New arrival: Visual Soma

the melt line

Color was returning to reclaim the world from black-and-white. It started on Sapsucker Ridge and spread down across the field. Soon it was right in front of my doorstep, where it paused for a while. I took that as a signal to go out, camera dangling from the strap around my neck like a shrunken head. It can see things I can’t. It can steal souls. I point and click, and sometimes, when I am looking for nothing in particular — “just looking,” as I always say to solicitous sales clerks — the miraculous appears. Or at least the pretty darn interesting. Or the mildly engaging. Or… well, you get the picture.

Why “Visual Soma”? Because when a regular reader of Via Negativa visited the then still tentative photoblog for the first time the other day, she thought I must be smoking something. And because a name like that will give me something to try and live up to: photos that alter consciousness. Can it be done? I don’t know, but I’m going to try.

This is not a resolution, mind you, but an aspiration, keeping in mind the multiple meanings of that word. The breath itself is enough of a wonder. Who needs smoke?

Again, for those unfamiliar with the photoblog format: the front page displays the latest photo only. Click on it — or use the Previous or Archive links at the top — to go back in time. I’m paid up for a year, so the blog and all its archives will stay online at least that long. In addition to new photos, I have two years’ worth of photos that need a second look and in most cases re-processing.

Echo chambers


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highway to nowhereThursday was only my second time to ride on the newly opened section of I-99, central Pennsylvania’s infamous “road to nowhere.” This time I remembered to bring a camera, though the Bald Eagle Ridge portion was still in shadow. It’s amazing how quickly we can get from Tyrone to State College now.

I suppose a lot of people who had opposed this highway as passionately as we did might have a hard time using it, but we’re pragmatists, I guess. It’s kind of like voting even when you think the whole system is corrupt. Actually, the way this highway got pushed through is quite similar to the way candidates get pushed on voters: the local media presented it as a stark choice between an interstate highway on the ridgetop and continued carnage on the old, dangerous road up the valley — the “highway of death.” Any attempt to advocate for another position was drowned out by the baying of the interstate boosters. The sadly ironic outcome is that the new highway will result in far more deaths than the old one did, but the deaths will be largely of non-humans: increased roadkill of all kinds, with certain species of reptiles and amphibians probably suffering local extinctions in the long run due to inbreeding depression. And the highly acidic rock exposed by the removal of the mountaintop where the new highway goes over will undoubtedly be releasing some level of pollution into two different watersheds for centuries. From the perspective of wildlife and wildlife habitat, every highway is a highway of death.

As for “road to nowhere,” I see that even one of the biggest boosters of the project, the Altoona Mirror, has adopted the term. What does it mean when a leading local newspaper, the mouthpiece of the local chambers of commerce, asserts that this is Nowhere? Somehow, I doubt that they had the etymology of “utopia” in mind. With the completion of I-99 later on this year, the area will lose a bit more of its distictinctive character and come that much closer to generic Anytown, USA. And the elites will cheer and tell us how lucky we are, and assure us that prosperity is just around the corner. Sound familiar?

Among trees

Lorianne has assembled a rich array of links at Festival of the Trees #19. Go look.

red maple from above

This morning I spent some time sitting in a tree. It was cold, and the views were mostly of other trees. I felt like a fly at a rather dull cocktail party. The only conversation I could hear was between a dead tree and a live one about twenty feet away — a shrill squeal. Perhaps it was really more of a seance.


As I looked down at my own footprints leading away from the tree, I felt a sudden pang of what can only be described as pity for the rootless sprout that made them. A strong gust of wind set my tree to rocking, and I gripped the hand-rail of the hunter’s tree stand. Heeeeeeee, said the dead one.

Hidden messages

dancing grass

Call for Submissions: Hidden Messages

The world is full of hidden messages, real and imagined: the letter concealed in the stem of a pen, the meeting place coded into a newspaper ad, information sailors derive from the weather, destinies astrologers divine from the stars, art drawn on the walls of catacombs, the farmer who finds signs in the behavior of livestock, the teenager who hears joy or doom in the seemingly random order of radio songs, people speaking freely among strangers who don’t know their language, the vast distance between what is meant and what is said.

This issue of qarrtsiluni is interested in hidden messages: the ways they’re concealed, the moments they’re revealed. The “messages” we’ll collect for the issue can come in any form: poetry, story, painting, photograph, essay, fragment, memory, code, and, for the first time, film.

Does our world conceal a great secret, or is it always struggling to speak? What hidden messages have you found? What do you dream of finding? What messages have you concealed?


New Year round

This is a short renga: each adjacent pair of stanzas can be read as a stand-alone poem.

first sunrise of the year
the orange bellies of the clouds
are blurry with snow

a gray squirrel in estrus trailed
by two slow-motion suitors

in the wind
above the ridge a raven
croaks & somersaults

my first piss of the New Year
I’m especially careful

distant rumble
of a military jet
it’s still the same world

windows rattle with the snoring
of a late-night reveler

I clear the cookies
from my hard drive
avatar’s a question mark now

the grimy washing machine
rocks with a load of laundry

first sunrise of the year
the orange bellies of the clouds
are blurry with snow

See also the New Year Haiku Collaborative Poem Dance at Watermark.