Anne Brigman, The Breeze, 1910


Up here—shrouded in mist and the scent of pine, a halo of fuzzy golden light surrounding my fragile silhouette—I am like a goddess. And so I strip myself of those most dull human identifiers. My hip-length jacket with the brass buttons that march up my torso, and my wide-brimmed hat with the plumage of feathers at the side. Even my stiff skirt and my lace-trimmed shirtwaist. I celebrate my sleek and curving female form and drape myself in gauzy fabrics. I let the breeze pull the fabric around my body, making me into a Greek statue. Instead of the California hills, I can picture myself watching over the Peloponnese, an immortal winged victory looking on at the mortals in the valley below.

Unlike those sculptures from antiquity, I can feel the chill of the pine-laden breeze, and though I have this moment to myself, this moment where I am one with nature, I cannot help but feel the incessant lure of civilization. The breeze is not always gentle, and its howling tests my fortitude. And on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific, the steady drone of the waves makes its own distinctive howling. It is the sound of the abyss, of eternity. It is awesome and terrifying. And so, every time, even when I consider what it would be to make some sort of poetic statement by leaping into the abyss, I choose instead to put my clothes back on and button up my coat.

I am pulled back by thoughts of the friendly, wrinkled eyes of the train conductor who greeted me on my trip the week before. His abnormally large hands and the unexpectedly safe and homey feeling I had on that train ride home. I recall the sound of his mellow voice moving up and down the train car as the golden meadows flickered past my window.

I think of the Italian restaurant I visited downtown last summer and its absurdly large meatballs. The warm bread we ate with a carafe of mediocre wine. I think of the laughter we shared, and the stench of the trash as it baked in the late evening sun behind the restaurant where we snuck out for a cigarette.

My mother always said I had a flare for the dramatic, and I suppose she was right. What a silly thing, to commune with the wilderness and photograph it like I do! But it is there, at the very outer limit of where I am comfortable—the place where I find myself contemplating the immortals of antiquity—that I feel not only the power of some superior, all-knowing “god” but the immense power of life’s smallest moments. The metaphorical hand of an almighty god, I find, is nothing compared to your hand on mine.

I think of those small, intimate moments now each time I go back into nature. I carry them with me in the gauzy fabrics that fly around in the wind, where they become just as immortal as the breeze itself. Just as timeless as the rocky hillside and the pounding surf and the fragrant pine forest.


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