Notch Trail (Badlands I)

Let’s begin to approach the landscape of the Badlands appropriately, through layers.

This is the beginning of the Notch Trail, a short hike that gets you intimately close to the rock formations, if we allow for it. Not yet, though.

I hiked this trail twice, first on a cloudy afternoon, and then the next morning accompanied by some fog, giving me layers of time and weather.

Here we just follow the trail up, looking forward and backward.

Near the end there is a choice. We can enter a side canyon that narrows

and allows to climb up,

or we can reach the notch – the end of a world.

All this is already fascinating in its otherness, but there are more layers that reveal themselves when we look differently.

Cedar Valley Nature Trail (Northwest II)

Continuing northwest, I spent an hour on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail, a 50 mile long trail along the Cedar River in Iowa.

It not only looks very straight, it is very straight, probably because it is a replacement (??) of an old railroad track.

Gaps between the trees allow for views into the landscape.

Road crossings happen with proper warnings. There were neither cars nor other hikers.

What can I say? My excitement grew when I saw the building below, with the stylized cat detail above.

What else can we expect even further northwest?!

Memory Eternal (Wenckheim IX)

…they didn’t need any prayers, because they had their own…

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The two images I am using today were taken in 1992 in Budapest with 35mm film, scanned at 9600 dpi (which is a silly thing), and cut apart.

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In László Krasznahorkai’s Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming, the chapter Losers carries out a similar dissection. We revisit most of the previous characters in separate paragraphs (in fact, sentences), which are dedicated to memory in one way or another.

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In the time of film, the detail of a printed image was determined by many physical factors — the format of the film, its quality, its grain, the quality of the equipment, lighting conditions, magnification, and the skill of the photographer. Today, grain has been replaced by noise, which has a different character, but the problem remains the same: outrageous enlargement will result in artifacts.

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He was out by the train stop at Bicere and trying to dissect what he was seeing down to the minutest elements,
because while he thought the bikers’ suspicions were exaggerated, he still couldn’t completely let the matter rest, because that’s how he was — …

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Does this frighten us? I think so, as the megapixel wars between smartphone makers indicate. We believe to be safer with more megapixels.

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… this matter, then, had no meaning, cause, or goal, and this in fact might have been the essence of that matter, if words themselves hadn’t given up the ghost in the mind of an eyewitness (one, moreover, not even present at the scene), because words would have come to a dead halt in this brain, …

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Is it the fear that our reality itself is like this, too, that if we look too closely, it will dissolve?

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The people who met the Baron now want to forget him. The city photographer gets busy in an unusual way:

… for the naive ones, I just delete the pictures they want me to, the pics from the train station or the entertainment events, I do it in front of them, I look for the memory card, put in the camera, and together we look for the pictures they want me to erase, and I delete the pictures in front of them; then they ask me, and I tell them that no one will ever see these pictures again, well of course, no one ever will see them, never again, rest assured, and this is all so much work that I can’t keep up with it …

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I think this is what Krasznahorkai tries to accomplish in his books: slowing down time and thus expanding the monologues of his protagonists, while they are desperately trying to remain themselves.

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Reporters and politicians deny that certain events have happened:

…and now he was volunteering to completely erase the speeches in question from the offices’ computers and destroy every such trace of any one of these speeches…

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We insist that reality is more than that, but in trying to prove it, we follow always the same process of dissolution. Can we find an answer if we just zoom in a bit further?

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Finally, there is the Baron’s funeral, the cheapest available.

…but still, as he stood behind the coffin, about to commence the service, he felt the cold sinking into him, what should he do now, he reflected, while — his head lowered — he recited Psalm 119 to himself, should he go back for another layer,…

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Land of Winter (Svalbard I)

Let’s begin this year with a journey in time and space.

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The year is 1976, the day lasts 24 hours, and the season says summer but does not feel like it at all.

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It is a dark and barren place, where the few residents live by mining the mountains.

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My father and I both took photos back then, it’s impossible to tell who took which. Memory can fade.

