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.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

wilderness heart to the beach

By tory tepp

it seems like it was all a dream at this point, sitting here in a beach bar in florida, drinking as it were. i met with the director of the atlantic center for the arts for lunch today and my recollections of the summer finally brought me to a place to finish the tale of my wilderness experience, more specifically, the manifestation of said experience as an art project. it seems it was a summer of synchronicity and it's been interesting to hear similar tales of reflection and redemption, though i am in no way redeemed and have repeatedly proven myself to be intrinsically flawed and beyond hope of that sorts. nevertheless, the experience in the wilderness and the subsequent work of art was a process of purification and ritualized art making beyond value and i return inspired and refreshed from the effort.

so the final days of my residency were colored by the ash and exhaust of the local fire. on the one hand, outdoor activity was rewarded with bitter effects as being confined to quarters in the sierras was out of the question. on the smoke filled bright side of things, most of the ranger tours were cancelled due to imminent fire threat or redirected priorities. this meant that i was able to spend more time with them in my final week as i crafted my project, and this was a major benefit in terms of understanding the group as a whole.

i have to revisit the rangers at this point and make clear how i feel. if my assessment in the prior blog seemed harsh, it was completely due to my own romantic expectations of their duties as well as an uneducated idea of their purpose. but i was immensely attracted to the simplicity and intensity of their lives. they loved what they did and it was not encumbered by the overspray and backwash of petty bullshit that chokes the simple joys out of life for so many. they loved the wilderness. it was a passion born out of an understanding of their place within it and a larger picture of being united with a greater spirit, a greater energy. and in the sierras, the idea of god is evident in every moment the eye is open. they knew this, they were attuned to a way of life within this setting, the stone halls of the gods, the verdant groves of the goddess, the cathedrals of poets and fauns. theirs was a blessed existence marked by the flagellant work of the truly devout, the inexhaustible fatigue of the divinely driven. and the health of their soul was reflected in the hardiness of their frames, lusty, zealous, whimsical, loyal. i was happy among them, simply happy and devoid of the gripes and rashes prone to civilized folk. i salute them, i thank you all.

and from my interaction with these brave, beautiful folk, my project was conceived. from the confinement of smoke and ash filled skies the litter was birthed. and out of the sense of renewed spiritual capacity, out of the smoke from the total war burning of sherman's march all over my love, a phoenix rose burning and brilliant. the project was about romance, more accurately a nineteenth century romantic ideal of wilderness and nature and god. since i had found concurrent stream of such romantic energy, my own inner purposes aligned with this greater group, i had no doubts and all the usual art school prompted over-thinking and self-doubt were immediately dispelled. it seemed way too simple, but it was. the romantic ideals of these true lovers, the rangers, that was what the wilderness was all about. a romantic love beyond ourselves.

the project began with me asking for poems from the rangers; i asked everyone associated with the high sierra wilderness crew to write a love poem about their favorite tree or wildflower or place. originally the idea was to create a single poem constructed from ideal bits and pieces of all the poems. but once i started to gather and read what they had written... and let me say as someone who is not a novice to community art projects, getting feedback of this nature from community collaborators can be a bitch and i was nervous asking them for something so personal, so delicate. and i was blown away by not only the amount of responses i received, but the intense, open nature of the poems. there was no awkwardness, there was no bashfulness, they wrote straight from the heart, with conviction and verve and once i read them i could not possibly bust them up. the words needed to remain together. the sentiments of each ranger had a place within the wilderness heart project, they WERE the wilderness heart project.

so, i'm already getting bored talking about my project, maybe it's a full afternoon of beer, thanks a lot nancy, but i feel like i need to be more deliberate and articulate about the nature of the project than i am able to be right now. the final strokes tomorrow.

