(Dis)place: Lyons and Lampton

Bridget A. Lyons/ Adam Lampton

Home on the Wing

When I blow out my birthday candles or find a fallen eyelash, I wish for a home. Some people in their forties may have outgrown this childhood superstition, but I feel like I need to hang on to anything that gives me hope—like the butterflies I’ve come to envy, who band together in clusters several thousand strong.
A boardwalk leads to their favorite gathering place. Unlike the more famous boardwalk in Santa Cruz, California, this one is quiet, shady, and secluded. It winds through a thick grove of trees where sunlight intermittently penetrates the foliage, allowing for the identification of a eucalyptus, a laurel, or a bay. Their greens are muted—dark sage, dusky olive, frosted pine—and the leaves themselves are thick and waxy, built to survive California’s dry summers. Frogs sing from their hiding spots in the swamp below, laying a melody over the irregular beat of footsteps on the wooden planks. And then there is the richly layered landscape of smell. It is a potpourri of the sweet and spicy eucalyptus magic that tickles the nose, a combination of the earthy odor of the swamp’s decomposing biomass and the pungent salt air that wafts in from the ocean, just a quarter of a mile away.
They are just around the corner, at the boardwalk’s end—thousands of them. Danaus plexippus, monarch butterflies. If it’s warm enough—fifty-five degrees and above—the air is thick with flight. Flashes of orange and black dash, dart, jerk, and jitterbug in every direction at every visible elevation. While the flying ones are most obvious, there are others, hovering as they drink from puddles between the tree trunks or wet patches on the planks. There are motionless ones too, resting on branches—right-side-up and upside-down, at every angle. And, unless the day is very warm, many of them are still clinging to one another, collectively hanging in clumps, resting in warmth and safety.
Once I located their winter hangout, visiting these migratory insects became part of my daily life. Their movements—flutters, dips, dives, and swoops—convinced me that insects must feel joy because joy is what I experienced while watching them. I also found myself admiring their community-oriented approach to survival; their clustering behavior protected the many at the expense of just a few.

©Adam Lampton, From the Series “Portland”, 20×30”, Archival Inkjet Print, 2000-Present

 

Before my last move, I had made a list of what I wanted in a new hometown—access to open space, a good swimming pool, regular farmers’ markets, progressive values. Santa Cruz fit the bill. I tested the waters with a month-long sublet, and, when I didn’t want to leave, I signed a one-year lease for an apartment down the street. It was a two-room back portion of a 1911 house with a kitchenette tucked into a former bedroom closet and a stained-glass window embedded in the front door. I spent sizeable chunks of my days in there, editing documents and assembling newsletters for my clients, occasionally looking up from my computer to observe the pattern of daily life in my little neighborhood, Beach Hill.
I made a habit of walking every day, always starting under the neighbor’s ginkgo tree with its exotic-looking leaves—the ones carved in the shape of Ginsu knives. Just beyond it were a couple of bush-sized jade plants and a twenty-foot long rosemary hedge. I marveled at both of them, having grown up in New Jersey where jades live indoors in small plastic pots and rosemary is confined to glass bottles on the spice rack. At the end of the block, I’d turn and cut through the parking lot of the Art Deco motel, heading downhill past the bowling alley to the Boardwalk—the famous one, with the historic carousel and rickety wooden roller coaster. Eventually, I’d make my way out onto the beach, stopping at the water’s edge to look for sea lions or otters.
When I walked in the morning, there were often people sleeping in the sand up above the tide line. Wrapped in sleeping bags with shopping carts next to them, they stayed huddled until the fog burned off and the sun warmed them into motion. Sometimes that process was accelerated by the Boardwalk employees cleaning up trash or the police shaking them awake and announcing that camping is illegal on all city beaches. Then they’d gather their belongings and head towards the park benches by the bathrooms or the green space next to the river.
When I was considering Santa Cruz as my next place to live, several people intimated that the “homeless situation” should scare me away. It didn’t; in fact, it drew me in. I had spent the majority of my adulthood living in ski towns and guiding in wilderness areas. There were no street or van dwellers there. I had begun to forget that hundreds of thousands of people in our country lack safe, warm, and regular places to spend their nights. I knew that acknowledging the problem did nothing to solve it, but avoiding it certainly didn’t help.
Beach Hill is situated right in the middle of three areas some locals call “ground zeroes” or “zombie zones.” One of these is the Main Beach, the huge expanse of sand in front of the Boardwalk. Another is Lower Pacific Avenue, an area to the north of my old apartment, down the outdoor staircase. I walked those blocks almost daily, and, on my way, I passed the Taco Bell where men and their Chariot baby strollers filled with pillows and sweatshirts commonly congregated, smoking and chatting amongst themselves. Sometimes they asked me for spare change, and sometimes I gave it to them. Other times, I said hello and smiled, starting a friendly but short conversation. But, still other times, I kept my gaze to the ground, trying to avoid provoking a man who appeared to be yelling at no one in particular.
To the east of Beach Hill lies the San Lorenzo River, a waterway which flows into the Pacific Ocean on the far side of the Boardwalk. Above it sits an asphalt pathway, ideal for crossing town on foot or bicycle. When I ran there in the mornings, groups of three to ten people would be sleeping under the protection of the bridges, hiding from the overnight fog or winter rains. Later in the day, I would weave a route through clusters of younger homeless folks. Their pit bulls scared me, with their bony heads, stocky bodies, and sharp, raspy growls, and the cloud of marijuana smoke was often suffocating. I never stopped to talk in those spots; I just slipped through the crowd, trying to make myself invisible.

©Adam Lampton, From the Series “Portland”, 20×30”, Archival Inkjet Print, 2000-Present

©Adam Lampton, From the Series “Portland”, 20×30”, Archival Inkjet Print, 2000-Present

“Everyone’s from somewhere,” I always hear. I suppose that’s true, in the sense that we’ve all got city names on our birth certificates, and most of us can identify the hospitals or houses we kicked and screamed our way into. But I’m not sure that these cities and towns are where we’re actually from. I think that our concept of home is more complicated, that it has something to do with our connections to particular ecosystems, particular copses of trees, patches of beach, city blocks, or even highway vista points—places where we feel settled and grounded, places where we are who we think we are and who we know we should be.
Of course, it’s possible my opinion about personal provenance is rooted in the fact that I’m hesitant to own up to my New Jersey roots. Even though I spent eighteen years in a roomy colonial house on a cul-de-sac, I was never really comfortable there. The topography was bland—no big hills or mountains to help me position myself in space, no ocean to remind me of my relative size. And, the all-too-visible march of economic progress began to depress me as soon as I was old enough to understand it. I watched New York City’s urban sprawl steadily creep towards my hometown, engulfing the few patches of wetlands and open space that remained. By the time I left, the parcel of woods just beyond our dead-end street had been chopped down to make room for McMansions. It was no longer a “dead” end; it had come to life with in-ground pools, leaf-blower armadas, and professional dog walkers.
When I was old enough to pack up a no-frills Mazda pick-up truck and head out on my own, I began to search for my place. I knew where it wasn’t, but I had no idea where it was. Between then and now, I’ve found shelter in several Rocky Mountain towns, a southern Chilean city, and an off-the-grid Mexican educational facility, as well as in the myriad backcountry campsites I occupied while working as an outdoor educator. Santa Cruz was my latest stable sleeping site—until recently, anyway. I moved away a year ago.
The last time I was asked, I said I was from Santa Cruz, although I’m not quite sure that’s true.

©Adam Lampton, From the Series “Portland”, 20×30”, Archival Inkjet Print, 2000-Present

©Adam Lampton, From the Series “Portland”, 20×30”, Archival Inkjet Print, 2000-Present

The butterflies that hang out in Santa Cruz are from somewhere. In some ways, they’re from Santa Cruz; after all, it is where the species returns to, winter after winter. When the world gets cold and dark, this is where the monarchs hole up. Home, to many, is where you go when things get hard.
But if where you’re from is where you were born, these insects are from fields and farms stretching from California’s Central Valley all the way to the crest of the Rockies. In those spaces, monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed plants which not only host the tiny eggs for their week-long gestation but also offer the creatures a potent natural defense: milkweed sap is poisonous to most vertebrates. When butterfly larvae hatch, they immediately begin chomping on the leaves that housed them. The toxicity of their food becomes part of who they are and protects them for the rest of their short lives.
Milkweed is not as widely distributed as it once was. Chemicals like Roundup, which are broadly applied to fields planted with herbicide-resistant GMO crops, have nearly eradicated milkweed from commercial agricultural land. At the same time, development transforms vacant lots and farms into more human housing every day—especially in places like California’s Silicon Valley.
Monarch-friendly residents in Santa Cruz, in their attempts to compensate for the dearth of milkweed in nearby inland communities like San Jose and Palo Alto, have begun to cultivate the plant in their backyards. It’s a thoughtful gesture, but Santa Cruz is not milkweed’s place. In the coastal climate, milkweed frequently hosts a protozoan parasite, Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE), that appears to have coevolved with its butterfly host. Pupae infected with OE exhibit uneven dark splotches that are visible through their casings. If those insects don’t die before they emerge, they will be too weak to migrate once they do. Since their ability to reproduce is not affected, infected butterflies typically pass their OE spores onto their offspring, perpetuating the condition.
In addition to the threat of OE, the presence of backyard milkweed in Santa Cruz allows monarchs to stay in town all year, completely fouling up their complex multi-generational migration cycle. They’re meant to be snowbirds, not permanent residents.

©Adam Lampton, From the Series “Portland”, 20×30”, Archival Inkjet Print, 2000-Present

©Adam Lampton, From the Series “Portland”, 20×30”, Archival Inkjet Print, 2000-Present

Santa Cruz’s homeless are from somewhere too; but, I don’t ask them where. I don’t know how to ask, or when. Most days, I could barely make eye contact with the woman in the pink velour running suit who talks to herself, much less figure out how to start up a conversation with her about her roots.
I’m not sure where my hesitation comes from; I just know that it feels like paralysis. I felt sick knowing that she’d been sleeping on a tarp under the footbridge. But, when I thought about offering her a spot on the couch in my heated apartment, I felt scared and uncomfortable, wondering if it would be safe to have a stranger—any stranger—in my space. If she asked me for money, my conscience turned into a battleground for the arguments I’ve heard: “Handouts enable our broken system; give the money to a support agency instead” and “If you have the money, why wouldn’t you give it to them?” Neither line of reasoning has ever satisfied me. For a while, I bought extra food on my downtown grocery store runs and gave that out in place of dollar bills. One winter day, when the woman had a plastic Hefty bag draped over her pink velour, I offered her a turkey wrap. She slapped my hand and said, “Whaddya think, I need your unwanted food?” My gaze dropped back to the ground, and I slunk away, feeling ashamed of my full bag of groceries, the apartment key in my pocket, and the family I knew I could call if things got really bad.
Last fall, just after I moved, Santa Cruz decided to establish a homeless camp on the east bank of the San Lorenzo River, in a spot people refer to as “the benchlands.” Police Chief Andy Mills declared a renewed effort to clean up the downtown area by prohibiting shopping carts—a curious law that happens to effectively displace much of the homeless population. At the same time, the chief openly acknowledged that a series of recent California court decisions, by upholding people’s “right to sleep,” have required cities to create enough overnight facilities to house their residents. Santa Cruz has fewer than 180 shelter beds and a homeless population of at least 2000, with no immediate plans for additional infrastructure. Knowing this, Mills relaxed the overnight camping ban and told his officers to quit issuing citations for erecting tents on the beach and rolling out quilts in doorways. Many residents expressed anxiety about their lawns and parks becoming crash pads, so the police attempted to consolidate people sleeping outdoors into one area—the benchlands encampment.
Last Christmas, I returned to Santa Cruz for my own winter break and semi-hibernation period. While I was there, I rode to the river on my rusty pink cruiser bike to see what the city had set up. The tents—all thin, worn, and poorly erected—were arranged in lines on either side of the lawn. In the open center aisle, people were huddled in groups of three to six, some gathered around a bag of chips, some reading books or napping.
I wanted to cross over the boundaries of survey stakes and flagging tape. I wanted to ask someone what it was like to be corralled into a designated area. I wanted to hear someone’s story and find out how what they thought the city—or any one citizen—should do to help out. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I already felt like a voyeur just watching; going in and asking questions like some privileged reporter seemed even more wrong. So, I just stayed on the sidelines, again.

