The Other: Skaar and Kelly

Anneli Skaar / Mark Kelly

The Other

A Story in Five Parts to Accompany The Other, a photo collage by Anneli Skaar and Mark Kelly.

E PLURIBUS UNUM

It might come as a surprise to some that, even in the 1700s, really important arty stuff was being designed by committee.

The responsibility for creating a great seal for the newly formed United States of America was not immediately handed over to an artist — it was referred to three guys who were on the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence: Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson.

In a testament to their wisdom, they soon realized that it might be a good idea to consult with a professional designer. They engaged a recent immigrant as a consultant, Pierre Eugene Du Simitiere, from Switzerland by way of Jamaica. Together, the four of them made several mock-ups, yet each of their proposed designs was immediately and unequivocally rejected by Congress.

In subsequent years two new committees were formed to attempt an approved design concept and both groups hired consultants to do the artwork. In March of 1780, a mediocre effort was submitted, created by Francis Hopkinson, the designer of the flag we know as the Stars and Stripes, but it was rejected. In May of 1782, William Barton, a twenty-eight 

 

year-old heraldry designer, submitted his version of the third committee’s ideas. It was rejected. It wasn’t until Charles Thomson took up the challenge in June of 1782, that the Great Seal as we know it was formed.

An Irish-born immigrant, patriot, and an outspoken critic of slavery, Thomson was a wise man, well-respected by his political peers. Thomson wrote a letter to Thomas Jefferson in 1785:

“It grieves me to the soul that there should be such just grounds for your apprehensions respecting the irritation that will be produced in the Southern States by what you have said of slavery. However, I would not have you discouraged. This is a cancer we must get rid of. It is a blot on our character that must be wiped out. If it cannot be done by religion, reason, and philosophy, confident I am that it will be one day by blood.”

He was also involved in the local Delaware and Shawnee Native American tribes, studied their customs and policies, and even assisted in their councils.

Thomson was the Secretary of the Continental Congress for fifteen years. The United States was still without a president 

 


 

and would be until 1789. The government was run by the Continental Congress and functioned both 
as the Executive branch and the Legislative branch. There was only a President of Congress, who was elected by Congress. Thompson’s job as Secretary combined the duties of Department of State, Secretary of the Senate, and Clerk of the House of Representatives. Thomson’s name was synonymous with honor and wisdom, and his signature on congressional documents would be met with respectful murmurs of, “Here comes the Truth.”

Thompson drew his rough sketch of notion for the Great Seal without group input. He incorporated elements from all three previous groups’ ideas. The drawing was quite good for one who wasn’t a professional artist, loosely sketched as if on a napkin, and the image is undeniably recognizable as the version we see today on everything from money to passports. His design was proposed to Congress entirely on the basis of its written description, only later to be realized visually by a variety of different artists. His text reads:

On a field … Chevrons composed of seven pieces on one side & six on the other, joined together at the top in
such wise that each of the six bears against or is supported by & supports two of the opposite side the pieces of the chevrons on each side alternate red & white. The shield born on the breast of an American Eagle on the wing & rising proper. In the dexter talon of the Eagle an Olive branch & in the sinister a bundle of Arrows. Over the head of the Eagle a Constellation of Stars surrounded with bright rays and at a little distance clouds. Motto In the bill of the Eagle a scroll with these words E pluribus unum.

The eagle’s head points to its right, as freedom favors peace.
 The written proposal was presented to Congress on June 20th, 1782, and immediately ratified.
 Never codified by law, E pluribus unum was the unofficial motto of the United States until 1956 when Congress passed an act adopting “In God We Trust” as the official motto of the country. This was at the height 
of McCarthyism and the Cold War. What is not commonly known is that the words E pluribus unum had been established very early on in the first committee’s sketch as a potential motto for the new nation, and it was inspired by a surprising source.

Some believed the Latin text came from Cicero’s De Officiis, Circero’s treatise on human obligations and his thoughts on basic family and social bonds as the origin of societies and states. “When each person loves the other as much as himself, it makes one out of many.”

However, it is more widely assumed—and more easily proven—that it was appropriated from “The Gentleman’s Magazine,” a well known and very popular London publication since the 1730s, read by the colonies’ educated class well into the 1770s. On its title page were the italicized words E Pluribus Unum, accompanied by a woman’s hand, offering a nosegay of flowers.

The flowers are an assortment; none of the illustrated blooms are the same and they are tied together with a loose knot of ribbon. It is a surprisingly delicate offering, a symbol of the

 


 

 ideal of coexistence, unity, and also individuality. Its visual symbolism is a far cry from the powerful grasp of eagles’ talons.

The text next to the bouquet reads in Latin—as the hand hands the gift from one to the other— “Out of many, one.”

 

THE STARLING

One spring day in 1890, a man and a group of his supporters let sixty birds loose in New York City’s Central Park. Forty more birds would follow the next year. The man’s name was Eugene Schieffelin, and the birds were European Starlings.

Eugene had decided to populate New York with every bird mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare. Why this seemed like a good idea to him and his helpers remains a mystery. What can be safely asserted is that Mr. Schieffelin was quite the romantic and had way too much time on his hands. It is worth noting that Starlings are only mentioned once in Shakespeare’s plays, in Henry IV. Starlings have excellent mimicry skills—both in behavior and in calls, making them incredibly adaptable. Shakespeare’s lines are for

Hotspur, the charismatic Sir Henry Percy, as he plans to drive his enemy crazy with the constant mention of the name of a foe:

But I will find him when he lies asleep,
 And in his ear I’ll holla ‘Mortimer!’
 Nay, I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak

Nothing but ‘Mortimer,’ and give it him To keep his anger still in motion.

I assume that the sixty birds, having made the long, arduous journey by boat from Europe, would have first been shocked to find themselves set loose in the bucolic setting of Central Park, itself only created a little over forty years before—a vast green lung in the midst of the growing metropolis. The 1890s was a time of anxiety: economic, political, and social—boundaries stretched to the limits by the massive influx of immigrants. The air would have already been touched by the filthy, black smoke introduced by rapidly expanding industry. In 1890, the population of the US was 63 million, a number that was compounding fast, wheels and engines churning.

