The orange one is even more beautiful in person.
It’s not much of a beach, with not much of a view, and according to the signs the water is polluted, but Calf Pasture Point in Rhode Island is packed with interesting stones, shells, and bits of trash that make one wonder just what half these objects used to be.
To get to Calf Pasture Point, I walked the bicycle trail there. On the way, there was much to see to spark interest. There were large boulders to climb or sit on. There were peeling trees. There were flowers. There was some sort of water barrier or something I imagined to be a giant snake. There were imposing piles of dirt in the middle of nowhere. There were a few trails running into the woods I did not have the time to take. There were holes in the fence, some quite obvious and others very nearly hidden. I also noticed that running parallel to the bike path was another paved path completely overgrown and only visible here and there.
Finally reaching the short peninsula, I walked around its perimeter. I found it overgrown with three different types of brambles, the most spectacular of which was covered with red thorns and stiff hairs.
There was a tiny lagoon just big enough to be a natural jacuzzi. There was a lot of red, white, and green seaweed (Christmas!). On the sand, the seaweed had somehow dried into a solid, papery mat that crunched under my feet. In other places, there was rubbery, black, stratified mud. In at least three places, I had to cross streams dumping into the ocean. Crossing one of them, I was surprised when my foot sank rapidly into the muddy bank, drenching my foot in cold water. I pulled out and looked back to see the mud fill in and smooth out my footprint so that within seven seconds there was no sign I had ever been there!
There were so many curiosities packed into this place that I could not focus on any of them and my account is less of an adventure story than a chaotic, incomplete inventory. What I post is only a fraction of what I photographed. What I photographed is only a fraction of what I saw. What I saw is, I’m sure, only a fraction of what was there. In addition to the items listed above, there were also all forms and varieties of litter, every kind of shell (sea life’s litter), and several types of rocks (Earth’s litter). There were even some bones and some dead crabs.
There was even liquid litter in the form of this oily patch:
There was also a hairy shell. Whatever it was that grew on the outside of it put up perfectly regularly-spaced hairs. There was also a sponge and another shell covered in tubes. Other shells were stuck together in stacks.
I found a rust-colored stone that was basically a big lump of rust. I dropped it and it broke in two, revealing the inside to be the same crumbly orange as the outside.
I have no idea what this is. At first I thought it was a jelly fish, but then I thought it could be the remains of someone’s half-digested soup that had formed a skin in the hot sun. Can anyone identify it?
There was also much evidence of a prior visit by the
Royal Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things:
I wonder if the same people might have put all those bottles in the trees at Ryan Park.
If anyone is looking for buckets, ribbons, or large pieces of eroded Styrofoam to play with, this is definitely the place to visit.
Beauty is largely a matter of perspective. Most people can appreciate a healthy forest or meadow full of tall trees, lush greenery, and vibrant flowers, but consider it an imperfection when one dead tree blemishes what would have been a fantastic landscape scene. However, beauty can be found by zooming in. Close to a dead tree, one can see it has become a home for insects, bacteria, and fungi. Mushrooms and molds make beautiful mini-forests themselves. Death is a part of life. Seasonal cessation and renewal makes life more interesting. It’s all a matter of perspective.
A scene full of dead trees can look good, but one dead tree among many live ones stands out as if it does not belong – especially if it leans at an odd angle or has a glaring asymmetry to its remaining limbs. It has to do with balance. In cases such as this, I find it helpful to imagine myself observing from very far above, seeing the dying, broken, and diseased parts of the forest scattered about artistically. I find the balance and the beauty by zooming out.
It is not only the natural world that holds beauty. Cities can be beautiful. Close-up, cities look to me haphazardly thrown together and unbalanced. Buildings of different shapes are mixed in among cranes and telephone wires. Lanes and road signs are often painted in ways that don’t make sense. They are polluted and ugly. Zoom-out, however, and they start to look like alien forests. Instead of growing through cellular division the way maples, pines, and oaks do, skyscrapers are pieced together from smaller bits by hard-working humans and machines – similar to the way proteins are built in ribosomes by RNA and other proteins. The process is just as interesting.
Lots of people hate finding litter in the forest. I’m not necessarily a fan either, but the existence of litter is evidence of previous use by Homo sapiens, one of the most interesting species on the planet. Other animals mark their environment by chewing on trees and damming up streams, building hives or nests, digging burrows, leaving footprints, or leaving behind the remains of their last meal. Digestion is fascinating and our beautiful world would not be the same without it. One has to expect its byproducts. In the same way, one has to expect the byproducts of human civilization. If litter still bothers you, do what I do and imagine each piece as an alien sea creature. See what ideas you can come up with.