©Adam Lampton, From the Series “Portland”, 20×30”, Archival Inkjet Print, 2000-Present

It is the tranquility of the sleeping butterflies that really drew me in. They are beautiful when they are flying, of course. But they are magical when they are sleeping. They cluster in groups of several hundred to several thousand, latching—one onto the other onto the other onto the other—until they form a two-foot-long mass of doily-thin wing, whispery antenna, and inchworm body. Then they sleep, or shut down, or check out. Really, we don’t understand where they go when they rest any better than we understand our own sleep consciousness. They stay put until the ambient air temperature reaches fifty-five degrees, when they start to shimmy, shake, and greet the day. If the sun keeps shining, they leave their clumps in search of nectar and water until the temperature drops again. When it’s cold, wet, or windy, they stay put, sleeping away the inclement conditions. Seeing them takes me out of my head, out of myself. Seeing people sleep outside is much, much harder for me. When I glimpse men huddled under bridges on slabs of cardboard, stretched out on the asphalt of the bike path, or burrowed into the sand of Twin Lakes Beach, I feel a hollow lurch in my stomach. People without shelter often cluster together, too, wisely seeking strength and safety in numbers, in community. However, witnessing their congregation deflates me and makes my head spin with questions. How have we gotten to a point where we—myself included—just take this in stride?

©Adam Lampton, From the Series “Portland”, 20×30”, Archival Inkjet Print, 2000-Present

©Adam Lampton, From the Series “Portland”, 20×30”, Archival Inkjet Print, 2000-Present

I loved living in Santa Cruz. I managed to tap into several communities—groups of writers, artists, swimmers, and mountain bikers—and, though I didn’t feel like I was a crucial member of any of them, I did feel like I belonged when I wanted to. I kept walking and exploring, making a habit of visiting the big bronze surfer statue and the spot along West Cliff Drive where people build towers of precariously balanced stones. When I finished a work project, I let myself browse the three or four thrift stores on Lower Pacific, just north of the Taco Bell. I was proud to live in a city that had outlawed plastic bags and declared itself a sanctuary for everyone.
Once a week, I drove a carful of donated day-old bread and grocery items to a soup kitchen in Watsonville, fifteen miles south on Highway 1. After unloading the food, I helped chop vegetables or roll burritos, chatting in Spanish with the kitchen ladies before serving lunch to the eighty or so people—almost all men—who showed up for the daily free meal. There were a lot of “regulars” there, so I got to know a few of them. I first started talking to Hector, who picked strawberries when the work was available, because he was wearing an old Guns n’ Roses concert t-shirt—an easy conversation starter for me. Martin scared me for a while; he had tattoos ringing his neck and a hunched, imposing presence. But he liked salad a lot more than the other guys, and since I was always stuck pushing the greens, I got to see him smile a few times before I introduced myself.
While having regulars meant I got to know some of them, it also meant that these men weren’t getting any closer to stability. They weren’t out working or at home cooking for themselves. They were making the daily migration from the city park to the food pantry for what might be their only meal of the day. Every time I took off my hairnet and apron and slid into the driver’s seat of my little car, I was exhausted—not by the work, but by the emotional turmoil. I got to drive away, back up north, to my small but safe, warm, and dry apartment perched up on Beach Hill. I knew how lucky I was, even though every rent check dug further into my savings account. I have a savings account. Many people don’t.

©Adam Lampton, From the Series “Portland”, 20×30”, Archival Inkjet Print, 2000-Present

The monarchs further captivated me when I learned about their migratory patterns. Santa Cruz’s butterflies leave the area every spring and come back to the same sets of trees every fall. Human beings do this all the time—especially retired ones who have had their fill of northern winters. When the butterflies migrate, however, it’s not voluntary; they’ll die if they stay where they are. It’s also not the same individuals making the journey from year to year. A later generation flies back to the historic wintering spot, and, that generation, often called “Methuselahs,” lives months longer than both the generation that preceded it and the two or three that follow. These butterflies spend up to four months on the coast, their longevity promoted by the state of semi-hibernation, called diapause, in which they spend much of the winter. When they leave in the spring, they head east over the Santa Cruz Mountains to mate, lay eggs on a milkweed plant, and die. These eggs will hatch into a generation of butterflies that lives between two and six weeks while heading further north and east, following the milkweed bloom. Their children, and their children’s children, will do the same. It’s their children’s children’s children, post-metamorphosis, that return to occupy the same tree branches along the Santa Cruz coastline one year later. This is mind-blowing to me—someone who has to muster up months of motivation to buy a ticket to Newark Airport, someone who’s not sure you can ever go back to a place you’ve left.
Much to the dismay of park management, their lepidopteral celebrities are spending less time at Natural Bridges State Park, where the well-built boardwalk welcomes the human voyeurs. The monarchs have begun to make their midwinter move down the coast to Lighthouse Field State Park earlier and earlier each year. Lighthouse Field is situated along the same coastal road as Natural Bridges—West Cliff Drive, the Rodeo Drive of Santa Cruz. On the inland side of the road stand the city’s most expensive houses, many of which are empty. They are vacation properties that rent for upwards of $500 per night on VRBO and Airbnb.
Lighthouse Field’s geographical position seems to be working better for the monarchs these days. It is possible that recent changes in the coast’s storm cycles—as well as the overall warming of the Santa Cruz winters—have precipitated the move. However, while the location may be right for them, the grove itself is becoming less and less conducive to their nightly roosting. Park officials have been clearing the low branches from all of the area trees in order to be able to better monitor the homeless people who often gather around them. Because the men and women who congregate there make fires to cook and keep warm, the park has to clear the understory to reduce the hazard of wildfire ignition. Apparently, displacement can have a domino effect.

©Adam Lampton, From the Series “Portland”, 20×30”, Archival Inkjet Print, 2000-Present

©Adam Lampton, From the Series “Portland”, 20×30”, Archival Inkjet Print, 2000-Present

 

 

After a couple of years in Santa Cruz, I had to move away. I wasn’t getting the jobs I’d applied for, and my freelance work had started to taper off. I had applied to graduate schools that offered funding, and when one of them—one in a city with cheaper housing costs—accepted me, I figured I’d better attend. My landlords had bought a new BMW with my rent payments, and my bike rack had been stolen from the roof of my car. I wondered if Santa Cruz wasn’t really my place—or, if it had been my place for just a short time. How could I call somewhere “home” when it made itself, in some ways, so overtly inhospitable? Still, after I drove off in the U-Haul, I cried all the way to Watsonville.

©Adam Lampton, From the Series “Portland”, 20×30”, Archival Inkjet Print, 2000-Present

©Adam Lampton, From the Series “Portland”, 20×30”, Archival Inkjet Print, 2000-Present

A few days into my Santa Cruz Christmas visit, the city announced that the homeless camp would need to be moved. There were too many complaints about drug use, prostitution, and theft, and city employees who work in the building nearby said they were scared to walk from the parking lot to their offices. In addition, the San Lorenzo River typically swells with the winter rains, inundating the benchlands. They said it was important for the health of the watershed to clear and clean the area before the flooding begins. They didn’t mention that it’s also impossible for human beings to sleep in an inundated field.
The plan was to move the encampment residents across Highway 1 to a city-owned vacant lot near the Costco while government officials and real estate professionals continued to search for an appropriate indoor facility to shelter them—a plan that went into effect in February of this year and was funded only through the beginning of the summer.
“Goddamned zombies,” a man said under his breath as he passed me on the bridge by the encampment. “They don’t belong here in the public space.”

©Adam Lampton, From the Series “Portland”, 20×30”, Archival Inkjet Print, 2000-Present

During that same visit, I eagerly reinstated my old daily ritual, the one I call “butterfly church.” On one of these pilgrimages, I met a scientist who monitors the Lighthouse Field grove on behalf of the city. After explaining his system for tallying insects and recording weather data, he paused to show me a patch of young plants adjacent to the eucalyptus and cypress stand where the butterflies commonly spend the night. “See this? It’s a butterfly-friendly native garden. The local native plant society thinks the monarchs should be eating only native nectar. You see any butterflies in there? Of course you don’t. They prefer the eucalyptus and cypress nectar—or even nectar from the ice plant across the street. Eucalyptus, cypress, ice plant—these are all invasive species. That’s why the park is letting the big eucalyptus trees die—or even cutting them down. Their policy is to let non-natives disappear. But when they go, the butterflies will go with them.”
Before returning to his paperwork, he reminded me that fifty years ago, none of these giant trees existed in the park. Historic records indicate that, back then, Lighthouse Field was a grassy, treeless, open area. There were no butterflies.
In time, it’s likely the monarchs will be displaced—from a place that wasn’t really theirs to begin with.

©Adam Lampton, From the Series “Portland”, 20×30”, Archival Inkjet Print, 2000-Present

©Adam Lampton, From the Series “Portland”, 20×30”, Archival Inkjet Print, 2000-Present

The Santa Cruz County Point-in-Time Homeless Census is conducted every other year during the last two weeks in January. The most recent count, finished in January of 2017, put the county’s total homeless population at 2249[i]—a number that seems a little low to me. Of those counted, 80% were labeled as “unsheltered,” and within that group, 36% of them were sleeping on the street, 30% in their vehicles, and 10% in encampments. For whatever reason, lots of people in Santa Cruz think that the majority of the county’s homeless migrated from other states to take advantage of warm weather and liberal attitudes. According to this census, however, almost 70% of the individuals surveyed claimed to have lived in the county prior to becoming homeless.
The questionnaire didn’t ask them whether or not they call Santa Cruz “home.”

©Adam Lampton, From the Series “Portland”, 20×30”, Archival Inkjet Print, 2000-Present

©Adam Lampton, From the Series “Portland”, 20×30”, Archival Inkjet Print, 2000-Present

Every year, on Thanksgiving, citizen scientists throughout the nation count monarch butterflies. The Xerces Society, the invertebrate conservation organization that sponsors the event, reported a total of 192,692 butterflies spread throughout 262 sites in California in 2017.[ii] When this tradition began in 1997, California tallies registered over 1.2 million butterflies. Although the total number of monarchs counted was at its lowest point in five years, Natural Bridges and Lighthouse Field, the main two sites in Santa Cruz, were actually among the handful of sites where numbers stayed roughly the same as last year.
The study acknowledges that the fall of 2017 was unseasonably hot and that California experienced unusually severe fires, smoke, and mudslides. These factors—and climate change, their underlying cause—may have contributed to a later migration and overwintering cycle.
No one questions the undeniable reality of ongoing habitat loss.

©Adam Lampton, From the Series “Portland”, 20×30”, Archival Inkjet Print, 2000-Present

On December 21st, a radio snippet reminded me that the solstice is the day traditionally set aside to remember the homeless people who died in the previous twelve months. The reporter said that the names of fifty people would be read at the Homeless Services Center in the City of Santa Cruz—the highest number of deceased homeless recorded in the county to date.
I decided to run to Lighthouse Field to catch the sunrise, expecting to see the same huge clumps of earth-toned butterfly wings that I had seen earlier in the week, since it was an inhospitably cold morning for flying. I did see a few small clusters, representing maybe a few thousand insects in total—a far cry from the 13,000 the scientist had counted. I walked all around the grove, unsuccessfully searching for agglomerations in other trees and scanning the sky for individual airborne insects.
Suddenly, two young men appeared, each with fifteen or twenty butterflies in their cupped hands. “Want some?” one asked me. “They’re dead.” I told him that they might not be, that when monarchs are asleep, they often look dead. “Nah, they have no bodies. See?” he said. “They’re just heads with wings. Definitely dead.” Right. I had read about this phenomenon in the local paper. “Zombie butterflies,” the article had called them. Wasps pluck the butterflies’ fatty abdomens from their exoskeletons and abandon the carcasses. The wasps actually shouldn’t have been there; temperatures should have been low enough by then to kill them off for the winter. But it was an uncharacteristically warm one, so, they were there, they were hungry, and they were taking over the cypress grove.

©Adam Lampton, From the Series “Portland”, 20×30”, Archival Inkjet Print, 2000-Present

I started back towards the apartment where I was dog-sitting. The sun was shining on the surfer statue, and the surfers themselves were out patiently waiting for the right wave to find them. The illegally-parked van dwellers were just climbing out of their rusty vehicles, rubbing the sleep out of their eyes and firing up their propane stoves. City employees were reopening the parking lots to day users and plucking abandoned sleeping bags from under the eucalyptus trees. I decided to run up Beach Hill, past the jade shrubs, the rosemary hedge, and the ginkgo tree, looking longingly at my old home with someone else’s plants on the front porch.
Meanwhile, the ocean was pounding the beach below, as it does each winter, slowly but surely repossessing this section of coast.

