ROCK, WOOD, WATER

As a threesome, they don’t fit into any existing system I can think of; they’re not the Western world’s four elements (fire, earth, air, water), nor the Aristotelian five elements (earth, water, air, fire ether). They’re not Taoism’s five elements either (wood, fire, earth, metal, water) and they won’t work for “Rock, paper scissors.”

These three elements, or let me call them beings, are speaking to me lately, making their presence known as I roam forest and coast. Maybe they’re my own cosmology, for now at least: Rock, Wood, Water.

 

1. The Fidalgo Island shoreline carves alternating rhythms of Rock, Wood and Water: sheer cliffs set with Madrone, Shore pine, and Douglas fir trees abut narrow beaches littered with driftwood and thick with intertidal life. Back and forth it goes, Water wearing down Rock, Wood nourished by Water and nestling into Rock, Rock giving structure to Water and Wood….

 

Language treats them as distinct, even abstracted things but they are tightly woven together, constantly interacting with one another and the other beings of the land –Β  including humans.

David Abram, in his book The Spell of the Sensuous, describes what can happen when we embed ourselves in a naming, separating language world: “….the character of linguistic discourse in the ‘developed’ or ‘civilized’ world, where language functions largely to deny reciprocity with nature–by defining the rest of nature as inert, mechanical and determinate—and where, in consequence, our sensorial participation with the land around us must remain mute, inchoate, and in most cases wholly unconscious.”

 

2. Wood in two guises (which we call “Western dogwood” and “Douglas fir”) invites us to touch, to experience smooth and rough with fingertips as well as eyes.

Having achieved the ability to converse about our world scientifically, which certainly has value, we have lost much of the directness of pure sensory experience, and the profound delight it can bring. This loss of direct experience of the wild alienates us from what we need to preserve, if we value life on earth. As Abram says later in the book, “For it is only at the scale of our direct, sensory interactions with the land around us that we can appropriately notice and respond to the immediate needs of the living world.”

 

3. Setting aside the nature photographer’s usual desire for sharp focus, I set a longer shutter speed (without using a tripod) to show the soft swoosh of the waves as the tide brought Water back to nourish vulnerable intertidal flora and fauna.

 

But the camera – that complicated little black box – isn’t that another intermediary, another barrier between me and the sensory world? It is, but I think when we use it as a tool to remind ourselves of the power and beauty of the natural world, it may serve to nudge us back out there, into the midst of it all. That’s my hope.

 

4. Water’s nourishing presence on beach grass invites us closer.

 

5. Water and Wood embrace. After Rain traces paths around a Madrone tree branch it falls to the ground, giving life from above and below.

 

6. Maybe repeated freezes and thaws – Water’s work – caused this rock to fracture. Wood is present too, in the scatter of pine needles.

 

This island where I live is alive with Water, Rock and Wood beings. Once covered with thick, wet forests of towering evergreens, Fidalgo still cradles a group of the Old Ones near its center and a myriad of younger trees fringe the hills. Driftwood giants litter the beaches between worn rock outcroppings. Rock protrudes from the trails and defines the highest point. Fog hazes over the mornings, waves lap at shorelines, lakes dot the island’s center.

 

7. Water, Rock and Wood play disappearing acts over Burrows Bay on Fidalgo’s west shore. One small boat plys an open patch of water as the San Juan Islands and Canada’s Vancouver Island fade into the mist beyond. The names are useful, but the pleasure of this moment didn’t require any names. It was just cool breeze, evergreen scent, quiet and cloud-soft.

 

8. Wood in the form of an old Maritime juniper tree digs its roots into the rocky soil.

 

9. We often have gentle rains here that stop and start, which makes going out with the camera easier – especially if the camera is weather-sealed. Transitory moments like this are alive with change.

 

Our words identify things, making it easier for us to talk about them. But don’t be fooled into thinking that the things we perceive and talk about are separate. They’re all tied together, engaged in a complex dance of energy. Even the beings that look the most solid and unmoving are changing all the time.

 

10. Rock, with a delicate splash of lichens, near Twisp, Washington.

 

11. Wood rising in a form we call Black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) sits happily by the wet ditch, where its branches are ruffled by an errant spring breeze.

