Apparently it’s a thing now.

The sea exfoliates my spirit.

My practical, logical mind understands the illusory nature of that statement. Yet, I feel the levity of my spirit as it rises and the gravity as it falls in response to the reality of a world filled with ups and downs. And in no place am I more in tune with this oscillation than when I am near the push and pull of an ocean shore.

When I was a child, I would spend most every weekday on Surfside Beach. Each morning I would accompany my mother as she cleaned houses and by lunchtime, I’d have my toes in the sand with a snowcone in my hand; the payment for my hard work vacuuming. My favorite activity was to wait for the tide to go out, then walk up and down the beach shaking the fresh red sargassum seaweed into a small orange bucket. After a couple hours, I’d be exploring the menagerie of collected sea creatures before returning the small shrimp, crabs, fish, and seahorses back to the ocean (generally unharmed, but probably scarred for life).

This experience was just one of many that still flood my mind and inform my creative, scholarly, and vocational pursuits to this day. It is not different for author Jonathan White. At a recent science pub in Corvallis, White told the story of when his sixty-five-foot schooner ran aground during an extreme low tide in Kalinin Bay, Alaska in 1999. After almost losing his boat, he decided that the nature of the ocean’s tides demanded his attention. So began his quest to better understand how the celestial bodies exert their force on the ocean, and how that dance has captivated human culture, in their minds and their myths. His book Tides: The Science and Spirit of the Ocean, published this year, is a culmination of that inquiry.

“The moon may move our hearts today, but her first love was the ocean, stirred billions of years ago. The attraction may have grown stronger or weaker through time, but the affair has never ended. Like any relationship, it has complexities and baggage. The moon calls out to the earth’s oceans in the form of gravity, and the oceans call back, their pulsing energy holding the moon close while also pushing it away.” – Tides

Tides covers everything from the largest tides in the Bay of Fundy, to the power of tidal bores on China’s Qiantang River. White’s conversational style makes the book easy to follow through Newton’s equilibrium theory, semidiurnal inequality,  concepts of fluid dynamics, and the nuts and bolts of tide energy as well as the meditation of monks at Mont Saint-Michel, musseling in tidal ice caves with Inuits, and hanging out with surfers at Mavericks. White also discussed how rising sea levels due to climate change have transformed the tide from a celebrated divine experience to a destroyer of native lands.

Kuna Yala village in the San Blas islands.

The Kuna Yala (Guna) are just one example of the present, and future, reality of climate refugees. Off the coast of Panama, several low-lying San Blas coral islands are predicted to disappear within fifty years, and 3 or 4 of them already have. In Tides, White speaks with the Guna about how they consider sea level rise a spiritual problem and believe that the highest tides bring visitors from other dimensions to check on the people. Among much of the older Guna generation, some believe rising sea levels are a punishment for spiritual imbalance. As a result, many of them feel that strengthening their spiritual balance, individually and collectively, will combat the flooding of their islands. Although many Guna also accept the scientific fact that ice is melting, seas are rising, and there is nothing they can do to stop that. Plans are in place to strategically relocate their communities from the San Blas’ to the mainland. But with that, of course, comes many problems, like how to maintain their history, independence, and traditional ways in the shadow of Panamanian politics.

As I study the sea here at OSU—the social, scientific, political, ecological, and philosophical ways in which we interact with it—I find stories like that of the Guna are not rare. Our physical environment is changing; our ethics need to as well. We can not continue forward with the business-as-usual use of fossil fuels that fulfill the needs of the few and destroy the future of too many. The tide comes in and the tide goes out, and each year that tide will come in further and further encroaching on life as we know it. Even if you don’t live on a coastline, this ebb and flow of the sun and the moon touches you. It touches all of us. Unfortunately some, more than others.

“The sun, moon, and earth don’t orbit in perfect circles. At times they’re closer to one another and at times farther away. They speed up and slow down. They wobble and yaw and dip and veer, and each time they do, it translates into a tidal event on earth. There are hundreds of these eccentricities, each calling out to the oceans—some loudly, some faintly, some repeating every four hours and others every twenty thousand years.” – Tides

An image of red sargassum seaweed invading Surfside beach.

The sargassum seaweed brought in by the tides on my childhood beach adventures has apparently become a problem since I left Texas. For the past ten years, the volume of sargassum has increased exponentially and started causing adverse economic and ecological effects in coastal communities. There is no consensus on why it has invaded the beaches, but it seems to be rising ocean temperatures and polluted, high nutrient runoff from the rivers that empty into the Gulf of Mexico. The Brazos River, which meets the ocean right where I grew up, is one of those rivers and is the most polluted watershed in the nation; it received over thirty million pounds of toxic waste according to a 2012 report.

Now I live in the pacific northwest, and I don’t think the ecology here could be more opposite than the one that created so many of my memories growing up. It may be a different coast I’m exploring now, but it’s the same tide I’m waiting on. It’s the same one that rushes every shore on the planet. And when the gravity of life weighs heavy on my spirit, you will find me on the Oregon coast near a tide pool, seeking the levity that only the sea can bring.

“The tide teaches us to live with mystery and complexity. It lives in the body of a mudshrimp, signaling when to swim and when to burrow. It lives in sandpipers, crabs, and whelks. It lives in the spirit of bores, in the prayers of monks. The tide is vibration, music, time.” – Jonathan White, Tides

Jonathan White has written for the Christian Science Monitor, Sierra, The Sun, Surfer’s Journal, Orion, and other publications. His first book, Talking on the Water: Conversations about Nature and Creativity, is a collection of interviews exploring our relationship with nature. White is an active marine conservationist, holds an MFA in creative nonfiction, and lives with his wife and son on a small island in Washington State.

students-on-discovery-trail

June 15, 2017 – CORVALLIS, Ore.

6:30 a.m. – I hear a distant jingle gradually increasing in volume. The pestering sound means I have to drag myself out of bed. But today, it’s a little easier. I’m going to the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest for my first overnight trip.

7:20 a.m. – Kari calls to let me know that she’s arrived at Oak Vale Apartments. I walk outside with my breakfast, lunch, coffee, and two small bags in tow. The rain beats down on me, feeling more like winter in the Willamette Valley than mid-June. Kari hops out of the car, asking me to drive for a stretch so she can have some yogurt. An unexpected but welcome surprise. Not only does it give me a chance to test out a Prius, but also, the gesture shows how much she already trusts me.

9 a.m. – I decide to drive the whole way. We slowly creep up in elevation passing homesteads and tree farms along FM 126. The Willamette National Forest begins to engulf us in a sea of fog, dripping conifers, and fluorescent moss. As the road winds and curves, the McKenzie River peaks out to say hello, then goodbye. Clear water rushes down basalt, those parts of thousand year old rock that were annihilated to make way for human progress.

