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  • Writer's pictureDan Thompson

Blue In Green: Where Sky Meets Earth

Land without sky

All space contains a horizon of some sort, like the first such distinction in the early universe, cleaving one infinity from another, introducing an upper and a lower. A water element and an air element, or an earth and a water or an earth and an air, without which there is only an undifferentiated oneness.

This distinction is where we locate and discern change. As Malpas says in Place and Experience (2004), juxtaposition is the arrangement and interaction of objects, events, persons in space and displacement is the arrangement and interaction of objects, events, persons in time made available to us through activity and movement from a certain subjective point of view (2004:166) “and such ordering is always an ordering dependent on our own capabilities for moving and acting” (Malpas 2004:166). It is through our own capabilities for movement that we can discern the movement of external objects and the passage of time through events. We don’t necessarily have to move in order to observe or understand this, we just have to know how to move and what generally happens when things move; i.e. they progress over a predictable period of time through a finite, and easily traversable space.

The Sky

There is a certain amount of variation that goes along with the landscape and the various ways of looking at it, a totality including the sky, which is, of course the birds’ proper domain. So it is as if the ‘language of the birds’ is the language of the sky. It’s colour, blue, being even older than that of green. Speaking about the land from the perspective of the much older sky. It is us in their world, not them in ours (see Language of the Birds, Thompson 2017).

Sky without land

While the sounds of an animal must be repeated over and over as if reminding themselves of their existence i.e. a bird, a place’s speech is a function of its continuity through time and rate of change. What WF and NW as a unified theory represent is a basis in something that doesn’t change. Focus on the sky, pulling back to see a tree, (400 million+ years old) and then a flower, and many more flowers, in a field, separating the finite (green) from the infinite (blue).

The tree lives only a short time—a few hundred years—while the species (its essence) is timeless, characterized by the colour; green, in contrast with the sky, a limitless blue measured only on the scale of the clouds, (or whatever is passing through it) which are themselves constantly cumulating and dissolving, reminding us that we exist within a substance called time, forever recycled, like the air itself. Slowly deposited, over millions, even a billion years, through the eruption of volcanoes, giving off gas (steam) that precipitated out of the newly formed atmosphere into pools of what we now call water.

Even now, the sky, like the ocean, is still in large part, a mystery. The ideal backdrop to our equally unknown world. What Mark Fisher calls in his book The Weird and the Eerie, (Fisher 2016:61) ‘the failure of absence’; something that shouldn’t be there but is, and ‘the failure of presence’, something that should be there but isn’t. The same words used in Magical Realism to describe the unfamiliar or uncanny appearing in a familiar context, where there is the presence of something where there should be nothing or the presence of nothing where there should be something.

The sky’s presence is ‘grounded’ in its relation to what is below. Where the focus is the sky and the foreground is simply a transitional plane where things happen. What the sky constantly affirms and puts into perspective through its continued presence is the consistency of that which doesn’t change, and at the same time, that which has no discernible beginning or end. It is outside human time, which is why space is so important to our concept of NW, where we measure change against that which does not change, i.e. time. Time measured as events so that we get a satisfying sense of what is going on, but the more events that transpire, the faster time seems to go and the less of it we seem to have.

Land and sky: Monument Valley, Utah

Consciousness and Communication

Communication is inherent in everything and although I do not believe all things have consciousness, I do believe all things have a way of communicating, if only as objects made available to the intellect of conscious observers. The observer, losing the distinction between subject and object, communicates with the environment as if their body were an instrument (read: an object) calibrated to detect fluctuations, changes and aspects of the environment that begin to move and communicate around them and gradually to them and through them when they stop being an ‘observer’ and just simply be.

Even without a conscious effort (especially without effort), people report having feelings brought on by the landscape they are in. A form of communication that increases in proportion to the size, majesty and elements within the environment. A forest will elicit fear or trepidation, not only because of the limited line of sight, but also the ramification of both space and time in an enclosed area. There is a much more immediate effect of vertical time (or a cessation of time), which evokes anxiety. Whereas an environment that is more open, like a field elicits a corresponding and proportionate openness (horizontal time), but not as much as a view from a mountain or a canyon, while the ocean elicits yet another kind of time (longer), all of which are communications between the landscape and the observer. That is, the conscious observer is receiving information from the land that by all accounts is not conscious and should not be able to communicate.

