While I’ve been productive on the un-namable projects, the last few days of the calendar year have also been ones of quiet introspection, of remembering essential personal truths. One of those truths is that I absolutely need to be outdoors regularly, no matter the season, in places that at least give me the illusion of not being man-made. It’s one of the reasons I go on residencies so frequently; the rural environments they’re attached to are just as important to me as the concentrated studio time and the people I meet there.
I can’t even say exactly what it is that this does for me, but it is indispensable. Even when a landscape is bleak and fallow, I am absorbed, fascinated, wholly in time. I may not consciously be thinking of a problem to be solved, but I will either return with answers, or with my problems diminished to their proper perspectives. Things I observe make their way into my work, and my surroundings make their way into me, a calming, healing influence.
Since I’m not on a winter break residency for the first time in a long time, I’ve returned to the Forest Preserve. It follows the north branch of the Chicago River, widening here and there into park land, golf courses and public areas, wide fields, picnic areas and the like. It contains a paved bike path that can take you all the way to the botanic gardens in the northern ‘burbs, 25 miles or so. Sometimes along the bike path, it narrows to just a tiny insulating strip of trees, but in other places it widens to a half-mile or so (in the city), where the woods are allowed to run free.
I spent a lot of time in this section of the preserve during my divorce in the 90s, off in the wooded portions so I could let Face, my departed border collie, off her leash; she (quickly) learned that I did not want her to chase the deer. That difficult time in my life had a great many similarities with my present. Then, the preserve was quite a drive up from my Pilsen neighborhood; now, it’s so close and so, well, mundane compared to the places I’ve been that I had forgotten it. I had a dream in which Face was waiting expectantly by the car, and the next day, we had a thaw and I went to the woods. I’ve gone there every day since.
Chicago has had floods since the thaw (and a lot of rain that accompanied the melting snow) and the park is no exception; the Chicago river is about twelve times its width in places, drowning parts of the woods and parkland (but making the 300 or so mallard ducks I saw yesterday very, very happy). So, until it gets cold enough again for the muck to freeze, I’ve been sticking fairly close to the bike path, and making friends with individual deer.
This young doe was really curious. She slowly came right to me as I stood and talked to her (then a jogger and his dog scared her). I call her Deerette.
This is good; I’m fulfilling that need in myself, and remembering that I do get past hard times in this manner, and wondering once again why, if this need for nature is so strong in me, I have almost always lived in cities. I know the answer is economic, but now, perhaps, it’s time to question that answer.
I’m wishing you all a grand New Year / Hogmanay!
I plan to spend the first day of 2009 1. In the woods and 2. making paper.
Two sweet-faced Ladies; below: Wee One-Prong, the Veteran, and the Stud.