Abraham Mignon - Fruit Still-Life with Squirrel and Goldfinch
Abraham Mignon – Fruit Still-Life with Squirrel and Goldfinch

Continued from Part III

The time-lapse episode I remember most vividly involved the delightful horror of watching a perfectly lovely bowl of fruit shrivel, go gray with mold and turn finally to a black liquid–a natural, everyday process of decay that took many hours, compressed into a twenty-second insight into the end of things.

About that time (maybe 1960?) in Look or Life or one of those glossy oversized magazines, I was smitten by a series of images of a family, taken in exactly the same position on exactly the same day of the year for 40 years running.

The eye tracked the frames of the series through changes of period-appropriate hair styles and clothes–and faces, or course–from before the birth of the first daughter, through the grade school years, until new babies appeared, grew and changed. Before the end of the series, the father disappeared from the pictures.

The message was not lost on me, not yet a teenager, that this chronology of portraits was just another way of depicting the fate of the bowl of fruit. Aging is time passing through us, and leaving us altered imperceptibly every minute, every season, every year.

The world of motion and of change swirls around us and within us, even as time moved ever so slowly from one Christmas to the next back then.

None–ripe fruit or mature grandparents or perfect newborns–would avoid entropy’s inevitability. But my grown-old self knows too, none should be indifferent to or ignorant of the beauty of the human and natural procession of birth and growth and senescence that the eye of the camera can show us from this grand buzzing, swirling, pulsing spectacle of life-in-time to which our eyes have grown dim.

This is the FOURTH excerpt from this topic taken from One Place Understood–a book in my mind only, maybe always, but at least until summer of 2018.


Image screen-captured from a video of earth-and-sky timelapse scenes.
Image screen-captured from a video of earth-and-sky timelapse scenes.

The first time-lapse segment I saw on Disneyland was the closest thing to magic I had ever experienced. Normally slow-changing objects or scenes were filmed over hours or days or even weeks with an umoving camera to reveal  glacially-slow and otherwise imperceptible changes of form or color. This was not Disney’s animation work but that of nature itself.

This was real and true just outside my door–a state of flux and motion happening every second of every day. I couldn’t see it with my own eyes, but I was made able to imagine and to know it, having been shown the existence of this grand motion and dance. In subtle ways, it gave me a new lens for seeing the world.

From this kind of photography came landscapes–desert or mountaintop or seashore scenes–captured over full light-and-shadow-shifting of dawn to dusk, daylight melting beautifully into the after-dark appearance of the Milky Way and wheeling constellations overhead against fixed and motionless objects in the foreground.

The spinning field of stars revolved majesticallyagainst the blackest heaven, slashed by bright streaks of high-altitude jets and meteors and sometimes stroked by the fast-moving squiggly red taillights of auto traffic in a city. The busy-ness and stir of a single day anywhere in this world was anything but ordinary!

This is the third excerpt from this topic of “seeing time” taken from One Place Understood–a book in my mind only, maybe always, but at least until summer of 2018.

Time and a World of Change ~ Part I
Time and a World of Change ~ Part II

TIME and a World of Change ~ Part II

Public domain image--wish it was my own! https://goo.gl/EaQ6wq
Public domain image–wish it was my own! https://goo.gl/EaQ6wq

The nuance and precision and beauty in the motion of living things and landscapes is often lost to our eyes, because too few frames a second can be processed in our brains. All we see is a blur of action without details. But the eye of the camera, with a little sourcery, can slow motion enough for us to see the intricacies of motion. Continued from Part I.

Here a housefly was able to turn upside-down just at the last thousandths of a second–a maneuver that filled many full seconds in the clip I watched in amazement as a tiny acrobat stuck the landing on the ceiling.

I think of this wonderfully complex skill every time I swat an annoying fly that disturbs me at my desk. Damn you, Disney!

A robin in flight cambered its wings and even changed the pitch of individual primary feathers–using the same skin muscles that give us goose bumps, which is the best act we can do with our puny feather-counterparts we call hair.

Visible before my young eyes, the impeccable timing and skillful motor planning of an ordinary bird prepared to land, like an aircraft increasing drag and slowing its approach before touch-down.

The target for the bird as I watched was a single distant and tiny branch, not a miles-long strip of concrete. Bird, from full speed to full stop in mere seconds. Beat that, Boeing!

I think of this when a garrulous swarm of September starlings rushes from nowhere to temporary perches in the pines out my window, every dark-pearlescent one of them a consummate gymnast tumbling and diving in air. The judges give them a perfect 10.

