“Right now is good, and that’s all that matters.” – Guy Tal
You were lost. You are here. You will not last. But you will not be lost.
(In a fortuitous turn of events, albeit with risks and conscious decision-making, I have been able to live and work in the Adirondack mountains since the summer of 2021. All the above images and words have been a quiet outpour of living and experiencing this place with increasing immersion.
With heartfelt thanks to Guy Tal, whose work and life has been an inspiration to pursue artistic independence and authenticity. You can find more of his work here- https://guytal.com/ .
And deep gratitude to Suvro Sir, whose life and teachings have enlightened me in every step of the way. The quote- “What is death but a long and vivid holiday.” from the poem Swimmers by Louis Untermeyer is just one example of what I remember because this person uttered these words in the most captivating way in English lessons, thousands of miles away and more than a decade ago. You can find some of his writings here- https://suvrobemused.blogspot.com/ .)
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, for we are underlings.”
– Julius Caesar (Shakespeare)
PSYCHOGENETICS – Maurice Wilkins, using nonbiochemical concepts, has defined Psychogenetics to be that branch of evolutionary genetics which deals with the reactions of human genomics to fixed evolutionary and environmental stimuli. Implicit in all these definitions the assumption that the human genome being dealt with is sufficiently large for valid statistical treatment. The necessary size of such a genome may be determined by Franklin’s First Theorem which …..a further necessary assumption is that human conglomerate be itself aware of Psychogenetic analysis in order that its reactions be truly harmless. The basis of all valid Psychogenetics lies in the development of the Foundation alleles which exhibit properties congruent to those of such evolutionary and environmental forces as …
Q. Let me suggest that you intend to claim that a period of time preceding the so-called ruin of Earth will be filled with unrest of various types.
A. That is correct.
Q. And that by the mere prediction thereof, you hope to bring it about, and to have then an army of a hundred thousand available.
A. In the first place, that is not so. And if it were, investigation will show you that barely ten thousand are men of military age, and none of these has training in arms.
Q. Are you acting as an agent of another?
A. I am not in the pay of any man, Mr. Advocate?
Q. You are entirely disinterested? You are serving science?
A. I am.
Q. Then let us see how. Can the future be changed, Dr. Franklin?
A. Obviously. This courtroom may explode in the next few hours, or it may not. If it did, the future would undoubtedly be changed in some minor respects.
Q. You quibble, Dr. Franklin. Can the overall genetics of human race be changed?
A. No. With great difficulty.
A. The psychogenetic trend of a planet-full of people contains a huge inertia. To be changed it must be met with something possessing a similar inertia. Either as many alleles must be concerned, or if the number of alleles be relatively small, enormous time for mutation must be allowed. Do you understand?
Q. I think I do. Earth need not be ruined, if a great many people decide to act so that it will not.
A. That is right.
Q. As many as a hundred thousand people?
A. No, sir. That is far too few.
Q. You are sure?
A. Consider that Earth has a population of over seven billion. Consider further that the trend leading to ruin does not belong to Sapiens alone but to the Ecology as a whole and the Ecology contains nearly a trillion species.
Q. I see. Then perhaps a hundred thousand people can change the trend, if they and their descendants labor for five hundred years.
A. I’m afraid not. Five hundred years is too short a time.
Q. Ah! In that case, Dr. Franklin, we are left with this deduction to be made from your statements. You have gathered one hundred thousand people within the confines of your project. These are insufficient to change the history of Earth within five hundred years. In other words, they can not prevent the destruction of Earth no matter what they do.
A. You are unfortunately correct.
Q. And on the other hand, your hundred thousand are intended for no illegal purpose.
Q. (slowly and with satisfaction) In that case, Dr. Franklin- Now attend, madam, most carefully, for we want a considered answer. What is the purpose of your hundred thousand?