Interview with Dr.Grizelle Gonzalez ~El Toro Wilderness

By Ryan Mudgett

Grizelle Gonzalez
Photo Credit: US Forest Service- Dr. Grizelle Gonzalez

Dr. Grizelle Gonzalez is the Acting Project Leader for the International Institute of Tropical Diversity and participated at the El Toro Wilderness residency. Dr. Gonzalez is interested in the research of soils, decay, nutrient cycling, and soil organisms. She recieved her Ph.D. in Soil ecology and biology from the University of Colorado-Boulder. 

Q: Why were you interested in participating at the El Toro Wilderness residency?

G.G.I thought the idea was interesting because the project is designed for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. I was very open to the idea of having  scientists being matched with local artists so that’s how I got interested in the program.

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

G.G.When we started working with this project and when the artists arrived I didn't really acknowledge how important it could be.  After we started the residency I realized it was important get a fresh look at the things that I do on a daily basis but through a different lens. When you get into a routine of going to a site and doing things like every week or every month continuously it becomes difficult to see things differently because you know what it is from routine. So it is important for us to study with these artists and learn from their perspectives out in the field. 

Q: What are some of your reactions to the El Toro Wilderness? Any particular memories or first thoughts?

G.G.The first impression of going out into the wilderness with the artists and how there are many things that we take for granted in our daily routine became very important to me after this experience. The artists were immediately interested in the most common things and found them interesting and beautiful; this was refreshing for me.  So that was like the immediate reaction for me because I came to the realization and agreement with the artists that - really, you’re absolutely right, it is beautiful.

Q: What was a particular highlight of the month?

G.G.I think that the discussions that we had with the artists, and also the opportunity to go out together in the field with them.  We had this initial discussion, where the museum of contemporary art got involved at the very beginning of the residency. We all discussed our expectations together and what was a chat, developed into a two hour conversation. It was fascinating how we went into this discussion about tools and the use of tools for the artists and scientists. The scientists helped some of the artists really see their body as a tool - as the main tool to carry on the work ahead of them. And I think as scientists-our brain, bodies and  the work that we do with them are also tools but sometimes get too ingrained with technology and the specifics. So it really helped learning from the artist how to use our tools differently. Some of the artists used their body for yoga or meditation where there body becomes the main tool.  When scientists want to measure the height of the tree or the canopy cover we usually look to tools to take the measurements.  So it became fascinating topic to examine how different types of people use their tools.

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

G.G.Yes I think so. Towards the end of the residency when we had our little activity, the artists presented some of their photography that represented their experiences from the month. They presented some of their preliminary work and I think that the artists were very much influenced by the scientists. I think the knowledge that they were able to present, represented some of the things the scientists provided. I think the technicians and scientists provided a lot of the background for the development of their work and they also may have guided some of the ideas and things that helped them develop their projects.  Time became one of the main themes for local artists Dhara Rivera. Artist Aline Veillat, said that the scientists had provided an experience that made her feel deeply connected to the forest.

Q:Did you experience any absurd situations at the El Toro Wilderness Residency?

G.G.Maybe when we collected the soil samples, and to notice someone meditating next to me seemed to be a bit out of the ordinary.

Q: What were some of the beneficial outcomes of the experience?

G.G.From my perspective, seeing the landscape through a new lens and also allowing ourselves to experience it differently has become great for me and my work. Also seeing that the artists have a way to reach a broader audience became important to me. The final presentation showed how collectively we were able to attract some other parts of the population that may not come to an activity if it were just purely scientific. I think the collaboration can help us reach and educate a broader public.

Monday, August 26, 2013

When Leaving

 by Andrea Spofford
Noatak National Preserve
you must always love this place, as deeply as you love yourself and all others 
When I leave a place I love I go through a period of sadness, a moment of mourning for the loss of a beloved, the familiarity of a landscape pulled from me as if by sudden death, or the way of disappearance. The Alaskan arctic where I spent the last month is not gone, so this sadness of leaving has not been as deep as it could have been. This place is still very present for me—as present as the promise of an Arctic Oven and a camping trip across a frozen sound.

