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The Alien Suggests

The Alien Suggests

The Alien Suggests

Go camping. Go together. Share a tent, a fire. Build the campsite with one another, for one another.

Wake up to the sounds of brooks and rivers nearby. Pause and listen. Walk in the forest together, or by yourself when the dawn appears. Climb the mountainside for kindling and a peak at the sunrise over the distant hills. When you face forward, spin, take in your 360s, your panoramas.

The old metal coffee pot is on the grill. Share it with friends. Leave your phones at home. No TV. No news. Swap the virtual for the real. Swap bad fictions for the real.

Laugh and sing with one another, like you did when you were young and unafraid. Like you did before you fell for the lies and distortions and myths of the modern world – the lies, distortions and myths of the reaction to that world.

The canoes are safe. The river flows just right for them, as if it were made for those canoes. A mix of solos and small groups on the river helps the focus on the wake you create, on the rhythms you endorse. The hawks play at making ten above you. They play at a language all their own but every bit as real as yours.

There is no one in the forest until you pull your canoes up to the shoreline and disembark. There are beings there, already, but they hide from you at first, then make themselves known. Walk softly. Let them be. Listen for the language they toss to the wind, and the wind itself.

Across the universe we evolve to feel our own worlds are beautiful – to us. But it’s been my impression, since I first set my “eyes” on this one, that yours is uniquely so. My evolution should counter that impression, should render it impossible. Actually, it should, in all probability, make me see ugliness and bleakness and death here, not life, and truth, and sparks one might call “divine.”

But that is what I see and feel, when I follow you on your climbs, and in your boats, and when you sing and laugh beside the campfire. Truth and beauty and other explosions of aesthetic bliss surround me, become my panoramas too.

Camp, make love, not war!



*All photos by Douglas Pinson, with constant help (and frequent nagging) from his alien friend.

The Parable of the I

The Parable of the I

Tilted Gardens

Brains trick us. Not just those who use them, and use them carefully, creatively. Those who never use them are tricked too. We see things not as they are, but as our minds want us to see them. This provides a great deal of amusement for our brains, which is their sole reason for existing anyway. We seriously amuse them; they love this about us; and they tolerate us because of that. Take away our comedic efforts, and they’d shut us down in a heartbeat. For that matter, they’d shut down our hearts, too.

I love taking pictures of that exact moment in time when our brains are trying to pull a fast one on us, translating, as mentioned, what is into what they want us to see. Ironically, as amazing as our minds are, they’re not really as sophisticated as they’d like us to think, because we can — at least I can — catch them off guard with these photos, these splits in time and place destined for immortality, or the trash heap — which ever comes first. Of course, there are many other ways we can sneak around their backs and get the best of them. We can drug them, drown them in wine and whiskey, make them fall off tall buildings and hit our heads. There is more than one way to skin a cat, as they used to say before YouTube came along.

Tilted Gardens 2

It’s also quite possible to confuse the hell out of the brain by taking a photo of some tremendous panorama, some profoundly moving landscape, doing this close enough to one of a billion objects under the sun so everything else is shut out. The brain becomes frazzled beyond belief and asks, where did everyone go!! In other words, while the mind can actually see everything, across the entire globe and back again, into the furthest reaches of space, back in time, into the future, as a man, a woman, a brand new garden gnome, and as the Glorious Tiger King of Samarkand, it really can’t handle cropped images.

Tree On Edge

All of that said, on any average day, I’d have to admit my brain gets the better of me. And if I’m really honest, it’s fair to say I’ve tricked myself one too many times for my own good. Taking these photos in order to escape the faux-distortions wrought by the brain creates new distortions. Sneaking stealthily behind my own back just guarantees a pretzelized perspective toward the world and freaks out the orthopedist.

And we only have one, most likely. One mind, that is. There are at least a half dozen doctors waiting in the foyer and they always overbook.

The final answer to the Brain/Body conundrum is simple: Oh, never mind!!


Wallace Stevens and the Mandolins of Spring

Wallace Stevens and the Mandolins of Spring

Rod Stewart’s Mandolin Wind


So, I’m up in the mountains again, and I’m reading Wallace Stevens — reading about him, reading his poems. I take music with me, listen to it before and after the readings. It’s very windy on the top of the mountain. Actually, the winds are ferocious at times. Merciless. And because I heard the Rod Stewart song in the car before I went to my place, my perfect spot, near the beautiful jagged rocks and the vulnerable pine trees, I hear the mandolin notes in that wind. They’re everywhere, including on the page. I see them dance around on the white pages of the biography and the collected poems, along with the wind that won’t let those pages be . . . still.