However unlikely, I do like to imagine the starlings first getting their bearings and then rising far up, circling the park en masse, only to swoop down and around again, in that beautiful formation that starlings are known for: the murmuration.

 


 

Murmurations are named for the murmuring sound, presumably the sound the wings make as the birds swirl
like a black cloud. Sort sol, the black sun, as the Danes call it—is when a million starlings might hover at dusk
over the low—lying bogs and marshes and completely block out the sunset. The tips of their wings touch as the 
flock swoops left, then right, then left again—always following the lead of their closest neighbors, the formation designed to confuse predators. The shape shifts in the sky like a liquid or a mesmerizing fluid dance. I’ve never seen a murmuration but I imagine it looks like a brewing storm.

The problem is, for all its adaptability and sociability within its own species, the starling is a problem bird. As starlings raid other species nests to deposit their own eggs, the population grows. And grows. So successful was the European starling in occupying Central Park at the turn of the century that by present day, it has invaded every state in the union and beyond all borders north and south. Today, the population of starlings in the United States is 200 million. It was once suggested that a tasty starling recipe might be created to take a bite out of the population, but unfortunately starlings taste like crap.

In the Sonoran desert of Southern Arizona, the starlings have become a serious problem. The species have ousted the Gila

woodpecker out of their nesting hollows in the saguaro cacti—the 200-year-old giants who have witnessed centuries of shifting borders and contentious claims to the ownership of these lands—their prickled arms thrown up in exasperation.

This was Mexico not so long ago. The Gadsden Purchase of 1853 secured land for further expansion west with a transcontinental railroad along the southern border. The signatory on the purchase, James Gadsen, was the grandson of Christopher Gadsen, the general and politician who designed the iconic “Don’t Tread On Me” flag during the American Revolution—the coiled rattlesnake then considered as much a symbol of the spirit of the United States 
as the eagle. That flag has enjoyed something of a resurgence lately, co-opted by the conservative far right. The serpentine trains for which the Gadsden Purchase secured the rails, still undulate slowly across the desert, laden with steel containers.

Along the most deadly desert corridors of the Arizona border with Mexico, poor migrants flock to begin their emigration north. It didn’t use to be like this, the funneling of people through a deterrent section of the border
—a hostile terrain where Nature itself can easily and casually kill them. Border patrol checkpoints are now set up strategically along the main roads and within the 100 mile rule of border enforcement, forcing migrants to walk
up to 80 miles into the desert

 


 

 to avoid them—deep into wildlife preserves and military bombing ranges. In the 
past decade, thousands have died along these corridors, but the exact numbers are unknown. The organic matter 
of a human being decomposes completely in three weeks under the Sonoran sun; bones turn completely to dust in one and a half years. Many bodies are never found, simply absorbed into the dry earth like water. Of those that are found, many are never identified and will never be reunited with their families. The cooperation and coordination between humanitarian aid groups and law enforcement has broken down over the past few years, due to the current administration’s directives. As a result of the new policies, there are fewer migrants but a higher number of deaths.

The civilian militia are prevalent as well, encouraged and validated by the increasingly audible murmurs of the current administration. You see NO MILITIA signs in small town storefronts here. No one locally wants the people with the big trucks and the fake machine gun turrets mounted to their flatbeds taking the law into their own hands. A few years ago, members of a militia group targeted a local man, mistakenly suspecting him of drug smuggling. They shot him, his wife, and his 8-year-old daughter. The wife survived.

Starlings are fair game and may be shot on site. They don’t belong here, they say. They have sailed across the ocean and now they fly right across our borders and into our homes.

They are taking food, they spread filth. They are foreigners who must be stopped.

Others say they that this is nothing new. They say the Europeans have invaded this land and displaced those who were here before them and aggressively claimed all this land for themselves. Shooting these birds won’t help much. It will make things worse.

In the words of William Shakespeare, it keeps our anger still in motion.

 

ST. MICHAEL

As we process prints out in the desert, outside a small border town, we feel a bit vulnerable. Every third car is border patrol. We know we aren’t doing anything wrong, but our very presence seems illicit.

“I really hope no one stops,” Mark says.
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe it would be interesting. I mean, we’re not doing anything illegal. It’s just art.” 
Mark shakes his head. 
Sure enough, 

 


 

a white truck with its distinctive green line slows down and stops on the trail. A cloud of red dust billows up behind it as it brakes. The window rolls down.
 I grab the bull by the horns and walk up to talk to the agent before they even get out of the car. Surprisingly, it turns out to be a woman, in her sixties, perhaps Latina. A velcroed strip of webbing above her jacket pocket reads: G. RAMOS.

“What are y’all doing out here?” she asks. Friendly. Wary.

“We’re artists. We’re making prints. Cyanotypes. We use water and the sun to process them. About 20 minutes for one print.” I hesitate before I ask: “Would you like to come see us make one?”

“Sure.” She unbuckles and steps out of the vehicle. 5.11 tactical boots on the ground. She hitches up a duty belt brimming with gear: Handcuffs, baton, taser, radio, Maglite, 11-round magazine clips and a Beretta 96D “Brigadier” pistol. We walk over to the processing area. Mark, nodding hello, has quite possibly shit his pants.

“See, this is what we do,” I say, showing her the watercolor paper. It’s greyish-green like the landscape, having been exposed to the Arizona sun. I hand it to Mark.

“Mark?” “What?”
 “Go ahead and show agent Ramos what we’re doing.”
 Mark dunks the crisp, thick sheet of paper in the pan of water to stop the exposure, and rinses it carefully with his fingers. He adds some hydrogen peroxide and the image of the starling blooms instantly from grey to a deep blue. Agent Ramos looks delighted.

“You see here, it’s a starling. An invasive species. But what is an invasive species, really? See the talons? It has the Virgin of Guadalupe and a coyote bone in one and the St. Michael pendant and the arrows in the other. Like the Great Seal of the United States. Both sides of the coin, you know?”

Agent Ramos looks thoughtful.
“Like your badge,” I add. 