Nigu River Sunset
I have dreamed about Alaska for seven years but I had no idea that Alaska could be this largeness of experience: a terrain of tundra and rolling muskeg, a boreal forest, a herd of muskoxen circling a lone baby as we fly over in a float plane, a large blond grizzly bear raising a paw, an expansive scattering of lithics along river shores, the saltwater taste of fermented walrus, the deep red of frozen caribou, a dog in war-paint, a polar bear researcher and her artist husband, a woman from Arizona sorting fireweed blossoms, her partner simmering the syrup, an archaeologist with a quick smile, a town of generosity full with children, three a.m. fishing, a trip to Cemetery Hill to hunt for the aurora borealis, and a vibrant, expansive day lit sky that darkens mid-August and reveals only the brightest stars in partial light—this is only a small piece of Alaska. This place is more than all of this; it is an outdoor museum, a testament not to “untrammeled land” but to the relationship between humanity and landscape, an incomprehensible largeness, like opening your arms atop a mountain, the wind buffering around you, closing your eyes to balance and just standing there in darkness, in flight.

Tundra Along the Nigu River
Before we leave Alaska we go on one more trip into an area that runs along the edges of the Noatak National Preserve. We fly close to the Kobuk Dunes, farther east than our first excursion to the base of the Brooks Range. We camp along the Nigu River, a north-flowing river that runs through the Brooks and down the North Slope. We map sites and dig exploratory 50cm by 50cm square pits, shaving layer after layer of soil and screening each batch as we go. We find flakes and stone tools and Hannah finds a nearly perfect atlatl spearhead that dates back four to five thousand years. She beams.
Atlatl Spearhead

Everywhere we go we see evidence of human life and subsistence—tools and flakes, stone-cut caribou bones, game drive lines, cairns atop gravel, tent circles, and even shotgun shells. The people who lived and hunted here did not just survive—they thrived in a climate of sub-zero temperatures and swarms of mosquitoes. One night on the Nigu we take the canoe into the lake. Mike paddles and I steer. We pull ashore near an archeological site more recent than others we have seen. The tent site here is square. Mike, Jess, and I walk up the hill to the site and Tama stays in the boat with the shotgun—she photographs the bank, the way the grass emerges from the water far from the shore, the water so clear stones are visible through it.
Fall Color Changes

The magnitude of this place is biblical in proportion. One night at the visitor’s center Tama and I watch a film about a man who walked alone across the Brooks Range, beginning at the Gates of the Arctic and ending at the mouth of the Noatak River. We watch a film about the Noatak Wilderness itself. We gather fireweed and blueberries, akpik, or cloud berries, or salmon berries. We walk the loop road outside of town. In one of the films a scientist says that Alaska is where he will take his grandchildren. See, he says, this is wilderness; this is what God made.

Alaska is the sky that night on Cemetery Hill, the circle of darkness dotted with bright stars and haloed by gray light, the sun set fully but still lingering along the edges. Alaska is not the rosy-fingered dawn of Homer—the sunsets, not sunrises, are vibrant pink and pulsing. Alaska is, instead, that place in the middle of the sky, the coldness of fall approaching and fogging breaths, the space of electricity not mechanical but human, not entirely wild but impossible to contain—the wolf that runs for miles and the fox that follows close at hand.

While I am figuring out Alaska for myself, what part I have taken and what part I have left, I do know that I will bring my children to this place. I will say: See, this is the landscape. This is the sky in all clearness; this is the ground in all brightness. Those are mountains. This is silence. This is where your ancestors lived, where they slept, where they ate. This place is you, the core of you, and you must always love this place, as deeply as you love yourself and all others. 

