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Archive for June, 2017

I was in Saint Jean de Luz last week and the colours of the lichens and mosses on this old bridge caught my eye. Then I noticed the ruler and I wondered if the river had ever reached the “59”, or even higher? And if it had, that would have been written down somewhere and compared to the water levels in previous months and years. Maybe “59” was a record. Maybe it’s only ever reached “49” or even less. Whatever the numbers, people would have their stories to tell. There would be stories of “the great flood”, of rooms, shops, maybe even whole houses submerged under the water. Stories of desperation, of fear, of rescue, of heroism and of hope. Then the waters would have receded again, down to a lower number, and once cleaned up and dried out, the townspeople would “return to normal”. (Whatever a phrase like that can ever mean!)

For me, the beauty in this image lies in the stones, the green and orange life growing on the surface, in the shape of the arch (with most of it left implied), and the dark river running beneath. But it’s the ruler that I return to and I wonder how we choose what to measure and what those measurements mean to us.

In health care we carry out lots of measurements. There is even a movement of people dedicated to recording figures for many of their daily bodily functions. “The Quantified Life”. Does that appeal to you? Can we adequately capture the experience of being healthy with a data set?

All these measurements, these figures, that data…..it gives us the sense of “having a handle on” something….even “having the measure of something”. And we use the numbers to rank experiences and events. The warmest day, the highest river level, the least rainfall. Is that how we remember our past? Is that how we tell our individual stories to others? Recounting the records, telling the numbers, reading out the data? Or by sharing the stories of our experiences?

Thing is, for me, there’s so much more in a life of qualities, than quantities. So much more to tell of beauty, of love, of wonder and amazement. So much to make sense of, to try to understand the meaning of, the purpose of. So much to experience, moment by moment, without a ruler in sight.

But you know, when I return to this image I see again that I have both. The qualities and the means to record the quantities. And isn’t that how to live a full life? To use both halves of the brain? The side which measures, and the side which experiences? The side which concentrates on the parts, and the side which pays attention to the “between-ness”, the connections, the whole?

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There’s a climbing plant making its way along the fence and when I stopped to look more closely I was amazed to see the structures it creates to get a grip of the ironwork. There are many tight, strong, spring-like spirals of bright green like this. Mostly the cross a space diagonally, not straight up, or straight down. That surprised me. I was taught that a straight line was the shortest distance between two points. It seems that plants aren’t that interested in shortest distances, and don’t do straight lines.

I read somewhere, long, long ago, that there are no straight lines in Nature. If you see straight lines, you can be pretty sure that humans have had a hand in their creation.

Life doesn’t go in straight lines either does it? I sets off along unpredictable paths, spiralling as it goes……

Despite our constant seeking out the so-called simple insights of “this causes that”, when it comes to living organisms, it’s always a bit more complex, a bit more nuanced, a lot more unpredictable than that.

And here’s something else – isn’t the shape of this just stunningly beautiful?

I mean, its enough you’d think, to be in awe of just how a plant actually creates a structure like this (from sunlight, air and water) and uses what it creates to anchor itself, to get a hold on its environment. I mean, how on earth does it do that? But, that aside, just look at it! Isn’t it gorgeous?

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When I saw this fountain inside a stone arch in the Place Colbert in Rochefort I liked it immediately.

I’m often drawn towards something, feeling almost compelled to photograph it. If I pass up on such a feeling I instantly regret it. Sometimes I have to stop, go back, and just take the photograph because it’s bothering me that I didn’t. I had that experience here. First time I saw it I paused, gazed for a few moments, then moved on. But I stopped, turned around and went back, taking my time to get exactly the shot I wanted to get. I knew I wanted to capture the fountain but I didn’t want the fountain without the stone arch which surrounded it. I was also very conscious of what I could see “through” the frame of the arch. The Mairie at the back is an impressive building. In fact, even in the smallest towns in France, the Mairie is often the most impressive building. I’ve never seen one that looks neglected. The French flags flying help you to know what country you are in, and the blue sky is what I’ve become used to living here. I like the reflection of the building in the pond of water on the far side of the fountain, and the pigeon sitting waiting to take a drink. I like the tree in the right hand corner of the square and how someone has parked their car right underneath it. That’s so common here. I’ve learned that one already. When parking your car, try to find the space under one of the trees. It’ll stop the sun turning your car into an oven! I love the shape and sparkle of the fountain itself, and the choppy surface of the foreground water contrasting with the still, reflective surface behind. I like the colour of the stone, the worn edges and weathered surface.

I can only describe these things now as I look at the photograph. At the time, the scene just “caught my eye” and I framed the image and captured it without being aware of any analytical thought.

When I look at it again now, it seems to me that this work of art, this fountain inside an arch, is symbolic of the two most fundamental forces in the universe – structure and flow.

What forms would exist without the integrated play of these two forces? The structuring force which builds through repetitions, creating crystals, stones and bones. And the flowing force which surges through all that is, constantly changing, never still, producing life itself.

These two forces lie in the heart of all the diversity, the uniqueness and the beauty of all that exists.

That delights me.

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