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, September 10, 2013

The Wilderness Line by erogerscello

By Esther Rogers

Quilt, book, camera, cell phone, I pulled open the squeaky front door and stepped outside into the cool grey-blue of early morning to watch the sunset and call my boyfriend. Am I in the wilderness?

This first week in the 'desert wilderness of Colorado' has been different than I originally expected, complete with hot showers, ice-cream, box springs and mattress, internet. Our discovery of the wilderness so far has not been through the window of a tent but I have been learning so much. 

At the Dolores Brewery we were again asked (by Marietta the field manager this time) what we hoped to gain from this experience. In an attempt to answer this question we talk about our work, our hopeful productivity, but more and more about what we learn from the dialogue and conversation with the scientists we are getting to know. These conversations range around every possible topic, and many of them are funny, over my head, fascinating, deep... I want to record them, and have tried to use my Nascam or camera video to hold them in concrete for future review, but like often special performances and improvs left unrecorded by not hitting the magic button or the batteries running out, these conversations seem destined for the now, for the vapor of our present interaction, and their impact will be left in the impressions made in our souls, to our artwork, to some un-quantifiable inquiry about the value of our work.

In our wilderness collaboration here we dialogue with scientists entrusted with the care of the wilderness...  we talk about ideas and lots of questions. We talk about...

- Bat observances with sound wave recorders; what level frequency are they? can two waves be picked up simultaneously? are feeling and hearing separate things? can we hear without a brain?
- Can an archeological landscape which is estimated to have had (60?) thousand people at one time and now is designated as a wilderness preserve with no residents, actually be wilderness?
- What are people coming cities most afraid of when they enter a wilderness?
- What shapes social responsibility and morals in a time when traditional moral voices are being less effective?
- The people living here long ago: what did they think about their existence? was it amazing to live in a cliff house, were they afraid of each other, were they all artists?
- The Navajo belief that all people are artists, that life is an art, there are no separate vacationed artists.
- How do we preserve the smell of the wilderness?
- Who should be granted access to the wilderness?

Yesterday I rode the intern house mountain bike to the closest point at which Canyon of the Ancients National Monument can be accessed. I couldn't tell from the map whether I could enter the park at the end of County Road W or not, so I thought I'd wander that direction and find out. I still couldn't tell when I got there- no signs to mark public or private, though I could see the canyon landscape in about 1/4mile. I made a phone call to see if I could get access there or not. (If I was on my own representation I would have just hiked in anyway, but seeing as my picture was in the paper representing a government agency, an art organization, a research institute, and a museum, I figured I better not do anything stupid.) In the end I was told I couldn't get into the monument there- or anywhere nearby because it was surrounded by private lands and some land owners are violent about trespassers.

I thought about The Wilderness Line- that point at which the land is labeled wilderness instead of rural or whatever bureaucrat label "the other" is given. How do we gain access to "the wilderness" and who gives it to us? CANM seems like a secret wilderness that is intentionally being isolated from the public to preserve it, and yet it is legislatively NATIONAL property. I have to admit I was pretty ticked off that after my pedaling I couldn't go for a hike, and I blamed everybody, while full knowing that there are incredibly complicated issues consciously being worked through by intelligent people regarding access.

From my vantage point I write a piece, and others sign papers, map routes, document land use, and raise funds. The conversation continues...


  1. Wilderness can be elusive. It's often found hiding in plain sight.

  2. I can't help thinking about the analogy of the 'wilderness of our soul' and our fear and hesitancy to explore it. To travel deep into the unknown and the unexplored that has no end, to discover ourselves.