We are all haunted. Ghosts line the edges of our rooms, staring at us from the walls, emerging from old drawers and rising from the pages of our books. But we take our ghosts for granted now. Indeed, we see them every day. They are our images of moments gone by, moments that have morphed to memories, memories which are ever tossed and turned in our minds, until, like a stone in a river, what was once sharp is worn smooth and dull. Then it is impossible to be sure whether something once undeniably real and alive was ever really there, or whether it was merely a flash of imagination. Yet the ghosts linger, vivid as ever. The ghosts remind us. What is a ghost, but a photograph?
A photograph is not a moment returned from the dead. A photograph is just a sign, a shadow, a window onto a time and place that once was, but is no more. You can see the scene, the place, the person, and the moment. The memories come rushing back. Still, you can’t go back, you can only peer, hopelessly, through the window. You can touch the picture, but you cannot feel it. The ghost is ethereal. There is no cool wind rushing through your hair as once there was, no dirt squishing beneath your toes. You cannot hear the birds; you cannot smell the flowers; you cannot look around, side to side, up, down, behind. A photograph is only a ghost.
They ought to seem like something from another world. Hold the button, wait for the flash, and watch as the scene is spirited into view on Polaroid. Then seal it in an album, show it to a friend, transfer a memory from one mind to another. A scene that passed before my eyes last week is now visible to you, though you had never been there to see it. Now my ghosts haunt your mind, and even after I am gone, these ghosts may linger, to become the subjects of stories that endure. You never felt this wind, this dirt, never heard these birds or smelled these flowers yourself. So you imagine. You imagine the scene beyond the frame, and legends are born.
These photos were taken in August 2008 at a variety of locations, including at my family’s farm, at Madeline Island in far northern Wisconsin, at Prairie du Chien, and looking over the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi River from Pikes Peak State Park in Iowa. You may copy and reuse these photographs for free under a Creative Commons license (see terms below).
The blackberry season in my part of the world is mostly over by now, but I thought I would take a moment to extol upon the delights of blackberry picking, and to a lesser extent, blackberry eating. I don’t mean to state that blackberries aren’t positively scrumptious when devoured, for they are, but there is something about actually picking them that satisfies more than just one’s appetite. It is simply bliss to stumble upon a patch of berries somewhere in the woods and stroll lazily through the shade staining your fingers purple with handfuls (and mouthfuls) of the juicy little things. Not everything is perfect about them, of course. Now and then there is occasion to recoil at a berry that’s been taken by the bugs, and the berries are guarded by thorns that I’ve had the misfortune to tear my skin upon more than once. On the whole, however, even these mishaps make up part of a marvelous experience. It is one of the few things that, at least for a little while, can truly make me forget about the rest of the world. Politics and microwaves and automobiles and blogging and the internet fade from my mind, and I am simply there, picking berries, and nothing else need have ever existed.
As I return home, of course, my modern concerns come rushing back to my mind, and among other things I realize what a wonderful blog entry I could make of this berry-picking. I rush back another day with a digital camera to snap a picture, and finally I endeavor to do as I am doing now, sharing this experience with my friends over the internet. It seems almost sacrilegious to transform such a simple and solitary pleasure into a fleeting bit of hi-tech socialization, but at the same time, it seems too glorious an experience to keep it all to myself.
Humanity has come a long way to get to where it is today, but sometimes I wonder, as I suppose we all do, has it come in the right direction? Are we even free to choose what direction progress takes? I don’t mean to lambaste innovation, I love it. At the same time, however, I’ve found that picking blackberries has made me a little envious of the early humans, those who came before supermarkets, before cities, before even farms: the hunters and gatherers who represent the bulk of our species’ past. They took all they needed from nature, picking their livelihood from the land just as I picked my berries from the brambles. During times of abundance, when their desserts were ready and waiting in the woods just like my berries, they undoubtedly found time, likely more than we do, for simple pleasures. There is, however, no room to romanticize their lives. I’m positive I would be unable to live as they did. For every easy summer, they had to contend with a frigid winter of scarcity, one without walls or central heat. Our earliest ancestors didn’t need to worry about gas prices or traffic jams, commercial breaks or senate campaigns, but they did, to far a greater extent than we do today, face a struggle simply to survive. And yet, if we must even today be constantly worrying about something, then why must it now be about what is superficial rather than what is truly important? If we are to live, then why not really live, instead of merely extending our lifespans by hiding within our walls?
