Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Woods

Alas, if you were led to believe that this photo post The Woods was actually a slide show music video for the Sleater-Kinney album The Woods...or a low-budget Sony Cybershot remake of the 1999 "The Wood" starring fall foliage instead of Omar Epps...or a hipper, non-musical production of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods replacing Bernadette Peters with some lovely lichen--you will be as disappointed as I was when I learned that "The Manhattan Project" was not in fact Peter Stuyvesant's attempt to build an atomic bomb fashioned out of twigs and his prosthetic limb while harnessing the awesome power of quail. This post just happens to be about a day in the woods (with Sleater-Kinney and Omar Epps).

In upstate New York and throughout New England you are bound to come across many a stone wall, whether in the woods, driving through a charming hamlet or asking you for change in front of a Stop and Shop. Many locals and historians believe such walls were built by early American farm families to denote the boundaries of their property or perhaps restrict the movement of livestock. But the trace writing in a palimpsest that was most recently reused as a store circular for a Yankee Candle outlet indicates that these walls were in fact thousands of feet high and used as a defense against the countless dinosaurs that still roamed the land up until the early 1800's, when the last were burned alive for not being Christian. A few such creatures still survive in Canada, practicing their Celtic polytheistic ways and managing charming incense and crystal shoppes.

When I was little I would wander the immense (an now sadly razed) woods behind my parents' house with my friends Jeff, James, Val and Bruce. We would wander for hours pretending to be on expeditions, looking for treasure or trying to find a hill steep enough that sledding down it in the winter would almost guarantee a sonic boom. Then it would get dark and we'd have to find our way back home. But we never could. So we'd each move in with a new family and call them "Mom" and "Dad" and "Marcello." (Why we all called our newly adoptive brothers and even sisters "Marcello" escapes me to this day.) This would repeat itself again and again. I now have 478 parents and 1242 siblings. I don't even remember my first, true surname. "Marciuliano" was just something I once saw on the side of a truck for a concrete business or baked goods store or whatever it is Italians do. I don't know, being originally Korean.

Whenever you are in the woods you must take a moment to lie on the fallen leaves, look up at the sky through the branches and ask yourself, "What does it all mean?" Say that three times and a leprechaun will appear from some nearby shrubbery. He won't answer your question but rather silently hand you a business card with a phone number on it, typeset in a crisp Akzidenz-Grotesk font and featuring a lovely logo that recalls the best of the Swiss Style school of graphic design. Call that number and you will be put on hold. For a while. (Apparently leprechauns hand out quite a number of such cards.) But be patient, for the answer you receive will be well worth it.

The woods can be a scary place, chockablock with countless horrors that once seemed solely to reside in a Grimms fairy tale or Washington Irving legend. Take this tree, for example. As we approached it the air grew thick with sulphur, the blood in our veins turned gelid and that ingrown hair we thought we finally had beat came back. One could hear low, trembling moans coming from within the very trunk. The limbs oozed a black, viscous substance that caused our souls to shrink away in abject terror. The ground bubbled and cracked, the leaves grew mandibles, the bark bellowed, the very woods roared to life with the deathless voices of a thousand interminable victims before us!

But then we saw this really neat butterfly--it had like maybe three or four of the most delightful colors on its wee wings!--and we chased after that instead.

In the fascinating documentary Visions of Light cinematographer Conrad Hall explains how such previously perceived photographic errors as light flare on the lens--originally deemed a mistake since in essence it broke the fourth wall by reminding viewers of the camera's presence--eventually became an acceptable and highly expressive aesthetic to denote such elements as heat. Naturally, such is what I was going for here, since the sun was not so much setting behind the woods as in the woods, igniting the dry timber and creating a conflagration that burns to this day. That is why we no longer have a Northeast.

Some trees are iconoclasts. They balk at their brethren's cherish belief that vertically is the only way to grow. So they assume a more bowed path, reaching towards heaven in their own time, on their own terms. This tree's singular nature reminded me of a cartoon fable from the early 70's called The Point, about the sole round-headed boy in a village of pointed-headed creature who...well, I'm not quite sure what happened. From the moment I turned it on at age four I just kept screaming and screaming in horror. (Even more so then when I saw the commercial for Dario Argento's Suspiria as a kid in which a skeleton combs her hair while chanting "Roses are red...") Nothing could stop the shrieking, not even Harry Nilsson's wonderful soundtrack. Maybe as a pathologically shy child the cartoon made me feel even more alone. Maybe as a pathologically insane child the cartoon actually talked to me. I don't mean resonated with me. I mean talked to me. Maybe this is what happens when your childhood predates adequate psychopharmacological treatment. All I know is that this tree is doing its own thing and that both delights and alarms me.

The thing about taking pictures of the woods is that even though you can capture some absolutely stunning scenery the photos can all start to make the same statement--"This is nice." That's why I like to mix things up by hiding a small infant in the picture. Just a little visual game to keep things interesting. Can you spot the baby? Can you? Because if you can please tell me where it is. I borrowed the kid without permission like three weeks ago and I really need to return it before its parents realized that changeling I put in their Bugaboo stroller is actually a shaved puppy.

And with those last "shaved puppy" and "missing infant" remarks from the previous photo the camera is being forcibly taken away from me and I have been instructed to end this tale immediately. But seriously, you gotta help me find that baby.

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