A dream for our future

I've shared a dream that I had waking up on New Year's Day this year with some of my closest friends. It has stuck with me for more half of this year, and it feels just as relevant on Independence Day as it did earlier this year, so I figure that I should share it with you, too. This set the tone for my year, and I want to keep it with me for as long as I can.

In my dream, I was driving around Minneapolis. There was garbage throughout the streets. Street signs were toppled, and buildings were crumbling. As I drove, I started to pass under a large sign - like something that hung over a divided highway - but the sign started to fall. I backed up the car as fast as I could to not get crushed. Chaos seemed to be everywhere.

In the car, I was listening to NPR. (Of course.) And, it sounded like the president had been convicted of some wrong-doing. I couldn't tell exactly what had happened, but the way that the reporter was talking about the president made it clear that things had changed. Maybe impeachment processes were underway. Maybe they'd already happened. In the dream, I breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe our country wasn't all crazy, after all. 

I kept driving until I came to a park. This park was a giant amphitheater, but, like the rest of the city, it was covered in mangled metal, garbage, and pieces of buildings and signs. It was a mess. I couldn't drive any further since the road was completely blocked. I got out of the car and started walking through the lowest part of this giant dump of a valley. But as I did, I realized that people were sitting in the grass up the sides of the park, peppered between the piles garbage and rebar. 

People were just sitting and talking with one another. They were eating lunch and having conversations. I realized that it was actually the people that were pulling the town apart. They were tearing it down so that they could build it back up - together. 

I woke up from this dream on New Year's Day and thought, "We need to get to work!"

This dream might be a metaphor and a signal that this is the best time to make change happen in the world around us. For better or worse, the Trump administration has taught us that our government is pliable and not set in stone. We can make of it what we want. There are no more rules or status quo to prevent us from making the change we want to see for this country. 

If you could tear any part of this country down and rebuild it in a new way, what would it be? Let's do that. 

The things I learn from spending time outside...

For the last 2+ years (maybe more?), we’ve been planning to take out these three bushes behind the house and replace them with raised-bed gardens. Actually, I’ve been cutting them down as close to the ground as possible for that long. They grow like weeds, so I wanted to catch them this year before they had a chance to get even bigger later into the spring.

 Ugly root balls of two out of the three bushes dug out of our backyard.

Ugly root balls of two out of the three bushes dug out of our backyard.

So, today we drove over to Beisswenger’s to buy a mattock to help chop the roots of these pesky bushes in order to get them out - and pick up some other birding/spring backyard needs at the same time. Unfortunately, they didn’t have exactly the tool we wanted (although we bought a ridiculous amount of bird things and ran into a dear friend). When we got home, though, I thought to myself: "I’ve been wanting to take these out for years, I should just see how hard it would be to dig around them." So, I grabbed a shovel and consciously thought to myself that it didn’t matter to me if I finished the project today or just tested to see what it would take. They were already super ugly and budding out with leaves, it didn’t matter if they were also showing their root balls and half-assed dug up. 

I stepped on the shovel pointing into the dirt next to the plant, and it sunk down snapping roots easily as it went. I dug all the way around the first plant, and to my surprise, I was able to simply lift off the pieces of plant - most of those pieces were dead after years of extreme trimming. I had dug all three out in the time-span of about 15 minutes. No mattock necessary.

Why had I not done this years ago? Why hadn’t I even tried? After all, I’ve had the parts to build the raised-beds for probably two years as well, if not more. I expected it to be difficult.

I got to thinking, what other things would be easier than anticipated if we just tried? What other things just need to start? Don’t get me wrong, I know that not all things we dread turn out to be simpler than we plan. But, have you ever had this experience? Have you ever pushed something off for longer than you should just because you expected it to be difficult?

Artists' Role in Environmental Activism

As I sat down to write this, I scrolled through facebook to get a general snapshot of how my friends were feeling, and I saw articles posted with headlines stating that our president has allowed elephant trophy imports and mining waste to be dumped in our waterways. Every time we look at the news or social media, we see outrageous things -- signs of war, political buffoonery, environmental catastrophe, social inequity. The news paints a fragmented picture of us. The weight of just hearing about any one of these issues and finding ways to stand up for what we believe is right is immense. It can feel paralyzing even if we don't think we are directly involved in these issues. But, in fact, we are all connected.

Perhaps one of the most abstract issues - climate change - is also one of the most pressing issues of our time. Changes in our natural environment threaten not only the health and safety of every species living on the planet, climate change also threatens to tear apart the fibers of our communities. Even though human involvement in our warming climate has been suspected since as early as the 19th century, why has it been so hard to take steps to mitigate the damage we cause, and what can we do about it now?

For centuries, art has functioned as a release from everyday life. It distracts us, takes us to magical places, helps us feel connected with one another. Art gives us hope. But it is more than just that. 

The arts play a powerful role in raising awareness about issues. 

In Richard Heinberg's opinion article titled "As Climate Chages We Need the Arts More Than Ever" published on Ensia last month, he says that "As we move closer to what surely will be unprecedented ecological, economic and social disruption, meaningful art can and must express the turmoil we encounter and help us process it intellectually and emotionally."

He says, " Everything will be up for negotiation, redesign and change. And artists will have the opportunity and duty to translate the resulting tumultuous human experience into words, images, and music that help people not just to understand these events mentally, but also to come to grips with them viscerally... Art can help us cope with the implications of our collective challenges. It can help prepare society for a possibly traumatic future. It can give voice to suffering and loss, helping people deal with life’s inevitable stress. And it can also offer beauty, which can be especially important in hard times."

