Our Earth—the enveloping atmosphere, vast oceans, life-giving soils, profusion of plants, and grandly varied animals—each aspect of our planet needs our care-filled attention. This whole-hearted engagement becomes personal and possible though direct experience. Whether we’re field scientists, rock climbers, photographers, writers, or anglers, each path of perception reaffirms our place on the Earth and Earth’s centeredness in us. Yesterday, when ice-glazed streets edited my original out-of-town plans, I decided to check out two artists’ attention to nature through a new exhibit in the Corrine Woodman Gallery at the Arts Center: “Connecting with Water, Journeying Through Art”, featuring local artists Abigail Losli and Diane Widler Wenzel. The small and intimate exhibit granted me a chance to slow down and appreciate the creative and significant messages about water, and to consider how water and humans inter-permeate the course of each other’s paths.

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    Acrylic panels by Abigail Losli

The display that immediately caught my eye was comprised of Abigail Losli’s 16 individual acrylic panels, together entitled, One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen, Fifteen, Sixteen. Losli, who earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts from OSU, found her inspiration for these pieces through her repeated retreats to the Willamette River near her home, where she found time and space to pause, breathe, be still, and observe. Her work is alive with the river’s color and movement, each panel representing “a single visit, a moment of connection.” In her artist’s  statement, she admits that through her direct, meditative experience with the Willamette River, she gained an even greater awareness of all the ways people build their lives around water, affirming the rich connections and traditions that surround it. Her work exemplifies how environmental art can illuminate the outer and inner life of both artist and viewer.

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“From Silent Slack Waters” by Diane Widler Wenzel

The other featured artist, Diane Widler Wenzel, chose several spontaneous, non-objective abstracted paintings for the exhibit. (Non-objective means the painting’s purpose is to represent that which is not a thing.) Wenzel sees art as a journey—a way of thinking, learning, and growing. Her work has therefore become a journal of her life. With a painting and drawing degree from PSU supplemented by decades of close connection with the outdoors through camping, hiking, white-water rafting and boating, Wenzel strives to visualize her place in nature’s mystery, and encourages viewers to listen to the art itself. And indeed, I was struck by her painting entitled, From Silent Slack Waters, which effectively embraces the quiet lull and curve of watery silence. I was entranced by her success in capturing within her paintings not only the quality of emotion, but also that of sound, made possible by way of her keen journeying among inner as well as outer shorelines.

Wenzel and Losli’s art enriched my day immeasurably. My moments with their paintings confirmed for me the necessity of art for deepening our range of environmental expression well beyond the ordinary world of words.

A crowd of over 100 people came to the Corvallis-Benton County Library last night to watch Tim Palmer’s slide show based on his beautiful new book, Rivers of Oregon. His presentation, sponsored by Spring Creek Project and Oregon Wild, was filled with countless hydrological, geological, and botanical images from both sides of the Cascades, with the theme of rivers flowing throughout. Palmer, an award-winning author and photographer from Port Orford, Oregon, branched into topics that tell the big story of rivers: their journeys from source to sea, the life forms and recreation that depend upon them, as well as the forces that disrupt and harm them.

Choosing the Rogue River as his messenger, he began with the Rogue’s headwaters in the high Cascades, highlighting thdscn0287e river’s varied features and moods through personal anecdote and dramatic photography. Having rowed and paddled along the Rogue with his wife multiple times, Palmer described this iconic river like a good friend, respectful of its power and personality, and proud of its recovery from human-caused setbacks. Not only did we see breathtaking images of frothy whitewater and deep, clear pools, but we also witnessed the Rogue’s vulnerabilities through Palmer’s photos of blue-green algae outbreaks caused by pollutants and increased water temperatures, toxic debris leaked from nickel mining, and harmful mudslides triggered by clear-cuts. Palmer also shared some of the Rogue’s checkered history, how its freedom was hampered last century by three hydroelectric dams, and the good news of its restoration when the dams were systematically removed several years ago. Now the Rogue flows for 160 dam-free miles, allowing its former wildness – and former salmon runs – to return.

dscn0290Palmer began his presentation with the statement, “Rivers are the essence of Oregon”, and he concluded with a request, “Think about the importance of rivers to all of us, and protect and adopt them as (y)our own.” By keeping our rivers clean, free flowing and wild, we will nourish Earth’s landscapes as well as our own souls.

Shotpouch Creek

Last week our brand new cohort stepped onto the beautiful sunlit Shotpouch Creek property to begin the first class of our two-year Environmental Arts and Humanities MA program (which I affectionately call the EArtH MA), expertly led by Jake Hamblin, Director, and Carly Lettero, Program Manager. Through readings, walks on the land, and discussions with experts in the humanities, arts, and sciences we became better acquainted with our program’s interdisciplinary themes, including environmental ethics, justice, history, artistic expression, purpose and action. And very importantly, we became acquainted with one another. Our cohort shines with the multi-facets of each individual; among us you will find writers, conservationists, poets, leaders, artists, field and lab scientists, philosophers, dancers, and teachers whose stories include courage, creativity, and passion for our planet’s healing. To balance the week’s depth and intensity, Dr. Hamblin gave us daily downtime for reflection and rest(oration). And so each day, Shotpouch Creek itself became my source of renewal, where I could always find the flow of music and wisdom to remind me why I am embarking on this academic adventure. The creek became an integral part of me and us, and for that I am grateful! ~Jill Sisson