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Blog Title Photo

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Eyelid



In machine costume
a door flies open.
Light flies in
a chain of frames.
and prayer beads
count time and unwind
Eyelids flutter
move across
the photon screen
at the back of the third eye.


La Preciosa




Meaning slices the eye, we see our work glow bright. Then it reveals something that was not our intention. I suppose that's why writers take pain in exchange.


I spent two nights in a room overlooking a tile pool filled with leaves. The terra-cotta moldings in the stairwell stirred a memory, filled my heart with longing. Longing for what? A memory of what? There were stone statues of lions on the landings.

I took up a large wooden rake that leaned against the wall at the edge of the pool and busied myself gleaning leaves from the surface. Beneath the slick, the water was surprisingly clear. A young British woman in a blue bathing suit burst out of the hotel and dove in the pool. She swam a lap without noticing that I'd gotten all the leaves off the water for her.


I met the producer at a coffee shop in the evening. We had worked before, on several of his projects. They served us expressos in small straight sided glasses with handles of twisted wire. 


He told me of a remote villa backed by steep misted mountains, owned by a wealthy German chemist. The place was cut off from all roads, the owner had leveled a section of the jungle to make his airport. "You must record the best sounds in the universe. This is a big job." When the producer cracked his knuckles I knew I had leverage. I asked for an air ticket home.


Drinks came and we forgot our past quarrels. Meet everyone at the airport in the morning, he said.


Before dawn we pulled alongside a tired DC-3 at one end of the strip. The driver kept his headlights on as we loaded cases of gear, waterproof vaults for lenses and camera with heavy locking buckles, black fiber cases of light stands, heads, makeup kits, tape recorders, microphones. Electrical equipment was piled on wooden pallets. Black masses of coiled cables.  Every technician had a kit, every crew member had a bag. The cast would arrive the following day with the assistant director.


A brilliant dawn shot pencils of sunlight into the battered interior of the aircraft. The plane had been fired at. We could hardly believe it. The pilot, a rakish kid who could not have been seventeen, said not to worry. He assured us she was checked out, fueled, running well. With noisy coughs, the giant radial engines cleared their throats. Reluctant totems, they wheezed, ejected phlegm, roared, then hummed, two baritones warming voices. They were chanting ohm as they pulled our overloaded structure into the air.


How well I remember the mist! It cloaked mountains, sharp as daggers, padded in secret cotton. We flew a wide pass, descended in altitude to a long broad valley between opposing ranges then made a few stops at local villages. The Kid dropped off mail and machine parts.


Finally, after endless lurches down bumpy runways, and a protracted flight over silent misted valleys, we brought down onto a long deserted strip by a river. We busied ourselves making a first load. We lifted lights and camera gear into a white truck decorated with flowers, then spiraled up muddy roads to the top of a ridge overlooking a valley. From a small hollow at the top, I could see the villa.


I don't believe in accidents or chance. Were my legs so fond of this place they led me back? Life is a history and system of forgetting and re-discovery. How cluttered we've become by names, places, dates, houses with photo albums, and heaps of useless journals, maps, dollar bills. How had I wound up at the same deserted villa, circled by vines, fer-de-lances hunting rats by the well?


Literature is a shadow play for a fickle and forgetful audience. Words drive precious memories into darkness. The only truth, that merging of experience with composts of time, somehow cheats memory in return.

-:-

After a few days the girl in the blue swimming suit turned up at "La Preciosa". She was Titanio's girlfriend and spent most of her time watching the action as we filmed and reading her little book. She had green eyes, and dark hair, and I realized she was only half English. Titanio kept a good eye on her, so she kept to herself, and didn't talk much. 

I spent extra time recording birds, and atmospheric sounds of the jungle, at night, at dawn, at midday, and during the cool evenings.


The producer said, "I want the sounds of the jungle. I want to hear birds so close you can feel their feathers!" Then with a guide he left to source fruits and legumes from local markets.


I put microphones in trees, at the bases of giant leafy plants, and dangling in midair from high branches. Each fed a long cable back to the spot I'd return to in the morning. I even put out a stool to sit on.


