James Rebanks explains kittens and biscuits to me…

My friend Toni lent me James Rebanks’ book THE SHEPHERD’S LIFE:  Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape a few weeks ago, saying just “trust me, I think you’ll love it.”  I trust her, but wasn’t quite sure why she thought I’d love a book about shepherds, as I have never expressed any particular interest in them.  Not that I have antipathy towards them either–they just haven’t been on my radar.  The closest I come to shepherd contact is watching the Sheep Dog Demos at the Common Ground Fair each September.  Which, come to think of it, are pretty fun.

But Toni was right; I did love it.  And a huge part of the reason was that I began to understand, through Rebanks descriptions of being of the land, something about Mainers and their attitude towards “people from away” that I had never been able to really grok before.  When we moved here, quite a few people–seriously at least a dozen–recited to us this pithy observation about why we are not and never will be considered true Mainers:  “just because a cat has kittens in the oven don’t make ’em biscuits.”

Ayuh.  Can’t argue with that.  But doesn’t a love of a place, an appreciation of the way of life it allows, count for something?  Doesn’t the commitment to become of a place reveal a respect and love for something that the local was simply lucky enough to be born to?

Sure it does.  But, and this is what I finally get, it’s still not the same.  Rebanks is so deeply of his area in the Lakes District in England that he can see his efforts as a moment in a chain that goes back five thousand years.  Now, since Maine has only been settled by European-descended folks for a few hundred years, my neighbors can’t trace their way of life back quite that far.  But they can trace it pretty far.  One neighbor joked last week that he’s moved four times in his life–twice across the hall and twice across the driveway.  He lives on land that’s been in his family since the 1700s.  He knows the long view of this place.  And other neighbors do something akin to what Rebanks does–join the family business, which is a way of living in tandem with the physical world.  In the case of our town, that means fishing, not shepherding.  But their attention to season and water and weather, to the rhythm of hard work followed by harder work, is very much of a piece with what Rebanks describes.

We people from away may not all be as starry-eyed as the Wordsworth-reciting visitors to the Lake District.  But even if we aren’t, we aren’t “hefted” to the place by somatic memory, social memory, cultural memory.  We are only hefted to it by present appreciation and future hopes.  And that’s dandy, but it ain’t no biscuit.

 

Color(s) of the Year–so, well, yeah…..

So the Pantone colors of the year were announced–TWO of them.  Pink & Blue.  Or, to be more precise, Serenity and Rose Quartz.  Check ’em out:

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The Pantone folks explained that in this year during which gender fluidity has become a significant consideration, it made sense to emphasize these hues.  Plenty of others have pointed out that stereotypical baby colors might not be the most avant-garde way of thinking about this blurring of the gender binary.  I’ll settle for saying woohoo!  Not because of the trenchent critique, but because my predictions were so in the range.  To be sure, I was not exactly right–but my theory was.  Serenity is more subdued than the Peacock Blue I anticipated, but resides in the same area of the color wheel.  And Rose Quartz has more magenta in it than the porpoise I predicted, but the saturation and value are spot on.

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I think it’s great that Pantone is trying to enter the conversation about gender, even in this pastel way.  But equally fascinating is that when you apply *ahem* my theory, you can come up with a range on the color wheel from which you can draw tones that will likely fit whatever cultural conversation you’ve decided to enter.

“Only Connect”

We are driving through the New Mexican desert, occasionally spying a river valley of green to the left, though the rocks and sands to the right are invariably dry—dun, umber, ocher, tan. And as different as this landscape is from that of England, I find myself thinking about the Salisbury Plain, and about driving toward Stonehenge.

I am feeling the same tingle of anticipation that I felt when we made that drive a few years ago, feel alive with the sense that we’re about to behold something incredible. And since I’m not sure how far away it is, I stay alert, imagining it could be around each next curve or rise.