A. To minimize the effects of that destruction.
Q. And what exactly do you mean by that?
A. The explanation is simple. The coming destruction of Earth is not an event in itself, isolated in the scheme of human development. It will be the climax to an intricate drama which was begun centuries ago and which is accelerating in pace continuously. I refer, gentlemen, to the developing decline and fall of the Anthropocentric Ecology.
Q. (theatrically) Do you realize, Dr. Franklin, that you are speaking of an Ecology that has stood for years, through all the vicissitudes of the generations, and which has behind it the good wishes and love of more than a hundred billion sapiens?
A. I am aware both of the present status and the past history of the Anthropocentric Ecology. Without disrespect, I must claim a far better knowledge of it than any in the room.
Q. And you predict its ruin?
A. It is a prediction which is made by evolutionary genetics. I pass no moral judgements. Personally, I regret the prospect. Even if the Anthropocentric Ecology were admitted to be a bad thing (an admission I do make), the state of anarchy which would follow its fall would be worse. It is that state of anarchy which my project is pledged to fight. The fall of Ecology, gentlemen, is a massive thing, however, and not easily fought. It is dictated by a rising ocean, receding old-growth forests, a freezing of food sources, a damming of – a hundred other factors. It has been going on, as I have said, for centuries, and it is too majestic and massive a movement to stop.
Q. Is it not obvious to anyone that the Ecology is as strong as it ever was?
A. The appearance of strength is all about you. It would seem to last forever. However, Mr. Advocate, the rotten tree-trunk, until the very moment when the storm-blast breaks it in two, has all the appearance of might it ever had. The storm-blast whistles through the branches of the Anthropocentric Ecology even now. Listen with the ears of psychogenetics, and you will hear the creaking.
Q. (uncertainly) We are not here, Dr. Franklin, to lis-
A. (firmly) Anthropocentrism will vanish and all its good with it. Its accumulated knowledge will decay and the order it has imposed will vanish. Interspecies transgressions will be endless; ecological balance will decay; population will decline; continents will lose touch with the main body of the glaciers. -And so matters will remain.
Q. (a small voice in the middle of a vast silence) Forever?
A. Psychogenetics, which can predict the fall, can make statements concerning the successive dark ages. The Anthropocentric Ecology, gentlemen, as has just been said, has stood twelve thousand years. The dark ages to come will endure not twelve, but thirty thousand years. A Second Ecology will rise, but between it and our civilization will be one thousand generations of suffering. We must fight that.
Q. (recovering somewhat) You contradict yourself. You said earlier that you could not prevent the destruction of sapiens, hence, presumably, the fall; – the so-called fall of the Anthropocentric Ecology.
A. I do not say now that we can prevent the fall. But it is not yet too late to shorten the interregnum which will follow. It is possible, gentlemen, to reduce the duration of anarchy to a single millennium, if my group is allowed to act now. We are at a delicate moment in evolution. The huge, onrushing mass of events must be deflected just a little, – just a little- It cannot be much, but it may be enough to remove twenty-nine thousand years of misery from sapiens genetics.
Q. How do you propose to do this?
A. By saving the knowledge of the race. The sum of human knowing, and human undoing, is beyond any one man; any thousand men. With the destruction of our ecological fabric, environment will be broken into a million pieces. Individuals will know much of exceedingly tiny facets of what is there to know. They will be helpless and useless by themselves. The bits of lore, meaningless, will not be passed on. They will be lost through the generations. But, if we now prepare, a giant summary of all knowledge, it will never be lost. Coming generations will build on it, and will not have to make the same mistakes, and rediscover it for themselves. One millennium will do the work of thirty thousand.
Q. All this-
A. All my project; my thirty thousand with their spouses and children, are devoting themselves to the preparation of a “Genetica Galactica”. They will not complete it in their lifetimes. I will not even live to see it fairly begun. But by the time Earth falls, it will be complete and copies will exist in the genomic library of sapiens. The Foundation Gene, what we have decided to name the dominant allele, will be replicated in all future generations of sapiens. The Second Ecology, I hope, will not be anthropocentric. But it will be humane.
