The Force and Cookies
"In the old time” is how the story starts. The indigenous people of North America of the Algonquin tribe have a tale of three brothers who went hunting in early winter. They set out, found the trail of a bear and made chase. When you look to the north, there are circumpolar constellations visible at all times of the year. The simplest and most familiar to most of us is the Big Dipper. The three stars of the handle are the brother hunters, and the polygon of the dipper is the bear. The constant in the night sky since childhood for so many of us is this grouping of tiny lights, always there, every night. The two stars on the right side of the bear point to the North Star, Polaris. This star never moves. To quote Bill Shakespeare’s sonnet #116, "It is an ever fixed mark.” All things revolve around this one thing. By the way, the sonnet is about love, love as a constant.
Speaking of constants, what is the strongest thing in the universe? Electromagnetism? Stellar winds? Gravity? Nope. It’s a force known to physicists as the Strong Force. (Got to love the poetry in science---it’s strong and it’s a force. Boom.) It’s what binds two quarks together. (Quark is a word stolen from James Joyce’s novel Finnegan’s Wake, in case you were wondering.) The Strong Force is a fundamental law of nature that binds subatomic particles together to make things like protons and neutrons, which combine to make atoms and, therefore, EVERTHING. This force can inextricably bind together a whole family of disparate particles such as gluons, mesons, baryons, hadrons, uncles and cousins. If these particles are pulled apart, and the "distance” (about 10 to the negative 15 meters, which is a fentometer or about the width of a proton) increases, the force also increases, like a tiny but all-powerful rubber band. The Strong Force is 137 times stronger than magnetism and 10 with 38 zeros after it stronger than gravity. In fact, the Strong Force between two quarks is so powerful that they cannot exist alone; if two are forced apart, the massive energy required to separate them spontaneously creates new particles, new quarks, which are bound together. No "free” quarks exist, nor ever can. Law of the universe.
Here in Vermont in early winter people want to be home together. "Home is where the heart is” is a proverb so old and ubiquitous that no one seems to agree where is came from. Home is a sort of geography, but it is really where your people are: your partner, your kids, your true friends, your clan, your family. You can’t see The Strong Force, but you can see that smile from those who love you, your mom’s embrace, your sister’s knowing looks, your son’s strong arms. And you can’t beat the expression of bliss that your dog brings when you arrive home. The internet is jammed with the gyrations of a dog overjoyed to be with its humans, the dances, the zoomies, the happy cries of love made visible without the inhibitions of our complicated brains. Home is where that dance happens. Where cookies are baked. Where fires warm and lights are lit. Hugs nonstop, yes please.
With the holidays here and our hearts turning toward home, I think the science guys are only partly right. The true Strong Force is the magic string that binds us over time and distance to our families, to the ones we love. As the fundamental law states, distance can make it pull stronger. Love is the force. It is a constant of the universe. Take your time, my friends, to pull the strings snug.
If you look in the sky tonight and find the three brothers, look to the middle star, the middle one of the handle three. Look very closely and you will see two there. The larger we call Mizar; the smaller is Alcor. In the native story the little one is the dog along on the hunt, and his name is Hold Tight.
Warmth and peace to all my friends and all of yours, and may they overlap more as the days go by.
Big hugs through the solstice.
Fast, Slow, How Do You Know?
What does fast mean? Or slow? Seems like a terribly relative distinction. There is a freak of a star discovered in 1961 by Antoni Pryzbylski (say je-bel-skee, one of the all-time great names) with a still inexplicable elemental nuclear recipe that is "rapidly" rotating. Scientists this spring determined the speed to be one rotation every 188 years. (?!) As always, I’m trying to make sense of this in human terms; for instance, a major league fast ball is 100 mph, so a batter has about 400 milliseconds to decide what to do. Blinking takes between 300 and 400 milliseconds. Super fast. Almost two centuries to pirouette? Slacker star. Who calls that fast?
On Memorial Day this year, I was standing on the roof of Fenway Park with my buddy Wily who flies F-16s for the Vermont Air National Guard. We were up there because he was directing the flyover of planes at the end of the national anthem. As precisely as possible, the words "And the home of the brrraaavve…” conclude with the roaring of four Viper turbofan engines plowing through space. Since the jets are going five miles a minute, it’s a tricky dance, with Wily coordinating the song duration from rehearsal with the tower at Logan International Airport with the lead pilot Dan "Gump” Finnegan, who is doing "an east west bowtie hold" north of Hanscom Air Base.
So it’s a rhythm thing too. We average 60 to 100 heartbeats a minute. The national anthem from the last eight Super Bowls has averaged a minute and 56 seconds, which is about the time frame Wily was working with. If you are doing CPR, don’t sing "The Star Spangled Banner.” Sing "Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees. It’s the correct 103 beats per minute. "Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen is the same tempo. Just saying. Human hearts are fairly slow, but they do have a steady rhythm.
In October 1944, a professor set up an experiment in a lab in Dublin to demonstrate fluid dynamics using a funnel filled with asphalt that looks solid but is actually a very viscous fluid. It has dripped once is 69 years. The goop is two million times more viscous than honey. But hey, rhythm. Seriously boring rhythm. In human terms, no rhythm at all.
What holds all this together? "Man is the measure of all things,” according to the smart guy Protagoras from 2,400 years ago. Stars spin. Bees making that honey have wings beating 230 times a second. Wily and his pals stroll through the atmosphere at speeds over Mach 2 when they are off leash. That's humans doing 1500 mph. I hit 57 once on my bike and it felt like Mach 2. My fast is his pokey. Those fastballs are unhittable unless you are Mookie Betts. Phish sang the national anthem once a cappella in a minute and 37 seconds. Radical relativism is the catch phrase, so let’s just agree: it’s not the tempo but the funky rhythm. It’s not the speed; it’s the heartbeat. Timing is everything. Make your entrance at the proper moment, especially if your ride is a jet. Turn before the tree. Don’t miss that wave. Keep breathing.
But then there is azure and cerulean, the color of the sky in Colorado. Blue jeans. Indigo. Picasso had a blue period. Lapis lazuli is the blue stone crushed and inlaid with gold in the tombs of the pharaohs to remain fiercely brilliant for millennia. In 2009, chemists in a lab discovered, completely by mistake, a blue pigment made by superheating the elements yttrium, indium and manganese. This new color is arguably the first synthetic blue pigment invented since cobalt blue in 1802 and was subsequently brought to the public by Crayola with a crayon named in an open competition. After 90,000 submissions they settled on Bluetiful. (Haven't we learned by now not to let the public decide things?! Hello, Boaty McBoatface, elections....) This new compound absorbs red and green light waves for a vivid and durable peacock blue.
Who's Got the Blues?
Speaking of light, and wings, when I was a kid around five, my grandmother had a plate on the wall of the room where my brothers and I slept made of butterfly wings under glass. Aside from the terrifying clown portrait, it was the most amazing thing in her entire house. It was electric blue, almost radiant, lighted magically from within. As an adult, I learned the color of the Blue Morpheus wings was a result of lightwave interference as opposed to an actual pigment in the bug. Check out this link for a bowl I made of anodized titanium around 20 years ago that was exhibited in the Hood Museum at Dartmouth College.
The anodizing process creates a layer of clear oxide on the metal surface that is only millionths of an inch thick. Light bounces off the surface of the metal AND the surface of the oxide to cause wavelength interference, cancelling other colors and letting the blue shine. When one views from the side, the oxide layer is just infinitesimally thicker and hence, purple. The latest science news is about "Quantum Blue," but that is all nano-particles and complicated, and we can deal with it when it makes it into a crayon.
Why does anyone sing the blues, if it's all about misery? How could this art form exist? Books have been written to explain this, but I'm going to use Wile E. Coyote instead. Life, like the Road Runner, is fast, relentless and it never stops. You cannot win the race that makes us worm food.Wile E. Coyote is our existential hero. He never wins. He never, ever, catches that bird. But, regardless, he tries every freaking episode. No matter how bad the blues can be, there is the voice and the guitar, Wile E. with his rockets and springs and anvil, Stevie Ray and Derek Trucks playing their hearts out. Texas Flood, Blak and Blu. Statesboro Blues. The blues is the sound of spirit over odds, defiance over the inevitable. Life is full of tragedy. Even kings die. B. B. King is gone. Floods come. Fires too. Partners leave. The tests are bad.
But midnight blue and the robin's egg blue of morning are not so far apart. Dusk. Deep blues. Dawn. Acoustic blues are good early in the day--Michael Hedges, Tommy Emanuel's version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." "Blues Power," by Eric Clapton told me forty years ago that "I got the boogie woogies in my very soul..." And I have come to believe him. B. B. King is gone, but have a serious listen to a twenty-two year-old Marcus King. He is the real deal. As a singer, as a song writer, he can explain Wile E. Coyote in the context of love and life and a flamethrower guitar solo.The notion that these two blues legends each have the last name King should tell us something. Royal Blues...
John Mayer sings,
"Joni wrote Blue in her house by the sea,
I gotta believe there's another color waiting on me...
To set me free."
"There's no way to delay that trouble coming every day..." sang Baltimore's brilliant son. Sorrow and pain are part of destiny, but we have Miles' "Kind of Blue," and "All Blues." We have "Stella Blue." "Drifting Blues."We have "Blue Sky," which will ALWAYS lift. We have bluebirds. We have blueberries. Yves Klein. Blue eyes, which, by the way, have no actual blue in them. It's all light scattering, like my job. Deep blue sea and the dusty powder blues of the distant Adirondacks at sunset. James Turrell. The sparkle song of a hermit thrush soloing in the woods.And, naturally, light with a dominant wavelength between 450 and 495 nanometers...
That should cheer up anybody.
Peace out all you humans,
Don't be blue, unless you want to. Then be ultramarine...
P.S. Dear friends, and by this I mean those who take the time to read these musings about life and stars and dogs and weeds... I'm not trying to win the day or convert your religion. We are all off the cliff, airborne, waiting to hit the bottom of the canyon with a boulder or anvil following us down. This is precisely why we need love, levity, tricky art and fine music. Without these it's a simple math formula of time, velocity and gravity. "Gravity is working against me, and gravity wants to bring me down..." That's either Sisyphus, Wile E. or John Mayer and the last one has the best voice, I'm sure.
Greeting astute humans,
Three weeks ago I was in the studio late and came outside to a moonless, dark night. Stars were bright. I drove a couple blocks to the lakeshore and a spot I know with no street lamps next to the Burlington Surf Club, one of our magical paradoxes in Vermont--a surf club... I laid back on a huge towel in the grass (sans ticks, i hope) to watch the peak of the Perseid meteor shower. August 11th. Acclimate the eyes. Relax. As always, it's a bit anticlimactic for those of us who love movies with the God of Thunder holding fast in the searing torrent of a dying star's energy blast...
Zip. A momentary streak of white light. A minute later--zip--white line in the blackness over the lake. Silent. Ephemeral.
In 1968, the Grateful Dead released a two-and-a-half minute song as a single that sold around 500 copies. In concert, this song, named "Dark Star," became the de facto anthem of the band's psychedelic journey. Many concert versions of the song i lasted up to a half hour; they played it in Rotterdam for over 48 minutes. Then the band stopped playing it for four years. It appeared on New Year's Eve in 1978 and then disappeared. In the following eight years, they played it once. Ultimately, it returned as a staple, and myriad live recordings preserve the special auditory dance that defines the "Dark Star."
After a few streaking meteors, I thought about the difference in the light I was witnessing. Old light, the specks of twinkling white I perceived, were photons generated millions - tens of millions - of years ago. Hundreds of millions of years... The dying dust incandescence of a meteor was new light. Fresh. Instantaneous. Just created. Old, constant. New, a flash... Poetic. For me, a juxtaposition sublime.
Then, I rolled up the towel. Hopped in my car. Flipped on the headlights. New light!! HA! What a crock. I'm making new light all the time. Snap.
Right there, I was hit with the the definition of poetry. We make the distinctions. Our sensitivity and our spin are what frames all of this reality into moments of beauty. That is us. It's what we do. Dark night, white light. Frame it. Delight.
The Dead sing,
"Dark star flashes, pouring its light into ashes...
...Shall we go, you and I while we can,
through the transitive nightfall
Yes we can. It's all we get. Good thing it's made of diamonds...
Peace and love ya'll.
