The Good Life: Spartz & Bok

James Spartz

Three Perspectives on the Good Life: Carl Rodgers, Yi-Fu Tuan, and Scott & Helen Nearing

Pursuit of the good life goes by many names. To the ancient Greeks it was Eudaimonia – thriving, flourishing, or well-being. Synonyms include plentitude, harmony, or the equanimity of Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. In South America, Amazonian and Andean indigenous philosophies remain influential and, in countries like Bolivia and Ecuador, ways of good living or living well emerge as buen vivir in Spanish or sumak kawsay in Kichwa. By any name, “the good life” remains a synecdoche of values and virtues. From Aristotle in Greece and the Stoics of ancient Rome to modern philosophers of all stripes, living well remains a subject of endless fascination. Self-help shelves (virtual and real) are bursting with books on happiness. Contemporary comparisons of happiness to broader notions of well-being demonstrate a perpetual interest in the good life as a counterbalance to intemperate pursuits of leisure and

convenience.
What is the good life? How does well-being differ from happiness alone? Does it necessitate monk-like austerity? How can citizens in a society that rewards conspicuous consumption best engage in ways of good living? My own interest in answering these and other questions deepened while collaborating with Joe Quick, an anthropologist colleague doing field research in the highlands of Ecuador. His interests, though varied, include understanding how Kichwa people look to the ancestral past for inspiration in their efforts to build a better future. This occurs, paradoxically, as the national government appropriates the Kichwa concept of sumak kawsay in order to brand a model of development based on resource extraction involving the destruction of indigenous territories.


Influenced by this perspective, and in a spirit of “start where you are” and “use what you have,” I scanned my own bookshelf for signs of the good life. There, I rediscovered the work of psychologist Carl Rogers, the humanistic geographer Yi-Fu Tuan, and the husband-wife homesteading dyad of Scott and Helen Nearing – all of whom considered “the good life” in (mostly) North American contexts in the latter half of the 20th century. Exploring the good life through the lenses of Rogers, Tuan, and the Nearings – the focus of this essay – should not imply that these are the most important or even most interesting expressions of good living. These are simply where I began.
Investigating various discourses of the good life led me to discover other work such as philosopher William Irving’s A Guide to The Good Life – The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy; Sarah Bakewell’s How to Live: A life of Montaigne; and anthropologist Edward F. Fischer’s The Good Life: Aspiration, Dignity, and the Anthropology of Well-Being. Books I found that approach good living more obliquely include Jeffrey Jacob’s New Pioneers; Tim Jackson’s Prosperity without Growth; Dona Brown’s Back to the Land; and Dan Buettner’s work on Blue Zones, where human longevity flourishes among tight-knit communities around the world. Strivings for the good life also align with the field of positive psychology (e.g. A Life Worth Living, edited by M. & I.S. Csikszentmihalyi) and the ideals of Buddhism, particularly what scholar and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh calls ways of interbeing or living in harmony with the world and its elements, seen and unseen. Interested readers might also explore articles by Will Storr in The New Yorker; Robert Wright in The Atlantic; and Sebastian Purcell in Aeon, linking ancient Aztec philosophies to pursuits of good living. This is not an exhaustive list of resources but does provide a starting point for further exploration.

Everyone wants the good life, Yi-Fu Tuan suggests, but each pursuit is different – each is tracking a good life rather than any singular notion of the good life. This essay, in part,

Lil Blue, 2016 ©Gideon Bok

attempts to offer a counter-balance to notions of the good life that include socially damaging means to self-indulgent ends (i.e. unenlightened hedonism) rather than a more

 


balanced unfolding of modern life, in harmony with other social, economic, and natural systems. Perhaps seeking an answer to the question of “What is the good life?” is futile. Many answers are culture-bound and therefore difficult to translate or apply for other people in other places. To be sure, my own perceptions of what is interesting or useful about living the good life are culturally limited. I know only

Everyone, 2014 ©Gideon Bok

my perspective. What I hope to do, however, is investigate a few questions, provide some helpful clues, and offer measures of hope in a time of increasing uncertainty.
As a pioneer of humanistic psychology, also called client-centered therapy, Carl Rogers published perhaps his
most

influential book On Becoming a Person  in 1961 as a personal reflection on 30+ years of professional practice. In one chapter – A Therapist’s View of the Good Life: The Fully Functioning Person – Rogers details certain characteristics he witnessed in people living more fully in their own unique lives. Twenty-five years later, Yi-Fu Tuan published The Good Life, a broader perspective on good living. Tuan examines humanity’s relations to space, place, and community across various cultural contexts. “Everyone wants the good life,” he writes. “How it is conceived varies greatly from culture to culture, and in a complex modern society even from individual to individual.” Like Helen and Scott Nearing, Tuan provides a focus on the agrarian perspective but, unlike the Nearings’ antagonism toward the city, Tuan also embraces the city as a hub of culture and vitality. Whereas Rogers takes a psychological view of the good life, and Tuan approaches the concept from a more cross-cultural perspective, the Nearings’ work can be seen as a case study in can-do Yankee perseverance laced with a practical socialism. Scott Nearing, an economist, first published Man’s Search for the Good Life in 1954. When re-printed in 1974, the book gained a wider audience among a new generation of homesteaders in New England and beyond. These writings and many later “good life” works by and with Helen offered significant inspiration for the adherents of a renewed back-to-the-land ethic. Scott Nearing’s social scientific observations, deeply intertwined with his economic philosophy, viewed the hard work and deep reward of homesteading as one providing the most direct path to good living.
It could be said that what these writers share, each in their own way, are views on sustainable living. Whether through the individual sustainability and resilience of Rogers, the cross-cultural diversity and place-based community analyzed by Tuan, or the calloused hands and clean spirited “bread labor” practiced by the Nearings; all are versions of practical sustainability. A buzzword du jour for 


environmentalists, sustainability can be taken here to mean systems of living that provide social and economic security – nested within environmental limits – without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to provide for themselves in similar ways. My hope is that understanding discourses of the good life in tandem with discourses of sustainability will help individuals and communities flourish in their pursuits of Eudaimonia, variously conceived. Such pursuits can, in turn, provide base levels of material and psychological security without denying other entities – present and future systems, human and non – the ability to do the same.

ROGERS: Launching Fully into the Stream of Life
“The good life is a process, not a state of being,” writes Carl Rogers. “It is a direction, not a destination.” Along this path people develop their own conclusions about what “good” might come from a given route. It is “selected by the total organism, when there is psychological freedom to move in any direction” (emphasis in original). The general characteristics of such a direction “appear to have a certain universality,” says Rogers. This life-long path is one of regular renewal in light of new experience. Rogers calls it Becoming – integrating one’s “total organism” into a cohesive yet resilient and adaptive existential whole. The good life as such tends to share three general characteristics: An increasing openness to experience; an increasing tendency to live in the moment; and an increasing trust in one’s self “as a means of arriving at the most satisfying behavior in each existential situation.”
An increasing openness to the variety of life experiences is not just about physical experience but the full breadth of psychological experience. This includes a willingness to engage in positive emotions (e.g. courage, empathy, tenderness, awe) as well as negative emotions or mental  

states (e.g. fear, dissonance, discouragement, pain).  Such openness is “the polar opposite of defensiveness,” says Rogers, and a key marker of the good life along with “increasingly existential living” which, given this lack of defensiveness, affords moment-to-moment opportunities to live life anew. Therapeutic clients of Rogers would “not infrequently” express the feeling that “What I will be in the next moment, and what I will do, grows out of that moment, and cannot be predicted in advance either by me or by others.” Put another way, Rogers describes such existential fluidity as the self emerging “from experience, rather than experience being translated or twisted to fit preconceived self-structure” (emphasis in original). In the process of becoming, Rogers says, a person acts as a participant in and observer of moment-to-moment experience rather than trying to master or control it.
The good life is “not a life for the faint-hearted,” says Rogers. This underscores the distinction between a meaningful, reflected-upon good life and the pleasure-motivated, short-term goals associated with what philosopher William Irving refers to as unenlightened hedonism – seeking pleasure while avoiding the negative, messy (and often essential) parts of robust life experience.
A growing trust in one’s self acts as “a means of arriving at the most satisfying behavior in each existential situation,” says Rogers. Rather than relying on guiding principles “laid down by some group or institution,” living well affords individuals the ability to develop and enact self-trust in response to new situations “because they discover to an ever-increasing degree that if they are open to their experience, doing what ‘feels right’ proves to be a competent and trustworthy guide” to truly satisfying behavior. The “complex weighing and balancing” of one’s lived experience comes to bear on any immediate moment as a complex computation, 

 


and not an infallible one, admits Rogers. But, because the good life also includes openness to experience, “any errors, any following of behavior which was not satisfying would be quickly corrected. The computations, as it were, would always be in process… because they would be continually checked in behavior.”

Still #1, 2016 (work in progress) © Gideon Bok

A person engaged in this process of living well, one who is able to view the present moment from a perspective of psychological freedom, “moves in the direction of 

becoming a more fully functioning person,” says Rogers. She or he is “completely engaged in the process of being and becoming.” This is not to say that external stimuli don’t factor into one’s judgment but does suggest an inverse relationship between freedom of choice and behaviors influenced by fear, defensiveness, or dogmatic norms. A more fully functioning person “would almost certainly not be a conformist,” says Rogers. The good life is also imbued with creativity and resilience. In the face of adversity, such a person is “most likely to adapt and survive under changing environmental conditions.” He or she would be creative in making “sound adjustments to new as well as old conditions,” says Rogers, and “a fit vanguard of human evolution.”
Living the good life, for Rogers and others, is a process of cultivating richness. This includes a robust diversity of life experience and, for Rogers, adjectives such as happy, contented, blissful, and enjoyable “do not seem quite appropriate to any general description of this process.” Happiness, contentment, bliss, and joy may emerge in due course but more appropriate adjectives, suggests Rogers, include enriching, exciting, rewarding, challenging, and meaningful. Living well involves the courage to launch oneself “fully into the stream of life.” When a person is inwardly free, says Rogers, he or she “chooses as the good life this process of becoming.”