Noatak National Preserve

Noatak Sunset
Flying Back to Kotzebue; Noatak National Preserve
Noatak National Preserve
Noatak National Preserve
Kotzebue, Alaska

Sunday, August 25, 2013

'Science is Born in Wonder' by erogerscello

Yesterday my boyfriend told me about the new plan that his charter school has: If a student is failing in math they will be pulled from one of the following classes: music, theatre, or physical education - for the entire year- or at least a half year. The consolation for music was that the student would be able to attend the afterschool ensemble... except that the school got rid of the afterschool ensemble this year.

As a musician, this made me mad... as a student who nearly failed all my math topics begining with the multiplication table, and who exited math after beginning geometry and later got a masters degree in something else, this made me wonder 'What's the point?'... as a guest teacher aware that for certain students this music class is their belay cord to life, this made me very sad.

One of the collaboration directors of AldoandLeonardo sent along an article for us to read before we begin our wilderness collaboration. It is written by Bard College professor Daniel Berthold and was published in the Human Ecology Review, Vol.11, No.3, in 2004. Berthold explores Aldo Leopold's writing in 'Sand County Almanac' and quotes: "... education, I fear, is learning to see one thing by going blind to another." Is responsible educating the act of removing one side of the world of experience from a childs encounter in order to more solidly pound the other? Will removing a child from the study of rhythm based music solve their math deficiency? Is making a child study more math going to make them more successful in life than studying more music?

Is going blind to creative arts a worthy sacrifice to learning mathematics?

Berthold writes: "Science is born in wonder, in curiosity, in the experimentation with different prospectives, in the testing out of different ways of seeing and conceiving things." What if learning the circular, non-linear pattern of music study might actually be the key to uncovering the next important mathematical or scientific discovery later in that child's adult life as a scientist? (or, wait a minute, what if that child's contribution to society would be best realized as a musician?? or Actor, or Gymnast...)

Science+Art, not Science - Art.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Looking West by erogerscello

The day is approaching for take off from Rochester, the north-east, to a new climate. Last night I picked up my freshly re-haired cello bows with extra long white stallion hair for the dry climate, and taught my last class before the summer ends here in Rochester.

As I hiked in the Adirondacks last week end I thought about what differences in conditions I might expect; how much more water I might need, how much warmer (or not) the temperatures would be, how there would be less mud and many fewer green trees. I wondered what new wild-life I might see (scorpions and poisonous spiders?!) and whether I would be lonely.

Yesterday I tried to explain to two different people what this adventure was going to be about. One's response was "so what are you going to get out of this?" and the other exclaimed "what an amazing experience!". This seems to be the opposing views of art, and of life experiences: 'Does this experience bring you anything tangible? Is it practical - does it bring you education, money, particular skills?'   OR   'WOW! What a different view of life you'll get, how you'll grow, what a difference this will make for you as a person!'  Of course, the two go together- learning anything in life gives you something, but what if it isn't quantifiable on a graph or measurable in your pocketbook? Arts teachers struggle to explain this in schools for pragmatic personalities asking 'but what do you gain, how do we measure it?' assuming that the best and most dependable vocations to prepare students for are definable, measurable areas such as science, health, engineering. I look ahead to collaborating with scientists, and I am aware that I have equated scientists with the same people asking me 'is it practical?, do you get paid?' those personalities not understanding why I might set out on an adventure, or a project because I must, because its calling to me, its an incredible opportunity. I wonder if I might actually find a scientists who also pursues their work for the same love of something, for the feeling that if they don't keep learning and growing their soul might shrivel up and die, regardless of whether their bills are paid.

My nieces told me my room is a MESS! - True. It is littered with piles of everything I might need for my adventure...

