Tag Archives: nature

Life After Humans

Picture a world from which we all suddenly vanished. Tomorrow.

Look around you at today’s world. Your house, your city, the surrounding land, the pavement underneath, and the soil hidden below that. Leave it all in place, but extract the human beings. Wipe us out, and see what’s left. How would the rest of nature respond if it were suddenly relieved of the relentless pressures we heap on it and our fellow companions in creation?

How long would it take to recover lost ground and restore Eden to the way it must have gleamed the day before Adam, appeared?

On the day after humans disappear, nature takes over and immediately begins cleaning house.

In just decades, with no new chlorine and bromine leaking skyward, the ozone layer would replenish and ultraviolet levels subside.

Within a few centuries, as most of our excess industrial CO2 dissipated, the atmosphere and shallows would cool. Heavy metals and toxins would dilute and gradually flush from the system. After PCBs and plastic fibres recycled a few thousand or million times, anything truly intractable would end up buried, to one day be metamorphosed or subsumed into the planet’s mantle.

Long before that – in far less time than it took us to run out of cod and passenger pigeons – every dam on Earth would silt up and spill over. Rivers would again carry nutrients to the sea, where most life would still be, as it was long before we vertebrates first crawled onto these shores. Our world would start over.

Excerpted from The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman, Virgin Books

Full story at Independent UK

Aftermath from National Geographic.

Timeline from National Geographic production, Aftermath.

K-9′s, Bullet and Glory, star in Aftermath.

Watch video excerpts from Life After People at History.com

Thinking Like A Mountain

Thinking Like A MountainAldo Leopold (1887 – 1948) was an American ecologist, forester and environmentalist. He was influential in the development of modern environmental ethics and in the movement for wilderness preservation. He has been called an American prophet, the father of wildlife management, and one of most strongest advocates for conservation.

Thinking Like a Mountain , by Susan Flader, professor of environmental history and policy at the University of Missouri, was the first of a handful of efforts to capture the work and thought of America’s most significant environmental thinker, Aldo Leopold. This account of Leopold’s philosophical journey makes brings much-deserved attention to the continuing influence and importance of Leopold today.

Thinking Like a Mountain unfolds with Flader’s close analysis of Leopold’s essay of the same title, which explores issues of predation by studying the interrelationships between deer, wolves, and forests. Flader shows how his approach to wildlife management and species preservation evolved from his experiences restoring the deer population in the Southwestern United States, his study of the German system of forest and wildlife management, and his efforts to combat the overpopulation of deer in Wisconsin. His own intellectual development parallels the formation of the conservation movement, reflecting his struggle to understand the relationship between the land and its human and animal inhabitants.

Drawing from the entire corpus of Leopold’s works, including published and unpublished writing, correspondence, field notes, and journals, Flader places Leopold in his historical context. In addition, a biographical sketch draws on personal interviews with family, friends, and colleagues to illuminate his many roles as scientist, philosopher, citizen, policy maker, and teacher. Flader’s insight and profound appreciation of the issues make Thinking Like a Mountain a standard source for readers interested in Leopold scholarship and the development of ecology and conservation in the twentieth century.

“My own conviction on this score dates from the day I saw a wolf die. We were eating lunch on a high rimrock, at the foot of which a turbulent river elbowed its way. We saw what we thought was a doe fording the torrent, her breast awash in white water. When she climbed the bank toward us and shook out her tail, we realized our error: it was a wolf. A half-dozen others, evidently grown pups, sprang from the willows and all joined in a welcoming melee of wagging tails and playful maulings. What was literally a pile of wolves writhed and tumbled in the center of an open flat at the foot of our rimrock.

In those days we had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf. In a second we were pumping lead into the pack, but with more excitement than accuracy: how to aim a steep downhill shot is always confusing. When our rifles were empty, the old wolf was down, and a pup was dragging a leg into impassable slide-rocks.

We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.