One must almost lose the mind of winter in order to feel the mandolin notes in that way, as a call to spring, to the past, to memories of that past. Melancholy as a natural force that won’t let us dwell in the present just yet. Or, as a force that won’t let us do anything else but dwell. Warm days, with that kind of wind, up in the mountains, away from the white noises of cities, suburbia, the semi-rural. Up above all of that, the wind rules, it holds sway and creates sway. It takes center stage, but breaks the center and casts it in all directions at once. No one owns the wind. No one owns the mandolin notes once they escape into the wind.

Not Stewart. Not Stevens. Not me.

In my view, Stevens is the greatest American poet of the 20th Century, and no one could jazz nature like he could. No one could spring word-traps on us like he could, in such eloquent, elegant ways, with a vocabulary that seems to come from an Oxford don in the midst of a surrealist bash, loving the sound and sense of the strangest words and the way they pull disparate things together. The imagination’s deepest sounds, its grammar set loose on holiday.

If he could be faulted for anything, it’s possibly his seeming lack of the topical. Of the immediately current. Of the politically relevant. But we have myriad artists who deal with that, so I never saw this as a true fault in his work. We go to other artists for that. We go to Stevens for the Sublime, the sharply whimsical, the beautifully arranged aesthetic of a mage in love with language itself, and what language tells us about the world as idea, as soul, as sound.



Jaded Poems

Jaded Poems

Rock Shadows2

Jaded Aesthetic Hand-Wringing too Soon



The difference between Nature and nature
I think is like Woods and woods
Rivers and rivers
Rocks and rocks

It’s like the sun shining down on the green     
And making it more green not less

Or the river looking back at you in sorrow or joy
As if it’s given up and the day has not
Begun yet

Or it seems proud of its depth and its clarity
Of thought and feeling

Proud of its command of that route
Between here and there

Loire Valley. Photo by Douglas Pinson. 2007


Strangely enough
Strangely it seems that humans
Can affect this difference

By doing their part with good brushes
And good ideas of composition and angles
And diametrics

They can do their part by not
Screwing up the good stuff
The rolling hills and the mountains
In the distance
With beat up old buildings
Falling apart and cars falling apart

And roads slowly collapsing
    Like the confidence
Of deer on busy highways

I don’t want to talk about fragility
    Not yet
Not yet at least until the new tawdry moon
Or the second mortgage

But it is a factor
It just is



Jaded Aesthetics: Part II

Rock Shadows3


Then the sun comes back out and changes
That thought that vantage point

Changes my thoughts about lesser
And lesser

The rains and the bleakness of the
Last few days gave rise
To this idea of rented
Nature vs. when

She owns it outright
When She owns the originality of her
Greens and Browns and Blues
Vs. just seeing them on loan
And downgraded by too much trade

Too much resale too much withering away
Of some vital compelling interest

The mountains I can’t see
The rivers I can’t follow
The hills I can’t find

Because they’re covered in grayness
Dull listless shabby dull
Rented gray of the kind
Found only in worldwide depressions
And in bad anger-management classes

But the sun explodes
Gives that back to us
Gives the Redeemer Her broom
Her blast of constant wind and

Brilliant pixilations jump and shine
– Bow to no one



Jaded Aesthetics: Part III

Tunnel of Trees. France. Photo by Douglas Pinson. 2007


Driving through the heath and the poor health
Of the ground the grass
The trees

Driving through it like sad tunnels and serious
And tunnels leading to the end of tunnels

I could see the effects of blue on green
The sun healing what was gray
Until this afternoon

Until my mind was okay again with the thought
Of what Nature had given me and given
To all of us in the valley of our choice

Sleepwalking behind the wheel for days
Sleepwalking through the bleak entrails
Of weak patterns of faded life and light

I groaned alive and opened my eyes to the sun
To the fire it placed on the ground for me
For my battered withered heart

As if redemption really could be in a strong blade
Of grass a strong trunk of an oak
A fast blue clear cold stream


Colors are Heroic.

Colors are Heroic.

Hieros Gamos, by Douglas Pinson. 1982/1983
Hieros Gamos, by Douglas Pinson. 1982/1983

When I was very young, I didn’t see this. I didn’t see the heroism of color, or the way we make colors ourselves, in our eyes, in our mind’s eye, or the bravery of Nature’s way, or its tremendous courage in painting as it does.