 

[i] Santa Cruz County 2017 Homeless Census & Survey Comprehensive Report, produced by ASR
[ii] Pelton, E., S. Jepsen, C. Schultz, C. Fallon, and S. H. Black. 2017. State of the Monarch Butterfly Overwintering Sites in California. 40+vi pp. Portland, OR: The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. (Available online at https://www.westernmonarchcount.org/data/)

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Bridget A. Lyons studied at Harvard University and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Northern Arizona University where she also works as an editor and composition instructor. Her essays have been published by
Atticus Review, Wanderlust, 1888 Center, and Elephant Journal.  She was recently awarded a Voices in the Wilderness writing residency in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

In addition to exhibiting internationally, Adam Lampton’s work has been seen in publications including Art in America, Maisonneuve Magazine, and Polar Inertia Journal. He is a recipient of a 2006-07 William J. Fulbright fellowship to Macao, SAR., China. He currently is Chair of the Visual and Performing Arts Department at Stonehill College. He lives in Maine.

 

Portland, Project Statement
These pictures were taken on the outskirts of Portland, Maine in a particular wooded area of only a few square miles formerly known by some of Portland’s homeless population as ‘The Jungle’.  Starting in 2000 I roamed the area that functioned as a dump, homeless shelter (usually devoid of any people during the day) and illicit playground for local youth. I returned four years later to find the land changed by an addition of a newly constructed off-ramp and many more semi-temporary living shelters.  In 2006 construction crews began work on what is now the completed “Mercy Hospital” where my daughter was born in 2011.

Initially, I found the area interesting both for it’s surprising quiet and for it’s darker connection to the struggles of the people who use it as home, drug store or escape.  As I have returned there throughout the last ten years I have begun to understand the landscape not just through the lens of geography or aesthetic inquiry but as inexorably entwined with my own story in a way that feels inevitable.  This shift from public exploration to private expression mirrors what I see as the fundamental issue at stake in contemporary photography: No longer is it simply a choice between taking pictures of either what is “out there” or what is “in here,” but every corner of the physical world is assumed to be contaminated by the individual.

Interview with Susan Metzger

An Interview with Susan Metzger

by Ben Potter 

Ben Potter: You recently moved to photography after many years as a painter. Does your long engagement with painting influence your photographic work?

Susan Metzger: I’m sure it does but not necessarily in the conscious, everyday kind of way.  As an artist, I have a particular aesthetic that carries across varying mediums, but what drives the content and more formal issues such as composition, etc. also carry over.

BP: How does your sense of place direct your work?

SM: ‘Sense of Place,’ that can be tough to describe in the bigger sense of it. I have always been lucky enough to live near the coast, and that brings in lots of other meanings. The coastal landscape is also an edge, a threshold. It’s liminal – it forms a margin- and in doing so creates an actual state of ‘in-betweenness.’  The tidal zone is a threshold of land, a distinct place between high ground and water; it is in-between and what lies on the other side can be unpredictable, and dangerous, and beautiful – it can be everything. So those connotations inform my work.

 

 

BP: In particular, why are you interested in your local fisheries?

SM: That’s complicated I am interested in how people make a living using the immediately local ecology.  I love the idea that one’s work is dependent on natural rhythms, tides and weather, and the scarcity or plenty of other creatures – all dictated by the environment.  I also was not conscious of an underlying current that was driving me in the background – that my father was an obsessive fisherman and would sometimes take me with him as a kid.  His life ended in a tragic way but while I was working on my own project I sort of suddenly and unexpectedly realized I understood his obsession.

BP: You use vintage film cameras to make your negatives. These are then adjusted and printed digitally. What are your thoughts about the use of old and new technologies?

SM: This is where it gets a bit political for me.   I grew up during the sixties and the Vietnam War was a dark presence in our family – my brother was there, and the rest of us would watch people like Walter Cronkite read the names of the fallen and it was somber – we’d see these incredible photographs by people like Larry Burrows and we trusted it. We trusted the information and the people delivering it. Journalism had a kind of dignity that is now lost.  It’s devastating to me, really, what’s happened to media and how it’s now manipulated and the feeling that you can’t believe anything anymore.  So, in that sense, it’s personally important to me that my photographs simply show what was in front of me at the time.

BP: Do you see your work as a type of antidote or example?

SM: It’s certainly an antidote for me.  I only create work for myself, not thinking about how it might be received.  It’s a way of working out things that you may not even be conscious of at the time. I always- absolutely always – find that by the time a body of work is completed, it tells me what has been on my mind under the surface.  It ends up informing me.

 

BP: Anything else you would like to add?

SM: Thanks for the opportunity to show my Up River series and I hope your young students will get out and VOTE. And if they are artists, I hope they might consider the idea of making work about what is true for them.  I’d like to include some notes I learned from a wonderful photographer and person named Keith Carter. These don’t only have to apply to photography:

“Tell the truth about what you know.
What’s your story?
What do you want to say?
Who do you want to say it to?
How do you want it to look?
What is your relationship to the subject matter?
It’s not what you see, it’s the significance of what you’re seeing.
Make friends with uncertainty.”

INDENT
[Keith Carter]

 

 

 

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Susan Metzger is a painter and self-taught photographer living in Maine. She studied painting at the Museum School in Boston and has been the recipient of two fellowships; from the Wurltizer Foundation and the K2FF Arts in Sustainability Grant. At this time she is practicing a documentary style of analog shooting that is strongly place-based.

Ben Potter was born in 1970 and grew up in Tennessee.  He majored in Art and Biology at Williams College. He received his M.F.A. in Painting and Drawing from the California College of Arts in 1998. He lives in Belfast, Maine, and is a Professor of Art at Unity College.  

Tenneson and Short: Trees

Kayann Short / Joyce Tenneson

 

Bones  Beneath   Bark: The   Ecological   Kinship  of    Trees   and   Humans

“[W]hat ancient and obdurate oaks are uprooted in us in the act of sickness . . .” – Virginia Woolf “On Being Ill”  

The trail in the Rockies is steep, but pine roots stretch across the dusty path, creating steps my feet can find. Because I am still weak from an early summer flu, I watch for these roots to help me climb like rungs of ladders nailed across the face of the earth. Roots are limbs without bark, growing down instead of up, exposed on the mountainside by the wind and rain of violent storms, bare as skinless bone. If all goes well, those roots will anchor their trees for many more years than I will live.

The mountains are covered with pines in all stages of growth—and death. Pine beetles have chewed rusty swathes across high slopes; deadfall and forester-felled pines, fir, and spruce lie like scattered toothpicks atop millions of acres of national park land. A warming climate means the beetles survive the winter and the infestation spreads among trees already weakened by lack of rain and snow, with the health of the forest at stake. In some places, crews have piled logs and branches like makeshift bonfires, but not for burning. Some of the material will be used for building trails in the park itself; firewood can only be taken out of the park by those with permits.

 

 

 

Along the trail, I’m on the lookout for anything of interest. At the ocean, I walk the wrack line for shells, beach rocks, and other artifacts thrown on shore by passing waves. In the mountains, I scan the edges of the trails for pinecones, stones, and small sticks in interesting shapes and colors. I search out visual patterns: the randomness of the fall, the grouping of the objects as they lay, the contrast between light and dark. I find bones, round and white against the rougher ground. Except these bones do not come from animals, but are litterfall: coarse, woody debris from fallen tree limbs, bleached and smoothed by the forest elements of wind, water, and weather, waiting to be broken down by microorganisms into finer humus, the rich topsoil in forests. These leftover bits are the bones beneath bark, broken by epoch and skinned by time.

From the series, “Trees of Life”; Gold mixed media on plexiglass ©Joyce Tenneson


As a farmer and environmentalist, I write about animals and I write about vegetables, but the living organisms with which I feel the deepest ecological kinship is trees. Growing up, I thought nothing would be cooler than to live in a tree like run-away Sam in My Side of the Mountain or the Swiss Family Robinson in the movie my family saw at the drive-in one summer. I had a swing in a weeping willow in our backyard, but that was no tree house. Even so, when the tree was felled to build a patio, my heart was broken and I sobbed, inconsolable, to the chain saw’s drone. Any chance I’d had of living in that tree someday was severed with its trunk and limbs.

 

From the series, “Trees of Life”; Gold mixed media on plexiglass ©Joyce Tenneson

 

* * *

 

How like a tree our bodies can be, with trunks and limbs upright in our common standing. Beyond the shared basic biological fact of our existence–composition from living tissue and constant need for air, water, and food–trees grow branches and we grow bones, both structures forming a life support system that provides nourishment and strength. Like a tree’s trunk and branches, our bones allow us to stand upright, that upward stance of evolutionary development seemingly separating our industrious primate order from other species. Just as trees line the surface of the earth, humans, too, are vertically propelled, but with an important difference from our arboreal relations: trees are rooted in place, while our skeletal structure allows movement. We may break a bone, we may even lose a limb, but our imperative is always to use our skeletal system toward physical momentum. Any rooting we do is the metaphorical equivalent of stability and permanence. 

While humans are not exactly like trees, “upright” and “uprooted” describe an inverse relationship of health that further points to our ecological kinship and mutual existence. For both trees and humans, to be upright means to be healthy. Uprooting creates or indicates death for trees. Similarly, as Woolf suggests above, in humans, uprooting is aligned with illness and potential death. 

 

 


 

 

My metaphors here are toward this point: we are more like trees than we think. The ecological kinship between trees and humans goes beyond the analogy of bodies, however. The conditions that threaten trees threaten us too. If uprooting means disruption of normal processes, then climate change is uprooting on the largest of scales, affecting trees and humans alike.

Humans have long owed a debt of survival to trees. With the exception of water and soil, trees provide more benefits and resources to humans than any other part of our ecosystem. Trees provide shelter (think lumber, furniture, and shade), paper and fabric, food of many kinds, and, most importantly, clean air. Trees have been called the lungs of the world; they cleanse the air we breathe by inhaling CO2 and exhaling the oxygen we need.  

In “When All Trees Die, So Will You,” Adam Rogers writes, “Dead trees mean dead people, and scientists are finally starting to figure out why.” In other words, loss of trees means loss of human life because without trees to clear our air, more of us will die from preventable illnesses.

According to Rogers, scientists are attempting to correlate trees with public health and “differences in illness and death in populations that live near greenery versus those that don’t.” Some studies suggest links between tree loss and increased morbidity from lung and heart disease, as well as 

 

its inverse: higher contact with green spaces leading to conditions as diverse as higher-birthweight babies and lower rates of anti-depressant drug use. Studies like these are beginning to reveal the benefits of protecting and replenishing trees as part of our public health infrastructure.

From the series, “Trees of Life”; Gold mixed media on plexiglass ©Joyce Tenneson

A similar message is found in “Trees Are Our Best Defense Against Climate Change, But Forests Are Dying at Unprecedented Rates.”  As Eric Holthaus bluntly writes, “Forests are our last, best natural defense against global warming. Without the world’s trees at peak physical 

 


 

 

condition, the rest of us don’t stand a chance.” According to Holthaus, even though human CO2 emissions have flattened, climate change is still accelerating. That’s because even though we count on trees to draw a hundred billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the air every year, trees are dying from drought, forest fires, insects, disease, and development encroachment faster than forests can recover or migrate northward to cooler temperatures.

From the series, “Trees of Life”; Gold mixed media on plexiglass ©Joyce Tennyson

Climate change creates an anti-arboreal loop which not only increases the likelihood of forest fire but in which forests have a harder time regenerating after fire because of climate change-induced conditions like drier, warmer weather. To mitigate these impacts, according to Holthaus, some conservationists “are considering tinkering with the ecosystems in various ways, including introducing novel species, replanting forests with climate change in mind, and even planting fast-growing species just to burn them for energy.” But if “an area equivalent to the size of India would be needed by 2100 to remove enough carbon from the atmosphere to help stabilize the rise of global temperatures,” can we plant enough trees in time?

With the loss of the resources and benefits trees provide—euphemistically called “ecosystem services,” as if trees make house calls–we should all be concerned about decreasing tree population. The truth is, however, forests will be able to adapt better than humans will. To use Woolf’s word, trees are “obdurate,” stubbornly holding to their course of action despite change. Their resilience gives me hope that forests will survive the changing climate in some form. The likelihood of human survival is much more tenuous. 

* * *

 

 


 

Now that I live near three irrigation ditches on rural land, I pay particular attention to trees. Our farm lies along the Front Range foothills of the Rockies. We can see Long’s Peak and Mount Meeker from our fields. Our land is crossed by vintage waterways that began as natural limestone gullies dug by teams of burly horses in the late 1800s. Willow, cottonwood, birch, ash, pine, and cedar grow along our ditches, some of them more than a century old, which for this dryland area of the country is considerable. Apple trees are prevalent here, too, some planted by us and some planted before our time by others, including squirrels saving seeds for winter food. 

I think and write about trees a lot because they grace my life with shelter, shade, and sustenance. They prevent soil erosion around our cropland and provide habitat for neighboring species. Without trees here, our land and our livelihood would be drastically diminished and eventually devastated. As old as our trees are, sometimes they fall. We have lost many trees on our farm, but they do good work before they go. 

