“Dat ding is aan het lopen!”

I think I’ve asked you this, but do you guys read the New Yorker? You should really read the New Yorker. Fantastic writing, smart commentary, interesting range of subjects. Learn about why you should eat bugs.

Anyway, last week’s edition carried a piece by Ian Frazier titled “The March of the Strandbeests”. Strandbeests is Dutch for “beach animals”, and the article is about the artist/engineer Theo Jansen who has spent the last decade creating animals out of PVC (and such) which are entirely wind-powered. His motivation: Creating a solution to Holland’s looming water crisis. Not the same water crisis the rest of the world house, one of those dwindling resources we think are infinite things. Rather, rising sea levels threaten to encroach on dry land. Jansen invented his Strandbeests to throw sand from the beach onto the iconic Dutch dunes as a protector against rising tides.

Read the article, of course, but also watch this video. Unless you see the animals in motion you won’t really get what you’re reading. And, I think, you won’t really get why all this reminded me of Billy Collins’ lovely poem, “Student of Clouds”.

Student of Clouds
by Billy Collins

The emotion is to be found in clouds,
not in the green solids of the sloping hills
or even in the gray signatures of rivers,
according to Constable, who was a student of clouds
and filled shelves of notebooks with their motion,
their lofty gesturing and sudden implication of weather.

Outdoor, he must have looked up thousands of times,
his pencil trying to keep pace with their high voyaging
and the silent commotion of the eddying and flow.
Clouds would move beyond the outlines he would draw
as they moved within themselves, tumbling into their centers
and swirling off at the burning edges in vapors
to dissipate into the universal blue of the sky.

In photographs we can stop all this movement now
long enough to tag them with their Latin names.
Cirrus, nimbus, stratocumulus –
dizzying, romantic, authoritarian –
they bear their titles over the schoolhouses below
where their shapes and meanings are memorized.

High on the soft blue canvases of Constable
they are stuck in pigment but his clouds appear
to be moving still in the wind of his brush,
inching out of England and the nineteenth century
and sailing over these meadows where I am walking,
bareheaded beneath the cupola of motion,
my thoughts arranged like paint on a high blue ceiling.

If you all haven’t looked at John Constable’s paintings, shame on you.

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