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Maggie Chok

‘The trails we create from the soil are born of a mixture of mud and thought.’

When humans make themselves at home in a new landscape, they initially behave much like deer—seeking out resources, learning routes, making signs—but over time, that field acquires an additional layer of significance. The land grows to contain not just resources, but stories, spirits, sacred nodes, and the bones of ancestors. At the same time, a deep recognition grows among the people that their lives depend on the products of the soil. People and land become interwoven, until they are nearly indistinguishable: it is no accident that, according to a striking number of cultures around the world, the first humans were sculpted from mud or clay. One version of the Hopi creation story tells that humans were created by two gods named Tawa and the Spider Woman; Tawa thought up the notion of the first man and woman, and then Spider Woman fashioned them from mud, declaring, “May the Thought live.”

The trails we create from the soil are likewise born of a mixture of mud and thought. Over time, more thoughts accrete, like footprints, and new layers of significance form. Rather than mere traces of movement, trails became cultural through-lines, connecting people and places and stories—linking the trail-walker’s world into a coherent, if fragile, whole.

(Source: On Trails: An Exporation—Robert Moor, Photo: Katrin Korfmann)

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Theme of Sun Memory

(Source: Soundcloud—Multi Culti)

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A momentary getting-together of sand

ON BEING PODCAST: CARLO ROVELLI, All Reality Is Interaction
16 March 2017

MS. TIPPETT: When you write about particles, you say, on the one hand, “there is no such thing as a real void,” one that is completely empty. (..) But what you say — what’s there instead, as you say, is “a world of happenings, not of things.”

DR. ROVELLI: Yes. A thing is something which remains equal to itself. A thing — a stone is a thing because I can ask where the stone is tomorrow, while a happening is something that is limited in space and time. I don’t know. A kiss is not a thing, because I cannot ask, “Where is a kiss tomorrow? Where’s this kiss tomorrow?” I mean, it’s just happened now.

MS. TIPPETT: I see. OK.

DR. ROVELLI: And I think that we don’t understand the world as made by stones, by things. We understand a world made by kisses, or things like kisses, happenings. In other words, the elementary quantities or ingredients for describing the world are not things which remain through time. They are just limited in space and time. And I think which remain through time are processes that repeat themselves. A stone is just a common flickering of electrons and things and stuff, which remains together not even forever, of course, because it goes into powder for a long time, for a while. So, to better understand the world, I think we shouldn’t reduce it to things. We should reduce it to a happening, and the happenings are always between different systems, always relations. Or always like a kiss, which is something that happens between two persons.

MS. TIPPETT: So, even for you, a stone is a happening, is seen in with a long expanse of time and an understanding of how it became what it is. It’s a happening, not a thing.

DR. ROVELLI: Yeah. I mean, we live 100 years, but suppose we lived a billion years. A stone would be just a moment in which some sand gets together and then it disaggregates. So it’s just a momentary getting-together of sand. The permanence of things is — it’s a matter of — we look at them for a short time with respect to their own staying-together.

(Source: On Being Podcast—Carlo Rovelli, March 16 episode, Image—Luca Tombolini)

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Paradise Flying Snake

Chrysopelea paradisi is one of five species of tropical lowland tree snakes of southern and southeast Asia that together comprise the genus Chrysopelea, the “flying snakes”. Chrysopelea snakes are on the order of 0.6–1.2 m in length, with a body mass ranging from tens to a few hundred grams.

Chrysopelea “flying” snakes are the only limbless animals that glide through air. These snakes can actively launch by jumping, maintain a stable glide path, manoeuvre, and safely land without injury. As the snake becomes airborne, the body flattens sequentially from head to vent, forming a cross-sectional shape that is roughly triangular, with a flat surface and lateral ‘‘lips’’ that protrude ventrally on each side of the body; these may diminish toward the vent. A glide trajectory is initiated with the snake falling at a steep angle. As the snake rotates in the pitch axis, it forms a wide ‘‘S’’ shape and begins undulating in a complex three dimensional pattern, with the body angled upward relative to the glide path. The head moves side-to-side, sending traveling waves posteriorly toward the tail, while the body (most prominently, the posterior end) oscillates in the vertical axis. These active movements while gliding are substantially different and more dynamic than those used by any other animal glider.