Before dawn I took position in my piece of forest. Each microphone led to a portable mixer and thence to my stereo recorder. I heard a solo quetzal on one channel, a curassow on another. I heard cocks-of-the-rock preening, shaking their wings. A capybara routed in the dark soil. Cicadas argued at a deafening pitch into one mike. And then came a sound of some creature chewing, I have no idea what it was. Then a ripping sound which I later realized were monkeys tearing the rinds off zapote. There were altercations between members of the troop.


Mastery of craft is love, is understanding, I immersed in the music, the singing cicadas insects of a thousand species, lullabies of songbirds and their wakeup calls, their soporific statements of the obvious, their cries of alarm. I also heard spider monkeys, and frogs, and jackals and occasionally at night, from the deep, a jaguar. I set about capturing symphonies set to movements of the sun and moon, insects and birds supplying bars of a fugue, or solos to prove mastery of the verses of life. I thought these verses were so sacred they must be forbidden. Only those without desire might hear them.


I entered another world. I pored through my field guides. What bird was that? What insect? Where did that howl come from?


 Darkness changed the key of the work. The songbirds of day defended their sinking sun, with a mad crescendo of plaintive wails. But their light went under. Somewhere in that transition, one conductor bowed and passed the baton to another master. Poison dart frogs soloed on, then bats flitted through the starlight, a different set of frogs took up the chant. One set of songs was forgotten. a futile silence, and in their lee, the drip of echoes, nightjars, howlers, bellbirds, cicadas, a thousand singing insects, and owls, each claiming a piece of the cool jungle blanket as their own.


For what is life but the opportunity to attain some sort of mastery?



-:-


Late at night I played some of the magic of the forest to Erica, Titanio's dark-haired girlfriend. It was a joy to hand her the headphones and see her immersed in the stereo symphony of life.


The evening meals were glorious repasts by candlelight. The producer was using the production to practice his cooking. Roast peccary and jungle-fowl with salads of fruits, one cannot even hope to document such a feast with words. Deserts of custard fruits and honey flavored with the tiny seeds of the amazeudin tree, ambrosia that should not be touched, less tasted.


Titanio worried that once on location, no one would be paid. True, the producer had a history of feeding his unit better than most, then expecting reduced salaries in return. Not on this trip. It was well financed, everyone got full rate. After dinner, the coffee that was served to us was so fresh that the scent permeated the villa all night, and could be sensed in the morning.


The producer asked which of us would be signing on for the next project. It was to be the story of a river, told by a missionary and his wife.


Erica watched the action as we filmed it, with languid eyes behind tresses of black hair. Titanio kept his eye on her, they didn't talk much. Two days before we finished shooting, the only motorcar on the estate transported her down the hairpin turns to the airstrip by the river. Then the producer left again for two days to buy his precious herbs and fruits and and fish from the jungle waters. 

Those last days spent by the camera blurred into one, the cameras filmed so we remembered nothing. Exhausted after the last shot we slept, then the following morning wrapped cases, put away lenses, coiled cables and lights, and tied the portable generators onto pallets. We'd finished shooting with time to spare. The Director, a tiny-jawed Parsi from Bombay, was pleased.


The producer returned with a crowd of women and their husbands bearing poles hung with fresh game, sacks of fresh fish wrapped in banana leaves, crates of live chickens, and a pig that was tired and thirsty. Titanio helped butcher the pig and all afternoon they roasted it with acai, and simmered the chickens in a mash of guava and chiles. The tucunaré fish were broiled with alfavaca leaves, and Chicória, Maniçoba pork sausages were served with guarana beer to wash it down. Pirarucu soup was enriched with tacacá prawns and tamuata. Tapioca with fruits cut open after dinner. Foods that should be forbidden to ambitious men I thought. Only those without desire can taste.


The producer knew how to throw a party.

 We smoked. Titanio told stories. The sound man lit marijuana. The producer joked about coming back for his next production. There were laughs from some of the crew who hadn't been paid fully on the last one.

