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In Rainbows

March 31, 2012

“One attraction in coming to the woods to live was that I should have leisure and opportunity to see the Spring come in.”  — Henry David Thoreau (Walden, 1854).

Spring photographers in Nanjing.

Some of my China informants, literature teachers at that, have advised me that Chinese folks like groups and crowds, the feisty bump and bustle of populations in close contact.  They’ve scoffed at the possibility of students enjoying a writer like Henry Thoreau, who enjoyed so much his solitary rambles and tranquil existence at Walden Pond.  Cities work so well here, we’re sometimes told, because everyone’s pretty happy with lots of togetherness and close quarters.  This might seem to mean, as a corollary, that the pristine natural world would hold less interest for Chinese people, especially for city dwellers.  But this seems not to be true, in our experience.  At all of the natural sites we’ve explored so far, our Chinese friends appear just as eager to enjoy the outdoors and its natural beauties as any New England transcendentalist or Sierra Club tree-hugger.  The difference in the places we have visited is the lack of solitude and quiet, which is apparently not felt as a lack by the Chinese.  Over here, the natural world can be and is enjoyed as a joyous crowd event.  Hiking on mountain trails and strolling in city gardens, we’re shoulder to shoulder and constantly bumping elbows with other nature lovers, enjoying positive human friction with day-tripping urbanites just like us.

Nature Photographers in Nanjing

And especially nature photographers.

March in Nanjing, with President Sun Yat-Sen.

Our modest, pocket-sized Canons are dwarfed by the large Canon EOS and Nikon SLR-with-giant-telephoto rigs favored by the locals.  Even so, we get into the shutter-bugging mix with everyone else, focusing and snapping our many photos for digital retrieval at home.  All of that wonderful technology, of course, serves the cause of memory’s spectrum: in this case, the bright incandescence of a wonderful sunlit botanical garden on the first really warm day of the season.  Today, at least, now that Spring has finally arrived, we are all eager to capture nature’s rainbow and bring some of it (or even all of it) back home as a reminder and for safe keeping.   Hard to say why all of us are happily together here and doing this, exactly.  Maybe out of a sense of irony and contrast.  A good deal of the postmodern, industrialized spectrum in this part of the world looks rather different than Nanjing’s botanical polychrome, and it is illuminated most dramatically not with sunshine but rather with LEDs and neon, as we may see from time to time in future posts.

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