As the snake gains forward speed, the glide path becomes less steep, reaching minimally recorded glide angles of 138. In general, smaller snakes appear to be more proficient gliders. Morphologically, Chrysopelea appear to be typical snakes, with no special appendages, skin flaps, or other features such as are used by other flying animals. Instead, the snake undergoes aerial locomotion by using its entire body as a flattened, moving wing, constantly reconfiguring it throughout flight.




(Source: The Daily Conversation, NY Times, Encyclopedia of Life—Chrysopelea paradisi)

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All sundial mottos are sad like that.

The earliest sundials, from Ancient Egypt to China to Europe, were often marked with dedications to god(s), patrons, and/or the craftsmen who made them. In the 1500s sundials began bearing mottos relating to time—its passage, the limited quantities allotted, how it should be spent, or as a brief memento mori to the reader to stop looking at the sundial and get on with their life.

Sundials represent a willful, anachronistic affectation in a world that has begun to dispense with clocks and watches.

Latin is a common language for the mottos: whether as quotations taken from the Roman writers Ovid, Martial, or Horace, or as translations of time-related sentiments. Mechanick Dialling, a 1769 manual for creating sundials, includes 300 “Latin mottos for dials, with their Meaning in English”, indicative of an expectation that a motto would be added. Margaret Gatty, who wrote the book on sundials (“The Book of Sundials”), collected 1,682 mottos in an appendix to her exhaustive history, taken from instruments all over Europe.

In the appendix, each location is carefully catalogued with notes as to placement, location of the sundial, and maker(s) if known. McLemore’s observation that they’re “all sad like that” is hard to argue with: there are a lot of ways to say “remember you will die,” “time is fleeting,” and “seize the day,” and many of them are in Gatty’s book. The motto that S-Town host Brian Reed finds in a mission garden, knowing to look for it because John told him to, does not appear there, but does in another: “Nil boni hodie diam perdidi: I did nothing good today — the day is lost.”

Time flies

Ruit hora. (The hour is flowing away.)
Tempus fugit [velut umbra]. (Time flees [like a shadow].)
Utere non reditura. (Use the hour, it will not come again.)

Human mortality

Ex iis unam cave. (Beware of one hour.)
Lente hora, celeriter anni. (An hour passes slowly, but the years go by quickly.)
Meam vide umbram, tuam videbis vitam. (Look at my shadow and you will see your life.)
Mox nox. (Night, shortly.)
[Nobis] pereunt et imputantur. ([The hours] are consumed and will be charged [to our] account)
Omnes vulnerant, ultima necat. (All hours wound; the last one kills.)
[Pulvis et] umbra sumus. (We are [dust and] shadow.)
Serius est quam cogitas. (It’s later than you think.)
Sic labitur ætas. (Thus passes a lifetime.)
Ver non semper viret. (Springtime does not last.)

Transience

Tempus edax rerum. (Time devours things.)
Vidi nihil permanere sub sole. (I have seen that nothing under the sun endures).

Living

Amicis qualibet hora. (Any hour for my friends.)
Una dabit quod negat altera. (One hour will give what another has refused.)
Vita in motu. (Life is in motion.)
Vivere memento. (Remember to live.)

(Source: Sundials, Sentiments, and S-Town—Liz Tracey, JStor Daily, Wiki—List of sundial mottos)

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Rock rust, desert varnish

Desert varnish or rock varnish is an orange-yellow to black coating found on exposed rock surfaces in arid environments. Desert varnish is usually around one micrometer thick and represents nanometer-scale layering. Rock rust and desert patina are other terms which are also used for the condition.

Formation
Desert varnish forms only on physically stable rock surfaces that are no longer subject to frequent precipitation, fracturing or wind abrasion. The varnish is primarily composed of particles of clay along with iron and manganese oxides. There is also a host of trace elements and almost always some organic matter. The color of the varnish varies from shades of brown to black.