Light Wobbles and Evil Weeds
EXPRESSO is an instrument designed in 2013 and first tested in 2016. As the most sensitive spectrograph ever built, it is engineered to study the tiny wobble in starlight, the minute changes in color caused by gravity, which are created by the orbit of a rocky exo-planet. We are looking for other Earths billions of miles away. It's funded in part by Netflix in the hopes of finding the successor to "Friends" and "Game of Thrones." Nope, sorry, made that last part up.
Light. Tricky stuff. Along the roadsides in Vermont right now is an invasive weed related to the infamous Giant Hogweed, called Wild Parsnip, which can cause phytophotodermatitis. Its sap, the oils on the plant, can get on your skin and when exposed to UV or sunlight will cause second-degree burns. The scars can last for years... Who designed that plant? In 2017, the EU created the Giant Alien Fund to combat the spread of this wicked weed, whose evil had been forewarned by the British band Genesis in 1971 with their song "Return of the Giant Hogweed." Nobody ever listens to prog rockers...
As you know, the sky is blue because that end of the visible spectrum has a shorter wavelength than the red end so blue is scattered more by the molecules that make up air, primarily oxygen and nitrogen. Longer wavelengths pass through, which explains why the sun and the moon near the horizon appear more red. The direct light of the sun has to pass through much more of the atmosphere at the low angle of day's end, and hence, more blue scattering. Also, the dust and water vapor and pollen and smoke allow the longer wavelength red light to pass more easily. We all know this, but the magic of spectral analysis is studying the specific frequencies or lines that are being absorbed. With this analysis we can determine what is in the atmosphere of an exo-planet-- exactly what elements are present and in what ratios and concentrations. We do these because we are fundamentally curious animals. Oh, and by the way, we can determine if it might be habitable for us humans, once we are through destroying our current planet. Or not. It's up to us. Current studies show plants and animals moving away from the equator fifteen feet per day...
This summer in Vermont has been the most superlative I can remember for sunset watching. Nothing like a daily binge on a non-TV channel with no content--no characters, no plots, no ads.... Just light, water vapor, billowy white up high, then mauve, purples, gold... Watching over a plane of shimmering H2O helps quite a bit.
While the smart humans and their instruments are analyzing the spectrum of planet HD2O945AB, an exo-planet kind of like Jupiter, billions of miles away, I'll be here with all you guys taking notes on these summer evenings of waves and wavelengths, gleams and sparkles.
Has to be art in there somewhere... Better get back to polishing...
Avoid the flowering roadside monsters. Pay attention in the twilight.
Pink and Green, Same Same
Recently, I was down at the Battery in NYC and looking across the water at the Statue of Liberty. Back in the '80s, during the restoration work for the centennial celebration of the Statue, I read all about the crazy engineering of this massive sculpture. It's 305' 6" from the base to the tip of the flame. 100 tons of copper panels held with 300,000 rivets are attached to a wrought iron frame with no contact between these dissimilar metals. Copper touching iron in salt air would disintegrate the iron rapidly through the ion flow from galvanic reactivity. A giant self-destructing battery was not the idea. The restoration engineers marveled at the builders’ architectural stratagems, but wondered why such primitive iron - chock full of impurities with a strangely high carbon content - was used, only to realize eventually that the impurities prevented cracks from propagating. Blazing sun, expansion, snow, wind, ice, lightning, salt, fog... Yep, ready for all that. Gustave Eiffel helped design her before he became famous.
Looking at "Lady Liberty Enlightening the World" - the actual name of the artwork - sent me back to my little infinite library to look up "Hyperion". Not the god, not the moon of Saturn. At 380 feet tall and 600 to 800-years-old, Hyperion is the tallest living thing on earth. Lady Liberty is huge out there in the harbor, but there is a coastal redwood "hidden" on a steep hillside in northern California. The size of a thirty-story building, its actual location is kept secret for its own safety, but, in truth (excepting Man and his tools, of course), these life forms are nearly invulnerable: foot-thick bark; pink heartwood impervious to insect predation; and, even when all the limbs are consumed by fire, the tree will sprout new growth. Hyperion is young and still growing. The normal lifespan of these monsters is up to 2,200 years. Sheer size is helpful too--up to 30% of its moisture needs comes from fog, harvested by the leaves and limbs of these living, literal skyscrapers.
In 2017, someone paid 71.2 million dollars for a rock that weighs about four-tenths of an ounce. It was dug out of the ground in 1999 in Africa and, after two years of study, was cut from 132.5 raw carats into The Pink Star. It's now a 59.5 carat oval and is technically a "mixed cut Fancy Vivid Pink Internally Flawless Diamond".
So, what’s the thread? Giant art. Monster living organism. Tiny sparkly rock. Green. Green (and brown). Pink. Big. Bigger. Pipsqueak. Well, it's #6 on the Chart. Carbon. The high carbon content in the big lady’s iron was intentional and primitive and brilliant. Most of the armatures lasted 100 years, only to be replaced with 316L stainless steel, the exact material I use to push light around. The "L" stands for low carbon. The ancient redwood forest stores more carbon dioxide per acre than any other forest on the planet, including the tropical rainforest, with 1,000 metric tons per acre, double the rate of most forestlands. And, of course, the most concentrated form of pure carbon is a diamond. Impurities like boron make a diamond blue, nitrogen makes a diamond yellow, but pink is thought to be not from impurities, but a specific crystalline lattice structure that simply absorbs green light, therefore reflecting a pink hue. Pure. Purist. So, carbon impurities, good. Carbon capture, really good. Pure carbon, lovely.
Where do WE come into the discussion? Take away the water in my body and I am more carbon than the next element by a factor of ten. I am way, way mostly carbon. The point here is diversity--a single element is all of the above goodness, and in the manifestation of 160-pound me, self aware, creative, arguably the most complex carbon assemblage we will ever know. (Personally, I am not that complicated. But, you know, US, together, all together). One atomic bit can take all these forms. Me and the tree, Lady Liberty and the Pink Star. I like this club. A lot. Art. Plant. Rock. Animal. Diversity is pretty magical when you peer into it--one thing, many forms.
Thanks for following along my friends. Summer is here and time for big Art visits and trees and as much sparkle as possible.
Moving Air, Moving Art
Often it is easy to overlook the thing that is glaring and large, the obvious can get overshadowed by the details...
In the news this week was the UK running entirely on wind energy for five and a half hours. Denmark has operated for days on wind power alone, as has Portugal. In California, scientists have modeled a solar and wind grid for our country. Their calculations consider that wind is intermittent and solar is well, naturally, doing nothing at night. If we had twelve hours of energy storage capacity, we could be 80% sufficient, and with three weeks of battery storage we could be 100% renewably powered. Buy stock in battery makers...
But this is not the point of my missive. The point is that sometimes we need to state the obvious to truly comprehend the whole picture. When comparing wind power to coal or natural gas generating plants, it is easy to overlook the obvious. Build a fossil fuel facility or a wind turbine? Well, with one of these you never need to buy fuel. Let that sink in.
So, what does this have to do with art? On the right hand, nothing. It's just my way of saving the planet via enlightenment. On the left brain, stating the obvious about art is that it IS and stays being Art. The obvious is that art stays. Bach, Shakespeare, Cézanne... Always right THERE, dancing its little dance, humming its little hum... Actually, Bach in a cathedral with a pipe organ...
But you get the drift. Our lives are awash in flitting images and sounds -- flashing screens, endless words assimilated and replaced moment to moment. Art endures. Great art has tenacity and endurance, permanent awe attached. I am stating the obvious. Yep. But then again, it doesn't need any fuel either.
Pointy Wings and Flying Economy
A frigate is a fast warship. It's also the name of a bird that I have noticed in Florida flying extremely high and never seeming to flap its wings. I stared at one for a while and concluded that it must be some kid's kite just sitting there all geometric angles and solid black. After a little homework, I identified that living kite as a Magnificent Frigate Bird, separate from its other pals, the Great, the Christmas, the Ascension and the Lesser Frigate Birds. Fabulous naming work. Ornithology crosses into poetry at some point. It's also called a Pirate Bird for reasons I will get to.
This is one of nature's architectural masterpieces. It's a sublime point of evolution, a simple silhouette of precision aerodynamics. Although its body is over four feet long and has a seven and a half foot wingspan(!), its bones weigh only four ounces and are hollow. They are half the weight of its feathers. One-fifth of its body is devoted to a complex respiratory system that flows through its bones for cooling. This creates the largest wing area to body weight ratio ever recorded. Satellite tracking followed one bird aloft over the Indian Ocean for two months straight! They have been documented at two and a half miles up, and one was recorded gliding forty miles without flapping its wings.
Magically above, hollow, effortlessly soaring, it lacks the correct anatomy to waterproof its wings so it cannot land on water. Huge sodden wings could drown it. It loves flying fish, thermals, and billowing cumulous clouds. A gliding marauder, it practices kleptoparasitism by harassing smaller flying birds until they disgorge their last meal, which the Frigate Bird snatches from the air. It's the Pirate Bird for this reason. It doesn't swim. It can hardly walk. Its bill is hooked. Its tail is forked for maneuverability, although from the ground that is not apparent. All black with a metallic green or purple gloss, the male has a bright red throat sac only visible during mating season. It is global, soaring the trade winds.
Locally, wouldn't it be nice to flap just once every six minutes to stay on course? But, we don't. We run around like our hair is on fire. Our hearts beat around 115,000 times a day. Those little Chickadees that just showed up in the yard and are making a total racket have heart rates around 2,000 beats a minute or 2,880,000 beats a day. My bones weigh around twenty four pounds. The Chickadee's little spherical body weighs a total of about four-tenths of an ounce and they never fly far. So, what is the point?
Art. As usual, is the point. We hairless apes balance between the languorous and the speedy, the wanderers and the homebodies. We can't soar, but we can make symphonies. We know too much about too much, but have the capacity for delight. Our super power is creation. All things reproduce, but we alone see, feel, and interpret.
On that note, spring is here my friends. Time to open some windows and let the fresh air in. As always, there is art apparent--thoughts and hands and tools and insights push light around for specific effects. That's the best. That's what makes us special creatures - it's our invisible wings.
Love love my friends,
Please share these thoughts wide and far,
Bruce R. MacDonald
P.S. Last week I drove through West Yellowstone and saw a bald eagle standing on a rock in the middle of a nearly frozen stream. It was fishing patiently. Just standing there waiting for the right moment, the right fish...
* Here is the Extra Pointy 2.0
You know, I won't ask you to reread this all over again. But just substitute the initials FB for the Frigate Bird. Reading along, la la la. Facebook practices kleptoparasitism.... On high, hollow. Opaque. Lovely. Futuristic. Hooked Bill. Invisible forked Tail.
Maybe I/we need to stop reading about that stuff on the news feed and pay more attention to the backyard and actual open windows. Birdsongs from the woods rather than the Merlin app. Staring into the depth of the sky instead of the lovely new OLED screen...
We balance when we are balancing in the balance. Originally from Latin, "balance" literally is the use of scales, keeping both sides even. For every virtual an actual. My artwork hovers in this interstitial--you can see the computer image but the thing itself is irreproducible. My art exists, in its essence, only in real life. You cannot experience it without wandering about in front of it. No video can do what your two eyes can do. The wiring from eyes to brain is miraculously precise in orienting space and light, reflection and depth, refraction and motion. To truly "see" my art requires your presence. It's a curse that I accept. It's like making a CD with only half the notes available every time I post an image.
So, come to a show. Stop by my gallery. Take a walk. Ski really fast. Balance.
Houston, we have a pair of slippers...
There's a crack in my windshield right now that is in the worst possible place--in the middle, crawling up from the lower left to be directly in my line of sight. Really?! Right there? Anywhere else and I could probably get through snow plow and sanding season. Nope, right smack in my line of sight... Cracked vision.
In 1900, L. Frank Baum was writing a book about a magical land of bizarre creatures, talking animals, monkeys with wings, witches, a man made of metal. On his filing cabinet was a label: "O-Z". Thanks to the movie made in 1939, we all know how that adventure turned out. A hundred and forty years prior, Voltaire wrote an insane bit of literature that was banned soon after publication, yet became a best seller. Translated into thirteen languages, the tale mocked government, religion, wealth, medicine, academics, travel, sexual mores, and fundamentally, the spirit of optimism. Our hero's mentor repeatedly stated, "It's the best of all possible worlds." In junior high, I discussed this book with my father, who explained to me the double-edged sword of this statement. "...best of all possible" sounded at once wonderful and depressing. This IS what we get. Yep, it's the best, couldn't be any better. Sounds like the heart of the blues to me... without the guitar solo.
