wilderness : self-willed flora, fauna & minera in the community of Earth
July 31, 2021
BACK OF BEYOND
The Salton Sea is a dreamy body of water in California on the homelands of the Desert Cahuilla Indians. The lake was created by mistake in 1905 when the Colorado River flooded. Water mixed with agricultural waste poured into the desert for two years. In the 1950s, the Salton Sea was retooled as a resort. When that failed, the birds moved in. Though the area is terribly polluted, hundreds of species depend on this mirage-like water: egrets, herons, gannets, terns, pelicans, and more. Agricultural runoff from the Imperial Valley still drains into this inland lake. But not as much as in the past. As the water recedes every year, there are massive bird die-offs.
Audubon keeps sophisticated records, surveys, and maps of the declining bird population of the Salton Sea, a designated "Audubon Important Bird Area of Global Significance." The map below, for example, shows how the receding water is causing Eared Grebes to lose habitat.
In my map (below), I used a watercolor technique called color mingling, creating pools of color and letting them bleed and blend into one another. The technique creates fascinating geographical forms and a lovely background for mapmaking and mark making. Give it a try!
My map felt like a combination of Audubon's bird maps above and Richard Misrach's hallucinogenic images of the Salton Sea (such as Salton Sea with Dead Fish). Lately, I've also been drawn to Karey Kessler's dreamy map work. Her maps "tell stories of deep geologic time, eternity, infiniteness, and traces of mystery."
Monthly celebration of makers who are teaching / re-teaching us how to connect with the natural world and with one another.
Writer Courtney Kersten
Courtney Kersten is the author of Daughter in Retrograde: A Memoir (University of Wisconsin Press 2018). Her essays can be seen in Prairie Schooner, River Teeth, and elsewhere. She won the Bellingham Review’s 2018 Annie Dillard Award for Nonfiction; the Southern Indiana Review’s 2019 Mary C. Mohr Award for Nonfiction; and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Polly Bennett is a landscape artist “portraying the land, with the land” through traditional craftsmanship, using locally sourced materials in a process likened to alchemy. Combining a museological approach to materials with immediate observational responses, she collaborates with, and investigates the surrounding rural environment to re-visualize an experience of her own, and to create one for the viewer. The concluding work recollects the explored environment as a memorialized snapshot, producing abstract and deconstructed results.
So that's where I found myself. No, I should choose my words more wisely. This is the world I sought out. The land of the perpetual night party. Day swallowing night and night swallowing day.
--Val Kilmer as Danny Parker in the film "The Salton Sea"
The eco-trash sculptures of Tim Pugh inspires this month's creative practice. Pugh often creates art from human rubbish left in the natural world to raise awareness and help the clean-up effort.
1. On a walk or several walks, collect debris and garbage.
2. Wash or rinse your findings. Arrange them.
3. Photograph your work and write a reflection of your process. Where did you find your materials? What did you notice about the specificity of the items? What pieces of found material spoke to you most, and why? What do the materials tell you about the place? What does your sculpture have to say about the place where you walked?
4. Dispose of the trash properly.
I created my eco-trash art work (above) using debris I collected on a 30-minute walk around my Oak Park, Illinois, neighborhood. I was surprised to find along the sidewalks several tags from store-bought flowers among the litter. It seemed appropriate to create a floral sculpture/arrangement. I used my own flowerbed at home as the "ground" for this rubbish bloom. Ironically, several pieces of trash were labeled with environmentally friendly messages like "recycle" and "non-GMO."
STORY | Dead Sea
I had visions of walking this deserted town and photographing it. But now that I’m here, I can’t make myself get out of the car. People live here. Have homes, children, pets. That, I didn't expect. I don’t want to gawk. No one deserves to be the poster child for environmental ruin.
Besides, it’s hot. Though my car thermometer says 70 degrees, the fact is there are not shade trees. Things look dried up, stark, shriveled. Old men ride around on old bicycles. Each street seems to be a dead end, like the cul-de-sac in Seattle where I grew up.
witness wilderness is co-leading a Creative Placemaking Retreat!
You're invited to an in-person day-long workshop in Montana's Bitterroot Valley with creative coach/TED Fellow Bristol Baughan and author/artist DJ Lee.
On September 11, 2021, we will slow down among the pines and creeks, learn about native plants with a botanist, listen to Indigenous stories, write from the Earth, make eco-art, eat an organic lunch provided by Cultivating Connections Montana, and consider the meanings of home and place and wild. A special lecture on Frank Lloyd Wright’s relationship to the Bitterroot Valley and potluck will follow with Washington State University professor of architecture Ayad Rahmani.
Camping and glamping tents available for rent or book accommodations through AirBnB in Hamilton, Montana.