These are simply questions, to which I have no immediate answer. It is something to ponder on.
In late May 2008, I went gallivanting about the hills around my house with a camera to get these shots of the landscape and numerous spring flowers. You may copy and reuse these photographs for free under a Creative Commons license (see terms below).
Only two years ago this month, I registered my very first internet domain name: Acceity. It was acceity.com back then. I made a website there, just for laughs. I meant it to parody the corporate websites of various media conglomerates: Time Warner, NBC Universal, Viacom, that sort of thing. To be funny. I sent all my friends a link to the site. One of them liked it! Most of the others never responded. One said, “I don’t get it. It just seems to be a site with a bunch of random things.”
Well, two years have now passed. Over that time I’ve launched three new websites, including the one I’m beginning with this post tonight. Among the changes, my site has moved from www.acceity.com to atreeleftstanding.com. But some things never change. Although this website has a brand new design, new content, and even a new focus, it will still only be “a site with a bunch of random things.”
You might still wonder, what is this site about? I think that’s a silly question. It’s like asking your friend, “what is CBS about?” I don’t regularly watch CBS, but I know enough to tell you that its about all sorts of things. It shows news, drama, comedy, sports, documentaries, programs of all kinds. Each of these programs is generally about something. But CBS, as a whole, isn’t about anything in particular. In effect, it’s just a TV channel with a bunch of random things.
Why shouldn’t this website be the same? Each post I write will surely be about something. There will be many one-offs, and perhaps a recurring series or two. As a whole, however, Acceity isn’t about any one thing at all, except perhaps the interests of its author, myself. Why should I narrow my writings to one topic, when my interests are far broader?
I admit, it does seem that narrow offerings are the trend today. Lots of narrow offerings. Each and every subject is strained out from the others and served à la carte, in a magazine, channel, or website dedicated solely to it. Thus we can pick and choose just those topics we like, and not bother with the rest. We subscribe to magazines about fashion or cars or computers, we flip between TV channels dealing in history or science fiction, comedy or news. We bookmark the websites that focus on what interest us each the most. It makes sense, I suppose. So why a website like this, with a little of everything? It has to be about something.
I admit, perhaps I am going backwards to make a blog like this. Maybe it is stupid to follow the decrepit old network television model used by ABC, NBC and CBS. They offer a bit of something for everyone, but it is only because they are remnants of an early, limited time before technology let each person choose exactly what channels and genres and topics she or he wanted. What is to stop you from doing that now, online? What is to keep you from simply clicking away to the websites that consistently interest you, and leaving this one behind in the metaphorical dust?
Nothing. The doors are always open. Go, if you like. It’s your choice.
Maybe, though, this endless choice isn’t all its cracked up to be. It’s true, I can skip to just the websites that interest me, and set the DVR to record only the shows and channels I already know I like. All the other stuff, I could ignore. I have the power to choose what I do with each moment of my free time. I can make my world conform to my own personality. But if I limit my experience only to that which I already know and appreciate, how will I ever discover anything new? How will my personality grow? How will I learn?
Think of your favorite food as a young child. Imagine if that was the only food you ever ate, if you never dared to try anything else. Think of all the other foods you love today that you never would have tasted! You wouldn’t limit your menu to one or two dishes, so why limit yourself to a one or two genres, one or two topics, one or two ideas? What good is abundant, overwhelming choice, a billion websites for a billion topics, when you’ve never experienced most of what you have to choose from? There is nothing wrong with turning on the television and catching a glimpse of something new. At worst, you’ll find that it is a terrible show—but on the other hand, perhaps you’ll love it. So, by extension, why not load up this page every few days and read a new post, just a “random thing,” which might on occasion be quite boring to you, but which on the other hand might just as easily spark a new interest?
That’s my goal for this site. I will write about all manner of things, as they come to me. Some will interest you, and some in all likelihood will not. Hopefully, however, some of the topics will be new to you, and although I doubt you’ll learn something that changes your life, you might find yourself with an interest you didn’t have before. If my writing can manage that for anyone, then this website has been a success.
I hope you enjoy what the days ahead bring forth.
As always, comments are welcome and encouraged. I will read them all, and perhaps you can introduce me to some new interests too.
If you have a good feeling about this site, please tell your friends.