field report: bridges

For once the speakers outside Hard Rock Cafe are playing a song I want to hear so I stand leaning against the bricks and listen to the lengthy bridge from ‘How Soon Is Now?’ It’s the part of the song I have always particularly loved. Just as Morrissey starts to sing for the last time ‘I am human and I need to be loved’ a generic man in fancy slacks and blazer walks by mouthing the words. The song fades out and I walk to the suspension bridge that always buckles in the wind. As I reach the bridge a man visibly down on his luck addresses me. He asks me if there is a mission where he and his wife can get a hot meal and I tell him there is one on the Fallsway. He replies that it’s closed. So I say there’s also one on Gay Street. He responds that it too is closed. I have no money with me so I tell him I can’t help him and wish him luck. He says nothing and turns away. I continue across the bridge and then I walk across the map of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, sometimes cordoned off and sometimes not, that is etched into stone in front of the fish prison. I make a halfhearted attempt to look for birds in the habitat islands but I feel like I have experienced way too much in the past few minutes so I return to the office and read a few more pages of Konwicki.

field report: woodpecker redux

Recent intelligence gathering indicated the presence of a group of likely overwintering red-headed woodpeckers, including two adults, at another park in the area so I went to investigate. Again I found them immediately, as they were actively foraging and calling frequently. Their ‘rattle’ call is quite distinctive and often precedes a visual ID. Lighting was more favorable today, so here are a few photos accompanying a report on my findings.

Adult Red-headed Woodpecker at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Adult Red-headed Woodpecker strikes the classic woodpecker pose at Black Marsh, North Point State Park.

Adult Red-headed Woodpecker at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Adult Red-headed Woodpecker at Black Marsh, North Point State Park.

Adult Red-headed Woodpecker at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Adult Red-headed Woodpecker at Black Marsh, North Point State Park.

Red-headed Woodpecker at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

An immature Red-headed Woodpecker glares at the photographer, North Point State Park.

After spending way too much time attempting to photograph the woodpeckers I continued on from the Black Marsh Wildlands into the rest of the park. First I took the Powerhouse Trail.

Powerhouse Trail at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Powerhouse Trail at North Point State Park.

Rising up out of the woods before me came the trail’s namesake…

Powerhouse at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Powerhouse at North Point State Park.

Powerhouse at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Powerhouse at North Point State Park.

The property that is now North Point State Park was formerly a local attraction known as the Bay Shore Amusement Park during the first half of the 20th Century, and there was streetcar service extending to the park from the city (extremely hard to imagine today in this rabidly car-centric region). This concrete monolith provided power to the streetcars. Now it serves as an informal art gallery for graffiti artists:

Powerhouse at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Inside the powerhouse at North Point State Park: ‘Find the roots of everything.’

After leaving the powerhouse I took a spur trail to gaze upon the Chesapeake Bay.

Chesapeake Bay from North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Chesapeake Bay from overlook at North Point State Park.

Friendly people had left sand art on the beach.

Sand art at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Friendly people were here…

After scanning the Bay for waterfowl and only finding a few bufflehead and a single double-crested cormorant, I left the park and drove farther down the peninsula to where it dead ends at Fort Howard, the former coastal artillery headquarters for Baltimore. Fort Howard has a rich military history, which I will not go into here but you can certainly read about it to your heart’s content elsewhere on the internet. The park is rather bedraggled and largely unused, likely due to its remote location. But there are some nice spots. Of course I only photographed the horrible ones because that’s just how I am.

Brandon Shores Generating Station, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

The Brandon Shores Generating Station, viewed from Fort Howard. A 2011 NRDC report based on EPA data described it as releasing the second highest amount of toxic air pollutants annually in the U.S.

Despite the glaring lack of visitors, there are more picnic tables and trash cans at Fort Howard than I’ve seen at any other park. I was curious about the trailer in the photo below but simultaneously afraid so I chose not to get any closer. I thought if I called the number someone might be willing to divulge the contents but then this person would have my phone number. So I didn’t call. I find that life is an ongoing process of weighing the pros and cons of situations like this.