“May I photograph it?” 
She hesitates for a moment.


“Okay. Why not.”
 Mark is holding his breath.


“You see these symbols?” I say, pointing at the soft patch, “It’s like this seal in the photo.”
 She nods—sideways—as though to agree, kind of. We say our goodbyes and finish our printing. We are relieved.

 


 

She seemed to like us.
 The area along the border of Arizona and Mexico has the highest presence of law enforcement in the entire country. In addition, the Yuma sector has the Marine training center, and close by is the Army bombing range. I-8 running east-west through Yuma, is studded with checkpoints.

When you are in line at a checkpoint, you drive up to someone who is looking at something—gauging someone—far behind you when he says, hello. His split-second evaluation of you is already done. “Have a great day.” Judgment made.

St. Michael is the patron saint of the military and law enforcement. This archangel traditionally has four duties: To wage battle against evil; to save the souls of the faithful; to protect the People of God; and to lead the dead from this life and present them to God for judgment. Medallions and pendants show the image of St. Michael wearing armor, wielding a sword or spear, and standing triumphantly on a serpent or some other symbol of the devil. He is often shown holding the scales of justice or the Book of Life. St. Michael is also the patron saint of the border patrol. Deter, Detect, and Apprehend.

“They rotate the border patrol officers often because they don’t want them to become too friendly or familiar with the

locals,” one man told us in Arivaca, just north of the Mexican border. “If they know you, it’s more difficult to 
be tough.” He lives in a town overrun by law enforcement, with a temporary checkpoint that feels more and more permanent.

It was late when we landed in Yuma earlier this week. We dumped all of our things in our motel rooms and
 didn’t have to drive further than a few blocks through the stripped down concrete slab of downtown before we saw the bar with the neon sign. It looked exactly as you’d hope such an establishment would look—like a rusty box of cheap junk in the very back of the garage, lit up with the bright blinking colors of a child’s toy. Strangely familiar, yet altogether strange. The kind of bar you can find anywhere, if you look. Two red felt-covered pool tables, and
 the accumulated bric-a-brac arranged like elaborate religious shrines amongst the bottles. Only a few people were at the darker end of the longish bar, and a cheerful but tired looking lady who was probably younger than she looked brought us beers and tequila shots. Short of driving the short distance across the border to San Diego, geographically we couldn’t be much farther away from Maine.

Later, a few more people filled the seats at the long counter. A group of young men, clearly military or border patrol, ended up on our end, their professions betrayed by their bold and cocky demeanor, good posture, and clean cut hair, high and tight. Loud but cheerful, they had a alpha vibe that you 

 


 

felt could dial either way. They might just come over and slap you on the back, their tan and powerful bodies crushing you in a bear hug. Alternately, a conversation could go wrong and someone might end up thrown over the bar and into the glassed-in stagecoach model above the extensive tequila selection. Mark and I are both a bit wary around this type of energy. It’s like we were sweating empathy and Bernie slogans out of our pores.

There was some activity on the other end of the bar and then Lana, the bartender, came back down to our end and handed us all small plastic tokens for free drinks.

“The gentleman at the end of the bar is buying this next round,” she said.

Mark went to the jukebox in the corner with a wad of dollar bills, and began to line up a playlist. Mark moonlights as a DJ, and his musical sophistication ranks above most mortals. The jukebox was digital, and the access to music was universal. He could choose anything. Pretty soon, a song started blaring out of the shitty speakers, one that had clearly never been played in here ever before, not at this dive nor on this particular strip, ever, in the history of Yuma. Lana perked up and nodded. “You picked that?” Reggae. An obscure 80s punk band. Soon, “Blue Moon” came on.

“What is this?” I asked when Mark came back to the bar, out

of cash. I was genuinely intrigued. The lyrics I knew, of course. But the wooden, hollow knocking, the splintered opening, and the soft cry of a voice was eerily unfamiliar.

“Elvis,” Mark said. “Probably his best recording ever and hardly anyone knows it.”

An older gentleman and his wife had moved up to our end of the bar to chat with the young marines at our end. He pulled out a couple of dollar bills and asked if there was any Johnny Cash on the jukebox.

“It’s coming,” Mark said. “It’s in the line up.”

The marines were gently flirting with the older man’s wife, who was giggling at all the attention, her crooked humpback resting against the bar. Her eyes sparkled. Her husband was a veteran and he started to ask questions of the youngsters who were billeted at the local Marine Corps Air Station.

“What do you guys do over there,” I leaned over and asked one of the men, the quietest one in the group. Young and a bit more shy than the rest, he reminded me of my son.

“Sweating and flying,” he said, “It’s just like Afghanistan here. Good for training. HEY! I’ll buy this lady a drink.” He pointed at me and I got another free drink chip. I had already

 


 

 

cashed in my first one for a fourth shot. Strangely enough, I felt completely fine.

Learning that we were from Maine, a marine named Justin cornered Mark. He wanted to know about lobster. How do you catch it? Was Mark a lobsterman? Mainers must all be lobstermen.

“No, no, no,” Mark had said. “I’m not a lobsterman. I do building work. Tile work.” “Do you build houses?” 
“I have built houses. In the past…but…I’m here as an artist–”
 “Could you build my house? Could I hire you? I need someone to manage the workers.” “Here? In Yuma?” Mark asked incredulously. “I don’t…”

“No, dude. In Texas. I’m totally serious, man. I don’t trust anyone. I trust you, though. You’re from Maine. You could come make sure my house gets built. Keep the workers in line and just make sure it gets done. Gimme your phone number. Here’s mine…”

I noticed Justin was wearing a small silver medallion. I knew what it was before I even asked. The oval silver St. Michael medallion gleamed on his chest like the moon.

COYOTES AND VIRGINS

“That was a coyote,” Mark says.