Composition
Originally scientists thought that the varnish was made from substances drawn out of the rocks it coats. Microscopic and microchemical observations, however, show that a major part of varnish is clay, which could only arrive by wind. Clay, then, acts as a substrate to catch additional substances that chemically react together when the rock reaches high temperatures in the desert sun. Wetting by dew is also important in the process.

Even though it contains high concentrations of iron and manganese, there are no significant modern uses of desert varnish. However, some Native American peoples created petroglyphs by scraping or chipping away the dark varnish to expose the lighter rock beneath.

Desert varnish often obscures the identity of the underlying rock, and different rocks have varying abilities to accept and retain varnish. Limestones, for example, typically do not have varnish because they are too water-soluble and therefore do not provide a stable surface for varnish to form. Shiny, dense and black varnishes form on basalt, fine quartzites and metamorphosed shales due to these rocks’ relatively high resistance to weathering.



(Source: Wikipedia—Desert varnish)

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The Shadow Biosphere

Across the world’s great deserts, a mysterious sheen has been found on boulders and rock faces. These layers of manganese, arsenic and silica are known as desert varnish and they are found in the Atacama desert in Chile, the Mojave desert in California, and in many other arid places. They can make the desert glitter with surprising colour and, by scraping off pieces of varnish, native people have created intriguing symbols and images on rock walls and surfaces.

How desert varnish forms has yet to be resolved, despite intense research by geologists. Most theories suggest it is produced by chemical reactions that act over thousands of years or by ecological processes yet to be determined.

Professor Carol Cleland, of Colorado University, has a very different suggestion. She believes desert varnish could be the manifestation of an alternative, invisible biological world. Cleland, a philosopher based at the university’s astrobiology centre, calls this ethereal dimension the shadow biosphere. “The idea is straightforward,” she says. “On Earth we may be co-inhabiting with microbial lifeforms that have a completely different biochemistry from the one shared by life as we currently know it.”

It is a striking idea: We share our planet with another domain of life that exists “like the realm of fairies and elves just beyond the hedgerow”, as David Toomey puts it in his newly published Weird Life: The Search for Life that is Very, Very Different from Our Own. But an alternative biosphere to our own would be more than a mere scientific curiosity: it is of crucial importance, for its existence would greatly boost expectations of finding life elsewhere in the cosmos. As Paul Davies, of Arizona State University, has put it: “If life started more than once on Earth, we could be virtually certain that the universe is teeming with it.”

[…]

These researchers believe life may exist in more than one form on Earth: standard life – like ours – and “weird life”, as they term the conjectured inhabitants of the shadow biosphere. “All the micro-organisms we have detected on Earth to date have had a biology like our own: proteins made up of a maximum of 20 amino acids and a DNA genetic code made out of only four chemical bases: adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine,” says Cleland. “Yet there are up to 100 amino acids in nature and at least a dozen bases. These could easily have combined in the remote past to create lifeforms with a very different biochemistry to our own. More to the point, some may still exist in corners of the planet.”

(Source: Robin McKie—’Life on Earth…but not as we know it’, The Guardian 14 April 2013)

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—a kind of negative sculpture, a deletion, the memory of motion

Step 8

In 1964 an eighteen-year-old art student named Richard Long went for a walk in the hills near his home in Bristol, where the land was covered in a thin layer of snow. In a moment of boyish caprice, he began rolling a snowball through it. As it rolled, it picked up granules of snow, leaving behind a denuded, muddy trail. Charmed by the sight of that line—a kind of negative sculpture, a deletion, the memory of motion—Long photographed the snowball’s crooked trail.

He liked the photo enough to show it around. Perhaps, he thought, he had discovered some new form of sculpture. Not long afterward, a faculty member from Long’s art school called his parents into a meeting to announce that their son was being kicked out. Decades later, when asked the reason, Long replied that the kind of work he had begun making troubled them. The administrators worried Long might be going “mad” and instructed him to have no further contact with the other students. “That was really my first big break as an artist,” Long recalled.

