Taihu Loomings (STE 10/7)

This morning, Pierre Jardin took his slow time exercise in Liu Fang Yuan, The Garden of Flowing Fragrance, at the Huntington Library and Gardens.  The tranquility of the garden in morning light, before other visitors arrive, creates a feeling of stillness that lulls time into an empty state of suspension—a void in direct tension with the density of detail, the sensual saturation, the energetic fullness of the place.

Taihu bridge HuntingtonThis scene, this slender slice carved out of the space of the garden, is a study in contrasts.  The rock is bathed in light and shadow, its whole foraminate form forms a play of voids and volume, its holey-ness accentuated by the blue sky and bright bridge the recesses reveal. This Taihu limestone looks light, as if floating on the water, or drifting like a cloud; yet its mass provides a solid foreground, against the ethereal ephemerality of shimmering reflections.

Taihu rocks have been placed in emperors’ and scholar-officials’ gardens since at least the 3rd century BCE, and smaller stones sometimes having similar shapes, gōngshí or scholar rocks, have been mounted by literati on stands for contemplation.  In the Daoist tradition, taihu rocks are valued for being concentrated configurations of qi, the breathing energy of the cosmos. The taihu stone, composed of limestone deposits formed in an ancient sea and then sculpted into distinctive shapes by water, suggests balanced oppositions between yang and yin, masculine strength and feminine moisture, material and mental stolidity versus yielding and following the path of least resistance, stillness and motion.  When situated in gardens, taihu rocks, individually situated or piled into rockeries, were designed to evoke mountains.

Here, the rock rises up as if emerging out of the lake, embodying the landscape of rocks and water, for Daoists, the bones and blood/breath of the earth, respectively.  Green water is prized for being “cloudy like jade,” and the semi-circular bridge completes itself in reflection, the round shape evoking the moon and perfection. The lotus flower is an emblem of one of the Daoist immortals (Ho Hsien-ku); its qualities make it a model of character: it rests modestly on the surface of the water; its pure white flowers emerge from mud; its subtle perfume spreads through the air; its purity it is to be appreciated at a respectful distance.

These are the “Taihu loomings” that passed through Pierre Jardin’s drifting mind–“loomings” meant as an echo of Melville’s title for chapter one of Moby-Dick, where the word evokes loomings in the mist, loomings of reflections in water, portentous hints of the white whale to come, loomings as weavings of words and ideas….  The Taihu stone looms large in the lake, and reverberates in Jardin’s watery brain.


Ring Toned Stones (STE 10/6)

The concentric patterns on these rocks attract the eye and imbues them with a specific quality–the surface ripples and round shapes resonate with geophysical and hydrodynamic energies, expressing the forces that formed them.

Ring toned stones

Just as a phone can have a distinct ring tone, these stones possess distinct ring tones. As Lafcadio Hearn observed, “you can feel, and keenly feel, that stones have character, that stones have tones and values.” Hearn was writing about Japanese gardens, but his words apply to rocks everywhere.  These Palos Verdes shore stones bring the ebb and flow of tides washing over them into the garden, an oceanic rhythm and tonality mixed into geologic metamorphic foliation and striation.


A Garden of Dancing Sculptures (STE 10/5)

The Petriverse continually changes; since it cannot expand beyond its cozy confines, Pierre Jardin’s creative process essentially comes down to restless revision.  The “Smurf-Capped Stone” has topped three stacks in a week, the latest iteration (bottom photo) being a fruit of this morning’s contemplative composition of place exercise.

This section of the garden has become a place of “dancing sculptures,” stacks that change composition in time.  This configuration of the same three stones uses a bowled hollow in the bottom rock as a base, on which the middle rhombus-shaped stone stands upright, bringing out the complex variation in its surface textures and patterns, and giving it the dynamism and graceful balance of a dancing figure.  The Smurf-Cap Stone has been rotated a third way, appearing the most symmetrical in its triangular outline, lending an unexpected geometric quality to the stack, which itself attracts the eye in its seemingly unlikely upright equilibrium.


Smurf-Capped Peak (STE 10/4)


The stone on top (also featured in the 10/1 STE post) has distinct features: triangular or mountain form; pocked, tortured texture; hard, dense composition; striking curvilinear striations.  It was further endeared to Pierre Jardin when his niece Sirina said it looks like a Smurf hat.  Playing off the Chinese penchant to name striking stones as mountain summits (“Cloud-Capped Peak”), Jardin dubbed this rock “Smurf-Capped Peak.”

Intrigued by the unusual features of the rock–especially density, striations, and hollows–and how it stands out from some surrounding stones–Pierre researched the geologic history of the Palos Verdes peninsula and region.  It is possible that the rock formed 20-30 miles deep in the earth, on the subducted Farallon Plate, and surfaced when the Western Transverse Ranges Block was dragged on the Pacific Plate northwest, and pivoted 90 degrees, allowing rock from deep in the subduction zone underneath to come up for air.  The Smurf-Capped Peak might be from a “metamorphic core complex”–‘metamorphic’ meaning changed  by heat and pressure deep underground, and ‘core’ meaning a nucleus of old, deep rock that rises as the younger rock slides away. (For the full story, read the “Disassembling Southern California” chapter in Keith Heyer Meldahl‘s excellent Surf, Sand, and Stone.)