We’re driving the I-8 from Yuma, skirting the northern border of the Barry M. Goldwater bombing range. The road is endless; the landscape is an immutable backdrop of washed out grey green, like an old faded photograph. A rusty fence parallels us all along the way. It’s spiked, but doesn’t look particularly difficult to squeeze through. I’ve read that there are entire mock towns in the vast range contained by this fence, towns designed to look like middle eastern villages, with houses and mosques. Sometimes migrants stumble across these houses and use them as shelters, which for obvious reasons is risky in itself. Humanitarian aid workers need a permit to enter the area to leave water and supplies, or to recover bodies. It is a permit which is increasingly difficult to obtain. The number of corpses found in the 1.9 million acre range is generally considered to be vastly underreported.

I screech to a stop, squint at the image in my rear view mirror, shift to R for rewind and back up about 200 feet along the shoulder, to where the dead animal lies in the road. 
I’ve never seen a coyote before, not even in Maine. This one is flat as a mat, but strangely crushed as though it were still in motion, still running across the two-lane road. Mark makes a joke about Wile E. Coyote and an anvil and I laugh. As

 


 

we get closer we can see the bones and intestines pressed out between shreds of blood-matted grey fur. It’s not really the fierce animal I thought it would be, and that’s disconcerting. Both Mark and I stop joking. Maybe we’re both a little embarrassed at our flippancy.

In the noon heat the flies are ecstatic and buzzing all over it. We don’t know it yet, but the stench will stay with us for a long time on this trip. We poke around the side of the road.

Humanitarian aid is not a crime, but littering is, and besides trespassing, it’s often the argument against leaving water bottles in these areas. Also, water might just help drug mules get to their destination. This is true. The problem is that these couriers are often destitute themselves; the long journey by foot carrying marijuana on their backs is their hazardous and hard won ticket out. “We don’t judge the motivation,” the aid workers say. “We just want to prevent human suffering and death.” So they place water in the desert. Water for anyone who needs it. It doesn’t matter who the migrants are.

In January of 2018, the humanitarian organization, No More Deaths, posted a video on social media of Arizona border patrol agents slashing water bottles that had been placed in the desert. Mocking the videographer, they poured out the water gleefully on camera. A few hours after this film went viral, a man—Scott Warren, a professor at Arizona State University and a volunteer with No More Deaths—was

arrested for harboring migrants, a felony charge.

We’ll attend the court hearing this week. The defense will be filing a motion to gain access to evidence in this case—a request for the release of email records showing that this was a targeted arrest. We will be entering the courtroom, surrounded by 13 screens showing the Great Seal of the United States. The judge, after listening to both sides will ask the defense, without a hint of irony: “Where is it written that humanitarian aid is not a crime?”

Small tin or silver pendants bearing the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Guadalupe often accompany migrants on their journeys. The story goes that in 1531, near the village of Guadalupe, Mexico, the Virgin Mary appeared to an indigenous farmer named Juan Diego and asked him to build for her a house on a hill. He told the archbishop of this apparition and was not believed. So the Virgin Mary told the farmer to gather roses from the top of the hill to bring to the bishop. Although it was winter and roses were not in season, Juan Diego found them in bloom and collected the blossoms in his cloak, and when the roses tumbled out at the feet of the archbishop, a life sized brown-skinned image of the Virgin Mary was found on the inside of Jaun Diego’s cloak.

Mark and I find an unbelievable amount of junk along the strip of land between the road and the rusty fence. Stuff that seems unlikely to have been thrown 30 feet from a

 


 

 

moving vehicle. An incredible number of water bottles lie abandoned under creosote bushes, and I find a pair of cheap polyester pants. I’m tempted to check the pockets for a personal item, maybe a Guadalupe pendant or even a rosary, but I’m not enthusiastic about the prospect of discovering a scorpion or a spider in there. I read that as migrants reach the highway and catch the ride that their guide – or coyote – has arranged for them, they often discard all unnecessary belongings at the side of the road.

Protegernos, say the Guadalupe pendants. “Pray for us.”

“Look over here,” Mark says. He’s off to my right and is pointing to something on the ground. It’s glowing like a precious gem. It’s urine in a plastic bottle, glistening in the sun. The reality and desperation of this crossing is suddenly very evident, and Mark and I are silent.

Later, I send my son an image of the dead coyote on the road. He’s in Maine, and I promised to send him some odd photos from my trip.

“Oh. I thought a coyote would be bigger, like a wolf,” he texts me back.
 They are not so big, I explain. They are not much like wolves, more like dogs. They are strangely familiar.

THE DAHLIA

The dahlia is a particularly hardy genus of flower. Blooming well into October, when most flowers have succumbed to the cold here in Maine, the dahlia is unfazed by the cool autumn weather in the Northeast. I picked up a huge bunch at a stand just outside of town, and they look as enthusiastic as if it were a hot July day. The flowers of the forty-two species of dahlias can range from a two-inch tight pom-pom to a one-foot-wide dinner plate size. None of the blooms I bought were the same, and they were bunched together in Ball jars filled with water. I bought several bunches, so seduced was I by their variety and bright colors.

The dahlia is native to Mexico, and their tubers were originally cultivated as food and as medicine by the Aztecs, who called them “water pipe flowers,” but the practice faded after the Spanish conquest. The word pinnata, derived from the Latin word pinna, means “wing,” and the strong hollow stems can easily support even the largest of these feathery blooms.

In 1789, at the same time that Mexico’s neighbor to the north was instating its new constitution, the Director of the Botanical Garden in Mexico City sent this beautiful, native flower to Antonio Jose Cavanilles, the director of the Royal Gardens of Madrid. After some trial and error, Cavanilles was able to grow the flower consistently and successfully.

Cavanilles named the plant for Anders Dahl, a popular

 


 

Swedish naturalist whose work in hybridization had paved the way for the dahlia’s success throughout Europe as botanists, taxonomists, and growers sent documented and undocumented seeds to France, Holland, and Great Britain. Soon, there were more than 85 species, and it became more and more difficult to differentiate one from another. Eventually they would be classified by two color groups: Group I (ivory-magenta) or Group II (yellow-orange-scarlet).

