Just popping in to share a fascinating series of short pieces from the blog Artists and Climate Change:
I lived in character as the Beaulieu Beadle for twelve months from July 14th, 2013 until July 13th, 2014 in a six-metre long, floating Egg sculpture in the Beaulieu River on the fringe of the New Forest National Park in England. It was an innovative and energy efficient, self-sustaining capsule, providing a place to live as well as a laboratory for studying the life of a small tidal river in a protected Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Climate change is already creating new shorelines here, as established salt marsh is eroded by a combination of rising sea levels and falling landmass, and the entire littoral environment is in a state of flux. Sea level is predicted to rise by 114cm from today’s levels by 2115, with the loss of over 760 hectares of salt marsh.
I live in nature. Surrounded by it, I experience every subtle shift and change. I witness an amazing array of species as they inhabit the same place, and I am exactly where I want to be. I never could have predicted this would be my life. I never thought I’d give up my studio, my workshop, all my tools and supplies. I loved being a full time studio artist. But at some point, as an environmental artist, it wasn’t enough. As my ideas grew, the studio felt too confined, too removed, so isolated and incapable of adequately experiencing and expressing (incubating and containing) what I needed to say. Being more visual than verbal, that’s really what art is to me; another means of expressing a concept or idea.
Having sold the bulk of our possessions, my studio now fits in eight small drawers and paints live in a tiny bin. The sailboat is impossible to keep tidy and organized, and mold is a constant problem. But when I step out of the cabin into the cockpit, I see dolphins and egrets. I see pelicans and sea squirts.
Many island nations of the Caribbean and coastal regions of the Eastern U.S. are particularly threatened by damaging climate change impacts like sea level rise, increased storm surges, and loss of local aquatic ecosystems. Many adaptation measures could be taken to spare life and property in these threatened areas, but climate change skepticism and a poor understanding of the science remain a major barrier to meaningful action. In order to address this gap in understanding my partner, hydrologist Zion Klos, and I are embarking on a year-long sailing expedition, and art and science collaboration called Climate Odyssey.
In other news, my research activities have been reduced to reading, sewing (a new discovery) and watering the garden in the midst of a nasty (for Switzerland) heat wave. The forecast is calling for 100° starting tomorrow and continuing at least through the weekend. All activities involving ovens, stoves and wool are therefore on hold at least until Monday-Tuesday, when I’ll be giving a bread baking workshop at a kids’ summer camp. Had I know we would be hit with this kind of weather, I would have proposed a popsicle workshop, but oh well, what’s done is done…!
“Keeping Quiet,” Pablo Neruda
Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.
For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.
Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.
Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.
That concludes today’s poetic interlude. Have a nice day everyone.
The other day I was working with Arlène, a friend from the garden, to start up a blog to document this year’s garden adventures, which will serve as an archive of photos and stories as we prepare for our eventual eviction and search for a new home. When Arlène and I talk, even when we’re supposed to be working, we have a tendency to go off on tangents, which I like. That’s my kind of talking (and working), because tagents often lead to exciting discoveries.
During one of our little derives Arlène mentioned a website called Keepinuse, based in Switzerland (mostly in the French part though there is some action in the German regions), that works on the assumption that one person’s trash is another’s treasure. People put up posts for their unwanted things that they’d like to give away, while others post requests for certain items that they’d like to take off someone else’s hands, and somewhere along the line the giver meets the receiver and an unused object finds a loving home. I like these sorts of ideas so I created an account and, as luck would have it, the first give-away I found was a woman posting for her mother, who had some materials for dyeing wool that hadn’t been used in a while. I responded immediately, got a response back, and set up a date to go up to their house in the suburbs and pick up my goods.
On Friday I parked my bike downtown and took the bus out to a small village, where I met Béatrice, the mother. She drove us to her house and took me to the backyard, where I saw that the dyeing materials would very definitely not fit in my bike basket. I was picturing a pot and a few packages of tumeric. It was a lot more than that. A lot. Sheep not included, but pretty much everything else was. I’ve made an inventory:
1. Two 5 kilogram sacks of ground madder root to make a vibrant red dye. (Béatrice showed me some samples she’d done, still bright cherry red even after two decades in her basement.)
A new-to-me video, which I discovered thanks to Root Simple.
