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.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

rangers ranging roads in the John Muir

By Duane McDiarmid

Is wilderness for wilderness or our entertainment?  — The wilderness act at inception seems to have placed wilderness itself as the 'boon winner' of the act—but times change and broader cultural values erode inceptions.

Wilderness Rangers—those who might rove in the wilderness observing, learning, assuring our compliance with 'our own' legislation are subject to quantitative evaluation of their working tours—how many fire ring cleanings and obliterations were accomplished? Quantitative accounting that shifts the drift toward measurable tasks and away from the range of possibility and roaming the range—lotta range going out of the rangering ‘business’.
My escorts and friends in casual conversation admit that as rangers they, like the wilderness visitor, rarely get more then 100 feet from a designated or a user created trail—(on their days off  these wilderness rangers do go ranging and hiking this is when they deeply penetrate the land, but they  must do this on their days-off. I, to use business terminology as we now do with every thing ;-(, as a ‘consumer’ of rangers found that what I valued most was their knowledge of far flung mountains, lakes, and passes--their first hand assessments of terrain and trail and even more their insights regarding the plausibility of off trail travel. The gaining of this knowledge they did largely on their own time and own dime, and that seems not just unfair but possibly misguided—for I would prefer rangers as guides to rangers as maids—If we as a community (those entering wilderness) need a maid in the wilderness maybe we should confront that rather then  have someone else sweep it under the pine needles—but back to my earlier discussion: “My escorts and friends in casual conversation admit that they as rangers, like the wilderness visitor, rarely get more then 100 feet from a designated or user created trail”

—these 200 foot wide swaths I came to call the corridors of sacrifice for a variety of reasons—1st they are often ‘over exploited’ and show the wear and tear of  a low value motel where the incremental torments of too many overnight guests has matted the carpets, dented the lamp shades and left a plethora of hairs, toe-nail fragments and unidentifiable stains beneath your feet. Fire ring obliterations polka-dot portions of the corridor so densely that one confronts a field of ash and minute foil fragments occasionally sporting  larger trash gem-stones of magenta fruit bar wrapper—maybe just a little corner of it ....This micro trash and charred detritus lies like a veil and is in turn is veiled from our contemplation by rangers who relocate, gather up, and spread out the obvious signs of over use--sprinkling pine needles aesthetically over the compacted soil—a similacra to assure the next camper might receive that solitude in the wilderness feeling.

No road building is a hallmark of the wilderness act legislation, but I would contend that infact the JMT (John Muir Trail) and PCT  (Pacific Crest Trail) are road--or at least operate as roads within the wilderness areas. Thus as unpopular as it will be to say they are destructive to the ‘Wilderness Character’ the wilderness act seeks to assure. They are roads in my mind due to the following criteria—many to most traveling them are primarily concerned with getting from point A to point B unobstructed. Travel time and efficiency of movement are highly valued, and the natural light conversation of trekkers routinely lists entrance and exit points with little discussion or mention of  what transpired in between. These major artery “Trails” have a fixed location, to maintain this fixed-ness a rather extreme and artificial human labor is required--sure all done with hand powered tools, but there is a constant battle between the plasticity of the environments and the trail paths that cross them.

The ‘’Trail’ character remaining consistent as it crosses greatly varying political designations has somehow become valued above the local needs of the 'character' of these differing jurisdictions—the JMT and PCT are consistent as they cross from national park to wilderness area—just as highways are consistent as they cross from Nebraska to Iowa. You can not know you are in a wilderness area by the nature of the trail or conditions of its character. It occurred to me that there might be something un-wilderness about a path way that will not yield it’s course to a fallen tree—that aligns boulders in rows that resemble curbs—that is a foot or more deep trench from pounding traffic—that has standardized passage of 10 feet of overhead clearance and 8 feet of breadth to assure the passage of beasts of burden. Burdening beasts that deliver goods to wilderness trekkers and campers…Should the beasts of  a wilderness be toiling  to serve human needs is another good question to consider when assessing this notion of wilderness character—and now character slips across a boundary of usage and meaning as well….for we must question the dare i call it nobility or lack there of that we demonstrate as part of the wildernesses animal family.

Duane McDiarmid, who  blogs here as abracadabra:

On  abracadabra...
For centuries Art served people as a ‘medicinal vision’ used to examine and ‘salve’ the collective condition. My work seeks to function in a manner akin by fostering a complex matrix of responses regarding multi-faceted societal realities—or anxieties... I presume our collective condition is best described collaboratively using slippery poetics that allow us to laugh at ourselves and critique through celebration the contradiction-laden whole of being a human and human family. My work is then an abracadabra from which clarity might emerge from the absurd.

I once spoke to millions through television adds urging the buying of frozen pizzas…and would you please frequent a place called da*ry queen--where there is no milk. This practice became very distressing despite my then healthy fiscal bottom line-- I moved my ‘talents’ towards the service of smaller and less lucrative audiences and exploring tactics that value democracy and lead to creating work primarily for happenstance recipients in less traveled regions of geography and social classes.

Now it seems we in the ‘art vanguard’ have a purported interest in ‘community’ – but too often I’ve seen the use of this term community analogous to the way in my advertising days we used ‘dairy’ when promoting a franchise queen. Indicating something that should be present but is substituted with something artificial--a sanitized re-definition of community that covertly excludes anyone unsavory and thereby affirms the entitlement of a limited center. I raise my concern: Can art be made that serves whole communities inclusive of those we might be tempted or wish were not part of our community? How do we think of Family vs Sanitized Family—How do I as artist begin to serve the too creepy uncle, the derelict brother, the bi-polar holiday destroying mother? How might I reach these fellow humans, and do so with my own humanity intact? These paragraphs from my artists statement are extended when whom we serve transcends human interest altogether—can art do that?_

In wilderness I think we have to consider wildness as the ‘client’ wilderness is a community of geography, creepy cousins called mosquitoes, bears, clean water, balanced bacteria, delicate wildflowers and ancient rock slowly rising and crumbling—how does my artist mind eye and actions of body come into discourse with this community—how does wilderness receive the boon and kudos of my work????? It will take some abracadabra

zoom into this picture and enjoy the magic world of the mosquito netting--wherein members of the wilderness community are rendered unwelcome by me-- at evening in the tent  they were lovely fairies dancing all around the dome globe of my enclosure--my isolation from the wilderness I was here to experience-- out in the evening wrapped in garments for protection they were unwelcome relatives wrecking my perfect thanksgiving...In fact they are vital transient members of the community--and I learned their bites were far less annoying--no swelling, no itching then the mid-western and eastern mosiquitoes I know far better--in the sierrasmosquitoes were a pin prick and nothing more--still I slathered DEET more often then I ought have

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