By Ron Broglio

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity, and by these, I shall not regulate my proportions; and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself. –William Blake


When going on a hike, it is common to find interesting things in the landscape—a large or small rock, a plant, a leaf, a feather, etc. Rather than collecting and possessing these thing, it is best to leave them in their place both for their own sake and for others to enjoy. But the memory of the entities can stay with you. Memories are a trace of an encounter that lingers in the mind. With this exercise, you make a physical rubbing or a tracing of the object on paper. The collection of tracings and rubbings from a hike give you a physical collection of encounters that you can take with you as reminders of contact with the landscape. Duration: time and length of a hike.

Fetishism recognizes a silent voice of material things themselves (Pels 1998: 91 ). Things lure us, provoke us, direct us, charm, or hex us. The voice that is heard is only in this singular material thing, which we come upon by chance. Fetishism recognizes a realm of good and bad luck. We find ourselves in a partly or largely man-made environment whose structures, tasks, and paths were planned, and we design our actions and follow maps and signs. Yet even there, we encounter nourishing, energizing, and enchanting things and sinister and baleful things by chance. Strokes of good or bad luck, they lead us into byways and freeways from which we may not return to our planned objectives. –Alphonso Lingis, The voice of things

Preparation: Bring sheets of paper (either loose or in a notebook), a pencil and pencil sharpener, and if possible some crayons, charcoal pencil, and/or pastel crayons.

Rubbings: Place your chosen thing on a stable surface. Cover with paper and with the edge of your writing tool, gently move your pencil, crayon, or charcoal across the surface, create a rubbing that transfers the texture of the thing onto your paper. The surface of the entity is imparted onto paper as memory of your contact with the thing. When you are done making your rubbing, next to the rubbing write the name of the thing and its location along the hike. Add notes to help fill out your memory and reflections on the entity and place.

Tracings: Some objects are difficult to glean rubbings from or in other cases it is the outline you want to get on paper. In such cases, place your paper behind the entity and trace its outline. If the thing has depth, you might roll it across the paper and trace it from different angles. When you are done making your tracing, next to the tracing write the name of the thing and its location along the hike. As with the rubbings, add notes as you see fit.

Reflections: At the end of the hike compare your rubbings and tracings with those done by your fellow hikers. Why did you choose those entities?

The key, the inner formula of the mango [date], a willow tree [a creosote bush], or a flat smooth stone, is never grasped; the real thing is before our perception as a task for an exploration. But the real thing is not the sum of all that we have recorded of it. It closes in upon itself, remains exterior always beyond all that our perceptual samplings have turned up of it, not a given but an external ordinance. A perceived thing is a pole which draws the convergent surfaces and organs of our bodies like a telos, a task. –Alphonso Lingis, The Imperative

By Ron Broglio

We do not dislike everything that shines, but we do prefer a pensive luster to a shallow brilliance, a murky light that, whether in a stone or an artifact, bespeaks a sheen of antiquity. –Jun'ichirō Tanizaki. In Praise of Shadows


A simple cairn gives presence as it cuts through the open space of the horizon. It’s top most rock balanced carefully calls us to attention as we become aware of how its form occupies space. Its weight and balance hold it to its task throughout time and weather. The inhuman heat of the sun bears down upon it. Cold winds cut across it. The cairn remains standing out amid the surroundings. The cairn marks space. It makes us aware of the space and the rocks themselves.

Placed there at some point in the past for passers-by to witness (in their ‘now’) and holding forth into a future, the cairn is a technology of social signaling. Cairns are antennae between their ecological surrounds and the social. Or they are beacons of transmission and reception linked across space and time. They are born of geological time, stand currently within a human present, and then will tumble again into a geological time beyond the human. The grouping of rocks is more-than-human technology as the more interesting cairns call attention to the rocks themselves as an animate geological presence.

Here’s how direct-air carbon capture works: Giant turbines pull in huge quantities of air, hoovering up molecules of carbon dioxide so we can store it somewhere that’s NOT the atmosphere. The Icelandic pilot program can remove an estimated 50 metric tons of CO2 from the air in a year. It pumps the collected gas deep into the island’s volcanic bedrock, where it reacts with basalt and essentially turns into limestone. Voilà! No massive reservoirs to manage for millennia — just a lot of rock. –Amelia Urry, The first negative emissions carbon capture plant is up and running


We have nothing in common with the Geometers. No shared experiences, no common culture. Until that changes, we can't communicate with them. Why not? Because language is nothing more than a stream of symbols that are perfectly meaningless until we associate them, in our minds, with meaning; a process of acculturation. Until we share experiences with the Geometers, and thereby begin to develop a shared culture - in effect, to merge our culture with theirs - we cannot communicate with them, and their efforts to communicate with us will continue to be just as incomprehensible as the gestures they've made so far: throwing the Warden of Heaven out the airlock, dropping a fresh murder victim into a cult site and rodding a volcano. -Neal Stephenson, Anathem

Dust and Shadow Reader Vol. 1. Previous: objects and cairns. Next: designing bridges.

References: bibliography