TUAN: The Arc of Choice
“The good life haunts us,” writes the humanistic geographer Yi-Fu Tuan. Everything we do “is directed consciously or subconsciously, toward attaining it.” In the Western world, Tuan says, the good life “is envisaged, historically, in a limited number of ways. One of them is environmentalism, which sees the good life as a consequence of a special type of physical setting.” Connection to nature, via the raw beauty of wilderness or the constructed nature of urban greenspace,


includes a wide spectrum of nature-linked settings and activities. Focusing on activities, such as those of the traditional farmer, rather than settings is another way to conceive of the good life. The yeoman is a lingering, if over-romanticized, “icon of the good life,” says Tuan.
Even though most urban people remain disconnected from the true toil of husbandry, the growing popularity of farmers’ markets and community-supported agriculture programs suggests a renewed appreciation for small-scale farming. For many, this includes a growing concern for provenance – knowing how and where food is produced – as much as it can be a rejection of corporate agriculture and its stark environmental burdens. The good life, in this way, is not simply one of leisure and convenience but one of values on display as sustainable practice. It requires hard work. While various practices may or may not be as “green” as one might hope, over the arc of one’s life, the compass of good living points toward a true north of sustainability and resilience. What counts – the virtuous choice – is visible in the direction of a series of choices rather than any particular steps or missteps along the way. This includes a kind of openness, says Tuan, to “certain kinds of hard truth.” Such a direction points us away from naïve comfort and splendor – one enjoyed in “easy conscience” at the expense of others, as Tuan suggests – to a pathway of awareness and accounting for the costs of our actions “in the spoliation of nature and in the burden laid on people less fortunate than we.”
Connection to other people – relationship – is a crucial component for living well.  Contrary to Jean-Paul Sartre’s oft-misinterpreted assertion that “Hell is other people,” Tuan posits the opposite. “Heaven is other people,” he says. The full experience of living well “is necessarily filled with

pictures of human contact – erotic, affectional, courtly, and intellectual.” Lovers, friends, courteous relations with strangers, and stimulating interaction with people far or near all lead in the direction of good living. Connection to place is equally compelling. A healthy co-dependence on both the

Broken Arrow and Butti, 2015 ©Gideon Bok

Broken Arrow and Butti, 2015 ©Gideon Bok

constructed and natural amenities of a home base has allowed individuals and cultures to flourish since the transition of humans as a largely hunter-gatherer species to one of 

 


agriculture and centers of urban commerce. Few livelihoods are as directly connected to place than that of life on the farm.
“It is easy to be sentimental about the farmer’s life,” says Tuan, because the vagaries of country life have been written “almost entirely by members of the leisured class.” These are people “who know little, if anything, about the hardships of manual labor.” Yet the mystique persists. Land has virtue – spirit – and provides food, says Tuan; “Nothing can be more basic.” Acknowledging the culture of consumerism in full force by the mid-1980s, Tuan contrasts the noble (though often inaccurate) portrayal of farm life to that of corporate manufacturers’ “catering to appetites that may have to be invented by advertising.” The small-scale agriculturalist, compared to the mono-cropping industrial version who grows relatively little in the way of their own food supply, can more easily connect their daily chores with the food set upon the dinner table, suggests Tuan. The farmer “enjoys a degree of psychological security unknown to people of other occupations (such as salesmen or scholar) in which the linkages between exertion and the staff of survival are far more tenuous.” Echoing contemporary work by fiery farmer populists like Wendell Berry, Tuan suggests that

…a life in which what one does is so clearly tied, by a succession of discernible steps, to what one eats also appears more serious and in closer touch with reality than one in which the connections are remote and unperceived. The farmer does not live in a world of make-believe; his life is not a game. By contrast, the world of (say) an insurance agent, like that of a child, is rich in make-believe and miracles.

Despite what may seem like an idealization of rural life, Tuan also very much prizes the city. Good living from this perspective is not either/or so much as both/and. “The good life is lived in the city,” Tuan writes; “…nothing compares with the grandeur of the city.” It is not that country people can’t or don’t appreciate contemplating the good life like their more urbane counterparts. It is simply that city people, having more direct access to many modern conveniences, often have more leisure time. Farmers, Tuan suggests, have too much work to do. Farm life is a life of struggle that requires daily resilience in light of nature’s occasional unpredictability. City life, by contrast, “offers excitement and glamor, the root meaning of which is magic,” says Tuan. “What is magical is unnatural. The city is magical in its successful defiance of nature’s rhythms.”
The good life of the city offers new and unique experiences, strangers from strange places to engage with, a constant churn of sound, light, and bustle. Such unnatural existence is antithetical to rural living where stability and continuity are strongly favored. What works for some in their pursuit of good living does not work for others. A reminder of what Helen and Scott Nearing often said of their own pastoral pursuits – theirs was a good life, not the good life. One’s conception of what makes a good life often stems from foundational experience. Though the good life is fulfilled by an openness of experience from one moment to the next, as Rogers suggests, our perceptions are often deeply tied to past experience and sense of cultural belonging or cultural cognition. “The good life is a serious life,” says Tuan, “imbued with feelings of reverence that come out of an awareness of momentous events in the past – of a heritage that gives prestige but also imposes obligation.” Given the variety of human experience, the historical awareness and


connection of one cultural group differs from other groups. Virtues abound. To each their own good life.
“The good life need not be heroic or saintly, but if ‘good’ is to retain its moral meaning,” says Tuan, “it cannot be a life devoted merely to the pleasures of the senses. Such a life, in any case, would pall without periodic essays at austerity.” 

Meghan Brady as a young Grace Hartigan, 2014 © Gideon Bok

Meghan Brady as a young Grace Hartigan, 2014 © Gideon Bok

Moderate limits on pleasure-seeking, as Stoic philosophy suggests, can actually increase pleasure in other ways. This includes the hard truth of ecological limits. Creations of modern life, including societies and their economies, have limits imposed by the laws of thermodynamics – the laws of nature. Though such limits are generally unwelcome in a

consumer society, the truth of their existence remains.
The ultimate austerity, old age, is one that even the best of us cannot avoid. Mature people, rather than the young, says Tuan, are “better equipped to raise the question” of “What is the good life?” and to explore it thoroughly because “thinking about the good life must be based on what we know and have already experienced.” In trying to envision the good life in any detail, “the future… has to draw heavily on the past.” Planning ahead, says Tuan, entails taking stock and reflecting on “those things that seem to us least ambiguously good, of knowing the historical conditions that have made them possible, and then trying to see how these conditions can be expanded or changed so that the good things might flourish.” But how to create the necessary conditions for good living? Tuan considers three broad categories – body, personal relations, and world – “corresponding roughly to the sensual, the moral, and the aesthetic.”
Tuan’s book is reflective and draws on an array of cultural touchstones, including the inherent brutality of civilized society. Civilization, he says, “tends to destroy plurality: it eradicates, for example, local cultures and peoples.” The sheer scale of destruction that civilization has leveled on many of Earth’s ecological systems is “without parallel.” Yet, civilized society also produces geniuses, saints and “the severest and most clear-eyed critics of civilization.” Even those who denounce the inherent destruction of so-called civilized life, “Particularly as they are manifest in the Western world,” says Tuan, are also products of civilization. It is this relative sturm-und-drang of city life – with its commercialism, commotion, and occasional dependence on drink and drug – that Helen and Scott Nearing chose to leave behind. Though they, like Tuan, enjoyed extensive travel and intellectual engagement with a lofty crowd of urbane comrades, the Nearings’ home base – first in Vermont and later on the coast of Maine – provided an explicit rejection of city life and, as such, connection with the daily toils and rewards of self-sufficiency and a rewarding rural livelihood.


NEARINGS: Living at Five Levels
The essence of Scott Nearing’s vision of the good life is summarized in the introduction to the second edition of his book Man’s Search for the Good Life. Living well comes in many varieties, Nearing stresses, and “the good life is an ideal toward which people look and for which they strive.” Such a pursuit involves “a pattern of conduct which, if followed, will provide advantages for its devotees.”
In laying out this broad vision – one that stems from his own vigorous opposition to “discrimination, poverty, exploitation, and colonialism” – Nearing asserts several underlying assumptions. Pursuing the good life is, for its individual or collective adherents, more rewarding than other ways of being. People are able to distinguish good from less-good options for living. There is a freedom of choice in distinguishing good from not so good. In knowing the difference between bad and good, people will tend to choose the good (“this from Socrates,” says Nearing), and one who chooses the good will seek to shape the life of oneself and one’s community according to the requirements of choices that have been made. With a measure of hope, Nearing also asserts that if one fails to achieve the good life today, one can try again tomorrow; and, finally, “through effort, experiment and experience men [sic] will grow to a stature which makes the good life more attractive as well as more attainable.” These are the aspirations of an idealist, Nearing says, one striving “for the unity of theory and practice.”
If people today know the work of Scott Nearing, it is likely in the context of the back-to-the-land movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The books he and his wife Helen published throughout the 1970s were, for many, as essential as Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog and other publications propagating the ideals of rural self-sufficiency. Such a marriage of theory and practice emerged across North 

America, Europe, and other industrialized regions of the global north and west, often acting as a counterbalance to rampant consumerism (i.e. the neoliberal economic ideals of free market capitalism). Few places saw this trend take hold like northern New England, from Vermont to mid-coast Maine. Such deep roots continue to bear fruit.
Scott and Helen Nearing’s homesteading narratives bookended the 1970s with a reissue of 1954’s Living the Good Life in 1974 and Continuing the Good Life in 1979. The Nearings moved from Vermont to the Penobscot Bay region of Maine to continue living in, working with, and fostering a community of like-minded compatriots around the virtues of living well. The Good Life Center, located at the Nearing’s former home at Forest Farm in Harborside, Maine, continues as a living testament to the Nearings’ ethics and ideals. The reputation of the Nearing’s idealism – though certainly not a naïve idealism – often obscured the realities of their challenging lifestyle. A life of chopping wood, hand working the soil, strict vegetarianism, and abstinence from intoxicants such as alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco (or anything else) was not the life for everyone, especially in the freewheeling 1970s. It is the inheritance of this legacy – one of hard work and self-mastery – that many modern homesteaders advocate for (and disagree about) in the ongoing practice of Nearing-like homesteading traditions.
The Nearings made “serious and various attempts to live at five levels” in both Vermont and Maine. These included living with nature; daily stints of bread labor; carrying on professional activities such as writing and correspondence; being neighborly and engaging with their “fellow citizens;” and “unremitting efforts to cultivate the life of the mind and spirit.” Such a good life then entails attention to environmental, economic, intellectual, social, and spiritual activities. A concern for not just human well-being but the


goodness of the larger biota was also evident in their conception of living well. Scott Nearing writes:

We also did our utmost to develop what we called the spirit of man. It is not enough to have a good earth supporting and improving a good society. It is also necessary that the various life forms (including the human) which inhabit the earth, should have a maximum opportunity to live a good life. Life in any community becomes “good” in so far as it utilizes and conserves nature, improves society and expresses itself in the good health of the inhabitants, their heightened sense of social responsibility and their success in developing successive generations of human beings willing and eager to live and help others live at the most productive and creative level that can be established and maintained by the present-day human family.

Thinking Ahead
The good life includes ongoing reflection and engagement with personal, societal, and planetary systems in ways that promotes the benefits of those systems and perpetuates the flourishing of other current and future generations. Through an authentic questioning of the true impacts of one’s daily activity, creativity in how we modify such actions as a way to promote future well-being, and engagement with others who are also pursuing ways of good living, we can truly create a better world. In doing so, those who enact the virtues of living well promote the goodness inherent in the world as it is and take part in sustaining the benefits and overcoming the collective challenges many face. The good life is an idealistic pursuit, open to everyone, but most successful for those willing to foster resilience through hard work and honest reflection on the virtues and vices of mainstream  

society. This seems particularly true in the Global North where resource consumption far exceeds the carrying capacity of ecological limits so often annihilated by the earthmovers of Progress and Growth.

Blackstar, 2016 (work in progress) ©Gideon Bok

Blackstar, 2016 (work in progress) ©Gideon Bok

In a consumer culture, many people get caught up in pursuing a version of happiness based more on the accumulation of material goods, power over others, ego, and domination of natural systems than the more altruistic pursuits of good living. Equating such hedonic tendencies to “the good life” 


makes a clear definition of the phrase challenging. A good life certainly includes a measure of financial security but it also contains a wealth of wisdom, empathy, spirit, community, and freedom of choice, up to and including a healthy sense of agency or self-efficacy. As global indicators such as the Gross National Happiness Scale, Happy Planet Index, and the Social Progress Index suggest, once the basic provisions of food, shelter, and clothing are in ready abundance, the accumulation of excess material wealth does not generally add to a greater sense of subjective well-being. Living well includes consideration for wider systems, an alternative to conspicuous consumption and ephemeral pursuits of self-satisfying pleasure. A working definition of the good life then remains as the freedom to experience one’s best vision of living so long as it does not impede on others’ ability (present or future) to pursue those same or similar goals.

As Barry Lopez suggests in The Rediscovery of North America, perverse versions of good living – i.e. modern pursuits of leisure and convenience – are rooted in a legacy of “lawless exploitation” of finite natural resources via the tradition of European colonialism. In contrast, pursuits of good living described here can be seen as inherently sustainable and supportive of natural systems – cohabitative rather than domineering, adult rather than adolescent. Closer to this spirit of a good life are ways of being that balance out greed and selfishness with the benefits of community resilience and individual character. This is the direction in which the good life moves, hand-in-hand with hard truths, hard work, and humility in the face of much deeper and older natural systems. Always present, always becoming.

