Author Archives: oook

back at Drift Inn

It’s been cold enough for ice to begin to form on the ponds at Drift Inn, so we wandered by to start the winter’s ice photography. Here’s what the venue looks like:


There are several shallow ponds, which only hold water if the ground is frozen. The ice comes and goes with freeze and thaw, and from one hour to the next offers different possibilities as the light changes and the margins expand and contract. Our approaches to the material are quite different, and we see different things: Broot settles in with her kneeling pad and works over square inches of ice from a distance of 3-4 inches, while I wander around the edges and mostly photograph features from 1-2 feet distance. She looks for abstract patterns that I simply don’t see, and I look for creatures who have chosen to manifest in the ice. Often I only discover the creatures once I’m looking at the results of the day’s shooting on the computer. Here’s a case in point, a 90 degree rotation of the image above:


I was surprised to see a face appear, and I’ve made several attempts to capture its outlines. I’m still very clumsy with the iPencil:

13xii1931asketch 13xii1931aoutline

I did manage two shots that actually seem to me to be photographs, though I haven’t yet grasped what they portray or represent (and the answer might be: nothing at all, or maybe they’re conceptual enigmas):

13xii1920 13xii1923

And here’s another, from a series of Colloquys:




(There’s a Flickr album of ice photos from the two days)

A wander on the rocky beach at Drift Inn produced this line of six or more spectators:


and two portraits:



So the winter season’s explorations at Drift Inn have begun.

sculpture, masks, therianthropy

A couple of days ago I awoke with the question of just who is responsible for the idea that a sculptor liberates a figure from within a block of stone by removing material. It turns out to be Michelangelo:

Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.

(photo by Jörg Bittner Unna, Wikimedia Commons)

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.

For Michelangelo, the idea was already there, inside the hunk of stone,
whether by divine providence or his own imagination.
His eyes and hands were merely the vessels by which that idea—the art—was brought forth
into the physical world as he or God (or both) originally intended.



And a few days ago I ordered Chris Rainier’s new book Mask, thinking that it would assist in threading together elements I’ve been juggling as I assemble materials for the next Blurb book. Pico Iyer’s Introduction has some very useful perspectives:

(of an owl mask he had bought in Bali) It wasn’t just a mask… It carried a whole universe, a swarm of roiling forces, within. I really couldn’t tell if the spell it cast was happy or malign… All I did know was that it belonged to the realm of the spirit, the world of transformation…

…an agent of transfiguration, which allowed whoever wore it to become something other, belonging to the sphere of angels and demons.

In Africa, I knew, different kinds of masks signified the ways in which another world could enter our own, liberating our minds from the conscious realm into something no less real but much less easily tamed.

Masks are not just a portal to another world, but a reminder of the fact that our lives are defined by amazement and terror and silence. Just to see a mask is to travel out of the everyday into another, a more secret realm.

I’m still trying to figure out in what way my life might be “defined by amazement and terror and silence”, but the rest is surely pure gold, and suggests to me some new ways to think about the rocks I’ve been photographing: they are in a sense sculptures, and they have some of the Powers that are built into masks.


A story in this morning’s New York Times, Mythical Beings May Be Earliest Imaginative Cave Art by Humans, surfaced the word Therianthrope just when I needed it:

In the story told in the scene, eight figures approach wild pigs and anoas (dwarf buffaloes native to Sulawesi). For whoever painted these figures, they represented much more than ordinary human hunters. One appears to have a large beak while another has an appendage resembling a tail. In the language of archaeology, these are therianthropes, or characters that embody a mix of human and animal characteristics.


Therianthropy is the mythological ability of human beings to metamorphose into other animals by means of shapeshifting. It is possible that cave drawings found at Les Trois Frères, in France, depict ancient beliefs in the concept. The most well known form of therianthropy is found in stories concerning werewolves.