9:30 a.m. – The old growth forest greets us as we enter the H.J. Andrews headquarters. The logging trucks are hauling newly harvested Douglas Firs today. Brenda and Kate station themselves on either side of the one-lane entrance to avoid a school bus/logging truck stand-off.

10:15 a.m. – Our guests of honor arrive. Four teachers and twenty-two seventh and eighth graders from High Desert Middle School file out of the yellow bus. Students look around in awe and a new energy comes over this typically adult-dominated place. Six of us greet them; we’re all involved in various H.J. Andrews education programs, including Mike, Lissy, Mark, Kate, Kari and I.

10:45 a.m. – The students and teachers settle into Quartz Creek apartments. A few hundred feet away, we gather at Salt Salmon pavilion to orient everyone and explain the plan for the next two days. After hearing about safety procedures, Mike reminds everyone that this is a place of inquiry where humans study the relationships within complex, interconnected ecosystems. Kari emphasizes that the Andrews is a place not only for scientific inquiry but also artistic imagining. She wraps up the introduction by reading from John Luoma’s The Hidden Forest.

11 a.m. – We walk about a half mile to complete the final orientation before the students explore the Discovery Trail. Each of them will finish 4 to 5 stops, ranging in activities like drawing canopy critters, grappling with natural and personal disturbances, or mapping forest sounds. Engaging with students through scientific practice and creative reflection, their guides for the day are iPads and their own curiosity. The Discovery Trail iPad program records their answers and will later be analyzed to assess learning, sense of place, and empathy.

11:15 a.m. – I walk ahead of everyone to place clipboards on certain stops where students will draw and write what they see. I open an umbrella to protect the paper, reformulated flesh of the majestic giants around me. The next moments will forever be enmeshed in my memory and seemed to happen in a flash. Bending over to place the materials on the ground, a loud whooshing sound fills the air. I felt the energy of a large being looming over me but looked up to see nothing. My gaze traveled to the forest floor where 10 or more chicks scurried hastily in all directions. As if I had no bodily control, my head jolts to the right and what looked to be a grouse ran ahead of me on the trail. A dozen questions flooded my brain. What flew over me? What was it doing there? Did I disturb a special moment? Did the grouse fly at me then magically appear at my side? Or was a bird of prey on the prowl for a young, delicious snack?

11:30 a.m. – After my moving wildlife encounter, I return to the trailhead and hear the chattering of middle schoolers and adults. I still need to make it to three stops before they start. Jennifer, one of the teachers, graciously took some clipboards to stop 7: canopy critters. I posted up between stop 8 and 9 to give students some space.

12:15 p.m. – Lissy approached me with an iPad. One of the groups were having issues submitting information for stop 6. I find a temporary work around but don’t figure out how to send the answers to the server. I shared my grouse story with Lissy and Kari and later learned that news on the trail travels fast; others waited for their chance to catch a glimpse of the grouse.

12:30 p.m. – Now on stop 8, I loom a few feet away from the students who experienced technical glitches on stop 6. Feeling a bit creepy, I tell them to let me know if they have any issues with the program again. But the awkwardness lingers as I wait for the girls to land on the final screen and try the submit button.

12:35 p.m. – The two girls on stop 8 work through content about forest management and ecosystem services. One of the final questions is: why do you think forests are valuable?  Wood, beauty, habitat, recreation, replenishment. Another question asks them to consider a memorable moment in another forest. One girl recites a memory about a trip that her family took to Belknap Hot Springs. She shares how beautiful and fun the experience was but also struggles with some human-nature relationships. She enjoyed her time there but didn’t like that there were so many people; she was expecting a more remote experience. She recalls a serene, beautiful garden but discounts her connection to this kind of nature because it was man-made. Her struggle is one common in many of our views of nature: as something wild and without humans.

Is nature still nature if humans are involved? Or is there no nature without humans? Perhaps nature isn’t so cut and dry; things are typically more complex than we conceive.

12:40 p.m. – I spend the rest of the time on the trail checking in with students but keeping my distance. I soak in my surroundings knowing that I will soon return to my electronic-saturated life. My Pacific Northwest spirit animal – the banana slug – crawls on the trail near my foot while the red cedars and western hemlocks stand stoically around us. The chirping of birds and dripping of rain fills the soundscape, along with the inquisitive dialogue between humans hoping to discover the forest’s wonders.

1:30 p.m. – We reconvene at the pavilion where Lissy asks the students to reflect on three final prompts. 1) Close your eyes. Imagine one word that describes your experience on the trail. 2) Close your eyes. What on the trail inspired your one word? It can be an interaction, moment, observation. 3) Close your eyes. Think about what else you would like to learn.

1:35 p.m. – Magical. Lush. Beautiful. Like wow! Life-changing. Inspirational. Fun. Green. Peaceful. These are a few of the words that the students share as they reflect on their Discovery Trail experience at the H.J. Andrews Forest. Why did these words come to mind? One student says thinking like a scientist rather than a citizen led to a deeper level of understanding. Another shares their new goals to work in field ecology. Another draws artistic inspiration from the towering trees for their budding interests in architecture. What more do they want to learn? One student’s answer hits me right in the feels. “I want to know more about how to just be. How to be part of this place, part of nature,” he says. “I want to better understand our impacts on this place.” Lissy reminds everyone how the Andrews is connected to other places, to their own communities in Bend and beyond.

As I reflect on the day so far, I think about humans’ obligation to recognize our place in nature and to acknowledge our impact as the most consumptive beings on the planet. For each of us on the trail today, and those in other places, we need to continually discover, to probe, to ponder, to challenge. Discovery of the unique, awe-inspiring organisms and relationships in nature is on-going. We, humans, have the unique ability to contemplate our place in nature. We have a responsibility to act as empathetic members of the biotic community, doing so is to challenge what we consider necessity. We must reduce harm to other living things for the greater good—not just for our global society, but for the globe.

-Sarah Kelly

Last Saturday, I spent the day  out at the McDonald-Dunn Research Forest with members of the Environmental Arts and Humanities cohort and other enthusiastic volunteers for the fifth annual Get Outdoors Day. This event is hosted by the Oregon State University College of Forestry and Benton County extension and is a collective effort to connect families with the forest. It is also part of a larger initiative to create community and bring people to the forest who may not visit as often or it is their first time.

Our group was responsible for the community art booth. We concentrated on the central topic of the mycorrhizal network in the soil. We invited the community engage with us in a discussion and creative representation of this network and how it relates to ourselves in the community.

Some key messages we focused on throughout the day:

–          There is a connected world beneath our feet that facilitates the exchange of nutrients, water and information.

–          The network is connected via mycorrhizae, which facilitate symbiotic relationships between plants and fungi.

–          We want to consider how our community can be more connected like the mycorrhizae.

– How can we create communities that encourage compassion and supportive environments?

Photo credit: Samm Newton

The EAH group is always looking for creative outlets, thus it is natural that we would be attracted to the artistic side of a day in the forest. Sarah Kelly, a fellow EAH member set up the ground work and was the driving force behind organizing our booth.

