Responses to the essay Poetry-Science Gratitude Duet by Alison Hawthorne Deming and Frederick J. Swanson


Part 4: Responses to the essay Poetry-Science Gratitude Duet by Alison Hawthorne Deming and Frederick J. Swanson

Tim at Lookout Creek on the Winter Solstice
Lookout Creek on the Winter Solstice

I don’t have faith in many things at the moment. This year, so far, has been one of those years to shake most of it out of me.

However, I do have faith in one thing. It has never failed me, not even once. I trust that the world is beautiful (although I still haven’t been able to figure out why it is so). My artwork depends on it. Otherwise, how could I make the type of paintings that I do?

When an idea comes to me, it is typically one that will take years to carry out to the end. It is also one that I can’t see until I finish the paintings. It takes full commitment to the idea from the beginning, and there is no room for wavering or waffling. A series would be disjointed if I am not consistent with it the entire way through.

Each project begins with a simple question. The question stands on the assumption that the world is beautiful, that even the days that we would all agree are not ‘beautiful’ days in the way that we typically throw that judgment around to classify the weather, are indeed, still beautiful. I rely on beauty to draw people into my paintings, to make them want to stay with them, to find out more about them. The Solstice/Equinoxes project began with: What patterns of color and light are created throughout the day from sunrise to sunset at Watershed 2? I am especially interested in seeing the patterns that our senses are not equipped to detect.

Camera at WS 2 Site

Watershed 2 on the Winter Solstice

The first day that I went to Watershed 2 to take reference photos for the Solstices/Equinoxes project, it was the winter solstice. It was not a ‘beautiful’ day. In fact, it was a day that tested my will to get out of my warm bed in the morning, let alone sit out in it from before sunrise to sunset. It was a cold, dark day. It rained relentlessly. And, to make it worse, I had brought an old pair of rain pants that no longer kept me dry.

But I stayed out there because I trusted that the paintings that I would eventually make from the colors captured on that day would have a subtle beauty to them. I haven’t yet proven that hypothesis since I started to paint them only two days ago.

I confess that I started with the spring equinox. It was an easier way to begin because of the range of rosy reds, corals, greens and yellows that I knew I would be working with. Brown sediment hadn’t had the opportunity to settle and cover the colorful array of river rocks. There had been some sun that day, so there would be times when the colors would be vivid. There could be no doubt that the paintings would be beautiful.

Leah In the Rain
Leah Adjusting the Camera at Watershed 2 on the Winter Solstice

Winter, on the other hand, was dark. There would be no patches of sun to create reflections of the green landscape on the water. The rain never let up. And with it, the little creek rose through the day, and with it the water became more turbid until it reached an opaque brown. My white rock that I use to see the water clarity completely disappeared by the late afternoon. It took a hard faith in the landscape to believe that anything I captured that day could create beauty.

The faith extends beyond just the landscape, but also incorporates the passage of time. I have faith that the cyclical nature of the days and seasons will bring out a beauty that we have a hard time perceiving because it happens so slowly. Another reason why we can’t see all that is happening is because our eyes, with our dilating and contracting pupils, optimize the light for us so that we can detect objects and movements in the environment better. With our eyes tuned in to objects, we lose out on being able to sense the full range of light and color changes. Luckily, we live in an age of digital magic. I can use a camera, in all of its objective wonder, to maintain a consistent aperture in a way that my eyes are not able to do. By doing that, I can at least calculate an absolute value of light. And with a card to adjust white balance, I can bring out the way that the light warms and cools throughout the day to affect the colors in the landscape.

I will see in a few months if I was correct to have faith in the beauty of the winter solstice storm. Awaiting me are other surprises, for in summer and fall, the sediment covered all of the multi-colored rocks of the creek bed with a brown sludge. Intellectually it is hard to believe that brown sludge will create beauty. But, faith is not a thing of the intellect. There is something in me that always delights in proving my mind wrong. I have faith that will be the case, but we will have to wait until this winter to see if it is so.

Part 4

Responses to the essay Poetry-Science Gratitude Duet by Alison Hawthorne Deming and Frederick J. Swanson in Forest Under Story Edited by Nathaniel Brodie, Charles Goodrich and Frederick J. Swanson

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