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

12. The Rockwater dance never ends. I noticed this detail on neighboring Whidbey Island’s North Beach.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

13. From a plane high over a mountain range, Water and Rock enchanted me.

 

14. Wood has a little human intervention, in the form of a driftwood sculpture on the beach. Someone has balanced Wood with a distant island and the shimmering blue Water.

 

15. The purity of Water can be mesmerizing. This photograph was taken while riding home from Europe in a plane. It might have been over Greenland, and I admit, I wanted to pinpoint the location. But in the end it was the wordless experience of melting into that horizonless horizon that mattered most.

 

***

These photos were all made recently, mostly close to home. #2 was at Rockport State Park, about 50 miles east, and the rocks in #6 and #10 were in the dry hills outside Twisp, Washington, about 150 miles east. I’ve been roaming as often as possible, mostly in familiar places. It’s been exciting to experience how spring behaves in this maritime climate – there have been new-to-me flowers to see in the forests and on the bluffs, wild herbs to taste, birdsong to enjoy and changes to observe along the beaches. The backlog of photos is getting fat! I may try to post more often. More from Europe will be coming too.

I hope your senses are alive with the season’s changes.

 

 

 


65 comments

  1. An extraordinarily thoughtful essay , weaving so many elements — language, perceptions, category-clusters, sensory v intellectual appreciation — and how they interact with each other, sometimes in reinforcing/expanding ways, sometimes in restricting ways. Thank you for taking the time to offer such intellectual stimulation, along with the visual beauty.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Such an extraordinarily generous comment, Penny. πŸ˜‰ It’s true that I tend to be aware of many elements, one leading to the other. I make a lot of connections, and the connections tend to be fast and loose so I’m very glad that I was able to sort them out well enough to get something across. Thank you!

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  2. Yes, I go along with the points about the categorisation of Nature >>> and hence to birders’ lists!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! But I disagree about the role of the camera – we sense the world, and can use the camera to (albeit imperfectly) record what we have sensed, to remind us of it, and to document it or create art.

    Here, I really like 12, 13 and 14, but 11 and 15 are ohhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! A πŸ™‚

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    • I should have, or could have been more inclusive in talking about cameras. I don’t disagree with you, of course, there are many uses we put the camera to, and so much pleasure to be derived from it. How nice that you mention #11 – another example of jettisoning sharp focus in favor of an effect that communicates what was felt, right? Thanks for being here – and for being everywhere you are! πŸ˜‰

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  3. This is a lovely essay, Lynn, the thoughts flow very naturally and economically, and the total effect is persuasive, as well as pleasurable. Oh yeah, those snapshots are ok, too, I guess ( πŸ™‚ just kidding, they’re beautiful, of course. That mountain range shot is neat, and could almost be looking down at a river delta.)

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    • Good to hear from you, and especially to read your thoughts about the writing, which doesn’t come as naturally to me as it seems to come to you. πŸ™‚ I have to go back again and again, eliminating extraneous stuff. Yeesh! One of the great things about sights seen from planes is the way they can abstract into other things. I took a lot that day….and one looks even more like a river delta. Thanks Robert!

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    • That’s great to hear; I hope you have time to return. We all get so busy these days. And although it looks and sometimes feels like the ocean, we are very far from the ocean – about 90 miles. The geography is complex out here but basically, there is a huge strait where water and weather from the ocean flow, and we’re near the end of it.

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  4. The word is not the thing described. All too often people get hung up on the symbology and miss the reality. Perhaps it’s good to think of it more like Shakespeare, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet” – much like these sweet images.

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  5. Your photos are beautiful and some of them are mesmerizing! Very interesting (I hope I got it right!). I am thinking about what you wrote about speech / language. I have to think of the people centuries ago and how they described nature. It would be interesting to study old literature to make a comparison. Like you said, the camera might help to inspire and force us to go out. It offers the beauty and wonders of nature. I think it can be a mediator, if it shows the real beauty it may bring us even closer to nature then speech – maybe. Interesting too is how you describe your world! Rock, wood, water and how everythings related. Always is πŸ™‚ And why shouldn’t it be your cosmological view! I remember reading that the Inuit have so much more expressions for snow than we have. They live in a white scenery and they see much more gradations than we do in our winterly cities. So your world is that one of rock and wood and water – and what goes along with it in every sense πŸ™‚ A very nice written post and quite philosophical text. And you can imagine that the connection of nature and language is very interesting for me!! It is a wide field!! A lot more to think about – thank you Lynn!!