One mid-summer night as I lay in bed with the window open, I heard a noise outside. I couldn’t tell from how far away the sound came; I’d never heard a sound quite like that before. It sounded big and brittle and thick, yet muffled, somewhere between a thud and a clunk. Even though the night was calm, something large had broken and fallen,  

 

 

 suspected, like a tree limb on a rooftop, a serious enough thought for that time of night, but it was too late to get up and look. I would investigate in the morning.

From the series, “Trees of Life”; Gold mixed media on plexiglass ©Joyce Tenneson

 

 


 

 

From the series, “Trees of Life”; Gold mixed media on plexiglass ©Joyce Tenneson

It wasn’t a tree limb that fell, but a whole tree of limbs, one of the largest willows on the farm, a tree that had been leaning for years across our lower ditch a quarter mile from the house. I wasn’t surprised it had fallen, but rather that I had heard it fall at all. What were the chances I’d be awake with my window open and ears attuned enough to hear something out back? Even though the tree was a giant—150 feet high and 6 feet in diameter–the impact must have been great for the sound to travel so far.

The impact, in fact, was hard enough to shatter the old tree, which was dying by degrees. Half the tree was in leaf from branches still drawing nutrients from the trunk, while the other half was already dead, its limbs standing without bark, brittle and bleached by the sun. Dead wood is heavier than live wood because the tissues compact as they dry; that’s why old logs burn longer than newly cut logs.

Dead wood also hits the ground harder. The cottonwood fell across the ditch. Where the lower tree spanned the water, the trunk was saved in one long slab like a bridge. But where the upper trunk and limbs smashed the ground on the other side, the tree now lay like a splintered skeleton, spine severed on impact, vertebrae scattered among scapula, humerus, and phalange. As the force of the fall from heavy boughs dug trenches into pasture grass, brittle limbs were thrown wide. The ditch company tasked with clearing the tree used their largest crane and heaviest chains to lift and swing the trunk to the bank’s edge, where it will


 

 

decompose in time. Walking in the meadow after this operation, I stumble over broken bones, the cracked ribs and bare-knuckled fingers that will lie in the grass for years to come.

From the series, “Trees of Life”; Gold mixed media on plexiglass ©Joyce Tenneson

The death of such a large tree on the farm fetched a heavy loss. That cottonwood framed our view of high mountains, especially lovely in the golden hues of fall against new snow on the peaks. The tree provided habitat for birds and small animals. Its limbs shaded the pasture and its roots anchored the bank of the ditch. Growing up along the ditch, that tree was older than our century-old farm. 

But as much as we cherished that tree and the homes it made for owls, squirrels, and raccoons, it didn’t provide food for our farm members. Not like the apple trees that died the winter before. That November, an 80-degree drop in temperature killed our largest apple trees following a mild fall. Our farm season ends on the last Saturday of October and we were still giving tomatoes for the last share, unusual for the Front Range where heavy frosts used to hit predictably between mid-September to mid-October. The autumn apple harvest was heavy that season, our best ever. We used the bucket of the tractor to raise apple-pickers into the top branches. We pressed hundreds of gallons of cider with our members, some to be made into hard cider for later enjoyment. 

Our first light frost finally caught up with us at the tail end of October, but the trees were still not dormant on November 10 when the killing frost struck. The morning started mild, but by the end of the day, the temperature dropped 80 degrees from summer to winter and the damage was done. 

A hundred years ago, Colorado’s Front Range was an apple-growing region. Now, with more frequent drought and less predictable climate, growing apples is a gamble. We plant varieties that bud later in the season in the hope of missing a late spring frost but that’s no guarantee. Warmer 

 

 

 

 


 

 

fall temperatures, a longer autumn, and temperature variability are taking their toll on apples here. The warmer conditions that created our best apple crop contributed to the death of the very trees that produced those apples. Ironically, heavy fruiting may have weakened the trees, making them even less resilient to the sudden temperature drop that caused their demise.

It will take years for newer apple trees to grow to the size of those mature trees. Some days, it saddens us to know it’s possible, even probable, we may never get an apple crop like that again. Other days, it frightens us. This loss of apples is, in itself, a kind of uprooting, one more reason to be anxious about the future of the planet. Yet as I worry about our apple trees, I can’t help but worry about myself too. How will I stay healthy on a planet in which human practices threaten the trees upon which I depend? How much of what trees provide will be uprooted as both our species adapt not just to climate change, but climate crisis? If upright is the word for our continued mutual existence, I think, then how will upright be sustained for trees and humans alike in the not-to-distant future? 

In illuminating our ecological kinship, I write to forge an alliance between humans and trees that will lead to our mutual survival, an uprightness that provides a future for trees and humans and all other living things, as well. Clearly, our future is tied to trees. If you don’t do anything else for the future of trees and all they support, do this: Get upright. Get moving. Go find some trees. Plant more. 

 

 

From the series, “Trees of Life”; Gold mixed media on plexiglass ©Joyce Tenneson

 

 


 

 

 

From the series, “Trees of Life”; Gold mixed media on plexiglass ©Joyce Tenneson

 

But if you can, go another step and join with others to preserve trees, cherish trees, and make and keep a home for them on this planet. We must, if we intend to make and keep our homes here as well. 

Hiking along a river trail on the flatlands east of our farm one cold, but bright, January morning, my grandson and I pick up what looks like a deer femur from a pile of leaves, only to discover it is not a bone attached to a chunk of hide we hold, but a stick wrapped with bark.

The stick reminded me of the deer foreleg the farm crew and I found while picking vegetables six months earlier, the animal’s rough skin still attached, a bone dropped by a coyote or mountain lion as it crossed the field one moonlit night. Instead of burying it, we threw the leg into the trees to be eaten by other animals, insects, and organisms, providing a feast, as nature intended. 

In reverence of that cycle, my grandson and I lay the bone-branch back where we found it to become litterfall, preserving, perhaps, one tiny, upright step in nature’s obdurate ways. 

 

 


 


Holthaus, Eric. “Up In Smoke.”
Grist. March 8, 2018. https://grist.org/article/the-last-ditch-effort-to-save-the-worlds-forests-from-climate-change.

Rogers, Adam. “All the Trees Will Die, And Then So Will You.” Wired. May 9, 2017. https://www.wired.com/2017/05/trees-will-die-will/

Woolf, Virginia. “On Being Ill.” The New Criterion. January 1926.

 

 

From the series, “Trees of Life”; Gold mixed media on plexiglass ©Joyce Tenneson

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Kayann Short, Ph.D., is the author of A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography, a Nautilus winner published by Torrey House Press. Her essays appear in The Hopper, Pilgrimage, Dash, Mad River Review, The Roost, Dirt: A Love Story, and Rooted: The Best New Arboreal Non-fiction. She farms, writes, and teaches ecobiography at Stonebridge Farm in Colorado. See more at ecobiography.com.

Joyce Tenneson. Internationally lauded as one of the leading photographers of her generation, Joyce Tenneson’s work has been published in books and major magazines, and exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide. Her portraits have appeared on covers for magazines such as: Time, Life, Newsweek, Premiere, Esquire and The New York Times Magazine. Tenneson is the author of sixteen books including the best seller, Wise Women, which was featured in a six-part Today Show series. She is the recipient of many awards, including Fine Art Photographer of the Year in 2005 (Lucie Awards), and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Professional Photographers of America in 2012. In a poll conducted by American Photo Magazine, readers voted Tenneson among the ten most influential women in the history of photography. In the Fall of 2014, Fotografiska Museum, in Stockholm, Sweden, mounted a large retrospective of her work which was seen by approximately 30,000 people. Tenneson’s work has been exhibited in museums around the globe and is part of many private and public collections. In addition to her photography exhibits and books, Tenneson has taught master photography classes in the U.S. and Europe for over 40 years.

Debra Small: Habitat Lost

Debra Small

 

Habitat Lost:
Negative Effects of Suburban Sprawl on Ecosystems

INDENT
The wild landscape of the western United States is being rapidly converted to a built landscape due to suburban development. The destructive nature of these large-scale developments immediately disrupts the ecosystems. Even after these developments are completed, they continue to destroy the adjacent environment in the wild-land urban interface due to human-caused wildfires, habitat fragmentation, enhancing invasive species migration, surface and groundwater pollution, soil erosion, and pesticide impacts on wildlife. Habitat Lost: Negative Effects of Suburban Sprawl on Ecosystems is a response to this uncontrolled ecological destruction.
INDENT
The work is comprised of large 20” x 30” black and white, digital, high contrast prints of the constructed environment. Furthering the dialogue of environmental loss from suburban development, small kallitype prints on fabric, encased in encaustic wax, of the lost wildlife and habitat, are hung in front of the large black and white images. This body of work relates both to western society’s desire to replace natural land and environments with contemporary construction and developments, as well as photography’s desire to replace the historical with the digital photographic prints.
INDENT
The environmental impacts from suburban developments are pervasive, widespread and not easily resolved. Changes to zoning requirements, community planning, and the use of infill development can provide short-term mitigation to the onslaught of environmental damage from rampant over-development. However, long-term preservation of biodiversity will require us to embrace the moral principles of ecocentric thought, accepting that all living things have intrinsic value and are interconnected. This conversion of ethical thought will not occur overnight, but failure to move in this direction will continue to adversely affect our ecological sustainability, leading to further disruption of habitats and the extinction of species.

Bombus californicus California bumble bee, 2018, Archival pigment ink / kallitype encaustic, ©Debra Small

 

Branta canadensis moffitti Great Basin Canada goose, 2018, Archival pigment ink / kallitype encaustic, ©Debra Small

 

Buteo swainsoni Swainson’s hawk (2), 2018, Archival pigment ink / kallitype encaustic, ©Debra Small

 

California oak woodland savanna (1), 2018, Archival pigment ink / kallitype encaustic, ©Debra Small

 

Cygnus columbianus tundra swan, 2018, Archival pigment ink / kallitype encaustic, ©Debra Small

 

Eremocarpus setigerus turkey mullein, 2018, Archival pigment ink / kallitype encaustic, ©Debra Small

 

Erodium sp. stork’s bill, 2018, Archival pigment ink / kallitype encaustic, ©Debra Small

 

Sceloporus occidentalis western fence lizard (3), 2018, Archival pigment ink / kallitype encaustic, ©Debra Small

 

Trichostema lanceolatum vinegar weed (1), 2018, Archival pigment ink / kallitype encaustic, ©Debra Small

 

Trichostema lanceolatum vinegar weed (2), 2018, Archival pigment ink / kallitype encaustic, ©Debra Small

 

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Debra Small is a fine art documentary photographer, based in Sacramento, California, whose work explores environmental issues. Her current body of work is a response to the wildlife and habitat loss from suburban development. She is pursuing her Master of Fine Arts in photography from New Hampshire Institute of Art.

Artists, Scientists & Madmen: Giese & Tagg

Amy Theiss Giese / Nathanael Tagg

Artists, Scientists & Madmen

Untitled Chemical Painting [IC 6], 2016, unique silver gelatin photograph, 9×11″

Untitled Chemical Painting [IC 40], 2017, unique silver gelatin photograph, 11×11″

Untitled Chemical Painting [IC 4], 2016, unique silver gelatin photograph, 14.25×15.75″

Rewriting John

Scientist, you love the world enough to activate
Johnny, the only begotten nurseryman robot.
Whosoever believeth in you may wonder
not only if Earth will have everlasting life,
not only if a deus ex machina is in order,
but also if the kingdom has already arrived

and how we ought to live accordingly,
even if Johnny will plant stratospheric sunlight-
deflecting particles, his head the hardest of pots,
and transplant machine trees that perfectly
swallow up the glut of atmospheric CO2.
Different gods and priests, similar questions.
Also, a little more artistry and persuasion,
and I could call a story like this the good news.


Untitled Chemical Painting [IC 10], 2016, unique silver gelatin photograph, 20×13.5″

Untitled Chemical Painting [IC 15], 2017, unique silver gelatin photograph, 24×20″

Untitled Chemical Painting [IC 24], 2017, unique silver gelatin photograph, 41.75×25.5″

Haldane’s Last Words

I’m called “the man who knows it all,”
but do I know myself? I ought
to have as little reverence
for myself as I’ve had for,
say, the God of theologians,
those who asked me what could be
deduced about the creator

from creation. “An inordinate fondness
for beetles” was my answer,
given nearly half a million species
of them exist. Forget my cleverness;
I won’t recite my verse on rectal cancer,
which is killing me. Da Vinci-esque,

I’ll make a list. 1. To learn, I drank
hydrochloric acid, was locked in rooms
with toxic air and stuck in chambers,
decompressed, then suffered
migraines and perforated eardrums

and shattered vertebrae. 2.
But I gave little thought to animal cruelty
in experiments and agriculture—
not a moment of non-speciesist
consideration to a pig that has a higher
IQ than some unfortunate kids. 3.

