Working on my writing today, I had a moment of joy after transcribing & then randomising my mountain record journal, and seeing what came from that.
Some strange (very strange) and heart-catching beauty has been revealed, and I feel like I can do something wonderful with bits of it, (ie. combining parts of the text with my drawings or prints, as part of my book of the mountain).
Here are three examples:
Golden light, ravens, later
Surpassing beautiful. Sky
in flocks, closing the day low
Such cold. Such
water, black peat opened
All quiet and softened
on its shoulders. Colours
high blue clear.
East. Northwind cold like a knife
Stillness. A raven lifting up
moon through haze. Quiet and
on the other side.
but it must be the clouds
lit as we leave.
Storm coming tonight.
yellow to blue above.
south of west, north of
West. All dampness. Colours
out the voices of the others.
and gorse, greens and reds bruised
glow up as the light dims.
Paying respect to this, the
beauty. What does it mean?
High cloud, brittle ice,
Sun setting yellow
Rain and low cloud this evening on the mountain – good conditions for observing (and trying to photograph) the moment when things become indeterminate and disappear. Inside cloud, up high near the top, wind blowing and shoving, light rain now on now off, water pooling all around my feet, and feeling myself to be standing at the centre of a circle of invisibility.
I’ve brought my mountain notebook in from the pocket of the car door, trying to make sense of the evening visits I’ve been making, maybe trying to find a pattern. I’m going to sort through, put the entries next to the photos and videos that I’ve made, see if anything starts to emerge.
On Wednesday evening I videoed a grimy sunset. It lasted longer than I expected. I balanced my phone on top of a stone at the centre of the bronze age burial circle close to the trig point, and which seemed to face into the sunset. All around me was sky and air and Westerly wind, too much of it that evening. I cowered behind the stone and forced myself to watch the sun slip right down to nothing, and meanwhile the wind numbed my exposed fingers to the bones.
I wrote quite a bit in my notebook back in the car, including that I saw
“clouds pillowing and piled up high, salmon and gold, south leaning. Distances disappearing out to smeary grey. Dirty sun set over the sea, slipping into fog.”
This evening it was warmer, soft rain came after the sunset. I wrote in my notebook
“The sea a shell bright line, pink and soft. Light filling the hollows of the land… Afterwards a soft rain, not cold. Two ravens on the wires.”
I went to the same stone circle, this time with a compass app installed on my phone (it didn’t seem very convincing). I found that the central stone, and also a large single standing stone further down are both aligned roughly the same, one ‘facing’ and one ‘pointing’ towards Caldey Island, just South of West.
(Or the first stone could be facing North of East, but the second stone is far below the brow of the hill, and in a shallow West-facing valley; so if its facing anywhere, it can only be to the South West).
I’d like to guess that the two stones are aligned the same, and for a reason, possibly to point to Caldey, or maybe to align with the direction of the sunset at the winter solstice, which I think might be that way. But I’ll have to get a better compass and consult with an astronomer, or otherwise wait at least eleven months to check, since I did not do it this year. I can at least say that there was no sunset this year at the solstice, only grey misty cloud and according to my mountain notebook:
“grey-white noise, indistinctness. All quiet and softened in, retreating.”
I have been thinking that I’ll draw the sky. Somehow. Or maybe not draw, but at least work with. Start from a feeling of immersion. My main problem : that drawing immersion in sky is a crazy and difficult job, and I don’t know how.
I made an earth drawing instead today – from a video of the mountain. I’d taken the video last night on the way home, just after what would have been sunset, but since it was a cloudy and gloomy evening there was no colour, little light. The drawing needs more work – for me to approach closer to the feeling of last night, and to the evidence of the video. I need to make it fuzzier, less distinct; have less contrast, less interest, less resemblance.
The video is strange and obscure, technically dreadful. I think that what interests me so much about it is just that, its poor quality. I’ve found the outside boundary of the technology, and then crossed over it. The light levels have gone down beyond my camera’s processing capacity – it’s having a breakdown, it can’t find this in its programming, its changing its mind every half a second – what is air and what is objects, what is the appropriate focal distance, what is the space of the mountain? Things recede and return, in and out of focus, all is flattened and fuzzy. Our eyes break down at that light level too, we can’t trust what we see. But we’re better adapted than our phones – we still perceive and still keep some clarity; still retain something of three-dimensionality, the volume of the space, enough to navigate through it.
