A benefit to my job at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa is that I work at a museum surrounded by 40 acres of forests that is surrounded by another 1400 acres of forests and open grasslands. This past Friday after spending several hours dealing with budgetary matters, to clear my head I decided to take a walk in the woods. I grabbed the Museum’s Nikon and headed out for a quick one mile trek around the Mississippian mound complex on which our museum is located and then through our 0.5 mile nature trail that connects to the six-mile trail at T.O. Fuller State Park.
I snapped the occasional photograph of images that resonated with me. I got about half-way through the walk and began to think of conversations I often have with my colleague, Allison Hennie, who was back at the Museum, minding the store as it were. Allison is an architect, anthropologist, museum studies person, now in a PhD program where she will look at concepts of landscape literacy and the built environment of prehistoric earthwork complexes. I thought of comments I wanted to make to her as I walked the path. Then I came to wonder about the photographs Allison might take as she walked along the path. Interesting idea.
So when I got back to the Museum, I handed Allison the camera and asked her to walk the same loop as I had just completed and take 10 – 20 photos as I had done. I was curious about the similarities and differences that might occur in our two sets of photographs.
Here is a slideshow of my set of photographs:
Here is a slideshow of Allison’s set of photographs:
Differences I note right off include:
- my photos are more vegetation-centered, more green. Allison’s photos are more holistic and include more of the earth and sky.
- Allison incorporates more of the total environment, including the historic. I intentionally framed photos to exclude the modern that was not made of wood.
- In so doing my focus seems more past and Allison’s seems to have the past meet with the present. This observation is also a key part of our discussions of landscape literacy where Allison reads more of the past by the present and I tend to make less of that connection.
An enjoyable walk in the woods, regardless. Come visit us if you are in the Memphis area!
A Zen teacher saw five of his students returning from the market, riding their bicycles. When they arrived at the monastery and had dismounted, the teacher asked the students, “Why are you riding your bicycles?”
The first student replied, “The bicycle is carrying this sack of potatoes. I am glad that I do not have to carry them on my back!” The teacher praised the first student. “You are a smart boy! When you grow old, you will not walk hunched over like I do.”
The second student replied, “I love to watch the trees and fields pass by as I roll down the path!” The teacher commended the second student, “Your eyes are open and you see the world.”
The third student replied, “When I ride my bicycle, I am content to chant nam myoho renge kyo.” The teacher gave his praise to the third student. “Your mind will roll with the ease of a newly trued wheel.”
The fourth student replied, “Riding my bicycle, I live in harmony with all sentient beings.” The teacher was pleased and said to the fourth student, “You are riding on the golden path of non-harming.”
The fifth student replied, “I ride my bicycle to ride my bicycle.” The teacher sat at the feet of the fifth student and said, “I am your student.”
from The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham, Bantam Books, 1992, p. 36
I came across a book of poetry, The Geography of Lograire by Thomas Merton, in a used book store in New Orleans a bunch of years ago. I sat in Jackson Square, a great place to watch the world, and read bits and pieces of the book. I found the poem below particularly enjoyable. Note I am not a Mayanist, beyond a few courses and a single field season in Guatemala, and don’t vouch for whatever Merton’s scholarship in attributions to anything. Rather, the poem presents images and concepts that are good to think about.
Seemingly an analysis of Merton’s intent for the book can be found in The Mandala as Structure in Thomas Merton’s “The Geography of Lograire” by Virginia Randall
X. Chilam Balam (Yucatan)1. “They came to Tisip With pepper in their speech In 11 Ahau Cleared cornfields Built a city.” 2. They were received like Fathers With nodding plumes at the well’s edge In Itza Thus they were called the “Itzaes.” 3. Sunrise. New Kingdom. Fresh wakes sweet tropic earth! Tribute paid in cotton For the Four Men (North South East West) In Chichen. Then the Lords Rich in cotton Meet Gods Equal in voice to Gods And those whose voices Were not equal to Gods’ voices Were thrown in the well To cry louder. 4. Then came Laws High pyramids Thirteen Itzaes in majesty With pepper in their prayers Made deals with the Raingods In clouds of smoke. 5. “Our Gods have grown bigger” they said Then bitter times began The plain smoke All the way to the sea. 6. Thirteen katuns they ruled. Until the treason of Hunac Ceel Driven from their cities into jungle 4 Ahua was the katun The wail of lives Thirteen katuns of suffering and law And they were called in the end “The Remnant of Itzaes” The last few built Mayapan “Maya men” Was their new name. 7. Lamentation Priest of Xiu Slow along the cavern wall From altar to altar On the well’s rim. 8. “The priest asks for green bark. Thirteen times he strips all flowers and all leaves off the branches. He strips them utterly bare. He binds the stripped branches in a bundle. Katuns without hope!” 9. Prayer in the cavern For the last time Pitch dark well Stopping at the altars Blind fingers explore the faces Of rock signs Figures cut in the wall Spell: “Justice exits” “Heaven exists” And the prophet Chilam answers Hix binac hix mac (Maybe yes maybe no) “But we carry the sons of Itza on our backs like boulders.” And the priests have come to the end of submission The end of desire. They are about to destroy themselves because of the injuries done to our people. 10. FACE OF THE PRIEST CHILAM WHEN HE IS ON THE POINT OF ENTERING THE WELL OF THE CAVERN.
(The Geography of Lograire by Thomas Merton. 1968. New Directions Publishing, New York, pp. 31-33).
From his book The Lice, published in 1967, I first read W.S. Merwin’s The Wave in 1969 when a couple of hip English Lit types conned a group of their adoring high school fans, of whom I was one, to pay them money one summer for a poetry workshop on the campus of Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. We somehow even thought we would get some college credit, but the fact is, we met on the front steps of some building and our only registration was giving the hip English Lit types cash each week, $5.00 as I recall, and then they talked for maybe an hour or so.
But knowing this poem, 40 plus years later, proved the best part of the experience.
by W.S. Merwin
I inhabited the wake of a long wave
I knew where it had been
The light was full of salt and the air
Was heavy with crying for where the wave had come from
From faces that soon were nothing but rain
The white forests
but as for themselves
They felt the sand slide from
Their roots of water
Glass corridors then
Were gone then their shadows were gone then the
Corridors were gone
Envelopes came each enfolding a little chalk
I inhabited the place where they opened them
I inhabited the sound of hope walking on water
Losing its way in the
Crowd so many footfalls of snow
I inhabit the sound of their pens on boxes
Writing to the dead in
I inhabit their wrappings sending back darkness
And the sinking of their voices entering
Nowhere as the wave passes