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.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Holding onto a Wild Place

By Elisabeth Nickles

I have been back in Philadelphia for a few weeks now and Monomoy is still on my mind, in my heart and on the computer screen. I have been going through the thousands of photographs of what I saw, the camera catching what I could only ingest at the moment and at times seeing so much more than I could, I am still awestruck combined with a longing to return to the sea. So I returned to the city and I spend much time in the forest. We have the thousands of acres of Fairmount Park within the urban sprawl. I am thankful to the people who set it aside as a protected area in the mid 19th century. It saves me from feeling that life is only a human right. 

I have always felt technology to be a blessing and a curse, in this instance, I am glad I have the imagery and the video, the details are so vivid but also speak of myself desperately wanting to hold onto what I was experiencing. The photos bring me back to those moments of smell, touch, even the taste of the air. What I have found to be the challenge - is how to bring that feeling to everyone else. So I work on this in Philadelphia, while feeling that I cannot bottle the experience in an easy, ingestible unit.

Powder Hole, South Monomoy

I have always found myself looking for wildness, seeking it out in life. For better or for worse, I have rebelled for wildness in a number of ways. I suppose being in the city seems strange for someone who loves 'the natural world' s. In the city, I am looking for wildness culturally, in the diversity of people,  in ways of thinking, in the museums and in the opportunities for knowledge. Other people who create art or music and try to live as individuals.   I have lived in wild places and loved it for the environment, but culturally I could not find my place, so I return for long spells to the urban environment. I have seen hawks and bald eagles nearby in Philadelphia, eaten fruits from plants I have grown. All of these are ways that I can hold onto wildness and be free in a city with a population of 1.5 million people. 

 If I can ask something of every human, I would ask this: to seek out the wildness, not just in parks and separated areas that are designated, but in your environment: the tiny things around you and the largeness above you and within your own mind. To feel connected to one's natural world is not a commodity  and no one can take it away. It is inseparable from existence, so why not pay attention to it?  In a world of consumerism and economics above all else, I find the most valuable things in life to cost absolutely nothing. The sensuality of life is a gift at all times, from everything we ingest, the air, the water are a wilderness we must retain to survive, so why not begin in the mind?

It boggles me why humans have had so much trouble with living as a small part in a larger organism seeing their place as a part to whole, not an "I" to forge forward, to control and always to "gain".  I am reminded of the religious text of different cultures to subvert the ego, yet within the institution of worship, the ego grows and the importance of humans elevated above other life forms. I prefer to go to the source and will always seek the open air for my psalms. I am perpetually humbled by what I see. 

Walking North on the Eastern side of Monomoy
There is an edge in life that exists in trust, trusting that our bodies and subconscious have knowledge we find hard to grasp with our logic and measuring. In wild places I can find that edge fast, the boundaries do not exist. Formally, the lines merge with each other.  The sounds are not rigid and overpowering, the rectangle with clear edges and boundaries is not dominating the landscape!... the rhythm flows.  What design! What infinite patterns and forms. What more could anyone need for entertainment? fascination is easy.  I love the line written by Charles Darwin "endless forms most beautiful" - yes. I bow, with forehead to the ground and say to the sky and sea " I am infinitely yours". 

A view of Nantucket Sound from the kayak

1 comment:

  1. This is a breathtakingly beautiful passage to read this morning in my urban kitchen, watching the rain come down on my postage stamp, Chicago backyard. You have captured some of my wordless feelings about urban and rural life. My seeking wild spots in the concrete of this city; my yearning for wide open spaces with big sky and wonder; the loveliness of "wild culture" of humans all around me. This Thanksgiving, I give thanks for the opportunity for both. My soul drinks it up, side by side, with you.