wilderness : self-willed flora, fauna & minera in the community of Earth
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There was a saying in Ohio that a squirrel could travel the entire state and never touch the ground by jumping tree to tree. 95 percent of the state was forested in the 19th-century when Europeans moved in. Today, though forests cover only 35 percent of Ohio, Shellbark Hickory, Black Cherry, American Sycamore, Boxelder, Red Maple, Scotch Pine, Chestnut Oak, Willow, and Cucumbertree still blaze across the land. My husband and I camped in Scioto Trail State Park in September 2020 and made a day trip to Ripley on the Ohio River. Everywhere, it seemed, I encountered that squirrel searching for his arial path in the crowns of oak and hickory.
Ripley, Ohio, was a floodgate for people escaping slavery in the US south when the landscape was tree-covered and filled with wild animals as well as bounty hunters and law enforcement. Ripley's geography and history stayed with me long after I visited, a map of the imagination.
Directions from Scioto Trail State Park to Ripley on the Ohio River.
A visit to John P. Parker's lovingly restored house in Ripley and the presentation by curator Dewey Johnson is a must.
Routes of the Underground Railroad 1830-1865 in Harper's Atlas of American History. This famous map shows how Ohio was the country's lifeline.
Although the Underground Railroad involved an interracial coalition, especially in Ripley, it was primarily run by Northern African Americans, as Henry Louis Gates Jr. points out.
In this mixed media map of Ripley (above), I placed African American conductor John P. Parker's house next to images of the "100 steps to freedom" that led from the river through the wilderness to John Rankin's house and to Canada beyond. I photocopied historic images, which hold an aura for me, then layered watercolor with a wet brush. To create the comforting and distressing wildland, I carved linocuts in the shapes of Ohio's native trees. The branches are recycled cardboard. Won't you make an imaginative map of a place that has stayed with you?
Monthly celebration of makers who are teaching / re-teaching us how to connect with the natural world and with one another.
Artist and Poet Mita Mahato
Mita Mahato is a Seattle-based cut paper, collage, and comics artist, whose work explores the transformative capacities of found and handmade papers. Using collage and paper-making techniques, she builds multivalent images and stories that center on issues related to loss—loss of life, identity, habitat, and species. She is the Associate Curator of Public and Youth Programs at Seattle's Henry Art Gallery.
Stephanie Heit is a poet, dancer, and teacher of somatic writing and contemplative movement practices. She is a Zoeglossia Fellow, bipolar, and member of the Olimpias, an international disability performance collective. Her poetry collection, The Color She Gave Gravity, explores the seams of language, movement, and mental health difference. She lives in Ypsilanti, Michigan where she creates Turtle Disco, a somatic writing space, with her wife and collaborator, Petra Kuppers.
"I'm also hoping [to] advocate for the environment in a way that inspires people to bring wonder to their everyday actions and surroundings." --Mita Mahato, Interview, Foundations for Asian American Independent Media
Nature & Meditation
Lately I'm drawn to the practice of meditation/prayer, sitting for a few minutes every day. After meeting Bridgitte Jackson-Buckley through the Women's National Book Association and reading her beautiful, timely book about meditation, I asked her about the link between meditation and the natural world. "We are, in essence, part of nature and nature is part of us," Bridgitte said. "That is why we experience a pull to be in and around natural environments. Nature is unbound, untethered, similar to children. It harbors and sustains curiosity, growth, authenticity, and lack of inhibition. When we are in nature, our bodies are reminded of this aspect that is also part of us. Meditation, the quieting of the mind and the reconnection to All That Is, can serve as a gateway to connection; a connection to all things and to ourselves."
The Museum of Cultural Masks is a wondrously informative site where you learn all cultures use masks for rituals, performances, protection, and more. "Maskellany" is their term for the study of masks.
Of course, the American tradition of Halloween puts masks in your face (literally). Yet the masks we wear for this carnivalesque holiday are nothing compared to the masks of love we wear everyday to protect our community.
Make a mask! Mine started with a recycled grocery bag. The bag reminded me of Jericho Brown's poem to frontline grocery store workers "Say Thank You Say I'm Sorry," so I pasted the lines on the bag. I added bits of autumn from my neighborhood: aspen leaves and rubbings from the bark, lichen, and moss, a raven's feather, Ponderosa pine needles, maple pods. I finished off with a bit of stitching using Japanese sashiko thread. Then I placed it in the arms of an old spruce.
1. WRITE or DRAW a mask as you think about the vulnerability we face during COVID-19 and the tenderness of autumn.
2. Using scissors, tape, glue and/or whatever else you have on hand, TRANSFORM a grocery bag from your local market into a mask.
3. MARK your mask with fallen leaves, sprinkles of earth and mulch, light from the autumn sun or the harvest moon penciled or painted on, and whatever else occurs to you! Paste or write lines from poetry, found texts, or scraps of language that fall across your desk, table, or imagination.
STORY | Portal
We drove past a metal gate enormous enough for a maximum security prison. It was 4:30 p.m. Up a road with blind corners, overgrown with hickory and oak forests, we came to a small building stained with white-washed paint: Interpretive Center. A sign was pinned on the door: “Closes at 5:00.” I pulled the knob. Locked. I looked around. Besides Myron and me, there wasn’t another soul in sight.
The Wild Heart Meditation Center podcasts I've been listening to lately offer relief from the sometimes dark political news. The Dark Divide, a new film about lepidopterist Robert Michael Pyle, is available for streaming. Pyle once sat in my living room when I hosted him as a visiting writer; I found him humble, fun, and endlessly fascinating! I’ve been enjoying Sounds of the Forest, an open source library of woodland sounds from around the globe. This archive includes the tinkling melodies Stephanie Heit collected from the Green Point Dunes Nature Preserve in Benzie County, Michigan. My reading group is discussing pieces in Biofrost, a multi-media, multi-voiced journal of stories, reports, and art to raise awareness about sustainability and climate. C.S. Giscombe's Ohio Railroads, a hybrid essay/poem, arrived in my mailbox last week. I love how the book explores tracks that cross Dayton as well as Giscombe's memory of a dream. “Spit on the Broom" is Madeline Hunt-Ehrlich’s compelling documentary about the the United Order of Tents, a secret African American women's group during the height of the Underground Railroad who are still organizing today. Poet Louise Glück won the Nobel Prize in Literature this month: her poppy poem imagines life inside a blooming and fading flower, mirroring our own open hearts and spiritual journeys. Glück has me wondering what words might pour from the heart of an Ohio squirrel.
For more art, writing & reading about all kinds of things, visit my blog.