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Waterfalls (II)                          





For water falls. Releasing sound reflecting light. Drawing in our attention, our interest (but what is our interest?). Our curiousity (but we already know what a waterfall is…). Our need to see what we can only hear; our need to see close-up what we can only glimpse thought the trees, or see (or hear) from a distance. Both sight and sound tell of its presence. Sight through a flashing of silver: sound through a continuous rumbling. Sight through the configuration of light on a ground: sound through the background bass note over which all else is heard…


Sight through the golden-silver light glancing off blue water falling; silver light dancing on white foam as the falling water no longer reflects the blue of sky or the direct beams of the sun, but now is scattered into a myriad, tiny points of light, life-span of an instant. Shorter lived than even the lightening whose flash whitens the night sky, or forked, plunges to earth, divided streams flowing down from the sky to the earth below, a waterfall in the sky, heaven’s gift to the waiting earth below.


So too the waterfall. For it is the light reflected that pulls at the eye; as with all water, it is not the light that we see by, that we see things by, but the direct reflection of light itself that conceals what water is… the unadulterated light of the heavens, pure - and not some admixture of light and thing that reveals surface, shape and texture. The dancing of light on water is not ‘watered-down’ but passed on, its shining fragments relayed to our waiting eyes. Water is a special case that reminds us that when we see, what we see is only the surface of things… But is not this condition of seeing not true of all objects, of all vision, or of all sight? Why does the falling of water, the sight of the waterfall, so enthrall? How is its reflection so different from the still surface of ponds and lakes that reflect every detail of the clouds in the sky, or the rippled surface of a river’s flow, blurring the reflection of the opposite bank and confusing land and sky, or the vast cup of the sea, viewed from the shore, presenting an every-changing mosaic of the heavens spread out on the skin of its impenetrable face, a veneer that stretches, never still, to the horizon, where water finally meets the sky…? For the waterfall is the special case of our experience of water, an concentrated experience where we are blinded by the shards and slivers of silver and gold that fall from the sun and dance for us on the surface of falling water, an enchantment of effect that renders the cause invisible, a transparency now clothed to the utmost, concealed to the utmost, behind a shield even less substantial - a flashing shield of light. But our means to see this light, to experience it as a part of the world (in order not to be literally blinded by the sight of the sun, pleasing and useful in effect only as long as we do not face it directly… do not stare at the cause…).


(But what is our interest?) What draws, what desire is it that pulls us to the waterfall, to visit waterfalls, to visit… to stare?


(…and the waterfall under the light of the full moon, another kind of whitened silver, present in the contrast of the still silver of landscape, and the moving, living quick-silver of the falling water… gift of the moon -at which we may stare- a vision of night, curtesy of our night vision, a vision in black and white, bestowing an addiction made evident in the history of ink wash, charcoal and chalk, the pencil sketch, the etching… and photography…)


(But what is our interest?) What draws, what desire is it that pulls us to the waterfall, to visit waterfalls – to fix them in a landscape, to reconstruct them in our gardens?



(What is our interest). What do we gain…?


An event in space in time, a special event, worthy of visiting, viewing, a sacred event… But not a ritual. Our approach, our visit, our time and money spent on the visit, this the ritual, the event, rather, is an advent… A marked event; marked out from the rest, of Nature, of the World. Marked out by its motion and light and sound, and marked out by us, marked out as worthy, deserving, rewarding… of passing time, of approaching and staring… And marked out too like a quotation, a thing from elsewhere, as if from elsewhere, whose event is its difference to the rest, like a quotation, a citation, but from where… from which place of images, which place of sound, from which book of the world… from which world…


Perhaps a ritual symbol. A mark of, or preparation for, something else (as the trip of journey or pilgrimage, is a ritual preparation for the witnessing of the event). In this sense also a ritual period, of period of ritual… Or again, an arrival. The arrival itself of the prepared for event; a coming into presence, (for not an ordinary arrival) of the awaited event; the advent. (But what is it a portent of, a sign for, a symbol in the place of… what?) What is it that has arrived, has made its presence felt…? Issuing a call, visual and aural. Proclaiming its being. Entering the world with a play of light and a persistent voice?


