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Polylith 010   ☷  


Hello you fellow ramblers, wind-listeners, gracious querents. It’s good to share a path again, however circuitous. How would we know that we’re headed in the right direction if we didn’t from time to time end up where we started?

Just a few weeks ago we woke here one morning to knee-deep snow. It had fallen silently while we slept, straight down through still air, and covered the land evenly in a thick layer. Many of the maple leaves, which had succeeded in places from gold to bronze, were still on the trees. Winter had slipped over top autumn overnight, tectonically, like one plate over another at a subduction zone. Both seasons were present that morning, and the superimposition was acutely disorienting. We shoveled enough snow to proceed with the day’s business and lit a fire in the woodstove.

All that snow has since melted, the remaining leaves have fallen from the maples, and November has resumed its usual delicately austere course. I question whether that abrupt superimposition of seasons really was just the climatic plates slipping beneath our feet, or if we in fact imagined it collectively.

And so:
I write to you from the uncanny valley between winter and autumn, where we wake some mornings to a world eerily familiar but conspicuously askew. Where to grok the seasons we must confront the problem of verisimilitude face-on. As it turns out, the valley itself is fractal, and the seasons are one level among a blossoming multitude. That woozy rumble we feel? It’s not just the climatic plates slipping, but, on an intersecting plane, it may be capitalism breaking up as it is pulled beneath the faintly glowing stratum of the anthropocene. Such a moment we find ourselves in.

A close-up black and white photograph of gently undulating ground covered in snow. The surface is marked by dark, parallel streaks of windblown sand following the undulations.

Since the melt, I went for a walk along a familiar quiet stretch of shoreline, which, perhaps even more than the rest of the margin of this peninsula, has been in profound flux over the last few years. The shore there changes between visits. Familiar features shift subtly but assiduously until they disintegrate and reemerge elsewhere in new but strangely legible forms.

A driftwood bench half buried in sand, reliable seat at the foot of the bluff for the better part of a decade, is carried off to shores yet unknown. The primary dune is flayed open and ancient cross-beds are laid plain, looking disquietingly like the gently lapped fibers of muscle. The bluff-face itself is undermined and collapses, exposing springs which follow veins of clay through the moist till and fan out pulmonary across the narrow beach. Birches from the brink some twenty fathoms overhead come down in rafts with yarrow still growing in the soil around the roots. The shore changes.

The same waves are also at work in the next bay over, I can report, where vacation houses crowd gable to gable behind the primary dune along the beach. There, plebeian waves chew at a presently patrician shore. Let the rich try to hold back the water; in both bays the waves shall have their meal. Birch and yarrow are wise to yield, to let themselves be lovingly devoured, and so they will live on. In this uncanny, fractal valley, where the ground slips beneath our feet, we might ourselves try yielding.

Opening up

Shall we return briefly to the topic of divination? Last month we approached it, albeit obliquely, by considering the spontaneous gestures we see unfolding continuously around us in the land. The wind through trees, for example, or a deer picking her way down a steep slope. If we conceive of gestures like these as an illumination of the moment in which they occur, then to go out listening to gestures, to court encounters with them as fellow beings, is to practice a kind of divination. One that is candid in its indeterminacy; a circuitous consultation of the oracle, whose quiet pronouncement is not a disclosure of the future, but an opening up of the present.

And this present here asks that we face forward, keep our eyes on that opening-up — however eerie and uncanny it may be, however painful to behold. Surely the climatic plates will continue to slip, the woozy rumble will persist, and this won’t be the last time we wake to seasons superimposed. But the land, in its blossoming gestures, will show us the thin spots where we might together find our way to see this through.

And that’s that. Thanks as ever for reading along. Since I last wrote, I released a bit of music out into the world. You can listen to it on Bandcamp, and read a bit more about it here. It plies the same braided, circuitous paths these letters do, so I think you’ll enjoy it. Until next month, happy circling!