Rob and I have been quiet, each pursuing our own thoughts, for many minutes and miles. I’ve been trying to parse out the connections I am feeling between today’s foray and our visit to Stonehenge when Rob unexpectedly speaks, says “just like Salisbury.” Even after all these years, such moments of being in each other’s head can still startle. This one seems especially wonderful and quirky, for we are traveling toward the Plains of San Agustin to see the Very Large Array.

The VLA is a radio telescope. Comprised of 27 big (okay, very large) dish antennae, it is used to explore the galaxy. VLA antenna near railbed And while Jodi Foster used it in the movie Contact to find intelligent life in Vega, in real life SETI has only used it a couple times—in ’95 and ’96—with considerably less luck. Still, the VLA has enabled scientists to discover much, including important things about black holes and the heart of the Milky Way, as well as letting them observe lots of astronomical objects like quasars and pulsars.

On the summer and winter solstices, a significant set of the stones that comprise Stonehenge are aligned with the rising or setting sun—making it, too, an astronomical instrument of sorts (though its overall use remains a subject of some debate). Antenna puffing clouds

I think the real connection goes deeper. Both Stonehenge and the VLA are monumental efforts, technological feats that allow humans a glimpse that exceeds ordinary space-time. And that glimpse is one we yearn for, letting us make contact with something greater than ourselves. Or at least different than ourselves. No, scratch that effort at precision. I do mean greater—greater than our everyday selves, greater than a single self.

Our trip to the VLA was shoe-horned in between a visit to Santa Fe to celebrate the power of art with the fine folks at Radius Press and a visit to see Rob’s sister in Albuquerque. Both were lovely, human-scaled moments of connectedness, of locating ourselves in relation to others, via images and words and shared memories. But Stonehenge and the VLA are sacramental, outward signs that endure, odd, mammoth proof of our inner yearnings to find ourselves at home in the universe.

Pantone Colors of the Year

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Hello, my friends, here’s something I bet I’ve never told you. I’m obsessed with Pantone colors. I think it started when I learned to print color photographs and began to think about them in terms of the CMYK color system. Which, as it happens, was right around the same time that Pantone started announcing a Color of the Year. What I most love about that is that it’s a prediction, based on what’s trending, and based on what they expect will be the zeitgeist for the coming year. Obviously, they have a handle on what colors are trending, but the part that knocks me out is that they are also predicting the zeitgeist.

That’s a game I wanted in on. Sadly, the Pantone folks said no, as I am an industry outsider. But just because I can’t do it officially doesn’t mean I can’t do it. So here they are, my predictions for Pantone’s Color of the Year for 2016.  And if you think it’s jumping the gun, a “Christmas in July” kind of thing, you’d be right. Which is why I have two.  The one on the left is my pick if it turns out that 2016 is shaping up to be glum, and the one on the right is for if it looks like it’s going to be an auspicious year.

Before you say that no one would pick a color like Porpoise (the grayer tone above), just remember that in 2006, the color of the year was Sand Dollar, a similarly subdued shade.  More about why I think these might be likely selections is in an entry on the blog for Nautilus, one of my favorite new(-ish) blogs and magazine.  Check it out!

Sitting the Press

Woo-hoo, it’s finally almost here!  After, well, a BUNCH of years working in fits and starts and then some serious stretches, barbara bosworth and I have at last finished our awesome collaboration in the meadow.  Called THE MEADOW:  A REVERIE, it’ll be out in October of this year from Radius Books.  If by chance you’ve followed this blog for a while, you’ve seen mentions of it before–nights of fireflies, days of foraging, etc.  We had a grand time delving into this small, seemingly simple place.  But nothing’s simple.  And that’s a lesson learned many times in that meadow and in making the book.

NOT that i am complaining.  To the contrary, a huge huge shout out is due to David Chickey, one of the principles at Radius Books.  David took our decidedly un-simple collection of materials and fashioned them into an absolutely gorgeous book.  Barbara and I had the chance to sit the press in Verona, Italy, with David and another Radius author, and see how our pieces plus David’s design got put to paper.  It was fascinating.

myfirstpageAnd as is required, we signed off on each page before they printed the big batch of them–even my pages, which was kind of cool, since they didn’t require any color matching.  And why yes, that is a dopamine molecule on my very first signed page.