There were dahlias for sale in Nogales, the mountain city split in two along Arizona’s border with Mexico. Mark and I had headed there from Tuscon in the early morning. We drove over the mountains of Route 82 and stopped to stare slack-jawed at an isolated parking area where hundreds of border patrol trucks were fenced in with barbed wire and surrounded by some of the most beautiful, desolate mountain landscape we had ever seen. By the time we dipped down into the outskirts of Nogales, it was 9:00 am and well into a bustling Wednesday morning.

Nogales used to be one city. In 1918, a Mexican civilian crossed back into Mexico after avoiding interrogation on the U.S. side and all hell broke loose, resulting in what is known as the Battle of Ambos Nogales. Fueled by anger on the Mexican side due to the killings of border crossers by the U.S. Army, there was a gunfight and even the Mayor was shot while he waved a white handkerchief tied to his cane. The

precise location of the official border at the time was vague at best, but in the aftermath of the battle the first permanent border fence was built down the middle of the city.

Today there is Nogales, Mexico, and Nogales, Arizona. The wall is huge, almost out of scale with a town that seems small and almost quaint.

Mark and I had been told of a good place to park our rental car on the U.S. side so that we could walk into Mexico. So distracted were we by the massive, red-rusted steel fence snaking its way right up against houses along the hillside off to our left, that by the time we got our bearings, we had been funneled through a one-way gate and were face-to-face with a smiling officer.

I buzzed down my window.

“Good morning, officer” I said, sheepishly. “Where am I supposed to park so I can walk over to the Mexican side?” I hoped I didn’t sound too idiotic. Mark was rolling his eyes.

“Señora, you are in Mexico. Bienvenidos!” He pointed me toward a parking spot just beyond the gate.

 


 

“Well, that was easy,” Mark said, climbing out of the car, stretching, and looking around for somewhere we could grab a quick breakfast amongst all the cheap store fronts. I was dumbfounded, and keenly aware of the fact that our vehicle was not actually insured in Mexico. On the wall in front of the car the Great Seal of Mexico, formed in steel and painted with bright colors, welcomed us.
 The Mexican seal features an eagle, its talons grasping a snake and a cactus. The imagery refers to the legend that the Aztecs would know where to build their city when they saw an eagle eating a snake at the top of a lake. The lake in the seal is represented by the Aztec symbol for water, atl tlachinolli, which really has a dual meaning that means war—water and scorched earth.

After a quick breakfast of huevos with chorizo consumed under the watchful eyes of a plastic Virgin of Guadalupe statue, we survived a friendly assault by the salesmen of the local souvenir shops and were back in the car and ready to head north. One mile and a U-turn later we were in a bumper-to-bumper line to return to the United States.

Window washers, toy and candy hawkers, newspaper salesmen, paraplegic beggars and flower sellers, strolled and cajoled among the cars inching their way toward the checkpoint. It took two hours. Mark got a large plastic Guadalupe statue.

“What a life,” I said to Mark. “Can you imagine having to do this every day?” One particularly scrappy kid was at our

window with a pile of local Mexican newspapers. Mark rolled down his window and bought two. After disappearing for a while the boy returned, opened the page of the newspaper to the sports section and wanted to discuss soccer with Mark, which they did at length.

An old man in a remote desert town some miles north of the border had told us about the migrants who regularly show up on his doorstep. They are invariably dehydrated and in need of urgent medical attention after the miles
and miles of walking. A simple blister can become a death sentence in the desert. Desert bandits—often Mexican nationals themselves—rob migrants of their last resources. Some are raped or killed—sometimes by the very coyotes they paid to protect them. Some travel alone, with little to lose. Many begin their walk outside of border towns just like Nogales.

The man up north had told us, “Once I had three visits in three months. Younger people. Really kind, polite people, not all these drug smugglers you hear about. People who have been abandoned by their coyotes and who were pretty much done. In those situations you don’t have very much time to decide what you’re going to do. Once I saw a girl along the side of the road, and I picked her up. I knew I could get in really big trouble. She looked like 
a little kid, like she was fourteen. Sometimes in your life you are met with a choice that is fairly black and white. For me, I know what is the right thing to do for me. I know I can go to jail for it, but it’s an

 


 

obvious choice. I know people who feel the same way as I do, who are doctors and nurses and who can help.”

He continued, “We all talk about the Mexico and the United States, but we don’t talk about the third nation.”

The third nation is the one right on the border, he said. The third nation is where the dirt and dust intermingles over the line in the sand and the birds fly across migrating north and south as they have always done. It’s where students cross to go to school, people go to shop, and to work. Where the people know each other and know they are the same. The third nation is the Other nation.

Mark and I returned to the United States side of the massive fence at Nogales without incident. The blond agent who interviewed us was friendly but firm, giving Mark an extra once-over on account of his darker, olive skin, before waving us through. The American flag and its bright colors waved at us cheerfully from the parking lot of a McDonalds as we 

drove north.

There’s an expression that was coined by Sigmund Freud in 1917, not that long before the Battle of Ambo Nogales: “The narcissism of small differences.” It’s a thesis which describes a pathology: the closer two communities or individuals are, the more they exaggerate the differences between them in order to retain their individuality. This happens in loving relationships, in consumer culture, in our relations with other nations, with those different than us. It happens at our borders, in regard to the other. If we see the other as part of ourselves, we feel we might lose our own identity.

In 1963, the Dahlia pinnata would be designated as the national flower of Mexico. It is a member of the family 
of Asteraceae plants, whose flowers look like one bloom with many petals. Asteraceae refers to its appearance of a star with surrounding rays. However, this type of flower does not have individual petals at all. They are actually made up of many, very small, separate flowers that appear as a singular beautiful bloom. It’s just an illusion, you see. They are all one.

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Mark Kelly and Anneli Skaar recently completed a collaborative project at the Arizona/Mexico border around the themes of passports, identity, and compassion. Mark Kelly is a multimedia, visual artist, and educator. Anneli Skaar is a painter, graphic designer, writer, and the Creative Director at the Farnsworth Art Museum.

