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Ruins and Rebirth


"'All beginnings wear their endings like dark shadows," astronomer-physicist Chet Raymo.

What is it about abandoned structures that fascinate us so much? With travel open, social media has been filled this past summer with trips to ancient ruins worldwide. Athena's temple, the Parthenon in Athens, the Italian Roman Forum, Chichen Itza in the Yucatan, and the Temple in Jerusalem, to name a few. Why are we drawn to places that hold the mystery of the past? There exists an invitation for interpretation and alteration in these sites.

Ruins are of great importance to historians, archaeologists, and anthropologists, whether they were once individual fortifications, places of worship, ancient universities, houses, utility buildings, or entire villages. Ruins remind us that the human body will one day degrade and that life is fragile and fleeting. Artistic representations of ruins can be traced back to the Renaissance. Still, even in modern times and in our backyards, we can find places of decay and wonder in crumbling architecture.

Nestled along the coast of Long Island Sound is a cluster of 365 islands known as the Thimble Islands; the Thimbles are an archipelago of small rocks, reefs, ledges, and sandbars that surface at low tide off Branford, Connecticut, east of New Haven. The outermost island, appropriately named the Outer island, was the location of my October feature. Outer island, sporting granite outcropping, two salt marshes, and a beach, is currently part of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge. On that island situates a distinguished, well-photographed ruin from an amphitheater of years past. I found the state decay a reminder that no matter how great a civilization, how grand their creations, they still eventually decline and crumble. There is a solemn beauty in a civilization's return to nature; it's an organic and inevitable process. Like many who visit the island, I was struck by the metaphorical symbolism of the circle framing the coastal shore, the sea, and the horizon. Circles, one of the oldest geometric symbols, are a universal sign in almost all cultures as a sacred symbol. Representing limitless, eternity, unity, monotheism, infinity, wholeness, totality, original perfection, the self, and timelessness, the circle is a universal geometric symbol. The Ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras states that circles are the most creative form. He calls them "monad," which means "a single unit" because circles lack a beginning and an end, nor do they have sides or corners.

The sun, the moon, solar systems and seasons are all circles, as are the earth, planets, and island coastal shore perimeters. Circles are not just geometrical symbols but are also what makes life possible. Professor, naturalist, astronomer-physicist, and writer, Chet Raymo states that all beginnings wear their endings. Circles are also an intricate part of nature.Time occurs in repetitive cycles in the form of days, months, years, and seasons: autumn, winter, spring, and summer-repeat. If endings are foreshadowed by their beginnings or are in some way the same thing, it is valid to look at our human myths and stories. Tales of our origin and the stories of the sea hold both knowledge and mystery, and the greater the knowledge, the more fantastic the mystery.

The site on the Outer Island depicted in this painting combines multiple ideas into one. The symbolism of the circle and the concept of the ruin. The universal geometric ring, in the form of ruin on a rugged landscape reclaiming its real estate; thoughts of totality, wholeness, original perfection, the self, the infinite, eternity, timelessness, God, and all cyclic movements disperse amidst the tension between the human need to bear witness to an event through the landscape in which it took place and the physical displacement from the landscape. Something happened here, but where did here go? It is a state of decay, a reminder that no matter how great civilization or grand their creations are, they still eventually decline and crumble. There is a solemn beauty in a civilization's return to nature; it's an organic and inevitable process.

"The more you know, the more you realize you don't know." Aristotle

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