Sunday, December 18, 2011

Pine Forest in Snow

There is a distinct simplicity in the joy I felt as a child during the Christmas season.  I was fortunate enough to have parents who happily engaged my siblings and me in the lore of St. Nicolas and the spirit of the holidays.  As Thanksgiving would come to an end, the following weekend would mark the beginning of the ritual of pulling down boxes from the garage rafters and sifting through the piles of Christmas lights and decorations.  During the week before Christmas, mom would begin a whirlwind of baking and dad would take us on forays to the local super store where we'd hastily move through crowds in search of the perfect presents.  On that fateful morn, my brother and sister and I would barely need to awaken as we'd head to the family room as the sun came up.  Our eyes would bulge with glee seeing Santa's footprints along the edge of the fireplace, the cookie plate littered with crumbs, and our stockings overflowing with treats and goodies.  It was extraordinarily special.

For the unique thing about Christmas was the flood of excitement and wintery feelings we would have.  No other time of the year or occasion would come close.  We'd pick out a real pine tree, the lights would be up and twinkling, garland would be hung about the house, tinsel, snowflake cut-outs on the windows above the sprayed on snow, Frosty classroom assignments dangling from the refrigerator door; it was the greatest time of my life and the source of emotions other holidays could not replicate.  And though I don't have a family of my own, I cherish the thoughts of perpetuating the same feelings in my future children.  In fact, the very idea of nostalgia I would argue stems directly from experiences young minds have during this particular holiday season.  And even though we lived in mild, sunny California, we weren't without the dreamy imaginations of snow and the crisp chill in the air that ushered in December 25.

Yet at times I feel these emotions have become muddied and it tears at my heart.  Since growing up and becoming an independent man, I've had my fair share of Christmas days spent alone, nary a phone call, card, or even a gift.  Frankly, I don't even care much to dwell on those moments as they are horrific memories I sometimes fear I've not finished experiencing.  Furthermore, they are the antithesis of what this time of year means for my family and me.  But I'd be remiss if I did not mention that there have been times Christmas was not ideal.  And on those days, I felt as if a small part of who I am died.

Fortunately, I have an incredible family riddled with little tykes who warm my very soul with their innocent faces, loving hearts, and similar passions for Christmas.  Though I'm no longer a child and can't yet share my own experiences with my own offspring, spending the holidays with my niece and nephews fulfills my inner-Christmas spirit just enough.

Pine Forest in Snow by Ansel Adams (1902-1984) is a black and white photograph of a forest in Yosemite National Park, California.  Depicted are needle-less Sugar Pines densely packed together after a fresh dusting of snow, showing us their twisted and intertwined branches as they give pause to the season.  It's almost as if their wrestling for sunlight has been frozen and we're given a chance to see the intimate interaction between each tree we normally would miss.

Masterfully framed, Adams captures a moment of Winter that evokes the sentimental values many of us place on the season.  The child-like parts of our hearts and minds can immediately picture the potential for adventurous frolicking should we find ourselves facing this same forest.  The idea of being in the woods playing in snow that appears so soft and untouched, it almost feels cozy to imagine.

And yet, among the branches is an implied pattern quality and an illusion of movement that radiates a subtle sense of havoc--maybe even horror.  If you remove the element of personal experience and just gaze at how the photograph flows, you begin to feel uneasy--almost claustrophobic at the stealthy implications of chaos.  Thus, it is easily one of the most gorgeous photographs of trees in Winter explicitly blending still-life with expressionism.

The qualities of Christmas as a holiday and as a season have been captured.  It is in the eyes of the beholder, though for each of us, some form of connection to how this time of year felt to us as children can be found in this photo.  Perhaps my own insight has given way to what perspectives I can immediately identify with but I'm merely sharing my own thoughts on this work of art.  I do admit to feeling saddened at the thought of having to spend another Christmas alone but I'm not forgetting to keep myself in check.  It would be morally irresponsible of me lest I forget the hundreds of thousands who never get to enjoy the same things I have and will.

