blindsided (an experiment in remembering and forgetting)

blindsided - original photo by pia ednie-brown

an experiment in recalibrated perception

by chance i come across a brilliant land art installation in a small thicket of trees on the periphery of our cabin retreat. simple, elegant, fragile, rich: it has been created by three danish artists as a site-specific gift to our temporary community.

it is also the last thing that i will see for the next hour or so.

a blindfold is placed over my eyes. black and moderately worn, it is the type of blindfold preferred by the frequent airline traveller or perhaps by one who lives sufficiently north that the sun rarely sets at certain times of the year. i can see cracks of daylight at the bottom of my visual field, even though i am craving deep darkness. we begin to move.

i am guided by my left hand as we begin walking away from the art installation, back towards the main cabin area. i hear voices off in the distance — noni's in particular stands out from the lake area off to the far right. or at least that is what the rough map in my memory is trying to tell me. where are my coordinates?

the touch on my hand stays cool even though my body bakes with many fevers of exposure. what are the politics of consent in this context? i wonder briefly, although it may not have been at this point in our journey. while my consent is not one of language, it is present nonetheless.

there is a pause. i wait and wait before i realize i am meant to figure out some sort of puzzle. that's it, there is a short step in front of me, i feel it with the edge of my foot. we've intersected a small wooden boardwalk: i don't remember that from my mental map … where are we? i am gently assisted onto the step and then off the other side. there are more voices now and i feel even more acutely exposed, naked to my context or how my body-in-relation is being perceived, if at all. the field as i understand it has been compromised by this invisibility.

we keep walking. though the voices and their conversations do not seem to break rhythm, i feel more acutely aware of a collective gaze that connects to-them-to-me in some way. the relational field has been altered irrevocably, or maybe it is just in my mind.

we stop once again. this time the hand gently pushes down on my shoulder and then i am sitting at the end of a picnic table. the voices continue to pretend that nothing unusual is taking place, and maybe that is the case with these thinkers and creators — maybe it is only unusual for me.

wait, did i already say that?

slowly, my shoe is untied and removed, followed by my sock. i think it is my right foot first, though i cannot be sure at this time. the other foot follows. i feel a brief tremor of thrill or fear as i wonder if anything else will be removed. once again my left hand is taken — an already familiar comfort — and the bare skin of my soles feels the cool grass underfoot. once again we are walking.

noni asks why that man is blindfolded and barb tries to explain, though i can tell by the sound of her voice that she's not quite certain either. exposed. the ground underneath my feet changes from grass to hardscrabble dirt and tiny pebbles. the level path begins to slope away — we are heading down to the water's edge, i think. another pause, another puzzle: but this time i am more prepared and gently feel around with my foot for the large step in front of me. we proceed.

we enter a rowboat. i can feel its hydraulic imbalance underneath. i am sitting at the front of the boat, in the navigation seat. ha, ha! we push off from shore.

paddle, paddle. are we headed to the other side of the cove? another tiny thrill, far from the madding crowd. my exposure levels are stabilizing out here on the water and again i wonder briefly about the question of consent. i don't know where i'm going and my quality of touch has been radically reconfigured.

we don't make it to the other side of the cove, but rather describe a sweeping arc that leads back to the floating trampoline about 25 feet away from shore. we dock with the trampoline and i am helped aboard from the rowboat. erin and brian are there, alanna's laughter sings from off to the right, and i think somebody else was present as well.

i sit there like some sort of praying mantis or character from a pulp fiction movie. erin asks something about what i am doing, i don't remember what exactly. i reply that i don't think i'm supposed to talk. (and that is all i said for the duration of the exercise.) i'm just here/hear in a listening role.

now back on the boat, though this time i hold the oars. awkward gesture for me, even at the best of times, and now is not the best of times. i paddle off, my guide now sitting behind me in the boat. and off and off, i have no idea where we are or where we are going. i think we actually run slightly aground at one point, don't we?

as time passes i become convinced that my guide has quietly slipped out of the boat and left me there paddling blindly. turns out to be true, only i find out later that i was actually abandoned much earlier in the passage — though who can be certain of time in these imprecise storytellings?

and is it really abandonment we are describing anyway, or a stretching of the relational fibres toward a tentative autonomy?

noni breaks the silence of my contemplation, chattering and laughing with abandon. i try to hone in on her to find my way back to the dock but it sounds like she is running back and forth along the shoreline, a beacon in motion. i find out later that this perceived movement was relative: i've in fact been rowing in circles the entire time.

after much exercise, the sirens finally guide me back to the floating trampoline. i ferry the discussion back to shore — clever idea, erin. she is sitting in front of me, i think. she puts her hand on my left shoulder as she gingerly navigates her way to the back of the rowboat. i paddle, and the extra weight of my cargo isn't as noticeable as i'd thought it would be. i do not sing opera en route, as we would do in the dark later that week.

i am helped out of the boat and guided uphill to the other trampoline, from water to land. two trampolines: did you feel the difference?

i'm jumping, tentatively. brian is with me. was erin or saara there as well? i want to say one of them but i can't be certain then, and i do not remember now. i do hear noni's voice as she joins us on the trampoline and i hope i don't crush her in my awkward bounding about.

have you ever tried doing yoga on the subway? start there and then add unpredictable vertical oscillations on trampoline elasticity — or something like that. my gesture in staying on my feet can only be described as supple arthritis. except for those times i fell.

time to go, but it was fun. i exit the trampoline netting, am led back over to my socks and shoes, and my blindfold is removed. or maybe we walk back over to the front door of the lodge first, i can't be sure. though my other senses have been spoiled, i never fully let go of vision.

maybe next time.

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