There are times when it is fruitless to consider pine cones. Much depends on perspective. After a while one grows tired of exploring the excesses of hyle, of matter, the matter of trees, of the too-small differences between details, and in the moment it becomes obvious that the familiar is inescapable, one thinks rather grimly, nothing is lavish when everything is. Even the high style of botanical naming loses its charm: Strobilus, non-serotinous, Araucariaceae, galbulus, bract, ovuliferous… let the pine cones and their allies be what they are. Just pine cones.
Happily this is not one of those times. Larch, loblolly, lodgepole, lebanese cedar. Baroque in the best sense. Spruce, cypress, sequoia, Sciadopityaceae. Names pile up with the details that mark the categories they distinguish. Detail in the language of pine cones is a kind of conceptual debris not unlike the physical debris that pine cones find themselves a part of. It is amazing the way heaps and piles obscure their contents – how the brain elides visual details, perhaps for the sake of a portable whole. This morning I looked closely at a small mess of needles and cones and discovered that my idea of a cone was impossibly vague, and even now after trying to memorize the features of a cone, I can not draw one accurately without reference to the real thing. The real thing is an artwork.
The excess stuff of trees and waves is very often of remarkable quality. The jetsam of forests turns out to be precious; a forest can be combed as well as a beach. Bioluminescent fungi. Fissured barks. A wealth of fallen leaves. And on the best days when some unseen magician is pulling breeze after breeze from his sleeves and throwing great handfuls outwards like silk – well! Or contra the magician, wind is just abundant libations. Let the spirits flow! Wind is alcohol! Or wind is perhaps a thing like the forests of fairy tales, which knights invariably got lost in, and which dwarfed lumberjacks, who hacked away and never had to wonder if the woods would grow back. Or wind is something still incomprehensible after much study – incomprehensible with slight and mesmerizing variation, like the torrent of my friend Jan’s German (we are sitting in the Biblio at UVic; he’s skyping as I’m typing): a rush of syllables bubbling with fricatives.
When you are attuned to a fine level of detail – when you are ready to seriously consider pine cones – you are in a position to appreciate muchness.