I haven’t been in much of a mood for writing this past week. But when I took my camera out for a walk yesterday afternoon, everything I looked at reminded me of pen marks on paper, beginning with the mast where the electric wires connect to my house in swirly Gothic serifs.
The clear air made for sharp contrasts. A runic pair of aspen trunks at the edge of the woods stood out as clearly against the dark background as any light font on a stylishly dark webpage. (Click on photos to view at larger sizes.)
What does it mean to see the world not merely as something created — a work of art — but as text? The origins of most writing systems are closely linked to divination, I believe: the world itself was read long before humans devised their own glyphs. And as phenomenologist David Abram noted in The Spell of the Sensuous, reading connects us to a form of absorption virtually indistinguishable from a shamanic trance.
How to pronounce them, these new letters hidden in the cattails? The wind has one idea, and the wren another.
In the bottom corner of the field I found some wild mint, which I picked, brought home, and made tea out of. I found the mint because I stopped to admire a garden spider’s web. She too had correctly read the tea leaves, though what they said to her wasn’t tea but flowers — and insect pollinators. And sure enough, the purple blooms were abuzz.
Much as I want to find significance in the world, I don’t want to limit it to a single interpretation. This is where poets and omen-readers part company. The former insist on retaining a large element of mystery and nuance — even out-right confusion. In the same way that the perception of music depends upon the recognition of noise, the part of the world that eludes easy interpretation brings the rest into sharp relief: for every figure there must be a ground. Science now treats DNA as a kind of programming language, but so-called junk DNA accounts for up to 90 percent of a genetic sequence. I don’t know if that’s directly analogous or not, but I’m a poet, so I’ll just throw it out there.
Genetic code and computer languages should serve to remind us, though, that language doesn’t simply mean; it transforms. This is the point that academic disquisitions on hermeneutics so often miss. We read for the same reason that our Paleolithic ancestors went into shamanic trances: to feel ourselves a part of a larger whole. The rightness that one senses in natural surroundings — even in a badly damaged ecosystem — is far more than a matter of interpretation. It is our body remembering how to listen.
The tea was delicious. And I think my dry spell is almost over.