Even civilizations-gone-bad can hold some beauty. I’m no fan of apartheid or communism, but their existence shows the myriad forms that human society can take and still function. I like to think of civilizations and ideologies as competing and evolving just like colonies in a petri dish. Just because my own ideology compels me to fight such things, doesn’t mean I can’t find some enjoyment in learning about them.
Anything real has beauty and all truth is beautiful. What of fiction? I love to think of all the different forms reality can take but probably doesn’t, whether they are serious scientific theories or ridiculous situations from fantasy novels (or comedy skits). Even if none of these things ever happen in the real world, they are still able to be held in the mind and encoded by the brain somehow. They leave their marks on our existence. Thoughts are part of reality and every bit a legitimate subject of study. Psychology is interesting, too.
Besides, how do we know this world isn’t just a dream we are having where the current rules exclude such things as remote viewing, time travel paradoxes, and curses of bad luck? There is no way to know for sure that we aren’t asleep right now. We can only experience things through our minds, so it is only our minds and our thoughts that we can be sure are real. It doesn’t sadden me too much that my comics are fiction, because in at least one sense they are just as real as anything else.
I still struggle with some things, however. When I am unable to write, or go exploring, or rest long enough to collect my thoughts, I can’t always see the beauty in the variety of things. When I feel better, I see that these times of up and down are an unavoidable consequence of progress. Beauty is everywhere, even in the inability to see it. Life is never static; only death is. Unfortunately, this explanation only partly satisfies, and when I am down, nothing can satisfy me. I still have more to grow.
Valentines From God
Finding Adventure Close To Home
How To Find Interesting Things
How To Find Things Interesting
What To Do When There Is Nowhere Left To Go
Thoughts On Play
Thoughts On The Natural And Artificial Worlds
Thoughts On Thought
I recently read The Lost City Of The Monkey God by Douglas Preston, the account of his 2015 visit to the newly discovered (2012) ruins in the mountains of Honduras. Very little is known of the city at this time except that it is not Mayan and was probably abandoned shortly after the Spanish landed. It is believed that not one human had been there in five hundred years.
It had long been rumored that structures existed in the area, remains of a city abandoned when the people lost favor with the gods. The place was believed cursed, and that anyone who set foot there would either be bitten by a snake or contract some horrible disease. Over the years, a small number of people would claim to have seen white stone structures filled with statues of monkeys. The lost city was either called “the white city” or “the city of the monkey god.” In reality, there were likely many real cities being conflated with each other and exaggerated into legend. There were even some tales later shown to be hoaxes.
The dense vegetation, rough mountain terrain, jaguars, and most of all the numerous venomous snakes prevented many expeditions from confirming these stories. Government permitting processes, drug traffickers, and hurricanes stopped others. Finally, in 2012 a LIDAR-equipped airplane was flown over the area. Enough lasers penetrated the gaps between the leaves in order to form a topographic map showing unnatural shapes. This is how they discovered not one, but two cities. The 2015 visit confirmed the LIDAR readings. There were stone structures, including much use of quartz (making it a “white city”), although most of it seemed to be earthen mounds and terraces now so overgrown with vegetation that they could be easily missed for what they are.
Almost nothing else is known. The book dives into a little bit of speculation at the end about religious practices and the connections between various people groups in the area, but it is very speculative. More study is needed.
The sign at the miniscule Davis Memorial Wildlife Refuge in North Kingstown, Rhode Island is covered with rules. It prohibits loud playing and jogging. My parents always told me to go play outdoors, but maybe in Rhode Island people play indoors instead. The refuge is supposed to be a quiet place to enjoy nature – exactly the type of place one might have a picnic – except that picnics are prohibited as well.
I quietly walked the trails and soon decided that this was one of the noisiest places I had been. No fewer than four types of birds were singing at once and screaming curses at me. Stopping beside the pond, I was repeatedly harassed by a bumblebee, forcing me to break the rules by jogging away. I think it wanted the shore all to itself.
I walked around the short trail loop, but I didn’t see much of note. I did see a fragment of green wood and strange, metal trees with wires strung between them. The map called these “power lines” and the rules also prohibited going past them. I also saw a hanging branch that had clearly broken and healed several times before. Maybe it was all the noise. What a weird place.