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    • I like your idea about studying much older literature, to see if language also was alienating them from nature. Probably it’s a long, slow process where language and industrialization and other things, including sometimes religion and philosophy, contribute to making us feel separate from the wild world around us. I like the idea of camera as mediator, too. I really appreciate your open-minded, thoughtful approach, Almuth. Rock Wood Water….and of course, Wildflowers! πŸ™‚ But those will come later. Thank you so much for – well, I said it above – for being curious and open, and for paying attention.

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      • You made a very interesting subject up! I am still thinking about it πŸ™‚ Yes of course, the Wildflowers belong to you too! You made a very nice selection of beautiful photos. I love the one from the plane – so impressive these mountains. And the sky melting together with the sea and the wood that looks so old and. the coast and…so much more. I enjoyed it very much!

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  6. Absolutely wonderful post … images and thoughts. I liked what you said here about the camera … “It is, but I think when we use it as a tool to remind ourselves of the power and beauty of the natural world, it may serve to nudge us back out there, into the midst of it all.” I feel that being out there with my camera helps me to slow down and be in the moment. The connection of rock, wood & water fits so well with the images.

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    • Thank you very much Denise. I worked at marrying the text and images, and rejected many photos that I liked, but that didn’t fit. You know how hard that is, right? πŸ˜‰ And although I agree that being out there with a camera can encourage us to slow down and be in the moment, I think there are times when it can also do the opposite. We can get into a sort of grab it and go mentality, and miss things that we might sense if we didn’t have the camera. But underlying all that there is no fault – certainly not a “fault” of the camera’s – just a reminder (to myself) to be present more.

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  7. You’ve reminded me of something I noticed when I taught math at a school in Tegucigalpa in 1968 and ’69. I remember how the students in a chemistry class that one of the French teachers taught were enchanted by the colors that resulted when an object (I don’t recall what) was put into the flame of a Bunsen burner. My recollection is that the teacher was more interested in the scientific conclusion that could be drawn than in the beauty of the colors in their own right.

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  8. Combining images like this, spanning a theme that incorporates and combines multiple elements (I’m not 100% sure if I got your idea right, it does make sense to me though) is really interesting. I haven’t thought about that, and I’m struggling to find an overarching theme for some of my photos at the moments. I shall disappear into my thinking box right away. Thanks. πŸ™‚

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    • Sometimes I have so many images, and I want to come up with something other than gathering them together because they were all from a particular place or time. It was obvious when I scrolled through that many of them (the ones that aren’t wildflowers!) are predominantly rock, wood/trees and water in different forms. I hope you think outside the box! πŸ˜‰

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  9. I really love the photos but some of your words really caught my attention and made me say β€˜wow’:
    β€œWood in two guises (which we call “Western dogwood” and “Douglas fir””

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  10. I think the three words very precisely describe the Northwest. That’s what the landscape is all about isn’t it. They even describe the west coast of Norway where I am presently situated. As always you have captured beautiful images of the three west coast elements.

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  11. What a beautiful captivating post. The naming of things has always gotten in the way for me. I have to remind myself that the name is not the thing. Lately I’ve been seeing/feeling tree beings in a new and heart-opening way, understanding their beingness/rootedness/silence/generosity. They are so alive, and yet it is rarely recognized.
    So many exquisite photos in this post Lynn, and such delicacy – 1, 3, 4, 5, 11, 12 . . . . .
    Alison

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    • It’ so easy to take trees for granted, but they can be experienced as damned amazing beings. I like the word picture you drew of them very much. Thank you for being here, and for being thoughtful in your comments. I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

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  12. Rock, wood and water probably comprise 80% of my shots in the last 10 years. I might add one more: air. I have a lot of air shots. #15 is my favorite in this group but it was a tough call. All the shots are wonderful. #12 and #13 are just beautiful. I also envy your ability to express yourself in words as well, a talent I myself do not possess.