Photo credit: Samm Newton

When I asked her what inspired her choice of topic, Sarah said “I spend a lot of time in my research and personal life thinking about interconnections. I love learning about how systems and individuals within systems are intertwined. When I heard about the mycorrhizal network a few months ago, I knew it was the perfect topic to inspire the community art project.”

“What better idea to embody, than a naturally occurring supportive community that humans don’t readily perceive? I thought it was an inspiring phenomenon to bring the community together, learn about ecology, and consider how they can help each other and our environment.”

What a creative process indeed. I was able to join Sarah and some other volunteers the first time we went out into the forest to collect materials for constructing the soon to be community sculpture. The entire process was engaging especially with Sarah encouraging us to share our ideas and creativity to shape the process. We did a test run of the branch sculpture prior to the event with a good-size group trouble shooting, learning about physics, balance, and communication during the process.

Photo credit: Samm Newton

On the day of the event several children and their families helped with the construction of the sculpture (pictured below) and adorned the community network with lovely notes.  Families were asked to reflect and respond to the following prompt: What kind of community do you want to live in? The rest was up to the families to decide how and what to express. Sweet messages related to nature and fun responses related to food, games, and other types of activities that make life enjoyable decorated the sculpture. Many families stopped to listen and learn about the network beneath our feet, but the magic occurred when we were all able to reflect and realize we can take a lesson from nature, and in fact already do at times when we interact with our families and community.

Check out the following links for more information on the incredible mycorrhizal network.

Maybe nature isn't so cutthroat and austere as "survival of the fittest" makes it out to be…

Posted by Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network – ASAN on Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Here are some photos from the day:

Photo credits: Samm Newton

This Spring in Corvallis, there were a number of events in which the unseen, the unheard, and the very, very tiny were observed and commented upon in especially poetic ways. There were a few art events and lectures revolving around microbiomes. I will quickly introduce you to two artists and a writer who are exploring our natural world which includes among its multitudes; microbiomes, animals, trees and us.

There is growing interest in connecting science and art, artists and scientists. In part, this is what our program at EAH is trying to accomplish. How do writers and artists and other creative types communicate issues of environmentalism? How do the humanities address non-human animals and other species of life? How can scientists work with artists to benefit both and strengthen the messages that people need to hear? What can we offer to each other and to the conversation? How is the very nature of the conversation changed by interdisciplinary voices?

The world is complicated. Life is busy. We tend to put blinders on just to get through the day. We rarely stop to consider the fact that our own bodies are made up of more microbiome DNA than human DNA. We rarely wonder at the masses of microscopic life that surround us, teeming in mud, saturating the form of every living thing. We tend to consider our frame of reference as Reality. But there are millions of different perspectives and perceptions. Some move very slow and experience time in a different way from the fast flitting creature. Some see the world from the sky, some see it from the ground. Some stay in one place always, some move constantly. Some do not see red, some do not see infrared, some see with sonar. Some navigate by smell, some by magnetic fields. There are as many different ways of being as there are beings.

  

Lisa Temple-Cox explores biology and the matter that is the meat, gut and bone of the animal, whether it be human or non-human. Her work peels away the skin, she examines the feather and the human skull with equal interest. Temple-Cox has done long term residencies at museums. While there, she explores and draws their collections. I was able to attend all four of her lectures at the University, including a private one for the school’s bird watching society. The names of many species were called out as we observed slides showing a plethora of silent birds in glass boxes.

Temple-Cox is a perfect example of an artist who is bridging disciplines. Her bio states, “ Her history as a mixed-race, post-colonial child informs a practice exploring interstices: between science and religion, the normal and the pathological, the familiar and the uncanny. Her visual research interrogates the aesthetics and histories of the anatomical museum, using its objects, collections, and taxonomies as metaphors for a contemporary subjective experience of the self and the body.”

One of the lectures had the intriguing title, My Head in a Jar. She had an entire body of work for each lecture. Some were documentation of the archives and their glorious decay, fatal malformations, disturbing implications of colonization, and excessive bounty. Her work is led and inspired by her research. One of these lines of research is through the preservation of specimens in jars. It was part historical and part medical, part archivist and part artist. For this lecture (archived here) she showed slides of many kinds of animals and humans, in whole and in part, preserved in glass jars. Through this exploration, she came to the idea of casting her own head and placing it in jars with different types of liquid matter. One jar is filled with kombucha, one jar is filled with milk, one is filled with oil. Over time the milk and kombucha transform as they are both teeming with the microscopic life mentioned previously. Interesting that she uses these two liquids in her experiment, the content of which is life and its companion, death.

  

Karin Bolender is a local artist who integrates the lives of her companion donkeys into her work. She did a long walking trip with her first donkey, a spotted ass, and that was the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration. Bolender is a PHD candidate at the University of New South Wales but is located near Corvallis on a farm with the donkeys in question, and a horse. She is involed with a group of artists and environmental humanities researchers called The Multi-Species Salon. Her long term project is the Rural Alchemy Workshop. She also listens to her animals, not just to their vocalizations but to the rumbling in their guts, and has done work on this subject as well. Learn more about her brilliant line of thought in this concise (4 minute) video.

This Winter, she did a performative piece with her daughter at Optic Gallery in which a kombucha  mother was passed around and questions from a Pink Floyd song were asked aloud. These mothers were also a part of her latest work which recently manifested as a workshop.  She is investigating the invisible communities of life inhabiting the donkeys and the donkey’s milk. She has made soap from the milk of her donkeys mixed with her own. Interesting parallel between the artists Bolender and Temple-Cox, who have both used living and life-giving kombucha and milk to manifest their work.

I attended the workshop at her farm called Welcome to the Secretome, which was led by Bolender. A small group of us were led through a series of explorations around the animals and the land. We sat together on top of a manure pile and ate cheese and bread. We walked through a muddy field and a grassy field and made maps of what we found there. We touched the donkeys’ noses and the dirt and the barn and the kombucha mothers. I emerged clean and unscathed. (OK I didn’t go in the mud but everyone else did. I lingered in the barn with the donkeys.)

One more event in which the unseen/unheard was deeply, scientifically, and poetically discussed was the lecture by David George Haskell at the Art Center. He is currently touring with his new book, The Songs of Trees. He spoke about trees, individual trees. He traveled the world to visit a dozen individual trees. Each tree was carefully listened to and observed within the context of its location. One tree was in an Amazon forest, another in the middle of New York City. We don’t think of trees as making sound or having voices. Haskell records the vibrations that come up through the tree’s roots and the birds and other creatures who inhabit them, as well as the interaction with wind.