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James T. Spartz is a teacher, writer, researcher, and Driftless Area native now in coastal Maine. Prior to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, he was a worker-owner at an organic whole-grains bakery, hardware store sales associate, social worker, and performing songwriter – but not all at once. Spartz is currently an Assistant Professor of Environmental Communication at Unity College.

Gideon Bok is an artist.  He graduated from Hampshire College (BA) and the Yale School of Art (MFA.)  He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, among others. He paints, manages an organic farm, and teaches art.

Lines: Chapman & Fulkerson

Robin Chapman / Clint Fulkerson

Banff Centre
Dec. 25

Dear Ones—dinner of sweet potato fries
and Black Angus burgers with bloodied boxers
on TV, the puppeteer journaling her family
under the flickering fight. Circus instructors
plan their work on silks and ropes and hoops
and the 30 foot swing of the giant trapeze.
The far-flung world whispers to faces buried
in their screens.  The new Creativity Center rises
sheathed in steel and glass. In my studio,
the dark outside retreats before the sluice
of podcast radio, science news, gigabytes
of  music I transfer from my memory stick.
Attention is our scarcest resource—mine,
to find the mountains rising all round us,
the stars flickering beyond the drizzle of snow,
the earth in its journey turning us again
toward light, the text of good will arriving,
the red silk fluttering with its human freight.

Tributaries 3, 2016; acrylic on wood panel; 20 in. x 16 in. © Clint Fulkerson

Tributaries 3, 2016; acrylic on wood panel; 20 in. x 16 in. ©Clint Fulkerson



Erosion 2, 2015; acrylic on canvas; 48 in. x 48 in. © Clint Fulkerson

Erosion 2, 2015; acrylic on canvas; 48 in. x 48 in. © Clint Fulkerson

 


Turgor 2016; gouche on paper; 30 in. x 22 in. © Clint Fulkerson

Turgor 2016; gouche on paper; 30 in. x 22 in. © Clint Fulkerson


Dreams of the Science Writers’ Workshop

i.
I go naked to the Senior Center
to pick up our speaker, much
to the disapproval of the matron
and the surprise of the reporters
gathered to hear yet another
political candidate. We barely escape.

ii.
What do I want to shout?
Look at the plans of our scientists
half a century ago to bomb
in hundred-Hiroshima units
anyone we were afraid of!
Look at our powers to make
the poisons that could kill
all life, the viruses that the birds
could spread, the gene editing
and drives that could change
the lives of species in ways we know
nothing about! Look at our inventions
pouring into soil, and water,
and lives; it is not enough
to be a scientist, handmaid
or handyman to the state,
not enough to blow things up
or knock them out.

iii.
The headlines now fear robots
with machine intelligence.
Leonardo da Vinci: it was not enough
to make plans to improve the machines
on the rock shelf of civilization
to hurl stones and pour oil;
not enough to paint Mona Lisa
and walk beautifully about.

iv.
How be a peacemaker,
a baker, an obstetrician,
a dancer, a weaver, a musician,
a gardener, a lover of life?

v.
Cortés
ordered the burning
of Montezuma’s aviaries.
The US rained down
Agent Orange for years
on the forests
of Vietnam.  And now
our peaceful driving about
and heating our houses
and burning our trash
threatens to strip
the aviaries of all the world.

vi.
Mummified, we stand around the table
each in our open coffin shouting out
our own particular version of truth
for our allotted hour or number of words.
Amplified, true; but hard, in my dream,
to walk-about, and the reporters
have closed their notebooks.


Compromise, 2016; acrylic on wood panel; 24 in. x 20 in. © Clint Fulkerson

Lattice, 2016; graphite & acrylic on wood panel; 16 in. x 12 in. © Clint Fulkerson

Tributaries 1, 2016; gouche on paper; 30 in. x 22 in. © Clint Fulkerson


Tributaries 2, 2016; acrylic on canvasl; 16 in. x 16 in. © Clint Fulkerson

Jan. 6,
Banff

Dear Ones—the avalanche cannons
are going off on chinook-slicked slopes.
Listening to their distant booms I try
to imagine the sounds close up, loud
enough to trigger the tree-felling rush
of snow and ice down mountain sides—
the way those New Year’s cannon fireworks
must have sounded to the blackbirds
in their roost—I wonder who set them off,
and whether they meant for five thousand
birds, in blind panic, to collide and die,
falling dead from the sky—no one
in that small Arkansas town is telling who
or why, though all must know by now
whether it was a kid’s tragic prank
or some hired exterminator’s culling.

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Robin Chapman is author of nine books of poetry, most recently One Hundred White Pelicans (Tebot Bach, 2013). She is recipient of Appalachia‘s 2010 Helen Howe Poetry Prize. Her poems have appeared recently in Alaska Quarterly Review, Flyway, and Valparaiso Poetry Review.

Clint Fulkerson lives in Portland, Maine with his wife and daughter. He has exhibited his work in Maine at venues such as at Corey Daniels Gallery, Space Gallery, the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, the University of Maine at Farmington, and the Portland Museum of Art. He is represented in NYC by the Curator Gallery. His recent commissions include a mural at the Facebook Inc. NYC office, two murals at Maine Maritime Academy and a sculpture at USM Gorham under Maine’s Percent for Art program.

Clint’s work will be exhibited at the Unity College Center for Performing Arts in November/December 2016.

Farming: Of Earth, People & Stone Barns

Jeffrey Myers

Stone Barns: Farming in America’s Oldest Suburbstones-4

The tall pasture grass is still soaking wet with dew, and the air is warming fast under the mid-June sun. As I approach the first Egg Mobile, I can hear the clucking and wing-fluttering of 75 Amber White laying hens waiting to be released into the pasture. It feels like the coop could explode with their eagerness to get out as they anticipate my arrival.
The girls are restless. They’ve been, well, cooped up all night against the skunks, foxes, and hawks that would decimate their ranks if given a chance. Now they’re ready to burst out into the sun and grass, to peck for insects, to bathe in the dust, and—a few bold ones—to hop the low, moveable fence that surrounds their pasture and run loose on the farm.

I open the hatch on one side of the coop and with a swift motion pull the ramp into place onto the floor of the coop. The hens stream out, some flying, some running down the ramp. One flaps into my face, another bounces off my chest, and a third is already pecking at my shoelaces, mistaking them for worms.  With most of the hens out picking at the grass, I climb the rickety ramp and enter the coop to top off the hopper with organic feed and refill the trough that holds the grit they need for proper digestion.  The inside is dark and cool. Though there is manure everywhere it smells surprisingly clean.



Emerging into the light again myself, I begin to collect eggs. Separate hatches open on the straw-lined laying boxes where the hens lay. Each holds four or five eggs, more or less, and I place each carefully into a large, blue metal basket. A few of the boxes are occupied by hens, and I have to reach beneath their warm, feathery bodies, nudge them aside, and snatch the eggs they are sitting on. The variety of their responses is interesting: some are rather good-natured about it, walking off without a struggle; others cluck annoyedly; a few peck sharply at my hands to show their disapproval.
The same process is happening at the other Egg Mobiles lined up across the large front pasture. Maggie, John, Rich, and Christie are all releasing hens, topping off feeders, and gathering eggs. Already Chris is hooking up the first of the coops to the trailer hitch on one of the Kubotas, the all-purpose vehicles that we use on the farm, to move the coops 100 feet or so to fresh pasture. The grass in the pasture we’re in now is matted and thick with manure that will fertilize the grass, which will be lush pasture in just a few days’ time. We’ll put other animals, probably the sheep, on it then, in a process meant to mimic the process of a healthy natural ecosystem. In the meantime, our baskets now brimming with fresh, brown eggs, we head back to the Western Barn, which serves as a kind of headquarters. It’s 8:45, and there’s a lot to do: pigs to be watered and fed, sheep to be moved, and the brooder barn, with our growing chicks, to be attended to.
I’m not actually a farmer. I’m a college professor living in Westchester County, New York—America’s oldest suburb. I commute to work, teach classes, grade papers, and go to meetings; I drive my kids to soccer practice and music lessons; I go out to dinner with friends and watch a little

 

football on Sunday. It’s a life that most contemporary Americans can identify with—a good life, and an easy life, with no concern about where or how we get our next meal.

Turning Wheel Farm in Bowdoinham ME, owned by Cate Stoner. Cate grows the majority of her crops for local Food Pantries and the GSFB Mainers Feeding Mainers Program. ©Brendan Bullock

But once a week this summer, I have been volunteering at Stone Barns, an experimental farm a scant ten minutes from my suburban town. Built on land donated from the Rockefeller estate and named for the magnificent stone barns built on the property 100 years ago, the farm is working “to change the way America eats and farms.”  With an emphasis on local, organic produce and pastured, humanely-raised livestock, Stone Barns serves local farmers’ markets and restaurants—including the gourmet Blue Hill at Stone Barns


on the property itself, where “fresh” and “local” take on a quite literal meaning. More importantly though, the farm, which is open to the public, serves as a model for bringing back local farms, a working experiment in post-industrial agriculture, and an incubator for young farmers eager to begin their own farms. I’m just a weekly volunteer, but the rest of the crew are either full-timers here at Stone Barns, or one-year apprentices who are hoping to begin their own farms or to learn about farming as a prelude to careers as diverse as chef and veterinarian. There are crews that work in the greenhouse, in the produce fields, in the farmers’ market—and a whole crew devoted to composting, which this farm has down to both an art and a science. I work with the livestock crew, helping to take care of chickens, pigs, sheep, and other animals.

Jay Robinson carries buckets of fertilizer at Sweetland Farm in Starks, ME. Jay has been producing food for Good Shepherd Food Bank since the beginning of the Mainers Feeding Mainers program.©Brendan Bullock

My own motives for this are frankly a little vague, even to me. In the 1940s my grandfather had a twelve-acre farm with produce, chickens, and pigs just outside the city of Baltimore.  His was the kind of mixed, local farm—common in his day—that the new locavore movement is trying to bring back. My mother grew up there, and though he sold the farm in the decade before I was born, it always figured significantly in our family lore. I have always yearned—even as that kind of farming gave way to the Big Agriculture of the 1960s and beyond—to return to the land. With the trend toward sustainable agriculture, organic produce, and humanely-raised animals growing, I wanted to see first-hand how such a vision played out in a practical way. But most of all, I think, I wanted to be involved in the production of food, that most basic of life essentials—what Thoreau called the “gross necessaries”—in a way that nearly all individuals in our society have lost. I wanted to take on a sense of responsibility for what comes out of the earth and into my own body.  That it means finishing each day on the farm speckled with mud and poop and blood I take as a mark of success, though unsurprisingly, no one wants to ride in my car.
Mid-mornings find us in the brooder barn, where the Stone Barns meat chickens begin their lives. The chickens are a pasture-raised breed called Freedom Rangers, and they’ll spend their short adult lives out on one of the farm’s pastures. But they’ll spend their early weeks as growing chicks in the large, spacious, and well-ventilated barn until they are ready to move outside. There are several hundred birds in here, grouped by age in open enclosures, and it’s a daily chore to keep them fed, watered, clean, and comfortable. A layer of fresh wood shavings goes on each enclosure to absorb odors and keep the barn as hygienic as possible. Each


enclosure has several troughs and hoppers of organic feed that need filling, and different sizes of grit, according to the age of the birds in each. Two waterers in each enclosure are rinsed clean and the large blue barrels supplying the waterers are topped off with fresh water. The long passageway in the center of the barn is swept clean and watered down, while a ventilation fan cools the barn and moves fresh air around.
On a Monday, four new boxes of day-old chicks have arrived at the farm, courtesy of the US Postal Service. The Postal Service has been delivering chicks this way for decades, taking advantage of the fact that day-old chicks who have just ingested their yolk can live without food and water, warming each other with their combined body heat. Only the USPS will deliver live birds—not UPS or FedEx—and I like the fact that there’s at least one item not available on Amazon.com.  While others finish the barn chores, Maggie shows me how to take the baby chicks from the box and place them in the enclosure. With a deft motion and a firm but gentle touch, she lifts a chick from the box, dips its beak in water with a dilute solution of sugar, and watches as its tiny throat pulsates in swallowing. Once the chicks show they can swallow, they’re placed on a litter of fresh wood shavings. They’re surprisingly quick and lively as they run around the pen.
Maggie is far more knowledgeable and experienced than I, but she too is somewhat of an unlikely farmer. A former English teacher and a gifted poet, Maggie Schwed commutes to Stone Barns from Manhattan three days a week to work as a farm hand, a reverse commute that also runs counter to the ways factory farming has distanced us from the sources of our food. The author of a moving book of poems, Driving to the Bees, based on her experiences at Stone Barns, she is uniquely positioned to observe the intricacies of life on the farm. I expect her to speak of the pastoral beauty of the

landscape, but as we drive back from the barn after chores, she tells me that what impresses her most is the knowledge that farmers have, how much they have to know about animal physiology, pasture management, soil chemistry, zoonotic diseases, slaughtering and processing, composting—the list is endless. Under her wide straw hat in the hot June sun, this cultured and highly educated woman deeply admires the intellectual skill that farming requires along with the hard physical work.