 

Walking Back in Time

In December, Rob and I joined 30 or so other folks on a week-long trip to the Galapagos Islands.  We went to several of the “younger islands,” bits of rock whose ages range from 0.7 million years old to 1.5 million.  Those dates reflect the length of time the island’s surface has been above the water line.  Most of the islands were formed by volcanoes, although at least one, Baltra, came to be due to geologic lift.

I came curious as to whether Darwin’s dangerous idea would be obvious still–whether one could get a sense of the forces that shape evolution, sense the power of environmental and ecological pressures to drive natural selection.  And you know what?  I think you can.  Granted, maybe not in a way that stands up to scientifically rigorous review–but you can definitely grok it.

Part of what I saw clearly was the way in which systems become more complex over time.  Or, to put it in the converse, how simple those systems are at the outset.

Here’re a few pictures from Bartolome, one of the youngest of the islands:

Galapagos Islands

If you google Bartolome Island, this is the kind of image you’ll see.  It’s taken from a viewing station pretty high up, and looks out onto a place where there’s vegetation at the edge of an old caldera.  If you come expecting more bursts of green scattered here and there, then the other 99% of the island will come as something of a shock.  Most of it looks like this:

Galapagos Islands

And this:

Galapagos Islands

That silvery scrub in the middle picture was the prevailing visible life on the island.  I think we saw one lava lizard.  No birds, no tortoises, no iguana, no feral anything.

Our tour guides said that the astronaut Buzz Aldrin had visited and described this landscape as the closest thing on earth that he’d seen to the moon.

For me, it’s the furthest back that I’ve walked in time.  It became so amazingly clear that this place, except at the water line, lacked a soil rich enough to support many sorts of plants, and therefore also many sorts of critters.  As you can see, there’s very little in the way of an ecosystem here.  And that’s not the case on all the islands.  Some are wildly diverse, as Darwin discovered.  For him, moving from one island to another allowed him to develop ideas about speciation.  For me, it became a chance to wander back and forth through time.

A Field Guide to Other People’s Trees 2.0

This post has been a long time coming!

Those who have known me as an exhibiting photographer may have seen some of the images in this book in various shows several years back. I began making them just over eight years ago (yeah, I couldn’t believe it either), and showed the first few, along with some vignettes, at AXIOM Gallery when it was still in Cambridge, MA in 2006 as part of a show called Art & Science: A Symbiosis.

After that, as the body of work grew, I showed it in both solo and group shows, and made a gorgeous folio of photos and the mini-lyrical essays.  The folio was a blast to make, but it is also very fancy (in an understated way, of course)–hand-made Japanese paper, tipped in c-prints, folio box with blind embossing, the whole shebang.  So lovely.  And so expensive.

When I started working at IDSVA, I didn’t have the time to put work out into galleries, and this project (and my photography in general) languished.  So as much as I loved that adventure, I am happy to have time for art again.  Along with starting a couple other projects from scratch, I decided to revisit this project, since it still beckoned.  I wanted to make an edition that could be sold for a reasonable price.

And, lo these many months later,  it’s about to hit the shelves. It has more photos, more writing, but the same premise and spirit as OPT 1.0 had.

Look how pretty it is:

Other People's Trees

And the insides are nice too.

Below is the flagrant self-promotion moment, with details about how to buy the book.  So, skip if you want, but I hope you don’t!

From me:  I’ll have many copies come January 2015, and would love to sign a copy for you or for you to give as a gift.

From your local bookstore:  keep those indies alive!  And if they don’t have it in stock, they can get it from the distributor.

From the publisher:  George F. Thompson has it on his website, and you can order it directly from him.

From the folks who are working out the kinks of drone delivery:  Always an option if one of the others doesn’t pan out.

