Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Lonesome Retreat vs. a Frenzy of Adaptation

In winter when soils and bog waters are frozen there is a creek I walk just about due westward, out of hearing range of most anything human except the odd gunshot or a plane, high up. I'm on the ice or on erratic marginal land petering into islets sometimes just big enough to support one of my feet, with little bog plants bearing leathery reddish leaves all between my strides, which are slow and ponderous in case I start to hear a sheet of ice cracking. Also I'm listening, since I want to see the most secretive, other warm-blooded creatures that venture through our spruce bogs. On each side stand the tree citizens of the bog, old black spruces and tamaracks maybe as tall as a store building on the edge of town. They take a long time to grow in the acid-rich watery soil, which in certain spots is a living upholstery that bobs on top of water if stepped on.

A boreal chickadee, more predictably found at one of the feeders in prior winters, would be welcome if I could hear any chickadees at all, but this time hardly a chickadee throughout the afternoon, and no wheezy boreal chickadee voice this whole winter long. They're shyer than the every-day black-capped chickadees, much more selective of their habitat, and--could it be--learning to stay away from ourselves, the bipeds that talk and lift binoculars at them. Yesterday I noted only the chet-chet of white-winged crossbills calling from one to another high up somewhere where there must have been cones on firs or spruces.

It's become significant to me how much oftener, if it happens at all, I see my wild four-legged kin from the road where I'm driving than I do anywhere I happen to be walking. Or if I meet a big mammal from a trail I'm walking or skiing it goes by in a flash, like the cougar silhouetted off to my right in post-sunset forest by a river, or some low brown animal or other deep in grass ahead of me on a fishing afternoon. Cars quietly coursing a county road or driveway seem to be more trusted since the other creatures know them not to swivel around suddenly or leave the road but to keep their bearings, though risk is intensified if a car stops at any point. What wild animals make of ATVs probably fits parameters of its own including the particulars of terrain.

In any case rare creature-sightings come as surprises in places to any degree wild or worked through our own industry, like bird rarities dropping in on suburban lakes or farmers' mud flats. In the Anthropocene Era, the geological time period that mass human activity is said to have launched beginning with the atomic bomb in the mid 20th century, every shy outnumbered animal a person sees can be thought of as having some human influence brought upon what it breathes or circulates through its tissues, or where its travels have taken it. But if it lives, rejuvenates itself, bears offspring and shows itself off to respectful gawkers that it halfway accepts, it's made some adaptation to our ever-growing takeover of earth, so far. For those of us excited by novelty and resilience in the animal kingdom, hope endures.

                            Mixed-media pencil-watercolor: Pecking Order in the Collapse of Seasons

Right about now, worldwide, leading people are crazed by the opposition of one imaginary vision--impossible endless growth and monetary enrichment--to the need of limits so that diverse peoples and other creatures that we know and don't know can hold on, in their life cycles replenishing what humans in their mega-dreaming have continued to sap--all kinds of natural resources. We're in the gravest of danger from wars that beget other wars that successively undercut what we all need to sustain us. The struggle seems inexorable, since too many business-immersed people making up corporations know nothing but the mandate of growth; there can only be a crescendo and a collapse. All kinds of living things, meantime, are moving to where fear or new atmospheric conditions sweep them. We have exotic plants and animals, and we have extinctions where these things were stranded in the only homes they knew.

Only a cancer grows until it kills its hosting organism, in this example the mother Earth.

The mixed-media art piece shown above, Pecking Order in the Collapse of Seasons, was drawn from an initial scene in grittiest downtown Duluth, Minnesota where imported, naturalized bird species like the English sparrows and the Eurasian tree sparrow shown on the wall commingle in the breezes, in the wake of confused, abbreviated seasonal phenomena, with stray plants that will grow in the poor soil at the footings of a parking lot, or out of cracks, plants whose seeds were borne from nearby beaches or abandoned farms or gardens way inland. Sorrow yet wonderment at all kinds of transitions out across the natural world amid the chill of this past winter attended this work in a corner of my new home, which I think I get to keep for a while. Dried clippings of last year's weedy fruit and flowers served as my models. The piece is 12 x 9 inches or 30.2 x 22.7 cm. unmatted, and is painted in watercolor and pencil on cold-press 140 lb.watercolor paper.