Anthills, NYC, on individuality and the collective whole

You are a kid who just discovered the biggest anthill in North America. You peer at it, in amazement, wandering around it while trying to avoid stepping on the interstates of ants quickly streaming to-and-from the mound and into the forest. Metaphorically at this point, you are able to break it open, not fully sure what to expect until it fissures.

An example of an ant hill.
Photo credit: Guido Gerding, Wikimedia Commons (click the photo to access source & further information)

It’s teeming full of ants, they climb over each other, there are paths intersecting more and more paths, cavities like buildings, and thousands of them diligently marching. Like blood cells in your veins or the cells comprising your skin, they morph to something greater and larger than any single cell can. You, as a kid, are astounded and exhilarated.

And now you step off the train at New York’s Penn Station and find yourself at the center and bottom of that ant hill. Only it isn’t teeming with chitinous exoskeletons blindly searching for crumbs of food, it is humanistic. It is we, we are all people, you and him and her, them, don’t overlook the others, all of us – we are everyone, with every nation and belief and morphology, searching for real crumbs as well as metaphorical. For most of us there is more to it than one seek-and-find quest. Hundreds of thousands of people in Manhattan’s anthill, and that vibrancy, that energy, that electricity hits you as you step into it. There is not one queen ant here, however, actually many of us little beings hold the coins, though fewer as they accumulate, and these are the crumbs that all of us use to create, distribute, buy, sell, share and trade.

You are allowed complete freedom and individuality in NYC, that’s the greatness of the city, but at the same time how can you not see the hill mounded by sky scrapers and understand your life might not matter as a one, but rather as a collective whole in society?

(based on impressions of NYC upon a first visit; 29juli2019)

Seeing nature, America defined

America is defined differently on the East Coast.

In the Midwest, it is about a peaceful quiet, simple beauty, nature clean enough to dip summer toes into blue sparkling water, and sunshine along gently rolling corn fields with country highways.

One view of the Midwest and, hence, of America. An image such as this could lead to connotations of a poetic concept of the country, of a pristine beauty of nature and land.

The area of forest patches increases with latitude, home to wildlife, brilliant spring ephemerals and late season berries.

History’s role in the definition of the U.S. is more obvious on the train ride from Newark to New York City.

Meandering rivers are murky pea-green testaments to past factories and industrial pollution. Shoreline invasive plants signify failed ecological restoration attempts (we all learn from experience, even the scientists).

The satellite view of the land a train ride from Newark, NJ passes over and under to reach New York City, NY, exemplifies the urbanisation and industrialised history of this land so many people met first in North America. Map source: google maps.

All of this has created a new, human-version of nature at odds with the pristine serenity of the North Woods and what we Midwesterners can think of as “Natural”.

America appears to be much about pride along the East Coast; it is a massive collective of people hovering on the once “new” side of an expansive continent they thought was made for their exploration and exploitation.

Promise of what can and has been is everywhere. Concrete highways crisscross over scattered trash, past old factories, dilapidated homes and new buildings.

You can choose to focus on the decay of history, everything does disappear, or see the perpetual movement, innovation, and collectivity of a nation diverse and always changing. And that is the amazing characteristic of the East Coast definition of America: there isn’t one static form, it moves alongside time and humanity.

 

Seeing Nature and defining America
(a Midwesterner’s first trip to the East Coast, 29jul2015)

Art to a nature scientist

I. Gray weather

The Met, room 823.

He thought little points and blobs of paint on a canvas was a good proxy to “transcribe most exactly the vivid outdoor clarity in all its nuances,” they call it divisionism and we do it in science all the time, and from afar he does convey that nature was made of parts.  But Seurat could never have known, let alone have captured, xylem and phloem cells embedded in mesophyll, or molecules of hydrogen and oxygen bound as liquid, because at some point the concreteness of nature becomes an abstraction of scale that is impossible to render in paint.  ‘Gray weather, grande jatte‘ 1886-1888.

 

II. Cypresses

Van Gough piled up paint in late 19th century 3D-fashion.  Summer painted from an asylum, so many of them went mad painting…  Nature appeared like a whole to him, not dissected by a biologists’ myopic eye.  Me, I see stems of monocots in a mid-, possibly upper-, latitude environment, where it is periodically hot and dry, because the cypresses attest to that, and I think it best Vincent never attempted to capture a hyphal view of the world.  It would have been boringly brown canvas, blurring out everything of interest. ‘Wheat field with cypresses‘, 1889.

29 juli 2015

A set scene in the past: topics of spring; health and environmental toxicity; rural life; poverty

This post combines a set scene of daily life from a rural town (Chassell, Michigan, during the economic recession of the early 2000’s) to underlying topics in health and environmental toxicity. Spring and natural beauty can be contrasted to poverty, in terms of social impacts, and environmental toxicity from legacies of past mining booms.

Turtles are fairly common in the Upper Peninsula, however, they cross roads and lay eggs at times and locations that people are not aware of, hence, the threat to local populations (mostly through automobile traffic). Snowmobile trails, including those made from stamp-sand, can be nesting locations.

Sufjan Steven’s song Upper Peninsula is fairly depressing, melodramatic, but nonetheless sets the scene by capturing the destituteness and ramifications of rural poverty, in this case the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the early 2000’s. It was part of a compilation album by the artist on the state of Michigan, well-known for poverty, past automobile manufacturing, and natural lands perfect for snowmobiling, hiking and hunting. The artist’s goal was for the album was as a “metaphysical expedition through the idiosyncrasies of middle America….” For the purposes here, it serves as an alternative media source to offer in understanding the socioeconomic setting of what may be a far-away land and once-upon-a-time, resonating with rural poverty and impacts to health and the environment, which most likely is far more understandable than perhaps this particular location and the details associated with it. What it cannot demonstrate is that while a scene was set, the awareness of it and subsequent potential for future change cannot be yet seen, but can be used to motivate such change. (more…)