To return to my idea of drawing immersion in sky, my drawing is a drawing of a place that, because of its shape, is basically all round sky. So I think I can call it an atomosphere drawing, if not a sky drawing.
Up onto Mynydd Llangyndeyrn, following the road to the cattle grids, then crossing the common and climbing up to the right on to the ridge above the standing stone. Walking round to the east.
A hawthorn tree tangled in sky, on the ground low brambles looping and scratching across jeans and boots. Birds passing singly and in small flocks, low, urgent.
Distance disappeared, cloud gradually climbing the dome of the sky from north and west, dim and ominous, bruised and yellow purple, thick with sleety rain. Half a roof covering the high house of the hill. Three quarters now, the lid sliding grey and purple across the moon. Light rain gently falling as we turn back.
Before leaving, letting the silence settle on me, to carry through the evening, back to my other home.
Mynydd Llangyndeyrn was misted low into cloud with Westerly sideways-driving rain yesterday evening. No sunset, no once-in-a-lifetime astronomy event, no birds or animals to be seen or heard, only the chance to feel the air, to become cold and wet, to listen to the rain, and to watch the evening greying down to dimness and disappearing.
It was strangely joyful and lovely, and when I got home I was inspired to make home-made mince-pie mix for the holidays, and roasted vegetables for food tonight – just for the pure joy of contrast of cosy-inside-kitchen-world to damp-outside-mountain-world.
As I left the street lights started to come on one by one. I love that moment.
These photographs are taken with a mobile phone camera this evening on Mynydd Llangyndeyrn.
In digital photography, something called ‘noise’ appears in photographs taken at low light levels, making the image grainy.
What we are seeing as graininess is randomness in the image. Either the constantly present randomness in photography – a question of which particular light photons hit the camera sensor in the instant that the photograph is taken; or digital randomness caused by electronic noise from the sensor and the device itself. The conditions were dark this evening, therefore my camera was not able to collect a lot of light, so the randomness or ‘noise’ – which is always present – was this evening overpowering the image or ‘signal’, and the photos were grainy.
I am finding that I am very interested in grainy photographs, and have been deliberately making them – and also experimenting with introducing extra noise into videos and images.
I think especially, I am interested in how low light levels start to break down the camera’s ability to make images, and I find it so interesting to compare that with my own gradual loss of vision over a period of half an hour or so, as the night draws across the mountain from the east.
I have recently been doing some reading about vision and perception, and today re-reading and wrestling with a part about information and noise in perception. These walks on the mountain, and the images that I am making are helping me with making my understanding more practical.
One author I am reading, called Mark Taylor, explains aspects of the neurology of perception, and says that in our perceptual processes, information emerges from noise through progressive processes of ‘screening’.
He also says:
“There is no such thing as absolute noise; or, in different terms, chaos is not the complete lack of order but an alternative configuration that generates static for established schemata. Noise is information in the process of formation. What counts as noise and passes for information is relative to the level at which processing occurs.” (Mark Taylor: Refiguring the Spiritual)
The author points out a number of interesting aspects of these screening processes. Firstly, that the unfiltered data (the light in vision), which is not a ‘complete lack of order’, holds patterns that ‘sculpt’ the eye and brain. Secondly, that when information passes through our perceptual and cognitive screens or filters, the filtered parts do not ‘disappear’, but create resonances which ‘cannot be clearly articulated’. The author likens this to a penumbra, the partial or fuzzy area on the edge of a shadow, between shadowed and lit places. Thirdly, the structures of the filter, the structures distributed across the brain, very much influence and determine the perceptual experience – so seeing both takes a little time, and is made possible through accessing and using memory of past experiences.
This gives what I think is a very interesting model of how perception and thinking work, which the author states is very different from the ‘traditional philosophy of the cogito that informs much of modern philosophy.’
It is a model which includes a ‘cognitive unconscious’. (A way of describing these incredibly complex networks and processes of filtering and processing the information (and noise) which happen outside of conscious awareness).
The model is non dualistic – it doesn’t divide things up into mind and matter. It treats the various processes: light, chemical, mental, as similar – ie. as information and screening processes. Consciousness, thinking, is understood in this model as something which is an ’emergent phenomenon’ of these information processes.