One morning in late July, I had a vision of things from the inside-out: in lieu of a leaf, for example, I saw a two-walled room devoid of green. Bark no longer belonged to the tree, but to the air around it. All flesh was glass.

The elephant-sized boulders scattered through the woods no longer reminded me of anything final. I saw instead that they were tongues of pure thirst, slowly dissolving, giving rise to gray clouds. I sat in a space between three boulders and listened to a hermit thrush. It began to rain.


Imagine if, instead, I had caught a sudden glimpse of what that woods would look like just six months later. No vision can measure up to the reality of a northern winter: the ground’s smooth pelt, the deep blue sky, the appalling distances that can open between two trees.


You don’t need a grand vision to feel connected to the universe; you simply need to to be mindful of basic ecological principles. However much we may try to pretend otherwise, we are each a part of the food chain, temporarily undissolved pieces of meat in a cosmic digestive sytem. Therefore, in a very real sense, every state is an altered state. And even in the more figurative sense with which mystics or drug-takers talk about altered states of consciousness, the pleasure is in the transition, which can be prolonged and intensified by artifical means, but is still relatively fleeting.

What you get out of those transition states probably depends very much on what you bring to them. Don’t believe the wilder claims of the cannabis-boosters: smoking pot will not magically turn violent assholes into peaceniks; it will only make them temporarily a little less dangerous. Likewise, a simultaneous global orgasm might be amusing, in a guerilla theater kind of way, but it would not bring about world peace, any more than making everyone profess the same faith would. Building peace is hard work. Hell, just remembering to be kind to those you love is hard work. Good visions and good vibes probably help, but only a little.


Speaking of visions, be sure to catch Nathan’s story about his adventures as a vision-questing gringo in Mexico in the comment thread to the “cathedral” post. Start here.

7 Replies to “Visions”

  1. Hey Dave,

    this piece made me think of dirt. Soil. Our soil is often red hereabouts. Not, I hazard, from the rhyolite that makes up the hills, but from iron remaindered from long vanished dolomite, as was suggested by our reading on the formation of drusy quartz. The sciences are always new to me and I don’t fear being speculative, or wrong . Perhaps the seas have dried twice, first leaving behind the limestone, then the limestone “evaporated” leaving behind the iron. The lead in the great deposits near Potosi was abandoned by the mountains of the Franciscan orogeny which could hold on to it only so long before letting go into air and water. Maybe the chewing sky spit the lead out like seeds which tumbled to busy atolls building in the sea.

    Perhaps some soils outlast the hills, as hills feed themselves to the air. We have mild uplift here, so as the sky grows thirsty, hills are replenished, like a mother spoon feeding a child. Certainly though the mantle of soil on a hill drapes over a changing physiognomy, always much older than each newly arranged face pressing into it.

    What the sky does not want the soil will use as bones and flesh. Do soils respire creatures and leaves? That blown leaf, causing you to brake, is that pulled along by the rush of soil breathing in.

    I wouldn’t want to consider, though, that our rhyolite didn’t have a life. A tenth the age of the universe, it is fleeting under the tarrying boulders who cannot match its rate of waste.

    Perhaps in some dolomite there is a breathing in as it’s metals oxidize. A better image for limestone might be breaths of taphony and exhalations of hard water. I never really learned the carbon cycle.

  2. Oh Dave, by the way. This:

    “…I saw instead that they were tongues of pure thirst, slowly dissolving, giving rise to gray clouds.”

    is permanent. And awesome.

    But maybe not so permanent. There is a node within the wasting bed:

    “…tongues of pure thirst…”

  3. Your “vision” adds greatly to the gravity-bound mechanical processes of weathering whereby boulder turns to pebble turns to sand in a downward trickle, a melt whose slow turbulence does offer many great shapes. Chemical weathering might suggest a model which has assonance with yours, but I cannot imagine it. Perhaps limestones evanesce into the atmosphere, but I do not think acidic stones do. Certainly the chemistry is most profound. Increasing limestone exposure moist skies is like increase the rate of combustion in an wood stove by letting in more air. And an oxidation/combustion allegory is always fun, being one in which things burn as they oxidize!

    The magic you add is spatial, of memory, formal and recognition based. Boulders, hillsides, loose their volumes and their looks to the air which continually displaces them. Shapes are nibbled by the air, occupancy of space is temporary. As I mentioned, so often mountain and hillside salience is associated with uplift. With uplift, instead of the sky retaking its space, there is constant exchange of territory, back and forth. Perhaps this liminal surface pulses like sand on a beach. Perhaps rocks simply can’t stand the loss of pressure up on the surface, and they perish like whales on a beach. There is nothing to hold a stone together once air encroaches on five sides, the sixth side being downward facing and the stone’s only fading memory of its kindred lithosphere. I wonder if my newly sharpened study will increase the rate of erosion? Thank you for the insight into our unravelling and replenishing hills!

    And sorry for any tedious redundancies! I will cast and recast this new model indefinitely and in many pourings! I have to run outside now and see if the hills have moved any; I know I’ll be able to spot it.

  4. Damn, you’re really on a roll this morning! Did I ever mention that I almost majored in Geology at Penn State? That was before I faced up to the fact that it wasn’t all poetry; I would have to take a lot of hard math and science course, and if I survived, would must likely end up working for an oil company. But there is at least one blogger who mixes geology and poetry quite comfortably: check out Connaissances if you haven’t already.

    A lot of great images in your comments. I can’t shake the feeling that you might have missed your calling as a science fiction writer.

    there is constant exchange of territory, back and forth

    Yes, that’s exactly what i was getting at in the post, I think.

  5. Dave, you’re too generous, thanks, but I do think I missed your bigger points. I guess I operate in a dialectic of boorishness and contrition for my boorish behavior. But when I do see what I’ve missed it hits with all the greater impact.

    First of all, I could go on and on and on and not begin to create the vision of your first few lines creates. I think that what I wished to say in my comments, but failed to, was that you provided an imagery new to me of mountains weathering up, not down. And that is magic.

    But as I reread your post, even just the poetic beginning I see how fractional I am, as though I took off unchangingly on a vector at a single point in the very complex curving line you scribe.

    Then I have an irredentist satisfaction in the elevation of my concentration. I revel in the potency of this self-satisfaction, doing, in effect just what the larger arc of your post decries.

  6. No vision can measure up to the reality of a northern winter
    Yes, how true.
    Thanks for the pointer back to Nathan’s story. A interesting and enjoyable read.

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