Friday, January 15, 2016

moving ice

We often forget that we are nature. Nature is not something separate from us. So when we say that we have lost our connection to nature, we’ve lost our connection to ourselves.

Andy Goldsworthy*

* Note: All quotes in this post are from Andy Goldsworthy

Just down the way from us, the river that runs behind our house is dammed. And though I keep meaning to learn more about it, I do not completely understand the hows and whens and whys the dam is sometimes open and sometimes not. What I do know is how much that dam affects the river up our way. Especially when a bit of wet weather has come through.
Earlier in the week, the day before six inches of snow fell here and completely changed what everything looked like outside, we had a day of hard and fast falling rain. The river flooded, the rain was deafening in the attic, and our basement flooded nearly completely. We have a system in place to keep it dry in the best of conditions and to pump and dry it out when the amount of water overwhelms this system. But the sump pump ran for days. And the river rose and flooded. I could see it spilling over its banks on the other side, where the terrain is lower. And then we had a hard freeze. I wondered what all this wetness and water and quick changes in temperature would do to the river banks and the trails beside it.

Despite the frigid temperatures, some parts of the river are still completely open and unfrozen.  Perhaps movement helping it to remain free flowing.  Logs were still being carried down the open water and as you stood there, you could watch and hear them slowly crash into the bend where there was an ice dam.  

On the edges of the river, you could see where the water had been higher the day before, and where, at that height, the ice had formed when the temperatures hit freezing.  And then, when the water level went down again, with the opening of the dam or just as the rain stopped, the icy surface had lost the water from beneath it, and that thin ice had been held up in some places and shattered as it fell when its support moved away.

I needed a bit of exercise, so I headed out to take a look.  The dam, usually trickling, was gushing.  Dirty muddy flood waters.  And the temperature was about 18 degrees.  Cold enough to solidify some of that water as it ran over the dam and slowed down long enough to collect in ice formations.

My art is an attempt to reach beyond the surface appearance. I want to see growth in wood, time in stone, nature in a city, and I do not mean its parks but a deeper understanding that a city is nature too-the ground upon which it is built, the stone with which it is made.
From there I headed over to the trail on the other side of the river.  I met a woman out for a walk just returning.  She was carefully stepping around the icy patches, and she noticed my camera, and said: Oh, good.  I am glad someone is going to capture it down there.  It is beautiful.  And the sun is coming out and pretty soon it will be gone. But be careful.  The walking is treacherous.

I think the squirrels had the right idea, staying up in the branches and above the ice.  It was crazy slippery.  And the thorny bramble down there made off trailing a dangerous risk to your parka's integrity.  The snow on the trails had been hard packed by walkers and then the rain on that packed snow had made the perfect ice trail. Well, perfect if you are trying to skate like a Québécois. But I found myself crawling on my knees at several points, trying to keep from falling, and gripping with my fingertips to get across some of the giant sheets of ice with no traction.  Luckily I was the only one down there.  I am sure I was quite a sight.

The water had spilled high over the banks, and had frozen, a thin surface on the ice forming around the tiny saplings and grasses and brush.  When the water moved out, that thin ice remained, held up in some places by just stems and wild grass, and if you stood still, you could hear the thin ice breaking, like gently shattering crystal.

In one area of the path I stomped my way through, intentionally breaking through the surface so that my boots found land, and traction.  Looking back at the trail I had just smashed my way across, it was less pristine, but showed that someone had been here.  Someone had seen this.

People also leave presence in a place even when they are no longer there.

In one spot the ice was much thicker, inches thick rather than paper thin, perhaps a cold spot where it had more of a chance to freeze or where the water had been higher.  

As the sun hit that ice, it was melting and the sheets were falling back into the river in a sliding crash and then floating down to add themselves to the ice dam down at our bend of the river.

The conditions for this ice were unusual, I think.  Flooding in the winter in an unfrozen river, with very little snow.  And then the fast freeze.  Leaving traces of leaves, debris, swirling river mud, and rogue ice crystals behind.  The ice varied, from clear to cloudy, clean to gritty, sheets to clumps, some stranded in the woods or floating atop moving water.

In one area the ice held the leaves and the sunlight and the drips of river mud.  All suspended in one spot.  And as I stood there and looked at that ice, I could hear and smell it all moving and shifting and falling back toward the river.  
Movement, change, light, growth and decay are the lifeblood of nature, the energies that I try to tap through my work. I need the shock of touch, the resistance of place, materials and weather, the earth as my source. Nature is in a state of change and that change is the key to understanding. I want my art to be sensitive and alert to changes in material, season and weather. Each work grows, stays, decays. Process and decay are implicit. Transience in my work reflects what I find in nature.
If I had waited a day for the trail to be safer, for the temperatures to be more comfortable for a quick walk in the woods, I would have missed this.  If I hadn't thought to grab my camera to take along I would have only been able to tell about it.  If I hadn't been trapped by the ice, forced to stand still for a few moments to figure out how I was going to cross the next patch, I would have missed the sounds and the smells being released as the sun did its daytime work.  I am glad I didn't miss any of those things.  And part of what makes it so amazing is that it is no longer there.  And I might not see it again for a very long time.

I take the opportunity each day offers.
Read more about Andy Goldsworthy here via His work is a long time favorite in our family.  And it often inspires our play and creation in nature as well as how we observe what we see while out there.

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