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, July 31, 2013

By tory tepp

well, finally a moment to come down the mountain, taste of civilization again and attempt to put words to the past three weeks. it may be as difficult as the adventure itself to describe. being a technological neanderthal and a Luddite to boot does not help me to stay focused at a computer for very long. but perhaps a steady stream of alternating coffee and IPAs will help me stay focused.

prelude
as i stated in a blog post a long time ago, i ventured in to this endeavor with a sick and heavy heart. and the work that would result from this residency would be influenced not only by the direct experience of the residency itself but by all the concentric spheres of ecological relationships, both environmental and esoteric, that i passed through en route and harbored within. as such, my long standing penchant for the profane and debauched had not only caused the ruin of my romantic relationship, but had fairly blackened my heart with self-loathing, weariness and despair and this was my state as i hit the road west. i knew from the beginning that this journey, this residency, this ordeal, was going to have much needed effects upon my condition. it must. now, i realize that certain philosophical vices can not be removed from a man's soul, and who would want that?! but what i sought was a purge to let the light and the air back into my heart, a healthy balance to the brooding devil's bastards that have taken up a permanent residence in my orphaned soul. the reason for all this personal vomitous will become clear as the words unfold and my project takes shape.

the road
picking up my best friend, alexis, a canadian musician, in tampa we proceeded on a tour through the american south and southwest that spanned a wondrous array of landscapes, geographic and cultural. from the bright, fertile estuaries of both florida coasts to the steamy and mysterious bayous of southern louisiana and the requisite lurkings throughout new orleans, we roamed the night. from the hipster havens of austin, (silly) to the texas hill country to the tucson desert we braved the heat. we passed the imperial dunes, a sight which one would not believe existed in america. we thoroughly toured the salton sea, stopping in bombay beach to get the real story about this post-apocalyptic landscape as we drank pabst with the flies and the handful of denizens brave enough to inhabit the place. we rested in palm springs 115 degree heat before pushing on to the wholly unique landscape that is los angeles. the road lasted two weeks and was a slideshow of highway 10, with healthy doses of darts and drink and remarkably low levels of depravity. my friends level head, we were no longer young punks!, and a very debilitating lack of funds saw to that. the journey proved to be a good buffer and counterpoint to my ascent into the sierras. it was a chance to ween myself off  the stifling solitary behavior i had entrenched myself in, as well as a therapeutic bit of time spent with a best friend who is in the same boat in many ways. and, of course, the landscape was this grand build up to the crowning of the journey, the sierras.

into the wilderness
from this point on words not only lack the proper ability to convey the experience but the copious visions of majesty and glory and beauty is just too redundant to constantly and poorly express. a short book could possibly encompass all the travails and laughter and pain and transformations that occurred on the eight days we went into the wild with a pair of u.s. forest service rangers. i will encapsulate a few moments as best i can. 

it was clear from the get go that the idea of throwing a couple of artists into this environment, this situation, with seasoned rangers was pretty insane. i can say this because i am an artist, but from my experience, artists are generally whiny pussies (sorry grant). i always say, "it's artists who give art a bad name". so looking back at the adventure its tempting to ask, what were you guys thinking?! but instead i look back with a sense of pride at having survived with flying colors and a truly humbled sense of being. Easily one of the most grueling and difficult few days i've ever had, we managed to hang in there and accomplish all we set out to do, both personally and with the rangers.

on a personal level, the purge had truly begun in a torrent of sweat and blood. everything that wasn't strapped down by formative dna was ripped out by the loss of cabin pressure. the simple act of struggling and moving through this landscape had a restorative effect on the heart. its as if the massive trees and the stoic chunks of rock have an inherent resentment of a troubled soul and gradually scrape away at the grime of one's heart saying, you human, you have no sense of time, no true morality, how your petty troubles have clouded your vision and clogged up your heart. and the constant motion through them scrapes and polishes a stone heart, opening it up to its own natural lucidity. and what the trees and the stones don't grind away, the streams, creeks and lakes wash clean. after a weeks worth of de-testicalizing, icy waters i felt as clean as the day i was born and childishly receptive, primitive and bestial.

in geographic terms our hike proceeded as follows. we hiked up the bear creek trail camping at roughly 8500 ft for two days. this gave me the opportunity to gobble up some of my food. in my quest to purify i packed fresh foods, not understanding the criticality of weight to such undertakings. but the nutrition was worth the weight and i looked upon it as part of my penance. we spent the next three nights at roughly 9500 ft. this location was dear to me for we bathed in a waterfall and that area of the creek was home to a faerie island that i marveled at for days and may become part of a larger creative writing. during this stay, duane....

ok, i have forgotten to mention my partner throughout this whole adventure, duane. no doubt you will get a clearer sense for the man, the artist, through his own project and writings. but for my part, there could not have been a better partner for this journey. we shared a tent as complete strangers. duane's supreme wit nourished us all with endless and almost bruising bouts of laughter. his gifts as a teacher, his wide well of knowledge thoroughly buttressed the entire experience. his companionship along the way was another important medicine to my process of healing and discovery. coming from a world and living a life that only bukowski could be proud of were all the skeletons to come dancing out of my lurid closet, duane is an inspiration as a man and i am happy that he is my friend. 

so, we took the day off from work, yes work, i'll detail that more in a moment, we took the day off to have a hike of our own. it was on that day that we had a true experience of the land through which we roamed. we got off the beaten path and traveled up a low maintenance trail to lake italy and beyond. this was a 12 mile hike to an altitude of 11,600 ft or so. we were above the tree line, we were undaunted, we were awed. lake italy was one of the most serene and stunning lakes i've ever seen. we were at the top of the world and all was still; white alpine columbine, trickling snowdrifts, the lake copper green to deep indigo to violet, a few sparrows, grasshoppers and butterflies, the skeletal remains of glaciers starved by global warming. one's vision was crystal clear, barely the air to get in the way of your eye looking out and god's eye looking in. this hiked marked a turning point for us both as a moment of freedom and control over our experience of the mountains.

our final hike was to lake marie, approximately 10,500 ft. by the time we reached and pitched camp i had pushed my body about as far as i ever had and i was empty with weariness like a vessel waiting to be filled. and it was this afternoon off that my project, which had been percolating with every drop of sweat up the mountain, coalesced and began to fill my empty being. it was an afternoon of supreme luxury and gratification, to rest and lie under the sky in complete confidence of ones creative faculties. i could go on and on about the resplendent majesty of lake marie, but by that point, lake italy had already seduced me and i was content with that love affair. 