Turritopsis Dohrnii is a jellyfish from the Mediterranean and the Sea of Japan that has the capability to undergo cellular transdifferentiation. This means its cells can change from one to another--a nerve cell can become a skin cell--in a process considered the holy grail of medicine. Human stem cells have this potential as well. Scientists discovered that they can take a mature Turritopsis and stress it--poke it with needles, make it really cold--and it will revert back to a polyp, a baby, and then grow back into an adult. As far as we know, it is unique in the animal kingdom in its capacity to reverse its biotic cycle. Life, stress, revert to a previous form, regrow to maturity. Repeat endlessly. No other critters can do this. (Then again we humans have the power of writing things down). One of my brothers has told me over and over that stress is the point of growth. Ask anyone training for the Olympics...
Whack. Stress to fracture. Crack my field of vision. Shatter the worldview. And now, regrow. Colonists left the oppression to start the New World. The status quo is shattering behind the force of #MeToo. Solar and wind are destroying the global system of energy production; ask anyone in Colorado or Australia or Sweden. The cyclone comes to carry away Dorothy, Puerto Rico, Houston... Voltaire's hero, Candide, a bastard born to wealth, suffers and falls, loses his family, loses his true love, finds treasure, loses it, loses his mentor, his country. The story ends with a reunification and his family "tending their garden," -- the highest moral good in Voltaire's lacerating parable of redemption. (Come to think of it, there were monkeys in that story too; and a storm and a tsunami and an earthquake and a wildfire and a shipwreck). The Immortal Jellyfish is real. The ruby slippers work. Sometimes the windshield has to be replaced immediately.
And finally, "If the world were perfect, it wouldn't be." That's Yogi Berra--catcher, coach, philosopher, five foot seven inch giant of a man, lifetime batting average of only .285 but he holds more World Series rings than anyone else.
The word for this week is "apricity." It means the warmth of the sun in winter. We all need some of that.
May the apricity find your face. Keep the jets clean and the fires stoked. There is Beauty looking for you.
Let's start with Peace. And Love. And warmth on the longest night of the year. That is tonight.
But let's not talk about the darkness, because tomorrow is the beginning of the light getting longer and brighter.
Something happened in October that has never happened before. Ever. We saw something in the sky that is not about us in any way. It was as foreign as a thing could ever be. Astronomers in Hawaii saw in the sky a reddish, pinkish object screaming along at 37 miles a second. It was a quarter mile long and about eighty yards in diameter, shaped like a hoagie, or a submarine. It brightened and dimmed, so it must be tumbling slowly. Its trajectory was such that it sailed inside the orbit of Mercury, around the sun, and is now slingshot up to 55 miles per second and is headed back into deep space, leaving our elliptic out past Jupiter. Whatever. Comets do that all the time...
But, this is no comet. Comets are dirty snowballs spewing debris and gases and ice as they cruise their long parabola around the sun and away. And then back again later. Often much much much later. That is what they do. This, however, is doing a profoundly different dance. This thing is not bound by our sun. Its trajectory is hyperbolic, meaning it came from outside our sun's pull and accelerated off in a direction different from the one it came from. We will never see this again.
The Hawaiian scientists named this object "Oumuamua" (Oh-moo-a-moo-a). (Say that four times and you realize that it's the start of a song, pretty sure.) What makes it so special is that it is the first "interstellar" object ever witnessed. Every "thing" we have ever seen is part of our solar system--it belongs to our sun. It is one of our dance partners that twirls around in our magical gravitational neighborhood waltz. Oumuamua is from another star, hurtling along independent of us. It's here. Aloha. (I love that this word means hello and goodbye).
So what does this "mean"? Nothing but what we impart. Space dust doesn't "mean" anything. But, what could it mean? The name, Oumuamua, means "scout" or "messenger." What might be the message? Why now?
Well, in my tiny and infinite universe, it is the metaphor for different. This red rock pickle from deep space is here to remind us that change happens. Anything is possible. The message is "paradigm shift". Wake up and recognize the temporality of everything. Hello people of Earth. Bet you didn't expect this. Surprise! And now everything is different. Time to think differently. Maybe someday one of these will have beings on board and will we be proud of our planet, our home, our neighbors, our warmth, our humanity? Oumuamua is the shot across the bow of our cruise ship.
So my friends, happy dark-change-to-light, happy solstice. Merry Merry. Now is a good time to love each other with all our hearts. Now is a good time to make change our path. Oumuamua is the signal, methinks. Why shouldn't it be? Peace on earth sounds good right about now.
Aloha and massive hugs,
May 2018 truly be a new year...
Bruce R. MacDonald
Hot Soup, Gold and the Kiss of Creation
Let's start with Einstein, smartest guy I never met. In 1916, he surmised that since space time was bendy, ("relative" is the term he liked) then there could be waves, like surf. Ripples in space time. Exactly 100 years later, in February of 2016, the LIGO, Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory, detected a ripple caused by the merger of two black holes. The LIGO has two "light storage" arms set at right angles that are each 2.5 miles long. These are not like my "light storage"--a kitchen drawer with flashlights, bulbs and batteries. These are beams of a laser in a vacuum tube that through mirror trickery increase the effective length of the light beams to 696 miles. In essence, these brilliant scientists have a rod that long and they are looking for it to stretch the distance of 10 to the negative 18 meters, or roughly the size of one thousandth of the diameter of a proton. (Pretty weensy change, methinks. There is some serious math at work there). If they see that, and they did, this proves that Einstein was again correct and there is such a thing as a gravitational wave. Space time is indeed flexible. Things can go boom with enough force that a billion miles away space time ripples get to Earth. Imagine what is happening in that neighborhood! To imagine we need a DRFPMI. (Look it up). (Or not, if you are not into Noisebudget, Squeezed Film Dampening, Substrate Brownian, Parametric Instabilities or FINESSE. These are the poetics of quantum physics AND excellent band names....)
Last week scientists had a bonanza. LIGO and a sister instrument detected a ripple and told all the astronomers where to look. A gamma ray detector in orbit pinged confirmation two seconds later and all the major telescopes, around 70, on earth pointed at the same tiny spot of the cosmos. Even Hubble dialed in.
When black holes merge there is nothing to see--all radiation, gamma rays, X-rays, all light frequencies are eaten up by the all powerful gravity. KA BOOM with no evidence excepting the teeniest stretch of the LIGO beam.
Neutron stars are old suns that run out of fuel and collapse into the densest stuff we can still see--a teaspoon full has the mass of Mt Everest. Our sun would turn into a ball of magnetic flux 12 miles in diameter. (You guys all know it is around 864,300 miles in diameter. Right. Check.) Only 130 million light years away from us, (also check, a light year is 5.88 trillion miles) two neutron stars that were locked into a gravitational twirl finally got close enough for their first and last cataclysmic kiss. The resulting "kilonova," (new word y'all, spread that around), mashed protons and neutrons in a furious bath of radiation creating ALL the primordial elements heavier than iron. The debris field from these two 12 mile balls colliding is the size of our solar system. 40 to 100 times the mass of the earth of gold was created instantly. 10 to 30 times the earth's mass of platinum and uranium just appeared out of the atomic stew to be strewn across millions of miles of space.
I highly recommend checking out the animated renderings of all this that you can find on the interwebs. Cataclysmic events are best when you have a cartoon to go by. Once again the tiniest and the most massively unfathomable things are linked, and human beings with insanely sophisticated quantitative tools are marveling at our natural surroundings. There is poetry in the science, and metaphor too. What are children but the golden offspring of two super dense objects getting too close? If we are anything, we are precious and know it. If we are anything, it is a pair of eyes looking for nuance. Tiny ripples that prove we are here and watching. Tiny wavelets across the emptiness... light wiggling, sparks...
Surf the waves everyday, my friends. As my buddy Larry says, "Everyday is a gift. That is why we call it the present."
Come visit the latest playing with light and shapes at SO FA Chicago 2017 this weekend, November 2-5, at Navy Pier.
We are stretching and bending and refracting and reflecting and hanging about looking for the next kaboom...
Venus, Vesuvius and James T. Kirk
"Fortune favors the bold." Apply this quote from Pliny the Elder to Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, or Barack Obama. Go do what no one has done before! Ferdinand Magellan left Seville, Spain in 1519 with five ships and 270 men to circumnavigate the globe. He sailed through the Straits of Magellan (crazy coincidence there), named the Pacific Ocean because it was so calm, and died two years later halfway through the voyage in the Philippines, named for King Phillip the Second of Spain. Mutiny, cannibalism, ship immolation...the usual.
In 1989, NASA sent a spaceship named "Magellan" to radar map the surface of Venus. The craft weighed just over a ton, had the same wattage as a hair dryer and was mostly spare parts from other missions. Its data storage was two tape recorders with the storage capacity of my iPhone. In two years, it mapped 98% of the surface of Venus and showed us clearly that Venus is all about volcanoes and lava flows. Nothing like Earth. Nothing like Mars, or Saturn or Jupiter (all names of important guys). It was the first, and still the best, imagery, or atlas, (another important guy) of our brightest planetary neighbor. Its mission complete, Magellan disintegrated in the atmosphere, but some smart guys with degrees believe there is a bit of wreckage left on the surface. Space trash, possibly with a "Made in the USA" somewhere....
The explorer, the human one, chronicled two small smudges of light in the dark, ocean nights of the Southern Hemisphere. These were dubbed the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. We now know these to be two relatively close dwarf galaxies. Back then there were no telescopes to discern their stellar componentry, so they were thought to be clouds--space clouds.
"To boldly go where no man has gone before" is the tag line of a TV show from 1966 that "failed" after only three seasons. Pliny the Elder, an early bold human took a ship over the horizon to find out what a strange cloud was all about. He died from asphyxiation in the toxic fumes from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius which was busy burying Pompeii in hot gravel and ash--airborne lava.
So what of the "boldly going" idea? Will it lead to certain death? Everything leads to certain death. But the bold get things named for them: The Bering Sea, Washington, America, Buddhism... The bold make history. History is the stuff in legends and books that explains who we are and how we got here and where we should boldly go tomorrow. Einstein, Rosa Parks, Jackson Pollock, Leonardo Da Vinci, Madame Curie. They all headed into uncharted waters and shaped humanity. Volcanoes were named for Vulcan, the god of fire and forging, the god of making things, and Spock's home planet was Vulcan, so we come full circle once again. By the way, there is a beer named Pliny the Elder. Live long and prosper. And look out for weird clouds. Especially twirly ones.
And, of the 270 sailors, 18 made it home four years later.
P.S. And typical of the strange loops in life, I paused on a bike ride yesterday afternoon with my bro to get water and looked up to see a sign that read, "Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve." Yep. Vulcan.
Boo and the Bang and the Meaning of What
In 2013 a rock the size of a house wandering through space at a random but not atypical velocity of 40,000 mph entered Earth's atmosphere over Chelyabinsk, Russia. It exploded, colliding with the air around 18 miles up, releasing the equivalent of 30 times the energy of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb.
When I was four my mom brought home two kittens and let me name them. Logically, I named them Boo and Whack and gave Whack to my brother. How do I know this? I remember it. Based on the number of neurons in the brain, around 100 billion, times the number of possible connections made by each neuron to its neighbors, we have a number estimated to be 10 to the one millionth power. Just to put this in some realm of a context--the total of all the atoms in the universe is about 10 to the eightieth power. Can anybody out there explain to me how those cats still exist amidst the near infinity of possibilities in my little head?
So, the universe has total randomness--dust, supernovae, black holes colliding in galactic centers... Our brain, all three pounds of it, makes sense of that stuff, and pets, with an absurd precision in a near infinite matrix of order and bio-processing. We exist with pure randomness everyday, rocks wandering through the cosmos or a chipmunk running in front of your bicycle; AND we have clear memories and exacting calculations of mass and velocity and Whack all going on at the same time. The fleeting nature of thoughts, of life itself, is a reason I make art. I want there to be a standing wave of a beautiful object. I want to have tangible things a part of your lives that are strange but familiar, magical but parts of home. Time flies. Art endures. Metaphorical bunnies run in front of us constantly...