While the idea of viewing Adams' photo could yield an even greater sense of fear and spurn adamant feelings of "Bah, humbug," perhaps it isn't such a bad thing.  For some, it could reinvigorate the spirit of the season.  For others, it could encourage change and provoke a desire to find new meaning.  For a few, it's just a picture.

As Shakespeare once said, "This above all: To your own self, be true."

Merry Christmas, everyone!  Merry Christmas, indeed.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Niccolò Paganini

About 100 years ago, George was born the lone child of a father and mother who are long gone. As a youngster, George lived out his life in a pretty desolate place known as Pinta. Each day, he'd wake and slowly make his way around the rocky terrain in search of sustenance. Each night, he would bed down alone inside his small abode and dream of what could be.

Several years had gone by when George was awakened one day by the unfamiliar sounds of new neighbors. Boorish and abrasive, the new family to take up residency was clearly not what George was accustomed to. For him, each day was filled with friendly, sparse encounters with the few others that lived in the same area each living their lives in harmony, in unison, and without interruption. But the new family to take up a home in George's otherwise quiet world were less-than welcome. Sadly, over time the small brood had increased in kinship making George's small but spread out place of living far too uncomfortable and overcrowded. In fact, things got so bad and due to George's elderly age, he had to be assisted in finding a new home where he could continue to live peacefully with all the necessities.

George took on quite a bit of fame in the 1970s thanks to his unique life and story and after being discovered by a foreign scientist doing local research. His solitary upbringing, ability to survive on his own for nearly his entire life, and learning that he was the last of his family's lineage, George was greeted by many well-doers. Each person seemed genuine and sought ways to make what was left of his existence as enjoyable as possible all the while exploiting the ramifications of who he was so others could feel compelled to get involved. George and others like him should never be forgotten in such a large world filled with those who had or have a similar background. And while efforts to introduce George to a mate so his family name could live on have failed, there is still a glimmer of hope it is not too late.

Niccolò Paganini by Jean-Pierre Dantan is the plaster sculpture of an Italian violin virtuoso by the same name. Using his incredibly unique and expressive style, Dantan has created one of the hallmarks of his very bright and idyllic career. Not far from the reality of who Paganini was and how he played, the piece displays a man paying extremely close attention to his craft.

Externally, we're presented with a piece that shows a man with his hips askew and arms awkwardly pulled in as he seemingly reaches the crescendo of his music. Internally, we're able to notice not just a man playing an instrument but a man wholly focused on something that is truly a passion. Dantan's use of simple materials void of color show that the work itself is not meant to be expressive but the motion, the moment, and the emotions evoked. Purposefully, the piece was masterfully created in order to ensure who Paganini was as an violinist and how Paganini sacrificed his entire life for his work are intricately represented.

In real life, Paganini was not much unlike our friend, George. He lived a life of pure focus upon the one thing he felt gave him purpose while garnering his fair share of fame. Ultimately, though, Paganini passed away leaving very little to speak of behind. And like George, Paganini forged through his existence as someone who should have been much more well known and successful but apparently destined for nothing more than having controversy surround his legacy.

Who is George, you might be wondering? He's the last known species of tortoise that are indigenous to Pinta Island in the Galápagos. At approximately 100 years old, no other living species of George's kind have been found and hopes to avert extinction have been fruitless. In kind, how does George relate to Paganini? As one of the most beloved and vivid violinists of his time and at the height of his fame, Paganini reached the end of his life with no money, alone, and his idiomatic talent all but forgotten. On a symbolic road of destiny that could not be manipulated or influenced, both George and Paganini trudged through their lives focused not on what made them each special, but on what each most desired.

When the day comes that George passes away, the lack of similarities between a tortoise and a man will eventually fade. Though I suppose it has already begun considering the predicated comparison I've just shared. All boasting aside, however, the one thing that cannot be argued is the reality of some individuals who seem destined for a life of solitude. Completely engrossed in their dreams and passions, these folks endure years of loneliness despite having direct and sometimes infamous connections with others. Rightfully expressed in a song entitled, Misread Lyrics by Kings of Convenience, "All throughout history the loneliest people were the ones who always spoke the truth; the ones who made a difference by withstanding the indifference." The unfortunately truth is that indifference will be everlasting.