Since then I have lived to see state after state extirpate its wolves. I have watched the face of many a newly wolfless mountain, and seen the south-facing slopes wrinkle with a maze of new deer trails. I have seen every edible bush and seedling browsed, first to anaemic desuetude, and then to death. I have seen every edible tree defoliated to the height of a saddlehorn. Such a mountain looks as if someone had given God a new pruning shears, and forbidden Him all other exercise. In the end the starved bones of the hoped-for deer herd, dead of its own too-much, bleach with the bones of the dead sage, or molder under the high-lined junipers.

I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer. And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades. So also with cows. The cowman who cleans his range of wolves does not realize that he is taking over the wolf’s job of trimming the herd to fit the range. He has not learned to think like a mountain. Hence we have dustbowls, and rivers washing the future into the sea.”

Aldo Leopold Archives

All Our Wonder Unavenged

All Our Wonder UnavengedDon Domanski was born and raised on Cape Breton Island and now lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His latest work, All Our Wonder Unavenged (Brick Books) recently won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry.

He is a poet of the holiness of subtleties, a master of mindfulness and being. His writing is a form of osmosis, spirit seeping through the details of each poem, creating a marvel of metaphysics and language distilled to purest energy. Living in the moment here is synonymous with being the moment, a transformation that is stunning to inhabit.

The nature imagery is interlaced with references to Buddhism, Greek mythology, ancient civilizations and even witches. The poems don’t transcend the material world so much as find the spirit in what we can see, touch, and hear. Domanski asserts that the deity is in all things.

my mother believed God moved the sparrows around day after day
as a teenager I believed the sparrows moved God around
all the inexhaustible crutches He leaned upon
all the underweights of silence to find His way

now the only god I believe in are the sparrows themselves

Don Domanski was recently interviewed by CBC. Here are some excerpts.

CBC: Your work brings the inanimate to life. What draws you to blur the line between the animate and inanimate world?

It probably comes from childhood originally, children blur that line all the time, giving life to inanimate objects, to toys and dolls, because they can’t imagine it otherwise. What I’m doing is making my way to presence, and blurring that line helps to draw out the inherent presence in things. My definition of life is isness, its elementary stance and grace, therefore everything is alive, simply put being equals life. Now I know this isn’t the usual definition, but still it is an ancient one, not just among children, but among people from all cultures.

I’m an animist when it comes to how I interact with the physical world. Animism is the oldest religious/spiritual practice, the base experience out of which all the other ways of the sacred have grown. So I guess you could say I’m a traditionalist of a sort, a basic believer in first experiences, whether it’s cultural or ones from childhood. There’s a very deep truth there that strikes well below the thinking level, a connection richer than language, which can give words a more inclusive depth and reach.

CBC: What draws you to geology and palaeontology as subjects for your writing?

I’ve always been interested in the natural sciences, so it seems almost instinctive that geology and palaeontology should find their way into my work. I collected fossils for fourteen years, to try and get some sense of time, some understanding of the permutations of time on life. Of course in the end it’s time out of mind, it’s impossible to grasp what two hundred million years actually means. But there were moments in this hunt for time that shone forth with a particular light I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. For instance, finding the impressions of raindrops that were three hundred and fifty million years old. The rain falling on a completely different planet then we live on today. That gives a new perspective, a new appreciation of being.

I see no difference between poetry and spiritual practice

CBC Interview with Don Domanski

Brick Books

Prairie Fire Review of Books

Peter Doig: Painting the Margins

Country RockWhen you drive through Toronto’s northeastern suburbs on the Don Valley Parkway, your eye is momentarily caught by a marginal flash of garish colour in the grass beside the six-lane highway. Someone, long ago, has painted a crude rainbow on the entrance of a lonely pedestrian underpass, a sad and fading trace of desperate humanity on this unwelcoming slab of nature.