Quite a few of my rock creatures occupy territory between human and creature, and it occurred to me that

Therianthropes guard the bridge
between the risible and the numinous

a formulation that is just too delicious as a description of part of the landscape I’m dealing with. So now I need to find some examples. And today being the first day it was cold enough for ice to form on the ponds at Drift Inn, we went to see if there were photographs to be made. Indeed:




and one from the recent Nova Scotia trip:

hands up

I won’t attempt to calculate the risibility and numinosity quotients of these, and only the lattermost seems to rise to the level of full-on therianthropy (and it’s probably a dryad anyway).

Redoing the Imam

As I begin to lay out the next Blurb book, I’m retracing the steps of my burgeoning engagement with persons and creatures in rock. It seems that it was more than five years ago (in March 2014) that I discovered the 12th Imam (who went into Occultation in 874 CE) on a stretch of beach rock:

12th Imam as first discovered
I made a mirrored image of himself and his chiral twin, heads resting in the lap of a goddess (Bilquis, I’m thinking):

expired and melting turbaned dude, on the lap of a Goddess

I relocated the original image and rotated it a bit, then traced the lines of extravagant turban, beard, and eye-nose-mouth:

12th Imam 8iii14



The great significance for me of this image is its contribution to my appreciation of ephemerality in the medium of rock. Months after the original capture of the Imam (in December 2014), I returned to the stretch of beach in search of the Imam. I found the rock, sure enough, but the Imam was simply not there:

1xii14 no Imam

Subsequently (as I compared the March and December images) I realized that the Imam’s mouth in the March image was in fact a strand of seaweed, whisked away by the next tide. I can imagine a turban’d face in the December image, but it’s not nearly as classy as the Imam.

this morning’s fun

messing about

This morning I was reading an essay by Beth E. Wilson ( The Material Image: Surface and Substance in Photography) that introduced a 2005 exhibition at SUNY New Paltz. It will take a few more readings to wrap my mind around its significance for my own photographic enterprises, but it did provoke me to try messing a bit with an image from more than a year ago, one which never quite reached its potential in the first version I uploaded to Flickr:


I’ve had the feeling there was something more to be discovered, and it occurred to me that I might bring out the figures by rotating and then warping the perspective with a GIMP tool. Here’s what resulted:


One may wonder if such messing about is completely legit, and further wonder what I could do if I really knew about the possibilities and practicalities of tools like GIMP and Photoshop. I’m not sure what we’re looking at here, but there’s something mystically goose-like about the figure on the right. The figure on the left seems to be executing a 3-D dance move.

Ropa vieja

So it got to be noon and I was starting to make tuna salad for lunch and Broot says “I see that the Special at Home Kitchen is ropa vieja…” which happens to be one of my 30 or 40 most favoritest things at Home Kitchen. Flank steak in a Cuban sauce, with green olives, tomato, onion, green peppers, served with rice. So into town I went:

ropa vieja


at play on a Monday morning

This post is a waypoint in the process of learning to use drawing tools to explicate mysteries.

I included this image in Elevenses but hadn’t parsed it for its content—for its component creatures:


Gradually I’ve discovered a variety of possibilities, beginning with a burro-like creature:

and an elephant:

and just yesterday a woman appeared:

and just maybe she’s holding a baby, though that’s not as clear… yet:

The imp on the shoulder suggests that this is a Sagrada Familia, where the part of Joseph is played by an elephant:

I’m not sure what the next steps are, but perhaps a refinement of my initial tracings would be worth attempting. The iPad/iPencil combo clearly works, but just as clearly I’m only beginning to explore the potentials of the tools. Stay tuned.

