To know the spirit of a place is to realize that you are a part of a part and the whole is made of parts, each of which is whole. You start with the part you are whole in. ~ Gary Snyder
It’s one of those quotes that, upon initial reading, appears straightforward enough. It’s written on the whiteboard next to the door of my apartment at the HJA residency. Today is day one of my residency in the forest. When I arrived, everything seemed straightforward enough. Then Fred came.
This residency is Fred’s making. Scientist by trade, arts coordinator by passion, at least as far as I can tell. He has been bringing writers here for about a decade. In fact, poet Gary Snyder is on the calendar for my very same apartment, scheduled to arrive a few days after I leave. I am only the second visual artist to do a residency here.
The spirit of this place is too big to grasp in one outing. Pockets here and there in the woods hold evidence of long-term experiments. The experimental aspect of the forest is designed for scientific research to span 200 years of ecological probing. A trail will lead into the trees and bring you to an area of ground carefully blanketed in a fine black mesh screen carefully fit around each tree, or a series of tubes like grave markers on a plot of moss covered soil. All of a sudden you arrive at what looks like an incomprehensible on-site piece of installation art, long since forgotten. But it wasn’t put there by any artist, but by scientists.
Fred showed me research site after research site, all filled with curious and magnificent bits of scientific instrumentation, some as crude as PVC piping shoved into the ground, some as elaborate as rows of fiber optic cable strung at various height over a small stream that can measure the air temperature to such a high level of precision precision to create maps of the temperature changes as the air moves down the channel.
The part that I am whole in. What part is that? Am I whole anywhere? Whole in? What? The more times that I read the Gary Snyder quote by the door, the more enigmatic ‘whole in’ becomes. In elementary school I learned that you should never end a sentence in a preposition. But if it were a clearer, more ‘proper’ statement, I don’t think it would have as much resonance. That is why Gary Snyder is a poet.
Day one and my head is too full of information that I can barely comprehend. After Fred left, I did what made the most sense to me. As always, I headed to the creek, camera in hand. However, it’s the wood in the creek rather than the water that caught my attention. In the wood appeared drawings everywhere. They weren’t made by anyone, but instead by some sort of collaboration with insects, wood and water. And they were marvelous. And for a moment, there was the part that I was whole in. Even if it was only for a fleeting moment, it’s a place to start.