Cluster: Kayser & Anselmi

Talley V. Kayser / Daniel Anselmi 

As a Kayaking Guide, I Always Describe Oyster Sex with Particular Care.
Shem Creek, South Carolina

Some fathers object to the mention of semen
in front of their offspring. Some mothers remark
that “the girl oysters have life much harder,” and we
who have vulvas nod sagely. A bro in pink glasses
once boomed, “it’s a clusterfuck, dude!” and I used
that same joke for all subsequent bros. But what blows

people’s minds isn’t how shellfish sex slicks the creeks
in late spring, or the wild odds that each thrashing larva
must face, or that some spawning females release fifty
million or more eggs per day––but the way oysters
change. Protandry, simultaneous hermaphrodites…
I explain. Middle schoolers who giggled at sperm

all clam up and avoid that one kid with their eyes––
or a red-cheeked man quickly intones, “God be praised!
His creation is wondrous!”––or maybe a grayed
pair of women share wide grins and laugh. Oh, so strange,
what goes on in this water we cross. Boys grow up
to be girls. Girls can also be boys. Never mind

that for seventeen million years oysters have thrived
through such changes––it’s slippery space. So I say:
“what amazing resilience.” I say, “great success
under pressure.” I marvel at oysters, who bear
hurricanes on rough shoulders, who shelter the weak
of the sea, whose strong stomachs cleanse impurities

from each last drop of marsh, every day. I call out
to my clients, and raise high my water. Together,
we toast Crassostrea virginica’s honor:
all praise to the oyster, robust clusterfucker,
both mother and father, essential.

 

©Daniel Anselmi, “Untitled (3-1).” Collage, 2017.

 

©Daniel Anselmi, “Untitled.” Collage, 2013.


 

 

 

©Daniel Anselmi, “Untitled (2B).” Collage, 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

©Daniel Anselmi, “Untitled.” Collage, 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

©Daniel Anselmi, “Untitled.” Collage, 2013.

 

Black Skimmers
Colonial Lake, June.

I.

Their art is called cut-water.

Wide-flung and tapered wings lilt in iambic rhythms.
Black and white, with surety and speed,
the wild birds trace the edges of the lake
as if they’re caged, trailing
ink-shaped shadows.

From low, unbroken flight
their sleek necks stretch. Red, blade-thin beaks
reach, slice their own reflections––each
bird carves its one white line, a single wake:
a lean, bright trail
a clean and perfect shape
that flares against the surface
and then fades.

 

II.

such beauty! in
these gentle
carousel flights
dipping as if to drink

(but the birds are not drinking)

the shallows tremble with ripples/and the wet light
shudders. half-sunk cups gape

open wonder. crumpled
wrappers hum, and lift
their crumbling offerings
in silver fists

(but the birds are not gods)

what then/of this/jittered rhythm/
what then/shall we make of this/strange flight

(watch the shallows)

and what shall we watch in the shallows

 

(the fishes that tilt their flat eyes toward the light
and seek it, as if summoned)

III.

The art is called cut-water. It recurs.

Again the skimmers pass––again, they bend
their necks to long, low kisses. Ripples sing.

Watch closely the wild silence of their wings.
Watch close the wounds they knife into the water.


This is no quiet art.

This art is hunger.


 

 

 

©Daniel Anselmi, “Untitled.” Collage, 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

©Daniel Anselmi, “Untitled (12-1).” Collage, 2016.

 

 

 

©Daniel Anselmi, “Untitled.” Collage, 2013.

 

 

©Daniel Anselmi, “Self Portrait.” Collage, 2018.

 

 

 

 

©Daniel Anselmi, “Untitled.” Collage, 2016.

 

 

Albatross Ekphrasis
after Chris Jordan

it is unlike me
to look at a bird
and think of myself

and not the bird.
but still I wonder
which bright bits
stab jagged

through my even
most silversoft lining. which
is the biggest bolus
drawing the eye

when
I am
opened

*

my little brother
is a doctor. my little
brothers cuts people open my
little brother cut open a person

cadaver corpse––for a
full year he teased it
into pieces. he says
they start you with

the back. the face
comes last. the face
is difficult. one morning
he gently lifted

a bright bow tie from
the neck of his
corpse. he walked the scrap
of plastic to the trash

then turned to his lab mates.
we’re not doing that
again. he says
they covered her

hands to hide the color
on her nails, which was like
someone’s mother’s.

*

the photographer’s hands
(bare) teased from the
dark bile of the bird that stuff

which cut and
lodged and
crowded but never
fed and therefore

killed. the photographer scrubbed
each bright piece clean
and lay it back against
the opened body

riddle: my father
is like unto or not
the photographer

*

much of my mother
has been removed

but lucky she
remitted. I made
the mistake of googling

tumor. I am no doctor but
they don’t appear to come
in a wide variety

of colors. my mother
is farm-raised and
well bred. also uneasy

and diseased. my mother
fed on food fresh
from the garden

which they sprayed
same as the cotton.

*

the birds swallowed
the bright bits on the sand, as they
have always done.

as they have always done,
they offered from the depths
of their bodies those same bits

and fed their children, so tell me
what I’ve swallowed. tell me
how it’s killing me. given the chance

I would prefer to slough in the dirt
without particular color––no pink
clinging to my nails, no strange red

bulge collecting in my breast, no evidence
of which stray memory choked
my growth or stunted flight,

which sadness I was fed
and ate. I would prefer
earth swarm what’s left:

an opened harmlessness,
soft, gnawable flesh
and clean, bright bits of bone.

 

 

 

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Talley V. Kayser has been an outdoor professional since 2007, and has worked as a naturalist and wilderness guide throughout the United States. During the academic year, she directs The Pennsylvania State University’s Adventure Literature Series, teaching courses that combine literary study and outdoor exploration.

Daniel Anselmi explores the use of paper as a dialogue between painting and collage. He creates painted paper as one would handle a brush to elicit brushstrokes on surfaces, creating opportunities to express color, line, and form. All works are Untitled, removing references that  interfere with or assist in viewer perception.

(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.

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.