Hannah Semler of Healthy Acadia gleans spinach at Four Season Farm, Harborside, ME. ©Brendan Bullock

One noon finds me feeding and watering pigs with John, a farm apprentice who embodies the new locavore movement. Born and raised in Queens, John Aghostino is refining his skills and knowledge of animal husbandry with the hope of starting a farm of his own, within a few hours of his native New York City. Apart from his interest in animals  


and the land, he’s deeply interested in food preparation and food culture, as are all the farmers and apprentices at Stone Barns. His goal is to make a living for himself and his young family by humanely raising pastured chicken, pork, and lamb in a sustainable way for farmers’ markets, restaurants, and anyone else who is interested in delicious food raised in a sustainable and humane way on farms close to home. He’s also motivated to remain in the New York City foodshed. This is not an easy proposition. Marginal anywhere, the economics for small farms within a short drive of New York City are tough—the high cost of real estate, of course, being the chief obstacle. When I ask him if he would consider moving somewhere where land was cheaper and socio-economic conditions friendlier to small farmers, he shakes his head.

Samuel Cheeney of Salty Dog Farm in Milbridge, ME cultivates peas.©Brendan Bullock

“No, this is where I’m from—where my family is. Also, I want to help bring this kind of food, this way of growing food, back. It wouldn’t have the same meaning if I couldn’t do it here.”

What about some place like California, where the growing season is long?
He laughs. “I wouldn’t understand the seasons there. What I know are the seasons of the northeast—the rhythms of the weather and when things need to get done.”
John (who has gone on since I first began writing to start his own, Fatstock Farm, in Stuyvesant, NY) will be my mentor in my early days on the farm, showing me how to hitch up the trailer with the water tank, how to feed pigs without getting gored or trampled, how to stretch the long bundles of electrified fence we use to move sheep from one pasture to another. This last task goes to the heart of this kind of grass-based agriculture. With the goal of reproducing a healthy natural ecosystem, the sheep and cattle that we raise are moved from pasture to pasture on a rotating basis, just as herbivores in the wild would move on before munching the grass down to its roots. Meanwhile, their manure is a natural fertilizer that encourages grass to grow. The meat chickens or laying hens who come onto the pasture later peck at worms and insects in imitation of wild birds that would follow in the wake of animals such as bison. And so it goes with everything on the farm. The Berkshire pigs are kept in shady, wooded areas outdoors, where they can wallow in mud and forage for acorns that supplement their feed. The piglets live with their mothers and are kept separate from the large boors, like Don Juan, who has a prime spot all to himself. Heritage breed turkeys are moved in small flocks from pasture to pasture and brought in at night to keep them safe from predators. The key to this kind of farming is the use of portable electric fences that roll up in bundles and can be moved easily from place to place. In a matter of minutes a new fenced pasture can be created, and sheep or chickens can be moved to fresh grass.  It’s a labor-intensive process and in many ways an inefficient one that sacrifices cost-cutting efficiency for sustainable use of resources and humane care of animals.


After several weeks at Stone Barns, I begin to get the rhythm of the chores and become more useful than cumbersome. Each week I am entrusted with new tasks. I feed and water the pigs on my own, which means driving a water tank on a trailer behind the Kubota around the farm to the shady spots where the pigs are corralled behind an electric wire. It also means getting into the muddy pen with three hungry sows and their young. The sows are a more than a little aggressive about their chow, and I can never get their feed into the big, rubber dish fast enough to avoid being knocked about and stepped on. Always I watch for their tusks, which though short could cut open a leg like a sharp knife.  Once a pig gets loose in the brooder barn area and runs amok. John, Chris, and I take sheets of plywood and play matador with the pig, chasing it around with our “shields”; it takes 15 minutes of frenzied running back and forth before we corral it again.
One Tuesday, I help Dan slaughter the chickens. This is a task that I have been approaching with anticipation and a small amount of dread.  On a practical level it’s a skill I would like to have, although I don’t believe the day will come when I’m forced to feed my family from animals we raise in the backyard.  But on a deeper level, I’ve come to believe that those of us who eat meat should be willing to do the work of slaughtering and processing the animals we eat, to face the fact of animal death, to bear some of the karmic burden that killing animals for food surely entails. This is hard work, both emotionally and physically, and it’s no coincidence that in the industrial model of farming we have pawned off most of this kind of work on an underpaid and exploited immigrant labor force.
Dan Carr, who still looks like the college football player that he recently was, is a gentle soul who speaks softly, keeps bees, and will soon be going to Africa to 
teach bee-keeping techniques. Raised in Montana, he seems born to this kind of work. We begin by putting the chickens in crates, and
 I’m struck by Dan’s gentle manner as he handles the birds, trying to minimize any sense of trauma or pain even in their last moments of life. I try to emulate his manner by staying calm, speaking softly, not making sudden moves.  

Cate Stoner of Turning Wheel Farm in Bowdoinham is a single mother, and a one-woman farming operation. Here, she’s pictured planting carrot seeds with her dog, Anomi. Stoner leases her fields from a local landowner; her farm is off the grid, and runs on solar power. Last year she harvested seven tons of food for the Mainers Feeding Mainers program. ©Brendan Bullock

As we bring the crates into the slaughter room, I note how he keeps the chickens out of the sun and positions them so that they can’t see what is happening in the slaughter area. This consists of seven or eight metal cones lined up along a wall over a metal trough.  Beside this is a machine, a scalder, that moves freshly-killed birds through a tub of hot water to loosen their feathers, and another that whirls the birds through rubber “fingers” that strip their feathers in seconds and deposit them into the next room, where they are quickly processed into what look like the product you would find in the supermarket—only far more delicious.


Dan shows me how it’s done.  Six at a time, the chickens go head first into the cones. They are strangely calm, with their wings pressed gently to their bodies. Deftly and deliberately, Dan takes a sharp knife from his apron and quickly severs both arteries on either side of the windpipe. “Never cut into the windpipe itself,” he explains. “Don’t cut off the head—you want the chicken to bleed out so that blood doesn’t taint the meat.” As each chicken bleeds out, it goes into convulsions

Reflection, Sweetland Farm, Starks, ME.  ©Brendan Bullock

for what is probably ten seconds—but seems a lot longer.  And then they are motionless, limp, and obviously dead. There’s no getting around it—it’s messy and bloody. And though Dan has taken every care to minimize it, the birds obviously have at least a moment of stress.

Some larger humane poultry producers are beginning to use CO2 to render their chickens unconscious before slaughter to avoid even this level of stress, but I doubt whether producers on the scale of Stone Barns can afford such systems, which would mean keeping small farms like this from proliferating. And the scale of a farm like Stone Barns, which processes about 200 chickens a week, ensures that the animals are living virtually stress-free their entire lives. They live in clean brooder barns as chicks and on fresh grass as adults. They aren’t trucked to a slaughter-house or put into crates until the very hour before they’re slaughtered. Everyone is scrupulous about hygiene from the beginning to the end of the process.
I take the freshly killed birds and put them into the scalder, then into the plucker, which whisks them through a small door into the adjoining room, where they are quickly processed by other farmers. Everyone in the livestock operation at Stone Barns participates in this process, breaking down the layers of specialization that would occur in industrial farming.  Christie cuts off the head and feet (the feet go into a clean container for a special customer who “likes chicken feet”—I don’t ask what for); Craig and Adrian quickly and expertly eviscerate them. They are cooled immediately and taken into an immaculately clean, refrigerated room where others vacuum seal them in plastic bags as whole chickens or chicken parts and then immediately refrigerate or freeze the bags. The birds go from chickens to “chicken” in less than an hour. Their lives in the pasture, their high-quality organic feed, their humane manner of death, and their careful handling make these chickens both sustainable and delicious. At the farm stand, I have heard customers rhapsodize these chickens, in hushed tones, as the best they have ever eaten.


After watching Dan several times, it becomes my turn.  I feel remarkably calm as I take a bird from the crate and position it in the cone. The pressure to do this right—to give the bird the quick death it deserves, that I feel I owe it—somehow steadies my hand, and I quickly cut one artery, then the other. I get it perfect, and it’s over in seconds.
“Good job,” Dan tells me. “That was just right. Now keep going, because we have a long way to go.”
He’s right. Once the process begins, it’s crucial to keep going. Soon, I’m into a rhythm, and the two of us efficiently take turns slaughtering birds and moving them into the scalder and plucker. It feels efficient but never mechanized, and I can honestly say that the birds experience very minimal distress. Sooner than I would have thought, the crates are empty and the last plucked chicken has gone through the door into the processing room.  As we clean up—a big job, and again, one that is scrupulously done—I have time to reflect. Do I feel a sense of remorse? I do—but only a little. I think that there should be some psychic cost to meat eating. But more than that, I feel that I have really participated for the first time in this process that has sustained me for over 40 years.
And indeed there is a cost to eating anything, from wildlife habitat lost to fields of soy and grain, to energy used to transport produce from grower to consumer. Like any other animal, we cannot subsist without taking other plant and animal life. We can only try to do so in a way that it is as humane and sustainable as possible—while also respecting and valuing human cultural customs around sharing food and allowing farmers to make a decent and honorable living.
By the end of the summer, I catalogue the various experiences that I’ve taken part in, none of which I had ever

 imagined myself doing—or even, as a consumer of food, given much thought to. Beside the continuous feeding, watering, and moving of cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese, I’ve run across a dewy pasture with a bucket of alfalfa and 40 sheep and lambs running behind; 

Jay Robinson plants squash at Sweet Land Farm in Starks, ME has has been producing food for Mainers Feeding Mainers program since it began, and says it accounts for about half his yearly sales. Jay believes that agriculture is a starting point for economic and environmental justice in general; he says that by staying in one place and forging deep ties with one’s community, there is more incentive to give back.  ©Brendan Bullock

repaired electric fences; line-trimmed and staked out new pastures with electric fencing; caught and sorted a barnful of heritage Bourbon turkeys; scraped sheep hides all afternoon to prepare for tanning; ran an egg washing and packaging line; processed chickens from whole chicken to shrink-wrapped parts; and helped inoculate sheep, jar fresh honey, 


set up a farmers’ market, and castrate a piglet. I’ve also been stepped on by a boar, butted by a ram, pecked at by geese, stung by bees, and scraped by the wings of turkeys. Much of this was hard physical labor and most of it on hot summer days in open, sunny fields or saw-dusty barns.

