The Art of Nature: Dandelion Blooms

We’ve got a love-hate relationship with dandelions, don’t we? If you’ve ever owned a lawn or been around a lawn-owner who gives a shit about grass, you’ve either personally attempted or seen someone attempt to eradicate the no-good very-bad terrible dandelions in it. The circular sprays of leaves seem like particularly wicked saw-blades. Grass-murderer! Lawn defiler! Diiiieeee!!!!

But when they bloom, they’re pretty. You may hate them, but you know they are. They’re beautiful. And who as a little kid in an area with dandelions hasn’t plucked up little sun-hued and sun-shaped blooms and run off with them? Who hasn’t wondered if they have anything to do with actual lions? Who hasn’t breathlessly waited for them to form those perfect spheres of white fluff that we could carefully pick and then blow on with all our might, trying to scatter the seeds with one blow and ensuring the lawn owner will spend next summer tearing their hair out over yet more dandelions?

Yes. It’s a complicated relationship. [Read more…]

The Art of Nature, Iguana Edition

Sometimes, you see a photo featured somewhere and you know you must share it with your friends and readers.

Iguana at Butterfly World, Stellenbosch, Western Cape Province, South Africa. Photo and caption courtesy Leo za1 / © Rute Martins of Leoa's Photography / CC-BY-SA-3.0.

Iguana at Butterfly World, Stellenbosch, Western Cape Province, South Africa. Photo and caption courtesy Leo za1 / © Rute Martins of Leoa’s Photography / CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Isn’t that wonderful? I look at that face and see an ode to evolution right there – a symphony of natural processes and natural history.It reminds me of what RQ said on our most recent installment of Friday Freethought:

Because something that assembles itself is so much cooler than something built – a painting by an artist can be wonderful and impressive, but you’ll always know that someone took the time to learn to paint, put the colours together, think of the design, etc. But imagine a painting that comes to be on its own – through random processes! How impressive would that be? Like the crystallization of water into snowflakes. Or the Mandelbrot leaves on that plant last week. Or the way cold fronts and warm fronts can combine to make a giant, organized hurricane. So much more awesome than just saying, [entity] did it. To me, anyways…

I’ve seen nature paint. I’ve seen it paint in space, where stars are born and where they die. I’ve seen it paint on still water on sunny days. [Read more…]

Saturday Song: Butterfly Lovers

Okay, so this is the most magnificent thing I’ve ever seen human beings do. Well, do while dancing, anyway. I mean, she’s standing en pointe on this dude’s head, and – just watch.

Words. I haven’t any. I just. That’s simply. Mwah.

You know what, that’s art. That’s pure bloody art right there, and it’s one of the reasons why I don’t give up on humanity in despair (you, my darlings, and my fellow Freethought Bloggers, plus the other folks out there doing magnificent work making this world better and more beautiful every day, are the other reasons). All right? It’s moments like these that just make me sit back with my jaw flapping gently in the fully unhinged position and my eyes popping out and my poor little tempted-to-be-misanthropic heart welling, and I burst out with a robust, “I bloody love people!” when I’m capable of drawing breath again.

I rather imagine this is what it’s like running about the universe with the Doctor, actually. [Read more…]

Something Beautiful, Something Blue: Seattle from Alkai

I love my adopted city. I’ve never been much of a big-city person, and I’d frankly rather be out in the mostly wild spaces most of the time, but I’ve always adored Seattle. I find her beautiful from most every angle. I love wandering round downtown, rambling among the hills and the shops and the art and architecture. I love her culture, and her old buildings, and her waterfronts. The only thing I don’t like is driving there, but even that isn’t horrible. Merely awful. Best to take the bus and a comfortable pair of shoes, and make a day of it.

"Something Beautiful, Something Blue." Seattle from Alki, view across the Sound with a spray of water over the Space Needle.

“Something Beautiful, Something Blue.” Seattle from Alki, view across the Sound with a spray of water over the Space Needle.