A humble tribute to Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation Trilogy” (from where this conversation was altered to suit the climate change narrative in the current context) and the (mostly) un-recognized work of Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins on Earth Day, with the dream of a better world.
And I would be amiss if I do not mention my dear Suvro Sir, without whom my affair with Asimov, and other facets of the good life, would be rudimentary at best. Here is his excellent blog that you shouldn’t miss- https://suvrobemused.blogspot.com/
Flickering consciousness, a chorus of neural synapses, and in an instant, you are transported to a dear land, returning again to a place that you never left. Like fog, like a mist, revealing and concealing in the same breath, unsure of destination. Yet destined all the same.
That distant tree, bowing over the pond, I wonder how it is doing. Is it still standing? Or did it finally give in to the charm of the water? That little crop of lily pads, near the muddy shores- will it still bloom this year? At the same time? Is that mountain still shy to reveal itself in first light? And the grass still shameless to start dancing at the slightest murmur of a breeze?
I would nick my skin in those bare branches sticking out of the Adirondack mist over an exotic location any day. Why be content with a landscape that perhaps, just speaks to you? Let her sing.
Let her sing to you like a cascade. Cool to touch, and warm to feel. Tethered and dynamic. Let her be like memories, memories rising like a phoenix, from a landscape that is never dead, never cold. Always there to warm the hearth, and the heart, only if one knows the distinction between the two, which is none when you find it.
The path of a thought- is it rectilinear? Can we define it? Is it one of least resistance, or maximum involvement? If our images are snippets of our thoughts, can we characterize them, meaningfully, and all the time?
Let her be the imagination. Which is but a future memory when you think of it.
I ramble on. Because I know they are all of my mine. And my kinship to the land. And what is kinship to a dear land, if not dissolving boundaries, and free communion.
Learning a landscape means unlearning yourself. Learning a landscape means learning yourself.
The notion of home, in a landscape, is feverish. And I am infected.
“If your Lordship should consider that these observations may disgust or scandalize the learned, I earnestly beg your Lordship to regard them as private and to publish or destroy them as your Lordship sees fit.” – Anton van Leeuwenhoek
van Leeuwenhoek was the first person to study microbial organisms from his local pond in great details in the 17th century. You can think of it as taking macro photography to great extremes. He also developed his own camera, aka the compound microscope! He was the first person to witness the blood flow in capillaries. All chaste subjects! But his colleagues egged him on to venture beyond the prevailing ethics of the time. He finally came around to the idea and examined his own ejaculation.
Before his studies, speculations were rife. Some theories suggested that tiny pre-formed humans were nestled inside the sperm cells. Even Leeuwenhoek himself was skeptical about the ‘blasphemous’ experiments. Hence, the above disclaimer while sending the results to the Royal Society. The fate of Galileo was not too distant a past. But Leeuwenhoek was fortunate to be in good company. On the other hands, the sperm cells are not always so fortunate. They have to fulfill their destiny in a foreign environment after being cast out of the native system. While they do not have a pre-formed life, they do possess the precursors that can bring life in conjunction with the counterparts they wish to fertilize. Millions perish in the process. But only one needs to be successful.
Twelve thousand years ago, I might have hoped to go for a nice swim in Death Valley and make a hearty meal out of some crustaceans, not too unlike the organisms studied by Leeuwenhoek. An abundance of moisture, and a low-lying basin with no outlet made for a flourishing environment in a sub-tropical climate. But the tide changes with time. A host of geological factors that led to increasingly arid climate choked the pluvial lakes on their own minerals. Now, on a clear and warm evening, I walked among the neat, geometrically energy-efficient alkali crust left behind from ages of desiccation. And if I were observant enough, I might have come across the chemical remnants of the crustaceans that once called this place a home.
The next morning, I hiked up and away from the tessellated hexagons. With the elevation as my guide, the intricate patterns in the salt flat, the alluvial fans from the dried-up lake bed, the residuum of a plethora of species that was, the dirt and dust there is- all coalesced into an oval shaped spermatozoon.