I whittle the list down- appraisal for Scubba my cello on Tuesday to try and get my insurance in place before I leave, pay bills ahead for September, collect paycheck for summer camp with Writers and Books, type lesson plans for my cello students while I'm gone, spend time with the people I love...
Soon I'll be on a train headed WEST!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Final Days of the Residency on South Monomoy

By Elisabeth Nickles

South Monomoy

The lighthouse during a storm
My last week of the residency I spent a total of six days on Monomoy at the south end of the island staying in the house adjacent to the historical lighthouse. The lighthouse was built in 1849 and it was an important warning of the shoals and currents that surround southern Monomoy. It was last used in 1923. Besides the lighthouse and remaining house and shed, Monomoy is left to the elements, to the winds and winters that are constantly changing its shape and habitat. It has suffered little from the effects of man, except in a few creatures and plants that proliferated with the population of humans. 

The island was not always disconnected from the mainland, people fished and a small community existed in the mid 1800’s. The Monomoiyicks hunted and fished regularly during the summer months. The abundance of food is evident in the many fishing boats that harvest off of the coast of Monomoy.  Perhaps Monomoy's extreme conditions protect it and make it difficult to be used for permanent settlement. In the past, there was a lighthouse keeper and his family making sure the lighthouse remained lit.   

An edge of the lighthouse with surroundings
The privilege of being on Monomoy on July 4th is that I felt a pride in my country in a way that was so connected to the land, and a deep appreciation for the people that set aside this area. I could spend the day thinking about evolution over time that created an ecosystem full of flying creatures, lichens, tidal pools and ponds. The day was mine to explore a new place, with no distraction. To have my job be “to look” and “to experience” was a gift on a day that represents our independence and national pride, making it the best Fourth of July I have ever experienced. 

Inside the lighthouse facing east

Inside the lighthouse facing west

Lighthouse facing East 

Exploring the Southern end of the island, one gets the sense that existence is existing  in that the animals and birds are left to simply be. The interference of human development is prohibited, frozen in time… and you are experiencing something beyond the abstract boundaries and divisions that contain the spaces of our modern world. 

The southern end of the island is quite different from the north in that there are freshwater ponds. The vegetation is diverse, there are pine trees, water lilies, cranberry bogs and cattails. Until hurricane sandy and the contamination of salt water to the ponds,  freshwater fish inhabited the fresh waters of the island. River otters have been seen in the ponds until recent years. I noticed a large variety of song birds around the ponds, bringing the constant bird songs and the arcing trails of fast moving swallows.

The boundaries that exist on the southern end of the island, are formed by water, grasses, marshes, mud, lichen and the shifting water lines absorbed in the sand. All is a sensual wonderland of color, light, and atmosphere. Each moment changed by the bright sun or dim mist. A change in the weather brings dramatic changes to the sky and horizon. The light and mist make each previously observed area appear muted, subdued in clarity, light and shade. One’s confrontation with the mist, rain and wind is a part of its cycle as is night and day. Water is refreshing after the heat of the sun, the birds keep flying seeming to delight in the light rain. The falling rain and mist dampen the plants and lichens, changing the sound underfoot from crunchy to soft.

A clear, sunny day, very crunchy

a cloudy, damp day, very spongy

edges begin to merge

One can see in the morphology of the landscape and the vegetation that grows in the different areas, where water gathers and collects creating a different ecosystem within the large areas of dunes. One could miss the diversity beneath eye level unless spending time looking down, and getting on your hands and knees to take a closer look. From a few inches above the ground one can see an entirely new world, adding to the feeling of boundless wonder.  

The Bog
The lichens cover a large area. I noticed three different kinds interspersed with areas of cranberry bogs, filled with mosses, carnivorous plants and cranberries.

Within the cranberry bog

sun dew carnivorous plant

Powder Hole

The area around Powder Hole on the Western side of the south end was one of the most magical places I explored.  Each step, I was observing a different painting. Every texture told of the tide and the rolling up and away of a force, both feeding and taking away. The water used to be contained by sand, but the ocean has broken through and creates a stream of water directly in and out of the mud flats. The area is an important spot for migrating birds to stop and eat, there are always many different species of birds feeding on the mud flats.   