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The impossible darkness alternates with equally impossible brightness, just like our past.

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And then: The end of the world — — — 

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Golden blüht der Baum …

Color in winter is a difficult affair. I don’t know how they do it, but the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle has a special winter section where the trees show off the most wondrous color palettes.

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Above, the leafless small tree with mossy branches seems to partition the colorful background.

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Or here, the delicately branched marvels beam in some shade of green, bushes provide a foreground with contrasting colors, while larger trees stay in the back.

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High point in complexity of the composition was this Japanese inspired garden where two rust colored trees touch upon a pond. The saturation is surprisingly well balanced by the yellow bush.

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What keeps baffling me is the intricate play between structure and color. It feels like the color is the soil in which the abstract shapes can grow.

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Then there are the solo performers, single trees effortlessly covering the ground with leaves while still decently wearing their costume.

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Some leaves just seem to be perpetually falling.

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Light

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Darkness is for us humans not just the lack of light. We fear it as an abstraction, as a general absence, as death. 

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And so we have to come to adore light as that what eradicates darkness, that makes us see, and allows us to live.

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Nothing more seems to celebrate light better than illuminated glass sculptures like the ones here, by Dale Chihuly.

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Having lost its purpose to illuminate something else, light has become the object, an abstraction of its purpose.

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Objects like these don’t exist in nature. It is, as if we have finally left reality behind and can experience light as pure form.

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It is hard to return.

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Dream

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Our imposed order of things gives time a direction, and all else seems to follow. But sometimes, this direction is lost, and certainty fails.

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Uncertainty means chance. Do we belong here?

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 It seems there is another inward structure, more punctual, more concentrated, like a poem, that manifests itself when the flow of time is obstructed.

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What Paul Celan wrote in his Meridian Speech  — the poem claims itself at its own limits, it calls and retrieves itself from Not-anymore to Still-there to persist without pause — becomes visible in extreme natural environments. In both there is seeking beyond these limits, words there, branches here.

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Is it possible to teach time to walk, to slide sideways?

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Poems, like dreams, are landmarks that help us to cross what we perceive as darkness of the mind. What seems wild and empty becomes possibility.

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Or do we prefer to sleep in our dreams?

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Big Sur 1993

To celebrate July 2nd, here I have some nostalgic pictures from 1993, scanned and cleaned up from old negatives.

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This is how the sun used to hover over the Pacific, seen from Highway 1, near Big Sur, where we were headed.

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It’s a day hike from the coast to the destination, so it’s good to get going in the morning and take advantage of the morning fog, until you reach the denser woods.

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Trees make bridges or block the way, like everything else.

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The destination? One of the hot springs hidden in the wilderness. I forgot the name, and I don’t have directions.

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I wonder how all this looks today.

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Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Ohio IX)

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Conkles Hollow is a separate small nature preserve belonging to Hocking Hills State Park, featuring two very different trails. These are like two (very) different aspects of the same person.

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One leads inside a deep and narrow gorge, and is as wild as it gets. Violence and darkness abound.

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The other trail leads up and around, with views of the cliff faces.

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During late winter/early spring, this becomes a study in black, white, and green. This is peace and serenity.

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Here, the trees seem to mirror the dramatic dance of the rocks below like dreams, occasionally joined by a counterpoint in red.

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Is this just one place?

The Passing of Time (Ohio VIII)

The longest trail in Hocking Hills State Park is nicknamed Grandma’s Trail, and it’s an 11 mile roundtrip.

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It leads to rather remote regions of the park, making it ideal for self-isolation. The six hours it takes to hike it is an opportunity to contemplate the passing of time, both our own, and the inherent time of the landscape.

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Spatial and temporal distance merge in rare views like the one above (from a fire tower). 

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Then there is an abundance of waterfalls and rock faces: Do we want change, or do we want permanence?

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Spectacular views like the one below are rare, reminding us that there is not only passing time, but also meaning.

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The trail ends at Ash Cave, another large recess cave with a waterfall.

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The enormous overhang provides shelter, but is also an ominous threat: How long will it hold?

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