it so happened on that night, the final of our ascent, that i woke up in the middle of the night to piss. i might say that i had great difficulty sleeping every night, as though i were unable to get enough air due to fright or panic. it wasn't until the final night of the journey that i slept with my mummy bag unzipped that i suddenly experienced a deep and oxygenated sleep. turns out my mummy bag may have been too little for my beer bellied frame and the constriction was choking off my dreams in a b-movie embrace. nonetheless, i rose to pee off the cliff, the moon, near to full and practically a sun, had set. the entire milky way was reflected in the surface of lake marie, shooting star and all. it was the mark of the time to return down the mountain. skies so clear and alive with stars must be seen to be believed. and to do that you have to be on top of the world. and we were there. 

the final night we force marched almost all the way out camping where we took out lunch the first day on the way up. here was a series of falls and pools. amazing. i kept thinking as i hauled ass down the pacific crest trail to the bear creek trail that i was trudging through the ardennes, trying to get to bastogne before the germans had our guys surrounded. my fire shovel became my rifle and i marched without a single break, at least until i came to my beloved faerie island, where i stopped to finish making a map of the sweet little place for future reference. the final day and hike out was a different story. we had just dug out about 40 pounds of 12" spikes that we had to pack out. as i wanted to use them in my project i resigned myself to pack out about 25 pounds worth of rusty metal. the last half day was more like the bataan death march.

but made it out we did, with nary an injury or incident, blisters, blown shoes and beer deprivation notwithstanding. ok, thats the mean timeline for the adventure. and by our return my goatness had fully returned. i first thought about goatness while doing a residency in death valley. its when one takes on the erratic and nonrhythmic gait over a rocky and treacherous landscape in order to assume a steady movement forward. of course, after being sequestered in the wilderness for a while, goatness takes on any of a number of logical meanings. but i often like to think of it in terms of public art making as well. the terrain is never routine, never structured and even. one has to traverse the realm of public space in much the same way, allowing the feet to instantaneously adapt to the rocky terrain at all moments, despite the inclination towards rhythm, in order to safely and efficiently move across it. i won't go into the baser aspects of goatness here, aside from that feeling of moving through the landscape smoothly and poetically because you are no longer separated from your environment by civilizing, human constructs and costumes that prohibit, hobble and encumber.

rangers and the wilderness act
it was an interesting experience working with the rangers. and i will admit i had expectations vastly different from the reality of the situation. much of this could not be helped by any party and there is nothing negative in any way to convey. but for the sake of detailing the full experience, such discrepancies must be noted. foremost among them is the fact that the high sierra residency wasn't able to actually have a scientific component to it, which was startlingly and sorely missed. in working with the rangers, our work, and theirs, was basically relegated to the role of maintenance which can be broken down to landscaping, janitorial and security. the bulk of our work was firepit obliterations, picking out micro-trash and trail clearing, including several tree removals by way of a fantastic cross cut saw that was exhilarating and tedious. from my vantage point, aside from field education and regulation enforcement, the rangers were there there to maintain a wilderness theme park. the work we engaged in was hard and brutal and frustrating because much of it seemed contrary to what one would think of as obeying wilderness and nature. but it was about the wilderness act which is about preserving these areas as best we can for our enjoyment. we quickly realized that there was little to be gained from this work and that's when we went in search of our own wilderness experience. duane will have very eloquent things to say about all this i'm sure. i kind of just left it behind as not necessary or useful to my project. it is what it is. as long as humans have there grubby fingers in anything there is no use trying to theorize about its preservation or its pristine state.

the rangers as i experienced them were some of the healthiest, calmest and durable folk i've ever met. theirs is a devotion to a lifestyle, a life spent in nature, yet not necessarily about nature. they seemed completely in love with the environment in which they work and lived and their skills were about surviving within it. i think i was expecting the rangers to be more of a druidic sort, or stewards of the forest type. but in reality most of my queries about trees and wildflowers and particular ecosystems went unanswered. no slight to the rangers at all. their duty was altogether different from the kind of knowledge i was hoping to associate with. but it was refreshing to live with people when all niceties and all simple amenities are gone and you're all just filthy, hungry and tired little tribespeople chuckling under the stars at the secrets you're sharing and discovering together.

the nuclear winter
we came down from the mountain just in time. thunderstorms the night we emerged spawned 14 fires due to lightning strike. the aspen fire, which still burns and has burned 14,000 acres to date, became a major threat. smoke from the fire, a mere 15 miles away, drifted over and covered the land completely. ash drifted like snow and all sounds muted under the ominous mantle of smoke and threat. the effect on one's lungs was immediately apparent on day hikes, which in hindsight were probably a bad idea. but, when in rome... for seven days this oppressive nuclear winter like shroud hung over the entire region. its effects penetrated into the psyche as well. feeling triumphant from our journey and successful in to purging the disease from my heart, my exuberance was somewhat checked by the inability to work outdoors or roam. 

it was during this time that duane transformed the cabin into his workshop. as he was planning to do a performance on his next excursion into the wilderness, he had five days to assemble his costumes and his props. i won't presume to state his business, but the cabin became a constant flurry of fabric and sewing activity. since it was crucial for me to construct and merge my project within this landscape, i opted not to go on a second tour in favor of making the piece. so i spent the next few days gathering my materials from the the landscape and preparing all the necessary elements for the crucible.

alas, on the the day duane departed, the heavens opened up with rain and hail. and on the next day i saw blue skies again. whether the fire was being handled or the wind simply shifted, i know not. all i know is that the cabin suddenly shifted from duane's workshop to mine and i went into full production mode. in my enthusiasm i set off on a trek to blayney meadows to gather wildflowers, a 16 mile trek that i was so nonchalant about i didn't take enough water and was a gasping wreck by the time i limped up to the cabin. and so, i'm underway.

the project
at the onset of my explorations here in the sierras, i became immediately enamored with what i believe to be the greatest profusion of wildflowers i have experienced anywhere. the deeper we hiked into the mountains the greater was my astonishment. each little stream was inhabited by a profusion of plants lusting for the damp fertile soil. the leopard lilies scented the entire air and were a boon on the hike when suffering under the pack. in the meadows a completely different society of wildflowers flourished. everywhere you looked tiny flowers clung to bare rock, hung over streams or burst from decaying tree trunks.