But art is more than a coping mechanism or an escape. Although I thoroughly believe in the capacity for art to serve as a method of individual and collective healing, art can also help us reach deeper understanding of environmental issues through different and multidisciplinary approaches. 

Art has the power to catalyze powerful movements.

The Earth Issue vol 1, editor Elena Cremona states that, "As a catalyst for change, art should not be ignored or underestimated." Through their craft, artists advance environmental awareness, comprehension, and change.

Since the late 1900s, artists have documented the natural beauty across this country, most significantly in our National Parks. As examples, the Hudson River School painters and Ansel Adams captured images of landscapes that have been used in conservation efforts, showing through photographs and paint the importance of preserving the last remaining wilderness. We can now compare these images with the current landscape, extending a viewpoint longer than our own lives. The award-winning documentary Chasing Ice chronicles photographer James Balog's quest to capture time-lapse images of the world's glaciers and ice sheets. Artists like these help to document ecological changes and relay them in ways that are beautiful, stirring, and troubling. Seeing changes through their eyes raises our own environmental awareness.

Other artists educate us in ways that reach us at the core of our understanding. Artist Zaria Forman creates monumental-sized drawings of glaciers from photographs that she has captured during various polar expeditions. By the time each drawing is complete, the glacier has either changed beyond recognition or has completely disappeared altogether. In a different work about ice, for the art installation of Ice Watch Paris, Olafur Eliasson and Minik Rosing installed 12 blocks of ice from glaciers, which melted away in a public square during the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in 2015. The public could directly interact with the ice, and was faced with its ultimate demise of melting away. These kind of works give us a deeper understanding than what is possible for scientific data alone. 

Yet, other artists ask us to reflect on our actions and make change. For his 2017 exhibition at the Minnesota Museum of American Art, David Hamlow's Mirror Stage confronts us with our own massive consumption, highlighting our personal contribution of waste within the larger issue of climate change. Agnes Denes makes us think about natural environmental cycles and stewardship of land with her groundbreaking environmental work, Wheatfield: A Confrontation (1982). Over the course of six months, a wheat field was planted in downtown Manhattan. The work produced 1,000 lbs of wheat, which was toured worldwide and eventually planted in locations around the globe. 

There is no question that works of art offer beauty, connection, and a way for us to process emotions. In addition, however, artists working with environmental issues have the opportunity to make a larger impact. It is up to all of us to create the world we want to live in, and artists and creative thinkers are best poised to design and re-design what that means. Now, perhaps more than ever, we live in a world that needs artists, creativity, and imagination in tandem with environmental and social activism. Let’s do this, together.

LIGHT at Wally Workman Gallery

Earlier this month I ventured down to Austin, TX to check out the opening of the group show LIGHT at Wally Workman Gallery. The exhibition will be up through December 23 if you're in the area. Otherwise, you can check out a virtual tour of the show, here

To learn more about Wally Workman Gallery and the breadth of their impressive and accomplished artists, check out http://www.wallyworkmangallery.com

Wally Workman Gallery is located at 1202 West 6th Street, Austin, TX, 78703. 

Natural history of the backyard foxes

It turns out that the best feature of our backyard is not the vegetable garden or the array of bird feeders. It is a hole.

A couple of years ago, we removed a dying ash tree from the center of our yard. Its roots must have been rotting away in some places, creating a small sinkhole just big enough to twist your ankle.

Summer before last (or, maybe two years ago) bumblebees nester there, creating endless entertainment watching the bumbling around pollinating our wildflowers and flying in figure-8 patterns in and out of their nest. 

After they moved out, moles or voles moved in. Sometimes at night, we hear desperate squeaking noises. Which, up until this morning, I usually assumed that these noises are made in response to the prowlings of our neighborhood cats. Now I'm wondering if these foxes have been coming around more frequently! 

Last time we saw them was maybe 7-8 years ago. Sorry, tiny burrowing mammals, but I can't wait to see what other life this hole brings to our yard. 

Taking time to look

Originally published October 1, 2017

I thought I was so badass yesterday on my hike. The miles were flying by, and I felt like I was keeping a good pace. I'm trying to get in shape for some epic hikes in the Arctic next year. But, clearly, the best things only happen when we're paying attention. 

On one of the trails closest to the water, I almost stepped on a baby snapping turtle because I was trying to fly through this walk as quickly as possible. So, of course, I stopped and checked out these new little friends - I saw at least four of them on the grassy path, some still with their egg tooth.

I realized as I watched them climbing over the grass that I so easily have my blinders on to things in the world around me. I stopped and watched them for a while and slowed my pace. The way back seemed almost magical. The setting sun, deer jumping from the path, a band of coyotes yelping. What else do we see when we take the time to look?

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Superior hiking dreams

Originally published September 15, 2017

I spent a couple of days taking day hikes and exploring the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) along the northern-most part of the Minnesota Arrowhead.

The SHT is nearly 325 miles of footpath along the ridgeline overlooking Lake Superior on Minnesota's North Shore. Modeled after the Appalachian Trail, the SHT initially opened in 1987 with continuous expansion during the 90's and 2000's. And the final section from Jay Cooke State Park to the Minnesota/Wisconsin border was built between 2014-2017. Now, the SHT is continuous from the Minnesota/Wisconsin border to just short of the Canadian border. 

What an incredible dream to do the whole thing. I can't wait to come back.