Escarpmeant

Street Views

This photo series constitutes my response to a prompt from Robert Hamilton to create a series of 10 still photographs that examines “the neighbourhood where you live”. The work involves a loose interpretation of street photography, which I have here taken both literally and figuratively, imagining “the street” not merely as the trajectory I traverse on foot, via-velo, or by Toyota, but also as that deep-time path traced by such “natural” travelers as shale, dolomite, and ice. I have likewise extended the notion of “neighborhood” so as to include among my “neighbours” the palpable presence of ghosts, both in Caledonia, where I live, and in (and en-route to) Hamilton, where I study and exhibit. My only regret is that I lack sufficient telescopic optics to adequately expand my neighborhood (and hopefully my circle of empathy) further out into the cosmos. I invite you to explore these panoramas in detail by zooming in. To this end, all images are clickable.


Twelve Thirty

Twelve Thirty
Should I be heaved, or be hooved
to follow the grid and not the groove
of these twelve (and) thirty paces?


Desalination Plant

Desalination Plant
Come clean; come glean a wintry sheen;
demineralize your ride
confide in the shine!


Donation Bin

Donation Bin
Donations are welcome, but
we know
where you live.


After the Burning

After the Burning
A breach of safety lit the building up in flames,
Prefiguring in kind a breach of safety fence
After the burning.


Ditch

Ditch
Wind reanimates perpetual peace talks
between earth and ice
on the shoulder of Highway 6.


Escarpmeant

Escarpmeant
The Grimsby Shale never asked to be named,
nor to be on the bottom. Thorold’s overbearing form
eschewed consent: hence the icy vibe?


Boarders

Boarders
You, the stickers on your skateboard,
and even the chiseled serifs of typography itself,
will one day rot under boards.


Winter Maintenance

Winter Maintenance
I stare at this case, this stair case,
the way it weeps salt-saturated tears of the sort
only January could muster.


_ary Ann, Daugh. Of

_ary Ann, Daugh. Of
They say plastic flowers don’t wilt,
but they do.
It just takes a little longer.


Groundplay

Groundplay
This one is for all the children
who never had a chance
to play on the slide.

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Cleaning the Inside of the Cup

The Last Supper

“I am here to answer all your communion cup questions,” announces Eric Melzer. His review[1] of Broadman’s 1000 Plastic Disposable Cups confirms that “Yes, these are reusable (but that’s gross. Just throw them away, they are cheap)”. 41 out of 45 agree – along with every pro-Pasteur[2] pastor – that hygiene matters most.[3] But if the term ‘reuse’ is too germ-laden, the more idiomatic ‘we recycle’ remains relevant, at least in Canada. I observe (leaning forward in my pew) that at the bottom of every ritual sip is a familiar logo – the sign and seal[4] of three arrows in a closed loop – and I wonder whether redemption itself could be recyclable.

Social Construction
Rituals, like the elements that constitute them, have been constructed (overseas).

Given the usual fruits of curiosity,[5] it might have been safer[6] to leave these cups in the Blue Box, along with their divine/dramaturgical dregs.[7] But for me the practice I grew up knowing as the “Lord’s Supper” has become newly pregnant with provocative questions. For its power to elicit, the ritual and its offshoots have my enduring respect. I see potential in rearranging these gleaned elements to further understanding, if not the possibility for (re)birth. Beyond the task of salvaging (the leftovers of) ingrained religious vocabulary, my aesthetic practice is a collage of experiences: conceptual and formal bricolage.[8]

With the Protestant imagination having thoroughly distanced[9] itself from the (mass) ontology of transubstantiation, it is perhaps not surprising that Marshall McLuhan’s “medium is the message” – set as it is against the Catholic backdrop of “the wine is the blood” – should gain little traction among Calvinists. While Peters frames this as “looking for negation, the ‘is not’ that sets things back on their dialectical feet,”[10] I’m tempted, as Keats might be, to call it an “irritable reaching after fact.”[11] In fact I harbour irritable reaching(s) of my own. Marshalling them should be interesting.

