A long time ago, I have mentioned paths as a landscape paradigm. Today, using pictures I recently too at the Giant City State Park in Illinois, we vary the paths to mind trails.
Above is the clear trail: It has stepping stones, and walls on both sides, to prevent is from erring, and for support. There is no doubt, we will walk this path, even if it leads us into darkness. Of different character is the doubtful trail: There, behind these trees, is there really a way for us to walk?
Equally disturbing is the desperate trail which we seek when looking for an exit. We might follow any temptation, regardless where it leads.
Then there is the blocked trail. It leaves us options: Crawl through, remove the obstacle, go around. That’s not too bad.
More problematic is the doubtful trail, that looks like it might continue, but we won’t know until we try.
Finally, the most terrifying of all, is the fateful trail, created by the blood of the giants that died gigaennia ago in this ancient city, without choice, leaving trails on the walls.
Die Wahrheit ist dem Menschen zumutbar
Can we really bear the truth, as Ingeborg Bachmann insisted in 1959? Her context was that of writers who encourage others to be truthful through their presentation, and are encouraged themselves by praise and criticism.
How do we present truth today, 60 years later, when its value has again become doubtful?
What if reality itself has become so doubtful that we don’t trust our own senses anymore? Can any presentation be clearer than what we can see with our own eyes? Or is it admissible to blur what we want to show to point to another truth, namely our inability to see clearly?
Ingeborg Bachmann was right. We can bear the truth. But most of us don’t want to.
We don’t merely want the truth, we want the unraveling.
What we maybe need today are not just truths, but enigmas.
“West” has meant different things at different times. It (still) signifies a cultural attitude of possession: This planet is ours, we can transform it at will.
It has also signified exploration, and transcending imagined limits.
Settling at such a limit point signifies an attitude, the willingness to accept being a Stranger in a Strange Land.
Esthetics here is necessarily a potpourri of ideas and cultures that do not create a harmonious whole by itself.
The unifying theme is elsewhere.
Every attempt to create one’s own little human space here is humbled by the vastness of the world around us.
That we are allowed to be here, too, is a form of grace.
The Eastern Massasauga is Michigan’s only poisonous snake. This was my first encounter with a rattlesnake, I didn’t expect to find her at a beach in Michigan.
The camouflage in the dried sea grass is near perfect, but the human predator trying to get a better picture annoyed her, so she moved.
Why do us men think of snakes as female, and reserve the male attribute to her larger brother, the dragon (whom I still have to find)?
They are beautiful, elegant, hit you when you expect it least, and sneak away when you don’t look.
Sometimes, they also just sit there thoughtfully and lick their tongue.
Nested among a garden of fruit trees next to the Roofless Church in New Harmony is another sculpture by Stephen de Staebler, the Angel of Annunciation, which is easy to overlook, despite its tallness.
A small plaque on the church wall nearby quotes a poem by Staedler that states that arms are for doing, while wings are for being.
This angel is deeply conflicted. The arm sticks out of his head like the wings. The head itself, whose face is just recognizable as such from the side, is split in half when viewed from the front.
One of the two feet is cemented in, the other free to walk. Where does this leave us?
There is another sculpture in this garden, without plaque or any indication of authorship: A piece of wood, hanging from a tree.
It’s not a sculpture. It’s what is left over from binding the branches of an aging tree together to keep it from breaking and falling apart. An attempt can never completely be a failure. Doing and being can still be one.