The Sea Of Glory by Nathaniel Philbrick is the true story of incompetence, jealousy, ego, needless conflict, revenge, and abuse of power for personal gain. Either the leader of the six-ship American expedition Ex Ex in 1838 Charles Wilkes was the worst manager in history or his officers were the most petty and intractable members of the navy ever – or maybe it was both. In spite of Wilke’s often misguided orders and abrasive personality, the crew miraculously escaped death several times, succeeded in charting the Fiji Islands, the coast of the Oregon Territory, and confirmed the continental size of land south of sixty degrees latitude, naming it Antarctica. Wilkes and four of his officers returned home to courts martials. All were found guilty of some charges and acquitted of others. All held grudges against each other the rest of their lives. It was very nearly forgotten what they had accomplished together.
The Sea Of Glory is a microcosm of human society. We have poisoned our seas, fought wars of global scale, exterminated entire races, protected slavery, twisted justice, outlawed speaking the truth, and cheated each other our dues at every socioeconomic stratum. I’ve worked with terrible managers who couldn’t give good instructions and terrible employees who couldn’t follow good instructions. It is truly a wonder we haven’t gone extinct a dozen times over, let alone that anything gets accomplished. Yet in the past few thousand years, we have eradicated polio, created the internet, and put a man on the moon.
What have you accomplished?
Sometimes even short trips to small places can be something special. This April, my grandfather wanted to get out of the house, so we visited Wilcox park in Westerly, Rhode Island. I noticed that in several places the road there split in such a way that I could not tell which was the main route and which was the turn, and road signs were often absent, but we got there somehow. Rhode Island roads are not user-friendly.
The park is so small that one can see all the way across it from most spots within, but this is no mere field of grass. There are interesting trees, flowers, hills and uneven walkways, a concrete-lined pond, benches, and artifacts of historical interest. Right next door is the city library.
My grandfather had wanted to show me “Harry Lauder’s walking stick,” a form of mutant hazelnut that grows there. Unfortunately, we found out it had died years ago. Instead, we looked at a giant birdbath-thing that used to be a drinking trough for horses. Then we walked around the pond before going home. For such a small place, I somehow managed to take a lot of great pictures:
Later at Burger King, I spied this strange, painted stone outside. Could the same mysterious cabal of stone-painters that inhabit Florida have followed me to New England?
So many people seem to assume that something labeled “natural” must always be better than something artificial, especially when it comes to food and medicine. However, we should know that this is not always true. Floods, lightning, blizzards, rattlesnakes, and smallpox are all natural. Boats, lightning rods, combustion-heated homes, antivenin, and vaccines are not – or are they? What does it even mean to be natural?
Natural is a very relative term. Left to their own devices, dirt, air, and water just make mud. It takes the intervention of living cells to build ferns, trees, spiders, and sparrows out of them. Yet, life is considered no more artificial than non-living matter. Honey is considered natural, but nectar doesn’t turn into honey on its own. Bees collect it in their stomachs, spit it up, evaporate the water, and store it in wax cells. Humans come along later and remove the wax. Honey doesn’t naturally come in squeezable bottles! Is anything in the process to make honey really any less of an artificial process than the way that humans use corn to make high-fructose corn syrup?
Tools are generally considered artificial, but isn’t it natural for humans to make and use tools? All people groups use some tools and would not likely survive long without them. Some animals even use tools. Orangutans use twigs to pick seeds out of pods and dolphins use sponges to protect their beaks when sifting through sand.
Homes are generally considered artificial, but isn’t it natural to build shelter? Animals build burrows, nests, or hives of wax or paper. Humans use wood, metal, and drywall. What’s the difference?
Is agriculture natural? Left to themselves, edible plants do not grow all together in one accessible place, but as with tool-making and home-making, humans naturally use their ingenuity to harness nature to make their lives easier. The same could be said about breeding strains of plants or animals to have desirable traits. There is nothing unnatural about pollination or mating; humans just tilt the scales of these natural processes to benefit themselves.
The same could be said about genetically-modified organisms. There is nothing unnatural about DNA expression – DNA is a naturally-occurring compound – humans just select for the genes they want. Creating pest-resistant crops through genetic manipulation is just using nature to fight nature.
Even when humans create brand-new compounds that have never before existed, all they are doing is rearranging the elements nature has provided them into new configurations. According to mainstream thinking, there was a time billions of years ago that free oxygen was new on Earth; it was a waste product of photosynthesis toxic to most life at the time.
Even when humans do create brand-new elements (like plutonium), all they are doing is moving pre-existing protons and neutrons around. If one day humans create new forms of matter, such as gluon balls or strange matter, all they will be doing is reconfiguring the pre-existing quantum fields that underlie all of reality. Natural is relative.