(…all this too makes for genius loci, the spirit of the place, the urge to personification…)


An avent… space/time focused. Like a fire on a dark night, or again, scattered, like rain at night under an street lamp. Like a pool of ice under a white moon, or a polished jewel or a cut-glass diamond on a velvet cushion – just so, a diamond. A transparency: which, multi-faceted, renders itself opaque; a coat borrowed from the luminous, a disguise taken from the world of mirrors. For it reflects light… yes, like everything else, but no, not like everything else… like nothing else… For it reflects light like nothing else - a difference suggesting a different order of things.


A contrast made from a contrast.


And what a strange contrast, the sight and the sound… Functioning as opposites… The sight; a flashing focal point, imitated in warnings or attraction seeking signs. A figure on a ground, a motion on a background that draws the eyes, centers a landscape, completes a scene, proves the cue for form, the centre-point of a frame, the centre to the margin of other features… The sound; a pitiless roar, or an idiot humming, a savage pounding or ever-present purr at the edge of our hearing: either way a background, everywhere in the background, a consistent and continuing insistence, the temporal background of all else we hear… the aural backdrop to other sounds. The default sound of a landscape; the music of place…


One, the product of falling light and its glancing-off water, the other, of falling water and its impact on rock. Light waves and sound waves, different media entailing different orders of perception. Different, even opposite, in function, in manifestation, in role relative to other phenomena in the same order of perceptual experience. Each an Other. So far apart, incomparable, incommensurable: yet together in complementary relation, producing a combined meaning, a unified message or understanding… A unification of the original event, of the cause of the divided orders of perception, a reunification of reality within ourselves…


A marriage of planes. A matching of orders of perception. A conjoining of media.


A reconstruction, human, of the original event. Now original as human, its advent in our mind, our culture, our spirit… No longer just a matter of matter: but a matter of mind. Already with loaded with values the original never had…


The event and our Advent.



Together triggering a near irrefusable curiousity, an irresistible desire to approach (in the case of size tempered by sublime fear – some things are best viewed from a distance).


A question: Are all relationships of sight and sound, interesting ones, that is, like this: spectacle or spectral, ‘in-your-face’ or evanescent; are they all like this? Figure/ground reversed. The eye drawing and the ear filling. Sight and sound in contradiction, in contrast, in complementary relation? Whence our fondness for this particular relation for sight and sound? A fact of physics or a fact of human nature (much the same thing), of a fact of culture…? Phenomena of Nature, gift of our physiology and psychology, or of our accumulated historical learning… our habitude? For other ‘spectacles’ feature short-lived sound patterns, sudden, arresting, deafening or a shorter, if intense, period of events or an event which overwhelms the background rendering it marginal. If we were to enter a waterfall, approach too closely a vast wall of falling water, it may have this later effect, but this would be to approach dangerously close; normally we would rest content with a view that consummated our expectation, our experience of the event as advent, and so redeemed the sacrificial expenditure incurred by our visit.


Again, the proximity of the Sublime means that, of its two features, magnification and awe, or size and fear, the latter as caused by the threat posed by the former, come to the fore. The delicious or profound or awe-inspiring sensation, remains so only whilst the element of danger is held at a distance… (in this lies the secret of most entertainment and much of Romanticism).


So acting as a kind of reminder of, or rather, a tamed… safely apprehended form of… the sun and its power, our dependence on light, and, philosophically, the gift of being and time, and a reminder that being is becoming… and this includes ourselves, self as a kind of gerund, the ‘-ing’ or ‘present continuous’ of things, existentially speaking, the eternal becoming of the Eternal Present…


The fall of experience.


A water fall.










Copyright Peter Nesteruk, 2018