at first my infatuation was leading me towards some sort of cataloging and presentation of these splendid creatures. but during our expedition my thoughts began to focus. at this point some sort of scientific collaboration was clearly out the window. yet working with the rangers was not without merit. it occurred to me that this whole thing, the wilderness act, the rangers and their life, america's love of such places, it wasn't about science, it was about romance, a deep, mystical romance where all things are one, and all love is one. this combined with my ongoing condition and rehabilitation, my purification, my opening, became the impetus behind my ongoing project. i carried a heart of stone through the wilderness, metaphorically as well as literally. my heart was ground down, polished, cleansed by the rushing waters, the stone, the branches of trees and the winds from the heavens. and as a trees decays over time to produce the very soil from which the wildflowers spring, so my heart was ground down to a fertile pile of dirt and starlight where the flowers of my love, of self, of another, of all, are beginning to grow into fabulous new forms and creatures. and so the project is unfolding, a love poem to the wilderness, a poem to my lover. i will write more of the process and development of the piece as it progresses. it is called "our wilderness heart".

have i rambled? i thirst. tap beer, gasoline and then back under the yoke of endless woodburning of poetry under the clear mountain sky. thank the gods, to be an artist!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Peace of Wild Things

by Andrea Spofford

"The Peace of Wild Things" by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
Brooks Mountain Range
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come to the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
***
Beach Bonfire
In the Noatak Wilderness the sun and moon rise at the same time, two bodies circling each other as a lasso around the Brooks Mountain Range to the North, and the Chukchi Sea to the Southwest. An Arctic sunset is but a stopping point--the sun moves behind the mountains and waits, darkened slightly but not disappearing, the gray light I've become accustomed to dimming as it becomes the night sky. The stars here are day-blind, their light still pulsing above us but invisible in their sparseness, the only sign of night the moon itself. We built a fire to cook and smoke the fish we caught and stoked it with driftwood collected at each ice line--the place in the sand and stones where detritus is pushed upward by ice each winter. On the banks of this lake there were at least three distinct lines, markers of winter during a time of warmth. The surrounding lakes, too, those of sunken and melting permafrost, those were markers as well, though one morning we woke up so cold nobody wanted to leave their tent.

Mike and I arrived at the lake first and the quiet, after our float plane took off again, was immense. It was almost a vacuum of silence, an ambivalent lack of noise broken soon by the calls of loons. We could hear the engine of the plane for awhile and then nothing but the wind and loons in the distance, those hermitic birds that are difficult to see and whose eggs you'll find first, before you see the birds themselves. Their calls sound mournful, but I hesitate to personify them that way. This quiet--even with the loons, the foxes speaking to one another, the wind, and the outflow of water in the distance--is complete. Days later I walked up the hill while Mike and I waited to be picked up and only a few feet beyond the bear fence the music we were listening to got quieter; only a few feet further and I couldn't hear it at all. There were no distant motors, or pile-drivers, or construction noises; no people talking, doors slamming, or cars starting; there were no creaking houses, or buzzing streetlights, or helicopters, or even planes, and all of that is a good thing--this was the most silent place I have ever been. 

Kotzebue Sound
After I have been outside I worry even more about natural things, and I understand the despair that Berry talks about. We need these silent places so that we can "rest in the grace of the world," and we need to protect this grace. When we got back to town we had dinner with a most excellent and interesting group of people--social workers, anthropologists, archaeologists, botanists, soil scientists, teachers, and more--and this was good too. At midnight we took a boat ride across the sound and as we pushed the boat into the water, there was almost no horizon line--the sky and water met seamlessly. The moon was rising as the sun was setting and both would soon circle around us. The next morning we picked blueberries for hours and as I lay in the tundra and filled my bucket with berries, I realized how free I am. I am thankful for these small moments, these days that blur the line between sea and sky.

Really Happening

By Esther Rogers

Getting really excited for our adventure in CO! Each new bit of information confirms that it is really real, that I am actually a part of this incredible collaboration, coming together of unique, wonderful people! Yay!
I've started reading up on the place we will be, and the people who were, and the land that is... I don't know how far I will get in the book list, but every bit I read helps me to feel more in humble awe of this opportunity, of the place...
Contract signed and mailed...
Packing list in the works. I add to it every few days as I think of something else, or change my mind about some odd item.
Counting down with my list of projects and items to complete before I set off on Amtrak from Rochester. Today I have rehearsal, teaching, then I drop off Scubba (my cello) at the cello doctor to have a repair made.
Really happening!

Wilderness Inventory

By Tama Baldwin

“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

--The Wilderness Act, 1964

"isolated figure, looking north"



Such a laudable thought--this image of landscape without evidence of people--and such a dream, truly.  If there is such a place as described in the Wilderness Act it is in the future when the earth is rid of us finally, which will come to pass, eventually, for this is how it is with life. Booms are followed by busts which are followed by boons which are followed by catastrophes.  I've been to the Burgess Shale and held those dinner plate-sized fossils in my lap and contemplated the randomness that has allowed my kind and not some other now extinct mammal to survive any number of population bottlenecks, the last of which I understand reduced the planet's population of my kind to fewer than two to ten thousand breeding pairs. (What interesting social dynamics those numbers must have generated!)  This was roughly 70,000 years ago of course, a drop in the bucket geologically speaking, but my goodness what progress we have made since the Toba Catastrophe.  There is not one single place currently under federal protection that had been truly "untrammeled"--not in 1964 and not now--and though I understand and appreciate and support the protective intention embedded in the language of The Wilderness Act I am not so sure that it helps to perpetuate such a euro-centric fantasy. We've already all but wrecked the atmosphere  of the entire planet and there's no getting away from that, not here in the arctic, not even in antarctica which has the sole distinction of never having been truly fully inhabited by "Man."  I fear our current crisis  has come to pass in part because we've divvied up nature into that which we shall use and that which we shall protect as if somehow by fencing in some currently uninhabited places with legislation we might be thereby freed to trammel the rest with relative abandon.  And trammel it we have--and still we are fighting about the protection of the rest, making deals, wheedling and pleading and bargaining with the kinds of people who should be beneath contempt, the ladies and lords of industry and their various agents who would suck and drill and bomb every last dollar out of every last mountain no matter the consequences--if they can get away with it--and they will if they hurry up and coerce and bribe and blackmail and threaten  and murder and jail those in charge of protection while there is still air fit for life.

Walking down the beach outside of Kotzebue today I came across a spotted seal that had been shot in the head and left to rot.  No one had bothered to remove the skin or harvest the flesh, which suggested to me the killing was for the sake of killing and nothing more.  Farther down shore, in the rusting heap of a barge out by where there are the vestiges of a garbage dump I found seagulls that that had been shot and stuffed in the crevices of the boat--and I had the strange sensation that I was in a museum devoted to the worst kind of degradation:  that of self hate.  It's a museum I have visited before, unfortunately, not just here in Alaska but almost every where I have lived.  I don't know of another kind of species that kills just to kill and not to eat.   It's been such a short span of time since the people who have lived in far northwest Alaska for such a long time have been forced into contact with all things European, but in that time a way of life--one in which the word wilderness did not exist because nature was not something seen as separate from the self--has come terribly undone.  Upon the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act perhaps a revision is in order, one which eschews the sentimentality of the earlier draft.  The era of concessions, of wheedling and pleading and dealing,  needs to be put to rest once and for all. There is a lot to be learned from the people of late prehistory--a lot to be taken away from the record they left behind--such as those cairns and tools and cache pits we surveyed last week.  I don't for a second sentimentalize the past.  I know that what I saw there in the Brooks Range were the seeds of all industry--anxiety about famine and raids and thieves and plagues--but along with the evidence of "man's" trammeling there was also  evidence that once upon a time we had a sense of proportion, a view of ourselves as one among many species sharing a landscape.  


