Monday, May 5, 2014

His mind moves upon silence

A strider, going down

THAT civilisation may not sink,
Its great battle lost,
Quiet the dog, tether the pony
To a distant post;
Our master Caesar is in the tent
Where the maps are spread,
His eyes fixed upon nothing,
A hand under his head.

Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.

-- "Long-Legged Fly", W.B. Yeats

I noticed the other day [be precise here: Friday] that one of the striders that was installed for the Canal Convergence event in Scottsdale was listing to starboard. Yes, it caught my attention, but I rode on by. 

Later [specificity below, no need to repeat here], I saw that it had sunk all the way. I took a few photos, and thought about the different types of buoyancy--displacement, surface tension [insect feet pressing against the skin of the water], hydrodynamic [think water skiing], and even the pure power escape velocity type where fish shoot up out [or rockets, or beach balls held under then released that do NOT pop out], of which there are doubtless several sub-types. 

I concluded, after some scattered wide-ranging Mythbusters type intermediary thoughts, granted, that it would be impossible to water ski in gelatin behind a powered craft since any craft with enough oomph to get you up out of the gelatine would disrupt the surface so significantly that any semblance of "skiing" would deteriorate into a Pythonesque gelatine showering and plowing exercise.

Close-up of the number one pod, taking on water, beginning to fail to buoy

On Monday, however, I determined that another strider, the object of photos 1 and 2, above, appeared to be headed toward the same fate as the first, which on Saturday looked like this:

A long-legged fly, with just pods and an antenna ball still above water

And which by the end of the day on Monday appeared to have turned fully upside down, or rather headside down, I think, illustrating simultaneously the length of one and the depth of the canal:

Antenna ball no longer visible. Some sort of unfortunate strider headstand going on here

With two long-legged flies going under in as many business days, something more serious and contemplative than the gelatine water skiing experiment was called for. Enter Yeats. He detoured me from writing about the passage of time and all things, of the transient evanescence of life and beauty, the ravages of age and chaos...and brought me back down to earth. Or rather, back down to the skin of the water pressed by insect feet. 

The others still floating [in silence]. Displacement as a signifier of tension, until it's not

A mind moving in silence is Yeats' refrain in this poem. Go, find it, read it, mull it over while looking at the striders and their current states, their inevitable fates. I've had an ongoing affair with art that floats here on the blog, and until I found the Yeats poem, I was going to call this post "Art that Sinks." But, I guess, all art that floats will sink eventually, like everything else that floats. The sinking of floating art is part of the work itself, as the eventual sinking of an actual water strider bug is when it meets its end. 

The third and last mind moving in silence is Michael Angelo's [sic] as he lays on the scaffolding painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, his hand moving "With no more sound than the mice make." I thought: we're all connected, we humans, Michaelangelo, WB Yeats, Jeff Zischke who made this, me the bicycle commuter / father etc, you the blog reader etc, all of us the viewers momentarily of floating striders going down beneath the soft waves of the Arizona Canal, so quietly. 

Most Yeats' poems leave my head spinning. So again this one. Right in the middle, he wrote "Move most gently if move you must / In this lonely place." Against the fall of civilizations, I think, he imagines a mind moving deliberately and gently in silence, with some child-like attributes, and definitely open and aware of the awe and not-hereness, not-nowness, not-me-ness that art can inspire. Caeser, for a moment in his tent during a distant campaign, his mind empty, the decisions which yield either nurturing or destruction before him, but not yet made.

I keep going back to those maps spread out before Caeser in his tent, but his eyes not fixed on anything [yet]. He needs some quiet moments. Not noise and chaos, but some silence in which his mind might move, a delicate but necessary balancing act upon the skin of the waters which would pull him, along with all of the rest of us, under. The prospect of that, the possibility of it and its alternates, ought to be worth some quiet time sitting beside the moving waters of the Arizona Canal, pondering the fate of some floating green plastic bugs, toward better understanding of whatever it is that connects us more deeply. THAT civilisation may not sink.

Tuesday update: the strider at the top of the post looks like this now


  1. Odd they're not coming to fix it or remove it all together. Weren't they only supposed to be on exhibit until sometime in May anyway? For good reason, I guess.

    1. I'm not sure, I'm still thinking of it as an accidental but interesting characteristic of the art-as-exhibited. Sometimes the unexpected happens, OK usually the unexpected happens, and it can be interesting.


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