 Then we slept in the same grand rooms used as our set. A sprawl of naked limbs heaped in piles of damp sheets and mattresses in front of the fireplace. 


In the morning, like somnambulists exiled from the stage of a mesmerizer's paradise, we boarded lorries with precious cases of footage and equipment, and descended the switchbacks to the airstrip by the river. The DC3 was there, antiquated and empty, the Kid napping in the shade of the fueling shack.


Twelve of us got in, along with cases filled with equipment and lights. The engines coughed to life, then ran almost silently as the Kid checked his systems. Then he shoved both engines into full throttle. The roar in my rear seat was almost deafening.


The strip ran level alongside a still section of the river, and offered us a long lazy mile to get aloft. We lumbered into the air. The Kid shouted something to the assistant director who sat beside him up front. Patches of cloud swirled over the wings. Secret snows of the high peaks came into view.

We passed over silent valley shrouded in mist. The dull roar of engines, silenced mystical looks that folded us into the roof of the world. The sensation of flight was surfing, where a wave is felt but not seen.


Then, almost as if scripted, our right engine sputtered and stopped. The Kid revved the throttle for his left engine and threw the plane into a descending bank. Loosing altitude the Kid pushed his left engine harder, then something inside those cylinders blew noisily, sputtered and all was quiet.
In theory we would crash. That is how I reasoned it. As long as we could understand what was happening, we were alive. The emergency felt like an act of kindness. We almost said thank-you, for it was much quieter. We seemed blessed. We could hear each other, we could hear our thoughts.
We glided for quite some time. The stillness, made everything seem all right. It was all part of a plan. The quiet, peace and stillness, made the air rushing over the wings seem louder than memory of the engines. We passed into a mist, then broke out, and saw the damp deep green of trees. More mist, enveloped by a soft blanket. We could not imagine the green jeweled branch tops being a hard place to land.


All hearts were beating. No one was afraid. Quite the opposite, it was as exciting as fishing in the river, or following a snake off the patio of the villa at night. The silent engines were just another interesting detail along the tour of life.

I wondered, how far would we have to carry gear before we got to a road?


-:-


Across a section of forest I saw only ripped pieces of fuselage, sheared gumbo trunks, torn branches, and a litter of shredded leaves. I did not see bodies first.


The plane had disintegrated totally. We had hit the wrong kind of tree. There was the nose, impaled on a the branch of a copal. Too hard, too dense. There are the lightweight branches that can slow the fall, and brake the descent. And then there are the heavy hardwood trunks that stand like giants and cannot be moved. 


Then I saw Titanio a foot away from me, sat strapped into a collapsed seat his head toppled over. That muscular neck, looked slender and weak and had no pulse.


Some bits of the wing, shreds of luggage, sections of seats. 

Life's so fickle when handing out cards. There, a small warbler pulling beetles from a branch. A snake's tail under a log ahead of my footsteps. A howler deep in the leaf canopy. None of us know. None of us can ever know what the major sequence is made out of.


I found a pen, paper. I thought, "I'll make a list."


Rene the script woman was in one of the seats that had dropped from the branches. She seemed to be breathing. My hopes rose, suddenly I felt like weeping. She might live. She had lost a huge amount of blood from a nearly severed arm. But her breathing stopped. Her eyes glazed like a fish taken from water. My elation fell earthward, my heart went leaden.



I found the Nagra in the case, undamaged. The producer's briefcase had his list of crew. I saw my own name and telephone number in his hand, in blue ink.


My eyes glossed over. I couldn’t tell a tree from a bit of wrecked seat. I saw machine parts, but no airplane, bodies that wore familiar clothes, but no friends. The jungle reeked of engine oil and fuel. The leaves dripped gasoline. Was it gasoline or blood? A dozen yards on another engine lay mired. A bent propeller was painted red and pointed skyward.


I borrowed cash from my boss's pocket. It made me nervous to take his money. I'd use it to send belongings to parents, children, brothers and sisters. There was a notebook in Polish belonging to Titanio, a necklace from Rene, a watch from the Second Assistant. There were wallets and purses and wedding rings. I made notes. I had no interest in any of it.