We sat one afternoon last week in the open air of an ancient meeting house whose sod roof had long ago melted away, the blue dome of the stratosphere above our heads,  and listened to Hannah reading from the ethnographic record of that so called "wilderness settlement."  Each story she shared seemed to have been infused with an ecological sensibility, an ethic rooted in respect for both the self as well as for all things as if all things were animate.  Something came over us after that, an energetic sense of community that drove us to put our GPS units and backpacks and cameras away.  We wandered to the end of the lake and stood staring at the outflow creek that was rippling black with fish.  Without discussion or planning of any kind we set ourselves in motion, one of us gathering blueberries from the tundra, another fashioning a weir with willow and a mosquito headnet, yet another a nearly perfect fly from one small feather from the tundra  which was then woven atop a hook.  An arctic fox, whose job it had been to keep tabs on us every day, emerged out of the willows and watched from a distance as  we caught no more than we needed.   What we had we shared with each other, and for the entirety of the experience we gave and continue to give thanks.  We were just five people and that was just one afternoon in an otherwise tremendously busy week, but I felt a glimmer of hope in that experience.  I believe there is still a good deal that can be accomplished when people work together closely in small groups and out of a sense of a common cause.  Despair is not--nor should it ever be--an option.



"3 AM, Late July"

Nature Provides

 

By Jessica Segall
 
July 22nd - Deposited by float plane somewhere within the 6.5 million acres of the Noatak National Preserve.  Before our trip, we met with a local elder and Native Alaskan liason for the National Parks Service. He laughed when we mention the word "wilderness," saying that we are about to enter his "backyard".  I think about this sentiment on our trip, considering the meaning behind the term "backyard" - familiarity, governance.  A demarcation of the view of nature between Native Alaskans, who have thrived by subsistence hunting and gathering on this land for centuries, and the majority of modern Americans, who, if they have familiarity in the wilderness, know it on a recreational level.  Times have changed.  Motorboats replace the umiaq, snowmachines replace dogmushing or hunting on foot, yet the knowledge for Native Alaskans required to subsist on this land is an intimate, and communal understanding of animal migration patterns, seasons, distance, materiality and necessity.  

I re-read the definition of wilderness in The Wilderness Act, stating wilderness is "untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain ...without permanent improvements or human habitation."  Archeological artifacts are strewn throughout this preserve, dating back centuries.  There are lithics, stone formations and cache pits.  Yet this only triples the need for protection of these lands - as an important archeological site hosting some of the oldest relics of North American civilization, as a vast reserve of nature in an unaltered state and as the lifeblood and food of Native peoples.  I was aiming to write about wilderness and American identity, how the millions of protected acres and varied wilderness biomes could and should define our country as much as the latest media trends and foreign policy.  However, the protection of this land is larger than a question of American identity.  Alaska was ratified into statehood in 1959, while the indigenous inhabitants have continued to maintain culture here for centuries.  Borders may shift again.  I see the protection of this place not as an identity, but as a legacy.

And nature provides for us here, as it has for centuries. We pick tundra tea and blueberries, (not too much tundra tea - its a laxative!) and catch brown trout caught with a home-made fly fashioned out of gull feathers.  It took us days for us to prepare coming here - to pack food properly, to seal tents, to go through bear training.  I am nervous, as this is my second time in a Cessna (the first time of which was very turbulent and nauseating ride in the Nasca Desert, Peru).  Also, this is the most remote camping I have done, and the best chance I've had to encounter grizzly bears.  Bear spray, a highly potent form of pepper spray dangles from my hip at all times.  This hyper-awareness, the carrying of weapons, the shouting of "hey, bear!" every time we walk by a willow tree to warn bears of our arrival reminds me of the same 360 degree consciousness I employ when walking alone to my apartment at night.  There is a fear of the outdoors by the urbanite, the suburbanite, yet it presents no more realistic danger than driving to work or taking the subway.  Little brown sandpipers run along the lakeside, pecking about and cutely reminding me of my pet starling at home.  Later, I realize they have flown here from the southern tip of Argentina for their yearly migration.  We are not the only creatures who have traveled the distance to be here. 

  

A close - up of the spongy tundra, walking on it feels as if it wasn't designed for bipeds, leaving us off balance, and tired after a 3 mile hike. Meanwhile, wildlife leave elegant trails, superhighways shared by caribou and fox alike.


 

                   A simultaneous view from the east and west.  Time is confusing, and the lack of darkness means a lack of urgency. 




Monday, July 22, 2013

Light Chop off of Kotzebue







wildlife encounters, Kotzebue Alaska


By Jessica Segall
Tomorrow is the day we head out into the "wild".  After a week of sealing tents, stuffing bear barrels, bear safety training and the hospitality of the National Parks Service and Kotzebue residents, we will take the float plane out to Noatak National Preserve.  Today's trip up the Noatak River was delayed by a seizing outboard engine.  However, wildlife encounters were plenty, including beluga whale, fermented walrus, bearded seal, caribou, dried pike and a foraged, wild berry jam all present at the dinner table.  As a pescatarian for 25 years, I hesitated, but tasted everything, to the palate's delight.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Time

Loop Road; tundra and water pools.
By Andrea Spofford

The sky here varies in shade, ranging from vibrant and glowing blue, to steeled gray, to off-white, to even more shades in-between. The first day I was here we were convinced that it might be snowing, despite the fact it wasn't cold enough. Mosquitoes dropped downward from the sky so heavy and white that it wasn't until we went outside we realized they were not snowflakes, just heavy-bodied mosquitoes drifting with the wind, never rising. I have never seen such large mosquitoes, but they are slow, and though dense at times they cannot fit through a head net. It is how they frenzy my ears that is most notable, and how Hannah Atkinson described a previous trip--the way she wiped mosquitoes from her face as one would wipe water--that truly illustrates their thickness and size. I mention these mosquitoes, and my snow confusion, because of the sense of disorientation I have felt here, as if I am off-kilter slightly, though this is not a negative thing. I realize, rather, as I wander Kotzebue that this place is challenging in a most beautiful way.