He spoke eloquently about understanding nature as that which is what we are. He points to the disconnect that humans feel with nature which is generally spoken of (in our society) as something outside  ourselves; a bird, a tree, a place we go to when we go camping. We set the city and nature as two sides of a dichotomy, when in fact the city is actually just a human nesting place and encompasses nature, not just in the plants growing through the cracks in the sidewalk but in our own manifestations.

Haskell’s previous book is titled  The Forest Unseen. For this book, he chose a one-square-meter spot of land in Tennessee and observed it meticulously for a year. Even within this very small circle of forest floor, he found a universe of life. I intend to read both books and can only report my impressions of the one hour I heard him speak. He spoke strongly against the standard dualistic thinking that separates humans and nature, a false dichotomy, as we are very much a part of nature. Our technology and industry are destroying nature. That doesn’t make us separate or better or worse. It just makes us powerful. We need to reconsider this power and our motivations and systems. They are not innate or inevitable

These artists and writers are asking you to open your eyes and ears and minds, to observe the life around you.  In doing so, you will see both the kinship we share with life on earth and the consequences of our collective actions against it. Paying attention with all of our senses is a first step.

Footnote: For many years, I observed one small area of the Willamette River and shared it, almost daily on the social medias. I reported on the weather and what animals were passing through or living there and the ships that came into port. I called it The River Report. I have since moved away from that spot but it is archived on Twitter.

“Energy moves in cycles, circles, spirals, vortexes, whirls, pulsations, waves, and rhythms—rarely if ever in simple straight lines.”  — Starhawk; American writer, activist, pagan, ecofeminist.

When the sun is finally out in Corvallis after a pitiless winter, sometimes you just have to ramble. That’s what I told myself when my alarm sounded at 7:45 AM on Saturday, April 29th. Maybe if you’re used to an 8-5 work schedule then that doesn’t sound too early, but for a grad student who is on her last legs by Friday of each week, a 7:45 AM wakeup call on a Saturday is a true commitment.

And I had committed. I was registered for the Spring Campus Ramble hosted by fellow EAH student Jill Sisson and her partner Cub Kahn, and I planned to show up. This was the 7th ramble for Jill and Cub, but it was my first.  The Ramble is a morning of walking to different locations on campus and observing our surroundings through writing, photography, or both. The rambles are conducted seasonally as a way to welcome the changes taking place in our valley. The theme for this ramble was “spiral,” though we were free to let our minds wander in and out of that lens.

We met our group at the Beanery at 9:00 and then headed out for our ramble. Our group was small, though we were told that it was a lovely size for a ramble. My companions for the morning were Dorothy, Kent, Jill, Cub, and Paul and Charlotte (my parents, visiting for the weekend).

I have to admit that I can be a little snobby when it comes to campus “tours.” This is my fifth year at OSU, and (in a past life, it seems) I was once a tour guide for new students and other campus visitors. I was expecting to look at campus through a new lens on the Ramble, but I didn’t think I’d also be rambling to spots where I had never been.

Right away, I realized I was wrong. Our first stop was outside the Hallie E. Ford Center, where a reflective metal sculpture stands, smoothly twisted. At each stop one of us took a piece of paper from Jill’s hand and read a spiral-related quote. At our first stop, my dad plucked from the mix and read:

“The spiral is a spiritualized circle. In the spiral form, the circle, uncoiled, has ceased to be vicious; it has been set free.” 
 — Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977), Russian-American novelist and entomologist.

Then we were set free to ramble around the spiral sculpture and linger in the vicinity of building, observing the many plants and human-made structures surrounding us. We could hear birds, and on a few occasions during our morning, flocks of geese flew overhead.

I prefer, usually, to sit on the ground. So I hunkered down on the cement in front of the playground, and I saw this:

And then I wrote this:

I’m following the sun spots (this time of year you have to), and I swear I can hear the birds better when I’m sitting in the sun. Tiny handprints are pressed into the cold morning cement next to the playground, just outside the gate. It’s as if five children practiced their handstands one day as they waited for a tall person with keys to unlock the gate.

This fence. It’s short, because I’m an adult, and it’s linked together in spirals that hint at what’s inside: a playground of twisted metal. That corkscrew thing that some playground designer made when the fire pole got boring. Curvy springs holding up a bouncy-disc-thing that doesn’t look very safe (but boy does it look fun!), and I picture the five handstand children, their palms gray and glistening with gritty cement, dancing about in circles around the playground the moment that gate swings open.

It’s funny how I’ve fixated on the ugly wire fence with the gate when all the while in my sunspot there were also two other fences: the rhododendrons and the roses. They run parallel to the ugly fence and form a much more convincing barrier. Rows of thorns and pink, soft flowers that only a monster would dare to trample.

And yet someone felt a wire fence was imperative, as if the roses and the rhodies could not be trusted. “We better build a fence,” someone must have said. “For good measure. To cover our bases. To keep the kids in. To keep the kids out.”

And now I will summarize the remainder of our ramble with a few photos…

The azaleas near the Women’s Building were putting on quite a show as we walked to our next stop. Photo by Lucia Hadella.
My dad had seen a baseball game at Goss Stadium the night before (Beavs won!), and he got a kick out of photographing images around the stadium. When a pitcher winds up and releases, is that a spiral? Photo by Paul Hadella.
Can you imagine carrying the weight of the moon on your shoulders? These statues stand in the green sapce near the INTO building on the south side of campus. Photo by Lucia Hadella.
Electric fungi in the INTO courtyard. Photo by Lucia Hadella.
Have you seen these peculiar figures in the Snell Hall courtyard?I hadn’t! Photo by Lucia Hadella.
This giant sequoia just keeps spiraling on and on. Photo by Lucia Hadella.
Although we left the Ramble a little early to head to the Saturday Market, my parents and I could not stop taking pictures of the beauty surrounding us, and we were seeing spirals for the rest of the day. Photo by Lucia Hadella.

Last Tuesday night at the Old World Deli, Dr. Bob Lillie, a professor emeritus of geology at Oregon State University, spoke to a full house about his new book, Oregon’s Island in the Sky: Geology Road Guide to Mary’s Peak. A specialist on interpretive methods for the Mary’s Peak Alliance and the Oregon Master Naturalist Program, Lillie is devoted to connecting people to landscapes– geologically, ecologically and culturally. He values a well-honed sense of place, and accordingly, began his presentation with a quote by Alan Gussow: We are homesick for places, we are reminded of places, it is the sounds and smells and sights of places which haunt us and against which we often measure our present.” And indeed Marys Peak is one of western Oregon’s special places, serving as the predominant psychophysical influence of this bioregion. To help the audience become better acquainted with this iconic mountain, Lillie provided maps, photographs, and fragments of hard rock (gabbro and basalt) to reveal Marys Peak’s dynamic story.

At 4,097 feet in elevation, Marys Peak rises nearly 500 feet above all other Oregon Coast Range mountains. With its cool climate and 100 inches of annual precipitation, the mountain’s noble fir and high meadow ecosystems date back more than 10,000 years to a time when glaciers covered much of western Oregon. Its high-elevation meadow, in particular, is a biodiversity hotspot.

