Plastics

 

Yup, those are plastics, residing there in my studio.  Here I’ve been a foaming-at-the-mouth environmentalist all these years and I was blind to what was going on in my own life!

I am reading a fascinating book entitled : “Plastic”, by Susan Freinkel.  The book opens with a quest to list all the things plastic she touches in a day…. that was an eye-opener.  I’m getting a whole fresh look at plastic.  For example, consider the toothbrush.  Before plastic came along, not everyone could afford one.  That gave me pause.

I haven’t actually gotten very far into the book yet, but I came across a paragraph about plastic use by artists, and I knew I’d found what I wanted to write a post about.  It was noted that while designers were having a fine old time with plastics, from dishes to chairs to you-name it, attempts to use the new polymers by artists were “lame”.  I would agree.  In fact, those artists from the 50’s -70’s really gave art a black eye in my opinion.  Say you are an artist to many people and watch their hackles rise.  Think of all the ridiculous “masterpieces” hanging in contemporary museums and galleries, and the skyrocketing prices in the 70’s art world, and you know what I’m talking about.  To this day a prejudice exists against acrylic paint- many is the gallery owner who won’t even look at my work if I tell them my medium before they see the work.

So, why do I persist in using acrylics?  Mostly because that was the medium I was taught, but also because when I research other media, such as oils, I find I really question whether they are any better for the environment.  The solvents and thinners, the fumes…

Recently I came across a manufacturer that is responding to concerns.  I am so pleased by this;  they have developed an extensive water filtering system which allows them to reuse their water in the production of paint, plus allows the water that does leave the plant to do so more cleanly.  Also, they use recycled and recyclable plastic for their paint tubes, using locally sourced materials.  No trans-ocean voyages for these paint tubes.  Hooray!  Now about those canvases that start in India, travel to China, ship to Peoria, then….

 

Rootedness


My fellow readers out there will know how this happens~ you read one good book and glance at the bibliography, then you’re off on a marvelous wandering journey.  This is how I came to be reading “Salmon in the Trees”.  I thought it would be a scientific discussion about nutrient cycling.  It is, but it is so much more.  Artwork and essays by a myriad of people accompany gorgeous photography.  It has been a feast.

I’ve learned a startling thing from this book that I want to share with you.  There is evidence that the native tribes have lived in the Tongass area of Alaska for about 10,000 years!  This is much longer than I was taught in college.  In this incredibly rich area, these people lived in harmony with their world all this time without depleting it.  For example, baskets were woven from the roots of spruce trees.  They were always careful not to take so many roots that the tree would die.

By contrast, think of Easter Island.  It is interesting that throughout time, in one place after another, the pattern of human civilization has been to strip an area of it’s natural resources and then move on.  And yet, the peoples of the Tongass didn’t.  Although their culture faltered when white people descended on them, they rallied and today their culture is alive and well.

So about the Tongass that I keep mentioning.  For as long as I can remember I have received pleas to write letters in defense of the Tongass National Forest.  I generally did, although I never planned to visit it.  Turns out it is a really, really big old-growth forest.  It may well be the only intact ecosystem left on the planet.  How exciting that there is a place where no species have been lost, where streams run clear enough to support salmon and bears and eagles and wolves and….trees.  The trees are fed by the nutrients from dead fish, and in turn the trees create the right kinds of streams for the fish.  The bears carry salmon into the woods, take a bite and leave.  This seeming waste is what feeds the forest.  It is an incredibly elegant  loop, and we haven’t wrecked it!

Today, increasing numbers of people are moving there to escape what we’ve created in the lower 48.  While I find this sad, it cheers me to read their determination to follow the lead of the native peoples and take their living from the land without hurting it.  It isn’t too late to restore the rest of our states, and raise our quality of life into the bargain.  I think we need to beware the economists who measure our well-being in terms of growth and new-housing starts.  That simply cannot go on forever.  At some point we as a people are going to have to stop racing “forward” and start being stewards of this amazing land.  Just think of it- doesn’t the thought of all of us collectively slowing down lower your blood pressure?  Maybe we could build more bike paths and fewer box stores :).

Which brings me to rootedness.  I think few of us can trace our lineage back 10,000 years in one place….I suppose few would want to if it comes to that.  But I like the idea of planting my flag and saying, “here.  Here is where I’ll stay.”  And learning the rhythms of a place, and finding my spot.  There is no one place my family is from, which leaves me the dizzying choice of where to land.  Hmmmm…..

A look over my shoulder

The music swirled in my head and the paintbrush swooped about on the large canvas as questions tugged at my heart.  In “Steadily Skipping Stones”, a wonderful blog I love to follow, Michelle asks when is a choice a leap of faith and when is it a betrayal of self.  I think I’ve got that right.  Well, exactly.  As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve carried the dream of returning to the Pacific Northwest for all of my adult life, just waiting for the right moment to go.  Now I find that it is much changed.  So have I, in my years here.  So I waffle like crazy.  One day it is the coast or bust, the next it’s hunker down and watch the oaks grow.  I must not be the only one wrestling with such things because in my art magazine there is a posting for a competition~ the subject being, how does the landscape of memory shape current reality and future choice.  So, here is the landscape of my memory.