Is death natural? Everything dies, but generally not without a fight. It is only natural to avoid natural death. Neither humans nor reindeer willingly surrender to the wolves – even though predation is one of the most natural things there is. Humans will go to especially extreme lengths to avoid death, including feeding tubes, artificial hearts, blood transfusions, chemotherapy, radiation, and lots of surgery – but are any of these procedures unnatural? Isn’t it only natural to want to escape death by making an artificial heart out of natural substances by artificial means? Can it be natural to be unnatural? What does “natural” even mean in this context?
Is homosexuality natural? One could certainly make a legitimate case that it is an artificial perversion of natural reproductive behavior, but one could also make the case that it is a natural strategy to curb overpopulation occasionally practiced across the animal kingdom. Can it be natural to be unnatural? One could also make the case that homosexuality is a disorder like Alzheimer’s, and no one ever suggests that Alzheimer’s is unnatural.
Is abortion natural? One could certainly make a legitimate case that it is an artificial perversion of natural reproductive behavior, but one could also make the case that it is a natural strategy to curb overpopulation. Tasmanian devil mothers have been known to eat their excess children and some sharks eat their siblings while still in the womb. Can it be natural to be unnatural?
Is warfare natural? One could certainly make a legitimate case that it goes against the natural drive to cooperate with members of the same species in order to better compete with rival species, but one could also argue that it is only natural to want to defend one’s kin. Chimpanzees fight all the time. Ants are among the most brutal to their own kind. Can it be natural to be unnatural?
People generally understand that words such as tall, fast, hot, and important refer to relative values. What is rarer are those who understand that words such as authority, miraculous, and natural are. They think someone is either in charge or not. They think an event is either a miracle or not. They think something is either natural or not.
Natural is a very relative term.
The first time I visited Ryan Park, I only found it because I happened to be driving past its northern entrance. I could not find it on any map. It was only after I explored the western half – thinking I had finished with it – that I discovered a map showing it had another side. I had completely missed the main entrance. There were a couple of ball fields but not much else. A trailhead was marked, but it looked like there was too small a space between it and the pond to be worth much. Still, I decided I should at least make a quick check the next time I drove by.
What I found was astounding. Between the lobes of the pond ran a narrow isthmus on which sat the trail. On either side was just enough brush to feel hidden but not so much that it blocked the view. I was soon way out in the middle of the water. It was quiet except for some frolicking geese. This idea of having long, thin walkways connecting distant islands across the sea is exactly how I would design a planet. In some places, the land was wide enough for there to be side trails, which I took. In other places were forests of densely-packed reeds over nine feet high. Around every turn was something new.
I had discovered a world of intense beauty. This was the prettiest park I had been in. It was still morning, overcast, and sprinkling off and on. It was cool and comfortable. There was no harsh sunlight to hurt my eyes or cast dark shadows in contrast. The lighting was just right for all the colors to pop. Color makes all the difference. Moss and lichen were everywhere.
I reached the mainland on the other side and found a complex web of trails that seemed to go on and on forever. The trees still had not grown out their leaves yet since it was still March and so I could maintain a long enough line of sight not to get lost. I could even see other trails from the trail I was on. Here and there were small, black ponds of the same kind I saw on the west side of the park (where I heard the “fairies”). There were also bowl-like depressions of roughly the same size that I thought should have filled with water, yet had not. Why?
I also saw the same green briars I saw on the west side. In three places I encountered them hanging across the trail and did my best to tuck them away so they wouldn’t catch other hikers. This is harder than it sounds. The thorns kept getting caught on the surrounding twigs and the vines were spring-loaded, requiring me to get a better grip on them – a grip I was unable to achieve without getting thorns in my hands. One time, by pulling on a vine and trying to force it through a narrow opening between two others, I unwittingly pulled a branch of it down so that a thorn hit the corner of my eyelid!
There was a lot to see. I saw a pair of very large blackbirds. I saw a cardinal. I saw a tree with a tumor the size of a large watermelon. At the edge of the park is a stone wall beyond which are houses. Most yards have openings in this stone wall with short trails connecting to the main trail. All these people are lucky to have their own private entrances to the park.
I also saw this mysterious writing. What does it mean? Is it a warning? Is it a welcome mat? Is it graffiti? Or did some animal just scratch the ground to clean off its paws?
Passing by an area with several black ponds I again heard the strange, gurgling, duck-like voice I had heard several days prior on the west side of the park. There seemed to be many more voices here. Just as before, every time I approached one of the ponds it would fall silent. I tried being extra quiet and slow, but even when I stayed on the trail, the moment I was visible from the pool the voices would hush. I stood next to one pond for a long time waiting for it to start up again. I scanned back and forth across the sixty-by-thirty foot puddle looking for even the tiniest movement. I wished I had someone else to experiment with to confirm that the voices stopped for them too, but there was no one around at all. Finally, I saw dim, grey shapes in the water. Frogs! They would float just under the surface totally still as if dead, but the moment I raised an arm, they would rapidly descend into the brown gloom below.