Yes, Nature paints, and that’s not just a Romantic notion. It’s not some pseudo-poetic way of describing the ineffable. It just paints. Nothing comes close to the skill set of Nature in regard to — well, everything, really. Especially shadows, colors, light, polarities of darkness and light. And nothing can reach its sublime power in making opposites cohere, mesh, harmonize, complement. In a sense, wash away. In Nature, they become one with the All. But for humans, they mean war.

For us, they mean conflict, battles and war. For Spinoza’s god, they meant the universal orchestra, the mother of all choirs, the pallet of the cosmos. And we don’t even know how many senses might be involved with the orchestra, the choir, the infinite color range — six, thirty, one thousand and one? We don’t know, and likely never will, because we’re human, all too human. It escapes us and our instruments, even after centuries of advancements.

Goethe's Symmetric Color Wheel. 1809
Goethe’s Symmetric Color Wheel. 1809

Goethe said, roughly translated, “Colors are the deeds of light.” Aside from being a great poet and novelist, he was a scientist who developed his own theories about color, the way we form and interpret them. Few men have tried so hard to merge the poetic with the rational, the rational with the poetic.
From his Theory of Color:

Let a small piece of bright-coloured paper or silk stuff be held before a moderately lighted white surface; let the observer look steadfastly on the small coloured object, and let it be taken away after a time while his eyes remain unmoved; the spectrum of another colour will then be visible on the white plane. The coloured paper may be also left in its place while the eye is directed to another part of the white plane; the same spectrum will be visible there too, for it arises from an image which now belongs to the-eye.
In order at once to see what colour will be evoked by this contrast, the chromatic circle may be referred to. The colours are here arranged in a general way according to the natural order, and the arrangement will be found to be directly applicable in the present case; for the colours diametrically opposed to each other in this diagram are those which reciprocally evoke each other in the eye. Thus, yellow demands purple; orange, blue; red, green; and vice versâ: thus again all intermediate gradations reciprocally evoke each other; the simpler colour demanding the compound, and vice versa.

We demand certain things: structure, a certain kind of logical connection between elements surrounding us. We form beauty this way, in our eyes, in our mind’s eye. And beauty, the courageous collection of disparate things in context — this may be the highest height humans can reach. If something isn’t quite symmetrical, we strive to make it so, or, perhaps, get angry. And by pulling this and that out of context (sometimes violently) of what we may consider in that moment asymmetrical or not beautiful . . . we create turmoil, and that can be beautiful too. Or, it can destroy.

If that destruction is just on canvas, or in the dark room, or on a piano, or hammering rocks into certain shapes, if it is sectioned off and made functional for itself . . . But what happens when we take our projections of what should be just so about the world away from Art? What happens when we see our fellow human beings and our environment as definitely in need of sculpting and remaking?
There really is no universal answer. Taoism, thousands of years ago, had some answers that work and work still, but not in all cases, and not for all time. The realization that when we tear something out from its context, sever it from, separate it from, and say it’s “beautiful” — the revelation that this creates conflicts where none existed can take us a long way. Discrimination can be a hateful thing. But without it, we would be less than rocks, never noticing if the wind touching us were cold, warm, wet or dry. But desperately seeking this all the same.

Colors are heroic because they knew this before we knew them.

Dylanesque Mountains Blowing in the Wind

Dylanesque Mountains Blowing in the Wind

20161014_141352I go to my spot. It’s my spot though it’s everyone’s. It’s everyone’s though it’s really just mine. Because I say so. Because I believe the rocks, the trees, the birds, the clouds all speak for me. They are my eyes and ears and voice. Voices. Plural times plural. So close to infinity, but not quite.

Again, because that is my thinking and I don’t really want to take the easy way out.
The easy way out would be to let go of time and just claim the infinite, always, everywhere

Which really means no time and nowhere. Or does it? It could. It really could, but then
The amber rocks, the powder blue skies, the stunted, evergreen tree at the heart of things
Would disappear, and they rebel against that. They rebel against my ideas.


So an alternative arrives. Think music. Think contra-sounds. Instead of the mountain’s wind, the flow between the rocks and trees, the beating core of the mountain itself, I listen to Dylan. I listen to the first modern troubadour to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, and I listen to old music, music that has the weight of folk culture and icons on its back.

Songs that are so familiar, we don’t even remember who wrote them. Like an oral tradition before Homer, sampled by Homer and the bards who followed him.

Decades before he left Minnesota for New York, we would have called them standards — or something like that. But after Dylan we just call them songs without origins, iconic, archetypal, leading to studies we might then call seminal, classic.