I wrote Darwinian books and papers.
Hundreds. 4. And yet I penned
a measly paragraph or two
on the kinship of animals and humans—
less on kinship’s connection to altruism.
5. I was deemed “the cleverest man”
who’d make a mathematical system,

then write a Shakespearean sonnet—
left and right faithfully married in my brain.
6. However, I coaxed a girl to leave
her spouse and marry me.
I almost lost my post at Cambridge
thanks to the scandal. 7. I initiated

modern scientific talk on altruism. 8.
And still, at times, I enjoyed the war—
enjoyed its tanks and bullets,
gas and trenches—so much so
my commander called me “the bravest,

dirtiest” soldier. 9. Pursuing justice,
empathizing with the destitute,
I was a socialist, who had the wit
to say that Britain and the US
adopting communism is as likely as hippos
doing somersaults and jumping hedges.

10. But then I deemed a mass-
murderer, Stalin, a “very great man
who did a very good job.” 11.
In the end, I met myself on my deathbed.
12. My abdomen relaxed, and after weeks
of weight loss and fatigue came
a jolt of strength. 13. Though waste

refused to leave my body, a list
had purged my soul of something worse.


Untitled Chemical Painting [IC 2], 2016, unique silver gelatin photography 7×8″

Untitled Chemical Painting [IC 26], 2017, unique silver gelatin photograph, 20×16″ diptych

Untitled Chemical Painting [IC 9], 2016, unique silver gelatin photograph, 6.25×8.5″ diptych

Dragon Sturgeon

Wildfire is not supposed to reach their area,
yet she sees what look like many a solar flare.
To prevent her kids from noticing the fire,
she blindfolds her six-year-old son and four-
year-old daughter. “A game,” says the mother.
She unplugs her hardly charged electric car.
As they approach the interstate, her daughter

says, “What’s that smell? Are we going to Daddy?”
Her mother circumvents the flames by driving
off the road. Her son enjoys the bouncing—
giggles since he doesn’t see the lifeless deer.
Around its neck balloons are tied, beside
a family of trees, ablaze. The kids’ mom and dad
separated recently. A decade ago, he wanted

to live with his wife—but also with friends;
the bunch would share a house. She wanted to live
with just her spouse and (eventually) her kids,
within a couple hours from her whole
tight-knit family. But the couple followed school
and work across the country. Then their separate
wants arose again at a wedding reception,

at an aquarium with a tank of sturgeons, which
anyone with clean hands could touch.
One was black and bright-eyed like a dragon
capable of starting instant wildfires. It swam
alone, evading fingers dipped into the water.
Other sturgeons swam together and tolerated
being touched, and one, the slimiest ham actor,

let itself be touched on every lap around the tank.
She’s since heard of the future possibility
of head transplants. This morning, she dreamed
that every time the slimy sturgeon surfaced, it was
her son’s or husband’s head atop the fish’s body.
Every time the dragon sturgeon surfaced, it was
her daughter’s or her own head on the fish’s body.

Wedding guests had human parts below the neck;
above were various aquatic creature heads.
A game of words on blocks had come alive;
the blocks arranged themselves: “community,
friends as family, village to raise kids, wildfire!”
She woke and saw the flames in which her home
is now engulfed. Her kids remove their blindfolds.

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Amy Theiss Giese is a Boston based artist and educator. Giese received her MFA from Parsons School of Design and her BA from Amherst College. Giese’s work is rooted in materialism, exploring what the fundamental forces are for a given medium focusing on photographic and sound recordings of spaces and places.

Nathanael Tagg is the author of Animal Virtue (WordTech Editions, 2018) and an associate professor of English at Cecil College. He has an MFA from Rutgers. His poems and reviews are published or forthcoming in Colorado Review, Barrow Street, Pleiades, Confrontation, Cimarron Review, and other magazines.

John Hirsch – “And Again: Photography From The Harvard Forest”

John Hirsch

 

Selections from

And Again: Photography From The Harvard Forest

 

Untitled, ©John Hirsch

Untitled, ©John Hirsch

Station For Measuring Colored Dissolved Organic Matter, Dissolved Oxygen In Stream Water, ©John Hirsch


 

A Harvard Forest Sense of Place (excerpt)

 

It is an extreme sense of place. A feeling that a landscape is right, even as it changes. And comfortable. A comfort that is grounded in an emotional connection and ease with the land and vegetation and with the smells and sounds that fill it. But it goes much further than emotions. The attachment is strengthened through knowledge of the place today and what it has been, and through awareness of the people and events that have shaped it over time. The connection grows with familiarity and experience and with the insights gleaned through an inquisitive eye. It becomes extreme when it is rooted in generations of such experience and is passed from one person to the other and then on again through time. That experience is the Harvard Forest.

~ David R. Foster


Soil Extraction Jars, ©John Hirsch

Shannon Looking For Ants, ©John Hirsch

Measuring Oxygen In A Pitcher Plant, ©John Hirsch

Screening Soils At The Sanderson Tannery Archaeological Site, ©John Hirsch

Soil Respiration Auto Analyzer, ©John Hirsch

Map of Sawmill Sites for 1938 Hurricane Salvage, ©John Hirsch


THE FOREST THROUGH THE TREES

How many trees grow in eighty-six acres—or about sixty football fields—of Massachusetts woods? Field crews at Harvard Forest can tell you: about 116,000. Over the course of four years, several teams of researchers identified, measured, and digitally mapped every woody stem in the study area—painting each one with a yellow stripe when it was counted. The plot will be remeasured every five years until well beyond our lifetimes. The result will be a publicly accessible map recording the growth and death of every tree in the forest, from saplings barely the width of a pinky finger, to massive hemlocks on the edge of extirpation, to towering, colonial-era pines. The Harvard Forest plot is part of an unprecedented global effort—involving hundreds of scientists from five continents—to measure forest dynamics in a time of rapid environmental change. More than forty of these large, intensive research plots dot the globe and are overseen by a partnership between the Center for Tropical Forest Science (CTFS) and the Smithsonian Institution Global Earth Observatory (SIGEO). The first such plot was established in Panama in 1980; the Harvard Forest plot, begun in 2010, expands the network from tropical forests into the temperate zone. The growing international network of sites, which now tracks more than 6 million trees, allows scientists to detect global patterns in forest health that would otherwise be invisible at local scales. Each measurement, over time, gives a better understanding of forest function and the impacts of global environmental change.

~ Clarisse Hart



Monitoring Sap Flow ©John Hirsch

Pollen Under A Microscope, ©John Hirsch

Warm Air Chamber, ©John Hirsch

Growth Rings, ©John Hirsch

Leaf Litter Basket, ©John Hirsch

Untitled, © John Hirsch

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John Hirsch: A photographer and educator, John received a professional certificate in photography from The Maine Media Workshops and College in 2002. He has taught photography workshops in Maine and Boston and is head of the Visual Arts Department at Noble and Greenough School in Dedham, Massachusetts. John’s work is rooted in a documentary style, illuminating quiet moments in emergent or changing societies as well as allowing us to probe and reflect on the ideas of community, recreation and land use in the American psyche.

John’s recent book is available now for purchase. This 136 page cloth bound monograph includes 70 images chronicling the research, scientists, and ephemera of the Harvard Forest―a 3,750-acre research forest in Petersham, Massachusetts. Essays by David Foster, Clarisse Hart, and Margot Anne Kelley expand the scope of this photographic exploration at the nexus of science and art.

This body of work is about a desire to understand, describe, and predict the evolution of our surroundings, while showing reverence for the possibility of sublime moments in a place. The forest is here a microcosm for the world in which we live, and this work helps us envision the future we may inhabit, making the book a useful and engaging vantage from which to consider pressing issues of climate change, ecosystem resilience, and land and water use.

For more information or to purchase the book please email johnphirsch(at)gmail.com

Batrachomancy: Wagenaar and Kydd

 

Chelsea Wagenaar / Sal Taylor Kydd

 

chidren holding polywags

Pollywogs, 2016, ©Sal Taylor Kydd

 


Batrachomancy
—divination by frogs

Somewhere they leap on soft wet banks,
crouch in clear waters, their mottled skin
as dew brilliant as the spiderwebs were the spring
my father saved them. They don’t know how
they were spared, of course, the wrist-thin skin
of their throats pale and pulsing to sound out
the hours, each other. Perhaps only a few
still survive that spring twelve years ago,
when their mother trekked up from the wooded stream
that bordered our yard and emptied her belly
in our swimming pool—nebulous cluster
of milky globules suspended there, each an eye
with its black, pinpricked center. There,
to our spellbound disgust, they hatched—
the pool a frantic bevy of heads and tails,
the luck or curse that placed them there.
If I follow them back through their afterlives,
bellowing and skin-darkened to herald
a coming rain, voluble with warning
when storms approached, some lost,
perhaps tweezed apart in junior high labs,
or caught again by my father, cupped too tightly
in the hands of his new daughter—if I follow them
back through their chorused, forested lives,
I can trace them up the garden hose
that poured them in synchronized frenzy
into their rightful waters, the hose
a sinuous lifeline climbing the yard to our pool,
where its other end siphoned the tadpoles
from a water thrilled with their darting chaos.
Look harder, farther: I see my father
by the stream, kneeling in damp clay,
his lungs full, his mouth around the hose
inhaling a deep, slow gasp, then another,
until the summoned water met his mouth.
The bodies pouring out into the life
they had not known to imagine.
And his watching them arrowed away
in the current like undoused green flames.
And the bitter, secret taste on his tongue.
young girl backbend

Backbend, 2015, ©Sal Taylor Kydd

plant floating in water

Flotsam, 2015, ©Sal Taylor Kydd

 

 

 


child legs under water swimming

Elliot Diving, 2015, ©Sal Taylor Kydd

edge of still water with tree line reflection

Linda’s Cove, 2015, ©Sal Taylor Kydd

swimming girl head out of water

Lola Rising, 2015, ©Sal Taylor Kydd

Lullaby in a Drought

In the drawers, in the cabinets,
we find pecan casings and pellets,

the answer to the question
of what patters in the walls at night.

We are not the only lovers here.
If the lights go out, we used to say,

you pour the wine and I’ll find
the matches. But we dare not tempt them

in this tinder town—where sycamores shed
parched unready leaves, where yards are fringed

with thistle barbs. If the waters rise,
we used to say, you pour the wine

and I’ll tear out the best pages.
But now the baby’s in her seventh week,

pulled from the secret waters
of my body into a rainless topography.

Who is more sorry?
She sleeps the sleep of rivers.

In the nights I sit cradleside when she wakes,
humming Brahms’ famous notes—

a song he wrote to sway an old love.
So we are always singing

what we cannot change.
The walls fill with patter, rain clouds

form somewhere else. The wine
grows older, finer. If the funnel forms,

if the hail falls.


The Gospel According to the Ant

You unbeautiful unwelcome creature,
spring-herald, anti-chef,
I find you

mired in malbec spatter,
freckling the sugar bowl,

a moving pixel among the strawberry’s
seed-pocked flesh.

Little needle threaded
with these traces of my life,
you sew me

to the whirring world underfoot.
In perfect sync with the 5 o’clock train’s
westward heave,

you bear your crumb freight—
a piece of rind nearly twice your tercet body—

with what I have no word for
except maybe grace. Grace

that stays my hand, grace
that doesn’t lessen your load

but lets you carry it
until you reach your pocket of earth

where the others rise, finally,
to help you set it down.

 

dead goldfinch

The Goldfinch, 2015, ©Sal Taylor Kydd

girl in old-fashioned farm watering station

Girl Bathing, 2015, ©Sal Taylor Kydd

 

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from in a single hand emerging from water

A Frog in the Hand, 2015, ©Sal Taylor Kydd

Sal Taylor Kydd writes of her photographs from OriginsMy work is primarily an exploration of memory, how we preserve memories and how they shape our lives moving forward with sometimes illusory certainty.  It is also a reflection on time, and an examination of the fleeting moments where we behold change within ourselves and the world around us. I see the photographic object is a keepsake of our experience, and as such is a way of recording discoveries that serves as a reminder of what we have lost and what we are attempting to preserve.

In my most recent work I have been looking at how memory shapes and distorts our understanding of what is real.  Specifically it is an exploration of truth through the lens of our relationships – how what we know to be certain about ourselves and the other, changes in the course of that journey. What do we keep for ourselves and what do we share? In a world where everything is shared and exposed, what is left that is sacred. 


Chelsea Wagenaar is the author of Mercy Spurs the Bone, selected by Philip Levine as the winner of the 2013 Philip Levine Prize.  She holds a BA from the University of Virginia and a PhD from University of North Texas. Her work appears recently or is forthcoming in The Southern Review, The Normal School, and Poetry Northwest.  She currently lives in Indiana, where she is a postdoctoral Lilly Fellow at Valparaiso University.

