I am a rock thief. I left Iceland with pebbles in my pocket, black lava stones that had been smoothed by the ocean, pieces of wild nature that fit into my palm. No terrible luck has befallen me as a result of this practice—yet.
Collected in the book Bad Luck, Hot Rocks: Conscience Letters and Photographs from the Petrified Forest are dozens of confessions that were sent to Arizona’s National Park. There are over a thousand such letters, and they date back to the 1930s. In these letters, people apologize for stealing rocks, often returning the pilfered items alongside handwritten tales of woe. Broken down cars, sudden illnesses, divorce—all supposedly stem from the curse. Bad luck befalls anyone who steals from the petrified forest.
I think maybe I should return my Icelandic stones. Now I feel guilty for taking them off the beach. It’s just so hard for me to resist the desire to pocket rocks. They’re simple, potent symbols for an experience of sublime awe and beauty. But… perhaps they belong where they belong. As the old Leave No Trace credo goes, “Take only pictures, leave only footprints.” I need to get better at that one—and some others. (At least I’m aways improving, right?)
P.S. I bought the book. You can, too. It’s a perfect gift for naturalist magpies or whimsical outdoorsmen.
Collector Jochen Raiss gathered hundreds of vintage photos of women lounging in trees and recently published them in a comprehensive coffee table book called Frauen auf Baumen (in English: “women in trees”). From what I’ve seen so far, the pictures are delightful—silly and strange and happy. Obviously, I want this book.
While we’re on the topic of trees, and German folks, I found this passage by writer Hermann Hesse in which he muses on what trees can teach us:
In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree… A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live. Trees have long thoughts, long—breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is.
“My paintings and drawings say everything I want to say,” artist Helen Lundeberg once famously said. I’ve got a lot of thoughts about why her minimalist work is so visually appealing, but since she since she was a lady of few words, I’ll keep my commentary short, too.
Here is a dope landscape: Here is a painting that made me go YAS QUEEN: I’m HERE FOR IT, Helen Lundeberg! If you’re a New Yorker (which you probably aren’t since my blog is weirdly popular in Finland and Portugal but not NYC) go see her work at the Cristin Tierny gallery as part of an exhibit titled “Classic Attitude.”
Plus, here’s a NY Mag slideshow of her works. I have always liked Alex Katz, but I love Helen Lundeberg (they’ve got similar vibes going on). So flat! So minimal! Such colors!
I learned a new term today, thanks to my favorite nighttime distraction, The Myths and Legends podcast, and I’m excited to share it with everyone (even though I suspect few people will want to hear it). Our history lesson of the week is the phrase “star kicking.” Though it sounds beautiful, it’s actually what famed Hungarian torturer, sadist, and murder Countess Elizabeth Bathory did to people she disliked. Well, it’s one of the many things that twisted bitch did—she also drained people of their blood, ate peasant girls, and murdered hundreds of people. (She preferred adolescent girls, because, let’s be real guys, even women hate women! That’s the real poison of the patriarchy.) But anyway, she also liked to stick pieces of parchment between her victims toes and light them on fire. They would then kick and flail in attempts to dislodge the flaming pieces of paper and animal skin. Thus: Star kicking.
Horrible, right? It sounds so pretty. Star kicking. It has a real rhythm to the syllables, a real swing to its iambic feet, those insolent i’s and careless k’s. But damn, Bathory was messed up.
The more you know, right?
Image: Sculpture by Mihoko Ogaki, part of an ongoing series of installations called “Milky Ways.”
When I grieve, I feel it. Not feelings feel it, but I physically, literally, intensely feel it. This isn’t unusual, I know, but it never ceases to amaze me. When my emotions are too much for my head to handle, my body begins to ache. My chest hurts, a pain that feels heavy. Breathing becomes a burden. Tears do nothing to wash it away.
I’ve learned that there is no way to move beyond grief except by moving through it. By feeling it with my whole body. By letting my heart be a rock for a while. By letting my limbs be numb and heavy and my brain be clouded and fogged. I cry until my eyes hurt. I remind myself, “Drink water, sleep, take care of yourself.” I drink, I sleep. I eat strange meals of zucchini soggy with vinegar, bunches of parsley pulled from the fridge and balled up in my fist, pieces of dry, broken crackers that taste like ash in my mouth. I drink more water, and then it comes out in tears.
Healing will come eventually, but grief comes first.
For now, we have poetry (and water and parsley). Here are some good words:
The Peace of Wild Things
by Wendell Barry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Illustration by Willian Santiago. See more here.
From a fascinating New Yorker article about the prolific fantasy and sci fi author as she approaches her ninth decade of life comes this perfect quote:
“Imagination, working at full strength, can shake us out of our fatal, adoring self-absorption and make us look up and see—with terror or with relief—that the world does not in fact belong to us at all.”
Please inscribe this on my gravestone. Or maybe I should tattoo it on the inside of my eyelids as a reminder to open them every once in a while.
More bits and bobbins from her fertile brain can be found here.
Image by Aster Hung. See more of her creepy-pretty paintings on her website.