Midsummer mountain laurel



… he followed the bear’s trail to … a dense stand of mountain laurel.                       

The mountain laurel is blooming in the woods, putting out scads of white and pale pink flowers.

In Ogin, a ritual hunt ends at a place where the mountain laurel is tall and wide enough for a bear to hide in. None of the mountain laurel bushes I have seen in Ravenswood are anything like that big, but during this time of flower-clusters there is a lot more to them.

The open flower like a candy umbrella or cosmic bug;

the yet-to-open flower like a squeeze from the cake decorator’s gun.

But no simile is a match for the thing itself.

Coincidentally, I’m reading another fantasy involving a bear-based ritual: Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels. The writing truly amazes me; even what is ugly is made beautiful (and there is a lot that is ugly). I’m also intent on the way it deals with borders between worlds—serious in the best sense of the word.

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3 Responses to Midsummer mountain laurel

  1. Janis says:

    I was reading “The Wolf in the Parlor” and the author discussed how humans (derived from tree-dwelling apes) are visual creatures, with a highly developed visual center of the brain. It is devoted to depth perception, color disambiguation, and other things needed to live (without falling to one’s death) in trees. It’s this ability to visualize that gives us the ability to day-dream, calculate, compose, and think in abstract terms. While we may interpret things as ugly or pretty, those are given to cultural influence, not the fact that “brown” is a turn-off.

    With dogs, however, they are much more driven by their nose. The nose is much closer to the center of the brain that interprets scent (unlike the visual cortex in the back of the brain the signals have to travel to), and more connected to raw emotion, vs. the logic center in the visual center.

    While we have a sense of smell, it is much more crude, and therefor we have very extreme thresholds for good smells and bad smells. We react strongly and immediately. Dogs, however, having a much larger spectrum of smells to work from, do not interpret smells as being strong good/bad, just different, interesting, or unique.

    A dog, however, with his limited color spectrum and depth perception, reacts far more strongly to movements and contrast, as he is working with less information.

    It makes me wonder, in terms of ugly/pretty, does this same threshold hold true? If something can see with much more clarity (and less cultural influence), does the strength of ugly/pretty value diminish? Things become interesting…

    It makes one wonder how other creatures interpret the world we live in, and why certain senses are developed over others. Like elephants – arguably one of the smartest animals on the planet – what degrees do they see/smell/taste/hear/touch at?

  2. Janis says:

    Sorry, the point of that rambling was the notion of value in ugly/beautiful. I try not to think in such terms, but more in terms of everything being different or interesting.

    When photographing things, if I can’t see anything overtly beautiful, I change my level of abstraction. On a beach on the west-coast of New Zealand, it was rainy, near dusk, the sand was grey, the beach was strewn with a LOT of driftwood, the water was kind of grey too. As a whole, it made for dull photography. Grey sky, grey sand, grey sticks and stones, grey water. So I started going macro… taking pictures of contrasty bark, close-ups of all the different kinds of driftwood, a cluster of stones together, etc… and suddenly I had an abundance of great photos.

    I feel like people (in general) think too much in terms of “big filters”. “Is this scene beautiful? No? Move on.” There is always “interesting” whether a scene is ugly or beautiful.

    In contrast, at another venue, taking pictures of grass would be boring… blue cloudless sky would be dull… blue clear sea would be dull… but together, it made a dramatic and contrasting landscape.

    Art, I think, is the ability to abstract to the point of sharp contrast, which evokes that gut-reaction. But if that gut reaction repulses uncomfortably, one must moderate and adjust their abstraction to be less contrasty, and simply “interesting”.

  3. Patrick Doud says:

    Every point here is on a line that leads to the center of my world, Janis; from questions about how other creatures perceive (and especially how canids perceive), to the way grades of contrast figure in art.

    Regarding ugliness and beauty in Tender Morsels: maybe I should have been more specific (though I’m glad I was not; otherwise I would not have elicited this particular response from you, and probably would not have these matters so present in my thoughts). The ugliness I was refering to is not sensory, but the kind that people do to each other. There is rape and incest in the book, and cruelty, and selfishness. What I was trying to say in the post was that Lanagan is a writer who engages language to a degree that astonishes me, doing so with subjects so horrific that simple reportage would probably do.

    Regarding ugliness and beauty in everything else: I’m with you. Much depends on the cultural baggage you carrry (which I think must be the case for dogs too, to a degree), and how much you are willing to really look… I think a lot of ugliness is really just a failure of imagination.

    I haven’t read The Wolf in the Parlor, but the subject(s) interests me deeply. Do you recommend it?

    And elephants. I wonder which of their senses is most developed. Anyone out there know?

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