So the take-home for a fifth-grader in 1960: Rapidly-happening things could be slowed down enough to show details of motion too fast for a ten-year-old city boy’s eyes to take in.

There was more going on around me–just out in the flower bed under the front window–than I would have known, but for these few brief photographic special effects. But there was more!

This is the second excerpt from this topic taken from One Place Understood–a book in my mind only, maybe always, but at least until summer of 2018. Go to Part One

This short video shows precision flying by red kites (a kind of hawk) swooping down for bits of bacon (watch how they say no-thanks to the break scraps!)

TIME and a World of Change ~ Part I

Static shot of animated wind patterns by way of windytv.com
Static shot of animated wind patterns by way of windytv.com. Click image to go there and see it live.

I am a child of the age of Disneyland, and my brain’s view of time was permanently altered by what I saw there for the first time.

Sunday nights, home in front of the round-screen television set (the size of a major appliance), my favorite Disney programs–the nature specials–looked at the planet’s places and animals. There were creatures and parts of the world that I would never have known or imagined without being shown them through this window of light and motion.

This vicarious adventure, as it remains eternally etched in memory, consisted of more than simple narrated visits by loquacious experts in pith helmets interacting with creatures doing what they do in their native places.

Maybe even more importantly, Disney’s special uses for the eye of the camera showed me for the first time two marvelous ways of seeing I had never imagined–what we now call slow motion and time-lapse imagery. We take it quite for granted today, but it was magic to me back then, and–as you might have discovered–I’m convinced our perceptions of the natural world and of each other can still be changed for the better by seeing the world in extra-ordinary ways today.

I remember ultra-slow motion stop-action sequences of bullets slowly piercing the full diameter of a watermelon. And then there were falling drops of red paint rebounding in a graceful splattering ballet of motion not visible to the naked eye because it happened faster than our brains and optical software could process it.

In visual poetry, a green and twining rose stem gyrated upward, reaching out, searching in a spiralling pirouette, and soon appeared from nowhere a red sprouting bud bursting to bloom in less time than an Ovaltine commercial! Plants were alive after all!

This is a first excerpt from this topic taken from One Place Understood–a book in my mind only, maybe always, but at least until summer of 2018.

► Do you have memories from early television that, looking back, changed your understanding of this world we share? Leave a comment.

Clockwork Orange:

"Lord make me a bird, so I can fly far. Far far away."
“Lord make me a bird, so I can fly far. Far far away.”

The only similar feeling of horror and sadness and disbelief that I feel this morning was when Ronald Reagan won in 1980.

Reagan was an actor, a pretender and an environmental despot who vowed to turn back a decade of gains since the first Earth Day–hard-won victories brought about largely by America’s young people,  to ensure the health of the planet’s air and water, forest and fisheries that would sustain humankind into the next millennium. Much of what I believed in and hoped for was repudiated and set into reverse with that election victory. I was physically sick, as I am this morning.

I know an American president cannot act alone; at least that was true until Donald Trump. I know that the people from the gonzo world we’ll call the “reality community” can still exert influence on policy. But the majority that elected this man are people with whom I share far less with  than I had thought when it comes to an understanding of the perilous state of the planet or of the poor-who-is-not-white with a red cap. The willful ignorance and indifference to anything beyond the personal here and now of this voting block has made me want to burn my homo sapiens membership card.

Welcome to the bizarro world of ME HERE NOW—though I think those who think they’ve won the ultimate victory for unenlightened self-interest will come to have serious questions about the promised “greatness” of their lives in four years.

This haughty indifference from high places towards the health of the planet is even worse now than in the early 80s. while the threats are vastly more serious today than then. And I have even less hope in my lifetime of a return to reason and compassion and dedication to informed stewardship–which is not to suggest that a Hillary win would have insured this end. Far from it.

I left teaching biology in 1987, in no small measure because I could not bear to watch the world unravel when the fox was inaugurated to guard the hen house—an abode whose jubilant feathered residents this new fox pretends to know and represent. We will see how that works out for the red-capped masses.

My life didn’t end then, but I made a serious course correction to steer toward a different destination. Today, I have no compass and the maps have proven inaccurate.

But I can’t imagine mornings at my desk with this utter lack of purpose and hope. I also can’t imagine being able or willing to stomach consumption of current events for the next four years. If I were a younger man, I might have the fight in me to push back against the retrogressive tide of the next four years. I am not a young man and I don’t have the energy or heart for it. I’ve seen enough.

So my Internet habits will change. My writing habits will change. My view of the world–as it really must have been all along, hiding in my blind spot–has already changed profoundly this morning. I have been living in denial of that truth. So now: what?