A Wilderness Science and Art Collaboration

Aldo & Leonardo, a partnership between Colorado Art Ranch and the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute, is a project to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The project is inspired by the scientific wisdom of Aldo Leopold and the artistic genius of Leonardo da Vinci. Our endeavor is an interdisciplinary collaboration of artists and scientists designed to celebrate the lands, resources and opportunities protected by the Wilderness Act. In 2013, we are hosting one-month residencies in six diverse wilderness areas. Artists will work alongside wildland research scientists and gain firsthand knowledge of the wonders, complexities and challenges of our nation's wildest places. The result will be a body of work that creatively illustrates the value of wild areas and honors the scientific efforts to preserve wilderness for the next fifty years.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Wilderness Preparation: Noatak National Preserve

By Andrea Spofford

"To Think of Time" by Walt Whitman

Pleasantly and well-suited I walk, 
Whither I walk I cannot define, but I know it is good, 
The whole universe indicates that it is good, 
The past and the present indicate that it is good. 

How beautiful and perfect are the animals! 
How perfect the earth, and the minutest thing upon it! 

What is called good is perfect, and what is called bad is just
     as perfect, 
The vegetables and minerals are all perfect, and the imponderable 
     fluids are perfect; 
Slowly and surely they have pass'd on to this, and slowly and surely 
     they yet pass on.

These weeks leading up to the Noatak residency have been hectic; I have filed my dissertation, set up a significant move, relocated, driven over 50 hours, and been in six states, only to relocate again when I return from Alaska to begin a new job that is, in so many ways, a dream come true. Timing, right now, is beautiful. As I look at the mountain of gear that awaits me and as I run through my checklist one, or two, or three last times, I keep coming back to the purpose of this trip, the adventure of Alaska and the experience of the wilderness. For me, this is the best timing for the best opportunity. Alaska is a chance to explore wilderness that I am a stranger to, a place that I have very literally dreamed about for the past seven years. Like Whitman, I want to walk as well-suited as possible, enjoying the infinite goodness of simply being outside. 
     What is so unique about this opportunity is the very point where art--in my case, writing--meets the scientific. I've always felt a certain kinship with science, the poetry of taxonomies and the ways that nature and writing are so infinitely connected, a relationship that I see in the earliest American writers and a relationship that became an ecstatic love and tabulation of natural richness. This includes the writing of John Smith and moves forward to the exuberance of Walt Whitman; as the United States developed, so too did this niche of writing about nature, for all its goodness and complication. I think what is so important about this trip, from my perspective, and from the perspective of my writing, is to explore that place of origin, the delight in the wild and natural that is sometimes lost in contemporary writing and the place where I feel so at home. 
     This is why I am so pleased and grateful and excited about Alaska; while there we are going to present our work at the Kotzebue community center, assist with research at an archaeological dig site in the Brooks Mountain Range, and wander around Kotzebue itself, a 9000 year old settlement located 26 miles north of the Arctic Circle. We'll be in almost 24 hours of daylight. My mountain of gear includes a fishing rod and reel (for the hopeful catching of dolly varden and rainbow trout), a fishing license, chemical hand warmers, hats, rain gear, my well-traveled tent, and a host of other things--all of which I need to fit into as few bags as possible. I've seen a lot of America and will soon trade nesting sea birds and the Laguna Madre in south Texas for the tundra of northwestern Alaska, switching out sandals for Xtratufs. I can only try to tell you how wonderful this is, this contrast of ecosystems and environments. I can't say now what will come from this trip, but that's the best part. As Whitman says, "What is called good is perfect, and what is called bad/is just as perfect."

What I'm packing (the partial assembly):

Where I'm coming from:

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