Wallace Stevens once wrote, "Death is the mother of beauty." I would like to think the heart of his thought is our ability to see and feel and remember and then divide by our finite hours to find the answer of what truly matters. We are living in true randomness. Finding meaning is our duty and our privilege.
The Last Snowflake
In 2012, I made a four foot by eight foot snowflake named "Bentley," for Snowflake Bentley, the Vermont gentleman who, beginning in 1885, made over 5,000 precise photographs of the tiny, crystalline wonders we call snow. Recent research estimates (roughly) that the number of snowflakes that have fallen on earth to be sort of around the number 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 give or take. Approximately.
In the last five years I have made and sold fifteen snowflakes, all different, naturally, and now we come to the last one. Sixteen seems like a nice round number, (although my father used to say that about seven, but that's another story). Bugatti made seven Royales, only six survive. Brancusi made sixteen "Bird in Space." Bach wrote six Brandenburg Concerti. Number sixteen is the end of this series. The notion that they are all different by definition is appealing; I could go on with these the rest of my life. But I think it best to pick a point and call it the ultimate. Cal Ripken, Jr played baseball for the Baltimore Orioles for 21 years, along the way breaking the record held by Lou Gehrig, "The Iron Man," of 2,130 consecutive games played, a record that stood for 56 years that most writers considered unbreakable. When Ripken got to 2,632, he just stopped. That's it. Moving on...
Conceptually, the notion of "The Last Snowflake" speaks to our times. Could be the end of an era. The last Samurai. The last Tasmanian Tiger. Climate change. The last polar bear? The end of snowing... Mais où sont les neiges d'antan?
I have been calling this final one, "#16," the notion being that in the practically infinite number of them, one would have to be #16. This one is it! But, since all the previous have names, I have decided to call this one, "Scheherazade." She is the legendary story teller, the woman who prolonged her life by reciting great adventures, legends and myths. Every night was a new delight and always an open-ended tale that needed another night to complete... And thus she was spared beheading for 1,001 nights until the king fell in love with her and made her his queen. Seems like a fitting name for the final Snowflake. Scheherazade will not melt. She will not fade. The final snowflake stays frozen forever. The sparkling will outlast us all. And, it is a great word to say over and over...
Here is another one to add to your collection or to start your light sculpture addiction. "Warren" is $4,400 in the gallery, but for the tribe, it is $3,200 until 5/23/17.
The word "warren" comes from a Germanic word for "protection." Most people tend to think of a warren as a place where rabbits abound, not the old meaning-- a place for safety, where your group survives the vicissitudes of life.
Who wants to live a long time? Human lifespan has increased thirty years in the last century. Jeanne Calment (root word in French--"calme"), lived to be 122 1/2. She rode a bike until she was 100 and reportedly ate a kilogram of chocolate a week, which works out to over five ounces a day! On the other hand, the Greenland shark has a lifespan up to 500 years but is mostly a scavenger--rotting meat is a fav, particularly fish of course. None own bicycles, and they swim very, very slowly, less than a mile an hour. Calm fish. The oldest animals seem to be clams (just a two letter shuffle from "calm"), and they have never seen chocolate or bikes (no eyes) and really just spend their lives buried in sand. Super calm clams. No swimming. No riding. Just hiding out. Like rabbits in their warrens.
So, protective behaviors? Neil Young (see how the name works here?) said, "It's better to burn out than to fade away," but he is still making killer music with young dudes. I bet he has a warren.
All best, my friends,
Awake Spring Peepers,
"Time Turbine" is $4,400 in the gallery, but for you people who know me and read these notes, it is $3,200 until 5/16/17.
We know that time is relative. Albert says so and he knows way more than we do. That's why your map's blinking blue dot on your phone is corrected for the bending of space time by the mass of the earth AND the fact that the satellites figuring GPS are closer to light speed than you are. (Regardless of how fast you drove to work this morning). Without this math correction, that blue spot would be 10 kilometers off and 10 more tomorrow and 10 more...
But, we all know that. What you don't know is that there is a "spot" in space a billion light years in diameter called the Eridanus Supervoid. Nothing is going on there. Nothing. Cold. Vacuum. No explanation for that. Likely the aliens' DMV...
Less than half a mile from my house I have seen a pair of peregrine falcons sorting out a nesting spot on a cliff that drops into the water. We all know these are the fastest animals (180 mph), but they are relatively small birds and though handsome with the black and white chest striping, they are kind of unassuming. Loud when I paddled by but, otherwise, much more discrete than the ravens and turkey vultures in the neighborhood.
Listen to Miles Davis, "Freddy the Freeloader." In the first two notes, you know the song that is coming. Simple and relaxed. It is totally singular. Doesn't need to smack you. Brilliance often doesn't. But it's there and it's waiting for you, every time. Right there.
So, there is the mind-bending conceptual mathematics we know and accept, but can't do. There is the unfathomable stuff we are told. Massive and utterly invisible. Fun to think about. There is the stuff in the yard that is superlative and RIGHT HERE. A falcon and the blues, quiet, unassuming, but the best there is, and, completely accessible.
That is what I do, my friends. The paragraph above sums up "Time Turbine." No one does what I do. Nobody. It's massive and intimate. It's the universe, the ineffable. and it hangs in your dining room. It's always fresh, and a constant. It presents a bit of the light dance all around us, but with style, with intention. Complications like a time piece...
Everything is Visible, Last Dibs!
It's The End. Or, at least, the Last Ones. Well, for now, and possibly for a long time. Hell, scientists may never again manage to bash atoms together and and have them stick to make a new Element. If you read science fiction or watch the movies I love, there will be magical new substances that change the nature of our lives. Travel across space, maybe time travel, maybe... Instant miniature batteries. Nano robots that pick the lint from your shoulder, or pancreas. Pills instead of ninth grade... But these things may very well all be built from the basic blocks that we have today. Besides, finding one more Element will make a periodic chart with a dangly-down, embarrassing thingy. Today's symmetry is kind of sublime.
So, here we are. This is the end of the Visible Indivisibles project. I have completed 118 squares of metal to represent every Element. They are all alloy 316L stainless steel panels excepting three--Copper and Titanium, which are their respective Elements. Gold is 24K gold plate over brass, an alloy of Zinc and Copper. Only two were made by deforming the surface mechanically--Titanium and Gallium, and they weirdly were bought by the same guy on different occasions. One other panel is slightly deformed, and the buyer doesn't even know or know why, but that's the sort of stuff you will need to read in the book. There are lots of intriguing nuggets hidden in the process--one gentleman owns the two radioactive ones below Lead. There is a panel with a frog and one with a light bulb, life and death, and perseverance and inspiration, respectively. There is the dead mouse next to the open can, next to the active poison in Loco Weed, next to the poison that likely killed Mozart... Don't get me started.
And mashed into this entire program is all the art history you can stand. The Visible Indivisibles project is a compendium of Cubism, Minimalism, Futurism, cave paintings, black boards, graffiti, Sol LeWitt, Lichtenstein, Miro, Twombly, ukiyo-e, Hubble photographs, Deco, Op, Pop, comics, X-ray imagery, origami, medieval heraldry, O'Keeffe, Ruscha, Pollock, Hirst, Warhol, Magritte, James Turrell, David Smith, Agnes Martin, Banksy, Rothko, Basquiat... The intention from the outset was to build a body of work approachable from the perspective of a layman, science weenie, or art weenie... Mash it all in there--Przybelski's star and floating, shimmery bits, half lives and a skull and a really big hammer, quantum mechanics and Mondrian, stellar nucleosynthesis and a big round circle on a square. You get a feel for what the book will be about...
Intentionally, I wandered around the chart, doing obscure Elements following superstar A-list Elements: Ununseptium followed by Iron, Roentgenium and then Platinum. Randomly, the last one I just completed a week ago, is Iridium, Ir, #77. And in the homework I read that Iridium is a marker in the Earth's geologic stratum of an extinction event, the end of the Cretaceous Era, the end of the dinosaurs and 75% of all species on earth. Turns out a meteor, rich in Iridium, reshaped the Yucatan and the rest of the planet in one swell foop. The vaporized Iridium settled evenly around the globe forming a thin layer, subsequently buried in the next 66 million years of time and dirt to get to today. Consequently, Iridium as a panel is the night sky with a tiny Earth shatterer streaking along, heading this way. It is after dusk and the stars are out. Nightfall. Day is done. The work is completed. The volcano along the bottom is there for a reason too. Have to read the book...
Fittingly, the end of the era is now (probably just as significant historically as the Mesozoic. I'm sure.). The panels shown below are for sale, the very last ones. This has been tremendous fun, as will be the book. But this is it for the artwork. There is no "later." Step right up folks. Don't hesitate. I expect these to be gone in a day or two...
And, thanks to you dear friends, this has been a blast. So much study exists in the metal, so many stories, so much texture, so much vision wrapped up in a light dance...
Go Aero, Eyes Up
One afternoon last summer I was out on my bike doing my hometown loop. It is a steady state experience for me--few variables excepting wind and rain. I know the course and every roller uphill, every long sweeper. I know where to hammer and where to look out for gravel before the downhill intersection. It is a constant. Hometown. I love it. It belongs to me.
So, there I was about to crest a ridge line heading south. There's a short uphill run to a blind right hand and then a solid mile downhill with a nice cambered S swerve before a covered bridge. I always stand and hammer up to the top and over the crest carrying all the speed I can into that downhill mile. Over the top, full speed and then into the drops. Go aero and pedal hard. As per usual... But just as I started down full rip, something BIG bounded across the road in front of me about thirty yards. Without thinking I braked hard, just short of locking up. The thing paused in the gully on the right and turned and looked right at me, huge eyes locked on mine. I stopped and put a foot down, and it turned and disappeared into the trees up a near vertical embankment. My heart rate was somewhat high to start with and now I was simply gasping. What the hell?! I wasn't really positive what just happened. Color of a boxer. Or a deer. Fat rope of a long tail. Size of a really big dog. Really big. Bobcat movements. After I got home and google imaged "mountain lion," I knew for certain. Holy crap. Vermont is kind of benign on the wildlife front. (If you ignore the killer musicians who play here all the time). I also searched and found confirmation of sightings in Charlotte and North Ferrisburg of a full grown catamount.
Cougars can jump fifteen feet from a standstill. They belong to a family that is the one of the oldest mammals, dating back eleven million years. Typically, they kill with a neck bite, positioning their fangs between the vertebrae and into the spinal cord. They only eat meat. Favorite foods include critters up to and over a thousand pounds--moose, elk, etc or the random coyote, deer, grey wolf...
I didn't even have time to be afraid. Once home and doing the homework I realized that I'm glad he wasn't peckish. Me and my lycra super suit... Hell of a defense I could mount with a fourteen pound skinny bike on the ice skates of road cleats...
The take away from that afternoon is a simple one. Whatever you think is the course of life, think again. Life is fundamentally full of surprises, not all good ones, in keeping with the definition, but I guarantee ones that you never even considered. Providence is determined to keep us guessing. Recently I read that researchers have determined that we misplace an average of nine things a day. By age sixty, that is 200,000 things we have to look around for. Yep, lost the keys again. Surprise! They are in the kitchen. Surprise! We get used to that stuff. Surprise! Cougar on the hometown loop. Bring it on.
Just don't eat me, please.
So friends, keep looking down the road... Just know that whatever you think is what is happening is just a guess. The outcome may be wildly different than what we are worried about. Just stay engaged completely and beware the predators... And, if I can be so bold, get outside and see what is what that is not all human racket... Lions stroll the planet.
Love you all. Spread that around everyday.
December 22, 2016
We are Zeros and We are Kings
Enough with the serious talk. I just want to point out a couple ideas and then wrap this solstice with a few words of grace.
First, the temperature of space is minus 455 degrees Fahrenheit, give or take. The distance to the nearest habitable planet, assuming life is mostly like us, is around a billion and a half miles. Basically, we are flying through the infinite emptiness of a freezer. So, what are the odds? What is the probability that we exist at all? I did the math and it comes out to exactly (using the standard rounding error) ZERO. There is absolutely no plausible explanation for me being here to write and you being there to read. So....
