Faces In The Rocks

Originally published on February 22nd 2011.

” On an excessively clear day,
A day when you wish you’d worked a lot the day before
So you’d have no work left to do,
I glimpsed, like a road between trees,
What might be The Great Secret,
That Great Mystery false poets talk about.

I saw that there is no Nature,
That Nature doesn’t exist,
That there are hills, valleys, plains,
That there are trees, flowers, weeds,
That there are rivers and stones,
But there is not a whole these belong to,
That a real and true wholeness
Is a sickness of our ideas.

Nature is parts without a whole.
Maybe this is the mystery they talk about.

This was what I hit upon without thinking or pausing,
This must be the truth
That everyone goes to look for and doesn’t find,
And only I found it because I wasn’t looking for it. ”

– Fernando Pessoa

A theme of sorts has been coalescing somewhere in my mind for a while now, coming to a point with the discovery of these words and their implications.
‘Nature’ appears to me very god-like and elusive; barely tangible winds, the patient growing of trees in silence, and the automatic rainfall, presumably doing the bidding of an even greater force, a few tiers further out of view, and a whole language away from description. I find that it’s easy to anthropomorphise these elements as it allows me to feel a greater sense of ‘connectedness’ to something that could otherwise be quite cold and unforgiving, where ‘inhuman’ would be a perfectly suited description of the world that we live surrounded by.

I have romantic ideas about what it might be like to go ‘back to nature’, to live in the hills, wander the forests and sleep under the stars on a tundra somewhere, far from ‘humanity’, mysteriously drawn to all that is inhuman. I feel eternally welcomed back in to mother nature’s arms whenever I find the time, or simply stumble across a few moments of peace atop a rocky outcrop, overlooking nature, understanding nothing. But at the same time she is as cold as she is welcoming, because when I have foolishly stumbled into a ravine cast in thick shadow, she does nothing to spare me, nothing to save me. She just continues to watch, emotionless, waters running like ever-reliable clockwork, maintaining her singular expression, immaculate and unchanging. And as I die, like any other day that has passed, like any other creature of sinew and warmth, there is no-body to cry for me where I lay. I will worm my way back into the life-cycle, without a name or identity, only a form of which I will never be aware.

Why would I harbour this attraction to something that not only doesn’t reciprocate my feelings, but is incapable of feeling them in the first instance?

‘Nature’ is the omnipresent god, unable or perhaps just unwilling to intervene, except through ‘coincidence’, ‘chance’ and ‘fate’. Like water on a red cotton sheet, seemingly indistinguishable from the lush background.

In the documentary Grizzly Man by Werner Herzog he remarks this:


” in all the faces of all the bears that Treadwell ever filmed, I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature. ”

The film follows the story of Timothy Treadwell who lived amoung the grizzly bears of Katmai National Park in Alaska, and who documented his stay there in photographs and video.

Animals are incapable of loving as it is a human concept. They’ve never seen an ‘overcast sky’, never walked on ‘concrete’ or heard the thundering of a ‘locomotive’ approaching out of the ‘darkness’.
We are projecting outwards onto the things we discover and maybe even onto the things we create ourselves and I don’t know why.

The planet doesn’t need to be saved, nor does it care if we all die out.

The harder you look, the more you try to define it, the more complex and further out of reach it becomes. We are caught between a microscope and a telescope; a symphony of stardust in human form. It’s difficult to admire a mountain from its peak, but much better to behold the valley. Everything has a precious unreal quality to it when viewed from afar, as if it’s all still in doubt, pulsing in and out of certainty until within touching distance. People are no different, and brim with mysterious and diminishing potential as they draw nearer. Out of sight – out of mind, only just in sight – slightly fake and mildly unbelievable.

I used to collect dead moths and butterflies as a child, and I recall fashioning a hotel for snails. Fishing brought me closer to nature in a way that now fascinates and saddens me, like the wildlife that fails to grasp the concept of roads. My attempts at immersing myself in the natural world are clumsy and imposing episodes of ignorance. I cannot claim the ability to differentiate between unrequited love, and love itself.
Nature reminds me that I own nothing and live a trivial and shallow life. Not only am I expendable, but I am only significant in that my environmental impact will outlive me and my responisibility.

I feel orphaned by the cities of men, but carry their scent out into the open fields with me where it doesn’t belong, and I question where I do.

One man can do so much damage in such a short lifetime, but again, I overestimate the significance of my own existence.

I desire the experience of ‘interconnectedness’ with ‘everything’, despite everything having no care either way.

I discovered music that I can relate to in such a way that I feel the truth of it and am strangely moved to tears. I ache from the weight of these lives I’ve lived in lands I’ve never laid foot upon, and from the futility of description.

Nature is the most ancient of man’s inspirations; a perfect performance, ongoing and oblivious of an audience. What lovely colours you boast in autumn, how life-like and uplifting is the melting of your snow in spring, and so elegant is the recital of a summer solstice skyline, with winter’s subtle monologue like a blanket of simplicity to disguise the scene.

I feel that trying to get to the root of nature’s mystery is like trying to decipher the apparent morse code of raindrops on an old tin roof. Tricked into thinking that there lies an answer, when it was coincidence all along.

The world has existed for billiions of years, yet any meaning or significance it has been given is so insignificantly new.

If a universe is born, and nobody is around to experience it, did it make a big bang?