I love her skyline. I took this image from Alki Point one summer. There’s a strip of beach with excellent views toward the city center, and a set of concrete stairs, and waves that splash dramatically against said stairs, and give a photographer a chance at a little artistry. I like how, after a bit of mucking about with contrast and saturation, it ended up looking a bit like a watercolor.

My fair city isn’t without her faults, though. In fact, we’re pretty much standing on one here, and one day I shall tell you about it, once we’re done with all this volcano nonsense.

Supercrow and Other Natural Art Stories

Sorry for bugging out on you, my darlings. The sun came out in midwinter in Seattle. Then there was The Hobbit. And basking in the sun with the cat. And then filtered sunlight, but still more than adequate for wandering about photographing interesting ice. Then more basking in the sun with the cat, this time with the cat atop me, and an inordinate amount of photo editing on a rather excessive number of photos. Excuses, excuses – but you may enjoy the results.

I found a new bit of North Creek I’ve not been to yet. It’s tucked behind a business park, and it’s remarkably lovely, filled with birds and assorted wildlife, wonderful examples of waterways, and some fabulous ice. I’ve now folders full of delights, which I shall parcel out as time goes on. [Read more…]

Beauties, Beasts, and a Lesson Most of Us Don’t Want To Learn

This is a good read, an important read, and I’d like you to read it all. Gyzym is gentle but firm in explaining why movies like Beauty and the Beast can be jarring for those who didn’t realize that the fairy tale is actually a classic domestic violence scenario.

That’s important to face. And for those who would rather not face it:

We can argue for media that doesn’t push the horrible shit we need to unlearn as a society to get to a healthier place, or we can point out the flaws in our preexisting media, or we can do both. But “Just shut up,” isn’t an option. “Just shut up,” can’t be an option, because we can’t keep playing the “Nobody told me because nobody told them,” card. Nothing will ever get better that way. Nothing will ever improve if we keep not telling people this shit.

People not shutting up and speaking hard truths to hear may have caused me some discomfort and made a few favorite films, songs and books impossible to enjoy without acknowledging their deep flaws, but those folks who said “No, I won’t shut up” and continued to speak the hard truths made me a better human being. When I get back to fiction, they’ll have made me a better writer telling better stories. And they’ve made me unwilling to shut up my own self, which may not be the popular thing, but is a necessary thing, so fuck if I’ll stop. Even if I end up with kids (not necessarily my own, mind you). Even if they groan and grump and implore me to STFU during their show. Like George Wiman said when he posted this link, this is “Why it’s important to do MST3K with your kids when you watch movies.” Because while there’s such a thing as willing suspension of disbelief, we need to be trained that suspending disbelief should be a conscious act, and revocable upon return to the real world.

Fiction is useless except as a panacea if we can’t use it to compare and contrast with our real-world lives, if we can’t use it to throw our conditions and relationships and societies into starker contrast, if it can’t help us think. Escapism is lovely, and I love engaging in it. We all do. But we need to be conscious what we’re escaping from, and escaping in to, and watch out that we don’t allow our lovely bit of escapism to subtly normalize very problematic things*. Performing the occasional MST3K exercise on movies we enjoy is good practice for recognizing problem patterns in life. It’s necessary for separating fiction from fact.
And for those who want to cry, “But it’s art! You don’t need to take it so seriously!!” I have just one thing to say: art was never advanced by people passively enjoying the status quo. “Just shut up” isn’t an option for life, but it isn’t an option for art, either. If you truly love art, you will give it no quarter.**

We can do better.

The Beast with a rose. Image courtesy Nieve44/Luz on Flickr.

The Beast with a rose. Art with a problematic message can still be loved and appreciated as art. It can help us navigate the complexities of our world. But only if we’re willing to engage it. Image courtesy Nieve44/Luz on Flickr.

*Read this link. I mean it. Miriam hadn’t even written it when I wrote this piece, but it’s like she’d read my mind and knew I had this post sitting in drafts, and wrote it for the line I inserted it in to, and it says much of what I intended to say, and more.