So though there is this loss of understanding the value of things, of the meaning of things, and in handwork, in transforming nature we also make something truly unique that we have made with our hands, stitch by stitch, that maybe we have chosen the yarn, we have even spun the yarn — even better, and that we have designed. And when I do that, I feel whole. I feel I am experiencing my inner core because it’s a meditative process. You have to find your way; you have to listen with your whole being. And that is the schooling that we all need today.
Nothing to add here… she says it all.
Now back to my knitting.
I have what is a slightly irrational fear of wild plants, when it comes to eating them or using them medicinally. A bit of fear is healthy of course, because it means I’m not traipsing around town picking bits of plants here and there from the asphalt and the park to put in my salad, without knowing what they are. However, even when I’m with someone who knows beyond any doubt that this or that is nettle, or edible berries, I hesitate. I was on a hike once with my friend Noemi and we stumbled upon a big patch of wild strawberries: she cried Oh goody! and started having at them, while I stood back in horror, expecting her to suddenly clutch at her throat and gasp for air. My fear stems in part from a freelance project I had several years ago, editing a series of books on poisonous plants. I’ve read more anecdotes than one should about Victorian era children dropping dead after gorging themselves on belladonna. But after a moment Noemi turned around and held out a palmful of the tiny red berries, and, feeling like a bit of a whimp, I took them. They were very clearly strawberries, smelled like strawberries, tasted like strawberries (only better), but I nevertheless spent the following two hours feeling every single twinge in my body and thinking it was the beginning of the end.
That, my friends, is no way to live. I don’t want to live in fear, and I don’t want to miss out on all the fun that is to be had hunting for mushrooms, foraging for wild greens and pigging out on strawberries with your friend on a steep mountain trail.
Several years ago I thought about looking into learning plant identification. It seemed so intense and overwhelming. BUT (you must have known there was a but coming), I’m starting to get over it. This is another one of those moments where I am so happy to be doing the sorts of things I’m doing in life. One of the current residents at Utopiana is Belle Benfield, a visual artist who is also an herbalist, and yesterday we had a plant foraging workshop with a local forager named Maurice Hennart leading the way.
My sourdough starter turned one year old at the beginning of April. I can’t calculate the date exactly of course, so I chose the date of what I thought was more or less its birthday the way I celebrated my shelter cat’s birthday on February 2. (By celebrate I mean just saying “Happy birthday cat” and letting her gorge herself on cat treats — I wasn’t the sort of human companion who baked birthday cakes for my cat.) My sourdough starter didn’t get any special treatment, just its usual morning dose of fresh flour and water, but I did sing happy birthday to it as I gave it a stir. Now that’s embarrassing.
I haven’t kept tabs on the number of loaves of bread I’ve made with this starter in its first year of life, but I can guess at something in the two hundreds, and it’s also been split off and shared with a number of friends. Mas got some, as did the people who came to the Trade School classes I did. I gave some to Patti and Bron as well, twice, since they killed the first ones (like I’ve done, many times). Patti also managed to bring some over to the US, by putting a small amount in a travel sized jar in her toiletries bag. TSA was none the wiser. This was a good thing since the authorities generally don’t like cross-border transportation of microbial life. Stefan Tiron (an artist who comes to Utopiana regularly) ran into some issues once when traveling with his nukazuke. The customs agents were suspicious (maybe understandably so) when they unearthed from his belongings a Tupperware of fermenting rice bran and Stefan tried to explain, but it’s nukazuke! They weren’t impressed but eventually he got it through to Geneva, and I wound up getting a bit of it to start my own (which I killed).
Got some bad news a few weeks ago, and since then I’ve been in a weird state in which I alternately fly into ranting rages, or else drop into silence and change the subject. Fluctuating between rage and hiding my sadness, it’s tiring. I haven’t told my own mother nor some of my friends who have an interest in these things because often when we go there in conversation I feel a pang of grief and don’t feel like talking about it. Because not talking about it means it doesn’t exist, right?
No, no one’s sick or dead, but a little patch of urban paradise will be, at some point in the near future. The back story, in brief, is that the plot of land where we have the garden, and Utopiana, is on loan to us from the city, and from the beginning there was the understanding that at some point in an undetermined future it would all be bulldozed to the ground and replaced by a nine-story apartment block and parking lot. That’s how the world spins in this urban planning paradigm — gardeners get the leftover land on loan until something bigger comes along.