Oystercatcher at Powder hole
Each time I hiked to Powder hole, it appeared different. Depending on the light, time of day, amount of rainfall and cloud cover. The cycle of the tide changes constantly as does the movement of the clouds, the same environment can appear new and create a completely different experience. 

Powder hole from the Eastern edge

The blotches at powder hole with violets, deep blues and light greens

The tides filled areas with water over a stained sandy ground, the textures created by growth and decay was an enchanted wonderland of blotches. Each pattern and design marked the passing of time in the abundance of life of the large and small. Death is common in its intertwining rhythm of coming and going, each part fulfilling a role for some organism along its existence.


The ocean makes paper- seen above to the bottom right is a paper like phase of seaweed that is caught in the grasses at the edges of powder hole. 

The unbelievable colors of Powder hole.


The orangish, yellowish, brownish water contrasted with the blues and light greens had me floating inside of a
color field painting

Bright green in the sun , deliciousness of texture and color

I watched this accumulation of broken down seaweed ( I believe it is a type of spongomorpha) and took video of its movementgracefully forming organic lacework patterns that shifted constantly. Its colors ochre,
sap green. The fish 

The Inlet

The ocean has broken through to create a stream of water that rises and falls, filled with seaweeds that float with the movement. My own sense of scale changed with the experience of walking under an open sky surrounded by water and grasses. The proportion of my body was dominated by the land and atmosphere. To stay still and to watch is my favorite part of being in wild places.  In simple listening, in being quiet and motionless, I can see so much more. I am not the subject, but the observer. In the age of speed and fast images, I protest with long looking. I rebel in taking time to respond to texture and sound. Southern Monomoy gave me an easy invitation to look long and release the ego and ambition to the wind and rain; to worship sun and color.

The simplicity of two color families and their variation. I felt i was
in a living, breathing, perfect painting. 

The area where the sea breaks through, bringing life and evidence of past life. There are bones at the edges that
have been washed in with the force of the tides. 


When the evening comes, the day is done. The rhythm of eating, bathing and entertainment, is simplified. The morning light woke me to see the sun rise. The night begged for me to look at the dome of the stars, to hear the crickets and toads.  

The beach on the east side of the island 


Nightfall from the lighthouse, the silhouette of the land and structures create the uniform shape
to frame a changing sky

It was difficult to leave Monomoy’s southern area.  Life has a different rhythm when it depends on the rising and falling of the sun, the day dictated by weather and your activity of the day entirely dependent on the light offered naturally.

 For most of human existence, we were hunter gatherers. We related to the world quite differently than the modern human. I believe our minds still long for this connection, our modern psychological ailments a symptom of the growing divide between man and nature. Even in language we have separated who we are and the rest of ‘nature’. It’s as if we have created an alien species, living in the industrial world, without considering what it means to our totality as an animal, to lose habitat and experience within that habitat.   The imposition of convenience on the earth has left fragmentation for which I seek wholeness. I find it best in the wild, creative places of my mind and in the wilderness areas still intact.

Harrier hawk seen above dunes late in the day

Carl Jung’s writings about our interconnectedness with the natural world tell of a world without boundaries:
“At times I feel as if I am spread out over the landscape and inside things, and am myself living in every tree, in the splashing of the waves, in the clouds and the animals that come and go……..”

When looking at the history of life on planet earth and the evolution of life on earth we are a part of a lineage that is constantly morphing. We are just a bud on a flower forming and never finished. All things pass and all things change, there is no crowning moment and no final curtain. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are all related and the divisions are verbal and philosophical constructions. 


Upon returning to a modern town, it was so striking to see the lines and divisions everywhere.  How important it is to have a place without exact lines, except that of the meandering or crashing of water. A place where a human is a small and humble creature in the large landscape. The importance of wild places is a part of retaining balance, not only in that environment but also within our own psyches.We need air and water, the composition of our blood so close to the waters of the sea. The mind can be a part of the vastness contained underwater where all of our lives and life on earth originated.