Tag Archives: photographs

invious

On a map of our planet there are scarcely more than half a dozen great invious patches remaining, some at the polar edges, others splotched across the middle: Amazon, Sahara, perhaps Tibet. Slightly smaller but still formidable swaths number only in the few dozen. Well less than ten percent of the land on Earth is more than six straight kilometres from the nearest road.

Think of times when you have been in roadless places. How far in have you gone? An overnight hike the Rockies, perhaps? I did a few of those in my youth. You feel you could be in the dawn of days, surrounded by nothing but mountains, trees, birds, small animals, and traces of bigger beasts. But you are on a trail, and even on foot you are just a few hours from a main highway; climb a peak and you may see it. One time, on a day hike alone to Kindersley Ridge, on windswept scree above the trees, I could not find the trail to go on and then could not find it to go back, and I was as far from human company as I can remember ever feeling. And yet, while I frantically sought traces of human passage, as the crow flies I was all of about four kilometres from where my parents’ car was parked by the highway having its hatchback broken into and its gas siphoned.

Imagine being a hundred – two hundred, three hundred – kilometres from the nearest road. Imagine being on a road and coming to the end of it, and seeing ahead of you an expanse with no roads at all: desert sand, or tundra, or glacier, or mountain, all as invious as the undriven snow. What do you feel? Daunted? Or curious? Or envious?

The invious – the roadless, the places you can’t drive to, from via ‘road’ and -ous for an adjective and in- meaning ‘not’ (as in you can’t get in) – is both a threat and an invitation. It’s not that you can’t get places without taking the road; it’s just that it’s much more difficult. I have been bushwhacking through mountainside trees, scrambling up scrubby slopes, snowshoeing across open plains and frozen ponds, and no road or trail was required, but I less quickly got anywhere and more quickly got tired. But I went because I wanted to see.

There’s a term for footworn paths in grass from pavements to doors: desire lines. They show where we want to go. Paths, and then pavements, are the expression and enablement of desire. Where we can’t take our cars, or at least walk easily, we can still want to see, and we can be envious. So we add more roads. So much of the world as we know it is the world as seen from car windows. Our viae are our positional positivism, our empirical empire, determining what we see and how.

And away from them is the via negativa. It is not empty space; it is the space that can be filled with anything other than roads. As Max A.E. Rossberg writes for the European Wilderness Society, “the Earth’s surface is shattered by roads”; they interrupt ecosystems, introduce invasive species (notable among them being you and me), make it easier to take things away, and lead to the construction of still more roads. See this map, made by the Roadless Initiative, of global roadless areas, and this map representing the actual roads on the planet. Evidence of an overriding drive – but one that still meets the end of the road.

It is not that we can’t get to these invious places, of course. It’s just harder. Most of them are occupied – by plants and animals, but also by humans, though in low concentration and travelling by means other than motor vehicle. Feet, horses, dogs, airplanes, and – at the land edges – boats, all make travel across the invious regions possible. And most of that travel follows worn paths as well.

Roads are, in their way, the vocabulary of the world. In any language we divide up concepts in different ways, somewhat as roads divide up the land, though those boundaries are not always as hard as an interstate. And words help us to establish routes into areas of thought, and determine for us what we can see and keep in mind: just what stays in perspective from the car windows. There may be – there surely are – large areas that are lexically invious, without words to make inroads on them, and if we become aware of them we will be daunted or envious or both. If we once build a road, that will become how we think of the topic, and then we may build further roads off it, and further roads off those.

But if we build these new word roads, we will have to maintain them. The word invious has not seen much use of late, for example, so I’m refreshing the pavement. And at the same time, we need to remember that there will always be the unpaved places, the unbuilt lands where even paths disappear. They’re still there. And we can still go to them. But first, to find them, we need to take the via negativa: not this, not that. You can go off road with your vehicle, at risk of damage, or you can put on your hiking boots and find what has always been there, as other people have already seen.

sepia

Would you ever squid your family?

How about your family photos?

OK, not squid, not really. Cuttlefish.

Cuttlefish isn’t quite snugglebunny, is it? But there’s something classy about it, you know… [touches earpiece] Wait, I’m just being told that no, there’s not.

But oh, yes, there is. You know that classic golden-brown tone of some old photographs? What’s called sepia?

Well. I was just making supper tonight, and, as one may from time to time, I was using pasta with squid ink colouring. And on the front of the package, I noticed that, along with a photo of a tentacled sea creature on a bed of parsley, it said “tagliatelle con nero do seppia.”

Huh. Seppia

I turned over the package. It gave the ingredients in several languages. “Durum wheat semolina with squid ink,” it said. And in German, “Hartweizengriess mit Sepia-Tinte.”

Hmm.

So I looked it up. And here’s the deal. Cephalopods – octopus, squid, cuttlefish – produce ink, as you probably know. That ink has been historically used not just for the obvious purpose of colouring pasta but also, strangely enough, for drawing and writing. Squid ink, as seen in pasta, is a blueish black, often with green tinges; cuttlefish ink, the more popular kind for art, tends towards a rich brownish black. In both cases, the original cephalopod uses the ink as a means of escaping. And in pasta as in photography, the original cephalopod has escaped.

In pasta, it has escaped because squid ink is not cuttlefish ink and yet they say it is. Sepia (or, in Italian, seppia) is cuttlefish; it comes from Latin, which got it from Greek, basically unaltered, meaning the same critter. But my pasta is evidently coloured with squid ink; you can see the bluish-green tint, rather than the brownish tint of cuttlefish ink. Yet the Italians and Germans call it sepia ink nonetheless. And if they are right, then English – which, as on my pasta package, calls it squid ink – is wrong. Either way, someone has a disconnect between ink producer and ink name.