Next, Long took a train out to the countryside and found a flat grassy field. With intensely methodical steps, aligning himself with a point in the distance and another behind himself, he began to walk across the field to the edge of the forest and then walked back, being careful to make as straight a line as possible. He repeated this until a faint line appeared in the grass. Then, using what he called “a ridiculously primitive little box camera,” he snapped a single photo. He would later title it “A Line Made by Walking.”

In 1969 Long’s work was included in a seminal exhibition called When Attitudes Become Form. His photograph of a simple line across a flat field now hangs in the Tate in London and is regarded as one of the seminal works of British land art—understated, ephemeral, philosophical, a rebuke to modernism, materialism, and the age of machine travel. “Long,” wrote Tate director Nicholas Serota, “gave new meaning to an activity as old as man himself. Nothing in the history of art quite prepared us for the originality of his action.”

(Source: Robert Moor—How to Cross a Field of Snow, Lapham’s Quarterly ‘Discovery’ Issue; Richard Long—A Line Made by Walking, 1967)

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The Demoness of Tibet

Tibet; Late 19th/early 20th century
Pigments on cloth
Rubin Museum of Art

The “supine demoness,” a late-nineteenth-century symbolic depiction of the land of Tibet, draws on the great post-dynastic histories of the Jokhang Temple at Lhasa. The image is iconic of Tibet’s rich tradition of geomancy—the art and ritual of landscape. An indispensable facet of religious life across the Plateau, Tibetan geomancy (or jungtsi, “counting the elements”) united the long-established indigenous worship of mountain gods with Chinese concepts of feng shui and Indian tantra to create a rich religious science of moral well-being, community prosperity, and auspicious rule.

The image is drawn from the standard repertoire of Tang dynasty royal feng shui, with which the full story shares many features, including the ability to combine surrounding landscape forms into a united ‘body’. The extent of the demoness’ limbs corresponds broadly with the limits of the emperor’s rule and military conquests, which became in subsequent centuries associated with the boundaries of Greater Tibet (böd chenmo), the province of Tibet’s celestial protector, the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (Chenresik).


(Source: The Rubin Museum of Art—Collection Highlight: The Demoness of Tibet

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The Conference of the Birds

The Conference of the Birds or Speech of the Birds (Persian: منطق الطیر‎‎, Manṭiq-uṭ-Ṭayr, also known as مقامات الطیور Maqāmāt-uṭ-Ṭuyūr; 1177), is a celebrated literary masterpiece of Persian literature by poet Farid ud-Din Attar, commonly known as Attar of Nishapur.

In the poem, the birds of the world gather to decide who is to be their king, as they have none. The hoopoe, the wisest of them all, suggests that they should find the legendary Simorgh, a mythical Persian bird roughly equivalent to the western phoenix. The hoopoe leads the birds, each of whom represent a human fault which prevents man from attaining enlightenment. From the many birds that begin the journey, only thirty birds are left that finally reach the dwelling place of the Simorgh. There, the birds see the Simorgh in the reflection of their faces of an implicit lake.

The seven valleys the birds cross are as follows:

1. Valley of the Quest, where the Wayfarer begins by casting aside all dogma, belief, and unbelief.
2. Valley of Love, where reason is abandoned for the sake of love.
3. Valley of Knowledge, where worldly knowledge becomes utterly useless.
4. Valley of Detachment, where all desires and attachments to the world are given up. Here, what is assumed to be “reality” vanishes.
5. Valley of Unity, where the Wayfarer realizes that everything is connected and that the Beloved is beyond everything, including harmony, multiplicity, and eternity.
6. Valley of Wonderment, where, entranced by the beauty of the Beloved, the Wayfarer becomes perplexed and, steeped in awe, finds that he or she has never known or understood anything.
7. Valley of Poverty and Annihilation, where the self disappears into the universe and the Wayfarer becomes timeless, existing in both the past and the future.



(Source: Wiki—The Conference of the Birds)

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