Artist Sal Taylor Kydd has a BA in Modern Languages and an MFA in Photography from Maine Media College.  She has exhibited nationally, with shows at A. Smith Gallery in Texas, Gallery 69 in LA, and Pho Pa Gallery in Portland ME. Sal is also a book-artist represented by Priscilla Juvelis, Inc.  She resides in Rockport, Maine.

In The Southwest: Keane & Fogel

Kristin Keane Harris Fogel

Caught

I.

I am not sure who made the Grand Canyon so wild—it is hot, petrified, ready to bake you alive. In summer, the air strangulates, suffocates, smothers. The way it takes you by the neck, you must dip your entire face—your whole body, even—into the Colorado River for relief, the residue evaporating from your skin as quickly as air releases from a punctured balloon. Dehydration comes regularly and the canyon takes lives that way. Sixty-five to be exact, lifeless and seized on the switchbacks off the rim. Some come for the beauty, but usually it is for the risk.

Once a man waited out the heat by resting, foregoing the hike down towards the river because of fatigue. When his friends returned, they found him dead. I would like to ask that man: Were his last moments with the canyon as intimate as two hands pressing together? Did he see inside himself? Was there a choice?

dessert landscape

Backyard, Pioneertown, California, c. 1999 – 2003 ©Harris Fogel


II.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the Grand Canyon because deep in the gorge I fell into a rapid and the river and I had a moment with one another. I traveled with an outfitter one hundred twenty-six miles in, two billion years of geological history and layer upon layer of eroded rock, a deep gash inside the Earth’s crust. A silty river, colored like chocolate milk rests below the rim, one hundred twelve rapids dotting the surface, shifting and changing every moment; it does not die. The crests of them are entirely whitewater, turbulent and frothy. Formed by holes, formed by heavy, collapsed things; formed by blockages; formed by waves themselves—breaking white-capped haystacks. They are not all the same of course, and a guideline indicates their power by numbers one through ten. We went there to ride across them, hang on for dear life and fly through them, the river guides cowboys armed with wooden-oared reins. The danger was the draw: it made us feel more alive.

The water, remarkably, is not the only peril inside the canyon. Dust storms take you by the throat and during monsoon season, the way the river sweeps into the craggy channels between the rocks, you can get pinned against a boulder and drown. That’s not to mention others: sunburns so intense the layers of your flesh become as powdered as a cigarette sleeve’s ash. The winter temperatures drop so far below zero, the frigid water can freeze your extremities so they snap off the way you break a candy bar in half. Sheer cliff edge’s hairpin turns and rattlesnake bites, the thorny ends of catclaw acacia brushing against your bare legs, poisonous scorpions, the bulls’-eye shaped targets of mayfly bites, left for other animals to sink their stingers inside. It goes on.

When we arrived at Lava Falls, one of the most technically difficult American rapids, the guide turned and said right before the drop, “You really don’t want to go over, so grasp the raft tightly,” after I asked what we should do in case of emergencies, in case the whole plan fell apart down there. In fact I asked this just moments before we got slammed, before the raft lifted up and licked the sky one last time and we hit the wave train in a way that we might as well have been striking the stony surface of the canyon wall. She had also said, “Just make sure you have thirty seconds of air in your lungs,” and something else about not getting caught on anything.

But thirty seconds is a big stretch, after all. It is enough time to forget why you’re there, to make a terrible choice, yield to something. When I saw the guide fumble the oar as the rapid approached, bending down towards us high and glossy in the arch of a snakes’ tongue, I thought: that’s really beautiful; and then: it’s over.


III.

The rapid. Days of getting beaten down by swells of water, pummeled at the edges of the rafts’ frames, made it hard to tell we had flipped, but then I felt my feet looking for a place to anchor themselves where the foot straps should have been. I opened my eyes under water and saw the detritus the canyon spit out floating around inside, brown as a nut. It was quiet under there. I was quiet under there, twisting around the places where the water’s velocity shifted me. I realized I couldn’t really hear the rapid because it is thing you feel, even after breath has been knocked clean out of you, even when your ears are wide open. My heart met the rapid’s heart, they fastened, and we slid down a drain together.

It was a bludgeoning like a baton to the right cheekbone with the rush and force of two magnets’ poles: a tethering that could not be undone. Days could have passed under there, who knows? We compared notes. Bodies: my extremities to its jagged, pencil-thin twigs; the mosaic of its bedrock to the freckled constellations of my shoulders. We have both dreamt of butterflies. In mine their crab-shaped bodies fluttered inside my grandmother’s antique jewelry box; in the rapid’s, their wings were made from weighty arrowweed, sinking them in the river just as soon as they pitched themselves into the sky. The rapid lined my regrets and secrets up like smooth river rocks and held my face up to each buried one: I’ve toiled too long in places I should have left sooner, spent too much time in worry. I hide from myself. It is hard to weep in water, but right then I found a way. You might not believe me, but the rapid shifted shape and showed me myself.

I paused trying to recall what Betsy had said right before the drop. (Be careful not to get caught up, or be careful not to get caught on, anything?) The rapid and I agreed this was a moment when time appeared to fold in on itself.


IV.

I don’t know how I came up, or where. I remember immediately trying to commit to memory the things felt inside: arousal, pulling my heart from inside of its heart. I turned back from the rescue raft and suddenly it was gone. The waves barked up from the other side, and considering the mess of the current, there was no going back. You might tell me that a wave never dies, but it also never doesn’t.

dessert landscape

Cholla Study No. 2, Joshua Tree, California, c. 1998 ©Harris Fogel


V.

The last night on the river, a guide is struck by lightening. Chasing pineapple upside-down cake with thimbles of bourbon, we sang “Happy Birthday” while fingers of electrostatic zipped across the canyon’s edge.

“Lightening rarely comes off the rim, so we’re fine,” someone actually said right before a bolt hit the umbrella we stood under to keep dry. The passenger we were singing to still held a plate of cake in his hand, seven candles stuck into the slice, one for each decade. At first I thought the struck guide was gazing at the lightening from his back like he was watching clouds form—unicorn, bear, ice-cream-cone-riding-turtle. I was reminded of the rapid, how it could reshape itself into anything. But then someone said, Is Jim dead?, just like that. A few of us stepped towards him. He was blue as a starling egg, but breathing.

Yucca Valley landscape

After the Fires, Pioneertown Road, Yucca Valley, California, c. 1999 – 2003 ©Harris Fogel


VI.

I went there to bake under the sun, contort myself up rope ladders, travel into something famously perilous. I went there not to be remembered of death but to push against it, to ride the river’s wild edge and feel more alive. The awakening was supposed to be in the risk of the rapid, not in falling for it: it lives unapologetically, moves the way the stars and shifts of the moon’s gravity go, careens and turns and bends for itself because what makes it up is everything else—it is the rapid, but it is the river, the dirt, the rocks—living by its own accord, unafraid and unapologetic of what’s next. We see danger in the way that light flashes against a rapid’s foamy ridges, and the rapid just sees the light.

Nine Mile Canyon landscape

Nine Mile Canyon, Above Owens Valley, Inyokern, California, c. c. 1999 – 2003 ©Harris Fogel


VII.

I could have done things differently down there. I could have reached harder for a handhold, pinched the tips of my fingers between a slot in the rock bed’s surface, wedged my feet inside a gap, bowed my head to exhale. I could have punished myself, ended things. I could have caught razorback suckers with my bare hands, ripped their heads clean off with my teeth. Under is where fear finally stops. Under is an uncomplicated surrender. Under is a good place to hide. The guide got struck by lightening that night, and he went back the very next summer. I wanted to ask him what he experienced inside that streak of electricity, how he felt underneath the pulse. I didn’t get the chance to, but I’m guessing I probably already know. If the opposite of cheating death is dying, then what do you call the place in between?


VIII.

Somewhere along the way we learn fear, we worry for what’s coming next, relinquish ourselves to control, to loss of pure unrestraint. Then we hide from ourselves. I’m no good at learning from the past, but I know now there is a place under that rapid more powerful than the roar of the water ricocheting between the canyon walls, a place where you can go get caught. A rapid doesn’t drown anyone: it lives primal and intrepid, unafraid of broken bridges.

Here’s a trick I’ve found to feel more alive that is not in dodging rattlesnakes, their forked, smelling tongues: I imagine heading for the edge of the vertical drop, but do not ask what will happen next. I see the rapid ahead, prettily misshapen and speeding towards me. I do not sink my feet into the footholds of the raft; I do not grip the straps so tightly my knuckles go white. Instead I let go, press my hands together. I think about time, butterflies, drain holes. I pull my fingers apart and set the palm of my hand against the place on my chest where my heart is under. I listen. I wait for time to fold.

De Anza Cycle Park landscape

On the Road to De Anza Cycle Park, I-60 east of Moreno Valley Near Banning Pass, Riverside County, California, c. 1999 – 2003 ©Harris Fogel

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Kristin Keane lives in the Bay Area where she teaches at the University of San Francisco. A Vermont Studio Center writing resident and LitCamp juror, her fiction has been shortlisted for a Glimmer Train prize in fiction and has appeared or is forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly and Fjords Review. 

Harris FogelThese photographs were made using an 8×10-inch Deardorff view camera; for most of the images the camera was fitted with a Fuji 250mm F6.8 lens. The original book maquette of a Few American Cultures was created in 1993 at the request of the late Reinhold Misselbeck, then curator of the Museum Ludwig in Köln. Housed in a black plastic negative binder, it was filled with one-of-a-kind Cibachrome 8×10-inch contact prints printed on the glossy print material when I lived in Palm Springs, California. The advent of digital imaging allowed me to revisit the work and reconsider it in a larger framework.

The project began in the 1980s, with several themes; water politics in the West centered in California, the western landscape, portraiture, the South, etc., all cultures unique to themselves, but overlapping at the same time. I have continued to work on the project, creating new images, evolving and expanding. The shift to the 8×10-inch view camera not only slowed me down, but it allowed an exploration and description of texture instead the rough jottings of texture that smaller formats provided.

Natural Phenomena: Thomas & Hines

Osprey of the Blue Refuge

I come over the dunes into morning light, white light, the kind of light that makes my tripod and 600-millimeter lens worth the weight.  I am hunting osprey.  For two weeks, I have walked the beaches of the bird refuge, sleeping in my car at the park campground.  I’ve found two nests.  One sits on a wooden platform beside the campground, its stick-and-sod lattice woven with denim thread and fishing line.  The other came down from its nest tree after the last hard rain.  I stood right there.  I watched it fall.
Early this morning, I went to the visitor’s center to ask after ospreys.  I shook hands with the ranger, whose name I could not recall.  He knew mine.  He stood up behind his desk when I came through the door.  “If it isn’t John Cossman,” he said.  He waited for his name.  The visitor’s center is not air-conditioned, so he sweat.  I sweat.  Since I could not ask his name, I asked for a map of the island.
He was wearing a park ranger’s Stetson.  If he’d taken off the Stetson, I might have known him.  I knew we’d gone to school together, to the only island school.  I knew he was one

 who never managed to get away.  Growing up on Santa Rosa Island, you hear it from your parents and your teachers and Mrs. Lewis at the grocery: “If you want to make something of yourself, you’ve got to get off the island.”   At seventeen, I did.  Four years later, when my choices were Southeast Asia or medical school, I chose medical school.
He asked what work I’d been doing, and I told him I was working as a pathologist in Charleston.  I did not tell him fifteen months ago, I diagnosed a cyst from the left breast of a woman—we’ll call her Ms. Lydia Harris—as a radial scar, benign.  It was malignant.  One year later, they diagnosed tubular carcinoma, stage three, metastatic in five of seventeen lymph nodes.  You can’t know what might have been, but her prognosis now is nine months of hell and then fifty-fifty.  They printed an interview with her in the local paper, covering the malpractice suit.  She said, “I just want him to admit he made a mistake.”  But a man doesn’t make a mistake like that.  I have diagnosed tubular carcinoma more times than I can count and never gotten it wrong before.



I told him I’d retired.
He said, “Good for you.”  He said he’d seen my father a few weeks ago at the food mart.  My father lives waterfront on the island’s eastern shore.  “Said he was thinking of selling the house, heading north.”
I shook my head.  My father built that house fifty years ago.  My wife Sandra has been trying to get him to sell and move up to Charleston, closer to us.  She thinks he’s lonely.  I tell her he likes his space, same as I do.  I said, “We’ll have to pry him out of that house.”
“Lots of people are selling,” he said.  “Going inland for work.  I’ve had every fisherman on the island come through this office in the past three months.  They stand just like you’re standing, asking have I got work for them.”
“I’m not looking for work,” I said.
He said, “I tell them like I’m telling you now.  I tell them if I had work don’t you think I’d give it to you?  In a minute, I’d give it to you.”
“I’m not looking for work.”
He rolled his chair back from the desk, tipped his hat up on his head.
I nearly had his name when Charleston called.  I let my phone ring itself out against my hip.  It was the lawyer, wanting to confirm tomorrow’s meeting.  In the message, she said, “Eight in the morning, doctor.”  She said, “See you then.”  We are to meet before the deposition.  The deposition is tomorrow. The deposition is at noon.  I could have left 

 

then, poured a small coffee to go and taken I-10 into the sun.  I could have been home in time to eat dinner with Sandra.  But I had remembered his name.  I leaned across the ranger’s desk, tapped two fingers down on the laminate.  “Russell,” I said, “I am looking for osprey.”