And this merges with the mountain, because it can’t. It really can’t possibly do this but it does. I see the amber rocks in a different way, with the notes and lyrics hovering over it like gray clouds, spots of sunshine, flashes of light. Its calm is shattered or augmented or aligned with ancient songs written a few decades past, when the world was young, when America was young, breathless, hope-filled and crazy with love. Crazy with a sense of brand new things, before it drowned itself in irony and cynicism and much worse — hate.


The sacred tree is vulnerable to these things. The sky is too. The smell of sweet wind and its patently lonely sounds focus the swirl of angst, the children of dread, bearing down on Dylan and his words of love and warning. So much has changed. So much is lost. Can I cling to the ancient mountain still as mine, as the seat of near-infinity?


It’s Their Turn

It’s Their Turn

In the last several years, there has been a long over due spate of films with women as heroes. Two recent movies have told the tale of women, based on their memoirs, testing themselves against the harshest of elements, against nature, striving to go beyond their previously known levels of endurance. This has long been the staple of hero stories for men. But it seems that finally women are getting a chance to show what they can do, what they’ve always been able to do. Tracks, a fine film, directed by John Curran and starring Mia Wasikowska, tells the true story of Robyn Davidson’s (1977) journey, 1700 miles across Australian deserts, with camels and a dog, to reach the Indian Ocean.

This is no Hallmark movie, with the usual pre-packaged displays of all too conventional wisdom and supposed discoveries of inner truth. Wasikowska’s Davidson is far too understated for that, and she probably likes her dog and her camels more than being with other people. Whatever profundities one gains from watching the movie are pretty much all up to the viewer, who must piece together the beauty of the land, contemplate the sometimes death-defying battle with nature, and make their own call. In short, the director, the writers, the actors, and no doubt Ms. Davidson herself would rather treat us all as intelligent adults, than as consumers of short-cuts to “a better you.”

Wild is also based on a true story, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, from a memoir by Cheryl Strayed, portrayed by Reese Witherspoon in an Oscar-worthy performance. Like Tracks, it tells of a solo journey of a very determined hiker, this time one who begins in Southern California, crosses the Mohave Desert, and winds up at the Bridge of the Gods in Oregon. While Tracks had its share of flashbacks and connections with the heroine’s past, Wild weaves those moments in and out more frequently. Cheryl’s mother, played by Laura Dern, becomes her inner touchstone, her rock, and is possibly the main reason for the trek in the first place. Along with crucial help along the way from assorted hikers and a farmer, it is the spirit of the mother that helps push Cheryl on and prevents her from giving up.

Unlike Wasikowska’s Davidson, Reese Witherspoon is constantly inside her own tortured head and going deeper into her psyche as her travels drag on. But like Tracks, it is largely the physical challenge and struggle with the elements that makes this confrontation with the self possible. We just see more stream of consciousness in Wild, learn more about the protagonist’s past, her family history and her battle with addiction and its effects. Strayed’s past indicates no reluctance to engage in human contact, unlike Davidson’s preference for being alone, but at times it may have been better off if she had chosen dogs and camels instead.

Watching these two excellent films without too much separation in time strengthens both and helps prevent cookie-cutter responses to the travails of both hikers. I recommend checking out both movies together.


The River

The River

Shenandoah River, Virginia

The river is real and metaphorical at the same time. Or, perhaps, a shade or two off the instant. It is real only before and after the photograph. When I look through the lens, I’m already behind the times and separate from my river. When I look at the photograph, I am further removed in time and space — there and not there. Being as if. Not being as one.

Such musings are more or less obvious. But what is not so obvious is that the river terrorizes me and makes me laugh with joy and fate as well. Or, perhaps, a shade or two this side of terror and omen. I laugh thinking about all the other people through time who have looked at rivers and seen things like that. Metaphors and such. Poetic phrases both profound and banal.

Isn’t it curious that people would spend even one second thinking about anything but the lush green, blue, brown and grey colors, and the shadows and shapes spreading across the world? Isn’t it curious that people would be there, witnessing that beauty, the fresh, windy smells, the haunting quiet split by the sound of birds and the rolling river, and want to change it all into something else?

I must admit that the need to capture, frame, crop, sharpen and compose in various ways speaks to a much larger problem. I know the river is greater than I am. I know the sky, the trees, the grass and every wild, natural life — all of it is greater than I am. And I know that it is immortal in a sense, and I am not in a sense. And that realization is the birth of Art. Or something opposed to Art. Something designed to still deep waters and keep us amused, oblivious.


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