Monday, October 24, 2011

Water in New Mexico

I just took a trip to New Mexico with my family. I thought a lot about water, its qualities, and our need for it, how it defines our lives – with either too much or too little of it, or the delight of discovering it in a stream, a landscape, or a hot spring. Driving through the desert, and looking at the mountains, you could see where the streams were – with the sinuous lines of aspens making their way down the mountain sides along the beds. In the valleys, rows of gnarly cottonwoods lined the arroyos to create lush screens between stretches of desert or grassland. The greatest river in the area, the Rio Grande, was sunk into the earth, so, that you had to descend into it to reach it’s cool green waters, and the lush banks that held healing plants. After the great expanses, and muted palette of the landscape it was healing just to see many shades of green. Hearing the water was also a joy -  its sounds cooled my thoughts, and refreshed my soul with its melody. 

In the midst of the formal settlement of the west in the nineteenth century, John Wesley Powell recommended that the western states be defined by watershed. Experiencing the critical nature of water while there, embracing such an idea would have been genius – considering the legal wrangling over water rights and uses that define modern times. That idea too would have helped to give people a stronger tie to the land – linking them to a specific basin that was responsible for their resource – making them stewards instead of consumers – with little consideration for those down the line or at the other end of the pipe.

It makes me glad to see that while there are the pervasive methods of storm water “management” that funnels runoff into giant catch basins– (the biggest I’ve ever seen) and into deep, deep detention ponds, notable examples of alternative storm water “management” are to be seen in that area. They include blue/green infrastructure in a traffic calming bump out by the Georgia O’Keeffe museum in Santa Fe – with an infiltration strip and plants instead of a giant gutter, and the well-preserved corridor around the river in Santa Fe to give a semblance of an intact riparian zone. Through thoughtful planning and design, the culture is beginning to change around storm water, rain and its critical role in sustaining life. 

Perhaps the most inspiring water related experience I had there though was learning about how the Taos Pueblo people won back their sacred blue lake that had been portioned off into a National Forest. This lake holds significant spiritual value to them, and its waters sustain their daily life. In the Pueblo, a Unesco heritage site, the stream from the blue lake is the only source of water. It runs directly through the center of the Village – from east to west. Along its banks are signs that ask visitors to respect the waters and keep them clean. The banks are verdant, and Cottonwoods and aspens thrive nearby, offering shade and color. I sat by the river for a large part of my visit there – listening to the water and looking to the mountains – following the colors of the aspens to observe the course of the water to the lake I would never see (only tribe members are allowed to go there). I am still struck by the power of being connected to your water source, making it sacred and part of a daily meditation. I don’t want to project too much onto anything that I don’t know much about, or romanticize, but that experience was powerful to me. It’s marvelous to see the caring people are capable of when given a sense of connection to where they are, and how the relationship they share with the landscape can go both ways and develop into a something profound and lasting. 

Santa Fe River

River, Taos Pueblo

Hot Spring by the Rio Grande

Rio Grande

River, Taos Pueblo

Rio Grande Gorge

Saturday, October 8, 2011


There’s something reassuring about waking up in a fog. Everything blends, the world is softer, not so bright. Fog always seems to be around in these transitions days between seasons – easing us into a new awareness of the change around us. I always feel a deep sense of poetry with fog – it befuddles the clarity grasping part of my mind and pushes me to accept the multi-tonal variation of the scene before me. As a human, that’s tough for me. These days there’s a premium placed on being right, clear, concise, and decisive.  I agree that there are indeed situations that call for that – when in long lines at the local coffee shop, being an important one for example. However, there’s a joyful confusion that’s good for my mind to enter into while walking through the foggy landscape. 

I guess that the foggy landscape enhances our peripheral vision (the importance of which is in my consciousness because of an old friend)  a faculty I would like to focus on – yes, I note the irony there - maybe develop is more apt?….It’s not too often that I get a chance to be muddled and be safe about it. It’s part of my mind and self where I believe the creative process wells and then spills over onto the page, the landscape or the canvas. When I think about it further and where many fertile and exciting areas are in an ecological context, it’s the ecotone, or the transition zone – the periphery of determined ecological areas. These ecotones, examples being: salt marshes, forest edges, Black Oak savannas, etc., are where diverse species meet, intermingle and cross paths. Because of the degree of “slippage” from one context to the other, they are therefore hard to classify and defy common taxonomy. Fog is the ecotone of conscious states for me, and as such, I can glimpse elusive dreams, more defined landscape forms and a range of elements in between. 

Art Show

My Art show of oil paintings and essays - titled "Vegetable Portraits...explorations of land and produce" will be on view at the Meekins Library in Williamsburg, MA for this month of November. The opening is Saturday, November 5th at the library from 1pm - 3pm. 

Here's an excerpt from an Essay about the project....

I love food. My family is the kind of family that plans its meals in the midst of the ones that they are still eating. Living here in the Pioneer Valley, there is amazing, fresh food grown with love and care. The food culture here not only has implications of healthy eating and living, it shows a deep consciousness of the importance of regional food systems, resilient, small-scale production, and the critical nature of regional economic development. While inherently enjoyable, eating Hadley asparagus can be seen as a political act that embraces the local, the small, and the regional in the face of the industrial, and the pervasive global agribusiness. My paintings reflect the magic of where we live and the power each of us has to choose the smaller, more resilient local economy.

In addition to the paintings,essays reflect the moment of each painting, the nature of the subject or the thoughts that the subject inspired within me. The large canvases I have done  further explore the color, space and compositional relationships initiated in the smaller pieces.

The depiction of each vegetable represents an iconic time of the calendar year (asparagus season, strawberry season, tomato time, etc.), in essence, a calendar of the senses and of anticipation. To me, fresh, crunchy fiddlehead ferns and the soft nutty flavor of young nettles have more to do with May than any store-bought calendar image may be able to represent. The Vegetable Portraits project represents my relationships with these farms, these vegetables as well as the way I choose to live my life