I have spent most of my professional life as an astronomer, searching out patterns encoded in the light from distant stars in the hope of understanding how our sun and solar system came to be. Over a research career spanning four decades, I have often found myself perched on remote mountaintops, looking upward mostly, but also contemplating the desert below during those precious moments of quiet and solitude before and after nights spent at the telescope. During those times, I became drawn to, then seduced by the changing patterns of desert lands sculpted by the glancing light of the rising and setting sun: light that reveals forms molded both by millennial forces and yesterday?s cloudburst into undulations of shapes and colors. Over the past five years, I have turned my attention from the macro- to micro- worlds, choosing, among other projects, to image transient patterns along seaside beaches that express in their quiet, understated way the same powerful combination of pattern, history and emotion as the grander landscape. Perhaps the common thread in my scientific and artistic lives has been a quest for patterns, their source, and perhaps more profoundly, why such patterns create such deep intellectual and emotional resonance. My explorations of ocean’s edge began in 2008, after spending a week wandering along the beaches of the mid-Oregon coast, where minerals carried oceanward from the coastal mountain range mix with sand, producing subtle patterns that called me to photograph them. I discovered that the initial images I made in 2008 resonated in some deep way with my explorations of desert landscapes. While the desert images typically recorded patterns on scales of miles, those found on Oregon’s beaches span inches or feet. Yet in each case the patterns seemed to match some innate sense of what we humans call beauty. Below are a selection of these images along with poems by Zen teacher Richard Clarke. A larger selection can be found in Sand Mirrors, published at the end of September by Polytropos Press (Tucson):

 

 

great and graphic is the Engraver’s stone of transient sand
hereon all history is written and foreseen
fields exhausted and fallow
whispered icons and ciphers suggestive
of what we’ve never known
cliffs and sculptured rock bear marks
of what was and is yet to be
light washes over all
the elusive land awaits
the call to flow again
  

Photo by Stephen Strom

 

 

in these few inches on the beach
vast river basins being topographed
and in another blink
are waving strands of grasses
fossilized by light
in flesh-soft sand
until another era washes over
by creator wave
  

Photograph by Stephen Strom

 

 

so neatly pieced together
with bold dynamism
as we would like our life to be —
smooth, impervious and impeccable
a joy to behold and to show to others

but what really is
this fabric, this tissue of self?
could it be that it is
as mutable and ungraspable and transient
as water and sand?
  

Photo by Stephen Strom

 

 

the simplest of tableaux
the simplest of probes
the black pointer
the tiny green sphere
the subtlest of shading
draws us into suggestive folds and form
but will not yield until we have
perfected silence
and surrendered everything
  

Photo by Stephen Strom

 

 

an abstract artist or the imagined god create
from Emptiness, the pregnant void
leave their creations for a brief time in these compliant sands
until the next cycle —
strong yet gentle perfect curves
decisive strokes
declaring what mere words can never say —
their magnetism holds us
to look and maybe see
what silence and the sounds of sand and sea
announce ceaselessly —
if we but come with patience
matching in our timeless being
their unhindered Source
  

Photo by Stephen Strom

 

 

Learn more about Sand Mirrors at www.sandmirrors.com.

 

 

Stephen E. Strom began photographing the landscape in 1978. His work has been exhibited widely throughout the United States and is held in several permanent collections. He collaborated with Muscogee poet Joy Harjo on Secrets from the Center of the World (University of Arizona Press, 1989). More recent books include Sonoita Plain: Views from a Southwestern Grassland with Jane and Carl Bock (University of Arizona Press, 2005); Tséyi’: Deep in the Rock: Reflections on Canyon de Chelly, with text by Laura Tohe (University of Arizona Press, 2005); and Otero Mesa: Preserving America’s Wildest Grassland with text by Gregory McNamee (University of New Mexico Press, 2008). A monograph of Stephen’s images, Earth Forms, was published in 2009 by Dewi Lewis Publishing.

Richard B. Clarke has published two books of poetry: Fever and the Cold Eye (Contact Press, 1966) and Lunations (Chap Book, 1969). His translation from the Chinese of the poetic treatise on the essence of Zen by the T’ang dynasty Zen patriarch Sengts’an, Hsin-Hsin Ming: Verses on the Faith-Mind, was published in 2001 by White Pine Press.

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