Sarah “Sass” Linneken started volunteering at Veggies For All in 2013, as a student pursuing a degree in Environmental Writing and Media Studies at Unity College. Now graduated, she runs an organization called Resources For Organizing and Social Change. Like many people across Maine, Sass herself was once food insecure she relied on programs like Veggies For All to feed her family healthy food. Now that he own situation is stable, Sass gives back by volunteering, and often brings her husband and kids to help too. She also keeps a vegetable garden at home. ©Brendan Bullock

Craig Haney, Stone Barns’s thoughtful—even cerebral—livestock manager, told me, when I asked about working on the farm, that volunteers “have to understand that it’s less about taking care of the animals than about tending to their environment.” He told me this mainly because his experience with past volunteers was that some don’t understand how

 

much physical labor is involved. It’s more about moving fences, filling watering troughs, and collecting eggs than direct contact with the farm animals, who are mostly not that interested in contact with human beings—with the exception of Stanley and Stella, the two sweet Italian Meremma sheepdogs who watch over the sheep. But his phrase “tending to their environment” stuck with me. Because this of course is what farmers do—they tend to an environment, shaping it in conscious ways for the health of the animals, human and otherwise, who depend on it.
More and more this is what we are called upon to do as a species in the time of climate change—just at the historical moment when most of us are doing it less and less. When my grandfather farmed in the 1940s, nearly twenty percent of American workers worked on farms; now, fewer than two per cent do. Where farming does exist on a large scale in the US, giant combines make the it possible for a few farmers to manage thousands of acres of land planted fencerow to fencerow—or, in the case of factory-farmed livestock, for a few farmers to raise thousands of chickens or pigs in confined spaces. And where large-scale farming does still involve copious labor—in the harvesting of produce—the work is done almost entirely by migrant workers, whose value to the society in doing this often brutal work is severely underestimated and whose plight is largely ignored, sadly even by those who are looking for more sustainable food. In places like Westchester County, which was still largely agricultural almost until the 20th century, farmlands have reverted to forest, which many people think of as a more “natural” or “environmental” form of landscape, forgetting that even the Algonquin peoples who lived here before the colonial farmers “tended to their environment”—by clearing land for their crops of squash and corn and improving the habitat for deer.

 


Most of us are not “tending to the environment” in any meaningful way, but perhaps things are beginning to change. Farmers’ markets, Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSAs), and the farm-to-table movement are creating space for a new/old way of farming to grow. At Stone Barns I met a new generation of young people interested in careers in sustainable agriculture, “individuals who are observant, like physical work, and can appreciate the adventure of farming,” as Craig Haney characterized them to me. Even among the vast majority of people
who will never farm, many are awakening to Wendell Berry’s observation that eating itself is “an agricultural act.” If more and more people expect their food to be sourced locally and sustainably, animals to be treated humanely, and farmers to treated fairly, then perhaps the landscape can change. I realize that there are serious political and economic obstacles to this kind of agriculture on a meaningful scale, but at Stone Barns, in America’s oldest suburb, I met people who are able to imagine it.

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Feeding Maine: Growing Access To Good Food
When you see the phrase “food insecurity,” you might picture scenes from distant places hit by the global food crisis: barren fields marked by drought, families fleeing wars, or people waiting in long ration lines.
You might not picture Maine.
Yet more than 200,000 Mainers are food insecure. The term encompasses hunger and scarcity, as well as lack of access to food that’s fresh and healthy.  Meeting this need for good food is where Maine’s farmers, workers, and volunteers come in. We are fortunate to have at hand everything required to feed our state: abundant farmland, skilled farmers, and people invested in forging ties between farms and low-income Mainers.
In making fresh ingredients accessible to those who need them most, the projects featured here are also forging new opportunities for Maine farms by opening up markets, diverting waste through farm donations and gleaning, and creating new customers who seek fresh, local food.
This series is a collaboration between Maine Farmland Trust and Good Shepherd Food Bank. It seeks to document some of the many people working for change in our communities across the state, with the hope that these efforts will continue to grow into a resilient food system that serves all Mainers. Images by Brendan Bullock, text by Annie Murphy.

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Jeffrey Myers is Professor of English at Manhattan College and the author of Converging Stories: Race, Ecology, and Environmental Justice in American Literature, as well as essays in African American Review, ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, and several anthologies. As both a scholar and creative writer, he focuses on race and the environment in literature and culture, with particular attention to the implications for environmental justice.

Brendan Bullock is a freelance photographer and photographic educator based in Bowdoinham ME.  His work has been published in a number of publications including the New York Times and Virginia Quarterly Review, and exhibited in numerous exhibitions nationwide.

Climbing: Schaidle & May

Allen Kenneth Schaidle

Climbing Rocks

For many climbers,
climbing becomes spiritual,
religious,
transformative,
community,
identity,
art.

Not for me.
It’s just climbing rocks,
Big and small.
Finding beauty in the simplicity.

Life is complicated,
work is difficult,
and school is dense.
Sometimes even climbs can be, well, complicated too.

There’s anticipating travel logistics,
destinations,
routes,
brushing,
and beta.

I want climbing to be transparent.
No grander meaning,
I’m already overwhelmed with life’s meanings.

I don’t want a relationship with because then I’ll take, take, take and never give enough.
I’m struggling with this.
Just leave it as it is.
You know,
“leave no trace.”

And climbing certainty isn’t art
because then it can be judged
and that causes rivalry.

I want climbing just as climbing rocks.
Nothing more.
Just climbing rocks.

 

©Jesse May

©Jesse May

©Jesse May

©Jesse May

©Jesse May

©Jesse May

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Allen Kenneth Schaidle is a diehard Midwestern, educator, and activist. He holds degrees from the University of Kansas, Columbia University, and the University of Oxford. A native of Metamora, Illinois, Allen considers the creeks and forests of central Illinois his boyhood home as he continues forward in his life. 

Jesse May grew up on a small farm in the mountains of Virginia where his explorations of the farm and the surrounding woods were a constant. A large part of his exploration as a kid were supported by his Mom, who still supports his adventures to this very day. Recently, Jesse has been exploring  South America, Northern California, Utah, and South Dakota with his camera, all while camping and still enjoying the outdoors as much as he did when he was growing up.  It’s been a fun couple of years adventuring for Jesse, and he looks forward to at least a few more good years of seeing cool things. Jesse is a 2015 graduate of Unity College. You can follow him on Instagram.

American Landscapes: Brodie & Doucette

Nathaniel Brodie

My settling bag hit the eddy current and inflated like a parachute. I had to use both hands to heave it out of the river and stagger it onto the small beach. The water inside the bag was turbid with suspended sediment. The silt would need a couple of hours to drift to the bottom of the bag, but I’d take what the last hour of daylight gave me—at least the larger grains would subside, and my water filter might last that much longer.
Scrambling up a series of sandstone ledges, I found a nice spot to sit: a bedrock backrest with a view of the wavering line where the waters of the Little Colorado River joined those of the Colorado River in the heart of the Grand Canyon. The LCR is usually an opalescent 
turquoise blue,

milk-bright with dissolved travertine and limestone. But the rains from a few days earlier had rusted the color to that of an ancient ceramic pot, a few shades browner than the grey-green Colorado. The LCR eased into the Colorado’s corridor, but the two rivers didn’t immediately merge, they simply ran, side by side, down the course of the Canyon. They’d maintain their distinct flows for a good half-mile before rapids disrupted them into unity. The meeting of any waters is mesmerizing to watch; especially so here, with the LCR’s suspended silt mushrooming into the silt-strained Colorado.
Silt-strained From where I sat at The Confluence, I was only sixty-one miles downstream of Glen Canyon Dam. Behind Glen Canyon Dam, the silt-laden, rusted-red


Colorado River becomes Lake Powell. At the exact-if-ever-fluctuating spot where river slacks into reservoir the river drops its sediment load, just as the particles of suspended earth were settling to the bottom of my settling bag. This is a load that wind, water, and humanity has scraped from 108,000 square miles of mostly arid, barren, and highly erodible land. Estimates on the exact annual size of this load range from 45 million tons to nearly 200 million tons, but even the lowest of these estimates is an enormous amount of sediment being deposited into the head of the impounded river (so much so that it’s been estimated that in only forty years of existence, sediment has reduced the reservoir’s carrying capacity by four percent). Some 180 miles later, when the dam releases the river from the bottom of the 300-foot deep reservoir, a different river emerges: a deep green, bitterly cold, enslaved river, its soul having settled down with the silty coagulum burying the drowned contours of Glen Canyon.
The Glen Canyon Dam, completed in 1963, has wreaked havoc on downstream ecology. The seasonal flux of spring flood and winter ebb was replaced by a mechanical, anthropogenic rhythm: the dam now doles out the river in accordance with Phoenix’s electrical needs. Before the dam, the rise and ebb of floods would deposit and rearrange the river’s sediment into ecologically important fluvial formations: sandbars, islands, beaches, backwaters. With the replenishing floods stifled by the dam and the sediment dropped at the top of the reservoir, the Canyon’s beaches and eddy sandbars are slipping away, grain by grain. No longer scoured by floods, the remaining beaches are increasingly impenetrable with tamarisk, Russian olive, and willow. No longer swept aside or rearranged by floods, the debris fans that form at the mouths of tributary canyons constrict the river, forming narrower, bonier rapids. Before the dam, the

river could reach a high of eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit; the river is a now a consistently frigid forty-seven degrees Fahrenheit—for this alone I hated it, how it spoiled one of life’s greater pleasures: the ablution of swimming in a summer-warmed river.

Great North American Landscapes Vol. 3 #1, ©Carolyn Doucette

Great North American Landscapes Vol. 3 #1, ©Carolyn Doucette

The dam’s effects are geological as well as ecological. Before the dam, the melting of the Rocky Mountains’ deep snowpacks sent spring floods raging through the Canyon. The highest recorded flood (in 1884) peaked at 300,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) (the dammed river now fluctuates between 7,000 to 30,000 cfs). And yet even that historic 300,000 cfs deluge was dwarfed by floods that have ripped through the Canyon in recent geological history. Within the last two-million years, the cyclic melting of the Quaternary Ice Ages sent flood after flood—some as large as a 1,000,000 cfs—coursing through the Canyon. These floods significantly contributed to the downcut topography of the Colorado


Plateau; the geologist Wayne Ranney estimates that as much as half of the Grand Canyon’s current depth—so, some 2,500 feet—occurred within this time. After all, the Colorado River did not carve the Grand Canyon by the steady rasp of sediment-laden waters abrading bedrock. A thick—in some cases seventy-five-foot thick—layer of silt, mud, and sediment protects the bedrock from the river’s scour. Only when the river swelled in floods big enough to sweep away the sediment, and the giant boulders suspended within the flood hammered the bared bedrock into clasts the flood then whisked away, only then did the Canyon deepen.