Fully loaded I set off wondering if I'd be able to make my way to the capital. My feet walked, my ears heard, but with a new blindness my eyes almost did not see. I let memories of the crash wash me clean in the ever present song of the forest.


Are Alien life forms here? If not how soon?


October 9, 2010

Have you ever looked down at a sparkling city from a nearby mountain, and wondered, 'What alien landed here?'

How briefly has Earth hosted human life. We're such a rapid force of change on this planet that anyone intelligent viewing Earth from a distance would think an alien life form had taken over.

The alien invasion has begun. Human aliens have landed on the moon!

Semantic similarities between humans and non-resident aliens aside, there is no chance that there is not an alien life form already out and about, exploring our galactic neighborhood, Moreover it is highly probable that they will contact this planet fairly soon, as the ever increasing sphere of our radio signature races away from Earth - the edge of it is now some 100 light years away. Our transmissions have already reached a huge possible number of planetary systems. The earth is no longer quiet . . . our electromagnetic communications could easily have given us away to an interested race of extraterrestrials.

Aliens will come here, and we will most likely go elsewhere. Either advanced life forms like ourselves, or spores from fungi that we've liberated through a convenient set of thermonuclear explosions, will float about the galaxy, as representatives of Earth, little time capsules of highly adaptable DNA, that can survive extreme environments.



It matters not whether a spore, or a human being is the vector that carries the message. The key evolution of life on this planet is DNA. The main text of what we have to offer is in DNA, and it matters not whether it moves abroad as a plant, a person, or a mushroom.

Human evolution may only serve to carry a Noah's ark of DNA to another world. Once transported, our mission might be finished.

The spores could do it alone with just a single strand of DNA in a hardy protein coat, humans might do it in complex engineered environment similar to the International Space Station, only much larger, and self-sustainable.

What spores lack in technology they make up for with sophistication and numbers. In fact if the earth were to explode, or we humans were to cause it to explode, or if a massive comet or another planetary body collided with the earth, the only surviving life might be fungal spores (cf. Terrence McKenna on this). And indeed they would survive by the quadrillions, floating about deep space, impervious to vacuum, high heat, and near absolute zero temperatures.

A snippet of DNA is all that is necessary to populate a receptive medium, or change the genes of an already existing species. Modern agricultural 'gene therapy' snips and adds genes almost at will. Commercially grown roses, for years interbred for their color, size and appearance, have lost their sense of smell. Why? Well they no longer needed to produce an odor to attract insects to move their pollen around - they had humans doing the job for them. But now science has found an easy way to restore the scent of a rose to domesticated roses.

Now that I've gotten you to admit that Earthlings, whether human sized or spore sized, will possibly pollinate, colonize, infect, other planets, how can we know when this has happened to us?

A spore, of sorts, from another galaxy, could easily have landed here on earth, changing the fate of its inhabitants. You and I might already be infected!

Alien means 'strange' and once we get over our view of ourselves as 'normal' we will then admit that we are strange, not as highly evolved as we think we are, and probably overdue for a lesson on the existence of  more advanced galactic brothers and sisters!

Mammals were probably viewed as alien by intelligent dinosaurs. Cro magnon was certainly seen as alien by Neanderthal (and vice-versa). Homo erectus in Europe and Asia, (the oldest skeletons are only tens of thousands of years old)  were called elves, fairies, demons by our ancestors - these 'people' must have been thought of as alien indeed!

The most probable source of alien life on this planet will probably be ourselves. A giant shift in human DNA, will lead to the evolution of a new species, more advanced than we are, and one that the rest of us may view as alien.

By the time that population is recognized, described, and feared, it will be too late to stop it. Homo sapiens will go the way of the dinosaurs, eventually. Yet we may leave 'children'. Evolution continues!

Oh the planet will most likely last long enough . . . and we will most definitely experience a collapse in population at some point or another - that will historically be perceived as dramatic, but which might even take dozens of lifetimes. Out of that crippling environment might come our successor(s). Genetics favors it. We have the numbers to create a new species. The only scenario I think that would make this impossible would be all out nuclear war, or an extra-terrestrial body colliding with and destroying our planet, not likely but possible.