In fact, it is from the meadow’s clear vantage point atop the peak that one can see the Pacific Ocean’s blue sheen to the west, and the Cascade Volcanoes’ snowcaps to the east. From Lillie’s discerning viewpoint, the same commanding panorama also offers geologic clues of tectonic plate activity from 55 million years ago, as well as the more recent effects of the Missoula Floods that filled the Willamette Valley 15,000 years ago. Together, these geologic phenomena created the landscapes and soils that help define the biotic communities of western Oregon’s bioregion today.

Marys Peak holds considerable cultural significance, as well. Formerly considered a sacred place by the Kalapuya tribe, this mountain was originally named Tca Timanwi, meaning “place of spirit power,” because Kalapuya youths climbed its slopes for their coming-of-age spirit quests. Much later — in the late 1800’s — homesteaders moved into the area, and the mountain was grazed, logged, settled, and skied. And from 1906 onward, the Rock Creek watershed on the eastern flank of Marys Peak has supplied Corvallis with up to 40% of its city water. Meanwhile the mountain’s mixed fir and hemlock forests are home to countless wildlife species, and the high wildflower meadows provide critical butterfly habitat. Importantly, the distinctive meadow and rock garden ecosystems led to the peak’s designation as a Botanical Special Interest Area in 1989.

Built of story-rich volcanic and sedimentary rocks, cloaked in clouds and forests, Marys Peak continually affects climate, culture, and bio-community. This is a mountain that reawakens our certainty that we live with—not separate from—the Earth. And this is a mountain that will never fail to nourish the spirit.

keep-on

The first OSU environmental arts and humanities cohort has embarked on our journey for knowledge, for answers to our most confounding and deleterious problems; meanwhile, there is something happening in the world that cannot be ignored. We began the program in September 2016 while the most spiteful and toxic of American elections was winding to a close. Our first term was a whirlwind of discovery with a frequent recurrence of discussions about the place for hope and action in our discourses about change.

Then came November 9, a day forever burned into our memories. I woke up in a state of confusion, fear, anxiety, and denial, as did many others who share my values. However, this election result was not just a tragedy for the Democrats or Progressives of our nation. It is a tragedy for all life on this planet.

Now, as we finish our second term in the new Environmental Arts & Humanities program, much of what we feared is playing out. The president of the U.S. purports his disbelief in anthropogenic climate change while slashing regulations that provide us with clean air and water. These policies seek to provide only for those who profit from the industries while being masked as tools for job growth.

Is there a place for hope in this shift to authoritarian rule that disregards fact, that ignores basic human decency, that seeks to split the nation, that debases all that we value? Yes, there is always room for hope but only when coupled with truth and action. What we need now more than ever is radical hope, resistance, community, morality, and compassion.

It was around this message that 40 or so people joined together in fellowship at the Corvallis Unitarian Universalist Church on Saturday, March 18. Our motivational facilitators were none other than Kathleen Dean Moore and Libby Roderick who guided us through personal and community truth.

We started the Keep on Strong Heart: Moral Power in the Climate Fight workshop quite aptly by singing Libby’s song Keep On, Strong Heart.

Here are my main take-a-ways to help you in your journey to create change:

  1. We need to acknowledge the pain, fear, disbelief that we and other people feel. Practice active listening and engage in dialogue. We should avoid dominating any conversation because it hinders creativity and fresh ideas.
  2. We are stronger together working as a community when everyone acts and speaks up as a collective. We will be most effective when we are diverse in skill, in culture, in race, in class, in energy, in creativity.
  3. The statistics are in. Seventy percent of American adults believe that global warming is happening, but only 53 percent believe global warming is caused by human activities. In terms of risk, the greatest perceived risk is to future generations, 70 percent, but only 40 percent of Americans believe global warming will personally harm them. We don’t discuss global warming often enough; only 33 percent of Americans talk about it occasionally, and 31 percent of adults never discuss it. NASA is a good source for climate information. Educate yourself and start talking.
  4. We can react in three ways to anthropogenic climate change: 1. Business as Usual, 2. The Great Unravelling, 3. The Great Turning. We need to aim for the great turning. We need to collectively imagine and work toward this turning. It starts with more people joining together to discuss issues and fight back. The goal: to change our systems and lifeways in ways that reduce our impact on the Earth.
  5. Civil resistance and non-violent direct action bring results. Protest influences public opinion more than federal action or institutional advocacy.
  6. Your actions matter. Don’t sit this out. Don’t fall into complacency. Demand a present and a future that can be enjoyed by all life.

This was my first opportunity to really engage with others in the community (outside of the university) since moving to Corvallis in July. My inaction and lack of engagement was eating away at me. The future I imagined was crumbling away, and all I wanted was to abandon my academic duties and do something meaningful! I know others in my cohort share this sentiment. We are here to encourage environmentally ethical lifeways, to cultivate understanding about the true source of our widespread environmental destruction, to empower invisible communities who have been victims of injustices, to speak for the animals, the oceans, the forests under human rule and subjugation. How can we inspire change when we spend 40 hours a week talking, reading, and writing? Shouldn’t we be out in the world overturning the systemic oppression of human and non-human life? Shouldn’t we be acting?

But, if what we need is radical hope that leads to radical change, then we must take a different approach. An approach—or even an array of approaches—that is different than what has been attempted over the last few decades. My hope is that our cohort’s journey of intellectual discovery, of critical analysis, and of ethical thought will be exactly what we need to fuel meaningful, impactful action in new and creative ways. I don’t believe that our answers lie (solely) in technology, policy, or innovation. No, we must seek truth instead, we must question widely held beliefs, we must resist, and we must demand change that enables all life to flourish.

Stay active:

  1. MoveOn.org has daily actions to stay informed and engage in the political process.
  2. Call in to your representatives when you disagree with policy. (5calls.org)
  3. Get involved in a local climate initiative. (350corvallis.org)
  4. Acknowledge media biases and diversify your sources of information.

For further reading on this topic, see:

  1. Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril by Kathleen Dean Moore and Michael Nelson (eds.)
  2. Great Tide Rising: Toward Clarity and Moral Courage in a Time of Planetary Change by Kathleen Dean Moore
  3. Start Talking: A Handbook for Engaging Difficult Dialogues by Kay Landis, et al. (including Libby Roderick) (eds.)
  4. Why Civil Resistance Works: The strategic logic of nonviolent conflict by Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan.
  5. Radical Hope for Living Well in a Warmer World by Allen Thompson.

I saw Disney’s new rendition of Beauty and the Beast the other day in a crowded theater with smelly seats. Despite the undesirable ambiance, I was enchanted. I laughed, I gasped, I cried. And for about a week now after seeing the moving, I have been pondering good and evil, trying to grapple with this dichotomy and its implications about who we are as humans. All the while I’ve been hoping that some revelation would also help me understand what irked me about a book talk I saw earlier this term by Benjamin Hale on his new book The Wild and the Wicked. I think I’m beginning to understand.

