Sunday, August 30, 2015

ANOMALY

I have often wondered at the ability of a few grains of sand and a rivulet of water to carve out a channel in its parent rock, in this case sandstone. Truly a marvel of geological engineering in many ways, the running water (usually from rains) finds the least path of resistance in its course downhill, carrying with it the already eroded grains of sand that had once been boulders, then rocks, then pebbles, and finally small grains as they travel on their journey. Along this course, the grains act as an abrasive, just like sandpaper. The grains of sand then become eroded smaller still, becoming finer and finer grains, thus creating a finer abrasive. The closer to the bottom of the channel one reaches, you find the resulting walls of the inside channel to be as smooth as the silken skin on the inner thigh of a beautiful woman. Surely a perfect comparison with all of the subtle curves involved as well.

But I am not here to discuss the anatomy of the human body, but rather the anatomy of rock. In the very bottom of this channel one finds the tiniest particles of sandstone that have been reduced to near microscopic grains. If one rubs these grains between thumb and forefinger, they feel creamy rather than gritty - like talcum powder. Almost organic I think, though my mind tells me it is silicon. Which raises the question, how different would we be from a possible silicon based life form? Bet you didn't see that coming!

Science fiction has long held out the possibility of silica based life. Look it up! If one takes a peek at the periodic table, one finds many similarities between the carbon and silicon atoms. Both readily combine with other elements to create variations and compounds. The primary difference between the two being that the silicon atom weighs 4 times as much as the carbon atom. And so, on Earth, a silicon based life form would have a difficult time, unless it were rail thin, or lived in the sea where there would be some buoyancy. On another world with lesser gravity though, we begin to see possibilities. Think about it.

What I am really striving towards here though has nothing to do with the building blocks of life forms - well maybe indirectly. I am pointing at the human brain's capacity to take one idea and extrapolate that idea to another. Just as I went from sampling a known silica product composed of minute particles of sand, I then moved towards thinking organically and postulated the idea of building life from the inorganic. This is where it gets mystical, or maybe even metaphysical. How is it that we have learned to discard the logical in favor of an alternative not based in reality? An alternative not based in scientific dogma, or religious in nature, but one that is based on our ability to imagine the impossible, improbable. This is what truly fascinates me about being human. Our cognitive abilities. And so, with all of these mental faculties and freewill floating around, the question arises, how did we get this far along the evolutionary path without going the way of the dinosaurs? Is it truly these abilities ensuring our survival, or just pure blind luck, or both?

Some would say that we are heading down a path of destruction of our own making. If one looks at our accomplishments from a technological viewpoint, one might think otherwise, that we have the science (or will have soon) to solve all problems. But maybe not. If one looks at our accomplishments from a humanitarian perspective, we have failed miserably. Yes, we have the ability to get ourselves out of possible global, life threatening/changing situations (some of our own making, so it would seem that we should try) by applying science. But this is where I think we have become misguided. If we cannot apply our cognitive abilities towards solving the humanitarian issues, what gives us the right to continue existing as a technological species? In my mind, we only gain that right from learning to balance the whole. When we start treating each other as equals, regardless of race, ethnic origins, religious views, or any other factor you wish to expound upon, then and only then do we deserve to persevere. Our cognitive abilities tell me this is possible. When I was younger and more idealistic, I held out hope; now, not so much so.

And now, on the roundabout, I come full circle again. In the not too distant future, will silicon based life get its chance here on Earth? MY cognitive abilities say, probably not, but then, one never really knows, does one?. So what is next for planet Earth? My money is on the insect world :)




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Sunday, August 16, 2015

LAST LIGHT ON FORTRESS CLIFF

'Eons pass as the landscape erodes into boulders, then rocks, then pebbles, and finally grains of sand, reminding us that in the end everything is finite'

Spring Equinox - I have come to Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas panhandle with my good friend Paula for some hiking and photography. The weather is promised by the forecasters to be both warm and cool for the next few days. Perfect conditions for camping in the 'great outdoors', as some are inclined to say.

After setting up camp, we go for a drive along Park Road 5 to its end where we park. There is not a cloud in the sky on this equinox and the air has yet to begin cooling down for the night to come. I am in search of a vantage point where I can photograph the huge ridge known as Fortress Cliff. This is one of the prominent features of the park and I soon find a place from which to work. Paula is looking for fossils on the slope behind me, and I hear her occasional cries of delight when she finds something interesting.

I set up my composition and walk over to where Paula is searching the ground. The slope she is working is abundant in fossils of all kinds including teeth from long dead reptiles of the Permian Age. She shows me her finds so far and we admire them together. This is her first trip here and I am glad to see she is having a good time, rather than just following me around in my own quest.

The light will fall away quickly shortly before sunset because of the 800 foot wall of rock to the west. Once the Sun disappears, the ridge before me will go into shadow rapidly, so I will only have a few minutes to work. Paula joins me in time to see Fortress Cliff and the lower valley rocks turn a vibrant warm color. The rocks here are mostly sandstones, shales, and caliche with mudstones interspersed here and there, and all are stained with the red/orange color of iron oxides. These formations dominate this part of Texas and well into western Oklahoma, though most are below the surface and unseen. Here in the canyon, they are exposed in all of their splendor.

I make a few exposures just as the light is about to fall off, this image being the last one. Less than a minute goes by and the top of the ridge goes into shadow. We are done here and head back to camp. Steaks and baked potatoes are on the menu for tonight. In the morning we will wake to overcast skies and drizzling rain. So much for the forecaster's predictions.




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HOLOLIGHT PHOTO TOURS  will be announcing a  workshop to Palo Duro Canyon for Spring 2016 in the near future! Stay tuned for dates and other info on this trip.