Kotzebue Evening Sky

A few days ago we walked a ten mile loop (though the distance is debatable) outward from town, guessing from a distance which ridge line would bring us back into sight and which we would eventually cross on our return. Right now I can hear the kenneled dogs barking and howling--a few yap in excitement but their cadence together is striking. Out the window is a dog sled atop two shipping containers, a common sight in Kotzebue, and though this one lacks a pile of caribou antlers, the way the wood loops into the handlebar above the cargo bed is not only aesthetically pleasing, but intricately artistic. There is much craftsmanship here, and yesterday Norma told us about a boat builder working into the early morning; she found him by following the sound of his electric sander.


Chukchi Sea, Kotzebue
In a roundabout way I suppose I am trying to talk about time and the way that time is different here. In a sense, there is no time. Fishing boats leave in the late evening and return in the early morning; families picnic along the shoreline around two a.m.; walking home from dinner after ten feels safe because the sun loops around the town and the light, even when dim, is still gray. We are trying to leave for the backcountry on Monday and if the weather permits we will take two flights into the Noatak Wilderness. I met a man yesterday at the AC who came to Alaska to find his fortune; he wanted to go to the wilderness too, to fly along the river and hug the mountains and be fully outside of this town. The disorientation I feel, though, in some ways comes back to this idea of "leaving" town for the wilderness. The light itself--knowing when to go to bed, when to wake up--is enough to confuse my body, but the man at the AC pinpointed something else we've been discussing a lot here: where does wilderness begin? On Monday we are flying northward, but there are signs of wild-ness all over: fireweed flourishing in backyards and along roadsides, willows bursting through fences, the tundra only a few feet out of town, and the way houses are built atop small stilts to accommodate permafrost. I do think there is a distinct difference between where we are today and where we will be come Monday, but I also think our conceptions of what is "wild" are worth reexamining. For years I lived in Northern and Southern California with Mount Lassen, the redwoods, and later Joshua Tree, Sequoia National Park and King's Canyon as my backyard. I lived in Colorado on the Front Range and have spent numerous seasons in the Rockies, and exploring the Southwest is a trip I always say yes to. These are only a few of the places that are so connected to who I am as a person and to my experiences of the world. Right now I am wondering about this connection and my vehement assertion that we are created by these landscapes, whether we realize it or not. I consider how few people know of this vast landscape in Northwestern Alaska and how strongly those who do love and care for this place, a dedication that is not controlled by a specific notion of time, but rather a malleable awareness of it--the idea that this landscape is both influenced by and at the mercy of encroaching time. I wonder why it took coming to Alaska to articulate something as simple as this: the landscapes that create me are not a separate wilderness from me. And I wonder how to help others see this place as I am seeing it: exuberant, overwhelming, and stunningly beautiful.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Noatak Wilderness Science and Art Collaboration

By Peggy Lawless

The Aldo & Leonardo art-science collaboration at Noatak National Preserve began July 15. Three artists (Tama Baldwin, Jessica Segall, and Andrea Spofford) will assist archaeologist Michael Holt in surveying an important prehistoric site.


Nan Christianson, Hannah Atkinson, Frank Hays, Willie Goodwin,
Andrea Spofford, Jessica Segall, Tama Baldwin, Mike Holt

Tidbits

By Esther Rogers

*Constantly in the back of my mind,are miscellaneous disorganized tidbits.
-disorganized tidbits of ruminating about this Colorado trip...
*
H asked if four corners was where the kivas are.
Kiva: "A large underground or partly underground room in a Pueblo Indian village, used chiefly for religious 
ceremonies." In what ways will learning about the tradition of spiritual practice by the Anasazi and Pueblo - so intricately connected with the famous kiva structures themselves - influence my music, or my own faith?
*
Cluster harmonics/Singing or tonalizing while playing cello/Sounds of wind, echoes/Resonances. "Esther and Scubba in a canyon creating/composing melodic lines ready for orchestration at a later date..." (B)
*"The problem with Tompkins wasn't his plan to save the land, it was his plan to freeze the people in place. The conflation of a natural ecosystem with a 'natural' culture was dangerous, it condemned the Chileans to not becoming what they might become." (Patrick Symmes) How will I participate in wilderness preservation but also contribute to a modern, current art?
*
Rosin
Tuner
Music stand. Can I borrow a music stand from someone in the area community rather than packing mine? (for when I'm not on site)
Zoom recorder. G says I have to learn to control the amount of conversion...
*

How many snacks will I need to pack for my 2 day journey on the train?? 
*

Empiricism & Its Discontents

By Tama Baldwin


--“The proofs fatigue the truth.”  Georges Braque



dogs of kotzebue, # 1



These days leading up to our departure for the Brooks Range are deliciously long, the sun lassoing our heads most of the hours of the clock until our sense of ourselves in time is mostly lost.  I have to force myself to wind down and turn in because something in the body seems to love the light so much it rises and rises into it with no sense of an ending.  We are all feeling a little like those flowers you see every where down south in the big cities of Anchorage and Fairbanks:  all those  buckets and busted up canoes packed bow to stern with snap dragons and lobelia and dahlias and petunias blowing themselves up in little color bombs.  It would be interesting to know how the hormonal processes of those flowers are altered by the absence of darkness—it’s a desperate race to be sure, to flourish as fast as possible before the onset of winter.  In Kotzebue the horticultural predilections of people of European descent give way to the aesthetics of the hunter-gatherer.  Though I’ve seen more than one citizen with a weed whacker over their shoulders heading to some location I’ve yet to uncover the standard practice here is laissez faire when it comes to things like landscaping and lawns, which is an aesthetic I very much prefer.  I would never get away with it in Iowa City, but I’d love to let the yard surrounding my house retreat to its prairie origins just as here the tundra continues to assert itself despite the assaults of graders and pavers and four wheelers and pickup trucks.  I like the tangle of fireweed and bluebells and bear grass and the clusters of daisies that are nothing less than prolific in springing from the most distressed scabs of earth.  I love the dogs that guard the front of so many of the houses, the lot of them incredibly noble in demeanor:  they are lords each over their domains—just as the ravens outside our little red house choked in shrub willows completely own the piles of pipe and Northland storage containers stacked in a lot across the road.

