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Hidden Worlds

Unexpectedly Nearby

By the time I had photographed Dreamed Brook I had already become amazed at what I found along major highways and ordinary roadsides. Then I met John Hanson Mitchell . He was writing the essay to accompany my photographs of the area around Beaver Brook in Littleton, Massachusets that was to appear in New England Monthly magazine. This area included “Scratch Flats” where John had built his own Carpenter Gothic house.

I began reading his book Ceremonial Time and came upon this passage:

“Wilderness and wildlife, history, life itself, for that matter, is something that takes place somewhere else, it seems. You must travel to witness it, you must get in your car in summer and go off to look at things which some ‘expert,’ such as the National Park Service, tells you is important or beautiful, or historic. In spite of their admitted grandeur, I find such well-documented places somewhat boring. What I prefer, and the thing that is the subject of this book, it that undiscovered country of the nearby, the secret world that lurks beyond the night windows and at the fringes of cultivated back yards.”

From this passage came the idea of “the hidden world of the nearby” which seemed to describe what I was doing and inspired this verse:

Out of the corner of my eye
in the hidden world of the nearby—
untended gardens thrive
and pass from time, unnoticed.

and so I adopted The Hidden World of the Nearby as the title for my collection of imges.

The idea of something hidden yet nearby triggered many images of things, phenomena, etc. that were nearby but unnoticed and eventually even parts of ourselves including our ability to look and to see, or even consciousness itself, as profoundly mysterious.

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In subsequent reading I found this to be true of much of what the mind does: we experience life, we have sentience, but no one–and I mean the best brain scientists–has a clue how it happens.

This in turn has affected deeply how I think about life, its origin and meaning and ironically, it coincided with my life-long interest in cosmology: how was the universe born and how, subsequently did we evolve in the way we did which now has led to my wondering about how humanity understands (or doesn’t understand) itself. And that in turn made me realize how much of what humanity thinks it understands but on further inspection is based on relegious thinking from centures ago. Humanity, it seems, has not kept up with what science has learned about the universe and about the evolution of the human mind. From my perspective we are not a modern, advanced society but a civilization still with much to learn about itself to the point that it is destroying the very earth on which it lives. Then irony of ironies, as I began to notice the effects of climate change on what I was photographing, that I was documenting the calamity of our backward thinking on the very future of our civilization.


Signs of the times

Over the years that I was photographing the landscape, I began paying more attention to what happened on what date. Spring, for me, began about April 25th and continued until late May. Fall about September 25th when it was time to head north.

Fall ended on October 22nd (my sister’s birthday). If I hadn’t captured fall foliage by that time, I was too late.

November was invariably rainy and cold and I could count the number of sunny days on the fingers of one hand. But decades ago I had begun to notice subtle changes. Places I went every fall seemed to have colors not quite so vivid, and this change became more and more obvious until in 2002, as I was completing photography for my book The Illuminated Walden I noticed the scarcity of brilliant red maples.

Now, there is little or no fall in this area. Autumn leaves many more leaves on our trees, and rainy November is gone. It may well return just as snow has returned with a vengence and rainfall per storm has gone up. All the result of air that holds more moisture because it is warmer.

The two photographs below were taken on the ame date a dozen years apart. Although it is one example that may be an anomaly, it does represent my experience. The brilliant red tree is the last of such trees I photographed again in this area. The panoramic is of all of Walden Pond from about the site of the red tree, but years later. There was virtually no red to be seen.

Sunset Through Red Leaves, Walden Pond I
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