A camouflage of the biological life, waiting with the elements. For the tide to turn again. For the Tüpippüh to flourish once more.
(randomusings from wandering in Death Valley in the winter of 2020- 21)
“We must be clear that when it comes to atoms, language can be used only as in poetry. The poet, too, is not merely so concerned with describing facts as with creating images and establishing mental connections.” – Neils Bohr
To create a just society, one only needs to look at the democracy of an atom. How elegantly the electronic citizens exercise their freedom of expression, while faithfully upholding the nuclear constitution. How generously the electrons are shared across the atoms, creating a global molecular community, with every citizen being treated equal before the laws of quantum mechanics. All kinds of molecules, in every possible orientation and conformation, in all kinds of geometry and shapes, fully exercising their right to exist, some stable enough and reclusive, as if a hermit who has made peace with himself, and the world, while some are reactive and radical, as if an activist, trying to touch and transform as many molecules as possible, until every one finds salvation. How prophetically some of them find each other, conjoining forces in genesis, as if seeking a higher purpose in their existence, while fulfilling the same in their lifetime. The genetic ensemble, springing from existing molecules, and sprinting towards virgin ones, sometime dormant over eons, but twisting and turning, permuting and combining, as if waiting for resurrection, bestow life with the right to survive, and thrive, and express, often a failure, seldom fortunate, but none futile. The left leaning amino acids, and the right leaning sugars, working in unison to create that symphony of love, which is neither right, nor wrong, but intelligent to relay the process forward and reach for the stars, and wise to remember the journey it has already made from the stardust. Let us not unravel these delicate strands of life and forego this consciousness. Let us not choose power over knowledge, let us not run away with intelligence, and leave wisdom marooned. Democracy lives within our elements. And the justice we seek, already exists in our genes. Let us find it within ourselves, in each atom of us, in the conscientious pursuit of our consciousness, and in the faith of our shared humanity.
(This is a reflection in times of the impending election in the ‘strongest democracy’, based on an understanding of my background in Chemistry, the good fortune of having the chance to spend time in the wilderness and ponder, and inspired by the many thoughtful quotes, quips, haikus, doodles, and poems from a wonderful class of students at Oxford College of Emory University.)
“What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”
-Henry David Thoreau
Although the current pandemic has devoured all our attention, and rightly so, there have been a string of other incidents with far-reaching consequences and warning bells for the future. The California wildfires, the burning of the Amazon rainforest, Australian bushfires, or the very recent cyclone Amphan in my home state of West Bengal in India are only a few in a very long list of devastating events. While major events tend to be graphical in nature, many seemingly small issues like reduction in the population of bees or migratory birds, increasing pollution of air and water, rising levels of carbon dioxide, are harder to portray. Until and unless the small changes add up to a catastrophe, we seem unperturbed by the daily variations that lead to the latter.
The Adirondack region of upstate New York is six million acres of pure gem, much of which is protected by the ‘Forever Wild’ clause of the New York state constitution. Every time I visit this place, I cannot help but think that this is a timeless wonderland. However, that is not true. Rampant logging and deforestation almost denuded this place until preservation and conservation efforts helped protect this place. It would also be wishful to think that this place, or any place, will survive without our active choice of living in harmony with Nature. In the current times, when our activities are even more interlinked, the consequence of our actions, however removed in place or time, will be felt everywhere. Global warming and climate change do not discriminate; a factory in the west coast contributes to rising carbon dioxide levels which potentially translates into longer summers and dry season, rise in ticks, shorter winters etc. in the Adirondacks.