For the past several weeks, this most tellingly Canadian scene, entitled Country Rock, has been a source of fascination to hundreds of thousands of people across the pond in London, England. That suburban Toronto touchstone, glimpsed from a passing truck in 1994 and rendered across a huge canvas in watery stripes of lurid oil, is visible everywhere in London these days: on posters and lamp-post banners, on catalogue covers, in big spreads published in every newspaper.

It serves as an invitation to step inside a vision of man and nature that can only have been forged in the Canadian experience, in which the weight of wilderness overwhelms the viewer.

ReflectionJust as Turner was dazzled a century and a half ago by the industrial-gas sunsets on the banks of the Thames, today’s Europeans are experiencing a similar shock of painterly discovery in the ravine behind the high school, in the police car pulling up to the lake behind the cottage, on that awful stretch of Highway 401 between Montreal and Toronto.

Peter Doig has turned these slush-encrusted visions of the Canadian periphery into the continent’s biggest art sensation. The Tate’s current 25-year retrospective of his works has become the most talked-about exhibition in London, receiving pure adulation from the art press and the mass media.

What are people seeing here? Why are the British critics calling him the 21st-century Turner, the Winslow Homer of the postwar years? On one level, you realize, it is simply great painting, not just technically but as pure, exciting narrative: Doig has an uncanny skill in grabbing you by the shoulders and pointing you at a scene of almost cinematic intensity; his canvases give you the sense that something is about to happen just beyond the edge, just below that weird smear of pink paint in the snowstorm, just as soon as the slouched-over guy finishes walking across the half-frozen pond.

You can talk about his influences – there is, in his dazzling oils, a lot of the stripped-down ponds and pathways of David Milne, the sky explosions of Paterson Ewen and a good swath of the jazzed-up nature of Monet and Lawren Harris, and, since he moved to Trinidad in 2002, some sunnier vibes of Paul Gauguin’s mystery visitors, who populate the edges of tropical lakes that seem every bit as alienating as the Canadian ones of the 1990s.

But you cannot get away from the very singular set of things that he is painting. There are many canoes on many lakes here, but these are not the transcendent, welcoming lakes of Tom Thomson. The boats seem lost, the lakes cruel. There are a lot of people standing on frozen ponds, examining the ground below them, leaving you unsure where they start and it ends. There are buildings that always seem to be in the process of being devoured, the scary banality of nature exposing the futility of architecture.

White Canoe

Sadness, Doig once said, is “a pervasive mood in the work,” and this is the sadness of the median strip, the sadness of the need to hitchhike in the snow. “A lot of the work deals with peripheral or marginal sites, places where the urban world meets the natural world,” he told one interviewer. “Where the urban elements almost become, literally, abstract devices … a lot of the paintings portray a sense of optimism that can often be read as being a little desperate, like the image of a rainbow painted around the entrance to an underpass.”

Many of us had believed, until now, that these were very private sort of things experienced by a small clan of people living north of the 49th parallel, incomprehensible to outsiders. For Europeans, Canada was represented by those Emily Carr visions of a benign and spiritually engaging nature, or perhaps by Harris’ rows of simple shacks against a big forest – nature that wanted you in it.

It took someone like Scottish-born Doig, to tell the world something far truer about the Canadian relationship with nature. It is always there on the edge, threatening to overthrow us.

Without that rainbow-stencilled underpass, it would all be leafy hell.

Peter Doig runs at Tate Britain in London until April 27, after which the exhibition travels to Paris and Frankfurt, Germany.

Globe and Mail review

Images: Country Rock, Reflection (What Does Your Soul Look Like?), White Canoe

The Hart of London

Hart of LondonJack Chambers’ 80-minute The Hart of London (1970) is a sprawling, ambitious experimental film that combines newsreel footage of disasters, urban and nature imagery, and footage evoking the cycles of life and death. It is one of those rare films that succeeds precisely because of its sprawl; raw and open-ended almost to the point of anticipating the postmodern rejection of “master narratives,” it cannot be reduced to a simple summary, and changes on you from one viewing to the next.

