Clouds like poems and poems like clouds.

Mammatus_clouds_in_the_Nepal_Himalayas

Unburdened by memory of any kind,
they float easily over the facts.

What on earth could they bear witness to?
They scatter whenever something happens.

Compared to clouds,
life rests on solid ground,
practically permanent, almost eternal.

Next to clouds
even a stone seems like a brother,
someone you can trust,
while they’re just distant, flighty cousins.

From “Clouds” by Winslawa Szymborska, a Nobel Prize winning Polish poet who writes beautifully about the natural world and the human heart. Read the entire poem in English or in Polish here.

The clouds shown in the image above are mammatus clouds, also known as mammatocumulus. The name comes from the Latin word mamma meaning “mother” or “breast.” Beautiful breast clouds, swinging their udders in the sky.

Also, did you know that the World Meteorological Organization has a section called “Weather reports from the future?” I’m almost afraid to click on it, because I want it so badly to be something oddly magical or slightly silly. I assume it’s about climate change—an important topic! obviously!—but I wish it were stories from a future meteorologist, sending his weather reports back in time to us, boring dispatches about the sky from an unimaginable life form.

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“When I follow the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth.”

Friend_A-03Sometimes, I think the stars come out at night because that is when we are tired and worn, when we feel threadbare from the demands of the day. Stars ask for nothing (and most pleasures do ask for something; even flowers beg to be smelled). They are the stalwart companions of the insomniac, steadfast enough to guide a ship. The night sky is the largest, most expansive thing I will ever see with my own eyes. I can look out across an ocean, but as the world curves, it turns and hides itself, coyly holding back a glimpse of my final destination. The night is a gift in that way, a brief time when hidden things become visible, a suitcase turned inside-out and upside-down. Those stars, bone-white and unfathomable, are infinite in a way that nothing in my life will ever be infinite. They are beyond me always; beyond the grasp of my mind, beyond the reach of my arms. And yet, all I need to do is walk outside and I can take part in that silent symphony. Always, I’ll have the stars. And never will I ever have the stars. I find this comforting. I find this to be true.

Image by photographer Amy Friend. More here.

Star light, star bright, last star I see tonight (because light pollution is ruining everything)

To celebrate its 24th year in orbit, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has released this beautiful new image of part of NGC 2174, also known as the Monkey Head Nebula. NGC 2174 lies about 6400 light-years away in the constellation of Orion (The Hunter). Hubble previously viewed this part of the sky back in 2011 — the colourful region is filled with young stars embedded within bright wisps of cosmic gas and dust. This portion of the Monkey Head Nebula was imaged in the infrared using Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3.
These are the things I know about the night sky: I know where to find the Big Dipper. I know that the Big Dipper is also called “Ursa Major” because it is supposed to look like a large bear, though I can’t claim to ever have noticed a resemblance. I know that planets emit steady light while true stars flicker in and out (they twinkle, to use an infantile word I rather hate). I know how to find the North Star and how to spot Orion (it’s his belt, from which supposedly hangs a sword, though let’s be honest: dude’s probably not packing steel, ya hear me?).

I used to know more. I used to know the myths and legends and how to find the vain queen Cassiopeia. But that’s gone now, stuck somewhere in the weird and unreliable filing system of my memory.

I recently found myself staring at the stars and something funny happened: I got lost (or maybe more accurately: my ursine familiar was lost to me). I was camping in Canada, way up north on the coast of Cape Breton Island, in this beautiful place called Meat Cove, which seemed all the more lovely for its terrible name. In this remote place, few lights compete with the stars. There is no light pollution from cities, for there are no cities. There are few cars and fewer towns. When I looked up, I couldn’t find the Big Dipper. Orion seemed to have gone into hiding, shamed at being so easily overshadowed by the sheer wealth of stars. In many places in America, you can’t even see the Milky Way. Up there, you could see that pale, stagnant river of light. But it’s beauty was bland in comparison to the light show going on elsewhere. Night sky image “This sky makes me stupid,” I kept saying to my boyfriend. We would go for walks in the semi-dark, and I would trip over stones because my head was turned upwards. (This happens to me a lot, actually. Even city streets are more beautiful when you look at the tops of buildings and not the trash below.) One night, I sat on a rock and stared at the sky for over an hour, just looking. Just watching. Flicker, flicker, little stars.

