July 20, 2006
Afternoon in the Art Park
It's a place where the wild and the pastoral mix, where nature and art get intertwined, where both naturalists and artists gather. An outdoor sculpture park. Not a neat managed garden, but acres and acres of open rural land, with pockets of woods and wetlands -- and ponds built decades ago, each pond evolving into something different than it began. The art park spreads across a hilltop, with panoramic views that look, as my friend Poet Woman says, "the way Tuscany looks in romantic movies." Miles of trails lead visitors to ambitious art installations, art created by hands and weathered by wind and rain.
Poet Woman and I only had an hour to spare on our way to the poetry reading in Little Town by Lake, but an hour in the art park would be an hour well spent. Within minutes, we were wandering along the trails, talking busily and running to check out art installations we could see from a distance. Poet Woman is a naturalist who identified plants and creatures as we walked along; thanks to a degree in science and years of working at a science museum, she knows all kinds of vital things about the natural world.
I am always getting yelled at for touching things in art museums. It’s so hard to resist! So I love art that I am allowed to touch. I like running my hands over sun-warmed metal or weathered china or solid clay. I love sculptures that invite the viewer to enter. As I climbed through lattices or under metal girders or crawled into a nest made of twisted branches, I could hear Poet Woman’s camera clicking, and I knew that my body, my image, had become part of the work.
The sky, which ranged from deep blue in the east to an angry grey in the west as a storm approached, became a changing backdrop to some of the dramatic sculptures. Sunlight kept changing the way each piece looked as late afternoon turned to evening. The welcome wind moved across the landscape, sending ripples through a whole field of timothy. Perhaps the artwork in the park made me more conscious of these changes in colour and light, these nuances of movement, just as the presence of Poet Woman and her scientific explanations made me think more carefully about the ecology of the place.
One art installation looked like a huge clay ear, about the size of my living room. Poet Woman talked about a poetry performance she gave once, standing on the earth ear, reading her poetry to her audience and into the ear. Musicians, dancers, and poets have all done performances here in this park: science teachers bring school children here as well. As we sat on the clay sculpture, talking, she stopped to identify bird calls. A redwing blackbird in the tree next to us kept trilling his call throughout our conversation.
We had the whole park – miles of trails and acres of land – to ourselves, and we soon discovered why. The recent rains had nourished the local population of mosquitoes, who seemed thrilled at our bare legs and arms, our sweaty hair and faces. I am sure that most of Poet Woman’s photos show me slapping at insects. Thank goodness she had no audio equipment with her.
We ran from the lovely little pond, with its calm surface that reflected back our own faces, ran from the cool installations in the deep woods that made me think of grape vine arbors, ran from anything wet and shaded. Upward, we hurried, following a mown trail up a sunny ripening field, climbing to the top of a hill that promised a panoramic view. At the top, we were able to stand still in a strong breeze that kept the insects away, gazing at the woods and meadows below us and the far-off little town on the lake, with the white steeple of the church rising above treetops.
We talked about our plans to return for a whole day, perhaps in the fall after the frost kills off the insect population, bringing our lunches and our journals. We’ll watch the way the seasons change the landscape. Poet Woman will identify flora and fauna. We’ll write, we’ll do reiki, we’ll climb into works of art. We’ll watch the chorophyll disappear from the leaves, disintegrating in the bright sun and cold air, allowing the carotene and anthocyanins to reveal the yellows and reds of autumn.
Posted by jo(e)