Fort Howard Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Scenic picnic area where I chose not to consume my lunch. (Note: if you call the number please leave a comment below.)

After passing the scenic picnic area I came upon this:

Fort Howard Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Menacing…

Again, I wasn’t sure what to do here. Were they keeping women locked inside or barring them from entry. I couldn’t tell, but I didn’t hear any cries for help and without bolt cutters there was not much I could have done. So I left. No doubt this decision will haunt me for quite some time…

a pair of eyes

One day a pair of eyes went out for a walk. (The eyes are named V. for the sake of this story’s grammatical simplicity, even though it’s unusual for eyes to have a name.) While walking in the city, V. quickly grew tired due to overstimulation. Seeking respite, V. traveled to the country and found a lake. V. jumped in the lake and floated around with delight until a few fishermen arrived and began casting their lines a little too close for comfort. Vexed by this intrusion, V. left the lake and crossed the border into the northern territories. On an uninhabited island off the coast, V. built a tiny shelter with an adjacent pool for rehydration purposes. For several weeks V. enjoyed looking at the trees and the water on all sides of the island. At night, V. climbed a hill at the center of the island to study the constellations and ponder the distant, blinking lights of civilization on the mainland. Over time, though, V. grew tired of all this input with no corresponding output. After returning to the mainland, V. signed up to volunteer at the organ bank. Soon V. was seeing for someone who had never seen before, and everything made more sense.

a profound wakefulness

Kafka: The Decisive Years“Kafka missed nothing, forgot nothing. There is little evidence of the absentmindedness and boredom he always complained about; on the contrary, his incessant presence of mind is almost painful to witness, because it renders him unapproachable. Someone must stay awake, but this wakefulness deprived him of a sense of home and alienated him from the world and from people, in a mundane and sometimes comical sense. Nabokov’s novel The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, which highlights the impossibility of writing an adequate biography, expresses the suffering associated with profound wakefulness from the point of view of someone experiencing it:

[…] in my case all the shutters and lids and doors of the mind would be open at once at all times of the day. Most brains have their Sundays, mine was even refused a half-holiday. That state of constant wakefulness was extremely painful not only in itself, but in its direct results. Every ordinary act which, as a matter of course, I had to perform, took on such a complicated appearance, provoked such a multitude of associative ideas in my mind, and these associations were so tricky and obscure, so utterly useless for practical application, that I would either shirk the business at hand or else make a mess of it out of sheer nervousness.

This statement applies to Kafka word for word. It is astonishing how little he ‘made a mess of’ in spite of everything: wherever his life took him, he stood the test, as a pupil, student, and official. But nothing came easily to him; every decision, even the most trivial, had to be wrenched from that stream of associations. He once wrote, ‘Everything sets me thinking’. Everything set him writing. But first he had to translate life.”

Reiner Stach, Kafka: The Decisive Years

field report iv

A middle-aged man stands at a bus stop wearing a shirt proclaiming ‘I Speak Furbish’ with a large image of a Furby. Strong temptation to stop and engage in Furbish. Instead, laugh out loud and move on.

A police helicopter circles above the neighborhood all afternoon, a high octane metal mosquito perpetually out of swatting range. Nervous system on verge of imploding.

A child cries.

A dubious silence follows…

field report 3

Today the clouds demand close observation. Why is everyone not looking at the clouds. Absurd. All colors today are vivid: the dark and choppy white-flecked waters of the harbor, the green sloping lawn of the former Civil War lookout, the red of the restaurant roof below it. Now is the time when the first psithuristic hints of the autumnal approach appear. Observance and acknowledgment of this occurrence is essential.

A passing child of about 7 says, apropos of nothing: ‘I hope I get a lawnmower soon…a real one…vrrrrrm [presumed lawnmower noises].’ His family chooses not to acknowledge this proclamation. Theory: this is not the first time it has been uttered.