Maybe I am giving the light  more credit than it deserves.  Perhaps the inspiration that keeps me up past my normal bedtime stems from the incredible welcome we’ve received.  Every one involved in this project, from the representatives of the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service and the Colorado Art Ranch believe utterly in this collaboration we are about to undertake in what the park service swears has been scientifically proven to be—botanically speaking—a “pristine wilderness.”  The conversations around the dinner table have been dense and vibrant, as packed with laughter as debate.  It occurs to me that despite the presence of the twin sirens of the wired world—internet and TV--  the art of conversation is still alive and well in Kotzebue.  Tonight the focus swerved toward one of my favorite topics—how we know what we think we know about the world—and more importantly a debate about the merits of so-called “anecdotal evidence” versus  “empirical proof.”  

The push-pull between the anecdotal and the empirical plays out all the time here.  When the road to the Red Dog Mine 90 miles north of Kotzebue was finished and trucks began to roll their loads of zinc to the Chukchi Sea the caribou who migrate along the coast were affected by the overt presence of human industry.  Those in favor of the mine argued, anecdotally, that there was little to no impact, but the scientists who radio collared and tracked the caribou noted that many of the animals shied away from crossing the road, delaying their southward passage for almost 40 days--a disruption that was nearly catastrophic both for the animals and  hunters alike.  True subsistence existence is already all but impossible now with the changes wrought by climate change and the incursion of mining and drilling, and the Red Dog Mine clearly has only made things worse in this regard.  The caribou who failed to cross  the road would not survive the winter, and those who finally dared to cross after over a month of delay had to burn down their winter fat hurrying to catch up with the rest of the migration.  Those in favor of the mine now say the trucks stop when the drivers see the caribou—thus problem solved—but anecdotes like that sound just a little cartoonishly too easy, and so  I am eager to know what the scientists still studying the issue will have to say when they finish tabulating this year’s migration patterns and numbers. 

The part of the Brooks Range where we are heading next week is rich with cultural history, and each day as we survey looking for new archeological sites  and assessing the condition of existing digs we will be confronted with how we know what we know about the people who left evidence of their lives behind.  No life can be perfectly reconstructed and interpreted from the fragments, and the longer the delay between the social reality of the artifact and the social reality of its interpreter the likelier it is that the story of the object and the person who made it will be lost to time.  The sad truth is that the most durable of things are often the most mundane—bones and stone, mostly, and these tell a story of gut level survival which while important says little to nothing about the interior life of the people who once lived here.  Their descendants, though, have plenty of insight to offer, almost all of it by way of story.  The traditions are oral, of course, and thus  when the empiricist arrives demanding something tangible--proof that what the elder claims was actually how things were--our ability to fill in the gaps or  to flesh out the whole story tends to suffer.   I love the empiricists and their need for their kinds of truths--though maybe it would be better if we could figure out a way for the quantifier to meet the dreamer halfway.   There is always a bead of truth in every story, no matter how speculative, no matter how freewheeling in relation to material reality.  Even lies open a window, albeit obliquely, into a shared reality.  In the mid 19th Century the Inupiat prophet Maniilaq foretold the arrival of Europeans  in far northwestern Alaska and of boats powered by fire and boats that could fly.  The last of his prophecies have not yet come to pass, but in this age of climate change they are starting to feel less and less like fantasy.  The village of Ambler is not yet a teeming metropolis--though with the on-going invasion of Canadian mining interests in this part of the United States it now seems plausible.  I don't want to be there though the day the whale he prophesied arrives that far up the Kobuk River--be it by tsunami or by flooding. 

wing'd boat












Thursday, July 18, 2013

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Adrien Segal: An Artist With Ecological Expression


By:Ryan Mudgett
Photo credit to ~ adrien segal art.design.data.sculpture © 2013 
Mirroring the scientific process artist Adrien Segal expresses brilliant works of art that display tales of places where humans and nature overlap. Her imagination and sculpting skills serve as a platform to narrate the invisible by telling a story of place that is intuitive, and serves as a natural history lesson for the viewer. Segal’s work is truly inspired by data visualization, natural phenomena, and long term scientific research.  Her creative form of sculpture accurately represents trends in water use, alluvial flow, tidal datum, and other water related topics . Striving to use her art as a universal form of communication she is successful in transforming information that reveals trends or patterns in history by depicting them as three dimensional forms (Segal, 2013).

After examining her work I begin to notice a slight shift in my perspective of the natural world and how it is painstakingly introduced to the masses. By taking decades of scientific data and expressing the numbers and trends in her sculptures, Segal transforms the complexities of science into a form that many can understand.  Her work not only steers clear from bland graphs and charts but also brought me to an Aldo Leopold statement that can be found in his Land Ethic:

Photography courtesy Aldo Leopold Foundation.
  “The ordinary citizen today assumes that science knows what makes the community clock tick; the scientist is equally sure that he does not. He knows that the biotic mechanism is so complex that its workings may never fully be understood.” Aldo Leopold

Segal’s art work expresses a firm push of creativity that begins to represent the complexity of certain biotic mechanisms and how they respond to anthropocentric world.  It is up to the curious individual to view her work with desire and the will to learn more about her thought process and message. In respect to Leopold we can only act ethically to something we can see, feel, understand, love, or otherwise have faith in, and Segal does just that with her art work (Leopold, 1970).

Here is a snippet of Adrien Segal's Art.  I was taken back by her piece "Snow Water Equivalent Cabinet". 






Literature Cited
Leopold, A., & Schwartz, C. W. (1970). A Sand County almanac: with essays on conservation from Round River. New York: Ballantine Books.
Segal, Adrien (2013) “Adrien Segal: Artist Statement” http://www.adriensegal.com/#!statement/cihc accessed July,2013 adrien segal art.design.data.sculpture © 2013

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Coordinates


27.8003° N, 97.3961° W

By Andrea Spofford

As I wait to check in for the Anchorage to Kotzebue leg of my trip, I find myself counting the cities where I will stop along the way: Corpus Christi, Houston, Seattle, Anchorage, Kotzebue. I'm watching my dogs right now as they run on the dock. It was in the nineties here today and I spent four hours on the boat, my fishing rod an Ugly Stick, my bait croakers, waiting for nothing, not even a flirtation or a hint, the small fish vibrating in my hand when I put it on the line. The boat was nice and it was hot and everything was just sun and salt water.  From one of the southernmost points of the United States to one of the northernmost, my coordinates will change from 27.8 North/97.36 West to 66.89 North/162.58 West tomorrow morning. I'm not a cartographer and I can't read maps that well--I know topographies only so far as they can tell me the hill I will have to climb. But what strikes me about these numbers is how fascinated I have become with them, the difference between 28 degrees North and 67 degrees North being the difference between this coastal place and that tundra place, the difference between two contrasts and the in-between I will fly tomorrow.
66.8972° N, 162.5856° W
My writing process has been challenged by this trip because I don't know what to research. When I approach a poem or an essay I approach idea first, research second. This is similar to how I approach scholarly writing too--idea first, research second. I can't do that with this trip because I don't know this place; I've been saving PDFs to my desktop, printing out what I think might be useful, but Alaska--the entirety of it--is too large a subject and the place we are going is so unfamiliar to me that I don't know where to begin. In my writing, as in my physical location, this is the difference of about forty degrees. I've been writing lately about in-between spaces, the what-ifs and intangibles brought up by our natural environment, the impact of vistas, worries of environmental carelessness, how I fit into the picture. I know that, for me, writing about environment always comes back to an obsession with physical place and the coordinates where I stand; tomorrow those coordinate change and my landscape changes and my writing changes too.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