Storms and “Super Storm”

We have power back.  And internet.  And cell service.  All of which took nearly a week down here at the end of the earth.  Though I am NOT complaining, as some friends still don’t have internet back.

Folks here are calling it a freak storm.  But I am having a hard time seeing it that way.  Over the last few years, we in the northeast have begun experiencing storms right around Halloween that are dangerous, disruptive, and costly.

In 2011, 3.2 million residences and businesses had power outages during the “Snowtober” storm.  Like this year’s storm, that one hit when trees still held their leaves–leading to not only outages, but massive tree damage.  And that weather wonder came on the heels of Hurricane Irene and a spate of tornadoes (yep, tornadoes) in Western Mass.

A year later, over a week-plus in late October 2012, Superstorm Sandy, the second costliest hurricane in US history–coming it at a whopping $65 Billion–hit the entire eastern seaboard, after causing devastation in the Caribbean.  Ten million power customers in the US had power interrupted.  Nearly two hundred people died due to weather-related events.

And a week before this Halloween (2014), a rainy northeaster hit New England, interrupting power to 44,000 households.  That, of course, was followed by the storm we just endured.

This surge of Halloween-time storm activity was worrying me this morning, which is why I began to write this post.  I am wondering what the conjunction of nor’easters coming earlier and hurricanes driving further north is likely to portend.  Now, though, I am past wondering and well into worrying, because I just got back from a reading by Kathryn Miles from her new book SUPER STORM.”  It’s about Sandy.  But really, it’s a look at all that went horribly wrong–not just the bad decisions that individuals made, but also the bad decisions that are due to systemic flaws and frailties.  Miles conveys in gripping detail what happened over nine days.  But as importantly, she makes clear the crippled technologies, the poor communication, the skewed perception of risk that all also contributed to the disastrous outcome.

During the Q&A, Miles emphasized that learning about how frail the weather infrastructure of the US is was one of the most disturbing parts of writing the book.  She wonders how we can make good decisions in the face of bad weather if we don’t have adequate data to predict just how bad it will be.

Great question.

Internettus-disruptus

We live on the grid, but in ways that emphasize self-sufficiency.  Or so I have fancied.  We grow a lot of food, have solar panels to supply most of our power needs, have a rain catchment system to gather water to for the gardens.  We can mend and fix and make from scratch.  And for a few years, I was an EMT, so I have at least a passing familiarity with what to do in a medical emergency.  All of which made me kind of cocky about my ability to live lightly, to take care of myself.

BUT BUT BUT I have come to doubt whether I really can do this.  Have, moreover, come to wonder how possible it is to be SELF-sufficient in contemporary culture.  For sure, you can live low and light, but I am not sure you can be of the culture–engaged in it broadly–and also be self-sufficient.  At least I can’t.

And rather than simply lapse into some kind of self-recrimination, this realization leads me to wonder about the notion of self-sufficiency now.  As I mentioned in a post a while back about Common Ground Fair, I don’t think of self-sufficiency as literally making homespun and such.  I think about it as having the skills to live well in the world.  And a surprising number of those skills now are about being digitally connected to others.

Here’s what I am stumbling toward.  We lost power for nearly a week after the snow storm on November 2nd.  And while it wasn’t great not to have it, the only thing we really emphatically, impatiently, frustratingly missed was the internet.  Candles and kerosene lamps gave us adequate, if not great, light.  The woodstove served us well.  We had plenty of food and a generator that ensured that we didn’t lose what was in the big freezer.  But without the internet, we couldn’t do our jobs.  And we missed having e-mail.  And the New York Times on-line.  And the ability to google;  it’s grown hard for me to write without being able to look up some little something for the next sentence.

And we are not even particularly connected.  Facebook-less, Twitter-novices, we don’t use the tools that most of our peers rely on.

Is self-sufficiency fundamentally different in its contours in a hyper-connected world?  Is it even possible?  And if it is, what does it look like now?

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