Through the crushing banality of local television news images, we learn that a deer has wandered into downtown London, Ontario during the winter of 1954. After jumping the fences separating the city’s backyards, the deer is captured by local police. It is bound and placed in a cage made of storm fencing. A policeman pats it on the head. Then a man dressed as a hunter balances his rifle through the wires of the fence. We don’t actually see him pull the trigger.

We see it first in woods, then streaking through backyards and leaping a fence. There is a tension between the subdivided yards and the deer’s graceful movements: this animal was not made for rectilinear housing plots. Townspeople, not sure how to react, point to it, and the footage seems to be displaying the deer as some sort of spectacle, almost like an animal in a zoo. Officials chase, capture, and finally kill it, and its corpse is displayed too, for the camera.

The imagery seems inviting, but as one realizes it is created with the hart as spectacle, alive and dead, in mind, one is also repulsed. The hart is seen as a fleetingly-observed other; even mainstream nature documentaries do a better job of capturing the way animals look and move. The viewer feels at once attracted and pushed away.

The Hart of London combines archival newsreels with original footage while adding an undercurrent of simmering violence to the mix. Superimposing found images of a deer being trapped and killed in downtown London with antiquated images of the city in industrial transition (trolleys and automobiles share the street with horse-drawn carriages), Chambers re-creates an urban history that is original, expansive, and severe.

Hart of LondonAs a parallel to the thematic motif of the persecuted deer, Chambers introduces chilling colour footage of lambs being slaughtered (photographed on a return visit to Spain) at the film’s midway point. Chambers writes, “In the second part of the film [these slaughterhouse] images become symbolic of the pursuit and death of the deer. This theme is repeated again and again in the real images of everyday life.” These “real images” include several staged, mechanical spectacles (a teenager diving into an icy river, crowds gathering to observe a brush fire), as well as repetitive, banal daily activities (a man trimming his hedges, Chambers cutting his lawn).

The consistent tension generated and sustained over the course of its demanding length, without the aid of musical cues or voice-over exposition, demonstrates why The Hart of London is considered Chambers’ greatest cinematic achievement. Fred Camper, for instance, identifies The Hart of London as “one of those rare films that succeeds precisely because of its sprawl.”

Through the course of the film, man encroaches on nature from every angle. People emerge from underground transport, parachutes fall from the sky and bridges cross water. Even children make sand castles on the beach preparing for the next image of concrete buildings. In the final analysis, nature seems to confront London’s inhabitants as an enigma or threat. At the film’s very end, children (Jack Chamber’s own) approach a hart with food, and their mother whispers warnings; the animal as object, filmed from afar, suffers from a perceptual uncertainty. In the case of a dead wolf, its hunters turn it into their image and have it wave and greet their woman at home, like a man returned from the woods.

While man thrusts himself on the environment, containing it and turning it into his image, Chambers treatment of the filmed image creates a fracture between the filmed and the ‘film’. His jarring superimposition of positive and negative creates particularly interesting deployments of light. In the case of newsreel footage of a horse and cart ploughing the field, he overlays a positive and negative of the same image, and only a small time displacement between the images makes the superimposition readable.Whilst light in cinema creates image and thus life, here Chambers acknowledges this but pushes further asking what it is interpret and recognize, unlike the objective view as propagated by the newsreels he uses and subverts to this end.

Jack ChambersJack Chambers was born in 1931 and began work on The Hart of London in 1969, having been diagnosed with leukemia only shortly before. He died in 1978, struggling with his own care for nine years. He was a Catholic and a poet, and as an artist he secured a reputation as a critically acclaimed and financially successful painter. He began making films in 1966. The Hart of London was the last of five films made by Chambers, and despite the support for experimental film within Canada at the time of its making, remains sorely under-screened in both Britain and North America.