So first, let’s start with Disney…

Throughout most of the movie, I felt as though each main character had been created in order to fit into a polarized ideal of either virtuous or vengeful – altruistic, or a narcissist to the core. Belle, of course, is saintly. She is smart, fearless, and empathetic. She sees the beauty in a beast who does not see it in himself. Gaston – the broad-chested buffoon who makes the townswomen swoon – is the stereotypical brute and ultimately the embodiment of evil. Besides his boastfulness and penchant for drawing swords and firing his musket, Gaston also commits unforgiveable acts such as punching an old man (Belle’s father), tying him to a tree and leaving him for the wolves, and shooting the Beast multiple times in the back after the duel was supposed to be over. (What a jerk!)

So, Belle and Gaston are moral polar opposites, and the Beast is pretty awful too. In his earlier years (pre horns, claws, and lion/buffalo head), he threw extravagant parties for his own pleasure and arrogantly strutted about the dance floor, examining and judging the pretty women. When an old woman shows up at his door in the middle of one of these gaudy parties, asking for food and shelter, the prince turns her away. Unfortunately for him, she’s actually a witch, and she damns him to a life of self-loathing and pariah status until he can learn unconditional love. (Spoiler alert: he succeeds.)Yet I realized that the Beast is actually not evil. He’s also not as virtuous as Belle. In fact, he is probably the most morally realistic character in the movie precisely because he is flawed (as humans are flawed), and because he embodies the true complexities of humanity that are less easily grouped into Team Good and Team Evil.

What does this have to do with Ben Hale?

In a way, Ben Hale pushes against similar dichotomies of good and bad as they are applied to nature. He argues that humans should not have to love nature in order to respect and protect it. He also argues that it’s alright not to love nature – not only because not everyone enjoys camping and hiking, but also because, let’s face it, nature can be cruel… Right?

Well I’ve realized, as I pondered Beauty and the Beast, that it’s this last part of Hale’s argument that irks me. As humans, we have written a moral code for our species that helps us identify if an act is good or bad. As problematic as this dichotomy can be (evidence: the Beast is good and bad, so which one is he?!), it seems to be how we understand ourselves, and it’s the way we teach our children not to steal or punch or worse. But I am a firm believer that human-made moral constructs should remain within the realm by which they were constructed. In other words, “nature” never asked to be called good or wicked, so who are we to impose these human notions onto anything nonhuman?

Perhaps Hale would argue that, regardless of whether or not we should impose moral standards on nature, we do. His book is written for a broader audience than ethicists and philosophers, so in some ways I think he’s just trying to operate within the framework his readers will most likely understand. I’m all for making theories accessible to the general public, but I have to say that I’m still bothered by Hale’s argument. I can’t let it go.

So, here’s one last thought on what I think is bugging me so much about Hale’s talk

He began the afternoon by showing a series of photos. At one point, he showed pictures that were supposed to illustrate the many “bad” things nature has done. As a group, we cringed at the sight of dead bodies washed up from Tsunamis, dead bodies washed up from Hurricane Katrina, and more dead bodies from other “natural disasters.” The understanding, as Hale showed these images, was that nature was sometimes cruel, and nature was sometimes wicked.

Yet, I think about Hurricane Katrina. I think about a paper I read recently in my EAH Perspectives class written by Ashley Dawson. One section in the paper is titled: “There Is No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster.” Dawson writes specifically about Hurricane Katrina, calling out then-President George W. Bush for referring to Katrina as an “act of God.” Here, Bush places the blame on fate. Hale, it seems, places the blame on Nature. Yet Dawson points out that the devastation of Hurricane Katrina was in fact a human problem, with humans to blame.

New Orleans was not prepared for the storm and the flooding, because, as Dawson points out, “repeated calls to stem wetlands erosion and to fix the failing levee system that protects the city were met with blank indifference by a federal administration more interested in tax cuts for the wealthy and imperial escapades in Iraq than in the South’s sole blue state.” As a consequence, New Orleans flooded. Those who suffered the most, on the whole, were poor and Black. They lived in the cheapest, most flood-prone parts of the area, because systemic racism and oppression had made it so. (Read Dawson’s paper if you’re interested in learning more.)

To blame fate or Nature is to remove responsibility from the abhorrent (evil?) collective and individual actions and inactions that led to so many deaths and displacements during and in the years following the storm.

Perhaps, then, evil and wickedness lurk amongst the seams of the complicated patchwork that is humanity. Perhaps good, too, is woven into our collective fabric. We are humans, so I suppose we can decide to use the terms “good,” “evil,” and “wicked” to describe ourselves. However, I would not extend those human moral constructs to nature, Nature, or “nature,”* and I suggest caution to those people who may feel inclined to do so.

*Along with my grappling with morality, I grapple too, more and more, with the concepts of “nature” and the “environment.” My inconsistency throughout this post in how I present the word “nature” is intentionally fluid to mimic the fluidity of a human-constructed concept.

I’ve been looking forward to this event all term. Finally, just like the sunshine, it arrived.

I woke up Friday morning bright and early to prepare my things for an overnight trip to the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest. There was something unique about this trip, unlike most of my experiences in nature and research settings. It was a time to reflect on my experience in one of my many identities, being a Latina.

I arrived at Ana’s house at 9 am, and we were soon joined by several families who would also be coming along for our adventure in the forest. After a 45-minute choreography of rearranging our bags, coolers, and children, all the while gracefully dancing to the duet of Spanish and English, it was time to go.

We arrived at the forest close to noon and unpacked the cars into the cabin. You wouldn’t believe that we were only staying for one night by the number of things we managed to pack into the cars including, but not limited to, rain gear, food, and musical instruments. After sharing some laughs and sandwiches, it was time for the first activity of the afternoon: the story circle.

There is something about sitting in a circle that reminds me of the power of this sacred geometry. Many life lessons come to mind, including childhood memories of my favorite film, The Lion King. The circle of life, unity, the cycles that guide natural laws, all becomes clearer when we watch, listen, and participate. What a special moment for us all, students, professors, and professionals coming together to share what Latinx identity means to each of us. The circle began with Ruth and continued as we organically decided the order. Each person shared their experiences as Latinos. There were distinct differences and similarities within these short testimonies. Our prompt was as follows: What does it mean to be Latino? And what aspect of being Latino, your race, ethnicity, or nationality would you like to elaborate on? The responses were heartfelt and included diverse identifiers such as, passion, food, emotions, language, family, music, education, and being proud of our experiences and of those before us. Latino experiences with roots from Mexico, United States, Colombia, Ecuador, Cuba, and Chile were represented, and the stories shared were full of emotion, felt by both the speaker and listener. The conversation was extended to include the spouses of Latinos and discuss the experience raising a multicultural and bilingual family. The young children, all proud Latinas, were also included in the conversation.Their energy made us laugh and smile throughout this experience.

