On Gravitational Gestalt Shifts

I once escorted an old friend on a late-night 20-mile bike ride between Albuquerque and Bosque Farms. This friend (I’ll call them Tucson for the sake of privacy) was drunk and stoned as all get out — ranting and raving and really having a hard time keeping those crazy rubber tire things on the path. Over and over Tucson veered off the pavement, falling into a discombobulated tangle of cogs, cables, chains and flesh.

Down, Down, Down

“Everything is down,” said Tucson after a particularly spectacular crash. They were just laying there, wallowing, laughing maniacally and trying in vain to light another broken cigarette. “The Everything,” Tucson stammered, “The Book of Everything — told me it’s true. Down, down, down. You can read it for yourself. Look at me: I’m living proof.”

Needless to say, the journey was long and perilous. Trying to be helpful, I uttered all sorts of lame, glass-half-full nonsense like, “Not everything’s down,” and, “We’re having a good time now, right?” Eventually we agreed to disagree, pedaling the last half of the trip in silence.

Of course, when I look around at the world, I tend to agree with my friend — at least if I take the Golden Rule of Down-ness from The Book of Everything literally. It’s difficult to find a surer thing than the force of gravity after all. Whether it’s crumbling cave ceilings, eroding cliff faces, toppling trees, razed sky scrapers or faded cyclists going down hard; there’s no escaping the pull.

Gestalt Shift

Occasionally, though, I’ll experience a sort of Gestalt shift, where I remember all the magical Newtonian business about equal and opposite actions and reactions. In these moments, I’ll suddenly feel the planet’s electromagnetic pushing out more than I feel its crushing chokehold. This is accompanied by an all-encompassing transfiguration of not only the mineral but the vegatable and animal as well.

What I usually think of as slaves to gravity — members of the domain of life — are now wholly liberated. The land we tread is an effervescent boundary between dust and sky. If you speed up the clock, you’ll see it. Cholla, with their stars of spines, shoot out of the ground like rocket trails. Species erupt and spill out over the globe.

Even the mountains are more vital energy than inert mass. I was out at Three Gun Springs in the Sandias with Mag trundling up the Hawk Watch trail, when the Gestalt shift last overtook me. Looking out of the bouldered basin, I could see the northern flanks of the Manzanos towering over the line of drones racing down Interstate 40. The slopes and canyons, dusted with fresh snow, scintillated and trembled like a wavefront — a glimmering nebula held in place by the opposite pressures of uplift and weathering.

A Matter Of Choice?

As you might expect, when you experience it, this up-ness feels good. Though this mortal coil be fatigued, the sensation is one of lightness and ionization. For a few precious moments, Tucson’s dogma of entropy holds no sway over me. Though I shall surely die, the momentum of being will carry on generation after generation, orogeny after orogeny, nova after nova.

The iconic image of Gestalt psychology is the Rabbit-Duck. Peek at it for a second and you’ll see but one member of the pair. Look a little longer and the other will reveal itself. Stare longer still and you can willfully switch back and forth between them. Question is: Can we do the same with gravity? Can we choose to rewrite The Book of Everything?

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(Today’s photo of the Manzano Mountains from the vantage of the Sandias’ Hawk Watch trail is courtesy of Mag Kim.)

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