Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Karman Vortices and other Earth Art.

The following images come from the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science Center whose acronym is (yes, it really is) EROS. The EROS Center has an incredible slideshow of satellite images of our one, our only home.

"Our common home," as the subtitle to Pope Francis' encyclical, Laudato Si', reminds us.

Edrengiyn Nuruu August 1, 1999.  The Edrengiyn Nuruu forms a transition zone between the Mongolian steppes to the north and the arid deserts of northern China to the south.

Karman Vortices September 1, 1999. Each of these swirling clouds is a result of a meteorological phenomenon known as a Karman vortex. These vortices appeared over Alexander Selkirk Island in the southern Pacific Ocean. Rising precipitously from the surrounding waters, the island's highest point is nearly a mile (1.6 km) above sea level. As wind-driven clouds encounter this obstacle, they flow around it to form these large, spinning eddies.
Lena Delta July 1, 2001. The Lena River, some 2,800 miles(4,500km) long, is one of the largest rivers in the world. The Lena Delta Reserve is the most extensive protected wilderness area in Russia. It is an important refuge and breeding grounds for many species of Siberian wildlife.
Dragon Lake December 1, 1999. Nicknamed "Dragon Lake," this body of water is formed by the Bratskove Reservoir, built along the Angara River in southern Siberia, near the city of Bratsk. This image was acquired in winter, when the lake is frozen.
Bolivian Deforestation August 1, 2000. Once a vast carpet of healthy vegetation, the Amazon rain forest is changing rapidly. This image of Bolivia shows dramatic deforestation in the Amazon Basin. Loggers have cut long paths into the forest, while ranchers have cleared large blocks for their herds. Fanning out from these clear-cut areas are settlements built in radial arrangements of fields and farms. Healthy vegetation appears bright red in this image.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Muriel Rukeyser: This moment is real.

                                        Sundews, Prince William Sound, Alaska.

"This moment is real, this moment is what we have, this moment in which we face each other, and if a poem is any damn good at all, it invites you to bring your whole life to that moment, and we are good poets inasmuch as we bring that invitation to you, and you are good readers inasmuch as you bring your whole life to the reading of the poem."                     

 ~ Muriel Rukeyser

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

I thought I knew ice.

After nearly 30 years in Alaska, after decades kayaking coastlines replete with tidewater glaciers and hiking mountains up to vast icefields, I thought I knew ice. But that’s the wonderment of the natural world: it continues to surprise me.  So when I traveled to the Antarctic Peninsula in February, I saw ice as I never had before.


Endless forms most beautiful, wrote Charles Darwin, and so it is, perhaps nowhere more evident than with ice. Yes, he was writing about biological evolution. But there is, in these giant ancient-ice bergs, an evolution as well. And an unsurpassed artistry.

Once they break from the icesheet or glacier of the continent, they live for years, decades. These bergs are so big they are named and tracked, watched by satellite. B9 sheered from the eastern Ross Ice Shelf in 1987; in 1989, it broke into three pieces; in 2010, the largest piece, B9B, collided with the Mertz Glacier, causing it to calve a massive berg.

And they travel. By current and wind they travel hundreds of miles, circling the continent, moving northward. B9 covered 1200 miles in 22 months. One berg blocked our route through the Lemaire Channel one day, but by the next had shifted, allowing passage. 

Not until this trip had I truly seen an iceberg. Growlers and bergy bits, yes, and floes. But not bergs. They are a different animal entirely. Freed from the icecap or glacier, they wander the coasts and ocean for decades, their faces changing, their bodies eroding and falling apart, until nothing is left but shards like bones.

They are not just white, but a changing tapestry of all colors, swirling in dark seas. Their ice is blue and pink and yellow, purple in dark light, and sometimes struck gold, shining like diamonds. Like the white of a color wheel, it contains all other colors, and reveals one or another or several at any given moment, in any given light and shadow, any alteration in perspective. A changing, moving work of art.

Watching the beauty before me, the constantly changing kaleidoscope of color and texture, never far from my mind was climate change. The Antarctic Peninsula is one of the most rapidly warming places in the world. Ice shelves are collapsing, glaciers and ice caps are retreating and thinning. There’s news this month of the catastrophic collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which holds 10 percent of the continent’s ice.

