Work Yet To Be Done

Commonplace Capers, No. 08

In his fascinating study of gardening, “Second Nature,” Michael Pollen proposes that our incessant fiddling with the soil and the plants is inherent to our species, not just as culture, but as an evolutionary survival strategy, one that has worked in our favor.

Of course, this incessant fiddling tendency of ours can be also linked to the horrific impacts our species is having on the planet. Is a bomb nothing but a gardening tool? (Pollen does not propose this, I do).

The impacts of the world wars last century on the landscape are a fascinating study waiting to be published, unless I missed it.

And our carbon discharge every time we drive to the store, is it not but an unconscious fumigation technique gone awry.

Man will never be above nature. Man is nothing but nature. Nature has little need of man.

Awesome Obscurities, No. 2

An East Coast Ode to the Basin

In many ways, discovering a great blog for me is like stumbling upon an amazing used book store. Often the collection of books is an extension of a truly remarkable personality to be discovered in the shop owner.

One blog that fits this description is Austerity 101, by Cathy Tremain. Daily, Cathy takes and shares a picture of the basin she lives by, in a simple, direct manner. The consistency of the practice invites the viewer to become familiar over time with the various features of the landscape as the camera captures views in each direction. Daily, it’s like returning to a favorite spot to look out over the water.

The impact of these posts is they open a silent, meditative window. The poet Charles Olson, who also lived along the water in Gloucester, Massachusetts, was fascinated by the effect of seeing the line where the land meets the sea. He celebrated this in his epic The Maximus Poems, by highlighting the paintings of Fitz Hugh (Henry) Lane, and developing a poetics of the “eye view.”

The relationship of a person or a culture to a specific landscape, as Cathy’s study of the basin creates, also reminds me of the fascinating books by Vincent Scully. In his The Earth, The Temple, and the Gods, Scully explores the impact of the landscape in shaping the ancient Minoan culture in Crete. In his Pueblo: Mountain, Village, Dance, he turns to the American Southwest and, through the same lens, explores the fascinating relationship to be found between the culture of the Pueblo tribes and the landscapes of the high desert.

My own practice living in the Catskills strives to capture and convey the connections I continue to learn about on a daily basis from masters like Charles, Fitz, Vincent, and Cathy.

Postscript: Since we are on the topic of connection to the landscape, a quick shout out to my partner Judith, who has just released a small series of recent paintings: Winter in the Catskills. Take a look, I think you will like them.