As a child tasked with washing dishes, my soap bubble castles were (kindly) scorned as inefficient distraction: but to me they remain the essential point (and clean cutlery the byproduct). More recently,[12] I found in countertop grime a productive vocabulary for psychological messiness. A housemate’s bacon grease, left overnight, became raw material for intergalactic planetary photo-collage.[13] While enduring contempt for my passive aggressive arrangement of communal dirty dishes (out in the sun), my peculiar gratitude for mouldy applesauce was on the whole appreciated. Having thus freely framed the profane as sacred; it occurred to me that the reverse is (at least as) available for lens-based scrutiny. While the sun shines on the righteous and the wicked alike,[14] sunlight goes on refracting fruitfully through cracked plastic and communion dregs. Our (Jungian) shadows already coexist with our saintly halos: and such, it seems, is the constitution of bodies whether or not they are present at The Last Supper.

Ouroboros, 2015
Ouroboros, 2015

Present or not, we might all reckon more fully with exclusion and embrace.[15] Whether or not a multiverse cosmology[16] appeals to us, our trajectory as a species has been one in which we have grown steadily smaller. “Ours is not the only sun”, leads naturally to “ours is not the only galaxy”. As for the universe? If eternity is indeed “set in the human heart,”[17] the invitation remains open towards a wider circle of compassion.[18] This kind of widening gyre of moral awareness has been articulated in terms of an ever increasing circle of empathy.[19]

The Last Supper, 2015
The Last Supper, 2015

If, however, our individual and communal consciousness at all resembles a balloon, then empathy too reaches a breaking point. Being thus situated within the bounds of particular parameters (plasticity, tensile strength, patriarchy, tedium, etc.) we inevitably accommodate the given resources that we (and they) enjoy. If I find myself playing with sand, chances are I’m dealing with (the healthy parameters of) a sandbox.[20] But containment might as easily prompt fear, as in Theoden’s outburst at Helm’s deep: “I fret in this prison”. Inhabiting as I do, a kind of fringe Christian belonging, I find myself more creatively engaged with questions of us-and-them, and more pointedly with the question “who are we?” In church, I thus observe the ritual, but covertly, by making observations: a kind of anti-abstinence as a mode of asking.

How might I fruitfully break the Brechtian fourth wall as a footnote to overturned money tables?[21] Might the blowing of trumpets remain a viable option?[22] Haven’t our flying (theological) buttresses always been pretentious? What becomes of hospitality when we build fences[23] around a meal? How porous (from the point of view of refugees) ought we make our boundaries for inclusion? Does privilege itself collapse as something to aspire to when the possibility of sharing (it) is systemically negated? Are we predisposed to a disposable disposition? Where is the fine line between self-examination and narcissism? How does the imperative “take, eat, remember and believe” echo in a consumerist chamber? Who ultimately benefits from the global production and consumption of religion? What ethically awkward supply chain undergirds the reluctance of religion to admit of its own manufacture? What (heteronormative) gender and power constructions remain in effect when (ritual) tables are set and cleared? What might it mean, given these considerations, to insist on “doing the dishes”? Might we also find ways to do them together? What divisions of labour and systems of capital are foregrounded (and implicitly celebrated and reinforced) in these ritual elements? How do the performative aspects of religion reify broader patterns of consumption? Where, embedded as we are in (supply) chains of being, might we find an adequate vantage point? Does abstinence (only) apply to the designated driver? What if I discover that I am, after all, among the “liars and backbiters”[24] advised to decline the cup? What enduring poetics of grace remain for which to be grateful?

Downstream from the church Blue Box, plastic communion cups come full circle. Sheep and goats notwithstanding, they are inevitably separated from glass and metal, by what I picture[25] as an enormous mechanical winnowing fork.[26] But I also note with Moira Welsh, that “Ontario’s recycling scraps are being shipped to Asia at a rate of thousands of tonnes a month.”[27] The MADE IN CHINA mantra may well anticipate MELTED IN CHINA, a homecoming ironically summarized by the recycling logo itself. It is at best an awkward gratitude, that affirms workers (en)framed[28] by huge factories sorting through our detritus: at least they enjoy (an adequate?) salary on which to live. Geographically, the ship-breaking yards of Bangladesh,[29] are far off, but I remain implicated.