A large black dog (LBD) enjoys the grassy, treed oasis behind the seafood restaurant, complacently chewing a tennis ball as its person paces in circles while jabbering on her mobile phone.

Shirtless males run on the promenade.

Tourists relentlessly take photos of a boat, the so-called ‘Last Survivor of Pearl Harbor,’ by far the most photographed object in the vicinity.

My doppelgänger walks by, as he is wont to do.

Midway through the reading period, sudden drama rushes in when cigar-smoking man (CSM) arrives on his bicycle, only to find LBD lying in the exact spot where he traditionally sets up his legless portable chair. For a few moments the air crackles with anticipation. However, this soon dissipates as, undaunted, CSM approaches the occupied territory and sets up his chair immediately adjacent to LBD. Soon, the fragrant scent of cigar smoke floats upon the strong breeze as CSM cracks open his book, occasionally casting a shrewd eye upon LBD, who pants in patient oblivion as its owner continues chattering.

On the return trip, while walking, a man pauses to execute a precise ballet move: a half-knee bend followed by a jump in place, arms outstretched. The grace of this move is surprising given the man’s overall GISS. He then taps a light pole with the thick book in his left hand. Further on, he thumps the book in his hand like a revival preacher, resulting in a few turned heads. A strong temptation rises to follow him for research purposes, but alas, recess is over.

more data in the imaginary spreadsheet

Yesterday cigar-smoking man was again observed sitting in his chair and smoking. He had a bike with him, though a different bike from his original bike. Meanwhile, someone wrote the word ‘WEED’ in multicolored chalk on the brick promenade. There are now many tourists, both of the large and confused varieties. They approach anyone around them with desperate pleas for directions to destinations that tourists frequent, such as restaurants where they can attempt for a time to assuage their unending hunger. They walk around talking about when to eat, concerned that a late lunch will push dinner back too far. Managing one’s meals whilst vacationing is difficult. It requires careful planning and continuous discussion.

The fake pirate ship drifts into view and executes a tight 90-degree turn in the channel, as the few customers on board respond with halfhearted movements to the ‘deckhands’ capering to the awful pulsing reggae music.  It may be an elaborate game of musical chairs, but the distance is too great to permit an accurate, detailed report.

A police helicopter incessantly buzzes overhead, an unusual occurrence in this sanitized sector of the city. Perhaps it makes the tourists feel protected.

One-sided exchange overheard between two restaurant employees who were setting up outdoor seating:

“[…]”

“No, I would say I’m spiritual, but I don’t believe in organized religion.”

On a certain bridge, someone scrawled ‘It feels so good to do it’ with spray paint. After a while, the graffiti clean-up squad covered it up with neutral paint. Several weeks or months later, the same scrawl appeared but this time it said, ‘It feels so good to do it again’. The clean-up squad covered that one much quicker, only for the scrawl to reappear a few days later as ‘It feels so good to do it again and again’. No one will win this war.

In Winterreise, Nagl has moved on from thinking his life is still lying ahead of him:

‘Now that life is no longer ahead of me, now that it’s really started, there’s nothing else but senseless thoughts. I’ve done everything almost automatically. I made it a point of honor to have everything I did look as if I wanted it. In reality, it just happened.’

Is it the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning.

such a person who perceives everything

“Such a person who perceives everything and sees everything and who observes everything, moreover continually, is not popular, more often feared, and people have always guarded themselves against such a person, because such a person is a dangerous person and dangerous persons are not only feared but hated, and in that respect I have to describe myself as a hated person.”

[25 pages later…]

“Just because he had been despised by everyone, and actually even hated, I had been attracted to him, I have always had a predilection for the despised and hated.”

Thomas Bernhard, Yes

guest post from j. krishnamurti

Is the observer different from the thing which he observes?