Connections: Gaines and Cohen

Alison Gaines / Brian D. Cohen

Apology Ritual

The evening begins with the rain
clearing its throat: I’m sorry, I waited
as long as I could. Retreating
from every windowsill and bicycle spoke,
the lizards shy under leaves.
The wasps pause their nest
construction, carry it to an unpeopled
place, still sorry for what happened
last week on the porch. The palmettos
have whacked enough faces on the road,
and now lean away from it.
In the house, there’s you,
adding today’s infractions—
bicycle knocked over,
sharp pencil dropped,
thing said too loud
or too soon—to yesterday’s,
another layer under which
you will not sleep.

Nest, Etching 5″ x 5″, 2015 © Brian D. Cohen

Galaxy, Etching 5″ x 5″, 2014 © Brian D. Cohen


Nostalgia Moon, Relief Etching 5″ x 4″, 2010© Brian D. Cohen

Waved Albatross

They fish for weeks at sea, hardly moving
a wing, then stumble on land, risk breaking
a leg in touching down to the cliff. They lay
one pointy egg on the rocky, sinking island.
Coleridge hung on them the idea that they
must hang on us, a yoke, a new way to feel
sorry for ourselves. Eight feet in wingspan
but only a few pounds, one begins helpless,
a bundle of brown shag carpeting, left
for all those weeks of fishing. Then they fledge
and move from one era of solitude
to another, years before returning.
I envy those dark eyes and their long sight.
These birds are terrifying. They mate for life.


Gray Whale

When you will not see again
The whale calves trying the light …
            W.S. Merwin, “For a Coming Extinction”

To be born at the surface
drinking 53% milkfat

Held up by mother
on her belly or back

in case of orcas
or something else with teeth

To migrate up and down a coast
one’s whole life

close to the surface
where light ripples ancient skin

To sleep there. To give birth
every two years or so

year-long gestations
ending shallow and warm

To abstain from feeding
during migration

To feed by pushing along the floor
on one’s right side

making a cloud of sand
and spitting out the mud

How large, how slow
What to make

of the curve of the mouth
the expressionless eye

Ask their secret
They seem like creatures with secrets

They would probably tell us not to worry
not to feel bad

their medium being water, we think
not the future or last weekend

Whale, Etching 5″ x 5″, 2014© Brian D. Cohen

Ailing Moon, Relief Etching 6″ x 6″, 2011 © Brian D. Cohen

Snail, Etching 5″ x 5″, 2015 © Brian D. Cohen

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Alison Gaines studies poetry at the University of Florida. She is originally from Vancouver, Washington and has a BA from Knox College. She has attended the Sewanee Writers’ Conference as an MFA scholar, and written several textbooks for young readers. Her poems have appeared in Sweet Tree Review.

Brian D. Cohen is a printmaker, painter, writer, and educator. He founded Bridge Press, publisher of limited edition artist’s books and etchings, in 1989. Brian has exhibited in forty individual exhibitions and in over 200 group shows, and his work is held by private and public collections throughout the country.

 

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.

McAvoy: Shannon Rankin ~ Where the Dragons Lie

Suzette McAvoy


Shannon Rankin: Where the Dragons Lie

 

“It is not down on any map; true places never are.” ~ Heman Melville

Maps are flat; the earth is round. This essential conundrum has bedeviled mapmakers since Ptolemy. How to wrestle the complexities of the three-dimensional world to the two-dimensional mat of the map? Mercator gave a valiant try and his cylindrical projection has withstood the test of time despite vast distortions of landmasses at the poles because a line drawn on his map is a true direction. Charting a course, plotting a line, voyaging from point A to B, sailors traverse the world. Goods move, people travel, knowledge expands; the world grows larger, then contracts, at once vast and infinitesimal.

Where are we? How do we get there? Is there another way?

Questioning the existential to arrive at the concrete, confronting the abstract to embrace the dimensional, we map it out—in life as in art.

Shannon Rankin (b.1971) is an artist who uses the language of maps to explore the complexities and interconnections between the inner and outer worlds, between that which is known and that which remains beyond the field of knowledge, that mythical place on medieval maps where the dragons lie and cherubs blow the wind. The duality of our human capacity for imagination and reason, for creation and destruction, for being of nature and apart from it, is a rhumb line that courses through her work.

 


 

©Shannon Rankin, Synapse



Using maps as both material and metaphor, Rankin creates installations, collages and sculptures that play on the parallels and connections found among geological and biological processes, patterns in nature, geometry and anatomy. For instance, Synapse | Diptych, a relatively large two-part piece from 2011, presents a flat circle composed of a web of delicately cut-out red roadways connecting variously shaped bright yellow population centers, the whole sliced down the center to create symmetrically sized halves, the same yet different. The right half has a wide blue river snaking through it, the left has a pronounced branching highway. The title and the divided composition make apparent the analogy to the human nervous system and the cerebral hemispheres—the right and left-brain. Another more macro reading suggests a satellite image of the Earth at night, with the bright lights of city centers illuminated and connected by the electrical grid.


“Maps,” says Rankin, “are everyday metaphors that speak to the fragile and transitory state of our lives and our surroundings. Rivers shift their course, glaciers melt, volcanoes erupt; boundaries change both physically and politically. The only constant is change.”

Course, another work from 2011, takes the form of a meandering soft blue line created from cut and folded polar maps. Presented vertically on the wall, it flows circuitously downward, its accordion pleats compressing glacial time, slowing but not halting the implied melting.

A recent series of collages, Compression 1, 2 and 3, 2016, picks up a similar theme. All are made from reassembled nautical charts of the arctic, sharply cut, sometimes overdrawn in graphite, the multi-layered triangular forms shift under and over each other, referencing the process of the warming and cooling of the polar ice sheets. That they are somberly toned in shades of grey, white and black reinforces their elegiac quality.

©Shannon Rankin, Compression 1

©Shannon Rankin, Compression 3


©Shannon Rankin, Plate 1

©Shannon Rankin, Plate 2

Plate 1 and Plate 2, are two other recent works by Rankin that continue the theme of environmental harm. Plate 1 is made from ink and graphite on collaged ocean maps and is one of her most abstract and solemn works. A mere 7 x 7 inches, its impact is larger than its scale. The heavily wrinkled and abraded surface is entirely covered in graphite and black ink, producing a sheen and density akin to an oil slick, a mourning veil for a dying planet. Plate 2 is larger at 16 ¼ x 16 ¼ inches and the underlying geometric grid of the collaged map squares is visible beneath a deep sea-blue. The surface of work is a web of lines and texture, suggesting a net afloat in a turgid sea. Taken together, Plate 1 and Plate 2 are a powerful testament to the Earth’s fragility and its endurance. Can we rescue it from ourselves?

