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Monday, April 9, 2018

FEARFULLY MADE: Notes from the Field

The Fearfully Made presentation went off pretty smoothly. Friends and family, some unexpected, sat through a whole worship service to see this audio visual foray on a beautiful sunny day (which offered lots of other recreational temptations). I was touched and honored by their support. I've incorporated the live recording of Shirley Brendlinger's piano arrangement (from Sunday's presentation) into a video version available now on YouTube.

Curious to know where some of the pictures in the presentation were taken? Unsure of what some of the pictures are? This annotated timeline might prove to be helpful.

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Beauty from Chaos has been the working title for the presentation of images I’ve assembled over the last month, but the thing that sparked this endeavor in the first place was the night the Eagle Creek Fire sprinted down the Columbia Gorge with the capriciousness of a tornado, obliterating some treasured landmarks while leaving others unscathed. Standing in the smoky darkness atop the Cape Horn Viewpoint, I was awed and horrified all at the same time. While I knew that lives and the works of lifetimes were hanging in jeopardy, I also knew that beauty, whose loss I was mourning, was itself a product of volcanic ‘disasters’, geography altering super floods, tectonic-plate-level seismic events, and countless fires through the eons. Indeed, from a cosmic perspective, life was born from stars and it has contended with fire from the very beginning.

The Reedwood Friends have posted the publicity for FEARFULLY MADE: Notes From the Field on their website:

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FEARFULLY MADE: Notes From The Field is the second audio/video collaboration between photographer Scott Dietz and pianist Shirley Brendlinger. Scheduled to premiere on Earth Day, April 22nd, at Reedwood Friends Church (during the worship service), the presentation utilizes Scott’s images of the Pacific Northwest and Shirley’s classical music arrangements to explore a suspected correlation (albeit a paradoxical one) between chaos and beauty: Does beauty spring from chaos? Is chaos beautiful?

FEARFULLY MADE: Notes from the field

I was sitting at a funeral reading the verses to the Sending Hymn (sung to the tune of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy). “Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea, Chanting bird and flowing fountain, teach us what our praise should be.” And I thought to myself, that’s what I was trying to explain to Dwight, except that with Dwight, I was relating the story of a Catholic nun who was explaining to me that there was another gospel, the testament of nature — the Artist’s brushstrokes (as I’ve said before).

Implicit in my title, I’m suggesting that the pictures I’ve taken are my notes from the field (of study). I began with an assumption that beauty arises from chaos, but after reviewing my notes, I noticed that this does not always seem to be true, especially for some individual trees. So, in an effort to follow where the data leads, I’ve picked a title that I hope allows for the emergence of beauty from chaotic scenarios, but recognize (from my limited perspective) it’s not a sure thing.

I’ve divided the presentation into four segments. The first segment deals with Cosmology. I have to say that, on my budget, it is extraordinarily hard to take pictures of the beginning of the universe. I had to use lentils as stand-ins so technically, some of my ‘notes’ are re-iterations of other people’s notes. My intention, though, was to establish the context of our world by sharing the narrative that stretches from the ‘Big Bang’ to the development of human consciousness. It’s a fascinating story that stretches 13.7 billion years. I had to leave a few parts out.

The second segment deals with geology broadly, and volcanoes in particular. From the lava vents that repeatedly flooded Central Oregon with molten basalt, to our temperamental strato-volcanoes (all fueled by the activity of migrating, earthquake causing, tectonic plates) volcanism has played a significant role in the shaping of the Northwest as well as dictating how our environment works today. The land we stand on, the weather we experience, and the water we drink are all keenly related to the formation of the Cascade Range.

The third segment briefly touches upon evidence of Ice-age floods. After the land was in place, water and ice went to work sculpting its face. The failure of ice dams repeatedly allowed the sudden entirety of vast Missoula Lake to pour across Central Washington creating the scablands, incredible scooped out coulees, and hanging waterfalls. Much of the distinctiveness of the Columbia Gorge is dependent on these episodes when the river’s peak flow-rate was ten times the combined flow of all the rivers in the world.

The final segment centers on fires I’ve seen in the Columbia Gorge with some examples of what occurs in the aftermath.

It’s a conundrum. The world is unbelievably beautiful. And if you aren’t careful, it will kill you.

I have a confession. Sitting at funerals, I sometimes have a suspicion that my dead friends are truly dead — that there may not be a life everlasting.  As one who values the fruits of a scientific worldview, I long for evidence or proof. Out in the field, with my camera, I see hints. The repeating, renewing cycles of the seasons and perhaps even the cleansing, refining work of fire are patterns that suggest Nature is constantly recycled. And though I would like to fit into this pattern personally — to be renewed — I am afraid it is likely to be quite painful.

I have camped on an island that has all at once tried to exhaust, freeze and drown me. Alternately, the same island has cradled me in a warm summer evening while providing me with all the oysters and berries I could eat. It’s the same island — only my experience and understanding change. I guess that’s why, when my loved ones lie in their final repose, I sing (Well, O.K., I don’t really sing – I follow along in the hymnal) those relentlessly optimistic songs. It is an exercise of hope. It is faith that my unbelief will be helped. I latch on to the conviction that, “Brothers! Above the canopy of stars, must dwell a loving Father.”

In the meantime, the world is unbelievably beautiful.

Finally, I’d like to point out that I am not technically a Quaker and I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the synthesis of ideas presented in this article are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of Quakers, real scientists or members of my family.

According to a very old story, God makes a wager with Satan and calamity soon befalls a good man named Job. Abandoned and in considerable pain, Job asks questions that occur to him, like why do the wicked go unpunished? There follows considerable debate among Job and his ‘friends’, but eventually, God speaks from out of a whirlwind and berates Job with a flurry of rhetorical questions.

Where is the home of the east wind?
Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain?
Who laid out the path for the lightning?
Who makes the rain fall on barren land,
in a desert where no one lives?
Who sends rain to satisfy the parched ground
and make the tender grass spring up?

God seems displeased that Job has questioned his wisdom. God’s strategy seems to be to direct Job’s attention to His creation. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” He asks.

In Fearfully Made: Notes From the Field, the audience will see the channels cut for the torrents of rain, the barren land where no one lives and the parched ground where tender grass springs up. What do these landscapes shaped by cataclysm reveal about the creator?

When I revealed the title to my presentation, I promptly received two emails from my Mom asserting that it’s, “…fearfully AND WONDERFULLY made.” She didn’t explain why this distinction was so important to her, but I suspect she wants to counter my emphasis on the fearful part and remind me that God is good. So without further ado…

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