Jean François Millet - Gleaners
Jean François Millet – Gleaners

My half-baked, half-situated, unsolicited solidarity, is in the refusal of a meal ticket, though hungry; and though desiring to belong, in the eschewing of the safety of a fence. Weak in and weak out, I do hope that it’s a sincere nod towards Jesus’ own artful self-emptying. I retain, too, a nostalgic romance for The Gleaners. Millet’s somber earth-tones seem almost comically optimistic in the dust-wake of the sixty-foot-wide harvester[30] responsible for my breakfast. But if for the dogs there are crumbs,[31] there may very well be dregs of communion wine for the (Lord of the) Flies. People do seem to trust each other more when they’ve had something to drink: and in this trickle of light, the dirge and dance bleed together, along with John Milbank and Leonard Cohen’s diverse reasons[32] for the ongoing suspension of (dis)belief and the ringing of (church) bells.

tactictactic

The Last Supper is on view at you me gallery (330 James Street North, Hamilton) from January 8th 2016 until February 7th 2016, as part of tactictactic, an exhibit featuring the new media work of artist/scholars in Communications and New Media at McMaster University.

[1] I have no connection to Melzer, or to Fresh Life Church in Kalispell, Montana, where he serves as Technical Arts Director. His Amazon review is available here: http://www.amazon.com/review/R2BNGJ53Z3LETJ/

[2] Louis Pasteur usefully pointed out that microorganisms (not miasma) lay at the root of disease.

[3] While this is a point of gratitude, the persistence of vaccine-denial and creationism remain troubling.

[4] For a covenantal perspective on this, see http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/signs-and-seals/

[5] Read (hinging on your disposition) as: enlightenment, disillusionment, banishment, delight, etc.

[6] Read as: “less socially awkward”

[7] Read as: “leftover wine in communion shotglasses.”

[8] On the Claude Lévi-Strauss, continuum, I’m often more of an engineer than a bricoleur.

[9] Protestant othering of the mass as an “accursed idolatry” endures in confessional contexts. See, for example, The Heidelberg Catechism, as adapted for the Book of Praise: Anglo Genevan Psalter, page 546.

[10] Peters, John Durham. “McLuhan’s grammatical theology.” Canadian Journal of Communication 36.2 (2011).

[11] Keats, John (1899). The Complete Poetical Works and Letters of John Keats, Cambridge Edition. Houghton, Mifflin and Company. p. 277.

[12] See, for example, Domestic Incidents 2014. http://gallery.nsitu.ca/exhibit/WwLCapi82SB_IQ

[13] See Lipo Osteo 2013. http://gallery.nsitu.ca/asset-viewer/lipo-osteo/5gGTCA5-Fj3-zw

[14] Matthew 5:45

[15] Though not necessarily as understood by Miroslav Volf in his book Exclusion & Embrace.

[16] As espoused by Lawrence Krauss and others.

[17] Ecclesiastes 3:11

[18] I have not personally signed Karen Armstrong’s Compassion Charter, but do note it here as a point of interest.

[19] Rifkin, The Empathic Civilization

[20] In this respect even a space as vast as the beach has finite boundaries

[21] Matthew 21:12

[22] It was arguably quite successful in Jericho.

[23] The concern of “fencing the table” remains a site for debate in many communities, giving new meaning to the phrase “You hem me in behind and before”.

[24] Further pithy labels for the excluded are to be found in the Form for the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper, a contemporary adaptation of a 16th century liturgical text by Polish Reformer Jan Łaski, still employed in liturgy today. See, for example, Book of Praise: Anglo Genevan Psalter, page 604.

[25] Perhaps with a little imaginative help from Hieronymous Bosch’s The Last Judgement.

[26] Matthew 3:12

[27] http://www.thestar.com/news/ontario/2009/02/09/bluebox_leftovers_go_to_china_and_back.html

[28] We may “(en)frame” this (term) in terms of Heidegger’s use of it in The Question Concerning Technology.

[29] As notably documented by Jennifer Baichwal and Ed Burtynsky in Manufactured Landscapes (2009).

[30] I note in this connection the MidWest Durus Premium 60: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ls412TYP9JE

[31] Matthew 15:27

[32] While Cohen’s advice to “Ring the bells that still can ring” is melancholic, John Milbank’s enthusiasm remains grounded in allegiance to the church as a carrier of a liturgical imaginary.