The beauty and the terror of life on Earth right now. Species like Adelie penguins who nest on ice having to move farther south, away from us. The grief of what we are destroying, the joy of what remains. The beauty and the terror: not of getting trapped in the ice, but of losing the ice, the great melt underway.


There is an absence here, an absence of human presense, like a fresh breeze through an open window in a room that has been closed for centuries. It is a place to rest worry and fear, to see by the light of a new path, a new way of living on this planet. There is a lack of thinking that there is anything here for us to do, other than witness.

I still dream of moving through the ice gallery, a gallery of sculptures by elemental forces. Nature doesn’t cling to her creations, said one of my companions. It's like a sand mandala, he said, the beauty formed, and then swept away. Beauty, on a different time scale than ours. More slowly, gradually, at least from our perspective. Geologic time. Earth time.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

St. Augustine: and the people forgot themselves.

Resurrection Bay by Rockwell Kent

"And the people went there and admired the high mountains, the wide wastes of the sea, and the mightly downward rushing streams and the ocean and the course of the stars, and forgot themselves."

~ St. Augustine of Hippo, Confessions

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Year of Being Here: the mindfulness of nature and art.

I recently had a poem published in A Year of Being Here.This marvelous blog posts a poem a day, all of them "mindfulness poetry." Most are by contemporary poets, some by relatively unknown poets (like me) and others whose work you've no doubt heard of or read. Some of the voices reach farther back in time, too, to Wordsworth and Meister Eckhart and Rumi.

Mindfulness, as I understand it, is just about being in the present moment, in the here and now. While the site isn't focused on nature poetry, you'll notice that many of the poems, and accompanying artwork, are often about or set in or referencing the more-than-human world.

This is understandable, since the natural world gives us ample models of being present. Just watch a bird or tree or wild being of any kind, and you'll notice that they live their lives (as far as I can tell) always in the present moment. They don't worry about or plan the future, and they don't gnaw on what happened in the past. They do not, as the poet Wendell Berry once wrote, "tax their lives with forethought of grief."

And art: the best inspiration I've ever had has come when I am present, fully present, to whatever is going on right here and now, right in front of me. The mind eases out of the chatter of past/future thinking, and something new opens up, some new slant of light slips in.

So, mindfulness, art, nature - it's all intertwined, all same-same. And this blog, A Year of Being Here, is full to bursting with some of the most inspiring poetry I've ever read. As the curator of the blog, Phyllis Cole-Dai, writes:

If you enjoy the taste of the wild berries I’ve picked, grab a pail of your own and head for light. That’s where these poems grow; there, and in the dappled dark of the woods. You’ll have a fine time, searching for them amongst the bushes and the brambles, so long as you go slow and watch out for thorns and bears.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Climate Change Art.

"Melting Men" by Nele Azevedo

It's been ten years now since author and activist Bill McKibben decried the fact that there was no outpouring of art helping us truly understand climate change. Without art, he wrote, we don't feel it in our gut; it isn't part of our culture.

It took awhile for art to enter the realm of climate change, I'm guessing because it plays out on such a large scale, through incremental and slow changes, and with such unimaginable long term effects that, well, it was just too much, at first, to handle. I remember the first essay I wrote about it--I used a mosaic form, a form that in itself creates a sense of imbalance, of fractured thoughts and insights. It was the only way I could approach the subject of climate change at the time, though even now trying to get my words around such an overwhelming subject, and what it means on a personal level, is challenging. 

Much has changed since McKibben's plea--at least in the art world. Politically, that's another story. I think this artistic response bears notice, for the ways in which art can speak to more than just our intellect; the ways in which it reaches the gut and the beating heart of things.

The blog Artists and Climate Change has made it their mission to track and share all forms of climate change art, from theatre to sculpture to music to literature. It's a great place to find out what's going on, to network with other like-minded artists, and to just get a sense of how we can approach climate change, not just with our intellects, but with our imaginations.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

Stanley Kunitz: A Representative Human Being.

"As an artist, you are a representative human being--you have to believe that in order to give your life over to that effort to create something of value. You're not doing it only to satisfy your own impulses or needs; there is a social imperative. If you solve your problems and speak of them truly, you are of help to others, that's all. And it becomes a moral obligation."

~ Stanley Kunitz, in The Wild Braid