Party up folks! As far as I can tell, a freaking miracle is all we are every moment of our lives. Life is just a thin smear of slime on the ball we call earth. AND, in my humble estimation, we should recognize this by showing love and kindness to every other freaking miracle we see everyday. That's it--lesson for today. Your mission is to recognize this simple fact and act accordingly. Hug your peeps. Smile a ton. Love and kindness. That's it. Don't forget. Peace on earth...
And just to make it all crystal clear, this is called
Here and Then
With shared genetics
the sons, the daughters of forgotten kings
on their miraculous feet,
in time's wake,
streamlining their beings
Crucible purification process
back flip into oblivion.
Heirs to the thrones invisible
December 16, 2016
Fowl, Weather, and Brighter Skies
Howdy howdy amazing humans,
So often, it's the little things. The simple can rescue the soul...
You feel crushed. The world that you know and understand, pretty much, unravels. We all find ourselves on the floor at some point. Overwhelmed. Broken. The news that seemed bad turns out to be just the first volley. And there you are. What do I do now...
Well, nothing... breathe... and breathe and ... Feel what this emptiness really, really feels like. That is you. That IS your heart, your soul speaking. You are that voice. It is pure. All you are as a person is built above this core of your being. You can label it despair. Or not.
Now. Remind yourself that you are not alone. There are nearly seven and a half billion people on planet earth right now. Today the counter is running with over 170,000 born so far, along with over 71,000 deaths. I guarantee there are A LOT of humans experiencing exactly the emotions you are experiencing right at the crux of despair. You are a part of this very large tribe expanding every moment, as important as any member. We are all kings, or paupers, inside. Your choice. We start with nothing and will end with the same.
Then. Open your eyes, your heart... let the smallest of the small speak. Your dog will stroll over and put his head in your lap. Don't have a dog? Birds are the messengers of the gods throughout the religions of the aboriginal world. They are there, just for you, waiting for your attention. They sing. They dance. They fly... And there are somewhere between 100 and 400 billion. (They are sort of hard to count.) Plenty of those guys to help lift...
Listen to those brilliant humans who have made communication from the heart their mission in life: Danny O'Keefe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?
Or Bob Marley. Try a Bonnie Raitt ballad. There is an entire concert waiting in your pocket. Sing the oldest song you ever learned. And, trust me, there is nothing better than the blues. Listen to "Blues the Healer," with John Lee Hooker: https://www.youtube.com/watch?
Look at anything and see it fresh--the magnets on the fridge--what is this magic? Metal that likes to stick to stuff. But not everything... only special stuff. Freaky! The thermos on the counter?! Ridiculous engineering!! Put in cold; it keeps it cold. Put in hot; it stays hot. How does it know?! No moving parts! The wood under your feet--it grew! From dirt and sunlight and rain and now it's the floor. There are ducks that show up in the lake in front of my house as they travel about. They are social and really small and look like they were painted in the Jet Ski factory. I looked them up to find their official name: Little Black and White Ducks. Some people call them Buffleheads but I prefer the latter, more descriptive label.
This time of year is symbolized by babies and old folks, so go talk to either. They are closer to the purest realm than any of us. They are filled with genius half forgotten or yet to express. We mourn the passing of so many of our finest here at year's end, but hold the thought that there are more of us every moment, so logically, there are more of the brilliant appearing than there have ever been before.
So, keeping this brief: listen to the blues. "I been down so long, seems like up to me..."
"If it wasn't for bad luck, I'ld have no luck at all." "I been tied to the whippin' post..." Because that is really our lot. The human condition is fun stuff mixed with heartache, then heartbreak followed by silence. That is the sum right there. Those are the facts. And when we feel that, we feel our true depth. Fallen angels.
One of the truly wise, Pema Chodron, says, "You are the sky. Everything else--it's just the weather."
So, in the meantime (it's all we get)...open your eyes and hearts. Listen to that boogie music. Dance a little bit. FOCUS on the miracles: Twins! Contact lenses and reading glasses. Snowflakes. Shortbread. Kids' faces. George Winston playing Christmas music. Ice skates. Paint brushes. Sunrise. Favorite sayings. That rainbow this morning driving to work of low ice crystals refracting. Grandad. Voices. The funnies. Knee high chop. A choir. John Cleese. Sparkly lights. Aretha. (Did anyone hear the national anthem she sang on Thanksgiving Day?) Starfish. The HOLIDAYS.
All this stuff pours in when you just let it. We don't get much time. Better spread the love today. Say hey to the chickadee. Remember, YOU are the sky. Share your sunshine. And do your best to make people laugh. It's the lightning.
Hugs non stop.
P.S. "Nobody loves me 'cept my mother,
And she might be jivin' too."
B. B. King
P.P.S."Friends seen an` unseen...to you that are ridin` along / In your automobile...to you that are sitting at you table / I greet you with the holy word `Peace`... / For with my infinite mind I thinks constructively...…"
Give this one a listen: https://www.youtube.com/
"I am what I am, and I am it."
love love love
Sheepdogs and tiny lightning, matter and Mind
A big part of my job is noticing things. Generally it's stuff that is right in front of everyone, but I happen to see it and want to point it out. Why do I do this? And, why do I have to be outside so much?
Ok, that's basically question number one (and maybe one and a half). Question two is a little less tricky: What is happening when I notice things? Tiny electrical pulses - miniature lightning - are firing in my head. Our brains are three pounds of jelly, hundreds of billions of cells, each sending bolts to other neighboring cells hundreds of time per second. One typical neuron makes about 10,000 connections to its neighbors. Quick math gives us trillions and trillions of connections. So, I or rather, we, are that. We are trillions of electrical zaps. You are reading this and thinking, "So what? Which brings us to question three: The thing that is thinking - your mind - which is just electricity, is organized by what? How did "I" get here?
Now comes the material part--if "we" are electricity snapping away, there has to be something to snap between. There has to be matter, physical, actual stuff for it to cross between. Yep, that is the pink jelly above the shoulders we keep under our hats. Our bodies, made of a handful of elements, are literally the support system for our brains. Food, oxygen, water is all just the processing system to keep the lightning on.
I live with two dogs. One is an Aussie shepherd with the no-tail-looks-like-a-sheep approach to managing his flock. We, the family, are the flock. He lies on the floor under our feet guarding us from within the flock itself. The other is a border collie and his flock management is to observe from afar. He is across the room, attentive, alert, never underfoot. He manages his humans from without. Neither of these guys has any training whatsoever. They do what they do based on 10,000 years of breeding and training to the degree that their behavior, the way they think, is hard-wired into their DNA. Along with the four-legs-and-a-cold-nose machinery is a pattern of electrical firings, a behavior, that makes them guard us the way they do. And that particular electrical pattern is passed on through matter.
When my youngest son was in pre-school there was a graduation(?!) ceremony that required all the kids to file to the front of the room and sing a song for the attending parents. He took his spot with this paper crown cocked just so, and put his hands in his pockets and started to sing, rocking back and forth from his heels to his toes. EXACTLY the way my father did when he sang. My son had never seen his grandfather sing, and yet there was the same precise motion that I had witnessed hundreds of times.
So, question two is answered by electricity--invisible firings in an organic computer we carry around. When I see things, when I move this pen around, when I ride my bike, the lightning is flashing. But when I smile seeing my son singing, when I make art, when I think about thinking, when I use the work "flock" a bunch 'cause I like the way it sounds, it is the manifestation of DNA, of time and chemistry. I, and you, are the culmination of all those grandfathers and grandmothers stretching backwards into history. How me move our hands when talking, how we choose what we talk about, is the expression of the material, the matter that organizes the electrical fields. Matter makes our minds. And matter makes our behaviors.
And finally, question four--do you have free will or are you enacting what is programmed in your cells? When I notice leaves in pirouette and then put that into my art, did "I" decide that? Am "I" something other than an electrical field playing out a pattern dictated by inherited protein matrixes? Are the shapes and shading in my artwork chosen by me? "I" think so. But, how do "I" know? My mother was a painter, a teacher full of stories. My grandad was a musician and an engineer. My father was a professor of literature and taught creative writing. I'm related to Daniel Boone through my mother's side, perhaps that explains question one and a half.
In conclusion, one of my favorite writers can offer a functional resolution that firmly grounds these notions in a lavender fog. Alan Watts says, "...you do not have a sensation of the sky: you are that sensation. For all purposes of feeling, your sensation of the sky is the sky, and there is no "you' apart form what you sense, feel, and know."
Glad we sorted this out. "You" have an awesome week, day, lunch break, lifetime...
Consider from whence you came...
And don't forget to feed the shepherds...
Winston Churchill, the Knuckleballer, and a Turtle
"Fall seven times. Stand up eight." That's what a little scrap of paper says that I snipped out of a magazine decades ago and currently resides thumbtacked to the inside of my closet door. Watching the Olympics recently refocused this notion for me. There are countless tales of athletes whose careers are a series of disasters and failures and yet they somehow continue performing their magic acts on the track or on the mat, in the ring, in the air...
R. A. Dickey is a pitcher drafted out of college in 1996 by the Texas Rangers and offered a signing bonus of $810,000. One of the team doctors noticed in a photo Dickey's pitching arm hanging oddly and further evaluation discovered he was missing a ligament in his arm. His bonus was reduced to $75,000 and off he went to the minor leagues. He finally debuted in the majors in 2001 with a losing season and was sent back to the farm teams. Struggling with obscurity and losing games, he toyed with different pitches and his signature forkball that he dubbed "The Thing." He became the rarest of the rare--a knuckleball pitcher--and battled on. Finally given the chance in 2006, he started for the Texas Rangers and gave up six home runs in his first game. Back to the minors in Oklahoma. Two years later he was called up again and pitched for the Seattle Mariners and tied the major league record with four wild pitches in one inning. By refusing to go back to the minors he was traded to the Minnesota Twins and started 35 games for them in 2009. In 2010 he was back in the minors pitching for the Buffalo Bisons and the Mets bought his contract. Then, he got it--the magic of endless hours distilled. In 2012 he was the most dominant pitcher in baseball rattling off 230 strikeouts and a series of staggering scoreless games. He went 44 innings on one stretch without an earned run and won the Cy Young Award, never before given to a knuckleballer, for the best pitcher in the National League. His contract was upped to $37 million for three years. Today they play the theme from Game of Thrones when he comes to bat and he swings bats named for weapons from the Tolkien books. Joe Girardi, who manages the Yankees, said during an in-game interview a couple years ago (while being walloped by the Red Sox) something so pithy I ran to the kitchen for paper to write it down: "That's what life is all about--fighting through things."
Then again, there is the Ernest Shackleton voyage. If you haven't read the book "Endurance," you must. No better tale of adversity. Seriously. If they did THAT?! You can do anything.
Leah Berliawsky was born in 1899 in the Ukraine. Her family emigrated to Maine where her father was a woodworker, lumberjack and ran a junkyard. She went to school and became a secretary in Manhattan, changed her name to Louise and married her employer, Charles Nevelson, to become part of elite society. When the socialite, conformist wifey role her husband demanded didn't work out she left the money and security and returned with a son back to Maine and then back to the streets of New York to pursue the art that she felt was buzzing through her being. She struggled, studying art with some of the greatest of the Expressionists of the era, but selling almost nothing of her own work. She heated her apartment with scavenged wood from the streets. When she was 61 years old MOMA purchased one of her pieces. As an outspoken, feminist artist, she was on the cover of Life magazine and was courted by a large gallery to do a grand opening salon. Not a single piece sold. Left broke and depressed and nearly homeless, she relied on friends to get by. At 64, the Pace Gallery in New York gave her a show and the art world and museums across the globe stepped up to recognize her genius. Louise Nevelson started monumental outdoor sculpture in her 70's and today remains one of the influential visions of 20th Century art. Look for her work my friends. It hums silently. Kind of like Richard Serra. Check him out too.
So, the theme for all these words started with the Olympics and circled back with my rereading the other blog pieces I have written in the past couple years. ((They are here.)) Resilience. There are some teeny animals called tardigrades, whose name means "slow walkers." These guys have survived all five mass extinctions--they have been around for half a billion years. Only a millimeter long, they endured ten days aboard a rocket exposed to the searing radiation and absolute vacuum of space. They are able to withstand 1000 times more radiation than a human as well as 300 degrees Fahrenheit to near absolute zero. They like moss and swimming. They are nicknamed water bears and are arguably the most durable organism ever. However, there is a critter being studied called the immortal jellyfish that seems to apparently live forever by cycling between growing up and then reverting to childhood, endlessly. I like these guys too in a conceptual way, but we can talk about them next time.