Great North American Landscapes Vol. 3 #2, ©Carolyn Doucette

Great North American Landscapes Vol. 3 #2, ©Carolyn Doucette

No more. The once diluvial Colorado River system is now constrained by more than 100 dams between headwaters and delta. The once volatile river has been reduced, as the riverguide and author Kevin Fedarko has written, “to little more than a giant plumbing system” consigned to slake the thirst of some thirty million people. The river that carved the Grand Canyon in a scant six-million years has been fettered;

the canyon this river carved no longer deepens.
After an hour, my muscles beginning to tighten from the day’s miles and the evening’s cold, I stood from my stone seat onto a shatter of scree. At the exact moment that I stood a fish jumped: a flash in the corner of my eye, the distant sound of a splash, and the quickest of ripples. Probably a rainbow trout: an invasive, predatory species that has flourished in the cold, clean waters the dam has effected upon downstream ecosystems. The fish brought to mind another meeting of waters, this one of a bright, fast creek into the dusky, slow Rogue River. One summer my wife and I walked, every afternoon, to perch above that confluence and watch the congregations of three- to four-foot Spring Chinook. Once only one fish, a four-foot long beauty. A few days later a dozen. Then a half-hundred salmon in that bedrock cleft, mouthing up against the cold, oxygen-rich waters of the creek, some spooling out into the deep green current of the warm river, some flipping over on their sides so that the stippled light flashed on their dark and silver fluidities, these dark fish flashing in the green river that itself flashed with the white sun and green hills. Absolutely hypnotic. But my ecstasy was cut with the lament that once the whole river would have been choked with salmon, that this spectacular clustering was but a shard of what used to be a common miracle across the West, another reminder of the loss of the richness and abundance that we used up or wasted or threw away one way or another, that we can somehow go on living our days without accounting for, but that nonetheless shadows our presence, permeates our world.
The Japanese have a term: mono-no-ware, the beautiful sadness of temporality. I am particularly susceptible to this feeling, especially when alone in wild places. I have experienced it again and again in the Canyon: the crumbling slopes around me signifying dissolution and death; the stars wheeling across the sky the same stars my wife had


seen, hours earlier, on the other side of the country; the sound of the wind at eight-thousand feet soughing through the boughs of the evergreens the ever-present expression of the end of summer and the looming offseason, when so many of us seasonal employees who are dependent on the river and Park are set adrift. What I was most susceptible to, in terms of mono-no-ware, was not simple transience: I did not mourn change in and of itself. Nor did I mourn that which I did not value. I mourned loss, especially what I considered needless, or at least preventable loss.
The losses attributable to the Glen Canyon Dam are more myriad and complicated than the diminished fish runs of the Rogue River. And yet when it comes to native fish, both rivers rippled with what the Portuguese call saudade, that bittersweet tumult of loss, longing, and hope. Before the dam, the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon supported healthy populations of eight native fish species. Six of these species were endemic, meaning they were found nowhere else in the world. But then the Bureau of Reclamation plugged the river, and shortly thereafter the Colorado Pikeminnow, a six-foot long, eighty-pound torpedo of a fish, was extirpated from the Canyon. As was the Roundtail chub. As was the Bonytail chub, now considered functionally extinct. A small population of Razorback sucker has recently been located in the lower stretches of the Canyon, but is still considered endangered, and might not be reproducing. The humpback chub, perhaps the most well-known of these piscine marvels, a fish that evolved in time with the six-million-year-carving of the Canyon, its cartilaginous hump allowing it to press against the riverbottom and remain upright in floods, its small eyes, depressed skull, and highly streamlined body adaptations to the aphotic conditions of that once turbulent river-of-stone, is also endangered. The LCR near the Confluence supports the largest of the six remaining populations of

humpback chub in the world, and the only population in the Grand Canyon known to still spawn.
A truly impressive array of government agencies has spent over four decades and tens—if not hundreds—of millions of dollars in humpback chub recovery efforts. Grand Canyon National Park’s current chub recovery measures include “translocations of humpback chub into tributaries, non-native fish control, and the establishment of a refuge population of humpback chub at US Fish and Wildlife Service fish hatchery

Great North American Landscapes Vol. 3 #3, ©Carolyn Doucette

Great North American Landscapes Vol. 3 #3, ©Carolyn Doucette

in New Mexico.” And yet, on a whole, these efforts have been ineffective: chub populations continue to decline.
A few concerned ecologists have voiced their dismay that we seem not to have the resources, capability, or political fortitude to save the Colorado River’s—indeed, the American West’s—native fish by eradicating predatory, nonnative fish, much less dams. It simply may not be feasible, regardless. There is no chance of eradicating nonnative, predatory fish like rainbow trout in the mainstem of the


Colorado through Grand Canyon; in fact, the National Park Service’s 20-year Comprehensive Fisheries Management Plan includes the plans of maintaining the recreational rainbow trout fishery in the tailwaters of the dam and continuing to restore native fish populations in the tributaries, despite the fact that the same tailwater trout decimate the same native fish populations.

Great North American Landscapes Vol. 3 #4, ©Carolyn Doucette

Great North American Landscapes Vol. 3 #4, ©Carolyn Doucette

I stood for a while, watching the water, waiting for another fish to jump. Nothing. Only the pale moon in the diming sky, the rivers joining forces to flow downcanyon, and a bleached log, high up on the riverbank, settled atop a boulder by the subsidence of the last great flood in ’83, likely never to drift again.
I had crossed the LCR and walked upstream of the confluence to pump my drinking water, and not just because the LCR was running thick. The Little Colorado’s water is some of the foulest in the Canyon: heavily mineralized, slimy, brackish, stank. Jack Sumner, one of Powell’s crewmates on

his first trip down the Canyon in 1869, found it “a lo[a]thesome little stream, so filthy and muddy that it fairly stinks…as disgusting a stream as there is on the continent … half of its volume and 2/3 of its weight is mud and silt. [It was little but] slime and salt.” A hundred years’ worth of human effluvia: battery acid, car oil, tires, trash, dead dogs, as well as traces of one of the worst radioactive spills in U.S. history, when one-hundred-million gallons of radioactive water were accidently released into a major tributary in 1979, has done little to improve its flavor.
But honestly, by the time it reaches the Canyon, the Colorado River’s once-Rocky-Mountain-meltwater isn’t all that much more palatable. Reaching my settling bag, I noticed that the river-level had already sunk: the dam engineers let out less water at night, when electrical demand is low. I pumped a liter and took a sip. Alkaline, almost curdled water. The rim of my bottle was gritty; I could feel the grains of rock rasp my tongue, the sand grind my teeth. Despite the dam, the Colorado through the Canyon is by no means devoid of silt. According to Gwendolyn L. Waring, author of A Natural History of the Intermountain West: Its Ecological and Evolutionary Story, the river below the dam still conveys some 12 million tons of silt a year. 12 million tons of silt still makes a raspy river. Much of the silt comes from the Pariah River, which enters the Colorado hypersaturated with the pink, hematite-rich soils of Bryce Canyon. Waring claims that the Pariah, a Paiute word meaning “muddy” or “elk water,” has “carried greater concentrations of suspended sediment than any other river in North America; concentrations of up to 2 pounds of sediment per quart.” The LCR also supplies a significant amount of the below-dam Colorado’s sediment; the rest comes from the Park’s hundreds of tributary canyons. And thus a drink of the river, despite the twist of the mouth at the taste, is a desert communion: the dolomites and mudrocks of Nankoweap or Kwagunt basins clouding into


the Colorado and now billowing into my bloodstream, bolstering bone.
The Southwest’s intense monsoon thunderstorms play an integral role in the conveyance of tributary silt. For those few wet months, for the approximately two-hundred-and-ninety mile stretch of river between the Glen Canyon Dam and the waters of Lake Mead, the Colorado scorches its namesake red. Flush with runoff, again the river moves the wasted continent to the sea. You open your eyes underwater and it’s like being buried alive. Black as a cave. If you go overboard in a rapid the suspended sediment collects in every fold in your PFD or drysuit and weighs you towards your watery death. The most impressive thing about a video of a flood ripping down National Canyon in 2012 isn’t the hugely aggrandized volume of the normally-small creek, but the quantity of mud that the flood was expectorating into the river: a foamy goo that settled into a few-foot thick scum in the downstream flatwater.
And yet, because of repressed riverflow, most of this tributary sediment settles to the riverbed shortly downstream of the tributary canyons. Since 1996, the various federal agencies managing the dam and river—mainly the Bureau of Reclamation, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service—have been experimenting with short-duration, high-volume dam releases (aka “high-flow experiments,” or HFEs) designed to mobilize theses thick mantles of sand and sediment in hopes that when the flood subsides, the mobilized sand will have replenished downstream beaches and riparian areas. They have conducted six such experiments, with no flood larger than 45,000 cfs. The latest tactic, now part of the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program, is to strategically time the high-flows with the episodic flooding of tributaries, as when, in a three-month, end-of-monsoon-season span in 2012, the Paria River

debouched at least 538,000 metric tons of sand into the Colorado River.
However, according to a 2011 USGS report, the relation “among sand supplied from tributaries, short-term sand enrichment in the Colorado River, sand transport during HFEs, sand transport between HFEs during normal operations, and the resultant sand mass balance” is complex, and delicate, and “uncertainties still remain about downstream impacts of water releases from Glen Canyon Dam.” For example, the experimental floods may have had a role in the 800-percent increase in the catch rates of rainbow trout—the humpback chub’s main predator—at the

Great North American Landscapes Vol. 3 #5, ©Carolyn Doucette

Great North American Landscapes Vol. 3 #5, ©Carolyn Doucette

Confluence between 2007 and 2009. On a wider scale, the question remains of whether tributaries even supply enough sand “to provide the elevated suspended-sediment concentrations needed to build and also maintain sandbars.”Because of this, environmentalists have urged the Bureau of Reclamation to install a slurry pipe that would


inject reservoir sediment back into the river, though the Bureau has indicated no more willingness to do this than it has to install a native-fish-friendly device that pulls warm water from the surface of the reservoir though the penstocks. They have valid reasons: sediment released from Lake Powell will only further reduce the already-diminished capacity of Lake Mead, a far-more strategic reservoir, and warmer water, while bad for trout, might increase the populations of other, voracious, warm water nonnative fishes. Still, the Bureau has been historically, notoriously recalcitrant concerning anything other than the Glen Canyon Dam’s main purpose as a “cash register” dam, and even getting them to conduct some of the high-flow experiments required litigation.

Great North American Landscapes Vol. 3 #6, ©Carolyn Doucette

Great North American Landscapes Vol. 3 #6, ©Carolyn Doucette


So it goes with the Colorado River these days; as Marc Reisner put it in the classic Cadillac Desert, “The Colorado’s modern notoriety…stems not from its wild 

rapids and plunging canyons but from the fact that it is the most legislated, most debated, and most litigated river in the entire world.” Though there is a great and necessary deal of cooperation over this miracle of a desert river “resource,” scarcity and complexity breed conflict, and often enough it’s the Bureau of Reclamation vs. the National Park Service vs. the Fish and Wildlife Service vs. the Navajo Nation vs conservation organizations; urban Phoenicians vs. Pima cotton farmers vs. whitewater rafters; “upper-basin” states vs. “lower-basin” states vs. the federal government; the Endangered Species Act vs. electricity production vs. recreational sport-fishing, on and on, all the parties with their own vested interests, competing values, institutional ideologies, and narrative blinders.
And yet for all the tangle of acronyms, abstractions, and differing philosophies is the squat, concrete reality of the dam. So too, for all the ways the thickness of our individual and 
cultural conceptions allow us to see or not see the Grand Canyon, as much as it may be the most staggering, unknowable, sublime phenomenon that I have ever experienced, the Canyon is still rock, and wind, and river. “No ideas but in things,” William Carlos Williams proclaimed, and I understood that best, there; that sublimity, mystery, time, love, passion, loss, and sorrow are aspects of the Canyon and life I’d only and ever truly understand if they burned through me as physical experiences: as sweat stinging the eyes, lungs gulping the air, a stone tossed as far as I could into the void, the rasp of sediment against skin, tongue.
I was born sixteen years too late to have experienced the Canyon before the dam. I couldn’t—can’t—see the suckers and pikeminnows and chubs slipping towards extinction. I haven’t yet spent enough years on the river to witness the beaches waning to nothing, the rapids choking with boulders. There is only so much my mind can bear to read about 


acre-feet allocations, fluvial geomorphology, and adaptive management programs. But every year, as the monsoons waned, I watched brown-green veins more frequently marble the firebrand red until, in time, the entire river flowed that sullen, incarcerated green.
Conversely, during those months when the tributaries are flashing, turning the river brown, or during those brief days during the rare high-flow experiments, one understands that the central miracle of the Grand Canyon is the staggering amount of material that the river is capable of conveying. It’s so obvious that it’s commonly disregarded, or slips past without notice, but the exposed and spreading rock is not the Grand Canyon: the Canyon is the absence of rock. The Canyon is a lacuna—a gap, a segment of earth torn from its surroundings, the 1,000 cubic miles of rock that the river has excavated. And not just the iconic gorge itself—in what the geologist Clarence Dutton dubbed “The Great Denudation,” strata a mile thick was removed from the top of the Grand Canyon region. An entire landscape, gone. The Moenkopi layer, gone. Chinle layer, gone. The Moenave, Kayenta, Navajo, Templecap, Carmel, Dakota, Tropic, Wahweap, Kaiparowits, Wasatch, Brian Head—almost two-hundred million years’ worth of sedimentary deposition—gone. Slab by slab and grain by grain, the arterial riverflume sluiced the broken landscapes to the Sea of Cortez. Wells sunk along the river’s delta have penetrated eighteen-thousand feet of alluvial fill without hitting bedrock. Fifty-thousand cubic miles of sediment may lay buried under the Gulf of California. In time that material will be subducted and reabsorbed into the hot crust of the earth, and, in even greater scales of time, again rise to the surface as new earth.
And yet, for a geologic gasp, no more sediment disgorges into the gulf. None.

