If among the waxwing’s flight, I describe unbroken light, I describe water among the sleep of birds. A wing-beat governing the swift fluidity of form. Dear precious, dear dear one: Here I seize on a sea a pure white vessel’s breaking. Over many days mistaken for a cloud, a man’s eye creeps up the branches, eats the magnificent gray buds. He thinks of white as his sun at night. Has he ever thought most of his impressions are born? Pouring his confinement through a moon’s milk stare, first daylight drains this strange bird: attention residing in a nexus of recurrence. Old ideas which cause the mind to live among bright objects—but only as a means of concealment. Each gaze is therefore a distance I simulate. When I require a political economy, I look directly at the sun. That oak leaf, those peonies! Sucked through September’s pulse, a solar hinge no hand can touch. Sound ascends daylight; and the eye is made aware. The boundary will be birdsong filled up with ghostly listeners. Or the color of the sea approaching the clairvoyance of the artist’s attention. Weaving his periscope from the white of inquiry, white is made vessel by faintly visible seashore. A painter is the world conscious that light belongs there. Reductio ad absurdum. Until a parallel ear forgets. A duplicate canvas engulfs silhouette with particle fire. Here a moment of sculpture tears off its crisscross veil. Monadnock, my mountain home: These rocks are souls that multiply Praxiteles. Where dewdrops further elucidate the majority of tulips, root outweighs flowerhead, twilight, Promethea Sphinx. In the absolute detail it descends, a leaf is a revelation, the eye’s inverted vernacular. Out of which one ruptured katydid proceeds, eternally convex, transverse, beneath a breath of moonshine and meadow grass, a shadow’s arrowy vehemence.
Looking further to the sight. And one is lost. Of such white
is the sky. Folded over dogday cicada nighthawk sun-fleck.
One moment split within the lark. The stars the mountaintops
the untouched forest. To see the shadow of one’s mind
dissolve inside the blue bird’s pulse. Which in the liquid
radiance of flight is doubled—and is twice “obliterated.”
That at each moment the sum of these visions faces a shadow
are paradox which lie in splendid isolation—those vivid
dislocations are the color of my eyes: Have I begun to see? Or
perceived that nothing pulverized inside a single sun-ray
is the orchid’s lost imagination. Is the soul of cloud and leaf
that winged singularity opening a rose in snow-filled silence—or
a cold and dwindling eye that gathers up a twilight’s edge?
“How it was left to one artist to point out these principles, and the gigantic part they play in the animal kingdom, God only knows.”
In 1896, Abbott Thayer, American painter and naturalist, discovered the principle of countershading, “Thayer’s Law,” which found that an animal’s coloring, dark on top and light underneath, distributed shadow equally across the body, making it appear flat and concealing it from predators. Thayer published a book on his discoveries, Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom, and its concepts would form the blueprint for military camouflage during WWI, earning Thayer his nickname, “the father of camouflage.”
In 1910, the artist met a group of “doubting ornithologists” at the Smithsonian to demonstrate that a hummingbird, when placed in a bush and seen as the prongbuck would see it in the moment of attack, as the white of its tail merged with the “sea of light” falling from the sky, tended toward visual “obliteration.” When Thayer requested the group lie down to observe the hummingbird from the prongbuck’s vantage-point, they unanimously refused.
“I have been left alone in the world to find this out,” Thayer writes. His letters and drafts are chaotic landscapes in which discovery and invention meet vivid scrawl of Satyr butterfly and Bamboo moth. Transcribing shadowed glimpses of a Nighthawk’s wing, Thayer’s language often looks like it’s erupted or collapsed on the page, revealing a mind in furious pursuit of what the artist deemed a revolutionary vision of the natural world. “I bring evidence of concealing power,” one page reads in its entirety, “no course open but to investigate.”