Sand Mirrors: Photographs by Stephen E. Strom + Poems by Richard B. Clarke
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
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
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?
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
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
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.