**Nothing in the above should be construed as advocating for the position that art must always faithfully reflect reality. Fuck that noise. When artists hold mirrors up to life, I like the glass to be at least a bit wibbly.

Holiday Gifts For You

When I decided to go back to school to study geology, I really had to start at the beginning with the upper-division undergraduate courses, since my previous education had been in computer and software engineering.  The first class I took was Earth Materials, where I learned to recognize various rock types and incidentally fell in love with petrology.  We studied a lot of hand samples, and during finals week I took some photos of my favorites.  I really wanted to use them as computer wallpapers, but I hate tiled wallpapers that repeat awkwardly.  So I fired up a photo-editing tool called The Gimp, and made smoothly-repeating tiles that wrap both horizontally and vertically.

[Read more…]

Three Beautiful Things and a Funny

I just spent a few moments perusing G+ whilst dinner cooked. For those of you who aren’t on G+ or don’t follow me there, I figured I’d share, because there are three extraordinarily beautiful photographs and something to delight the hearts of current and former English majors.

If I remember rightly, there were people who said, when photography was born, that it could never be art. It’s too bad they’re gone. I’d like to spread the following photos out in front of them, laying them down like a royal flush.

For geology lovers, Kent Mearig’s photograph of a stream in an ice cave in Alaska’s Mendenhall Glacier. You’d be forgiven if you thought such things couldn’t appear on this planet – but they can, and do, and they are exquisite.

Arachnophobes beware, but our own George Wiman took this fantastic photo of a tiny spider, and I think it’s utterly adorable. Also, I love the eyes! Remarkable little critters. And capturing it in such detail takes a certain mastery of photography that can only be envied by amateurs such as myself.

The trump card*: liquid flower photos. Mind boggled. Click through to see the whole series, because they are amazing.

And, teh funneh: English doesn’t borrow from other languages. Laughed me arse off, didn’t I just? I’m sure at least one or two of you got a kick out of that.

It’s back to the gargantuan 800+ page paper on Mount St. Helens for me. Stay tuned for the best UFD ever later this morning…


*I don’t play poker, so I don’t know if there is a trump card in a royal flush, or even what a trump card is except in a vague “ha ha you are so pwnd” sort of way, and I didn’t feel like looking it up. Did I mention dinner? Also, 800+ page paper? Yeah. Just go with it, m’kay?

Paul Kane’s Famous Mount St. Helens Painting

I’m fairly certain Paul Kane didn’t expect to paint an active volcano when he went West. He was interested in Native Americans. The Hudson Bay Company almost didn’t send him so far, either: they thought the Irish-born Canadian might not be tough enough for the American West, so they adopted a wait-and-see attitude. Make it thus far, they said, and you can go further.

Photograph of Paul Kane, c. 1850s. Photographer unknown, from the M. O. Hammond collection. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

He laughed in the face of hardship and made it all the way. “The greatest hardship that I had to endure,” he later wrote, “was the difficulty in trying to sleep in a civilized bed.” Traveling over the Rockies, through what would become Oregon and Washington, and back again, in a time before abundant railroads and hotels, crossing mountains by snowshoe because the horses couldn’t make it through deep snow, facing the possibility of attack by hostile tribes, certainly adapts a person to things other than feather beds.

Yeah. He was tough enough.

[Read more…]

I’m Sending You to the Salt Mines

This. Is. Amazing.

If somebody wanted to send me to work in this salt mine, that would be totally fine. I’d be all over that. It’s one of the most incredible places I’ve ever seen. Who would have ever thought that a bunch of salt miners would have spent extra time down in the mines to create something so perfectly magical?

Who would have thought plain ol’ salt could be the medium in which such beauty could be expressed?

I’m going to show you a glimpse of the whimsical part of it.

Image Source

Then go gape at the rest. While you’re at it, the geology of that mine is pretty wonderful, too.

I will never see humble old salt in the same way ever again.