Winston Churchill famously said, "Never, ever ever ever ever give up." Attached to this letter is a video that I shot last week with my phone. It's two snapping turtles in the lagoon at Camp in Central Vermont. Our resident smartest guy in the room regarding the natural world, my buddy Red Dows, says the largest is likely protecting his territory. Their fight lasted for hours and hours. The big one looks to be around 35-40 lbs. and therefore might be around 75 years old. It's his lagoon cuz he sez so as long as he wants it. So back off young terrapin!
R. A. Dickey wrote a book that says in the third sentence that he will never lead the league in strikeouts. He did just that in 2012. There was a young woman who grew up in a Rio favela. With judo she fought her way to the 2012 Olympic games and was disqualified for an illegal move. As a child she walked to the gym because she couldn't afford the bus. Last week she won a gold medal.
With health, with work, with athletics, with life in general... Churchill also said, "If you are going through Hell, keep going."
We are what we do my friends.
Time Machinery and Random Order
Things happen with bizarre coherence. I moved to California years ago and was trying to find a house near the beach to rent. On the way to look at what sounded like an ideal spot a half block from the sand, we stopped in traffic just at that moment as the big red ball dropped into the Pacific. A moment's pause, a collective sigh and the green flash appeared. Just for a second or two a neon green blob appeared right where the sun had disappeared. Often seen by pilots, this rare optical phenomena was first photographed in 1960; it is momentary, fleeting, a magical convergence of refraction and witness. The house on the beach we rented that day was on Emerald Court.
Things happen randomly. Five days ago, the fourth of July, while out riding my bike, I was sitting up chatting with my brother Kevin as we soft pedaled down a mellow decline in the lusciousness of an 80 degree Vermont afternoon. Humid sunshine. Sweat. Perfection. My front wheel dropped off the pavement and my instinctual bunny-hop back onto the road whacked me into Kev's handlebars. Slam! Slide! Imagine being pitched out of a moving pick-up in skimpy pjs attached to some garden tools. Both of us down and grinding skin and tissue in less than a heartbeat. Bikes instantly worthless as bikes. Adrenaline hammered and twitching with survival body chemistry, we jumped up READY. Swords drawn. Pissed off. Blood dripping.
Things happen on time. Also in the last week, Nasa's Juno spacecraft arrived after traveling five years and 1.7 billion miles to orbit and study our solar system's largest dance partner. It arrived off its projected schedule established five years ago by one second! Humans are great at planning long range stuff like this. (I have a hard time getting to lunch when I'm supposed to.) We spent 25 years building the most monumental machine in human history, the Large Hadron Collider, in hopes of taking a photo of a particle that exists for a millionth of a billionth of a billionth of a second. It works. Say "Cheese" Higgs Bosun. Some things happen VERY FAST.
Things happen we foresee. At New College in Oxford, England, founded in 1379 (classic Brit humor right there) massive oak beams in the dining hall were being eaten by beetles as old oak beams in England eventually do. Turns out 500 years ago a stand of oaks had been planted on college property to take care of this challenge when the time came.
We do what we do and then WHAM! Life seems to be a succession of things being just as they are nicely until they aren't, suddenly. But--and this is the heart of this missive--the staggering improbability that all the infinite possible vectors perfectly aligned to become me seated on a bicycle is an affirmation of the perfection lurking within every single moment of every day. Random elements collided. Water appeared. Life. Legs. Eyes. Families. I have a brother who loves bikes as much as I do. And we get to see each other and ride together. Science can't explain this. Things are just happening willy nilly in every direction all the time. Green flashes. Quantum collisions.
I was once told about a monk who painted in the Japanese Sumi-e tradition. When asked by an acolyte how long it took him to make a painting that appeared to be a single stroke of an inked brush on paper, his answer was "87 years, 10 months, 4 days, 8 hours and 6 seconds,"--his age at that moment.
The fovea is a small depression centered in the retina where visual acuity is strongest. Half of the nerves from the eye to the brain originate here. That is me, the fovea. I have spent all these years translating the subtle and not so subtle movement of light. And I am convinced that it is all playing out exactly the way it is supposed to, needs to, in some ridiculous organic mechanism. Light reflecting this way and that. Precisely. The Jupiter probe showed up a second late, exactly that second that I needed to bunny-hop to safety. But nooooo. There must be some tiny whirring cog that I don't comprehend yet...
Change is the only constant. In my daily twirl, I build silent machines that hang there and monkey with light. They will be around when my time sneaks off. They change and don't change. I hope you all find some of that each day--solace in the steadiness, faith in the randomness. Keep the rubber side down and your eyes on the horizon. Plan long range and bounce when you have to. Our notions about time are deceptive and relative and subject to revision at any SLAM. But I am certain that it is the right time.
It's quick, although the days are long.
See what I mean...
Hugs all around,
Headlines tell us that gorillas are precious, politicians are super scary, four new Elements are getting actual names, guns kill, Brazil is a mess but has new stadiums, the Dead is on tour, Ali is gone, Prince too, and where does who go to the bathroom? In the middle of all of this shouting we find ourselves. Or we don't. That is the conundrum. Where do we as individuals live today amidst the massive explosion that seems to be civilization?
Paraceratherium Grangeri (say that five times) was the largest mammal ever to walk the earth. It was a hornless rhinoceros species that survived for 11 million years ranging from Mongolia to the Balkans. Roughly 17 feet tall at the shoulders, it weighed up to 40,000 pounds or about the weight of five elephants. Imagine a herd of those wandering about, munching on trees, devoid of fear from any predators. In the '60s, there were 65,000 black rhinos in the wild. In the '70s, ninety percent of them were killed and today there are a total of around 5,000 rhinos altogether on the planet. The white rhino is down to three individuals, all in zoos.
I recently read that the total time spent on the video game World of Warcraft was 5.93 million years, or about the equivalent time since our ancestors first stood erect. Biologically, the bodily sensations of anxiety and excitement are nearly identical, so fighting wars - pretend wars - can be really, really stressful and exciting. Clearly, this stuff is addictive. And how about the media? Well, does anyone notice the absolute incendiary nature of the headlines on the Internet? Every storm is the end of the world, every speech is the collapse of the Constitution. The most popular shows on the tube are about cops and terrorists or war and battles with dragons and torture and who gets killed (or magically brought back to life this week) and poison and bribes and judges and slaves and daggers and bedfellows. And this is just the election coverage...
But we can do this. In the 1950's, there were less than 417 breeding pairs of bald eagles in the contiguous U.S. Today there are over 10,000 pairs and the number is growing. I have seen one in my pajamas (How he got in my pajamas I'll never know... ;) Groucho) from my living room and one flew over my head at a Mariners' game in Seattle last summer. Think of that moment in the movie when the plucky short guy in the deepest of jams says to the hero, "Just go, I got this." And off the hero charges to save the rest of the universe.
What is this about? (The exact moment to ask, I think).
It's about what I say to my teenagers all the time. "Take care of each other." That's it. Look out for the person next to you all the time. If you have their back and they have yours we have a chance. Every single person you talk to today was a child and on many levels still is. Treat them with that love and caring you would show to a small, young human being and we can get through all this noise. Focus on the people around you. We are the pinnacle of evolution. Let's act like it. Killing mega fauna is stupid. Every kid will tell you that. Killing things on screens is just reinforcing killing, and wasting the most precious thing we all have...
The root of the word civilization is the same as the one for civility. The non-stop shouting of disaster is the foreground visual assault from all these glass screens. Actual humanity is on the other side waiting. It's pretty awesome. You know, craft beer, garter snakes, bikes, surprise presents, boats of all kinds, lightning, strolling, love, and other cool stuff.... Just hug somebody and tell them we got this. Together. Don't listen to the shouting and the hateful speech. We got this.
"Summer of Love" sounds pretty great. Let's replay that notion.
And while you are at it, slow down and have a look at some quality art, the kind made by the people who devote their lives to seeing and contemplating and making...
Supernovas Become you
Yes, it's true. Stellar annihilation looks good on you. Or is it supernovae? Words can be so tricky. But they are fun to play with, kind of like Legos made of old jelly. "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money" said Boswell, quoting Samuel Johnson around 300 years ago. I, like Charlie Brown, have known my whole life that being a blockhead is ok, just challenging. This quote was given to me in freshman English by a class visitor in a white suit. His name was Tom Wolfe.
But, to the point--I am a blockhead. I write, not for money but to participate, which in many ways is what defines everyone of us before we become worm food. Participate. Have an effect. It's all you got. Do you need to be a visionary on the front lines of social change? Nope. Just coach Little League. Pick up around the neighborhood. Visit a classroom and chat to the mere mortals. Give away stuff you don't use.
Speaking of stuff, our bodies are primarily composed of four elements that happen to be four of the first seven most abundant elements in the universe. In fact we are 99% just six elements. Only Hydrogen and Helium were made in the Big Bang in any significant quantity. Every bit of the rest of our bodies was made in a large star (don't ask me which one) and would have stayed home until the supernova came to town. We only exist because of the stellar KABOOM that freed these materials to eventually become Us. Better add the life giving supernova to Thanksgiving dinner blessings or the salaams at the P-rade.
Celebrating the supernova is part of my blockhead program. Fiona Apple sings, "If there was a better way, it would find me." As far as the participation part? Please add this email address and the address of havocgallery.com to your favorites list. Our web homework shows that using an actual professional emailing program means the majority of you brilliant friends have not been receiving the last few missives even though they look better than ever. Being in the junk box or spam folder is soul crushing and smells weird. This is never required reading but I write to share thoughts and images, and I want you to share these with your pals too. In the website www.havocgallery.com you can click around and find a heading called Current Thinking that has all of these blog thingys I have written recently. Share freely and respond. I had a buddy point out that the Cree word for dragonfly and helicopter is exactly the same. Thanks Ben. Look out for the "du whack a du..."
So, metals and gases made in nuclear infernos make us entirely. In the same song, Fiona Apple sings, "I am an extraordinary machine." That goes for you too. Be extraordinary today my friends. Again.
Super Massive Burgers
If the earth weighs as much as a paperclip, the sun weighs as much as a Harley-Davidson. The most massive star we have found so far is 265 times heavier than that. Labelled with the totally unimaginative, R136a1, it is stupendously hot and bright--its surface is 100,000 degrees Fahrenheit, 10 times hotter than our sun and 10 million times brighter. We have also recently identified (and I say "we" meaning the frighteningly intelligent physicists hard at work on these matters) a star even larger in diameter that is named UY Scuti. It weighs less than our other new best pal star but if you put its center at the center of our sun, the surface of the star would be out past the orbit of Jupiter. Pause pause. Think about that for a moment...
But what's the big deal, Lucille? So what, so stars, yeah, really big... Then...
It's all about the scale. McDonald's feeds around 26 million people a day, more than the population of Australia. Every kilogram of beef generates around 59.5 pounds of greenhouse gases. Every gram of beef protein requires 29.5 gallons of water. The average American eats 185 pounds of meat a year, whereas the USDA 2010 guidelines are for 3.7 ounces a day. Recent studies show a typical male needs only 2.5 ounces of protein a day and an elite endurance athlete might require around 6 ounces. Here's the kicker--above that amount, it is simply excreted.
What do stars have to do with food? Simply put--we are teeny, tiny motes of nothing stuck on a speck of dust orbiting a little warm ball. But, it's the only speck we get. If we can get this notion through our collective over-fed heads, there may be a chance to have great-great-great-grandchildren who look like us, can sing, dance and paint and play baseball and write pushy essays. And not have to swim to the grocery store. Right now factory farms in the U.S. produce thirteen times the sewage of the human population. If we were to eat meat only two days a week, we would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and water and land use by 45%.
We can evolve. We can make conscious choices about our food and our future. Seems kind of important, yes?
The new James Webb Space Telescope is so sophisticated it can detect the heat of a bumblebee from a distance of 250,000 miles. That's as far as the moon, folks. With that kind of brain power we should be able to eat better. Bon appetit.
Oh, and as for chocolate, well, dark only, everyday. Mandatory.
And I was kidding about "motes of nothing." We are voters.