Time as a metaphor and a component of making is embedded in Rankin’s art. Her processes of creation and methods of installation are slow and meditative, involving careful painstaking cutting, the accumulation of many small repeated forms, and the meticulous pinning, stitching or pasting of pieces to form a whole. Sometimes an idea or method is revisited or is carried further in a series, but every work is unique and individual, every installation new to its time and place.


A comparison of Artifacts 1 and Artifacts 2, for example, is instructive for the changes that appear in the four-year interval between their makings. Artifacts, 2011, is made from water-soaked map fragments, torn and adhered to paper measuring 44 x 30 inches. Artifacts 2, 2015, is the same dimensions but presented horizontally. In this later work, the scattered shards of paper are undercoated by hot red orange acrylic, visible along their curled edges. The implications are clear, the world has turned a corner, the Earth is heating up, we are scattering our ashes.

Originally from California’s San Joaquin Valley, Rankin moved to Maine to attend the Maine College of Art in Portland, where she received a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degree in 1997. A stint working in graphic design in San Francisco, where the work was almost entirely computer based, led her back to Maine to take a job as a pattern cutter for a fashion designer so she could again work with her hands. It was this experience that gave rise to the cutting and sewing techniques that she uses in her art.

©Shannon Rankin, Artifacts 1

©Shannon Rankin, Artifacts 2 (detail)


©Shannon Rankin, Falls, 2010

©Shannon Rankin, detail Falls, 2010

“I intricately cut, score, wrinkle, layer, fold, paint and pin maps to produce revised versions that often become more like the terrains they represent,” she says. A case in point is Falls, 2010, an installation created for the Center for Maine Contemporary Art Biennial (which won the Juror’s Prize), composed of hundreds of thin strips of maps, all cut to identical size and pinned in small bunches to the wall, forming the shape of a gently curved isosceles triangle. Each bundled tuft of cut strips bends downward in a graceful pour, taken as a whole they suggest a waterfall. In presenting Rankin with the Biennial award, juror Dennis Pinette writes, “She constructs a convincing deeply playful logic based on a formal understanding of pattern and geometry. Beyond the formal, her instincts propel her art to that rare zone of originality were unique abstract language is clearly defined.”

Rankin now lives in Rangley, in western Maine’s lake district, surrounded by mountains. When asked recently by an interviewer, “Who is your role model or mentor (alive or dead)? She responded, “Does nature count?”


Lately Rankin has been consciously pushing herself to work outside her comfort zone, challenging herself to making art that is “nebulous, amorphous, ambiguous.” Since April 2016, she has been in Roswell, New Mexico, participating in the yearlong Roswell Artist-In-Residence Program. This “gift of time” has allowed her to take risks and experiment with new materials and methods of working, as well as to respond to a landscape vastly different than Maine.

“For a while now,” she says, “I have worked in a way that has been very controlled and precise. Often the compositions are based on underlying patterns or grids. That hasn’t changed for every series, but I am attempting to shake things up a bit more. Let go of some control. Explore chaos, the unplanned and mysterious.”

Earth Embroideries is a series she began before she left for New Mexico and has continued there, the work is becoming more abstract and more macro in viewpoint with each iteration.

©Shannon Rankin, Earth Embroidery (Drift)

©Shannon Rankin, Earth Embroidery (Glitch 1)


 

©Shannon Rankin, Unearthed 8

©Shannon Rankin, Unearthed 10

They are an obvious departure from her earlier work in that they are not created from the physical material of maps, instead she is distilling satellite views of the artic into minimal line drawings created in thread on paper. She says, “I’m transcribing a vast amount of physical space into something I can hold and stitch by hand. In some of these I am also incorporating digital glitches which are visible when zooming in on Google Earth.” In a very real sense, the Earth Embroideries are about mending the world.

Unearthed, is another new series Rankin is exploring in Roswell. Inspired by the soil, sediment, light and texture of the New Mexican landscape, these richly patterned works are composed of cut and collaged maps hand-colored in jewel tones, mossy greens, and earthy browns. The compositions are loosely rectangular shapes with open irregular edges; they are her most painterly works to date. “I’ve always had this fantasy of being a painter,” she says, “but I’ve never really loved using paint. Instead, I’m using topographic maps, ink and pigmented graphite.” Haunting in their abstract beauty, the Unearthed collages collectively sound a Greek chorus to our frayed yet lovely planet.


In her most recent work, Rankin moves beyond the known into uncharted territory. She has been experimenting with creating landscapes out of soil, casting them in plaster, then using them to create press molds for ceramic forms that resemble fossils, moonscapes, or the surface of other planetary bodies. “I’m trying to squeeze, combine, merge and overlap the macro and micro,” she says. “I’m always looking in and looking out.”

A map is not the size of the earth its describes. Scale must be determined, as well as which features to include and which to leave out. You can’t include every tree in the forest; generalizations have to be made. Artists are familiar with these considerations and choices. A work of art is not the thing it describes, but something other.

“To put a city in a book, to put the world on one sheet of paper—maps are the most condensed humanized spaces of all,” writes Robert Harbison in his book Eccentric Spaces. “…they make the landscape fit indoors, make us masters of sights we can’t see and spaces we can’t cover.” Likewise with art.

©Shannon Rankin, Unearthed 7

 

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Suzette McAvoy has served as director and chief curator of the Center for Maine Contemporary Art since September 2010. She previously served as chief curator of the Farnsworth Art Museum and has lectured and written extensively on the art and artists of Maine. McAvoy received a B.A. in Art History from Hobart & William Smith Colleges and an M.A. in Museum Studies from the Cooperstown Graduate Program. She lives in Belfast.

You can view more of Shannon Rankin’s work via her website.

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.