Saturday, 23 July 2016

Obsidian

Ha, this week's blog has to address change. There's obviously lots of scope here, against a background of significant, even seismic, upheavals in Britain's political landscape the like of which we haven't seen for half a century.

Given the topic, it seemed fitting that I should dust off and consult  my copy of the I Ching (the Chinese Book of Changes) on behalf of the Saturday blog. Random access duly led to hexagram 23, 'Po' or Splitting Apart, appropriately enough. The commentary contains the following wise words: "those who rule rest on the broad foundation of the people. They too should be generous and benevolent like the earth that carries all. Then they will make their position as secure as a mountain is in its tranquillity." Leaders, pay attention!

That reference to the mountain got me thinking about change in a more basic, elemental way. So, stepping back from the turbulence of the times (mere nanoseconds, after all, on our cosmic clock), I did some research into Obsidian, which has held a fascination for me ever since I first saw it on the ground in north-west America. Here I have to offer up the tantalising snippet that Ian McEwan and I have something (quite specific) in common but I cannot elaborate further!

Boulders of Obsidian in the USA
Obsidian is a naturally occurring black volcanic glass (see above). It is an extrusive igneous rock, produced when a highly viscous lava rich in silica (as opposed to iron) cools extremely rapidly. That speed of cooling means there is minimal crystal growth as the liquid changes into a solid. The chemists among you will understand, I'm sure. That makes the resulting rock glassy and very hard, but also brittle. For the rest of us, it's enough to marvel at the sheer dark, glossy beauty of the beast - its depth of colour, its smoothness and its sheen.

If obsidian is breath-taking from the outside, then even more beautiful is its internal structure, sliced and shown below in high magnification... not very crystalline, not very regular but stunningly ornate, almost like a delicate floral embroidery or a seed and leaf collage.

Obsidian crystal structure
Its hardness and brittleness mean that obsidian can be fashioned into a very effective tool or weapon, knife-blade or spearhead and has been prized for thousands of years as such in the Americas, southern Europe and the middle-east.

There are a few spectacular obsidian flows in areas of previous volcanic activity around the globe. Glass Mountain, near Medicine Lake in northern California, is a sight to see, as is the Big Obsidian Flow in Oregon, over a mile long and looking like a glacier of black glass, the durable result of a very dramatic change of state.

I've made an attempt at a poem about obsidian, incorporating some of these ideas (and a few more, as such things have a tendency to take on a life of their own). I hope you like the poem and the accompanying graphic...

Glass Mountain and Eclipse
Obsidian
Like passion cooled,
obsidian
flows treacly,
sets quickly.
Ingenious rock,
outpouring of Vulcan's molten heart,
it hardens to glass darkly,
a substance
of beguiling but brittle beauty.

Like passion fooled,
obsidian
glowers slickly,
stands starkly.
Disingenuous rock,
the gloss of its reflective depth,
false mirror to false hope,
then shatters into shards
of wonder and weaponry.

Thanks for reading. Have a good week, S ;-)
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1 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fabulous poem.