By Jessica Segall

One might think that one residency in the arctic would prepare you for the next.  As I prepare to leave for the Noatak Wilderness in mid - summer, the contents of my bags reflect a world of difference from my journey to Svalbard in the Autumn of 2011.  Close to the equinox, the sun will be up 24 hours a day for the first 9 days of our residency, where in Svalbard, we were graced with a sunrise which transitioned directly into sunset. The sun hugged the mountains, and only once do I remember feeling the sun's warmth on the side of my face.  Svalbard was a planet of ice flows seen from a moving ship, and participating in the wilderness residency in Noatak will include hours of hiking through boggy marsh grass and tundra.  Svalbard has no indigenous culture, and has only been inhabited by those seeking economy, first Russian and Scandanavian trappers and then miners, a university and now a growing tourist industry.  We will be working with the National Parks Service in Noatak, collecting data at a site of rare prehistoric petroglyphs, artifacts of an ancient and continuing culture. 

Rice, seaweed, rainpants, mosquitto netting, tent stakes, emergency blankets, an unfortunately hardcover copy of "The Human Experiment", wool everything.  These items go into my bags, striking a balance between over-preparedness and what I can carry - preparing for weather 45 - 85 degrees, sun, rain or snow.

 Another balance to be found is what a friend once called, "the balance between culture making and culture taking," a research residency as a means for production of new artwork.  A balance between  listening and speaking, between project outlines and thinking creatively in the moment. I am happy to be invited as part of the collaboration Fused Muse.  I will be taking footage during this residency to accompany a new composition and performance thematically formed around endangered languages and climates. 









Friday, July 12, 2013

Ten Pound Test


By Tama Baldwin

The package of jasmine rice was what pushed me over the edge.  Ten ounces of aromatic grains grown and harvested in the Thai Highlands and sent by barge and train and plane and truck to my local food co-op.  And there I was in my kitchen in Iowa City boxing them up again along with other dry goods so I could mail them to myself care of General Delivery Kotzebue, Alaska.  The goal was to simplify my travel essentially, to make certain that my days in the Aldo & Leonardo Residency were uncomplicated by  domestic tasks in a new place.  If I were merely traveling this summer I might have just rolled with the local fare, but there is a lot of work to be done in the next month and the creative soul has a literal appetite all its own and my cheap and easy food favorites will help me feed it.  And yet I couldn't keep myself from tabulating the miles those grains will have traveled--in addition to the miles I have just traveled.  I am in Anchorage now, visiting friends for the weekend before heading north on Monday.  We are going to hear Linda Hogan read her poems on Sunday night, yet another thing--like the rice--that feels less like a luxury than a necessity.  There she will be, at the podium, having herself flown thousands of miles to bear witness to her readers, many of whom have also--like me--just accumulated thousands upon thousands of frequent flyer miles.

For all my critique of the Anthropocene I am utterly an agent of it, from the industrialized agricultural products that form the core of my diet to my love of travel.  I know the formula by which we balance our sociological and ecological responsibilities is not that simple.  My modern life gives me creative liberty--the opportunity to pursue a deeper understanding of the wilderness--and still that understanding has caused me to question the means of my inquiry.  Arctic Alaska is one of the last places on earth where people still have the opportunity to pursue a subsistence living--though among the many changes that have occurred in the last hundred years--that way of being has been under assault in large part by the world I currently hail from, which I now tend to see not so much through the lens of ethnicity or nationality, but  by means of what I can only name as an ecological identity.  I am from Iowa, the land of the corporate farm, a place where a true hunter-gatherer would likely starve given the paucity of animal habitat and forage fit for human consumption--if, of course, she could hunt and gather long enough to keep from being gunned down by irate landowners or  arrested by the police force those landowners have purchased with their taxes.  I've been so dialed into the industrial grid for such a long time I fear I've lost sight of my ecological origins--which  I believe has profound implications for our collective future.

It's a sad small gesture I know, but I decided to call my friend Jay at the last minute even as I was packing and ask him if he would give me a fishing lesson.  He is, among many things, a consumate fly fisherman, as well as a person possessed of sufficient savvy to understand exactly what it was I was asking of him.  He knew I wanted  to know at least a little something about subsistence, and he has a deep understanding of the history of the sport he loves so much it could be said his love borders on obsession.  He took me to our local hunting and fishing goods store and helped me pick out a rod and spinner and a pile of lures, a different type for each species of fish he thought I might have a shot at catching.  He taught me how to tie an improved clinch and to set the drag and how to cast as we trolled the farm pond deep in the heart of the Circle 7 Ranch where he has attained the property owner's permission to fish.  It was late on a Friday night at the beginning of July--that exact point in mid-summer when the tomatoes in my kitchen garden start to grow like teenagers, in fits and starts, falling all over themselves in awkward tangles that I will not be able to smooth out by the time I return from my long neglect of them in late August.  The fish were cooling themselves in the deeper pockets of that pond, pockets whose location I couldn't begin to fathom, which secretly relieved me because I was worried about what would have to be done should I actually catch a fish.  I worried that my line, ten pound test,  wouldn't be strong enough to keep hold of what I caught and that the fish might break away with the hook in its mouth, which seems to me a causal yet unforgivable kind of cruelty.  Don't worry, Jay said.  It's strong enough.  Just keep moving.  You've got to find where the fish are. And so I cast--paused-- and reeled, tipping the rod downward and swiping it left and right to simulate prey, but try as I might there was not a fish to be found.  Maybe they are not here I said.  Maybe they died in this horrible heat, but no he assured me they were there.  Look, he said.  There's the nest of a Blue Gill--I saw a broad divot in the sand just off shore, a whorl of grass--but no fish.  I didn't know fish had nests.  I also didn't know fish ate fellow fish of the same species which he soon demonstrated when he took my as of yet untested rod and made a quick cast on my behalf.  The whole pond knotted up around the lure  the instant  it hit the water and the drama was launched, the little fish he had hooked instantly attracting the attention of a much larger member of its own tribe.  He swears he's had fish try to steal fish he's caught as he's reeling them in, and I suppose I believe him.  Hunger is still the rule that trumps all other rules.  I love the familiarity between the two words lore and lure.  It's through  story-telling how we learn how to be both within ourselves and our larger communities, and so I suppose this is how I hope to reconcile the carbon expenditure that is my travel far from home this summer.  May insight come to me by whatever means-through the lens of my camera or the casting of my line or the sharing of ideas, meals, memories.






