water. So clear that you could detect stones and branches beneath you, it felt scary and unnatural, as if you were flying or scuba diving, or both.

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Skating over this alien landscape felt dangerous and otherworldly: as if I was caught here in this moment in time, and that I would never be able to be here again because it could just disappear with the snap of my fingers, or this week’s thawing temperatures. Flying and gliding over the ice is like riding a bicycle or racing a sailboat or sawing a piece of silver or vacuuming a large carpet: all you think about in those moments of movement is the act itself, of paying attention to the ice beneath your feet so that you don’t catch your skate blade in a crack and fall. In those moments, you hear the wind howling in your ears, the rapid flapping of the leather of your mittens, the clattering of a piece of velcro as it is wrenched loose from the hood that protects your head from losing all of your heat, gliding over green water and black, staring at pond stones and deer bones and birch trees now suspended, frozen, at the lake’s bottom.

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 This past summer I took some friends who had never been to Mount Desert Island around this lake on a walk, and listened to the water lap the rocks at pond’s edge. Now the water is silent and like glass; it still looks like open water at a distance, but is 6-10 inches thick, solid, frozen. Patches of snow-ice dotted the pond the further I skated down, as if they were giant white lilypads stretched across the lake’s surface. Skating over those lilypads is deliciously bumpy, and you feel the shock absorbing properties of your knees and ankles as skates and your body bounce across.

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The wind was at my back as I skated over to a sacred spot discovered the day before: a place where the ice had frozen into tiny, perfect floral shapes, where it looked like algae or sea urchins or jellyfish, or all three at the same time. The wind, with so much force, pushed me so hard that I sped up very fast and took a few moments just to glide between the icy lilypads, leaning on one skate or the other to direct my path around and between them. Needing no push from my muscles, I was simply guided forward by gusts of intense north wind. I finally managed to slow down by doubling back and facing the wind again: able to slow down and stop, I took a moment and looked at the two mountains that are the distinguishing feature of this pond.

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Returning for a third visit this morning, at sunrise, I spied birds’ wings made of ice trapped under the pond’s surface, and vertebrae, and skeletons. I saw the shape of two birds fighting each other, complete with feathers flying. I saw jellyfish, and shapes that looked like antique carousels, and baskets, and cages. I saw spirals trapped and motioning me down into the black depths. I took a few moments and lay down on the ice and stared at a 10 inch crack in the surface. I looked at it from one side and saw how the early morning sunlight was shining through its cracks, making it appear polka dotted, or etched by some invisible hand. I looked at it from the other side, and peered closely and noticed how much it echoed the shape of the mountain that stood in front of me, on the west side of the pond. I noticed the strings of bubbles and noted how similar their patterns are to the way cave glow-worms hang, or the shape of the nails and pins we use to build houses. As my friend and I lay there, bundled up against the cold, on our bellies, gazing into the ice, a huge boom echoed below us as a new, large crack formed somewhere behind us. The boom, the cracking, was so forceful it shook us: you could feel the vibration all through your body. At that moment, we stood up and skated around each other again for a few moments, savouring the serendipity and the silence and silkiness of perfect ice, and then went off to begin the day.

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