Monday, August 17, 2015
Traveling by kayak for 8 days with two wilderness rangers during an artist residency program in the Tracy Arm-Ford’s Terror Wilderness of the Tongass National Forest, Southeast Alaska, I was intensely aware of a world defined by moving water. We paddled up the fjord, filled water jugs from cascading waterfalls, dodged growlers and bergy bits in our kayaks and admired icebergs from a safe distance.
View from my kayak, Harriman Fjord, Prince William Sound. L-R: Cascade, Barry & Coxe Glaciers. Nellie Juan-College Fjord Wilderness Study Area, Chugach National Forest.
It rained occasionally, and the sun was elusive. Fog clung to the spruce branches above us, leaving fat droplets on the undergrowth we hiked through. At the end of Endicott Arm loomed Dawes Glacier, the great carver of this landscape. We camped nearby, next to a glacial stream, itself a microcosm of the mighty glacier beyond, alive with sound and movement where water was constantly flowing, crushing and moving rock, working on the palette of the landscape.
And that’s what I was doing, too, trying to make an image of these dynamic forces at work, setting up my tripod in the shallow part of the stream. I was captivated by the smooth granite slide, the multicolored rocks at its base, and the tide which moved in and out, its flow competing with the outpouring from the mountain behind. The setting was primeval, exuding the essence of self-willed landscape, to echo the words of Howard Zahniser, principal author of The Wilderness Act of 1964.
At this spot, I shot several vertical images and later stitched them together in Photoshop to create a panorama of the scene that had made such an impression on me. It was one of several panoramas I made as my contribution to the Voices of Wilderness artist residency program conceived, organized and run by a truly dedicated wilderness ranger and artist, herself, Barbara Fischer Lydon, now based out of the Glacier Ranger District in Girdwood, Alaska.
The goal of the Voices of Wilderness program is to bring artists into the wilderness and allow them to create pieces, in their particular medium, that speak to the values of wilderness. The work of many artists was collected over a four-year period for a 2014 exhibition that traveled to seven museums and communities in Alaska, culminating with a show at the Anchorage Museum – all in celebration of the 50th anniversary of The Wilderness Act. The traveling exhibition brought huge awareness to this milestone in conservation history and spurred public engagement with wilderness, both through the efforts of the artists and the participating public lands throughout Alaska.
For me personally, the value of my participation in Voices of the Wilderness has been immeasurable. It offered me the unique opportunity for self-supported living in designated wilderness areas in Alaska for 7-10 days at a time which inspired new expression (through my photography) and the articulation of much that lay buried within – this love of all things wild. The experience lifted me to a higher level of understanding where “wild” is concerned and made me acutely aware of the critical need to preserve and support what wild areas we still have. Just as importantly, I was introduced to other artists and wilderness activists who became models to me through their fierce support for wilderness.
And not least, my image of “Glacial Stream, Endicott Arm,” (above) is included in the Smithsonian’s exhibition, “Wilderness Forever,” at the National Museum of Natural History, one of thirteen finalists chosen from over 5000 entries. My image was awarded first place in the professional category for “Scenic Landscape.”
Irene Owsley, a freelance photographer, specializes in the outdoors and travel, particularly in northern regions. Her work has appeared in such magazines as Canoe & Kayak, Sierra, National Parks, Earthwatch, and Natural History and in the publications of several conservation organizations. Since 2011, she has been accepted to participate in three artists residencies in Alaska’s wilderness. A long-time resident of Washington DC until just recently, Owsley found the “wild” in this large metropolitan area by creating a body of work called “Wild Washington,” with images from the riparian areas along the Potomac River. She has exhibited her work in galleries and has been profiled in Rangefinder, Photographer’s Forum, and Nikon World magazine. A new resident of New Mexico, Owsley is focused on producing large scale panoramic landscapes as a way to explore her new home. She serves on the national board of ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers), promoting best business practices for photographers. www.ireneowsley.com
Tuesday, July 7, 2015
The following images come from the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science Center whose acronym is (yes, it really is) EROS. The EROS Center has an incredible slideshow of satellite images of our one, our only home.