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    • I hope your air shots are all air, Ken. πŸ˜‰ Seriously, let’s not forget plants other than trees, those come into play too, right? I really appreciate your kind words….and I bet if you write more and keep at it, some nice thing will happen.

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  13. Sigh… “The backlog of photos is getting fat!” Though I could certainly think of far worse problems to have. I can so relate to the transition you’re going through… getting to know the new environment, having just started my own experience just a year or two ahead of you.

    The very first image jumped out as a favorite right from the beginning. I’m thinking it encapsulates your island adventure with all the elements right there and so very beautifully arranged. The rest were wonderful as well, but you shouldn’t have started with that one since it completely stole my heart! Not that I’m complaining!

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  14. The smoke has lifted here so I’m off to the woods early … I learn so much from your post Lynn as an urban being … I love the fog haze you have here…and the details πŸ€“ I love being in spaces without a roof ☺️ have fun with your little black box ☺️ smiles and joy your way πŸ’«

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    • I’m so glad the smoke’s fading….we had a taste of that last year, from both near and far, and it isn’t pretty. Fog is a much friendlier haze, right? πŸ˜‰ Thanks for the smiles, Hedy, all of them back at ya!

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  15. Hi Lynn, What a terrific theme and your images are simply gorgeous. I seriously gasped at the monochrome Cottonwood followed by the blue/gray rock composition followed by the ethereal mountain shot. There are many beauties in this series. Glad you’re having a great spring. πŸ™‚

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    • Oh good, Jane, I’m glad you like the monochromes especially. , I enjoy making them, and that cottonwood pleased me, I have to say πŸ˜‰ There’s nothing like flying to reveal the beauty of the mountains, in a ways you can’t see otherwise. Happy in my window seat, glued to the views! Have a good week!

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  16. A very fine and thoughtful post, Lynn. One of the disappointing human traits, at least the modern, is the lack of understanding that all things are connected. While I think that the idea of a butterfly flapping its wings will contribute to the wind is a little extreme, all things are the result of myriad causes and every living thing, in one way or another, relies on all other living things and non-living as well. I think your comparison of rock, wood and water is a nice summation of their relationship with one another.

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  17. I have two words to name this series, Lovely and Refreshing. Perhaps because I’ve been to these places and live so close to rock, water and wood, I can feel the photos very sensuously. You’ve captured the natural textures, relationships, and the very breath of them well. Thanks for sharing!

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  18. “This photograph was taken while riding home from Europe in a plane. It might have been over Greenland, and I admit, I wanted to pinpoint the location.” –

    Once I awakened from a flight from Boston to Houston (then on to Costa Rica) – it was probably the plane’s descent that nudged me from my sleep. I peered out the window and saw a big river – most likely the Mississippi or maybe the Ohio – “…but where?” I wondered. Studying the landscape as it scrolled beneath us, I realized that indeed I knew that section of land – it was where I had lived for many years, and I knew it almost well enough to draw a map of 100 miles in all direction! With fondness I admired from Natchez to Vidalia Louisiana and on across to Catahoula Parish and the the vast plantation where my husband worked for so many years!
    Was it coincidence that I awakened, or was I like a migratory bird sensing a distinct GPS point on the planet?!!!

    Seeing your posts is always a pleasure, though usually it’s in installments. First via the email notification that I read off line at home. (Thanks for not breaking your posts into two parts, as I can read the entire text – but without the images first.). then I double click the post and a new page opens and waits until next time on line. Then a refresh is needed, etc etc…

    #5 – ‘Water and Wood Embrace’ – beautiful! It would also make a great teaching tool for painting!

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    • Oh, the patience it takes to be involved in image-heavy blogging when living in a country without abundant, fast internet connections. I’m happy that you noticed #5 – it’s a different look, much more painterly than usual for me. And it was so curious to see the way the light rain dribbled down over the branch.
      I love your story about waking up on the plane….knowing you, it was your sensitive system, attuned forever, on some level, to that bit of the planet, getting the message that you were near. Thanks for commenting, Lisabird! I hope all is well with you. (And I will catch up on your post or posts soon).

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  19. This was so beautiful! I’m going to have to read the book you quoted-sounds amazing. I love that point that just being, just experiencing, is so important. I routinely put my phone & camera away and sit near water with my children.

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