tools of the trade






detail, tools of the trade












Wednesday, July 10, 2013

An Interview with Dr. Ariel Lugo ~ El Toro Wilderness (March 1-30, 2013)

Artists & Scientists Speak the Same Language 
By: Ryan Mudgett




Ariel E. Lugo, director of the Forest Service’s International Institute of  Tropical Forestry in Puerto Rico.Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service

 In El Toro, Ariel Lugo director of the Forest Service's International institute of Tropical Diversity, and board member of the Society for Ecological Restoration, noted from his experience that the highlight of the month was the changing perception between artists and scientist.


Q: Why is the intersection of Art and Science so important to you and your work?

A.L. One intersection that was interesting to discuss with the artists was complexity. I have a lot of respect for artists because they are similar to scientists in the sense we are both creative people and are both trying to tackle complex situations while constantly trying to interpret them through some type of model. The models of course are different but the objectives are the same. I think there is a natural affinity there. So I was curious to find out how they would react to the complexity of a tropical rain forest and what kinds of insights they would have. 

Q: What was the highlight of the month?

A.L.  I took artists on field trips outside the wilderness to see other types of wilderness. My role was to interact with them over the weekend. I participated in the synthesis and introductory parts of the program. 

The highlight for me in the interaction was the perceptions that the artist had about the complexity of nature. I found out quickly in my interactions with them, that we spoke the same language. We both deal with complexity and we are both sensitive to complexity. Another interesting thing is we are equally interested in how humans interact with natural systems. That part really amazed me because we got into some heavy duty discussions about how nature and humans interact and develop novel, or new systems of nature. The depth of the discussions and the topics of the discussions were the highlight because for me, science is only for scientists, but to discover that the artists are  looking at the same phenomenon but from a different perspective was, ohhh, wow, how interesting.


"We are dealing with a living system and living systems change and always respond to our presence. "



Q: As a scientist do you feel like you influenced the artists?

A.L. First of all the artists inspired everyone at the Institute.  At the end when we had the summary which was done at the museum, I was in the audience listening to them, because at the beginning the scientists did most of the talking and then towards the end the artists did most of the talking. This was logical, because we introduced the wilderness towards the beginning and then during the closing stages they were telling us what they saw and interpreted.

When we had our final activity, we had all of our technicians as well as the scientists that had been out with them in the field throughout the month.  This activity gave us all two minutes to say something and I was really taken back by our technicians. They were very expressive of what the experience had done to them to the point that one of our technicians that had a lot of experience in the field and I’m talking in the order of 30 years.  She said that going out with the artists had been the highlight of her career.

That completely took me back and I said to her how can you say this? Were you overstating or what? Or was that really the way you felt? She said  that going out with the artists had been her highlight with the Forest Service. That impressed me because the person that I’m talking about is a very serious technician.

In the final activity I also realized the artist perception had changed because I don’t think we ever told this to them specifically, but they perceived that the Forest Service looks at things long term. They highlighted the importance of looking at things long term and they made a case for observing nature that way. That came out of them! We did not see that coming, it was their changed perception. So I am thinking to myself my god! They really found the heart of the research program and the Forest Service.The one thing that we all agreed within the agency is that our research is long term, this is what gives us value and the ability to understand forests. To have this group of strangers come to us and spend a month with us was truly an amazing thing. But to notice that they came out with a strong ethic of how important the long term is was absolutely remarkable.This really flabbergasted me and then to top it all, after the artists realized what the residency had done to them, they proceeded to ask the scientists how they felt about repetition.

Artists question scientists: "You guys, every week for the last month and year go out and visit the same place to do the same thing. how do you feel about the repetitive nature of your actions do you still have the wonder?"

A.L. - Of course our technicians, who are the ones that actually have to go the woods to the same place every single week, were then able to express that each time they find ways to entertain themselves in the woods.  Each time the forest becomes a new experience just by looking at them differently or by concentrating on a particular part of it so that it maintains the freshness of the first experience.It is never old for us to go to a litter basket, or data collection station, or a river reach. It is always wonderful for us even though we do it every week for the duration of our careers.

I would say that it was a very moving experience for me because I had never thought that our job would ever be visualized by anyone that would think that our work is boring because we are always doing the same thing. In reality we are not because we are dealing with a living system and living systems change and always respond to our presence.  So no matter how many times we visit we still have that sense of wonder that our eyes were capturing for the first time.

The artists, for example, all these artists, their style is to use whatever nature gives them to do their thing, and document their art and leave it behind. For example they were experimenting with pigments that they found in the woods or certain substances and their interpretations became something I have never seen before.  They looked at the forest from different angles and they did wonderful things to highlight parts of our job that we do as routine yet never pay attention to.

So all of that was part of the magic of the month. For the artists it was their first time in our wilderness, for us we rediscovered what we did through their eyes. It was fantastic; everybody here in Puerto Rico was uplifted by the experience.

Q: What was the most absurd situation you experienced at the El Toro Wilderness?

A.L. Well I told the artists that they made me feel stupid because you go out with the artists and they start asking you questions that you can’t answer. They ask you questions like, what is this, what is that? 

There was one woman that I took into the forest, and she asked me so many questions that I couldn't answer, because when you look at a complex system for the first time your eyes, they are looking at everything!  So she would point out to a color, or to a substrate, or an object and ask a question for each thing.  As a trained scientist when you don’t know the answer you have to say I don’t know because we don’t try to speculate. Personally, I am not a super naturalist, I am a systems ecologist. I am looking at the forest and I see functions in a visual process, and as the artists they are confronting you with the pieces of the forests.  So to me I felt dim-witted because I could not answer a lot of the questions that they were posing to me. It was an unusual situation because you always think that you are in control and when they start barraging you with questions that you can’t answer, it can really throw you off. 

Q: What was the most beneficial outcome of your experience?

A.L.  It’s the bliss thing that takes place. Everybody at the Institute felt better about what they do because of the interactions. But what I really treasure is that I made new friends. For example I now have some way to work with these artists here in Puerto Rico and we have the contacts of the people that are outside of Puerto Rico. So basically you have created new colleagues, and new people that are interested in what you do.  This new communication flow is important for the future of all of our emerging goals.