A tip of the Smurf cap to this stone, and its obscure, illustrious history!


Forcefield Detected (STE 10/3)

Geomancers have confirmed observations consistent with the formation of a megalithic forcefield in the Petriverse.  Garden proprietor Pierre Jardin was quick to assure concerned passersby that the site’s energies pose no harm to people or pets.  The warning message at the site turned out to be an unnecessary precaution.

Caution megalithicMegalithic forcefields have been detected in ancient stone circles such as Avebury and Stonehenge.  Massive stones at these sites emit electromagnetic signals that geomancers hear as a low buzzing, using Spectrum Analyzers.

The Petriverse forcefield is formed from two types of earth energy. Holey stones discharge geofoam, tiny bubble-like pulses related to quantum foam.  Smooth stones propagate geowaves, vibrations audible at specific frequencies.  The forcefield is a function of the two energies interacting with one another, comparable to interference between standing waves.

Stephen Albert, a Sinologist specializing in Chinese gardens, believes that the unique features of the megalithic forcefield in the Petriverse are due to the watery origins of the garden’s rocks.  “Shore stones selected for appealing form, impressive height, complex texture, or distinct coloring, retain oceanic wave forces,” he explained. Yin and yang, water and stone, create energies that resonate when rocks are placed in proper proximities, but few gardeners are skilled enough in feng shui to produce such effects. “The Tao is strong with this one,” Albert said, calling Jardin “a new hope” in garden design.

Jardin believes that shore stones bring glad tidings from the moon, and beach rock groups give off good vibrations.  He hopes that this is music to the ears of his neighbors, whom he knows to be sensitive to the subtle beauties of stone.


nothing IS written in stone (STE 10/2)

DSCN0114The aphorism “Nothing is written in stone” expresses a general sense that change is inevitable, that attempts to secure permanence are bound to end in futility.  This general truth may be turned back on the phrase itself, in the sense that its sense proves not to be written in stone, as it accrues additional layers of meaning in the context of the ‘geologic turn.’

Conventionally, the phrase functions as a proposition that human aspirations to attain the permanence of stone are futile, whether they be in the form of contracts or perpetuity or empire or duration in historical/cultural memory. The phrase draws an implicit dichotomy: “written” means human and therefore erasable and subject to erosion, whereas “stone” denotes imperviousness to time and wear; these terms anchor an opposition between temporal human mortality and history and a timeless-seeming abyss of geologic time.

The geologic turn complicates the phrase’s meaning, because it is defined by the entanglement of human and geologic timescales.  And as human history is decentered by inhuman timescales, the geologic is conversely destabilized: ‘earth’ no longer serves as a ‘ground,’ a given, inert object on which humans act or reference frame to which actions can be refered; instead, the planet is a changing system characterized by tectonic shifts, climate change, and ecological fragility. “Nothing is written in stone,” then, takes on a different sense; one could say that ‘nothing is written in stone, including stone.’

Nothing is written with O stones

Pierre Jardin’s composition of the proposition expresses human-geologic entanglement by recasting the range of the “written” to include geologic processes—the writes its history in stone, in an archive called the rock record.  “Nothing is written in stone” is written in letters formed by pebbles; the pebbles were collected with an eye to their forming a kind of font.  The composition contradicts the conventional sense of the aphorism: nothing can ever be written in stone, yet nothing is literally written in stone.  More pointedly though, the “written” here extends beyond letters formed by arranging lithic materials: stones bearing round white rings formed by geophysical processes foreground the rock record as a form of writing.  Sited in the place of the O’s in nothing and stone, these traces assume a double sense: as zeros, they demonstrate that “nothing is written in stone” in a literal sense—geophysical processes are writing “nothing”; as O’s, they efface the difference between human and lithic inscriptions.  Nothing is written in stone in a limited sense, but in an expansive view, everything is written in stone, if “everything” means the history of the planet. “Writing” becomes something that has unfolded for eons, with human writing being only a very recent and differently evolved form of inscription.


morning light sights (STE 10/1)

3 birds eggs morningA practice in pareidolia: from the lower right, three birds align along a diagonal line, guarding lithic eggs nestled in rounded rock hollows.

As it continues, the line catches a stone atop a stack curved like an askew comma, and then concludes at the rock capping a cairn in front of windows reflecting the morning sky.

sunlit stackSlow steps left cleared a sightline to this stumped stack; sudden sun rays flooded down through forked tree limbs; in lens-filtered light stones seem to float in a sea of olive green.


closeup compressed malaga mudstone

The dramatic, dynamic rock on top is dense, compressed and contorted by heat and pressure, pocked and smoothed by millions of years amid rocks and waves.  The stone below features sweeping brush-stroke and sponge-blot textures.  The tilt from lower left to upper right, accentuated by their precarious balance, creates a tension between formal lightness and material heaviness.  The top rock also hovers between the large stones visible just to the left, pulled downwards by gravity, and to the right, rocks climbing up the tree.