More reviews and footage at Shooting Down Pictures

Lux review

Fred Camper review

Senses of Cinema

The Films of Jack Chambers

Balance: Art and Nature

Environmental art is a catch phrase that includes land art, earth-sensitive art and artists working with natural materials. Land art is a phenomenon of the ’60s and ’70s, with artists like Robert Smithson who made his Spiral Jetty in Great Salt Lake, Utah, one of those grandiose environmentally insensitive works that transformed the landscape.

Earth-sensitive art is smaller in scale, integrating an assemblage or sculpture in a natural setting, and there is art made with natural materials, which is usually exposed indoors.

~~ John Grande

Art and NatureArt critic John Grande writes about environmental art in his book, Balance: Art and Nature

Believing that artistic expression can and does play an important role in changing the way we perceive our relation to the world we live in, art critic John Grande takes an in-depth look at the work of some very unusual environmental artists in the United States, Canada, and -Europe.

Grande contends that the egocentricity of modern western society and its infatuation with technology and consumerism have increasingly separated us from the natural world. That separation has an impact on the way our art is conceived, formed, marketed and even displayed. Grande proposes that art return to being more “ecocentric,” reminding us that we are derivative and essentially dependent on natural processes. “In developing a nature-specific dialogue that is interactive, rooted in actual experience in a given place and time, and giving these elements an equal voice in the creative process,” he writes, “we are ultimately respecting our integral connectedness to the environment.” Holding such a vision, we will come to see that “nature is the art of which we are a part.”

John GrandeTo develop a dialogue more in touch with nature, Grande argues that artists should favour their specific culture and the diversity of the ecological communities in which they live rather than the homogenizing pressures of internationalism. He asserts that contemporary artists’ preoccupation with international “market recognition,” often reinforced by museums and funders, promotes a “product standardization” that takes precedence over any desire to represent one’s own culture and bioregion. In such a horizontal milieu, artists and their works consequently become easily interchangeable. The attendant appropriation of Third World, tribal and extranational art styles not only mirrors acts of economic expropriation but also often ensures the commercial success of the collusive artists. Such appropriation barely pauses to appreciate the source culture’s context and meaning.

As an alternative, Grande proposes that we celebrate the cultural diversity naturally intrinsic to each ecological community or bioregion. Such a preference would nourish the artistic expression of the cultural symbolism and spiritual values unique to that region. It would enhance an intuitive dialogue with nature in the creation of art, encouraging a healthier relationship with the local environment.

John Grande website

I think, a lot of art has as much to do with fashion and the look of things as it has to do with a kind of search for breakthroughs or a higher meaning. In a way we almost have an over-production situation where art is fine and society is in bad shape. It is one of my main concerns right now, The programs are working. Artists are producing. But the actual society is breaking down in many ways as a collectivity and becoming sort of digitalized. We have become digitalized producers and consumers.

Nature is the house that supports us all. We sometimes forget that. The same thing can be said for the world of art. What really nourishes art, more than ideas, is the physical world, and it is the main sustaining feature of any kind of aesthetic, even so-called immaterial ones.

Interview with Mike MacDonald

Interview with John Grande at Green Museum

Earth Art Exhibit at Royal Botanical Gardens

EcoArt Network

Tiger Swallowtail

Art critic, writer, lecturer and interviewer, John Grande’s reviews and feature articles have been published extensively in Artforum, Vice Versa, Sculpture, Art Papers, British Journal of Photo-graphy, Espace Sculpture, Public Art Review, Vie des Arts, Art On Paper, Circa & Canadian Forum. He is also the author of Balance: Art and Nature (a newly expanded edition by Black Rose Books in, 2004), Intertwining: Landscape, Technology, Issues, Artists (Black Rose Books, 1998), Jouer avec le feu: Armand Vaillancourt: Sculpteur engagé (Lanctot, 2001), and his most recent book, Dialogues in Diversity: Marginal to Mainstream published in Italy in 2007 by Pari Publishing.