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OMG@YMG Spectator Feature

Alternative Worship Spaces

James. N. Allan’s freemasonry notwithstanding, Hamilton’s weeds still worship with adequate space and light. Whether you’re the Grand Master of the Lodge (or just an ordinary beaver) there remain gods (and Gods) to be found in the stable stables that shield us from the darkness of winter’s solstice. The axial tilt of Earth, not to mention the gyroscopic effects of its daily rotation, have conspired to align: and as such, Cathedral will be on view as part of OMG@YMG (Oh My God at You Me Gallery) from Dec 11 2015 – Jan 3 2016. I anticipate a festive feeling, if not a few red cups. Thanks , too, to the Spectator for printing my photo. In an era of excessive screen time, ink on recycled paper is heavenly and earthly all at once.

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polar-sky

Quiet Time

We live on a magnetic planet. And for this, be grateful! Thanks to earth’s magnetic field, we are conveniently shielded from harmful solar winds. It’s not an equal opportunity solar system, folks. Our own geology is fairly swell, but magnetism on Mars has not been so convivial. As NASA has recently demonstrated, the martian atmosphere has long ago been stripped away, for lack of protection.

Here on earth, our magnets are in order. But they haven’t always been in the same order.

I want to note something that I find interesting about our planetary magnetism: polarity. Throughout earth’s history, this magnetic orientation has frequently flipped. The last time this happened was nearly 800 million years ago, when there were of course very few compass needles around, to point to any semblance of what we now call North.

Earth_s_magnetic_field
Earth’s Magnetic Field | Image: ESA/ATG Medialab

But before the Brunhes–Matuyama reversal, there were many other reversals: in fact, a record of earth’s magnetic polarity is recoverable from the ocean floor. When molten rocks harden, they “remember” the magnetic direction in which they were pointing while fluid. This, coupled with the measured movement of these rocks (outwards from their point of origin), can amount to a kind of bar-code chronology. Scientifically, it is every manner of fascinating. But for me, the pattern also represents an aesthetic and spiritual point of departure. Consider in particular, this helpful interpretive tidbit, addressing the large uninterrupted area near the centre of our barcode:

“During the middle of the Cretaceous period, the polarity of Earth’s magnetic field remained stable.” —John A. Tarduno

polarity-map
Geomagnetic polarity over the past 169 Ma, trailing off into the Jurassic Quiet Zone. Dark areas denote periods of normal polarity, light areas denote reverse polarity.

Ahh, stability. It’s a beautiful thing, isn’t it? For eons and eons, earth does all this flip-flopping, unable to decide which way is up, and then suddenly in the Cretaceous, you get this immense 30-million-year calm. A rather extended sabbatical, perhaps? But even the longest (procrastination) break comes to a close. Before long, the magnetic polarity was back at it, swapping its orientation every one-to-ten million years or so. I like to imagine our planet as dedicated to a task: committed to a fruitful rhythm; throbbing with the pulse of north and south; a creature of habit.

As a graduate student, I find the current pace of (my) life to be fairly fast and intense. I inhabit the polarity of on-and-off in terms of sleeping and studying. But it’s also good to zoom out. In the thick of things, I can be reassured that in due time there may yet be another (eon-spanning) break. Do you imagine yourself on a continuum of switched-on and switched-off? What kind of occasional Sabbath do you celebrate?

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bandaid

disfigure it out

It wasn’t what I was anticipating for October’s art crawl, but when Andrew McPhail asked whether I’d be willing to perform for “disfigure it out”, I was all over it. Like band-aids on a face. Because how often do you get the chance to meditate for 90 minutes at hundred dollar gallery? Not every day. I recommend the experience to anyone and everyone. By the end of it, I had intimate knowledge of the bust’s complexion: the deliberate layering over the nose, the angled accents across the forehead, and the absence of any covering over the ears. For obvious reasons I was also grateful for unobstructed nostrils, and for a comfortable sweater (the October breeze was never far away). The real interest though was in the comments of visitors. Being objectified as a “work” of art as in “is this your work?”, and being in earshot of, and privy to such comments as “I guess he can hear everything we’re saying”. Aside from issues of the mask, and the current political discussion in Canada (orbiting around Zunera Ishaq) about the niqab, I also had my own aesthetic reflection on the experience. There’s nothing like a good Zen meditation. And there’s also nothing quite like an accumulation of band aid (solutions). They so seem to reach a point where their collective layers begin to constitute the kind of crust that isn’t merely superficial. Do you think it’s fair to call this band aid collective an appendage with substance?

horizontal

Thanks to Maureen Paxton and Andrew McPhail for the photos and to hundreddollargallery for being so affordable.