More often than not, this communication conveys a sense of power and significance to the observer in response to their initial reaction. The communication is as much about how the observer reacts, as the place itself. The Time of the Place, as will be discussed later, where the subject establishes a way of Being in the world that is appropriate to the environment and the mood (either the observer’s subjective mood, or the mood of the time, or of the place).

This communication in all instances is of the greatest significance, or at least suggests to the observer that it is significant, depending on its geographical location. The significance seems to be activated at certain times of day or year, but these are meteorological variables and are outside the conversation (Yet no one can deny the experience of being in a certain place at a certain time and receiving information that at least seems to be true and objective, i.e. not just our subjective experience of it. We often attribute this feeling to the place’s inherent beauty, majesty, awe-inspiring landscape, even more so when there has been an event, that we can tap into and experience for ourselves (see Sabol 2019) but there is more to it than this, probably much more than we can ever hope to learn, feel or experience. The concept of the flesh of the world is perhaps too big to introduce here, but we will suffice to say that there is an exchange between the environment and the subject which breaks down the distinction between subject and object, so the subject becomes object, thereby entering a new kind of communication that is more direct, because the ‘flesh’ of the world and the observer are now shared (Merleau Ponty 1968, 138), and one feels what it is like to be that place, the transcendental reduction (Trigg 159).

Geographical change alters the way a place looks, and to a degree its significance or feeling. Here we may sense an absence or a block, as in Feng Shui. The significance or ‘feeling’ is altered or even diminished by the way its inhabitants remember it, causing it to activate or go dormant. Eventually though, the nature of a place comes out through an accumulated age. Existing as much now as it did then. It is a thing of beauty to see time and nature working upon the human-altered landscapes. Humanity as a strange, intangible presence, leaving behind its strange absence. i.e. ruins, a dump site, a building in need of paint, a discontinuity in style or an attempt to incorporate an old style into a new building which usually comes off as unconvincing and literally out of place. When the sense of the original place has been lost, what is left is the bedrock. The geological history, which for the most part is ahistorical, and deanthropocentrized, that is, there is nothing there that we can relate to except the rocks themselves, which often have a kind of geomantic quality, but it is almost always background and too ubiquitous to notice, like the air or the ground itself. We take it for granted and thus feel nothing outside of the ‘norm’.

Arguably the most ideal place is one that combines the triumvarate of land, sky along with another element; a field, a meadow, a valley, or a lake, to balance the first two; making it a place. The sky splits the horizon, juxtaposing the history of the past (space), with the incomprehensibility of time; the future. The sky and land sandwich the third element, either drawing information and presence from it, or imparting significance onto it. The only way to know what kind of place it is, is to take an inventory of one’s feelings and compare them with their surroundings and then ask, which elements evoke which feelings, sensations or emotions. Emotions being the gestalt of all the constituent feelings, in the same way that the constituent elements combine to form Place. Once one has examined their feelings, they must attribute them to the elements in their surroundings. This will reveal Place.

The Poetics of Space, three in one principle, space as orthogonal to time

Wildflowers on Beartooth Pass, USA. Original public domain image from Flickr

The land is always full and depending on how full, one gets a view that limits what one can see, but the sky is always empty or at least ever-changing, literally, any way the wind blows. We reach for the sky, aim for the horizon, travel for hours, sometimes days to just sit and stare at the ocean where sky meets earth. The most sought-after destination on the planet. So inaccessible, yet so close, which makes it even more attractive to look at, until we can’t look any more ‘sitting beside the water, it’s hard to turn away’ (See: We are Non-Sequiters, Thompson 2017). The sun setting, returning day after day as we do. Not the way we say it as in ‘today’s another day’ but in terms of the real, geniune astronomical event. The sun rising and setting over land, sea, and strand, the way it has done since the water first condensed out of the sulfurous clouds of nascent volcanoes.

To be continued…

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