|I went to the forest action camp outside Eugene in early March, the one that ended up being cancelled because of the death of Sparrow. Though things didn't turn out like I expected, it was still good to spend some time in the forest. Here are some photos I took out there, and some thoughts and observations that go along with them.|
The most important to keep in mind about these photos is that they're no showing you what I saw. That is, yes, I saw these moss-covered stumps and these beautiful ferns and the astounding way the sunlight shone on the them, but I saw them within a whole panorama of which these rectangular photos are only a small part. This isn't a matter of figuring out how many degrees of the vista are missing, either, doing some calculations, and then stating that x% is missing. Much more than visual input made up my experience. What's not pictured here? Many things.
First, the obvious things: the smell of the pine needles and the wet earth, the sound of a toad and of your feet in the underbrush and of water gurgling nearby, the feel of the soft ground and of brittle branches and feathery moss, and the taste of clean air.
We often forget when looking at photos or a screen that we are being denied these sensations and we believe we know a thing even though we don't, at all. If you've ever seen a place or a person you know well on television you might have experienced the thought of "that's not what it really looks like!"
The feeling of a place; this is where we get entirely subjective but also absolutely real. Here is where the photos don't show the wonderment I felt at seeing the sunlight, the relief that comes with clean air, and the satisfaction of the deep breath made possible by being surrounded by living things.
Here is some water running through a low sunny place. We were camped in a higher, shadowier place. The sound of the water grew louder as you walked toward it. Walking toward it took some effort, over stumps and fallen trees, through sharp branches, and not wanting to step on anything important and gradually coming to realize that it's all important and maybe you shouldn't even be here at all, and yet being drawn so strongly by the sound of the water and its glistening in the sunlight that I couldn't help myself.
This is Oregon Grape, a native plant whose roots have medicinal qualities. I harvested one that was growing near the side of a road, in a spot that was greatly disturbed by the passing of people and vehicles, and figured that it wasn't going to do well there anyway. I chewed on the root and it broke down in my mouth slowly. The inside was pleasantly bitter, and the outside was woody. The woody parts broke down into fibers and eventually became easy to swallow. The taste brought with it a feeling that's hard to describe, but I could feel health and strength coming from it and being absorbed into my body. After chewing down a six inch chunk, I felt like my eyes were shiny. I definitely felt more in the forest. How much of this comes through in this photograph? Almost none of it. It's a pretty good photo, too, but the experience of the plant is almost entirely absent here. Photos suck, really.
The mediated experience, as presented through photographs, film/video, recordings, and even writing, falls so very short of experience itself. This mossy groundcover was everywhere and was feathery soft to the touch. I don't know if you can tell that from the picture, but even if you know what I mean, and believe me that it's soft, you don't know what at all it actually felt like. My own experience of this plant, over the course of a few days, is completely different still from someone who has spent longer outside in those woods. They could tell me how they feel, and I could comprehend their words, but I would still not have their knowledge until I, too, have been there that long. And meanwhile, they will have moved on in their brain to another experience of it.
I love waterfalls, and this water tumbled down many of them in the low flat place where it ran. It's really hard to photograph water in a way that captures its energy, and I was aware as I took pictures here that I wasn't doing a very good job. The camera frustrated me with its limitations that day, as I walked around almost stunned by how beautiful everything was.
The moss was like blankets over furniture, showing the shapes of what was under it, softened. I really like the moss. I didn't touch it much. It seemed like it wanted to be left alone, and the things it covered.
These photos were all taken in a one hour period in a short walk near the action camp. At different times of day, it all looks different. At night, the shapes that the camera captures become irrelevant. It's the other senses that make up your expierence of the forest. And in different seasons, it all changes too. None of that is captured in these photos, of course. Just the moment that I took them. What is that moment in the full life of this area? Almost nothing and everything, I suppose. Almost nothing in that this was the state or things in that moment only; everything in that the moment is all there really is.
Basically, I would hope that these photos would inspire you to go visit the forest yourself, or at the very least, help out whatever campaigns are trying to keep them from being cut. These places are not just trees or moss or water; they are the interplay of all those things and a million others. They are the wind in the branches and the butterflies over the ferns and the moonlight on the moss. They are all the things that are there in living cooperation, a bogglingly complex set of relationships in which the interdependencies are so vital as to make any individual identity meaningless. As people, with our "I"s, we have trouble grasping this concept; but we too are part of these relationships, and our ignorance of them is killing us, as surely as the sun rises and sets. Until we are able to free our minds enough to actually experience the world as it is we are totally fucked, and our blundering mistakes threaten the existence of life on earth.