Of course, in the deep reaches of geologic time, a few centuries’ or millennia’s’ lack of silt won’t affect the tectonic cycle in the slightest. And that’s part of the magic of the Grand Canyon: all I had to do to feel, if not hope, then at least a comforting sense of context, was to look around me,

Great North American Landscapes Vol. 3 #10, ©Carolyn Doucette

Great North American Landscapes Vol. 3 #10, ©Carolyn Doucette

press my bare palms against that unbearably ancient rock, slide my bare feet in that cold, indifferent water. Despite the abundant instances of sorrow and loss, despite that I may mourn that I’ll never get to see a 200,000 cfs flood scouring and deepening the Canyon, or that I’ll never get to sit at the confluence of the free flowing San Juan River and the free-flowing Colorado River and watch the sediment of one curl like spiral galaxies into the deep space of the other, I find some small, fatalistic comfort in the fact that the dam is a temporary barrier, that the river, as Robinson Jeffers put it, is a “heart-breaking beauty [that] will remain when there is no heart to break for it.” It’s an almost inescapable thought. As


Ed Abbey so characteristically wrote about the dams he despised: “In a few more centuries the dams will be filled

Great North American Landscapes Vol. 3 #11, ©Carolyn Doucette

Great North American Landscapes Vol. 3 #11, ©Carolyn Doucette

with silt and mud, and will become great waterfalls…Any river with the power to carve through the ancient limestones, sandstones, granite, and schists of the Kaibab Plateau will [in time] have little trouble with the spongy cement deposited, once upon a time, by some dimly remembered clan of ant folk known as the Bureau of Reclamation.”
My water bottles full, I poured the remaining water in my settling bag into the shallows. The force of the water plumed sand into suspension, some of which settled back to the bottom, some of which was whisked away by the eddy. I watched the gauzy ribbons of sediment flow past, allowed myself to fancy that they made the main current to be carried past the Confluence, past the endling schools of chub, and down the length of this ancient river to the waters of Lake Mead, where the individual grains will again succumb to their miniscule gravities and drift, slowly, to the bottom.



Carolyn Doucette’s Great North American Landscapes Vol. 3, invites viewers to challenge the construction and implications of traditional Western dichotomies between nature and culture. In this series, I visually disrupt conventionally composed landscape imagery by printing digital designs created with iPhone applications over sepia-tinted photographs digitally altered in Photoshop to resemble historic processes such as the wet plate Collodion. The photographs themselves reference Ansel Adams’s and Edward Weston’s iconic homages to the North American landscape. The geometric forms interrupting these familiar landscape images evoke designs by American modernist and postmodernist architects such as Frank Gehry, Thom Mayne and Richard Meier. These architects’ perfectly proportioned structures abstractly allude to organic forms but defy nature’s logic. In this style, my designs’ hyper-vivid colors and strict symmetry clash with the geologically and historically complex landscape.

Underlying my imagery is an awareness that the American West is the site of significant historical trauma. The brutal history of colonization in the area, as well as contemporary ecological destruction, demonstrates the peril of Western notions of nature versus culture. As a person of mixed Mi’kmaq and French ancestry, I have a heightened awareness of the temptations and dangers of over-simplifying and mythologizing the landscape. In today’s world, corporate greed posses a major threat to the global wilderness. The forms that I impose on the landscape in my artworks represent humanity’s destructive desire to force itself on the land, in one form or another.

Inspired by Anselm Kiefer’s statement, “how can you just paint a forest when the tanks have passed through?,” this series urges us to explore how our aesthetic attitudes about nature influence our actions. Great North American Landscapes Vol. 3, raises the question of whether we can develop alternative understandings of humanity’s relationship with the Earth.

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Nathaniel Brodie has worked for many years on the Grand Canyon National Park Service Trail Crew. His essays have appeared in a number of magazines, literary journals, and anthologies, and can be read at nathanielfbrodie.com. He currently lives in Flagstaff, Arizona, with his beloved wife and daughter.

Born in North Dakota, of Mi’kmaq|Acadian ancestry, Carolyn Doucette is an American transmedia artist with a BFA from the University of Victoria. Her work has shown and screened at art galleries and film festivals in the US, Canada and Europe. Her work and research concerns the connection between humans and nature, the ecological implications of a nature/culture dichotomy in Western thought paradigms and the natural landscape vs. the “sublime” landscape. She lives in Santa Barbara, CA and is currently working on a mixed-media series exploring her indigenous heritage.

How hemlock got its name

Chris Marshall

  Hemlock (eastern hemlock, as it is properly called) is a tree of some distinction, and worth getting to know more closely. It grows straight and tall; the largest hemlock on record measures 165 feet in height, and another famous specimen had a trunk seven feet thick. Hemlock shows a pyramidal shape, much like spruce from a distance, with an elegant taper. Flexible branches slope downward and out at a gentle angle from the trunk and turn upward at the ends with elegance, like the fingers of a South Indian dancer; this is the way they bend without resistance and shed accumulated snow. Young hemlock tops aren’t stiff like other conifers but yield gracefully under the pressure of snowdrifts. This soft supple quality distinguishes hemlock from spruce and fir, its forest-mates, whose bristly needles and firm branches we experience every Christmas. Hemlock foliage has been described as airy, feathery, delicate, fine.  From a distance the tree has the feel of a soft green cloud.

A    lot of people associate “hemlock” with poison.  Socrates drank hemlock and died, and we’ve never heard the last of it. In fact, there is a plant called poison hemlock, Conium maculatum, a weedy flower about three feet high that looks something like the common Queen Anne’s lace. It grows by water margins, roadsides and waste land throughout North America and the Old World.  The seeds and leaves bear a toxic compound much like South American arrow poisons. It causes death by disrupting the workings of the central nervous system: an ascending muscular paralysis gradually reaches the respiratory muscles, which results in death due to lack of oxygen to the heart and brain.

INDENT
The man . . . laying his hands upon him and after a while examined his feet and legs, then pinched his foot hard and asked if he felt it. He said “No”; then after that, his thighs; and passing upwards in this way he showed us that he was growing cold and rigid. And then again he touched him and said that when it reached his heart, he would be gone. The chill had now reached the region about the groin, and

uncovering his face, which had been covered, he said – and these were his last words – “Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius. Pay it and do not neglect it.” “That,” said Crito, “shall be done; but see if you have anything else to say.” To this question he made no reply, but after a little while he moved; the attendant uncovered him; his eyes were fixed. And Crito when he saw it, closed his mouth and eyes.¹ ~

  So here we have a tall, handsome, deep-green tree of the dense forest – an eighty-foot-tall plant that can live for nine hundred years – sharing its name with a scrawny two-foot annual weed of damp pastures (and a lethally poisonous one at that!)

  Rural Northerners know one hemlock from another, even though city people might get nervous about a hike through the hemlock woods.  Robert Frost wrote, “The way a crow/ Shook down on me/ A weight of snow/ From a hemlock tree// Has given my heart/ A change of mood/ And saved some part/ Of a day I had rued.”  A student asked Frost about this sweetly quiet winter scene: “What did you mean by 

such a sinister image?” Frost was puzzled, and the student explained, “You know, the black crow, the poison hemlock…” Frost, Yankee to the bone, made some sharp observations about people from away and left it at that.

  But how did such different plants get the same name? For years writers have speculated that the tree’s needles resemble the plant’s leaves (they don’t), or that its foliage smells like the plant when crushed (it doesn’t). Evidently these guys didn’t get out in the woods much. The answer is deeper and more interesting – it takes us into the minds of the American colonists, and even further back to the Saxon occupiers of England more than a thousand years ago. The Anglo-Saxons’ name for the poisonous streamside weed was hemlike, a combination of hem” (a border or margin) and “lik” (a leafy plant) – literally a “leek” that grows on the “hem” of the land. The plant was notable for its wildness and its ill-will towards humans – it grew on wet wasteland unfit for human gardening, encroached on productive fields, and poisoned

their browsing cattle. Other plants were beautiful, blessed, obedient to the human hand, helpful in our God-given work to improve the Earth and make it a garden.  Other plants lived under our care and settled happily on our fields and forests. This hemlock was otherwise – a contrary creature growing in useless and accursed places, resistant to our care, deceiving our cattle, and contributing only death. The hemlock plant epitomized evil.

  The British newcomers to North America found the poison hemlock herb growing here; they called it what it was and regarded it the same way as had their forebears.  They found the hemlock tree problematic, though, because it didn’t grow in Europe. It was clearly a conifer, and back in Britain any conifer was loosely called a “fir,” sometimes even the indigenous Scots pine. But how to distinguish the new species from the true fir, a familiar timber tree that grew on both continents? To choose a name, the British did what they had done a few centuries earlier when England began importing Baltic wood for ships

and buildings. The fine tall timber of Latvia and Prussia was a “fir” of a variety unknown in Britain, and so they had called it “Prussian fir,” “pruce fir,” and eventually “spruce.” In like manner, this new “fir” of the Americas became “hemlock fir,” or “hemlock pine.

   They called the tree “hemlock” because it was accursed. Other conifers milled out as clean, clear boards and timbers; this new wood, compared to pine and spruce, was rough-textured, splintery, and tended to warp.  Other conifers grew on broad uplands and slopes where the human hand could be turned to productive lumbering and farming; this contrary tree seemed to prefer cold gullies, northern slopes, and terrains that resisted cultivation, wild marginal landscapes hostile to the civilizing mission of the farmer. In the world of trees it was a perverse sinner living in a godless place . . . just like the poison hemlock in the world of plants.

  Every kind of tree had its own moral character in those days. Oak, walnut, and chestnut were generous in feeding the farmer’s livestock, 

and strong and helpful for tool-making. Ash was beneficent in providing good firewood and straight-grained timber, and gave shade to cattle in the summer sun. The evergreen boughs of the “priestly” cedar served to remind humans of everlasting life (and so was planted in graveyards), but also brought welcome cash to the farmstead as homemade shingles went to market. Pine was king – straight grained, huge in diameter and height, growing everywhere, immensely valuable in the boards it provided. Trees like these represented virtues of dignity, strength, productiveness, religiosity, or courage, according to the temperament of the species. Think of phrases like “hearts of oak,” or “Old Hickory.”

  Always, though, Americans found those trees most beautiful that indicated the most fertile soil. In selecting a good farm, you would draw on the tree lore of several European nations, as well as locally acquired knowledge of tree habitat, to help you recognize good land for husbandry. The virtuous trees favored the same land humans did.

  In that world Hemlock was clearly evil. It chose for its home a terrain that resisted the divine will to cultivate Nature through human husbandry; its wood was uncooperative    
and resistant; it produced neither quality firewood nor good lumber nor useful fruits,nothing to aid its human neighbors. It was a moral poison … just like the herb known as hemlock.

