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Polylith 001   ☷  

A few ways in

Hello! I write you from the sweet late stretch of winter on the Leelanau Peninsula, on Anishinaabek land, where the snow has piled a dozen strata thick since it arrived, where beneath that the earth is frozen, the water is perpetually freezing thicker and thicker, and all the footprints of winter are overlayed in a dizzying, kaleidoscopic constellation in the mind’s eye.

But over all this the sky has begun to thaw. You see, the sun works its way down from the top as we come round the bend toward spring. How else could it happen? We see it at work on the great bowl of the sky, which has thawed from flint to celestine, we see it at the horizon approaching sunset where an illusive band of green turns to pure-chroma orange; we see it in the crucible sun-disc itself, whose paradoxical character as both reaper and originator is never clearer than on late winter evenings.

This juxtaposition of freezing surface and thawing aether is precisely what makes late winter here so sweet. So it is from within that sweetness, that torsional mineral crux, that I greet you today. Thank you for coming along; I am warmed and humbled. I think we’ll have a nice walk.

A black and white photograph of windswept, snow covered dunes under a cloudy but luminous sky. On the horizon is Lake Michigan. At the center of the image in the middle distance is a dark basalt boulder broken into many pieces.

Where are we headed then? That’s a tricky one to answer, since any destination fractures into seven possibilities just before we arrive — but let’s give it a try. When I park the car on the shoulder and strike out perpendicular on foot, it is my imagination that leads the way. (Imagination leads the eyes, eyes lead the feet, and feet complete the electrical connection from earth back to imagination.) I have a map in my mind, perhaps a notion of where I’d like to walk, but the only technology capable of bridging that divide (between dream-map and line stepped-out on the ground) is the imagination.

So, where does the imagination point us then on this walk we’re beginning together? First of all it points straight down. Straight down through six hundred feet of glacial drift, right down through the polylith itself to the scoured bedrock tucked in like the forest floor beneath the snow. Straight down, which is to say straight back in time. We can scramble on a quiet Sunday afternoon down to the bottom of a gravel pit (and you can be sure we will), we can drink from a deep well, but we cannot run our toes over the striations left by the advancing continent of ice, inscriptions as crisp as they were ten thousand years ago. Only the imagination can travel those six hundred feet (or any one of those ten thousand years, for that matter).

Next, the imagination points without hesitation due upwind. Up onto the great turtle-back of the moraine over the lake where the wind makes first land, where the wind is near-perpetual, and certainly where it is most concentrated. Where the blown sand snakes over the till and wears protruding stones into alchemical forms. Where the wind sings an uneasy but beguiling song through the jack pine needles. This is a line that the feet can follow, up onto the moraine, and one we’ll follow together before long. After all, the imagination points in innumerable other directions from that place. North to where a granite erratic was plucked from the chest of the laurentian plateau, downwind with the crawling dunes, south to the sleeping bear herself, hollowed, perched above the chewing waves; and yes, right out over the dark water (vertiginous as it is), clear over the horizon to the rumored mirror shore.

Sound strange and a bit oblique? I promise you it will be. But don’t worry, I’ve found depthless warmth and resonance in that strange, oblique territory, which surrounds us wherever on this earth we might find ourselves, so long as we stick around.

I’ll be delighted to hear your thoughts on these matters, how our experiences intersect. The braid is made of many threads. You can reply to this email, send a postcard, drop by the house, follow my ski-tracks until you find me, whatever works. See you next month!