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Whirlygig in Action

and behold, all is vanity

Teutul
I’m a real bird! Tweet! Tweet! —@Teutul

“I’m a real bird! Tweet! Tweet!” A pithy pet epithet? Spoken in true budgie form, it may well have been Teutul’s 2002 squawk of the year. Testicular cancer has since taken the bird (and his epic mustache) from us. In lieu of real songs sung by real (feathered) fowl we now have real flying animals trading real TWTR stock on the NYSE: #concisely #commodified.

The pizzazz in 1868 Bremen was no less breezy with Johannes Brahms’ Denn alles fleisch es ist wie gras offering a musical ReTweet of @DeuteroIsaiah‘s 30-odd character jewel. If parrot memes lack staying power, your social media campaign can always rely on grave reminders about mortality. On the other hand, grass tends to come up again in the spring. And the flowers of the field? Their glory is blooming perennial!

“I’m a real bird! Tweet! tweet!” —@Teutul

Whirlygigs, too, participate in all sorts of recurrence, coming up (semi-annually) at you me gallery in Hamilton, Ontario: a veritable smorgasbord of pinwheels, bright colours, rotating knives, defaced currency, flashy chrome, waddling ducks, and other such frivolity. After all these years of wind in the willows (and the trousers) @Fragonard remains fluent in the rhythms of the swing. The fickle muses of whimsy persist.

Whirls
Whirlygigs

My own contribution is a twitter-powered web application that attempts (within the constraints of screen real estate and bandwidth) to keep a pulse on global breezes, tornadoes, gales, tempests, and the like. Chosen tweets are allotted a radius, speed, and decay rate to suit. Digital wind, it turns out, takes you to fragile and festooning places alike: from lingering tribute songs for Princess Diana to nimby turbine protest rallies in rural Kent.

I don’t decry the fact that “Let your words be few” has come to mean a 140 character limit. Nor do I resent those residual necks-of-the-woods where it continues to mean “shut up and listen”. The gravity that accompanies a typhoon such as #Soudelor on its way through southeast Asia is the same gravity that keeps you on your feet. Of course our words need not be solitary, poor, nasty, or brutish. But if we keep them short, they may remain ablaze with their own particular poignance. In the spirit of shortness (of breath, of life, and perhaps of tweets), Randy Newman urges us not to be short-loved, while Robin Williams contemplates worm food and the rosebuds of Robert Herrick as a motivation for seizing the day.

Tweets rotate on a screen while Bryce Kanbara and Brian Kelly survey whirlygig setup progress at you me gallery
Tweets rotate on a screen while Bryce Kanbara & Brian Kelly survey setup progress at you me gallery

My own brand of Carpe Deim relies heavily on a PHP code framework at 140dev, as well as jQuery and circleType. When you collaborate, the number of ways to chase the wind increases exponentially. In lieu of Koholeth’s chasing the wind (often framed as a depressing prelude to deeper truths about the fear of God), it occurs to me that there is also a lot of joy in the chase itself. The wind comes and goes where it pleases. But along the way, there is bound to be a human with a turbine (or a twitter account) to celebrate its ferocity. Keep calm and vanitas on.

The semi-annual whirlygig show is on view at you me gallery, 330 James Street North, from Sept 14 (art crawl) – Aug 13 (super crawl weekend). Opening reception: Friday, Sept 14, 7-10 pm. Gallery hours: wed-sun, 12-5pm.

 

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communio-dream-crop

Inceptionist

Google’s neural network spends a lot of time looking at fuzzy creatures (dogs, mostly). And now it can’t help seeing them everywhere it looks. I relate to this. The way I see the world is also profoundly shaped by my experience. There’s a lot to think about here beyond rose coloured glasses (or Dog-shaped spectacles). As a collage artist, I’m not sure what to feel: inspired? Threatened? I have more questions than answers.