It’s amazing to think that this experience is so rare—yet it used to be so common. A recent article in Nautilus (one of my favorite publications) profiles an astronomer named Tyler Nordgren who is working to reestablish dark spots in national parks. He wants to make it possible for everyone to get drunk on stars, to stare at the sky until they become lost in its splendor. A fellow astronomer describes the significance of Nordgren’s work in rather romantic—but wonderfully effective—terms: “It’s also one thing all of humanity has in common. It’s the same sky in the Sahara as it is over Philadelphia. It’s also the same sky as Native Americans gazed up at 10,000 years ago. People think of light pollution as an astronomer’s concern, but Tyler helps establish this broad value, that it matters to everyone.”Screen Shot 2015-09-02 at 7.06.46 PM

Does it matter to everyone? Probably not. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t give too much thought to the stars until I found myself silenced by their brilliance. It took driving 15 hours away from home to a campground on the edge of an island for me to see why light pollution matters. It matters because there are so few things in the world that can truly induce awe (and so many things that induce aww but that’s a post for another time). I’m not very spiritual, but the closest thing I have to a religion comes from those strange moments of sublime wonderment, where I become very, very small and the world around me expands, like the universe is supposedly doing at all times, only at a far more rapid clip.

So, I do care. And maybe so should you.

(P.S. The image at the top of this post is from NASA. Taken by the Hubble Telescope, it shows a STAR FACTORY. Really, that’s what it’s called. How wonderful! Thousands of times better than “Meat Cove.”)

Get outside and worship in the Tree Church.

Church_front_thru_trees_resize-960x600In the past two weeks, I have gone mountain biking at Sugarloaf, hiked Bradbury Mountain, swam in three rivers and one pond, tried stand-up paddleboard yoga for the very first time, went bouldering and fell on my butt, and climbed up a slippery waterfall. I’m proud of this fact, even though it means I’ve been neglecting my blog and my books and my work. But the easiest way to recalibrate my inner system—to reset my mental state to neutral, to flip the switch from madness to sanity, to stop the centipede from whirling around my skull—is to go outside.

I won’t get weird and preachy here, but I don’t know how to say this without sounding a little too earnest. So I’ll just go ahead and keep it short: I need green things. Nature makes me whole and balanced and good. It’s my jam (friluftsliv FTW).

Tree-Church_web_front_full-colourSo naturally I fell in love with this outdoor church in New Zealand made almost entirely from living things. “After traveling the world and being a keen observer of Churches, Barry Cox decided to construct a unique Church of his own using living trees,” reads the website. Construction started in April, 2011 and now the church and garden grounds are open to visitors. You can also book it for weddings. How nice would that be?

Sadly, it’s too expensive for my nuptials (not to mention halfway around the world). But what a great idea! It reminds me of earthwork artist Olafur Eliasson’s piece at Bard, the Parliament of Reality. It’s an art installation that also functions as an outdoor gathering space, and I used to visit it often when I was in school. It’s been years; I wonder what it looks like now…

See more about the tree church here and here.

Sweet science: deer beds.

Katherine_Wolkoff_DeerbedHere is something I learned today: Deer beds are beautiful.

Here’s another thing: Deer travel and live in herds. They’re social animals—to an extent. While the bucks are off… doing whatever it is bucks do, the lady-deers come together. The female deers and their little dappled fawns bed down together in large groups, while the bucks only hang out in groups of three to five (they are constantly fighting for dominance, which weakens the herd dynamic, kind of like when you go out with a few guys and they start playing darts and the night quickly dissolves into puffed chests and hurt feelings).

Hunters often track deer based on the imprints they leave when they lie down to rest. They create oval-shaped indents on the ground, crumpled swirls of grass. In the winter, their body heat melts the snow beneath, so if you see a few round melty spots, that’s probably a deer bed. Katherine_Wolkoff_deerbed_2

Photographer Katherine Wolkoff has created a series called “Deer Beds,” and I’m absolutely in love. To capture these images, she followed deer around Block Island, stopping where they did and training her camera on their nocturnal nests. The photographs (above) are strangely intimate and human. Touching and wild. Sweet and subtle. Imagine stumbling on a one of these deer beds in the wild grass. Lie down, it’s still warm from their gentle heat. Smell the plants, prickly and pungent, green and growing. Go to sleep. Dream of the herd, prancing away without you. Oh, deer.

Moki, teach me how to disappear.

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 10.22.37 PMI just spent an hour tracking down the origins of this piece. I first saw the eerily calm, untitled image floating around on Pinterest. It’s by Berlin-based artist Moki, and oh man am I glad I figured that out. Because Moki is amazing. This waterfall sleeper is from the series “How to Disappear,” a name that feels like it was plucked from somewhere inside my ribcage. Her work is amazing—soft, textured, dreamlike. She’s also chosen to remain anonymous, painting under the simple nickname Moki, keeping her real identity hidden. Disappear? She’s already invisible. Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 10.25.27 PM On her website, she has several other projects, like “Turquoise” and “Caves” and even a series on treehouses. All her work seems to touch on similar themes and swim in that weird place of magical realism. (I know in art it’s called surrealism… but the tone of these images seem closer to a page from a novel—they lack the flatness that so many surrealist images have. They are so layered and human. They tell stories. Damn, even that rock looks human.)  Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 10.26.54 PMScreen Shot 2015-01-07 at 10.26.41 PMScreen Shot 2015-01-07 at 10.26.21 PMSo lovely. See more here.