The fear of insects is no doubt one of the most singular and most developed of these horrors as is, one is surprised to note, the fear of the eye. It seems impossible, in fact, to judge the eye using any word other than seductive, since nothing is more attractive in the bodies of animals and men. But extreme seductiveness is probably at the boundary of horror. (Georges Bataille)
Before departing for Mustarinda, a friend warned me that the swamps wouldn’t be there at this time of year. It is interesting to consider how some things are perceived as less present when they are concealed from vision, while others remain intact. As the April residency commenced each of us set about our daily trips into the woods in search of various sightings; the perfect fallen tree, a rare woodpecker, a new snow crystallization. I hunted for suonsilmät (swamp/bog eyes).
The little peepers of insects are bountiful on the swamp in summer, in the puddles, on the ground, and in the air, one is inescapably being watched and watching. It is no place for anyone suffering from scopophobia, but rather a place of decadent watchers. Mosquito clouds buzz in the air; each and every compound eye containing thousands of six-sided lenses, simultaneously watching in all directions for a sudden movement. The whirligig beetles float on the pools of water with their heads on the boundary between water and air, compound eyes divided into two parts simultaneously seeing above and below (Rolston 2000, 592).
To the human eyes, the cyclops eye of the water flea appears an evolutionary mutant. Then there are a plethora of microscopic animals and unicellular organisms sensing their way around without an eye to see. Now, strangely enough, recent research has solved the long standing evolutionary mystery of the human vertebrate eye, finding genetic information gained from a sightless bacteria was the key in developing the light sensitive vertebrate eye (Kalluraya et al. 2023, 1). For the sake of creating vision lore, our very own eyes could very well have developed from bacteria that originated in a swamp or bog eye. The suonsilmä is considered to be a most decadent and enchanting space, both feared and revered. A watchful eye that is also a mouth, a thrilling evolutionary feature indeed.
There was over a metre of snow covering the swamps at Mustarinda in early spring, and the likelihood of seeing any type of eyes was decreased. Yet, I set out in search of the suosilmät on the nearest three swamps. I found a spot on the first swamp where the snow had slumped, signaling activity below, but no eye appeared. I was advised that there was an eye on the second swamp, and after closer investigation I did indeed find an open eye there. To my amazement from atop the snow, I peered down at a glistening peaty green eye, as it peered back up. It occurred to me at that moment that the eye was surprisingly alert in nature and that the swamp might not be sleeping after all. Was it swamp gasses or swamp hydrology keeping it alert under the snow?
I knew the time was growing short to prepare for the fruitful months of summer which lie ahead, the snow wouldn’t last much longer and I would need suosilmä boots for the upcoming explorations. Back at Mustarinda house, I collected flotation devices from all the nearest recycling centres and set to work creating the required decadent suosilmä workwear. It is of course of vital importance to stay afloat the suosilmät in order to ensure the swamps’ healthy hydrology is not disturbed.
Bataille, G.: ”Eye”. Teoksessa Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927–1939., kääntänyt ja toimittanut Allan Stoekl, University of Minnesota Press 1985. http://www.totuusradio.fi/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/bataille-visions-of-excess.pdf
Kalluraya, C. A., Weitzel, A. J., Tsu, B.V., & Daugherty, M.D.: ”Bacterial origin of a key innovation in the evolution of the vertebrate eye”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 120(16), 2023. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2214815120.
Rolston, H.: ”Aesthetics in the Swamps”. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 43(4), 2000. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/26010