You, the observer, are observing the fact, which you term as being lonely. Is the observer different from the thing which he observes? It is different only as long as he gives it a name; but if you do not give it a name, the observer is the observed. The name, the term, acts only to divide; and then you have to battle with that thing. But, if there is no division, if there is an integration between the observer and the observed, which exists only when there is no naming – you can try this out and you will see – , then the sense of fear is entirely gone. It is fear that is preventing you from looking at this when you say, you are empty, you are this, you are that, you are in despair. And fear exists only as memory, which comes when you term; but when you are capable of looking at it without terming, then, surely, that thing is yourself. So, when you come to that point, when you are no longer naming the thing of which you are afraid, then you are that thing. When you are that thing, there is no problem, is there? It is only when you do not want to be that thing, or when you want to make that thing different from what it is, that the problem arises. But if you are that thing, then the observer is the observed, they are a joint phenomenon, not separate phenomena; then there is no problem, is there? Please, experiment with this, and you will see how quickly that thing is resolved and transcended, and something else takes place. Our difficulty is to come to that point, when we can look at it without fear; and fear arises only when we begin to recognize it, when we begin to give it a name, when we want to do something about it. But, when the observer sees that he is not different from the thing which he calls emptiness, despair, then the word has no longer a meaning. The word has ceased to be, it is no longer despair. When the word is removed, with all its implications, then there is no sense of fear or despair. Then, if you proceed further, when there is no fear, no despair, when the word is no longer important, then, surely, there is a tremendous release, a freedom; and in that freedom there is creative being, which gives a newness to life. To put it differently: We approach this problem of despair through habitual channels. That is, we bring our past memories to translate that problem; and thought, which is the result of memory, which is founded upon the past, can never solve that problem, because it is a new problem. Every problem is a new problem; and when you approach it, burdened with the past, it cannot be solved. You cannot approach it through the screen of words, which is the thinking process; but when the verbalization stops – because you understand the whole process of it, you leave it – , then you are able to meet the problem anew; then the problem is not what you think it is. So, you might say at the end of this question, “What am I to do? Here I am in despair, in confusion, in pain; you haven’t given me a method to follow, to become free.” But, surely, if you have understood what I have said, the key is there: a key which opens much more than you realize if you are capable of using it.

(From The Collected Works, Vol. V Ojai 4th Public Talk 24th July 1949)

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observation without judgment

She walks fast, and yet anything distracts her. Now she seems to see, and now to notice nothing.
—Virginia Woolf, Jacob’s Room

The greater the capacity for judgment, the greater the wariness. Our wariness slowly permeates everything.
—Thomas Bernhard, Gargoyles

Speed operates independent of concentration. What moves past looks more interesting than what stands ahead. It is a simple matter to feign sight, as it is to appear unaware. Perhaps the only proof of either is in the details, in one’s ability to report them.

(Does she not notice, or only appear to not notice.)

Seeing everything makes it impossible to focus on the narrow. The truth of the world’s incongruities shatters that focus knob into splinters. White-out conditions descend. A heart cannot expand to fill this wide a field of vision. All-consuming observation is a form of slow death, even as it deepens awareness.

(Does she walk fast because she does not want to be noticed.)

Moments of clarity pierce the cotton wool with no warning. The inherent lack of preparation precludes gain, and the resultant thatching into solid theory. With no philosophy to peddle, no brilliant answers to impossible question(er)s, there is only ostracism.

(For the impartial observer must embrace anonymity.)

From the outer edges objective observation appears to alienate the observer from others. Yet it is important not to judge, to strike with this tinder an internal corruption. Consumption by inner judgment brings another form of death, slow but more painful than all-consuming objective observation.

(The myth of universal truth shelters beneath the canopy of only what we see.)

Objective observation necessitates separation from the self. Motion away from the self occurs with judgment. The two are dissimilar, separation and motion away. One observes but does not compare to the self. This is static separation. One judges, compares to self, and in so doing increases distance from the self. This is motion away. Observation without judgment preserves the self. Observation with judgment disparages it.

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