Untitled from series Spirit Stories ©Jessica Hines

I walk east, skirting the loose sand of the dunes, because Russell pointed me east.  He said there is a nest this way.  “Keep to the shore.  You can’t miss it.”  I keep to the shore.


From the air, Santa Rosa Island looks like a body afloat on the tide, the bridge a single arm stretched overhead, fingers sunk deep into the Florida coast.  The migratory bird refuge runs along the island’s southernmost point, three miles of undeveloped shoreline.  I am glad to be here, herding sandpipers up a lip of shore, dodging the stranded jellyfish that shine like blisters. Tar balls pebble the beach.  I kneel at intervals, steady my camera on my knee and try to photograph the hurried sandpipers, but the sun is too high.  Even underexposed, the sand behind them is too white.

Untitled from series Spirit Stories ©Jessica Hines

Sandra calls.  I feel her humming against my hip.  I take the phone and hold it in my palm.  She will want to know what time she should expect me home, to know if I hit traffic in Mobile, construction outside of Atlanta.  “Where are you?”she asks in the message. She asks twice.  If I called her back, I would tell her, “I’m leaving now,” and she would say, “I’ll wait up for you,” and she would wait and wait.
Last time I talked to Sandra, she told me they could take our savings if malpractice didn’t cover the suit.  They could take the Roth where we’ve been putting money every month for retirement.  They could take the house.  She said, “I’d hate to lose the house.”
Ospreys orient home by the sun on their biannual migrations.  They come to this island from Cuba, following a trail of floating rigs, whose derricks offer places to perch, to rest their wings or lock talons and sleep.  At night, when there is no sun, they fly by the stars—not single stars, star patterns, constellations.  If clouds obscure the stars, they follow the grid of ultraviolet light.  If they are blinded in the name of science, they use magnetic cues to find their way.
I haven’t slept in the house in Charleston in weeks.  I wouldn’t mind if they took it.  I could stay here, sell prints of my photographs, maybe work as a docent in the visitor’s center, make enough to keep myself in boots and canned peas.  I’d enjoy that sort of work, put-your-feet-up work, work that doesn’t help anything, doesn’t hurt anything.  When I get back to Charleston, I’ll tell them take the house.  I’ll tell them take it all.


At the fishing pier, a male osprey flies reconnaissance over the water, flexing his wings as though he might dive.  I pause, focus the osprey in the viewfinder of my camera.  I only have one photo of an osprey diving, and that one was an accident.  I’d brought my daughter Lacy down to see her grandfather and was taking pictures of her out in the surf.  She was maybe seven.  In one picture, right in the corner, I caught an osprey with his wings tucked, tipped down toward the water.  Lacy is just beside the bird, with her skirt bunched at her waist and one hand skimming the surf.  In the print it looks as though the osprey is coming to land on her shoulder, tame as a hunting hawk.  Lacy’s studying now in Virginia, studying biology, planning on medical school.  I’ve told her there are worse ways she could go.
On the fishing pier, a man works a cast net, his cooler open and empty at his feet.  His hands spider across the webbing—limber hands, young hands.  My hands are stiff.  About a year ago, I started having trouble grasping the fine-focus knob on my microscope.  I took to working just with the coarse focus, playing it out and back until the tissue came clear.  And I have thought about that.  I’ve thought if the image was sharper maybe I would have caught it, would have seen the slight pinching of adipose tissue stained orange, a rusted carcinoma.
Behind the net fisherman, a blue heron skulks, hoping for a handout.  Last summer, the pier would have been packed shoulder to shoulder, families sleeping at night in lawn chairs to keep their spot, farming their narrow patch of ocean.  That was before the spill, before word came from the trawlers of eyeless shrimp, crabs without claws, two-headed fish, fish covered in boils, in black lesions, fish that bled black at the hook and were black inside, gills and muscle and bone, like they’d been charred.

Strung along the pier’s railing are animal bones, threaded on fishing line with pop tabs and shells as spacers—the bones of fish washed up on shore, of birds and turtles found dead on the beaches in the months after the spill.  I walk past a large pelvis, a pelican’s perhaps, and a skull that looks distinctly canine.  Someone has added a Marlins cap and a strand of holiday tinsel.  At the end of the pier, a sign reads “Make Them Pay.”  The oil company has paid.  If I look to my left, I will see the cranes and backhoes, quiet for the weekend, which have started construction on a twenty-five-story hotel made possible by the county’s claim check.

Untitled from series Spirit Stories ©Jessica Hines

Santa Rosa Island was spared the worst of the slick.  Off the Louisiana coast, it is said the oil sludge was so thick you could walk between barrier islands without sinking into the water. They burned what oil they could off the surface.  


Families gathered on Louisiana beaches to watch the lighting of the Gulf.
On the shore beside the pier, a man wearing headphones plays a free line in shallow water, catch and release.   He hasn’t bothered bringing a cooler.
My osprey has ceased his arcs and settled on a branch overlooking the waves.

Untitled from series Spirit Stories ©Jessica Hines

“What are you after?” I ask the man with the free line.  He pulls his headphones down from his ears, and I repeat my question.
He says, “Anything that’ll bite.”

We get to talking.  He’s headed through to south Florida, comes down every year about this time and stays until spring.  “For the warmth.”  He asks about my camera, asks if I’m shooting for a magazine, and I shake my head.
“Retired,” I say.
“These things happen, John,” Gary said after the summons. Gary and I shared an office.  We shared cases, the head-scratchers, passing them back and forth until we came to a consensus.  The day I misdiagnosed Lydia Harris he wasn’t in the office.  His son was pitching a little league game, and he had gone to watch.
“You’re a good doctor, John,” he said.  I stood looking at my microscope in its heavy dust cover, at the slide trays stacked ten-high on the desk beside it.  “You think you could take them for me, Gary?” I asked him.  “Just for today?”
He had a stack of his own, but he took them.  They asked me to resign the next day.
I tell the fisherman, “I’m living like I should have been all my life.”
He tells me he’s retired as well.  He was a conductor, he says.  “The Cincinnati Orchestra.”
The osprey leaves his perch, and I raise my camera.  I watch him fly.  “You miss it?” I ask him.
He shakes his head.  “It’s the nerves,” he says.  “You get so a body just can’t take it anymore.”
The osprey shades the water with his wings, searching the shadows for the flash of a darting fish.  At that shine, he will hover, positioning, then plummet feet first, extending his head at the last moment so beak and talons enter the water together.  He will miss just one catch in fifty.


The net fisherman has brought up three small herring and lowers them carefully into his ice chest.  I lift my camera.  I take one photo—the ice chest, man, and heron all in a single frame.  The light is heavy, iron light.
I tell the conductor I’ve been photographing ospreys.  “Keeps me occupied,” I say.  He can understand that.  He’s fishing just to toss the fish back.  “Only found two nests so far,” I say.  I tell him there’s some who blame the oil for that, say it’s made for bad fishing, say the ospreys are staying away.  “Somebody cut corners,” I say.
He shrugs.  He says, “Somebody wasn’t paying attention.  That’s my guess.”
I shake my head.  I’ve thought about it, of course, thought I might have been distracted.  I’ve thought maybe the Saturday Gary’s son pitched his first game was the Saturday Sandra told me she was going to visit her sister for a few weeks, maybe a month, said she needed some time away.  “I’ll come with you,” I said.  She said, “You’ve got work.”  I told her I’m ready, anyway, to be retired.  “Work three more years for me, John,” she said.  “Just until we pay off the house.”  I told her she knows, doesn’t she, that I need her here.  She said she knew.  But it can’t have been that Saturday.  That Saturday I didn’t go into the office.  I stayed at home with her.
“Grossly negligent,” I say.  That is the phrase the courts will use.  I say, “They knew what they were doing.”
The  conductor has caught a fish.  He wades out into the water to take it by the tail, gets it unhooked and tosses it up to the heron on the pier.  It is a fifteen-inch sea trout, one-headed.  The heron does not, of course, want it.  Too hard to get down and keep down.

The  fish flaps against the pier, tugging for water, jumping like the ground beneath him is hot enough for cooking.
The  net fisherman comes away from his net to stand over the fish.  “That’s a catch,” he says to the conductor.

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The conductor shrugs.  “Been at it a few hours.  About time.”
The  fisherman nudges the sea trout with one toe. “You see the herring out there?” he asks us, pointing over the water.  “I bet this one was after the herring.”


I look where he points, and I see them, flashes of silver, fish flying from fish.
He says, “Man tried yesterday to charge me three bucks a pound for skipjack.  Three bucks a pound, and the fish so thick out there you could shovel them up.”

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The  conductor says, “I’ve never heard herring to leap like that.”
“Any fish’ll jump if he’s got cause.”
My osprey hovers above the school.  I lift my camera.  I catch him with kinked wings.

“You got a boat as nice as that camera?” the net fisherman asks me.
I shake my head.
“I’m in the market,” he says. “They took my seiner to Luling to help with the clean up.  Might as well take my legs, I told them, but they just needed the seiner.”
“I don’t have a boat,” I say.
I’d lease her from you if you didn’t want to sell,” he says.  “Schools like that I’d turn a profit quick.”  He tugs at the brim of his ball cap.  He is looking down at the trout, which has more meat on it than six herring.  “You just going to leave it?”
“I was meaning the bird to eat him,” the conductor says.
“Bird doesn’t look interested to me.”
The conductor shrugs and pulls at the cord of his headphones, which dangles, cut, at his navel.
The net fisherman stoops and takes the trout by the jaw.  “You don’t want him.”
The conductor says, “I wouldn’t eat anything out of the Gulf.”
The net fisherman lowers the trout into his ice chest and starts packing away his net. He says, “What else is there to eat?”  He lifts his cooler onto his shoulder and makes his slow way down the beach.  He stops once to rest, and I point my camera at his back, but the sun is out in front of him, shining directly into the lens.  He is just a shadow, the world brightened to rainbow around him like oil sheen on water.
I turn back at a splash.  The osprey is coming up out of the Gulf, shaking the water free of his feathers and gaining altitude.  He is not carrying a fish, not carrying anything at all.


It is almost noon.  I have followed the call of a female osprey into brush so thick I cannot see the Gulf.  I did not think to bring a machete, so I swing with my tripod, with my arms.  My camera I do not swing, but tuck safely beneath my shirt.  The map, I have decided, as I fold and unfold it and turn it in my hands, is useless.  It does not show, for instance, the copse of pines shading my bare head from the advancing sun, nor the prickly pear which has just, obligingly, inserted a slender needle through the sole of my right boot into my largest toe.  And the marsh visible beyond the acacia could be any of three marshes.
I tighten the belt of my jeans and wade into that marsh.  The water is black and warm, folding around me.  I come up onto dry land soaked and blooded and feeling altogether good, because a female osprey is perched on a branch just two yards ahead of me, and my eye is level with her lizard eye.  She sees past me, past all the heavy-browed hominids right back to Homo erectus egg-snatcher.  She knows better than to trust me.
I wander the sand pines, searching for her nest.  Last week, I watched a nest fall from a sand pine in a grove like this.  It was an old nest, a decade old or older—four feet in diameter, two hundred pounds at least, enough seaweed and grass to start a slow process of decomposition, generating heat for the nestlings.  There were two nestlings.  When the nest fell, I was squinting through my viewfinder at their snaking heads.
The fall was quiet, marked only by the whistled two-note alarm call of the female osprey hovering above the newly barren tree.  I left my camera and crawled into the thicket of sweet acacia surrounding the trunk of the nest tree.  I spent forty minutes working on hands and knees, searching for the fallen nest.  I found it on its side—sticks and seaweed, down feathers, a scrap of denim.

The nestlings were alive, black-skinned and scaly, reminiscent of their reptilian ancestors.  They pulsed with their rapid, whole-body breathing, hissed, flicked their narrow tongues.  I took a few pictures, and that’s all I did.  I shot them

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zoomed in tight with the aperture wide open.  I caught with my camera the vein of each pinfeather, the bristled legs of the bluebottle flies that swarmed the nest.  In the pictures, the background is blurred.  In the pictures those nestlings might be twenty yards up in the air.
I wander until I lose the light.  I do not find a nest, but I know it is close, because twice the female osprey flies a tight circle over my head.  I lift my len
s to shoot her agitated. 


