Geometry


Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, Waterloo

From our doorstep it is left toward the university and the softball diamonds in the park, where we sometimes in the evening watch local teams play. To the right the town centre, the supermarket, liquor store, pharmacist, ironmonger, restaurants. Straight ahead and over the tracks lies the way to the public library, to our art-house cinema and to Ethel’s, our favourite beer-joint patio. Part of this way runs between the town pond, called Silver Lake, and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, an international research centre endowed by Blackberry founder Mike Lazaridis.

Here one may choose to walk to the left, by the path that follows the shoreline, or to the right, along a partly covered promenade by a reflecting pool on the Institute grounds. It makes little difference which, for the time or effort involved. Either way leads directly to the head of the pond and a pleasing little waterfall and grotto, then over a busy road to the library and beyond. Nevertheless, I always pause at this fork in the path as though somehow it matters, whether to left or right, beyond random impulse or consideration of the light that day or the weather.

I have decided the choice has to do with death, with differing, contrasting, perhaps irreconcilable, but equally profound lessons or consolations.

A feature of the shoreline path is the stand of willows that line the bank. Giant trees that routinely fall over, in a wind, or for no apparent reason at all, sometimes cracking from the top down, sometimes uprooting from the bottom, exposing monster root-balls to the air. After which they rot, and dry out, and regenerate, all at once, in the way of willows. Rich humus and maggots; dead grey timber shakes and hollowed troughs of rough bark; new yellow osiers shooting up from the parent carcass. Death in life, and life in death.

The other way, by the Perimeter Institute, is the way of geometry, of planes and grids, straight lines, mineral colours and textures, above all of light and its reflection.

One might reasonably take this contrast in a banal and sentimental direction: the cold, hard world of theory against the vital, organic pull of nature. But I am rather inclined to see the difference in cinematic terms, which is to say as different modes of absorptive escape. The walk by the pond is Romantic, a saunter in Nature, a Wordsworthian revery. The walk under the Institute is to step out of time and space into a wormhole in eternity. No place to linger, here, under the gaze of blank windows. No fish live in that pool. Nothing grows that is not planned. A scene from Bergman, or Tati, or Alain Resnais.

Alain Resnais, Last Year at Marienbad (1961)

I find I most often go to the right, into the light, into the geometry of pure being.

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