I spent a week in Virginia over the holidays and made a point to walk every day, either in the large field behind the church or in Sky Meadows. I didn’t have my camera the day that everything was encased with ice–shards falling all around us–and the trees were glittering and creaking. But it’s enough to remember the sights and sounds, and to be relieved that even these grasses made it through such an ordeal.
Back in New York, the winter has not been so picturesque, but, yes, there are lights and the ocean remains close, and, as ever, I hear the sounds of the little resilient birds who are staying put.
Every time I go home to Virgina, I take a trip to Sky Meadows. If I’m lucky, the sun lights up the grass and milkweed strands coat the fields in some places. Despite the cold, I love this landscape in winter. All the colors are muted, the trees are reduced to striking shapes grasping the sky, and all the hunting birds are visible. The wind, though, whips across this rise with some forgotten strength, and I’m always happy for some warmth to return to.
I found myself in Inwood Park at 6am this Saturday for a workshop, and the world was a different color. There was evidence of the storm, too: huge old trees had toppled from the hillsides, exposing bird nests and the canopies of trees previously only known to the sky and the high winds. It was cold on the water and when we witnessed the politics of the geese in formation, I felt a sort of unearthly alertness, a post-shivering sense of everything.
We were asked to interact with our environment, and so we ran to keep warm in the great field before ascending into the forest to discover remnants of old things: glass bottle shards, fire hydrants, stone walls. The whole park was formed by earthquake faults and the effects of a slow-moving glacier, and so there are exposed rocks with the remnants of swirling water in the form of pools, and classified rock formations with poetic names: Fordham Gneiss, Inwood Marble, Manhattan Schist.
The park is haunted by the history of New York. There are oyster shells and remnants of fire pits. Landfill from subway construction shores up the ridges, and when the trains go by, they seem like some strange interloper from a different planet But of course, it is the world outside Inwood–that faraway place–that comprises our normal habitat, and the ghosts are different.
This year, I think I’ve taken fewer pictures and spent more time outside than ever. Perhaps it’s the city closing in, perhaps I’m simply evolving into someone new. In any case, last year the fall for me was all colors and this year it seems to consist primarily of movements. It might be the influence of a friend with theory, and the idea that we are all bodies in space creating meaning. But there is also this sense that I can’t look too closely at anything of beauty anymore. I’ll miss these things. I do miss everything that I photograph, I suppose.
This has been a year of travel, so far, and of leaving New York for other cities and other memory-places. My old routines are gone for the most part, or abandoned temporarily. (I ran to Queensbridge Park the other day and found it paved and ready for recreation, no crumbling paths left, and I felt a sense of loss.) However, in spite of movement rediscovered, mostly, it seems that I roam around in search of grasses.
Or open fields that archive the views seen by others. (This is North Elba, where Mary Brown remained behind.)
I am a poor naturalist–I can hardly name any birds or trees or celestial bodies. And I have realized lately that I can’t hear silence anymore, but instead, a silvery hum. I saw one pond, still and cold, in the morning before sunrise for two days in a row and it was a welcome pattern. I felt remote and small and unchanging.
I have been thinking a great deal about taxonomies and classification recently. Partly this is a result of my profession, but I have long been interested in structures of organization. Most recently, I found myself at a postcard fair where every set and descriptor was accompanied by groupings of images compiled and taken over the last fifty years. The ghost of Paul Otlet hovered, his pockets filled with plans for the Universal Decimal Classification, and all I could think to look for were images of light and trees.
And then I found myself a distance away contemplating ancient living things that were unfamiliar, the landscape strange to me. Certain specimens looked like paintings, or the residue of some forgotten image. Perhaps I am eclipsing my own ability to see new things.
While thinking about my own relationship to the world around me, I also thought about the many gradations of bark, moss, roots. A cypress or a mangrove stand? Nothing too profound crossed my mind, and I wished for nothing more.