The principle of a rainbow divinely captured here on the wet edge of a beach. Seen in the still frame of a seeking eye. An iridescent light. Illusive, like a playful shimmer of magic, lying stretched out along the sand and pebbles on which the Pacific Ocean endlessly ebbs and flows. The alchemy of sunlight rippling on sea foam, inventing golden, magical particles of fairy dust that dot the landscape. All at once fascinating, enchanting and alluring and quite simply, spellbinding.
Photograph by Jerry van de Beek
The flow of the river is ceaseless
and its water is never the same.
The bubbles that float in the pools,
now vanishing, now forming,
are not of long duration;
so in the world are man and his dwellings…
They die in the morning,
they are born in the evening,
like foam on the water.”
– Kamo Chomei (1153-1216), Hojo-ki (An account of my hut), 1212
Who, as a child in England, doesn’t remember being ushered into an impossibly darkened gallery to view the paintings of J.M.W. Turner? That viscerally despondent feeling that perhaps our very breath might destroy the delicate miracle unfolded upon the paper or the canvas. Saddled with the monicker of, “romantic landscape painter” Turner was in fact so much more. The son of a barber and wig maker with a mother from a family of butchers, made him a true working-class son. Admitted to the Royal Academy of Art in 1789 at the tender age of 14 he produced his first water colour a year later for the Summer Exhibition.
The independence such early recognition gave Turner, coupled with the financial freedom it brought him, allowed the young artist the license to experiment and dabble. Water colours, oils and print were the mediums he chose to express his outstanding visions of light but he did more than just capture the right moment. Many of his paintings cast a distinct narrative such as this emotive piece, The Slave Ship or Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying. Surely that broiling sea and that blood red sunset in reflection speaks to us even today of the barbarous practices of slavery and the pact made with the devil of that evil trade.
A thousand particles of water droplets. A million tiny ice crystals. A fleeting mass of astonishing visuals suspended above us and strung across the atmosphere in a free form motion of flight. Cast your eyes skyward and read the signs.
Cumulus: Fluffy white heaps of cotton wool that promise the kiss of summer. Stratus: The bringer of just a light dousing of drizzle – perhaps even snow. Cirrus: High wispy strands curled around the sky like an innocent lock of hair but still the forward phalanx of a tropical cyclone. Nimbus: Looming large and filled with heavy foreboding. Dark as thunder and swollen with rain – yet sometimes edged with a silver lining.
A paradox of meaning, an infinite distraction, a celebration of being. Clouds – sustainers of life. No app necessary.
Dedicated to VERLYN KLINKENBORG – the extraordinary writer of New York Times column, The Rural Life.
History and art were my favorite subjects when I was growing up in England and they still are today. The knowledge one stores in the recesses of the mind has a way of percolating through to the present time to become something of an applied science in the modern world. Here’s an extract from one of my most treasured books, A Shortened History of England, by G.M. Trevelyan. His skill with language could bring any passage of history alive in the mind and fire up the imagination to conjure up vivid dioramas.
For many centuries after Britain became an island the untamed forest was king. Its moist and mossy floor was hidden from heaven’s eye by a close-drawn curtain woven of innumerable treetops, which shivered in the breezes of summer dawn and broke into wild music of millions upon millions of wakening birds; the concert was prolonged from bough to bough with scarcely a break for hundreds of miles over hill and plain and mountain, unheard by man save where, at rarest intervals, a troop of skin-clad hunters, stone-axe in hand, moved furtively over the ground beneath, ignorant that they lived upon an island, not dreaming that there could be other parts of the world besides this damp green woodland with its meres and marshes, wherein they hunted, a terror to its four-footed inhabitants and themselves afraid.
– A Shortened History of England – G.M. Trevelyan