wilderness : self-willed flora, fauna & minera in the community of Earth
June 30, 2021
BACK TO BEYOND
Until 1850, Oak Park, Illinois, where I live part of the year, was covered in an oak and hickory savannah. Some of these trees are still standing today. Called "remnant trees," they were here before the arrival of white settlers in the 1830s. I can only imagine what they've seen! Every day during the month of June, I visited a bur oak remnant on North Kenilworth Avenue a mile from my house. Arborists believe this tree was also a Witness Tree of the Potawatomi. It marked the spot that would lead people home to the Des Plaines River after a day of hunting and gathering.
Oak Park, Illinois, is known for both its trees and its housing policies. There are around 19,000 trees in a 1-1/2 by 3 mile rectangle, and that's just along the parkways and public spaces. In people's individual yards, there are many more. The neighborhood also prides itself for its fair housing ordinance developed in the 1950s and 60s during Civil Rights. Yet Oak Park, like much of the US, is to this day marred by the insidious practices of redlining.
I love this tree inventory (above) created and maintained by the Village of Oak Park. One local yoga teacher, who also works in Chinese medicine, encourages people to connect with their favorite tree and feel the flow of circulating energy. She instructs neighbors to acknowledge the tree's strength, exhibited in its trunk and its extensive root system.
Above is a map of Chicago from Mapping Inequality, a site mounted to show the history of redlining. As Ta-Nehisi Coates points out in his article in the June 2014 Atlantic, redlining was based on the FHA's "system of maps that rated neighborhoods according to their perceived stability." On this map from 1940, Oak Park is a yellow zone, signifying "definitely declining." Redlining is one of the shameful histories with which our neighborhoods and our maps must contend.
The map (above) charts several trees near my house. My neighbor (number 407) lost his massive Dutch Elm a month ago. As the branches came down, the painful phrase "like losing a limb" felt real.
My neighbor kept two large slabs of the trunk, each five feet in diameter. The photo I took became the background for a map I made of the trees in my internal and external network.
If trees make us happy, then creating a scheme of your own personal tree network is one way to map happiness. Take a moment of creativity and connection to draw a map of your tree neighbors, including the roots (see Jolie Kaytes' interview, below).
Monthly celebration of makers who are teaching / re-teaching us how to connect with the natural world and with one another.
Muscians & Poets Thick In The Throat Honey
Portland, Oregon-based duo Thick In The Throat Honey (Claudia F. Saleeby and John C. Savage) began in 2007 at The Atlantic Center for the Arts. Morphing the traditions of jazz, spoken word, experimental music, chants, and devotional intoning, the duo has performed at music and improvisational festivals throughout the country and is known for their unique melding of the disparate.
Jolie Kaytes' art and writing focus on recognizing and celebrating the complexity of landscapes. She is particularly interested in how landscapes are represented, how design can be used as an environmental advocacy tool, the role of landscape architecture in food systems, and the Columbia River Basin. Jolie’s work has appeared in The Fourth River, Terrain.org, Camas and elsewhere. She has held residencies at the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest and PLAYA.
Summer came. Each tree On my street had its own Scheherazade. My nights Were a part of their wild Storytelling.
--Charles Simic from "The White Room"
Simic and his family settled in Oak Park, Illinois, after they fled Yugoslavia in the 1950s.
This month I joined Beatriz Helton's art journal class. She encouraged us to play with color, texture, fabric, paper, paint, and other scraps and ephemera. I adapted Beatriz's little book for this month's practice, incorporating my visits to the bur oak Witness Tree in Oak Park.
1. Four pieces of fabric cut in a 3 to 2 scale. (3x4.5 inches; 4x6 inches; 5x7.5 inches, etc). Upcycled cloth works best for these book pages!
2. Gesso, acrylic paints, markers, needle & thread, small findings of organic material from a walk around your neighborhood or with your favorite tree.
3. One piece of light cardboard (from a cereal box, for example) cut to the same dimensions as your pages. You will use this as your cover.
4. Glue or matte medium.
Note: You can use a paper journal you have on hand for this practice instead.
1. Color and mark your pages using gesso, acrylic paint, markers, stitching, and whatever else you have handy. Enjoy playing. Let go of perfectionism. Tear holes in the pages, unravel the edges, unweave threads from the warp and weft.
2. Stitch or glue to each page organic pieces gathered from a walk around your neighborhood trees--leaves, twigs, lichen, plastic, paper, etc.
3. Glue fabric and/or paper to the cardboard cover.
4. Fold the cover and pages in half. Bind your neighborhood tree book using a simple saddle stitch. Keep adding marks and organic material from your tree walks until your book is full.
"I love making these art journals, no plans, no expectations, only curiosity, exploration, and a satisfying journey through the valley of creation." --Beatriz Helton
STORY | Tree Housing
[photo credit: Oak Park Regional Housing Center]
Last month, my neighbor, who works for the Village of Oak Park, cut down the huge lovely elm in his back yard because it was diseased. I was home when the tree choppers came. My neighbor and I looked at one another through our glass doors and put our hands over our hearts. “Sad day,” I could see him mouth. When I stepped outside the door, the tree men said, “Stay inside,” in stern voices as a huge limb came tumbling down.
I've always admired Oak Park's trees, but that's not why we moved here from the American West twenty-some years ago. We were drawn to the community who fought redlining and racism to build diverse and equitable neighborhoods.
June means Summer Solstice for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere! I love the equilibrium but also the imbalance that the day implies. Did you enact a ritual on this day? Even if you didn't, all living things feel the beginning of a season that also marks a descent toward darkness. The tilt of the Earth, the slant of the light, registers in our bodies, our moods. This July, the Alaska Summer Arts Festival and other collaborators will once again take musicians into Denali National Park and Preserve with their program Composing in the Wilderness. You can listen to previous compositions on their website. I find the Wilderness Society's work inspiring, especially their "Urban to Wild" focus, which can be applied to any city small or large. My pilgrimages to the Witness Tree in Oak Park this month reminded me of James Canton's book The Oak Papers and his interview in a previous edition of this publication. In their article "Since When Have Trees Existed Only for Rich Americans?" Ian Leahy and Yaryna Serkez illustrate the inequity of trees and neighborhoods. They show how wealthy neighborhoods in Philadelphia and across the country have more green spaces than poorer ones.
For more art, writing & reading about all kinds of things, visit my blog.