After our sincere conversation, there was some time to enjoy the beautiful weekend with which we had been blessed. Walking along Discovery Trail allowed us to reflect on our connection to nature. There is something about being in the presence of green giants that humbles the spirit. The group was amazed by the canopy structure and the strength of the river. After capturing a few beautiful nature photos, we began to discuss lessons that can be learned from nature.  Winter, one of the most difficult times for all life, is the most important season for renewal. It is the time where the rivers cleanse and prepare for the spring. It also a time to condition and test the resilience of creatures, humans and others.  Winter can be a time to test our persistence, molding us into all that we are.

Ivan reminded us that, “You can’t step in the same river twice.” As we headed back toward the cabin we reflected on our place in nature, the spiral of life and the universe, and about how we can start to bring other students with different experiences and backgrounds into the conversation.  We crossed over a small stream, and our memories from this visit to the HJ Andrews trickled into the water, down to the river, flowing outward. It was a time for cleansing, but we knew our stories would be preserved from that moment in time and continue cycling.

The rest of the evening we gathered around a large table with bowls full hot sancocho Colombiano. As the food simmered we shared some time together with a music session and dance party. I appreciated that we weren’t expected to leave the creative aspects of ourselves out of the conversation, it was encouraged. Conducting ecological research is often associated with being the quiet observer, allowing the environment to reveal secrets through careful measurement. Our interaction with the forest was different, it was a time for the celebration of who we are, our experiences, and an opportunity to create a living memory with nature.

We wrapped up the long day gathered around the campfire. We made smores and continued to sing into the night, our songs and carried by the green giants and the night breeze. We had our fair share of laughs, as the children shared their spooky/comical stories with us. Wise words that resonated with all of us came in the form of song by Facundo Cabral, Argentinian poet and composer- also recognized by UNESCO in 1996 as the Messenger of Peace and nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, shared a moment with the group as we chorused to the following lyrics (rough English translation included):

No soy de aquí ni soy de allá

I am not from here nor from there

“No tengo edad, ni porvenir “

I have no age, nor future

“Y ser feliz es mi color de identidad”

And to be happy is my color of identity.

As I reflect on the discussion of identity in the forest, I realize it was really a discussion about humanity and our connection to the world around us. A time to honor the winter, and a time to celebrate the sunshine of spring.

Juntos began back in 2007 as an OSU Open Campus initiative to increase Latino representation in Higher Education.  This program prepares students through a college readiness program that includes helping students navigate the steps toward entering and succeeding in college. Please visit the webpage to learn more and consider supporting if you feel inclined:

https://create.osufoundation.org/project/5826

Photo credits to our wonderful film crew: Rick Henry and Drew Olson

Participants: Ana Gomez-Diazgranados, Paul Navarra, Ruth Jones, Brooke Penaluna, Ivan Arismendi, Megan Patton-Lopez, Daniel Fernando Lopez-Cevallos-Ana Lu Fonseca, Carlos Fajardo, Natalia Maria Fernandez, and four beautiful and entertaining little girls (Hazel, Amaia, Chloe, Eva Lu)

Women, art, activism, protest, event.
By Melody Owen

I’m going to guide us back through the unexpected networks of art paths I walked this winter; through a deluge of rain and what seemed like books exploding in the air overhead, showering me with pages of text. This is a guided tour through some of the art I wandered through over these past few eventful months.

We started the term during a period of shocking transition in our government. A new faction is coming into power, an administration working to kill every government agency that protects the environment and supports the arts, humanities, libraries, public broadcasting, women’s health, threatened species, clean water, clean air, forests, press freedom, climate change research and on and on… the constant barrage of news reports have been interwoven with the dark, cold, grey of winter.

Pulsing through this cloud of gloom are bursts of light, moments of coming together with other people in solidarity and consolation. Yes, we are going through our daily routines; working or going to classes and meeting deadlines, always behind, but once in awhile an essential event will take place, whether it be through a performance, visiting a collection of objects, or listening to a person talk about their own path. In our time of screen living, half in and half out of the screen, when we meet together in a physical place for an event, a tangible moment of hope may be manifested.

About ten years ago, I lived in Quebec for a couple of months in a tiny cabin with no hot water all by itself in the middle of a giant field on the edge of the Saint Lawrence River. A short walk brought me to the rocky shore. The rock there was smooth in shades of yellow, red and copper. I hosted a small party one night on the shore for my comrades at the residency program, a handful of artists. We lay on smooth rock, watching the stars shoot through the sky and talked in French and English and joked. There might have been a campfire. And then, across the river, northern lights started shimmering in magnetic but very subtle blues and yellow.

The northern lights and meteor showers, the sparks of light in the darkness of my first winter in Corvallis were embodied mainly by creative women. I started the term by suddenly deciding to curate a show of some of the women artists who are on the faculty at OSU and U of O. I called the gallery Optic and the show Nasty Woman because galleries across the country and world were holding Nasty Woman events in response to the misogynist comments made by the incoming President and in an act of solidarity with the women’s marches. I wanted to contribute to this movement because I had both space and knowledge of a number of extremely talented women, all of whom teach in the area. It just made sense to bring the elements together. It took place at my studio on the night before the inauguration. (Meanwhile in the EAH program, we are reading ecofeminism. I discover Donna Haraway.)

Nasty Woman

We are coming together to protest against the misogyny of the incoming administration. We are coming together in solidarity with the women’s marches occurring around the United States. This show is meant to display the strength, innovation, talent, fortitude, unity, and excellence of women in our community.

Event photo: University of Oregon women’s basketball team taken in the 1910s. University of Oregon Libraries – Special Collections and University Archives

Corvallis Advocate preview by Johnny Beaver

Exhibiting Artists:

Amanda Tasse

Amanda Wojick

Anna Fidler

Anya Kivarkis

Jessie Rose Vala

Julia Bradshaw

Julie Green

Shelley Jordon

Tannaz Farsi

Terri Warpinski

In addition, we held an event on Not-My-President Day, which was also linked up with events around the world. There were many kinds of meetings and interventions, large and small, that simply made a gesture of solidarity or protest, even if that gesture was very quiet, just a whisper. Mother was just such an event. The artist’s 6 year old daughter, came dressed as Alice in Wonderland, prepared to recite from the Disney movie. We read the Pink Floyd lyrics which she handed out on scraps of paper. When one of us asked, while holding in our hands the cake of bacteria and yeast, “Mother, will they drop the bomb?” she delightfully shrugged her shoulders. The feel of the mother was cool and smooth and reminded me of the time I touched a whale.

