I do not remember the exact moment or place of this photograph. I vaguely remember and assume that I waited for the wave to crash. Or was it a boulder that fell into the sea? Either way it looks like fate now. After the fact. Every particle suspended in a moment. But it never was suspended in actual experience. In that sense, fate seems baked into memory. An inseparable part of it that fails to grasp the immense complexity of randomness. Generalized fate simulations of memory gloss over the myriad of differences under its cover in order to produce some cohesive sense of order. A gist in the mist. A referent to nature sold as an epic experience or a reflection of an aspect of consciousness that never quite happened in the actual way the photographer experienced it nor the viewer. A simulation of a hyperreal moment. A fated memory smashed by particles flying in all directions. Through the reproduction of the image, let us fold this back in on itself. Let us rework this “moment” randomly. Let us bring the mist back into the gist.
Now we are no longer in nature or under its referential control. It is released from any semblance to a fated memory or reality. It feels light and free. Nowhere in particular. More mist than gist. The random process mirrors the random moment. The iterations reveal that there wasn’t really any reference in the first place. No actual moment experienced and relived. Rather, hovering in a space without an atmosphere that Baudrillard called the hyperreal in his book, Simulations (1983): “Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generalization by models of real without origin or reality: a hyperreal.” In this sense, an angle on the illusion of Being can be held through what some people call manipulation of a photograph (or when they scoff at an image being “photoshopped”) when in fact every photograph is a manipulation to begin with (though the very word is too heavy with negative connotations as if it had some evil purpose, so “construction” perhaps fits better to a neutral sense of the process).
Look at the way she tumbles into forms in the sky. How she shrivels as if in a sweet agony for all she provides. Her nourishment to the cochineal. Her milk flowing for the wrens. Her surreal limbs an absurd perch for lizards. Her crooked windows perfect for spiderwebs to catch flying morsels.
This wild canopy cages the hill like gnarled hands rising out of their giant burials. These mad sculptors of fruit radiant with needles that mimic sunrays! What strange journey left these bent up propellers behind to worship the sun?
Down by the concrete river, the spirits arise from patches of datura where the spiral that became a pinwheel stretches itself again to take on the form of ghostly plant emanations pollinated by the consciousness of any wanderer who lingers long enough for the vegetal spirits to unfurl their psychoactive shapeshifting tendrils and guide the awareness toward the unity of all things through the merging of forms and the collective existence of iterative semblances.
Combustible swarms of potential energy possess the warm winds who scream for a sacrificial bonfire! Their anticipation whips up into a frenzy for the cyclical conflagration that will return the nutrients back to the charred soil. All we can do is await the spectacle to come and loathe its smokey purge of the flora and fauna we hold dear. What soft flesh is this that beholds such a sublime terror that marches forward so slowly then suddenly? That we know is coming yet arrives without warning?
From the sea’s memory whose immensity I cannot encompass, she takes a mass of limestone and with one tool – a drop of water – she brings forth a sculpture of all she has ingested and turned inside out in a new formation. Seamounts and guyots miniaturized. Carcinomorphic legs dangle within the stalactites. She carves in with trilobite strokes across the pregnant columns. She freezes in time the way she gushed over countless rocks with flowstone. Amid an astroidal firmament, batoids swirl on the vaulted ceiling whose cetaceous slabs dive down into the abyss. Textures from ancient reefs and sponges crawl under the floor. Cambrian plants rise again in stone. Burrows memorialized in soda straws. The whole chamber curling into a giant nautilus. In the darkest crevices, mimoids gestate. And she finishes it with the simple drip that fills the hollow of her new instrument. The sound of one drop into her fathomless memory. A sound she makes across innumerable planets. Her cephalopodous existence stretches over the galaxies that emerge from her womb.
The geologist sees rock formations atop plates drift on the rolling currents deep in the Earth’s mantle, Those rocks crack and open up from the processes of erosion to hollow out a cave. Where the deposits from dissolved minerals collect to form a myriad of shapes called speleothems.
The spelunker puts on a carbide lamp equipped helmet, kneepads to prevent hamburger knee, and carries piton spikes to drive into cracks as needed to belay into the glistening underground space that upon first sight appears as if it were made to appear that way. It’s a brilliant display of mysterious intention by something far greater than any human achievement. Yet it is the dizzying reminder of how random the visual state of terrain actually is. The hand of erosion carves and sculpts without regard for the spelunker’s eyes met with such a vision on an immense scale of time.
The philosopher enters the cavern through the mind. Sees the cave dwellers who only see shadows as reality. Witnesses the journey back into the darkness after seeing the outside world and experiencing its glaring truth. The light so strong that it cannot be forgotten by its witness imbues the cavern’s folds with the philosopher’s thoughts.
My legs push back against the precipice. My arms wearily hold the instrument as my eye peeps through the lens and my finger trembles to press the button on feelings exceeding a single frame. I could not survive out here. I am but a wanderer passing along this winding, perilous path. Blinking and glimpsing at something too powerful and raw to live beside with any of the comforts required to establish a productive way of life. Yet this is their home, their pattern, their habit, and their comfort. These dream-like forms, others simply call cormorants, gird the steepest drop back into the crashing swirl of sleep. Above the unfathomable chasm and below the infinite dome, a brood scratches its way along these stone faces of bulky severity. What wild ideas am I witnessing that can claw into such an impregnable form? Am I to believe that these are just cormorants stringing along the rocks whose random patterns of erosion drain into this dark sea? Just another iteration of genetic code replicating itself in this random display of meaninglessness? While they are scaling the deepest interior of my dreams and emerging as the shadowy forms from the deepest slumber? Even when this sublime scene awakens with a fervor of gargoyles ascending a cathedral in my mind’s eye?
The wilderness has a mysterious tongue
Which teaches awful doubt, or faith so mild,
So solemn, so serene, that man may be
But for such faith with nature reconciled;
Thou hast a voice, great Mountain, to repeal
Large codes of fraud and woe; not understood
By all, but which the wise and great, and good
Interpret, or make felt, or deeply feel.
From Mont Blanc by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Once there was a hermit who lived in a giant shell on a tiny island. And each room in her shell was connected by a central spiral staircase. As she got older, her shell grew taller with more rooms being added. And she always stayed in the newest room at the very top where she made herself a new bed out of kelp and a table and chair made from pebbles. Whenever there was a storm and the sea covered the island, her shell stayed put because it was so heavy after all those years of rooms being built. And when she got older than anyone else alive, her newest room in the shell overlooked the clouds that drifted over the sea. And if she wasn’t in her new room, she was visiting the other rooms where she felt as old or as young as when the room was built. On her last day, she spiraled out of her shell for the first time since she began building it and sat on the beach to feel the water on her toes and looked at the sunlight bouncing off the water until her last nightfall. And she laid back in the sand and saw millions of shells twinkling in the night sky before she went to sleep beside her own sparkling shell with the final thought of the greater part she had played by doing what had come so naturally.