Sunday, March 25, 2018


We begin here, in the dark of night, on the eve of spring. 


I will be at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve, once, twice, sometimes three times monthly for the year to contemplate how art can address the ecological problems we face, how and why nature functions in art, and riskily, question the role played by science and research in shaping both our view of nature and nature, itself. Time will be spent with researchers and their projects, to ask questions, document their work, give insight when possible, explore, and witness this unique environment contextualized by ecological science and the people who practice it. This unusual opportunity and challenge to picture the creation of knowledge, to give image to what is ordinarily conceived of as "data," to process what is years, or decades, in the making in a sixtieth of a second is quite a thrill.

As much as I wanted to present an image of ecology science in action, of nature preserved, or in need of help, what have I but an image of the depths of night lit by past science applied to commercial technology in high pressure sodium red and metal halide green.

Waking for the first time in a structure designed by architecture students for the 2009 Solar Decathalon, in an old field turned prairie, in a place nine square miles in size, snow falling lightly, it is the sun, a faint and hazy circle barely visible above the oak trees, that allows any orientation. The kitchen window, I now see, faces directly east on this vernal equinox and the long wall of windows, faces to the south, as does the solar roofline of this Cedar Creek home.

Snow still on the ground, still falling, the echoes of Sandhill Cranes above the low clouds emerge like prehistoric bugling, a trumpeting of arrival easily heard from over two miles away. Spring doesn't announce itself in this moment, but arrives as an extended passage of a multitude of individual actions and reactions that collectively pronounce spring in the mind and body of humanity.

The whispers of spring were colored by children in bright jackets and knit hats. There were adults, too, but enthusiasm among adults is often restrained in comparison to kids who engage the world with fresh eyes and quick fingers.

In what resembles a partial scene from early Netherlandish painting, kids and adults are pointed toward oak leaves and given the language to identify the trait of clinginess found in some deciduous species -marcescence. This connection to the painting of Northern Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries may not be as superficial as it appears. The refinement of the lens, its use in art and science, the growing secularism of images in response to the iconoclasm of the Reformation era, and the growth of landscape as a genre of art have influenced an image like this.

Jan van Eyck, 1432, detail of his Ghent Alterpiece. The compression created by longer focal length camera lenses mirrors the symbolic compression of space in painting. The squinting and devotional gazing resonates with the expressions of children in attention to oak leaves.

Jan van Eyck, 1434, detail of The Arnolfini Wedding. The blending of symbolic and visible detail, the marriage of secular and sacred, and emergence of the earthly and supernatural qualities in art. While we tend to get wrapped up in the transfiguration of form through painting, in this digital, mechanical age, can we not also find transfiguration in the photographic? Note the convex mirror in the background. It resembles a lens, suggests an eye, and adds a level of intellectual complexity not yet seen in portraiture. All pictures in this post can be clicked for a larger view. Alternatively, click the link for a much larger view of these paintings.

The glacial lake deposit of sand known as the Anoka Sand Plain is the foundation of a unique environment that contains 30% of Minnesota's threatened species despite having only 2% of its land area. Cedar Creek's boundaries lay within the sand plain limits and has had much of its nine square miles preserved for decades. European settlers established farming in the area, although prior to modern agricultural technology, the poor soil (sand) limited productivity. Twentieth century oil-based fertilization advanced agriculture in the region, but much like agriculture near cities elsewhere, it is slowly being displaced by housing and commercial development. In many ways the place reminds me of my sandy roots, another glacial deposit with oaks and displaced agriculture called Long Island, NY.

Naturalist Megan explaining that ants have created a prairie micro-environment that is warmer, more fertile, and diverse than the snow covered surroundings. The recognition of ecological relationships within this fairly limited biota appear to be accessible. Can insight gained from study of this phenomena scale up to the entire earth? Are we the ants of planet anthill? Questions like these make room for the sacred and supernatural in divining our relationship with this world. Presumably we wish to inhabit it with greater sensitivity to the well being of the whole. If not, we can always look toward the art of Hieronymus Bosch for guidance.

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  1. I looked up some pictures of the solar house. It looks cozy! Does the floor heat work well?

  2. Yes it does! At least at 15°


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