You Don't Have Time to Not Read This
In 2013, a groundskeeper at Stonehenge was trying to fight the unusually dry summer in Britain. His hose wasn't quite long enough to water the entire grounds and the subsequent patches of parched grass revealed the true geometry of the stones that researchers have investigated for centuries. Yep. It was originally a complete circle.
Below all these words is a photo of my Dad and us four brothers at Stonehenge in 1964, corralled for a moment by my Mom shooting the picture. We spent the afternoon climbing all over those massive bluestone slabs. Dad was great at dragging us to visit strange stuff. Hadrian's Wall. Pisa. The Last Supper. Tintagel. "Lads, pay attention."
Wilhelm Röntgen was in his lab in 1895 experimenting with these newfangled things called cathode ray tubes. A black cardboard sleeve over the tube mysteriously failed to block some invisible ray that caused a piece of cardboard nine feet away painted with barium platinocyanide to shimmer faintly. He happened to notice this weird effect that resulted in the discovery of the paradigm shift we know as x-rays.
We all know that Alexander Fleming accidentally discovered penicillin in 1928 (Right?) changing the field of medicine. But the story is told that the reason he didn't just heave into the trash that fateful petri dish is that six years earlier he had wept into a sample dish and discovered tears have a mild antibiotic property. Not sure what he was crying about in his lab, but he was being attentive.
In 1913, in Sheffield England, a guy was assigned to come up with a steel alloy that would withstand, without expanding, the intense heat of a bullet streaking down the barrel of a rifle. In the bin of cast-off ingots he noticed one hunk of metal buried in the pile was still shiny while the rest of the ingots were rusting as usual. His employers ignored his discovery of stainless steel with the magic ingredient of 12% Chromium. It's the same stuff I use everyday to push light around.
Notice. That's this week's lesson, my friends. Be careful not to be bustling along too quickly as to miss the magical stuff happening constantly. It could make for a nice photo on your cell phone or change the course of humankind. Or solve a mystery 5,000 years old. Or teach a mob of unruly boys lessons that still gleam to this day. Socrates said, "Beware the barrenness of a busy life."
Smart old dude. And, by the way, thanks Dad.
Man's Best Invention
We have a device being newly studied and researched that can literally "sniff" for cancer in humans. Using a probe with around 300 million sensors and a mysteriously complex processor, this device is also capable of detecting particular elemental compounds such as explosives or illicit drugs, as well as the high frequencies preceding earth tremors or even if a human is about to experience a seizure. Its sensitivity is so acute it can detect in parts per trillion or a drop of blood diluted by twenty Olympic swimming pools. This device has actually been under development for around 35,000 years.
Yep, this device will keep you warm in the mountains, chase down lions in Rhodesia, rid your house of mice, hunt for stag or raccoons or truffles. It can operate on fuels as diverse as raw meat, potato chips or cat poop. With nearly 525 million of these globally, we humans use them as proximity alarms or for herding sheep and cattle. Some cultures use them as a source of food, but in the U.S. 77 million people have this device in their homes and would never think to cook one. They exist in a staggering array of dimensions from 4 ounces and 2.5 inches tall to 345 pounds. We shot one of these into space to orbit the earth in 1957. Probably not that really heavy one.
Their uses are diverse and specialized. Not only can they be used as a team to haul loads at 30-35 mph for 10 miles, they can pull this same load for up to 100 miles in sub-zero temperatures without needing an extended break. They see for the blind and hear for the deaf. Some are part tugboat while others are pure velocity machines. They comfort the aged and infirm and have been documented trying to teach babies how to play "fetch."
It's our best invention. Man's Best Invention. We adopted these family members millennia ago to get rid of household scraps and warn us of danger. And now they guard us with utter dedication and will fight to the death to protect us. As built-in entertainment centers for children and adults alike, they survive for years, bound to their charges. Endless tales recount their ability to find their way home to their people across extraordinary distances. They give us love and loyalty. They smile and dance around. So, TREATS, and go for an extra long walk today. We are lucky humans. We did a great job with this project. Way better than a cell phone.
We Could be Heroes...
There is a lot I could say, which comes as a surprise to no one who knows me well, but there is beauty in economy. So this is just some paraphrasing from a bright light gone dim.
I, I can remember (I remember)
standing, by the wall (by the wall)
And the guns shot above our heads
(over our heads)
And we kissed, as nothing could fall
(nothing could fall)...
We can be heroes,
What d'you say?
We could be safer
just for one day...
We can be heroes
What d'you say?
We could be heroes
Just for one day...
We will be heroes. Thanks Mr. Bowie.
The Force Awakens
It's the solstice, that moment when the gloom of December light in Vermont is offset by the thought that from now on the days get longer. Winter begins but from the celestial perspective summer begins today. The sun will get higher and stronger. The days will get brighter and longer. It feels nice to consider the darkness so strong will wane and light and warmth will rule. But first... The days just now feel like the sunset is about to start around two in the afternoon.
I was out for a paddle on my board a few weeks back. Typically I paddle straight into the wind to start, whatever its direction, and that day it was cranking hard due west; it's the workout part of a paddle. I crossed the bay. The sun sank behind Shelburne Point and I headed north out into the broad lake watching the orb get bigger and redder and finally drop into the skyline of the high peaks of the Adirondacks. Yellow gave way to burnt orange, the peaks shading navy to deep purple. The wind fell out altogether and I paddled possessed by the shifting light as the water turned to glass. Indigo and maroon danced slowly. The fluid surface to the west shimmered. Twilight.
I was paddling a solid tempo, endorphin enhanced, when suddenly I realized--it's getting dark fast and I'm two miles from home. Yikes. Swing the board around and head east and south. But something weird was happening in town. House fire!! Or wait... holy crap! Full moon rising from the quiet Vermont landscape --just the fierce yellow dome first outlining the blackness of the treetops, then the orb, the full disk above the trees. Bright. Clear. October night.
I stopped paddling and instinctively looked around wanting to point and exclaim to someone. Anyone. No one? Alone truly on the broad lake. Is anybody else paying attention? Can anyone share this?
I paddled home in glory, moon shining on me. And I was reminded why I do what I do. Sharing. Why would I write this? Why do I make art? Sculpture out of light? Why, when I see a photo of the blue sunset on Mars, do I start telling everyone? Who really needs to know that we have eyes so sensitive we can detect a single photon?
A full moon will rise on Christmas, the next one not until 2034. Share it. Show it to the little kids. I wrote in a blog piece a year ago that the "Force" most important is love, but I would like to add participation to the idea. Share your vision, your voice, your music, your food, your home, your wealth, your gifts, your love. Share this letter, these ideas, as widely as possible.
There are big lights in the sky, sunsets to see, moonrises too. Let's collectively awaken just a little bit more and share our blessings. Be the warmth and brightness.
Peace and light,
hugs all around,
Supernova, Spectre, Silence and SNO
There's a lot to cover and I will be brief AND there is a reward at the end so...
Dark Matter, apparently, maybe, makes up 84.54% of the total matter of the universe. This is based on studying the gravitational lensing effect of galaxies bending light from even more distant galaxies. Scientists have actual photographs of a portion of deep, deep space in which the same galaxy is seen at five different places in a single photo. The galaxies doing all that light bending shouldn't have sufficient mass to accomplish this. Therefore, something is helping. Something we can't see. A lot of it. Researchers have been focusing on the Bullet Cluster and the Train Wreck Cluster.
Also, and bear with me here, thermal relic abundance calculations and angular fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background, CMB, are mathematically explicable if Dark Matter exists. Essentially, the consistency of the Big Bang echo is lumpy; and cold, warm and hot Dark Matter could explain the large scale structure of the universe with its anomalies.
I went to the new Bond movie and it's fabulous. Just what you expect - helicopter tricks, buildings exploding, fast cars, snappy outfits, evil dudes. It's loud and busy. And fun. When I got home I stood in the backyard. There was no wind. No waves lapping on the rocks. No geese honking. It was profoundly dark. No moon. Low clouds covered the stars. Listening was strangely an activity. Anything...
Nearly a mile underground in Lead, South Dakota is a tank of 815 pounds of liquid Xenon cooled to minus 100 degrees Celsius looking for WIMPs (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles) as experimental evidence of Dark Matter passing by. The Large Underground Xenon detector, LUX, is shielded by a mile of rock to reduce the "noise" of gamma radiation or other stray particles. It is the quietest place known to man. So far we have found no observational evidence of Dark Matter. Naturally we are building the 7 ton LUX-ZEPLIN (also in Lead) to come on line in 2016. Also searching are projects around the globe with names, (and these are only the ones whose acronyms I like) such as EDELWEISS, WARP, DarkSide, PandaX, SNO, IceCube, Double Chooz, SIMPLE and PICASSO.
Mankind is building unprecedented ears and eyes. Read about the James Webb Space Telescope. How is your silence quotient? When was the last time you could truly hear nothing? No sound. I fill my world with music nonstop but there is purity in nothingness. Go find some. Try that snowy evening walk...
And finally, we head into the holidays, a time for family and gifts and thoughtfulness for all our blessings. I want to say a huge thank you to all of you for sharing with me in this journey. 2015 has been a fantastic year! You are the folks who make this all fly and as gratitude I want to offer my current pieces to you for less money than the unwashed masses. Many of you already have my art so please think gifts for your family or friends. I want to end the year with an empty gallery, a clean slate for 2016, so one third off the prices (excluding the Element project) for everything. I love you people. You make this possible and fun.
I will be doing the Red Dot Art Fair in Miami Dec. 2-6th so please contact before then. The prices at the show will be standard. Check the website for "Supernova," "Axial Isinglass," "The Positive," "Power Wall," "One Away," "Sprezzatura," "Beam Steering," and "Salt Whistle." This isn't a sale my friends; it's your reward for sharing these rantings, this vision, this dance.
Blessings and hugs.
Pink Stuff and Tiny Smart Things
Sometime when I polish metal I use rouge as the final buff to bring the surface up to a mirror finish. Rouge, fittingly, is red, pink actually, and is made of stuff, according to my friend Timothy, called diatomaceous earth. (Love that word). It is essentially the fossilized remains of diatoms, those microscopic algae that live in spectacular bi-radially symmetrical sculptures seemingly made by kajillions of tiny glassblowers. Google Image "diatoms" to see what I am talking about. It's great stuff for making dynamite or toothpaste or filtering beer.
The best part is the SiO2--the glass houses they live in. Built into the DNA of these phytoplankton is the nano-scale bio-mechanical blueprint to make offspring exactly the same encased in hard structures made of silicon, oxygen and a small dash of protein. Abalone make shells that are 98% calcium carbonate and 2% protein in a structural, tessellated arrangement that is 3000% stronger than a stone made of the same materials. These are engineered objects. 500
million years ago life spontaneously figured out how to make hard materials.
Researchers have also discovered magnetite or Fe3O4 being used by bacteria and higher life forms like birds and lobsters for magnetoception or navigation using the magnetic fields of the earth. Calcium, silicon and iron assembled by living things to perpetuate their species, or find dates, or both, in a different order I suppose. Calcium is the most abundant metal in the human body and most animals. Silicate minerals make up over 90% of the earth's crust. Iron, well, you know, steel, magnets, in cereal, cruise ships, fry pans... By mass it's the most common element on earth.
My favorite tools in the shop are the ones that I had to make since I NEED them and nobody makes them. I have a six foot compass made of wood, a suction cup and steel pins. Straightedges eight feet long that, as I use them, turn to dust. Clamps, jigs, parallel scribes, (and here you see my 18th century brain at work... might even be 15th century).
As higher life forms we need tools. You have seen the commercial where the guy has trained his dog to fetch beer from the fridge? At MIT a professor has devoted her career to manipulating viruses and bacteria to create things that we need nearly as much as food--solar cells and batteries and fuel. Can we grow batteries? Yep. Fuel cells splitting water into O and H? Yep. Solar cells? Absolutely. We just need to scale this up. She invited Obama to her lab and he has held in his hand a lit LED powered by bacteria and viruses. Imagine self replicating tiny structures complete with wiring built right in. It's happening. If we can just focus more on growing things and a little bit less on burning stuff....
Since 1990, printed right on my business checks is the phrase, "Truth is beauty is magic."
Oh, and did I mention beer? Higher evolution has opened four breweries within close walking distance from my gallery. Stay focused.
And, as always, thanks,
and boogie on...