¹ Plato. Phaedo, 117e-118a. In Plato, with an English translation by H.N.Fowler. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1966.

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Chris Marshall studies the historical ecology of land-human interactions on the Maine frontier. He is a retired Unity College professor.

The Hemlock Ecosystem Management Study is a multi-year study of how the loss of eastern hemlock trees affects ecosystems and people in Maine. The project is directed by four primary faculty members: Amy Arnett and Erika Latty from the Center for Biodiversity; and Kathleen Dunckel and Brent Bibles from the Center for Natural Resource Management and Protection with assistance from Unity College students.

Layers: Engelhardt and Frederick

James Engelhardt

You’ll never understand how
the knowledge comes to you—
the children naming animal tracks
at the river’s edge, the cribbage board
on the cooler—that you’ve come to love
someone who isn’t in the opposite chair
sipping their beer, their sunglasses
reflecting a mate who has been pulled
toward a different light, another coast.

Summer flows and dies around you.
A west wind summons a dust devil,
brings the smell of a distant wildfire.
The mews gulls and owls have fledged,
and autumn will bring darkness soon.

You play your cards, peg your points,
and yet the hands you use feel lighter,
filled with some strange gas, not bone,
and in your chest a foreign sun
burns fiercely with joy and despair.
The coming nova will swallow the orbits
of all the planets around you now,
the cards, the board, the river, the tracks.
Unthinkable. How do you participate
in what you never wanted to be real?

the one road heading north
deadends in Deadhorse

night spills into the next day,
there should be an end

Santa Claus stops at Deadhorse, too,
leaves eleven months later, full of schnapps

you tell me your mother walked out
headed north

you say you were too young
to pay attention, to notice your father

had taken to drinking
out of an old Christmas glass

three wise men, a baby,
and a star

you add these
to the list of places you can’t go back to

MdwntrJrny

 

 
   Linden Frederick

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James Engelhardt’s poems have appeared in the North American Review, Hawk and Handsaw, ACM: Another Chicago Magazine, Terrain.org, Painted Bride Quarterly, Cirque, Ice Floe, and many others. His ecopoetry manifesto can be found at octopusmagazine.com. He is an acquisitions editor at the University of Illinois Press.

 Linden Frederick  is a full-time painter residing in the Belfast area of Maine since 1989. His subject matter is the American landscape at dusk or night, but with a cultural emphasis. For example, his 2004 one-person show MEMOIR was inspired by the small town where he grew up in upstate New York, and NIGHT NEIGHBORS (2010) by Belfast. A larger geography and therefore, different American sub-cultures, were explored in the shows AMERICAN NIGHTS (2002) and AMERICAN STUDIES (2008). Other recent one-person shows were NIGHT LIFE (2014) and PAINTING NOIR (2006). He has been invited to guest lecture and/or teach master classes at educational institutions. He is represented by Forum Gallery, NYC.

 

 

Alison Vilag’s Bonfires

Alison Vilag

Summer’s existence is debatable in the middle of the Bering Sea yet, even there, we continue her quintessential gathering: bonfires. We have to be resourceful—the island’s only wood comes from waves of Russian origin—so we resort to burning pallets that once supported the cases of Alaskan Amber we’re drinking. Your s’mores may be constructed with carcinogenic marshmallows but it gets the job done. 

Thursday afternoon, Halibut Girl Liz pedaled to A-Dorm and shouted through the supersize peephole once plugged by a lock. This is our most reliable form of communication, since she fails at dialing phones and I fail at answering them. Her arrival was a welcome distraction from the brow-furrowing task of how to best cook salmon (having been raised vegetarian, this knowledge is not intuitive).

“You wanna go to the bar tonight?”

“Sure, I’ve got tomorrow off.”

“We’re gonna have a bonfire at Staff Quarters after; Boat Boys are in town!”

“You know I’ll be there.” 

I solved the salmon problem with a squeeze of lemon and a dash of basil, shooed the Aleut boys out of our work vehicles (“You can’t be in there until you’re tall enough to reach the pedals!”), scrambled up the rocks above town, next to the diesel tanks. There I sat with my mandolin, journal, and a beer, watching the halibut boats come in. It was idyllic—the first day I’d seen the sun for over a month, the first time it’d been warm enough (i.e., 50 degrees) to wear just a t-shirt. The evening was calm, the harbor placid, glassy, reflecting green from the hills. 

By the time Liz was done sampling halibut, though, it was after 10:00. Any Thursday night in town, the bar could be open from 9 p.m. till midnight, but there’s a minor technicality: if there are fewer than 10 people inside the bar at 10:00, it closes. When we arrived, there were four—the Boat Boys, halibut fishermen I’d met a fortnight ago at St. Paul’s dance hall.

Tonight at the bar, Andrew and Brandon were shooting pool and Gary was desperately trying to find weed. The bartender was trying to get rid of us and go home; I gestured with a Sierra Nevada I’d swiped from Andrew towards the curling smoke across the road.

“They’re having a bonfire. We should go over there. I’ve got booze.” 

That’s all it took; their boat was registered as a dry vessel and they’d been at sea for two weeks. We walked back towards A-Dorm, Gary pleading with everyone—even young mothers pushing strollers—to please find him some weed. On paper, St. Paul is damp. That is, you can purchase beer or wine, but not the hard stuff. 

These rules don’t prevent anyone from drinking liquor. Just because you can’t buy it means little. We stashed my jug of Alaska Outlaw in Liz’s green backpack and waited behind A-Dorm with the Boat Boys, now 3. (Gary, still weedless, fell victim to a streak of sentimentality and decided the moment was right to send emails to his ex-women.) 

The aroma of burning chemicals led us around the harbor to NMFS the palatial white National Marine Fisheries Service building known to us only by its acronym. Inside, I finally met the enigmatic Sean, who I knew only for his pre-dawn rising (commendable in the land of midnight sun) and skill at enraging male fur seals (unfortunate, since his job hinged on not enraging male fur seals). This remains all I know about Sean, for he shook my hand, informed me it was cold, and then retreated—presumably to bed.

We continued out to the burning pallets. Beers were cracked, my whiskey began making the rounds. Halibut Liz tried to convince Brandon, an Alaskan native, that he was actually Samoan; when she failed, she instead taught him South Pacific war cries. Bobette, queen of seal pups and classless jokes, got so drunk she couldn’t stand up. 

Halibut Liz was struck with an irrepressible urge to show me the inside of a rotting warehouse near NMFS Palace. She grabbed my hand and led me to its yawning entrance. The sagging metal exterior housed an abyss of broken glass and questionable smells—the perfect set for a horror movie, I thought. Halibut Liz and I both forgot that I was wearing sandals. I promptly cut my toe, although I couldn’t feel it.

“It’s fine, my tetanus shot is up-to-date,” I reassured her.

We continued into the dark, and Liz handed me a hard hat and told me to hold my breath. She then opened a long-unplugged chest freezer. Its contents were mostly unrecognizable, but we could discern a knee-high brew of soupy reindeer remains.   

We departed hastily and decided that, having shared that experience, we should pee together and further cement the 

moment. Back at the pallet fire, the whiskey jug was still going around. Anthony—one of the Boat Boys who I’d spoken to twice that night, both times in ridicule, followed me towards NMFS Palace. He staggered a beautiful serpentine.

“Couldn’t pass a sobriety test like that,” I prodded, waltzing ahead of him. Next thing I knew, two rough hands grabbed my hips firmly, pulled me backwards. I ripped Anthony’s hands off my body and spat, “I don’t think so. That’s not happening. Don’t fucking touch me.” 

I marched back to the fire, seething.

  “He fucking grabbed me,” I told them.

It was an effective way to kill a party that should’ve ended long ago. I walked back toward A-Dorm with Halibut Liz and an Anthony search party. 

My whiskey and Liz’s bike were also missing—seems he’d been grabbing everything he could get his hands on.

The next afternoon, Liz pedaled to A-dorm and yelled through the peephole. She’d found Anthony swimming half-naked in the boat’s live well and interrogated him. They found her bike in the road in front of the cannery, salvaged my half-gone jug from a patch of grass. Bobette had puked during seal harvest, Andrew looked like death. Brandon—the biggest of the crew—had passed out on the deck, leaving his boatmates with the challenge of carrying him to bed.

The paucity of wood on St. Paul may be a blessing; if it were easier to bonfire, the island might not be able to handle the consequences. Being resourceful, however, we tend to find a way. Perhaps that’s why St. Paul has banned liquor.

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Alison Világ is has been studying Environmental Writing and Media Studies at Unity College since 2014. When school isn’t in session, Világ moonlights as a professional birding guide; her work has carried her to an array of far-flung places (Philippines, Michigan, Alaska.) Follow more of Alison’s work through her blog, Peregrination, and Medium.

 

“Bonfire” by Deanna Witman modified from source  “Image Drifwood fire 2” by Mike Fernwood; Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Featured Artist: Eliot Dudik’s Broken Land

Eliot Dudik

Broken Land

We live in times of great unrest ‐- politically, socially, culturally. The beauty and old violence in Eliot Dudik’s photographs remind us that generations of people have lived on this earth in similar times. The stillness in these photographs both reassures and disturbs us. The land abides and heals, regenerates, but the violence emerges elsewhere year after year. How do we flourish despite our collective stumbles? The schisms are many yet we look for meaning in the face of adversity. Like the land, we seek resilience. Resurgence. Equanimity. As we reflect on the year behind and launch in to a new year ahead, we want to pause and consider how we might learn from our own mistakes or missed opportunities. To cultivate beauty among the decay. To act as better humans, better neighbors, better friends. To flourish despite our stumbles.

~ the Editors, Hawk & Handsaw

Words from the Artist. The idea of history repeating itself generally associates with the notion that an attempt to recognize mistakes of the past leads to prevention of recurrence. Current political and cultural polarization in the United States seems to have blinded citizens to the effects of historical schisms: divisions that, having not been recognized and resolved, led to the horrific and devastating events of the American Civil War. The current political divide in this country is not dissimilar to that of mid-nineteenth century America, and to severely compound these issues, political leaders today, as before, are apparently incapable of lasting and formative solutions.

Perspective on the Civil War and contemporary culture are vast and deeply engrained in our heritage. Prying open and examining viewpoints objectively is exceedingly difficult, but an essential responsibility for all citizens to allow any possibility of cultural and political cohesion. My goals are to create landscapes that come alive with the acts of war, and cause, at least, contemplation of the nature of being American, to allow understanding, communication, and cooperation with fellow citizens. These photographs are an attempt to preserve American history, not to relish it, but recognize it cyclical nature and to derail that seemingly inevitable tendency for repetition.

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Eliot Dudik is a photographic artist, educator, and bookmaker exploring the connection between culture, memory, landscape, history, and politics. He was awarded the PhotoNOLA Review Prize in 2014 for his Broken Land and Still Lives portfolio, resulting in a book publication and solo exhibition.  Broken Land was most recently published as a feature in the July/August 2015 issue of Smithsonian Magazine.  FLASH FORWARD 2015 chose the series for publication and exhibition in Toronto and Boston.  His photographs have been installed in group and solo exhibitions across the United States and Canada including Dishman Art Museum (TX), Morris Museum of Art (GA), Masur Museum of Art (LA), Muscarelle Museum of Art (VA), Cassilhaus (NC), Annenberg Space for Photography (CA), Columbia Museum of Art (SC), Southeast Museum of Photography (FL), New Orleans Photo Alliance (LA), Carlson Gallery at the University of La Verne (CA), and the Division Gallery in Toronto, Canada, for examples.  Upcoming solo exhibitions also include the Griffin Museum of Photography (MA) and the Center for Fine Art Photography (CO).  Eliot is currently founding the photography program within the Department of Art and Art History at the College of William & Mary where he is currently teaching and directing the Andrews Gallery at the college.