In photography, the cephalopod has escaped because although the photographs have the same kind of brownish-black tint as you see in drawings made with actual sepia ink, they are not actually made with ink from cuttlefish. Rather, it’s called sepia just because it looks about the same as cuttlefish ink. In actuality, the silver in the print has been converted to silver sulfide, which, aside from having a warmer look, is more stable and lasts longer.

And, of course, in photos such as the ones I have here, the tint isn’t ink at all; it’s just a tinge in the image presented by your computer screen. The squid has quit town; the cuttlefish has scuttled away.

So there you have it. And there you have my lovely pasta dinner, which I cooked for my lovely wife.

solitude

Laurie Anderson said,

Paradise
Is exactly like
Where you are right now
Only much much
Better.

I have a similar thought about solitude: Solitude is exactly like loneliness, only much much better.

To put it another way, the difference between loneliness and solitude is that you hate the one and want the other.

I spent many years in corrosive loneliness, single, unattached, walking miles by myself hoping to find someone else but unable or unwilling or afraid to reach out. Now, I happily go for long walks or runs by myself, because I know there is someone there for me when I get back. I can be by myself because I know I have friends who will spend time with me. Being apart from others is no longer a subtraction; it is an addition.

Solitude, etymologically, means exactly the same thing as loneliness: sol- as in sole, solo, solivagant, plus -itude; lonely plus -ness, where lonely is lone plus -ly and lone in its turn is shortened from alone, which is from all one. (The difference between only and lonely, etymologically, is just that the latter has the last remnant of all.) Why have they gained different tones? I don’t know for certain, but I have a guess: poetry. Solitude comes from French, which took it (altered) from Latin, and poets for a long time, especially in the educated and courtly traditions, preferred the classically derived words. Lonely comes from base old English, the language of the commoners when, after the Norman conquest, the rich spoke French. Rich, well-educated people can afford solitude; poor peasants are stuck with being lonely.

There’s no shortage of poetry on solitude; just search “solitude” at poetryfoundation.org and see. You will also find enough entries for solitude in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. Some of it is very much the kind of mood I like, when I like that kind of mood:

That inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude

—William Wordsworth

I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.

—Henry David Thoreau

She would not exchange her solitude for anything. Never again to be forced to move to the rhythms of others.

—Tillie Olsen

For those of us who have been too much isolated, solitude is not available, only loneliness. But for those of us who are well supported and have as much social contact as we need – or perhaps even more – solitude can be a sweet gift, a refreshing time away.

And it doesn’t need to be in the far countryside. It can be in the middle of a city. If you can be alone in a crowd, you can have solitude in the heart of a city.

I wish you as much solitude as you desire, and as little loneliness as you want.

nuit blanche

Nuit blanche. French. Two words, one syllable each: /nɥi blɑ̃ʃ/. When spoken aloud, soothing. When whispered, like an invitation to something secret. It means, literally, ‘white night’.

How can a night be white? What if the night is never black? Is it a night in white satin, never reaching the end? If a night is white, it can’t end because it can’t become light. When dawn comes, how will you know it’s dawn? Is there any special art to it? Does a white knight appear? Is the knight in white satin? Continue reading

street

Continue reading

alley

Let’s go, let’s go down now, let’s go down the alley
It’s long and it’s tight like an aisle in a galley
It’s close and it’s shady and wet like a valley
Allez-y, love, rally: we’re going to go dally Continue reading

Dublin

Dublin. Dubh linn.

Dubh, say it to rhyme with “groove,” means ‘dark’ or ‘black’.

Linn, almost rhymes with “sing” but is really like a slice out of “well in your soul,” means ‘pool’.

Linn, said no differently, also means ‘a span of time’. Also means ‘with us’. And so can mean ‘belonging to us’. Continue reading

Cork

A cork is an important thing. You don’t taste the cork itself – you don’t want to taste it! – but it keeps what’s in the bottle fresh. You have to get past the stopper and taste what you can pour out.

The word cork, once you open up the etymology, comes from Latin cortex, meaning ‘bark’, a tree’s interface with the outer world, because corks are made from the bark of the cork oak. Cortex is also the word for the skin of your brain, its involuted outer layer, the part that is so important in consciousness and memory, your awareness of your interfaces with the outer world.

Cork, the city in Ireland, is not named after cork bark. Its Irish name is Corcaigh – pronounced like “corky” in most of Ireland but a bit closer to “corkage” in Cork’s own region. It means ‘swamp’ or ‘marsh’ – well, it’s the dative form, so it means ‘to the swamp’. Which sounds like an instruction to go find a wet place. Continue reading

Killarney

Sometimes memory and experience sanctify small details, even the dark and spiky ones. A little thing can make a big difference, and a gap may be a high point.

After we left Dingle in the late afternoon, we headed to Killarney for our overnight stay. A friend of mine had assured me that if I had time to kill or just wanted to take it slow, Killarney would be the place. Continue reading

Dingle, Daingean

I make an audio version of each one of my blog posts for my $2-a-month subscribers on Patreon. I’m giving everyone this audio version for free so you can hear how the Irish words sound – and to entice you into subscribing. Listen to it (and subscribe) at patreon.com/posts/22182846

You know you’re in Ireland. You’re on a shoulderless one-lane road pasted to the side of the greenest cliff you’ve ever seen and somehow you’re still driving on the left. And the signs (such as the one telling large vehicles “TURN BACK NOW”) are in Irish first (“Cas Siar Anois” – for the curious, you say that like “cuss sheer a nish”), and you know you’re in the Gaeltacht (the Irish-speaking region) because some of the signs are in Irish only. Which can be a bit of an uphill struggle for some people, especially when it’s the only way to get by. Continue reading