This was all over the news back in October, but I am a sucker for stories like this, in which seeds of cosmic revelation are found hidden inside everyday materials, especially when those materials are architectural in form.
In this case, it was “the imprint of a rare solar storm” that left traces in the rings of trees cut into logs by Vikings and used to build cabins 1,000 years ago on the Atlantic coast of Canada.
The wood grain itself was an archive of solar radiance, a warped record of the heavens: “scientists using a new type of dating technique and taking a long-ago solar storm as their reference point have established that the settlement [known as L’Anse aux Meadows] was occupied in AD 1021—all by examining tree rings.”
[Image: Wood analyzed in the study described here; image by Petra Doeve, via The New York Times.]
While there is obviously more to say about the science behind this discovery—all of which you can read here—what interests me is simply the idea that astral events, cosmic storms, stellar weather, electromagnetic pulses from space, whatever you want to imagine, leave traces all around us. That in the depths of our buildings, in our walls and floors, even in the wooden dowels of mass-produced furniture, there can be evidence of immensely powerful and beautiful things, and I would like to remember to look for that again. It’s been a miserable couple of years.
[Image: Reverse of “Saint Jerome” (1494), Albrecht Dürer, courtesy National Gallery, London.]
In any case, just a few weeks before this news broke, Lapham’s Quarterly published a short piece, promoting a new episode of their podcast, with some unexpected relevance here. The following quote is a little ungainly taken out of context, but here you go: “‘Hidden round the back of Albrecht Dürer’s St. Jerome of 1494, one of his first paintings… is this enormous star,’ Philip Hoare writes in Albert and the Whale: Albrecht Dürer and How Art Imagines Our World. ‘You would have seen it only if you knew its secret: the galactic event going on, on the other side. Radiating orange-red rays, careering through the perpetual night. A thing of darkness created in light.’”
Hidden on the backs of famous paintings, in the beams of our attics, in the timbers of ancient homes, are galactic events, black stars, things more interesting than this world, burning, and I suppose depression is what happens when you no longer think it’s possible to find such details. When they become inaccessible to you, or when you believe the world’s supply of revelation has been permanently depleted.