And here is a peek at my garden wearing a fresh cloak of snow…

The one is kinda wild, isn’t it?  It is a big, mysterious land out there.  The garden, on the other hand, is kind of peaceful.  Sweet.  Small.

Where, From Here?

 

When I was growing up, my Dad’s job required quite a few moves.  I’ve talked to other people who changed schools as often as they changed wardrobes, and it hits us in two ways- either we become permanent rolling stones or we spend our adult years yearning for that spot on the planet we can finally sink our roots and call home.  Now for one reason or other I’ve lived here in Illinois for WAY more years than I’d planned.  It was never going to be home.  No indeed.  It was always just the place I found myself, embarrassingly enough, until I managed to go home.  Home for me, I always felt, was the Pacific Norhwest.  You know, where all the big trees are.  Only, they aren’t.  Not anymore.  We humans have hit the area like a plague of locusts.  Walk a little way into a redwood forest and you find it is nothing but a heartbreakingly thin ribbon, hiding clearcut.  Or, as I did recently, take a look around Seattle.  Where I remember Douglas Firs looming mysteriously in banks of fog, there is now nothing but 10 lanes of freeway.

Huh.  I didn’t see any of that coming.  How can humans dare to cut down thousand year old trees?  What were they thinking?

There is nothing like being confronted with the permanent loss of something you treasured to bring home things like mortality.  I don’t have a thousand years to wait for those trees to grow back, even supposing the communities would refrain from paving the land over in the meantime.    I guess maybe I’ll stick around here, after all, and watch my baby oak tees grow.

 

It’s snowing today…

On Water and Trees

 

I wanted to share with you this painting of one of my favorite places in the world.  I found it when I was looking for this:

The Treasure Hunt begins...

 

But that is another story.  Well, they are connected, actually, but I don’t want to go long-winded here.  What propelled my to my computer this morning is a series of articles I’ve been reading in National Geographic magazines about water.  First there was a horrific series about what is going on in China, the “Factory to the World”.  To provide us with endless supplies of cheap plastic they are polluting their rivers and seeing cancer rates jump.  To meet demand for water and to control flooding they have created enormous dams.  Sadly, the dams have created siltation problems and pollution, no longer being flushed by water flow, actually becomes more concentrated.

Jump to Australia, where an entire river was diverted for irrigation and forests were cut down to grow crops.  I don’t know how things are there now, as the article was written in 2009, but at that time farmers were being forced to throw in the towel because of many years of drought.

Then I look at my painting with new eyes.  I think how very lucky I am to live here, where long ago leaders had the foresight to set land aside.  These wetlands were not drained, these trees were not cut.  Many years ago a college professor made the claim that trees create rain.  This seemed a little far-fetched to me, but he showed slides and data to support it.  There is proof that where the jungle is clear-cut, for example, rainfall diminishes dramatically.  Studies have since been done in the Pacific Northwest that back this up.

The reason I wanted to talk about this is because whenever things get tough, the first instinct is often to look for blame and to make hasty choices.  Already in my area I hear dark mutterings against the Forest Preserve District for buying land and setting it aside.  What the District is doing is creating a “Green Corridor” along the Des Plaines River.  The goal is to give the river room to meander a little, with wetlands along its edges to sponge up floodwaters and purify pollutants.  This makes so much sense to me, and I marvel when I hear of other areas not doing similar things.

One thing is very clear to me: if we keep our river ecosystems healthy, it will go a long way toward keeping our planet, and us, healthy.

Well, those are my big civic thoughts.  On a more personal note, the reason I love this place is frogs.  Yup.  I love wading through wet meadow-woods-edgy places looking for tadpoles, tiny fishes, interesting bugs, wild looking plants.  Birds call from the trees and deer bound about.  Once I came across a great horned owl roosting close to the ground.  She- (I dunno- she seemed like a she)- was huge!  One look into her fierce yellow eyes and I backed cautiously away.  wow….

 

 

A Wild New Year

Happy New Year to everyone!

I don’t know if you ever experience this, but I frequently have several different ideals wrestling to be uppermost in my mind as I go about my days.  “Be free!  Be innovative!   Be economical!  Be environmental!”  all of which mostly just leaves me feeling mental.  And frozen.  So this year I am hoping to be gentler with myself.  I figure if I can do that, it is bound to spill out into how I treat others and the world in general.  Of course, I really do want to be a little more free, innovative,…etc.

in my garden there runs a wild woman

 

whose job it is to remind me to lighten up and think of the possibilities.  Not that I would run naked through the garden….

Sometimes things get a little off-kilter

but that is ok.

So, in the interest of lightening up, here is my newest painting.  I don’t know what I think of it.  It is kinda wacky, maybe.

Maybe one of these days I will be able to leap all the way into abstraction.  But I’ll be leaving my clothes on in the garden!