Mother

Following is the event announcement, written by artist: Karin Bolender

In honor of Not-My-President’s Day, this intimate, improvisational ceremony, led by K-Haw Hart and hosted by Optic Gallery in Corvallis, Oregon, will bring some worried, wondering humans together to artfully question/resist the opacity and absurdity of present political regimes. As we gently pass around a Mother (the thick, fleshy, semi-translucent body of symbiotically cultured bacteria and yeast that brews an ancient drink called kombucha), we will ask the Mother questions sourced from the lyrics of the Pink Floyd song by that same name. Other questions and gestures are also welcome.

Jessie Rose Vala, mentioned previously, hosted an event on a full moon and an eclipse. This event occurred in the distant lands of Springfield, an hour away. I could see the lightning from where I was watching through the virtual world of social media. A woman sang while sitting on a horse in the center of Jessie’s marvelous installation of sculptures. I did stand for a moment in the room with those sculptures at Ditch Gallery, but the horse was not there. It was another day.

Ahab’s Mother

The next event at the Optic Gallery will also be themed around women and the environment. Julia Oldham will be showing her amazing drawing from the series Ahab’s Mother. This event will take place on March 25th, 2017. Please come.

Ahab’s Mother, a series of ink drawings by Eugene-based artist Julia Oldham, follows a woman through the depths of the ocean as she drifts among schools of sardines and shivers of mermaids and alongside a giant white whale. Borrowing from both the visual language of graphic novels and the classic illustrations of Moby Dick by Rockwell Kent, Oldham creates dreamy images about longing for impossible companionship with animals and seeking the darkest and most mysterious places.

I visited Julia at an event that she hosted at the gallery Bison Bison. She was playing the entire audio book of Moby Dick as she drew and invited others to come and draw with her.  At another event she hosted yet another amazing woman artist, Mandy Hampton, who spoke about her recent work with portals.

Continuing down the street and around the corner, Bruce Burris is an artist who draws acres and acres of ink pathways, and also curates an art space in the storefront window of a huge old apartment building called the Benton Plaza. He sometimes features artists who live in the hotel itself. It is something of a small Oregon town version of New York’s Chelsea Hotel, with all kinds of quietly sparkling residents, self taught artists and craftspeople, writers and tinkerers making maps and scrolls, detailed plans for ships and volumes of comic books. Treasures be here.

Other Corvallis event makers and artists I met on the paths this season were Lainie Turner, Co-Founder/Owner at Darkside Cinema; Hester Coucke of the Art Center and Corvallis Art Walk; and Helen Wilhelm who is crafting an elegant and hidden gallery in a science building on campus. It is called the Little Gallery and is currently hosting a show organized by our very own Samm Newton on the subject of the microbiome.

Ava Mendoza hosted by Michael Gamble

Another unexpected fork in my path led me to, the incredible Ava Mendoza. She played a surprise concert organized by fellow musician, Michael Gamble, a teacher at OSU. They played together with a small group including Dana Reason, who reached right into the piano strings to play it. This amazing, spontaneous group assembled together on the top floor of the hundred year old music building to play for us, sending twisting metallic, discords lilting ribbons of electronica, and little bursts of fireflies up into the high ceilings and the wooden rafters.

Carson Ellis

This is where the path gives a sudden shake and I am at a lecture by Carson Ellis hosted by the Fine Arts Department. I sit at edge of a giant classroom filled with students. Carson stands at the front and tells the story of her life via a slide lecture prepared for a group in Romania… I think it was Romania, in my mind are Russian spires of buildings in inky backdrops to bundled children having snowball fights. Carson’s career is amazing and I won’t recount it here. You can follow her website (below) into that rabbit hole. She and her husband are both profoundly talented and accomplished. From time to time, in the midst of children’s book illustrations and album covers, she will create and share (via social media) a spontaneous image of protest or solidarity, like the paintings she did for the Black Lives Matter and the Queer Pride movements. She has done so much beautiful work, My very favorite is the collaboration she did with her brilliant son Hank, in which she illustrates some of his extensive creative research into alien life forms, as shown below.

Then, the path twists back on itself and time shifts. I am sitting in this same giant classroom, actually in the very same seat. Only now there is a different person sitting next to me. It is a young man. Wasn’t it a woman sitting next to me at Carson’s talk? Or is it the same person who has now simply shifted gender like le Guin’s Gethen in Left Hand of Darkness.

Ryan Pierce

The readings from school leak into reality and back and forth until I am so confused it almost seems as if I myself am standing in front of a slide screen with an image of my virtual avatar projected behind me and I fumble with my notes as she speaks or I put words into her mouth, words like gender and illusion and identity. Anyway, I am here again, in the chair in the classroom, with a girl or a boy sitting next to me, either one of them secretly checking his or her cell phone. But now, before  of the slide projector stands Ryan Pierce, another longtime Portland artist and colleague. He shares his story too, in fragments, talking about leading groups of artists camping  in the mountains and the desert in the summer, and about painting in his studio all winter. He shows slides of his paintings, many of ecological degradation, human impact on nature, paintings which in real life are almost as big as the projections. My favorites are his collections of treasures and delights, a little like the collection I offer you here. Who knew you could walk a path through a wood and find all these tiny treasures. (Well, the child knows this but shhhhh… puts finger up to lips) A Cabinet of Curiosities. Who knew you could walk a path through a small town in winter and scoop up all these shining stars.

Ka’ila Farrell-Smith

Ka’ila Farrell-Smith shows slides with Ryan. She is a painter too. My favorite piece was the drum material she stretched over canvas. It is visceral, referential and reverential to a profoundly painful and simultaneously beautiful heritage as well as reflecting a contemporary presence of mind and place. Her work evokes the story, the moment the story is told, the retelling of the story. They both tell stories about Signal Fire. Ka’ila started on the trips as a resident artist and became one of the trip leaders. She shares a moment of revelation in which she met a small animal, I think it was a turtle, and she followed it around and studied it for hours, which makes perfect sense to me. We see so little of those creatures really.  They are in the wild, keeping their magic to themselves, unless we are lucky enough to come upon them, while walking those paths.

Ryan started Signal  Fire with his partner, Amy Harwood. Amy is one of the most hard working and innovative environmental activists I have ever met. She is full time protecting the wilderness and ancient forests with organizations like BARK in Portland. Signal Fire hosts artists in tents in the mountains and in deserts. They take groups of students on long hikes while making art and reading about environmental issues along the way. They take artists on canoe trips and on adventures along the borders between countries. I really admire the way Ryan and Amy have manifested this residency and have been watching it grow year by year. Talk about bright lights in the darkness… these two humans have added a warm campfire glow, complete with spreading sparks, to help us light the gloom we are currently navigating.


Freda by Anna Fiddler

Now we come to the end of winter term’s winding path. In the last few days, on every plant and tree in town, tiny  buds and flowers have started bursting from branches, all soft and fuzzy like microscopic lambs, like fallen stars.. I’ll see you when Spring explodes and future events mark our way.