The way I see the world is also profoundly shaped by my experience.

On the one hand the machine behaves in a seemingly playful way. Upon feeding it (the algorithm) Communio , one of my sculptures from 2011, Deep Dream managed to find puppies even in the curvature of mussels and water lilies. Is this an instance of a machine demonstrating resourcefulness? Or is it merely incessant projection? The self absorbed worship of a puppy god? What really is going on when you turn pattern recognition upside down? If you repeat something often enough, does it automatically become true? Isn’t this iterative digital insistence miles away (from how children look at clouds)? Isn’t the abundance of eyes creepy? Is google playing God an Ophanimic scale?

I’ll have to keep mulling on this. But I have to admit it’s at least as much fun as it is sinister. Why not take a zoom, and see what you find. You can also Download the dream image.

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Athabasca Falls

In, Out, Up, Down

Neither the carriers of a Christ-yoke, nor the navigators of heavier spiritual paths, ever quite escape the ego on this side of (the) Jordan. Nietzsche might see the ego as an opportunity (and I sympathize with the will to power), but for the rest of us power is suspect, and the ego remains a human problem. To disconnect from the ego, we (seek to) reconnect with the Divine. Easier said than done, as omnipresent beings tend not to publish their GPS coordinates. So where are we off to?

“Love the world as your own self.”-Lao Tzu

Eastern mystics recommend an inward orientation: “Seek the divine inside yourself”. I find echoes (of this posture) in the urgings of the self help universe to “seek within”, in Obama’s impetus to “be the change” and in the claim of Jesus, that “the kingdom of God is within you“. The urge to turn inward also aims to amplify a divine core. “Namaste” drives away the ego by excluding it from the field of vision.  When one says “the divine light in me honors the divine light in you”, no mention is made of darkness. We assume one another to bear in completeness (the image of Christ).

On the other hand, it’s a risky business, to carry divinity around. The ego may well claim (divinity entirely for) itself. And so, Christians have also been known to insist on a Creator / creature distinction. Your separation from – and dependence on – God is real, and humility is therefore natural. God is sovereign, but you are Just a Reflektor.

<MUSICAL INTERLUDE>

“Thought you were praying to the resurrector; turns out it was just a reflector. (Just a reflector)”-Arcade Fire

</MUSICAL INTERLUDE>

The wisdom in this kind of self-emptying, is to seek God not only within, but also without: looking outward but also and especially upward. Enlightened persons are said to have reached a higher state. Numinous experiences on mountains (and with burning bushes) are echoed in all kinds of texts, including the Hebrew “unto the hills“. Rudolph Otto’s “wholly other” is far above (my) petty humanness. Interestingly, when Jon Foreman looks at the Stars, he claims the dual benefit of not only seeing “someone else”, but also of feeling “like myself”. Credence to the vertical.

“Do not love the world”-Jesus

It seems that self-empowerment and self-emptying wind up being very close to the same thing. Whether you actively exclude the ego, or fill up your heart-home with suficient goodness to crowd it out by default, the cow poop seems either to sublimate either way. By the time it traverses the Athabasca falls, you won’t be able to find it back.

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Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae

Cedar-Apple Rust

With the month of May having expired, I picked up my Gyres artworks from The Jordan Art Gallery this week. Though conversations with George Langbroek tend to fruitfully peel away the hours, I got away in time to stop by at Balls Falls Conservation Area. Distracted by sights and sounds near the trailhead, I did not even make it to the falls! Alongside an uncommon abundance of bird species (including bluebirds, woodpeckers, and various other musically-astute finches), I took note of a bizarre community of squid-like entities that appeared to burgeon on several of the Balls Falls cedars. What are these that are arrayed in orange robes? And from whence came they?

Mom, do we come from spores?

It turns out that Cedar-Apple Rust is a wind-borne fungus that alternates in its choice of host. Depending on the position of its lifecycle, you might find them attached to either a cedar or an apple tree. In an apple year, it manifests simply as leaf spots. But in a cedar year (especially after a late spring rain) you get these otherworldly growths. I can’t help but envision their tentacles as part of some underwater steampunk fiction. But for now, just enjoy the orange glow:

ch881222

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