On Impermanence

I made mention last week of a tree out back of my studio, affectionately known as “The Emperor.” A beautiful old Red Oak, it stood above all the others at the base of my fossil-laden hill. And its demise was what led me back to that same hill, reacquainting myself with its treasures. The tree, yet another belated victim of Hurricane Irene, finally toppled thanks to recent strong winds. I’d love to show a picture of it but can’t find one anywhere. Didn’t ever even think about taking one – the Emperor had been there forever and probably would remain so. And all I can hear in the back of my mind is Joni Mitchell singing “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone.”

Roughly six feet or so in diameter at its base, it held a commanding presence. On its side now it exposed a massive root system – gnarled and tangled roots both large and small. No surprise that I would find some fossil rocks within that mass of roots – they were here much earlier! In fact, this misguided notion of physical permanence – this somewhat hubristic idea that all we see around us was forever and forever will be – is easily countered by the mere presence of these fossils. For when they thrived some 400 million years ago this ground was the bed of an inland sea. Even better, what is here now was, at that time, somewhere well south of the Equator! So much for permanence.

Back now to the more recent past. As I was poking around at the base of the tree I kept finding glass and pottery shards and other various and weathered man-made objects. It so happens that this property was once a summer camp. It began sometime in the early 1900s and ended fifty years ago. And off in the woods, away from the main camp buildings, were pits dug for burning and/or burying garbage. Further digging through that immediate area led me to find other artifacts.

This juxtaposition of objects, some from the recent past and some from a most distant past, seem to fit right in with my ongoing Devonian Drawer project. All heaving up from the ground around me, these various objects speak to the whole nature of impermanence, that nothing stays the same, and that the only constant we can rely upon is change.

A number of recent postings displayed some examples of this match-up. Here are a few more:

Thank you as always for visiting. More images at www.artmurphy.com

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3 thoughts on “On Impermanence

  1. What a lovely lovely post, words and images. I, too, am fascinated that parts of the current United States were once “under” an inland sea and much nearer the Equator. Glad you brought this up. Our little obsessions lead us to such interesting bits of knowledge! Thanks for sharing yours.

  2. “You don’t know what you got till it’s gone” is not quite appropriate for the Red Oak Emperor. It was the regal presence punctuating the point where my garden becomes ‘the woods’ . It has for the past 30 years functioned as the marker separating the two.

    Many people have commented on it over the decades. After its perilous leaning and the late October snows falling on its full leaved canopy, it acquired a respectable fame, inspiring my friend David from France to write a poem in its honor:….

    One fall like day,
    – it was in mid autumn –
    the lights went out,
    but still the morning sun was shining bright.

    Death came like snow
    out of the big blue sky.
    It came to finish off the Garden’s Emp’ror
    in an unequal fight.

    The birds kept silent,
    just the swans were crying.
    It was the day,
    the Emperor of the Garden died.

    For ages he stood firmly.
    So glorious and heavy has he been.
    No one could cut him down.
    No one could ever make him fall.

    But death did neither come
    with saw and poison, nor disease.
    Death came with its own weight
    to crush the Emp’ror. After all.

    The moment, when the Emp’ror fell,
    the Earth let out the loudest scream.
    When he came down, the soil was shiv’ring.
    And I awaked, right in the middle of a dream.

    I knew that something strange had happened.
    I got up, put my clothes on and went out.
    I saw him lying there, I thought he was still breathing.
    Although he wasn’t really, it was just the echo of his shout.

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