She wheels with spread wings, sounds her alarm to the standing pines.  I play the manual focus out and back until she is so sharp through the lens I can count the ruffled feathers of her necklace, which mottle her white breast.

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I walk back to the campground along the narrow seawall surrounding the old naval fort.  As a boy, I rode my motorbike along this seawall, picking up speed and lifting the bike onto its rear wheel. In those days, colonies of plovers nested on the island, thousands of them, stretched for a half-mile

 

along the shoreline and packed so tightly you couldn’t pick your way through without putting one foot down in a nest.  You could walk right up to a brooding plover, take her from the nest with one hand and wring her neck, easy as collecting shells.  We used to cook and eat them when the weather kept us from fishing.
One night I took my motorbike down onto the beach and through the center of the nesting colony, plovers blowing up before the front tire like scraps of shredded paper. I came away from the colony scratched and splattered with urea.  My father, when he heard, was furious.  In part, because the bike’s sprocket and chain had to be replaced, but mostly because I had proven myself capable of malice he had not expected.
After that night, I could not get within fifty yards of the colony without being mobbed by a dozen birds, sprayed with excrement.  Every year it was the same.  Even when I returned after eight years away, the birds remembered me.  The plovers are protected now, the shells of their eggs so thin they shatter at a touch.  They don’t nest on this island anymore.
Sandra calls.  I answer.  I don’t want her thinking something happened to me on the road.  I don’t want her worrying.
She says, “John.”
I ask her if she thinks I made the misdiagnosis on purpose.
She says, “No.”  She says, “Where are you?”
I say, “What other explanation is there?”
She says, “Have you left yet?”  She says, “It was a mistake, John.  They know it was a mistake.”

 


I tell her I haven’t left yet.  I tell her I don’t know when I’m leaving.
“You can’t miss the deposition.  It’s against the law to miss the deposition.”
I say to her, “I know.”
“No one thinks you’re a criminal, John.”
I say, “I knew what I was doing,” thinking not about the Saturday I misdiagnosed Lydia Harris, but about all the other Saturdays, the Saturdays I remember.  The Saturday Lacy broke her wrist playing softball, and I signed out two frozen sections before meeting Sandra at the emergency room.  The Saturday Sandra’s mother passed, and we stopped at the office on our way to the airport, so I could sign out a lymph node biopsy—sarcoidosis, benign.  The Saturdays I bickered with Sandra over cold cereal and came to the office head-pounding.  I imagine the day I misdiagnosed Lydia Harris was a Saturday like any other Saturday.  I woke in the morning and left Sandra sleeping.  I made a pot of coffee, put Sandra’s mug in the microwave, so it would be ready to heat when she woke.  I drove twenty minutes to the office and parked in the lot reserved for doctors.  The office was quiet, as it always is on Saturdays.  It’s one of the reasons I like working Saturdays, you get the place to yourself.  I took my time over the frozen, just the single frozen, and finished the handful of cases left from the week before.  I returned home for dinner, and when Sandra asked how was it, I told her, “A good day.”  I told her, “One frozen, benign.”  I told her, “She got lucky.”

I call my father, because it is Sunday, because we eat dinner together on Sundays when I am on the island. He is free,

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he says, and so I pick him up from his house and take him toJoe’s, the only diner on the island that doesn’t serve seafood.  After dinner, I ask him if there is any place he needs to go, but he says Mrs. Parker took him into town that morning.  She takes him once a week for groceries and to refill his prescriptions.  On Saturday mornings, she takes him to the brunches Gulf Power puts on for their employees, past and present.  He wears his denim work-suit and the gold star he was given at retirement for putting in forty years.  He retired at seventy-two, though I suspect they kept him on, those last few years, just out of obligation.  He’s the only one at the brunches with a star.  The other attendees are all kids in their thirties.  Pole boys, he calls them.


I bring him to the refuge, driving slowly to miss the ghost crabs that scuttle across the beach road.  We stand on the path leading from the campground to the water catchment tanks.  We have a clear view of the turnip nest, so named for its shape and the patch of turnips growing feral in front of   

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it. There are three chicks in the turnip nest.  I steady my camera on its tripod, the viewfinder centered on them, just in case.

My father hasn’t been in the refuge since I came down with Lacy three years ago.  On that day he had to double the strings of his swimsuit around his waist to keep it from slipping down.  It was a green flag day, a calm day.  We went out into the waves, the three of us.  Lacy grinned every time I looked at her.  She was seventeen and already keeping her distance, but I like to think she enjoyed herself that day.  Dad lost his footing in the surf once, ended up tipped backward, working his arms in the water, head dipping under and surfacing again, spluttering.
I didn’t move.  It’s not something you expect to see, the man who striped your thighs with a Sam Browne belt panicked like a beetle on his back, swallowing water.  Lacy was the one who pulled him to his feet, and after she stayed close right beside him.  She put one arm around his waist, taking his weight, struggling with him up out of the water and into the dune fields.  I came behind them, watching her, thinking she was going to be all right, Lacy, thinking kids mostly raise themselves, wondering at how easily she loved him.
I asked him this evening if he wanted to go out into the surf, but he said he’d rather not, so we are watching birds.  The female is on the nest.  If we watch long enough, I say, we’ll see the male fly in with a fish.  He’ll have eaten what he can of the head and torn the rest away to lessen the weight.
He says, “I talked to Sandra this morning.  She seemed to think you were heading home.”
I say, “She doesn’t need to worry about me.”
“When are you heading home?”
I tell him I don’t know.


He says, “You’re a smart man, Dr. Cossman, and you’re throwing that away.”  He doesn’t approve of my early retirement.  He doesn’t know anything about Ms. Lydia Harris, who is right now walking through her house to her children’s bedroom, walking as though through sand, heavily.  She rubs at her neck, her shoulder, tired and aching in her limbs and right to blame me.
I bend again to my camera, focus it on the silhouette of an osprey on the near shore.  It might be the female from the nest that fell.  I can’t be sure. She is perched high over the waves, scanning for fish.  I wonder if she has abandoned the nestlings, and if some part of her is relieved to have finally failed, glad to have the evening to fish just for herself.
We wait another thirty minutes, though there’s no point.  The nest is quiet, and the light is low, western light, rusted light.  He is impatient, and so I drive him home in my car, which he does not like, crowded as it is with dirty clothes and an unrolled sleeping bag, canned food, camera equipment.
“Is there a restroom,” he asks me, “at the campground?”
We’re past the campground.  “I can go back,” I say, but I do not turn around.
He says, “I’ll be fine.”
He wets himself three minutes from his house.  I look over when I smell the ammonia, but he is backlit by the window, and I can’t see his face.  When I pull up into the drive, he says, “You go on in.”
He comes in a few minutes after me, says, “I’ve got sheets put on your bed.”  Says, “You sleep here tonight, and in the morning we’ll take your car to the wash to get the sand off of her.  You’ll ruin her with that sand.”

I wait until he is in his bedroom, running water for a shower, then I take a towel and a bottle of stain remover from the laundry closet.  He has tried drying the seat with a wad of Kleenex.  Bits of the Kleenex are stuck now to the upholstery.  I towel it dry, soak it with stain remover and towel it again.  I leave the windows open.

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 We sit together in the breakfast room where I once fixed up an old Nikon rangefinder.  I shot two rolls of film with that camera, developed them at this table, in a darkroom I made by draping black canvas over a hat stand.


I stay long enough to share a pot of coffee.  He cuts coupons from the Sunday paper.  “I’m selling the house,” he says.  He looks at me over the paper.
I say, “This house?”  He built this house after we moved down from Virginia.  He was happy in those early years, living on a 34-foot sloop, trucking lumber over from the mainland.  I was happy.
“You don’t want the house,” he says, “and I’m getting too old to live like this.”
I say no to the first, no to the second.  I say, “You’re doing fine.”
He works his scissors around an advertisement for turkey sausage.  His hand shakes.
“If you want a smaller place,” I say, “I can find you a smaller place.”
“I thought I’d go with you to Charleston.  When you go.”
“I don’t know when I’m going.”
He nods.  “When you do.”
“We don’t have the space,” I say, “in Charleston.”
“All I need’s a place to sleep,” he says, but his house is full of things, and our house is full of things, and we might not have the house.
I say, “You built this place.”
He says, “I had a son to raise and no place to raise him.”  He says, “No one would build it for me.”
I drink my coffee.
He says, “I watched them bury Lutt Parker in sand so shallow next storm he’ll be above ground again.  You hit an age you start thinking practically about these things.”
“There’s time and time,” I say, “to figure all that out.”

“Virginia’s solid ground.  I wouldn’t mind Virginia.”
“You came to this island.  You left Virginia.”
“I came to this island to raise a boy up.  And I did that.”  He raps his finger down on coupons offering fifty cents off Selma’s Blueberry Spread or two stone-baked pizzas for the price of one.  “Island like this, you want to be just passing through.”
The visitor’s center at the refuge is closed.  I walk past it, east into the pine forest, toward the place where the nest fell.  I pass a park ranger headed the other way.  “You can’t sleep out here,” she says.  “You have to stay in the designated camping grounds.”
I tell her I’m just walking.
She wants to know if I have a camping permit, and when I tell her it’s in my car, she wants to walk with me back to my car.   We walk together.  She stays behind me, as though given half a chance I would turn and bolt.  She says, “There’s no camping in the park without a permit.”
It takes me ten minutes to find the permit. While I’m looking, she bends the brim of her hat in her hands.  It is the traditional park service hat, the Smokey Bear hat, the lemon squeezer.
I hand her the permit.  She looks it over.
“I haven’t broken any rules,” I tell her.
She hands it back.  She says, “Have a good night, Mr. Cossman,” and I do not correct her.
“At the campground, the conductor has built a fire using two-by-fours as fuel.  When he lifts a hand to me, I go to sit beside his fire, though the sun has just set, and it is still eighty degrees at least.  We sit in silence. I pinch the sand flies that


land on my arms and drop them into the fire. At intervals, he hums a few measures of nothing familiar, and when he realizes he’s doing it he glances over at me, grins, embarrassed, and slaps his left hand with his right, as though in reprimand.
There is nothing at his campsite but an army-issue tent and the chair he is sitting in now.  “Where are your things?” I ask him.  “Your car?”
“Sold the car,” he says.  “Ten years ago, it was.”
“How’d you get down here?”
“I had a buddy coming as far as Atlanta.  I got down all right.”  He kneads his hip with one hand.
“It’s the wet,” I say, because my knees have been aching and slow to bend.
He shakes his head.  He tells me he shattered the joint years ago.  He fell off the podium halfway through Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony.  “Ten feet.  Down into the orchestra pit.”  He tells me they don’t list his name with the other conductors for the Cincinnati Orchestra.  Every other name, but not his.  “Nine months I waved a baton for them, and they can’t be bothered to remember my name.”
“I ask him what is his name.  Daniel Hartzog, he tells me, and I say it back to him to be sure I’ve got it right.
“What about you,” he says.  “Think they’ll remember you?”
“I say, “Yes.  I do.”
“Well then,” he says.  “That’s something.”
The other campers come from their air-conditioned fifth wheels and Winnebagos to join us.  They would stay in the cool if they could, but the conductor has built a good fire, and so they come with folding chairs and children and easy
talk.  The conductor is quiet.  A fly has landed on his cheek, just beneath his right eye, and he does not lift a hand to brush it off.  But when a man takes a guitar from a black leather 

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case and starts to strum, he puts on his headphones.  He leans over and tells me to have a good sleep.  He stands, offers his seat to a woman standing behind it, and ducks into his tent.


I leave soon after, because someone puts a piece of driftwood on the fire, and it burns with a smoke thick and black as tar, smelling of diesel.  I walk to my car.  If I left right now, I’d arrive in Charleston by nine in the morning, late but not too late.  In Charleston, Sandra is lying awake in our bed, not expecting me.  Ms. Lydia Harris sits in an empty
bathtub, fully clothed, nauseated.  Her eyes are shut.  The tub rocks beneath her, and she waits, waits for the rocking to cease, for the tide to pull back and leave her steady on the shore.  In Charleston, they have photographed the slide of adipose tissue using a lens dipped in cold immersion oil.  There is nothing in those photos I haven’t seen before.

 

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Award winning artist and storyteller, Jessica Hines, uses the camera’s inherent quality as a recording device to explore illusion and to suggest truths that underlie the visible world. At the core of Hines’ work lies an inquisitive nature inspired by personal memory, experience and the unconscious mind.

Morgan Thomas graduated with an MFA in fiction writing from the University of Oregon.  She is currently a Fulbright student, teaching English and creative writing in Darkhan, Mongolia.

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.