Descry: to see (something unclear or distant) by looking carefully; discern; espy

When I first processed this one

I saw the whole as a dog-like figure, but I completely missed seeing until today this marvelous face:

This sort of thing happens a lot, and is basically A Good Thing: there’s always more to be found in images and/or in one’s mind. The problem is often how to articulate, describe, convey what one descries. Another example from this morning, from the very same source material, in an unfolding I made a couple of days ago:

god of Spaniels

At first I saw the canine figure in the top third of the image, seemingly with forepaws raised in benediction, and the first thought was “ah! the God of Spaniels!”. And next I saw another and larger canine in the center of the image, and read that one as a fox. But this morning that central canine appeared as a spaniel in transports of delight, floppy ears flapping, smiling muzzle, and eyes expressing a degree of pleasure that I imagine for a young spaniel playing in surf. The figure I first saw, the God of, is a spectral presence, blessing the joy of the dog beneath.

Wholly imaginary, since the seed material was a stump, cut off flush with the ground:

spaniel precursor
and it may well be that nobody else sees what I see. And indeed, I had no idea there were spaniels to be descried when I snipped out a bit of the original image and mirrored it.

orphic or Orphic?

I’m not sure whether to be offput, amused, informed… or just what by Andrea Scott’s Reframing Modernism at the New MoMA. On the one hand, I love the basic characterization in her report of “The Shape of Shape” exhibit:

The ethos of the new MOMA—to revise the myth of modern art as a triumphant procession of great white men and instead tell the glorious, untidy truth of a bunch of weird human beings…

but I am less than charmed by

…the emphasis is on oddballs like Clough, whose orphic 1985 painting “Stone” is included.

Well, it’s not Andrea Scott’s fault that I am left cold and baffled by the “orphic” tag on a piece that seems to me to have nothing discernable to do with Stone in the sense that I understand Rocks. I did have to explore the Lexicon a bit to figure out just which “orphic” she meant: there’s the mystic, the oracular; the fascinating, the entrancing; and the “having an import not apparent to the senses nor obvious to the intelligence” ( I’m going with the lattermost, which leaves Orpheus entirely out of the picture.

a voice from the past

So there I was, walking to work in March 2005, on a hilly woods path behind W&L, and talking out loud with a microphone attached to a digital recorder. And 14 1/2 years later I find the file at, where I had uploaded it shortly before I retired, in September 2005. The recording is rambling and only about 4 minutes long, but I’m quite interested in hearing what I had to say about courses, about teaching, about learning. I could only wish that I’d continued to make recordings like that.
Here it is:

From my walk to work

of Ot

This little story is complicated and digressive, but well worth trying to put together. It begins maybe a dozen years ago, in a taxi in Providence RI, a city that has a lot of public sculpture and other art stuff to look at. We passed by a particularly arresting sculptural creation and one of us said “What’s that?” and the taxi driver said “That? That’s ot” and thus the term ot was implanted into the Lexicon.

So yesterday morning one of the blogs I follow pointed to another tumblr with the stark message

2019 is almost over and all I gotta say is what the fuck was that

which expresses succinctly one of the mental states into which I occasionally stumble.

And the next though that coursed through my mind was

I take refuge in Ot

Where do these things come from? What imp instantiates them, sends them into Consciousness, which then offers them up to me to play with, these illusions and allusions that connect things to improbable other things?

The next thought was

hmmm. “take refuge in”…

which of course is a formula in Buddhist practice (one takes refuge in the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha), and that led to the realization that I was a bit less clear about this Dharma thing than I thought I should be, so a brief Wikipedia digression happened, and that led to an article on the Vedic concept of Ṛta (“the order that makes life and universe possible”, which seems to be nothing more or less than the Tao, innit?). That Sanskrit Ṛ phoneme is “a vocalist r, like that in pert or dirt, when pronounced with a rhotic r, e.g. as in American…”, but in Providence or Boston dialect would be non-rhotic [caa, paak, ot…]. And /Ṛta/ can be glossed as ‘Truth’.

And so on.

This Ot in which I claim to take refuge is well known to whatever readers of this blog there may be out there. Yesterday produced several more examples:

admonishing the young

punk sensibilities

(name it and you can keep it)