There are these bacterial mats, these hunks of orange gloppy biota that live in a side stream not far from where I live. They’re in a park through which the little Wepawaug River ambles along. The town dump used to be right next to the park and I guess it was covered over some years back and the new dump is somewhere else now. The site of the old dump is on a hill right smack next to the side stream and whatever was put in that dump, forty, fifty, sixty, seventy years ago, well it’s still probably oozing out now, as these things do. And this stuff, this bacteria, must really groove on it.
I’ve shot it before, the orange gunk. I have a whole set of it.
I shot it because I often walk in this park, when I need to clear my head of human things, which is often. I used to live in Flagstaff and that came to a sudden and bad end, and I found myself back in Connecticut with an awful lot of thinking to do. I had become accustomed, out in Flag, to walking in wild spaces when things troubled me. I do the same in Connecticut now. It takes a bit more effort. It is not that there isn’t nature in CT. There is plenty of it, right under our noses. It is just that the culture here is such that we aren’t used to looking for it.
So I saw this STUFF, the first time. And I was horrified. Gosh, wasn’t I just. Look at it. LOOK AT THAT FUCKING EVIL ORANGE STUFF!!! Because it was seeping out of the dump and gawd knows what was in it. It had to be horrible, right? And I was back in CT where people figure nature is something tidy that is viewed through picture windows or in postcards or in a television documentary. Connecticut and all those damn lawns and golf courses and yuck. And there are all these homes smack dab up against the park too (Well, homes smack dab up against everything, this is a very populous state.) and you know they’re dumping all kinds of nastiness on their lawns because the only thing that will do these days is a monoculture that rivals Astroturf for its sterility and ruthless, frickin’ ruthless, monotony.
So I shot that set because I was horrified. But I’m more artist, more light freak and color freak, than anything resembling a journalist. So I took the pictures because the colors grabbed me. But I was horrified. Oh you bet I was.
So jump ahead a year or so. Jump to last week or so, when we had a cold snap. I bundled up and went out to the river, because a fast cold snap means interesting ice. And new interesting ice plus sun is photo yummy, at least by my lights. And if I got out there before snow or additional freeze-thaw cycles, those glorious beech leaves would be wonderful in the ice.
I used to rush to the falls, when it got icy. But for one thing, that is way too obvious. And for another, it is hard to position myself so that I can get good shots of the ice on the various little falls. I’ve done it, had some decent luck. But I am more interested in what I have shot downstream, along the margins of the river, along the edges and the banks.
In any event, I bundled up and got my ass to the park and trotted up the trail. I went past the athletic fields (Except for the sweep of light, I find that area rather a dead zone.) and to the area where the old dump was.
We’ve had Irene and there was that Halloween snow storm and so there is a mountain range of wood chips at the site now. The chips are starting to ferment. They smell like rotting apples, like funky maple syrup. It must smell like heaven for the Cerambycid and Busprestid beetles that lay their eggs in such things and squeeze a slow but determined living out of the interiors of downed trees. Were it not for the fact that every frickin’ town in Connecticut is up to their ears in wood chips and downed trees, I’d put my former boss, Chris Maier, entomologist extraordinaire (OH THAT WAS THE BEST JOB EVER!!!) on to the place so he could set traps and catch those crazy beetles.
It smells funky, funky, funky, but kind of nice. So I paused and then ran down to the banks of the side stream where the bacteria live and I was delighted to see there were wonderful ice formations.
The hell with the waterfall. I hunkered down and took a zillion shots. They will go up later, once I’ve had time to sift through them and stitch them together, but let me tell you they make me all quivery inside, like my draped grape shots did, like my Tarpum Bay shots did. They are something wholly other. These are tight shots, almost macro. But they are beautiful. That gorgeous fluffy bacterial mat grabs the light and warms my very soul. And the ice is in all kinds of art deco patterns like a sketch by Giger, like a Mayan glyph and the light catches it and I got weak in the knees.
It won’t all be up for a while. But this shot is just a taste.
So, yeah, first I saw the bacteria and I thought pollution and human-generated damage. But you know what? I came back in the cold and the only place in the stream I saw fish was in the orange zone. And hey, it might mean nothing or it might mean the bacteria provides a good habitat for some certain kinds of organisms. But they might be there because it is warmer. Or they might be attracted to it, but live shorter lives that end in cancer. I just don’t know. What I do know is the bacteria is thriving and there are fish.
And I realized I was quite fond of this goop, this fuzzy slime, this freaky orange stuff. And I found myself fretting that, if someone saw me paying so much attention to it, there might be an effort to remediate it, and oh dear. Then I would not be able to shoot it. I would lose my special subject matter.
And more than that, I found I was rooting for this colony of slime. Because in the face of all we do to the environment, it was living. And it might go on living after we’ve made it impossible for our very selves to live.
But it was living and I like to see things thrive. I really do.
(Update; I went out there today and found flagging, 25 bright pink plastic strips labelled WF #1 – 25 and now, NOW, I am fretting about the fate of the orange ooze. Oh, oh, OH, life is so cruel. And what a lesson this is. To admit you love something, is to risk losing it… )