Before I left, I also saw a twisted tree and a hole in the ground next to a creek.
By this time I was in a pretty good mood. Then the sun came out and I thought it was a good day for a drive with the windows down. This was how I ended my March.
How did you end your March?
It is a sad thing when an entire species goes extinct. I love life. I love observing all the myriad ways that organisms adapt to their ecological niches – all the variety of form and function. I like to think of things growing and competing and even evolving. In every battle, some win and some lose, but to think that one type might never be seen again is horrible. All potential for the future and the unbroken chain to the past is then gone.
It is hard to get worked up over the death of one creature. To protect the gazelle is to starve the cheetah and to protect the pig is to rob me of my culinary artistic expression in making BLTs – but for all pigs or all gazelles to die would be a terrible thing.
Humans are different. One squished ant is just protein, but to lose just one human is to lose an entire race. Each of us is unique – with unique dreams, creativity, talents, struggles, triumphs, and failures. Each of us contains the seeds of whole worlds within us worth millions of species. Murder is genocide.
I had been tipped off about the existence of the swamp monument weeks earlier, but decided to visit Walmart for some fluorescent gear first when I found that it was a hunting area and it was required. I was told that the monument at its end was also known as Indian Monument and was erected to memorialize some Indian war from the colonial era, but I could find no information online about it.
Then in late March I decided to first visit Cocumscussoc State Park, but it was difficult to find an entrance. Some maps showed it recessed behind residential property far from any streets except for a single, narrow connection to the main road. Other maps gave it two narrow connections. Other maps showed it enveloping one of the side streets. It was as if the park existed in some sort of quantum superposition of states measured differently depending on what map one used. The northmost connection I was unable to find. The eastmost connection I narrowed down to a small area where every single point along the road was clearly part of someone’s yard except for a single driveway heading into the woods. This was absolutely the only place the park could have been.
I thought I would stop at the tourist information building immediately adjacent to the driveway for some maps and suggestions of where else to visit before I walked up the driveway, but the lady inside insisted it was not the entrance after all. She seemed very keen to talk me out of ever visiting the place, claiming it had no trails, was too dense with foliage to navigate, and was infested with ticks. After looking through the pamphlets, I decided to visit the swamp monument after all.
Heading south on Route Two, I briefly stopped at the Barber Pond Fishing Area. This is a tiny spot on the side of the road with two benches and a picnic table next to a beautiful blue pond. It was nice, but it was too cold and windy to stay long.
Next I stopped at the end of Swamp Monument road and took the trail into the woods. The main trail is a raised, grassy road about a mile long. From there I could only see trees forever, lending a feeling of calming isolation. The only sound was the breeze and my own feet. Most trees lacked leaves still, but there was some Holly here and there.
Only in the final third of the trail does the surrounding area become swampy. Then I saw the monument. It stands maybe 20-25 feet high and is a single stone. On the side it mentions some war from the seventeenth century. It is surrounded by four boulders on which are carved the names Masachvsetts, Connecticvt, Plymovth, and Rhode Island. There is also a flat stone in front giving some additional information, but it is nearly illegible. The place seems very nearly forgotten. I say nearly, because I did happen to run into one lady with a dog while I was there.
From the monument clearing a trail runs west until it skims the northern edge of the Great Swamp Wildlife Reservation. I knew this because as isolated as it seemed out there, I still had a cellular signal and I was curious how close I was getting. I thought that maybe the trail might be a back way into the reservation, which might be helpful to know if I ever got trapped there or something (I really just like to know stuff for no reason). Unfortunately, the trail became impassibly mucky after maybe fifty feet and I turned back.
Nearer to the entrance I saw another trail heading east. This one also skimmed along the northern edge of the GSWR. It was a bit overgrown, but passable, and I made it a couple hundred feet before reaching a very large puddle I was not in the mood to tangle with. There were more leaves here and it was shadier. There were even patches of snow still left where sunlight did not reach. After marking my territory in the name of the empire, I returned to the car.
Since it had been a shorter day than I had planned on, I attempted again to visit a bookstore that had been closed the last time I was there. It was closed again. This is not the only place that seems to have staffing problems and an irregular schedule. There is also a pizza place closer to home I had been curious about that is always closed when I go. Also, Ryan Park does not show up on any map and I only found it because I happened to drive by one of its entrances one day. Now I can’t find a way into Cocumscussoc Park even though it is on the map. I’m beginning to think that Rhode Island doesn’t want me here. At least I found the swamp monument!
My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.