While I am not an expert on Adirondacks (or for that matter climate change), I have come to love this place deeply and explored it intensively over the years. This has inspired me to write the following photo-essay, depicting a calamitous future of the Adirondacks. This is a figment of my imagination; the photographs are a work of my creative pursuits in this place. Some of the images were made at popular locations, some along obscure trails. I have stripped them to their bare elements, devoid of colour or any other obvious attributes. I have envisioned the images to be about and around the Adirondacks and the lurking issues that can potentially affect the place, rather than pretty postcards. This is primarily a work of fiction and while I would never want such a future, it would do us good to remember that the future reality is probably worse. ‘Truth is stranger than fiction.’ My hope is that this essay will help, myself as well as others, in being mindful about our daily activities and their impact, as well spark a discussion leading to a greater awareness about the planet, thereby leading to harmonious actions.
2065 A.D. Wildfires have been raging for about four years. Much of the pristine wilderness of the High Peaks is all but a memory. Thick smoke blankets the Adirondacks. A thin sliver of the forest in the horizon is now burning at a rapid pace. All efforts at containing the fire have now been deemed as a lost battle.
It all started on one of the last clear Spring nights in 2061. People now fondly recollect the stars they witnessed that night, oblivious of the fact that this would probably be the last in their lifetime. A decade from this night, the mountain named ‘Whiteface’ is now considered a misnomer.
The clear night soon turned cloudy with the approach of dawn. This was becoming an increasing occurrence due to smog and air particulates from surrounding areas. The Adirondack lakes did put up a fine show of mist. Only this time it lingered on longer than usual. The Sun was finally able to pierce through the blanket, about three hours after its stipulated time.
The clear and cloudless stretch of a mild winter with minimal snowfall of 2061 had finally showed its fangs, thus confirming the fearful suspicions of the ecologists. A small spark in the forest floor at the beginning of Spring soon started a cascade of wildfires. The source of this spark was never confirmed.
The fresh foliage, however little that bloomed in the short-lived Spring was soon reduced to ashes leaving the denuded trunks to bear the burden of shame. It did seem as if ‘winter made its way back into invincible summer’.
The farmlands, a source of livelihood for some residents, were doomed; all that remained was a sore to the eyes, and one that would soon make its presence more literal in the hungry bellies.
Wildfires that started in the higher elevation soon led to rampant soil erosion and water runoff in the lowlands. The temporary yet sudden flooding downstream submerged the surrounding vegetation. Unable to adapt, many trees, already defeated by fire in the higher elevations, now acquiesced to the power of water in the low-lying areas.
2068 A.D. The pristine rivers of the Adirondacks now move slowly, weighed down by the mud and decaying vegetation from the erosion of their banks. The Sun can be hardly seen anymore through the smoke, making the surface of these waters dark and foreboding.
In some shaded areas at the higher elevation, there are miniscule patches of snow. Under normal times, they would have melted into slush and mud, slowly making way for grass and wildflowers. Now, in the absence of light and warmth, these small patches are waiting indefinitely for resurrection.
2070 A.D. The loons have completely shunned the Adirondacks. A few unfortunate ones that are trapped, unable to find their way back through the haze from the wildfires, are awaiting an inevitable fate.
The watering hole that was once a favourite destination of the iconic moose is now undrinkable due to high concentrations of sulphates and iron oxides. Moose sightings were always rare in the Adirondacks and they are now believed to have been extinct from the area.
2071 A.D. After a period of continuous burning for ten years, the wildfires are finally starting to subside. After scorching through the entire forest preserve, it has run out of fuel. The thousands of miles of waterways also helped halt its progress, long after humans had evacuated the region and gave up the fight.
2101 A.D. A generation has grown up on rich stories of a place that was. Another generation has breathed their last with the dim hope of going back to add one last chapter to the story. But they were disappointed. As was the place with them.
Now, three decades hence, in the absence of prying eyes, a lilypad springs into life in the waters of the Adirondacks.
Hush. Let it be. Forever wild!
Thanks to Jordan Craig (https://www.instagram.com/jordancraigmedia/) who spurred the thought for this series while we were discussing about the show ‘Chernobyl’ and the editing techniques used therein to showcase dystopia. Thanks to Nikhil Nagane (https://www.niknaganephotography.com/) for reviewing some of these images and providing suggestions. Both of them are excellent photographers and you can find their work in the above mentioned links.