About twenty years ago I read a biography of Miles Davis after seeing him from the front row of the Flynn Theatre in Burlington, Vermont and having my head ripped off with bliss and funk. It was a mind/ear/spirit/horn blowing couple hours compounded by a day spent getting reasonably sunburnt and overly hydrated (say no more) on a sailboat. In the book, Miles described a young brilliant cornetist named Olu Dara as "just other and next." This morning on NPR I heard a blip for Ozy, the online source for "what's new and next." When I clicked over I found it is named for "Ozymandias", a fabulous and favorite poem and the title of a piece that I sold back in February of this year. Miles' phrase has stuck with me all these years as my professional, if formally secret, mission.
Step to the left. Last Friday I was at one of my boy's soccer matches in the middle of north central rural Vermont. As dusk fell during the game and the shadows stretched over the field a fleet of dragon flies were having a seriously uptempo dinner. Dozens of four inch long clicking and whizzing little choppers darted about hunting some invisible hors d'oeurves. They were way better than the pre-season scrimmage going on. I announced to my friends there, "You know dragon flies migrate. Some fly 4000 miles from India to Africa and back." I got the look I always get. The one that says, "Dude, you are making this stuff up."
So, I came home and did my homework. I have always loved these little critters, all brittle and scary, and seemingly built by aeronautical jewelers. Years ago we watched them appear at twilight on a canoe trip in Canada to pluck biting flies right out of the air. Their heads are all teeth and eyeballs. Each eye is 30,000 individual eyes, and because of the size and placement they can see nearly any direction. EVERYTHING is in their field of vision; one researcher believes they can see better than any other creature. They showed up on the planet 100 million years before the dinosaurs. They can fly 30 mph and, with a tailwind, they have been clocked at 80. Fossils exist with a 25 inch wingspan.
Miles' music for me has always had this feeling of perfection. Like Mozart, the theme doesn't feel written. It just is and always was. He "found" it. And then played it. It is timeless. Dragon flies have been around for 300 million years and have changed very little in all that time. Why? Because they are perfect. They are just bugs that can flap 30 beats a second. And hover. Or jet.
Or migrate thousands of miles.
I have found in my life a yearly migration, a cycling from one place to the next with an annual rhythm. Over Labor Day once again I will be standing around chatting about what I do and why. In California, per usual. And the following weekend I will be in New York City with my work and the work of friends: Joel Urruty and Gabriella Firehammer. My mission for years now has been to be "just other and next." I want my art to feel discovered more than composed. Look at Joel's work and one will feel this. The best art is timeless. Miles and flying dragons, every time feels like a blessing, every beat a window into prehistory, the exposed mind of the creator.
The New Horizons spacecraft just strolled past Pluto at ten miles a second, cameras blazing. We now have some sweet photos of 11,000 foot mountains that are likely composed of water ice. (Are they making that up? Where did the water come from?) The lack of craters suggests that these are recent geological formations that are 100 million years young, or so. One of the mountains is informally named for one of my childhood heroes whose name has poetically rolled around in my head for decades--Tenzing Norgay. He is the Sherpa who helped Mallory summit Everest. Say that name a few times and don't be surprised if floats in and out of your head. Try Sylvain Chavanel, or Daniel Teklehaimanot, Lars Boom, or .... If you are watching the Tour de France these are familiar names. Weird ones, but fun to say. My fave is from NPR--Ofeibea Quist-Arcton.
But I digress. Intentionally, I suppose, because I'm circling around to the close and familiar from the truly far off and distant. In my yard is a plant that is the only surviving genus of a class of plants that for 100 million years dominated the understory of late Paleozoic forests. It's a weird looking thing that once had cousins that grew to 90 foot tall trees. Equisetum. Reproduces with spores instead of seeds and happens to fix silicates in its stem. And it is the plant that fixates titanium in its tissue more than any other living thing. Titanium is the elegant metal that we are using to make bracelets this summer in the shop AND the correct material for building the SR-71 Blackbird. Fastest plane ever and almost 90% titanium. It has the highest strength to density ratio of any metallic element.
But I digress. It's really about the black raspberries that grow all over the fence next to my house. Turns out that these fixate 10 different metals that we need to keep healthy. And they are free. And right there. And really tart and sweet. Did I mention they spontaneously appear? I've been picking these almost daily, eating all I can stand and then putting the rest in the fridge. Later when I open the container there are plenty of different kinds of little spiders sneaking around in there.
So I'm busy doing my Elements homework, cranking out the heirlooms, watching the Tour and pushing light around in the studio. The deep space probe is telling us all about the farthest dance partners. Meanwhile, these primitive horsetail plants are invading my yard. (The story is Equisetum helped John Napier discover algorithms.) I, apparently, have daily been eating teeny spiders without noticing.
Just trying to get those sweet antioxidants. I will keep you posted when the super powers appear. In the meantime, pay attention. Stop mumbling. Sit up straight. Summer is fleeting.
Years ago I saw Furry Lewis at the Memphis Blues Festival. He told us he was 92 but a little fact checking shows he was exaggerating by 5 years. Blind, with a wooden leg, he played an electric guitar that looked like a cigar box with a neck. He was grumpy but rocking the blues on stage to a mob of ecstatic fans.
B. B. King passed away a month ago. He was born on a cotton plantation to sharecropper parents, drove a tractor as a teenager for money. After years of playing and singing he worked up to making $85 a week in his early thirties. Later on he won 15 Grammys and became the legend we know today. The King is dead. Long live the King.
I ride my bike a lot. Maybe too much. When I'm cranking along on a road and a car or a truck rolls by just a bit faster than I'm moving I check my six and slide out into the turbulence of the tumbling air and put the hammer down. The fastest anyone has ridden a streamlined, recumbent bike is 83 mph, but the crazy man motorcycle racer Guy Martin (look him up--he rides the Isle of Man TT every year) has ridden 112 mph behind a truck. Drag coefficient increases as a square of speed so with the sweet spot of turbulence…
One of my brothers has told me for years that the point of difficulty is the place where growth occurs. Just this week he wrote, "Nothing is stable, balance is the only way. Doubt haunts the self until it tires of its own voice and withdraws, freeing the energies of possibility to find their potential." Yep, he is a genius and needs to write more, I know. He also introduced me to Clapton and the Allman Bros. so he knows the real sound of the blues. And last week he paddled a 102 miles in 15 hours on a stand up paddle board. Wind and waves.
The goodness of turbulence, my friends, is its ability to pull us up to our potential. Sure, coasting is great too, but you have to suffer to sing the blues. If you truly want to sing, you have to face the dragon trying to eat you. He's got fangs; you have skills you have forgotten about and far more strength than you use day to day. Pull into the turbulence and put the hammer down…
But, "the eagle flies on Friday and Saturday I go out to play…" Please join us for some summer time coasting and toasting this Friday, June 19, 5-10 p.m. Party and Art starts at 5 p.m. and free concert at 7:30 p.m.
Friday June 19th - 5 pm Art, 7:30 pm Music
Years ago, could be thirty three give or take, I saw a fantastic Laurie Anderson concert with Adrian Belew on guitar and a moveable stage set of screens and props. Amidst all the melodic electricity was a mini lecture regarding the power of music. She began by showing a binary representation of a number. I think it was the date, just a brief string of ones and zeros. Math is clean and concise. Then, she projected on the backdrop a binary representation of a page of text, Hamlet's soliloquy or a doughnut recipe. Yikes! Lots of ones and zeros. Finally, she justified her career as a musician by projecting a veritable ocean of ones and zero on the backdrop of the stage. "This is the opening four bars of Beethoven's Fifth…"
Please forgive the paraphrasing of an evening of brilliance from decades ago but the concept is profound. Music is an all consuming, all devouring beast at its best. It's an experience of mind/body/spirit. Alan Watts wrote, "To understand music, you must listen to it. But so long as you are thinking, 'I am listening to music,' you are not listening."
Music can transport those who are not listening/listening. Handel's Messiah, Sigur Ros, Louis Armstrong, Mozart, Danny O'Keefe, Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny, Eric Clapton, can bring tears, stop time, uplift. The Gospel tent at Jazz Fest in New Orleans can change the way you feel about music forever. Go there. Trust me.
Laurie Anderson was speaking about the volume of communication made possible by music. But the real "crux of the biscuit" is the communication itself - one human mind to another human mind, a purity of communion, a sharing of the same stuff. With rhythm. You don't need to know the words. You just need to give in and let go.
To this end HAVOC gallery is hosting a free concert on Friday, June 19, 5-10 p.m. Party and Art starts at 5 p.m. and concert at 7:30 p.m.
I was hiking next to the Na'ili'ili-Haele stream and thinking, "Time is a construct." The biggest company in the world is telling us we all need a new watch - the "Watch"- to help us keep track of how much time we spend doing things we should or should not be doing, like sleeping or running or sitting or checking our phones. And I was thinking I don't need to know the time exactly as my boys and I were walking through a bamboo forest in the middle of the classic discussion of "how fast does bamboo grow?" Compared to what? It's the fastest growing plant as we know - some species can grow as much as 3 feet in 24 hours or a millimeter every 2 minutes. That's pretty speedy, for organic stuff. But, cheetahs can hit 60 mph in 4 seconds and a falcon can fly/dive 240 mph.
The bamboo we were surrounded by was up to 60 or 70 feet tall; the tallest species of this giant grass gets up to 130 feet. But we have 6 feet of DNA in the nucleus of every cell in our bodies. And as far as speed goes, our microscopic biomechanical machinery replicating DNA and fabricating protein molecules is without peer - 100 trillion molecules of hemoglobin is being created per second in every person reading this.
So back to Time in the forest of fastest growing plants, bamboo also produces flowers and has the distinction of being the plant with the longest time between blooming. One species only blossoms every 130 years. There we go - fastest and slowest.
Do I need a watch? Do you? There's a guy in Britain named Krzysztof Szymaniec. I'm pretty sure he doesn't. He is the keeper of the "Caesium Fountain," an atomic clock accurate to one second every 158 million years. I hope he takes hikes with his boys. And by the way, uphill of the bamboo forest is a 400 foot waterfall. Take a dip when you get there. Without your watch.
Ice whine and sunshine
"Write about Spring," said my gallery director. Rite. No problem. Let's see - reawakening, pick-ups plunging through rotten ice, daffodils, ice jam flooding, thunder, buds on a hillside as a pale chartreuse mist on the familiar dead sticks, a crocus, an umbrella…Immediately comes the recognition of the local, individual, aspect of this stanza we call spring. Mine is radically different from my cousin's in Virginia or Maui. Literally as I write, the rain this March morning just turned to snow. Vermont! It's falling now with intent, vertically.So, I won't. Spring is your pivot not my poem. It's personal. It's the moment when exiting the house you don't layer; you put golf clubs/bikes/boats in/on the car; you pause at the top of Nose Dive with acres of corn snow waiting, super hero surfing snow, like butter; your forsythia explodes; you stroll rather than brave the elements; you sow; buffleheads reappear; music returns to the breeze...
The crux is the angle of light. That is what changes and what clicks in us all. For me my whole career hinges on exactly that, the angle of light, that subtle differentiation, diffraction, diffusion. Open wide those eyes my friends. Go walk the dog even if you don't have one. The light is higher and ready for you to notice.
Oh, and just so you know, the snow quit.
But here in the gallery we have snow continuing. A book full of snowflakes, all 14 created so far by Bruce R. MacDonald, is almost at the printer. We will keep you privy of the release date. For now here is a taste.
Jookin' Wanderers and Baltimore, Maryland
The earth doesn't revolve around the sun. In fact none of the planets do. We all revolve around the center of mass of the solar system which changes constantly. Sometimes it is near the center of the sun and sometimes it's in space around the sun. Technically, that shifting, looping point is called the "barycenter," in case anyone is on Jeopardy tonight. And, relative to the surrounding space, that point is moving 144 miles a second. Thataway.
Now apply this principle to your life. Your axis is constantly shifting. Work, your partner, your kid(s), your obsessions, your horse, FB, music, skiing, vacation planning… Yeats famously said, "The centre cannot hold." I posit, the center is a fiction. We are just dancing around other stuff dancing around. All the time. I hope you got rhythm.
Dance on over to The American Craft Council Art Fair in Baltimore, February 20-22, Baltimore Convention Center, www.shows.craftcouncil.org/