And it is always possible that the species that takes us out never came from here at all. This is the one scary scenario, but one we have to consider particularly if we live on, peaceably increasing our technological abilities, and, our ability to refine raw materials, as well as our ability to live amongst ourselves.

I should refine these points . . that is if  a species does evolve from us, and survive, it is likely that many different variants will spring from us as well. We've populated the planet unlike any other large mammal. Looking back at evolutionary history, there are many other species that became numerous at different points in time. This is true of human ancestry as well. Many of those were not evolutionary dead-ends, but some like Homo erectus, were. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Humanevolutionchart.png )

A classic adaptive situation might be as follows: a nuclear winter descends on the planet, but one not so fierce as to eliminate all life. This creates a number of possible pathways to survival. Being able to live with less food is one, able to survive radioactive food is another (that might mean being able to procreate more rapidly and at a younger age), yet a third might involve being able to manipulate technology in a world of spare parts left by broken economies, and technological waste.

Similarly if no major crisis event hits us, we are certainly likely to continue to evolve physically, emotionally, and intellectually.

a) towards vegetarianism,
b) we'll become smaller physically, and use less energy.
c) we will continue to learn to exploit the sun's energy more efficiently and
d) we will probably learn to self-govern as a planet.

The alternative to 'c' is that we don't, and we already know the outcome of not learning to get along!

Assuming we do these things well, our lease on Planet Earth could be extended on for quite a long time! But in that event our piles of refined metals, may become too attractive for alien life forms to pass up.

Big towers when they fall, fall hardest. Same with stars. The big ones explode like flashbulbs in middles of their galaxies. . lighting everything around them. A star 27% larger than the sun can perish in a few weeks through a supernova collapse, and explosion. Little stars, such as our own, and smaller. . . live on, shriveling as they grow old. . . giving off less and less energy. White dwarfs are the old folk of galactic time, rocking away for billions of years, while the young hotshots grow big, wealthy, and then self destruct.

If a major crisis occurs, caused by man, or an outside force, cannibalism and vampires may indeed become a norm of survival for certain groups.

But think for a moment - vampirism has already started! Many of us give blood to others to restore their strength! Some of us fertilize 'in vitro' in to  order to bear young. Our hospitals are labs for extracting bodily fluids and moving them along to those that need them more. These mechanisms might prove key to our future survival! Fluids and body parts are very share-able these days!

Paranoia's aside, if the cataclysmic scenario does play out what might an individual life witness of such a catastrophe?

Let's put it in perspective by asking how many people today remember Hiroshima? Not many.

How many are alive today that lived through the event? Even less. Most were elsewhere and barely noticed the clouds move. Those that were having their tea in Hiroshima's center went to their maker in a blinding translation of light and energy. Others suffered terribly no doubt, as they have from every war, and every catastrophe. No matter what the crisis, or how large the conflagration it might cause, an individual's trauma is limited in scope, and is essentially similar to living through an airplane crash or getting hit while crossing the street, or losing a close relation through a freak accident.

We spend a lot of time writing stories and worrying about future frightening events, but fail to realize that we are very limited in our individual abilities to experience them once and when they occur.

We have mythologized negative change, decrease, catastrophe and collapse, by envisaging these things as a rapid events, when in reality most are not, Environments, populations, systems, economies, and governments often take as long to come apart as they did to come together originally.

The decline of the Roman empire was not immediate. Czarist Russia is still at work through Putin! England still has a Queen and future heir, Communism lives on (in China and North Korea. The Catholic Church is losing its grip but is still very potent.

Myths, those bedrocks of beliefs that we hold to our chest like the fabric of creation itself, die very slowly.We hold projections of the future before ourselves like prayers, that we don't have to shift or change our myths, come what may.

We pray that love remains a potent force. We hope that democracy lives. We hope that good triumphs over evil.

Crisis on large social scale, is much slower than on an individual one, inexorably slow, just as the death of a star takes longer than the death of a tree. This means we often fail to notice the crises that are already well in progress.

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