"Our common home," as the subtitle to Pope Francis' encyclical, Laudato Si', reminds us.
"Our common home," as the subtitle to Pope Francis' encyclical, Laudato Si', reminds us.
Edrengiyn Nuruu August 1, 1999. The Edrengiyn Nuruu forms a transition zone between the Mongolian steppes to the north and the arid deserts of northern China to the south.
Karman Vortices September 1, 1999. Each of these swirling clouds is a result of a meteorological phenomenon known as a Karman vortex. These vortices appeared over Alexander Selkirk Island in the southern Pacific Ocean. Rising precipitously from the surrounding waters, the island's highest point is nearly a mile (1.6 km) above sea level. As wind-driven clouds encounter this obstacle, they flow around it to form these large, spinning eddies.
Lena Delta July 1, 2001. The Lena River, some 2,800 miles(4,500km) long, is one of the largest rivers in the world. The Lena Delta Reserve is the most extensive protected wilderness area in Russia. It is an important refuge and breeding grounds for many species of Siberian wildlife.
Dragon Lake December 1, 1999. Nicknamed "Dragon Lake," this body of water is formed by the Bratskove Reservoir, built along the Angara River in southern Siberia, near the city of Bratsk. This image was acquired in winter, when the lake is frozen.
Bolivian Deforestation August 1, 2000. Once a vast carpet of healthy vegetation, the Amazon rain forest is changing rapidly. This image of Bolivia shows dramatic deforestation in the Amazon Basin. Loggers have cut long paths into the forest, while ranchers have cleared large blocks for their herds. Fanning out from these clear-cut areas are settlements built in radial arrangements of fields and farms. Healthy vegetation appears bright red in this image.
Thursday, June 11, 2015
"This moment is real, this moment is what we have, this moment in which we face each other, and if a poem is any damn good at all, it invites you to bring your whole life to that moment, and we are good poets inasmuch as we bring that invitation to you, and you are good readers inasmuch as you bring your whole life to the reading of the poem."
~ Muriel Rukeyser
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
After nearly 30 years in Alaska, after decades kayaking coastlines replete with tidewater glaciers and hiking mountains up to vast icefields, I thought I knew ice. But that’s the wonderment of the natural world: it continues to surprise me. So when I traveled to the Antarctic Peninsula in February, I saw ice as I never had before.
Endless forms most beautiful, wrote Charles Darwin, and so it is, perhaps nowhere more evident than with ice. Yes, he was writing about biological evolution. But there is, in these giant ancient-ice bergs, an evolution as well. And an unsurpassed artistry.
Once they break from the icesheet or glacier of the continent, they live for years, decades. These bergs are so big they are named and tracked, watched by satellite. B9 sheered from the eastern Ross Ice Shelf in 1987; in 1989, it broke into three pieces; in 2010, the largest piece, B9B, collided with the Mertz Glacier, causing it to calve a massive berg.
And they travel. By current and wind they travel hundreds of miles, circling the continent, moving northward. B9 covered 1200 miles in 22 months. One berg blocked our route through the Lemaire Channel one day, but by the next had shifted, allowing passage.
Not until this trip had I truly seen an iceberg. Growlers and bergy bits, yes, and floes. But not bergs. They are a different animal entirely. Freed from the icecap or glacier, they wander the coasts and ocean for decades, their faces changing, their bodies eroding and falling apart, until nothing is left but shards like bones.
They are not just white, but a changing tapestry of all colors, swirling in dark seas. Their ice is blue and pink and yellow, purple in dark light, and sometimes struck gold, shining like diamonds. Like the white of a color wheel, it contains all other colors, and reveals one or another or several at any given moment, in any given light and shadow, any alteration in perspective. A changing, moving work of art.
Watching the beauty before me, the constantly changing kaleidoscope of color and texture, never far from my mind was climate change. The Antarctic Peninsula is one of the most rapidly warming places in the world. Ice shelves are collapsing, glaciers and ice caps are retreating and thinning. There’s news this month of the catastrophic collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which holds 10 percent of the continent’s ice.
The beauty and the terror of life on Earth right now. Species like Adelie penguins who nest on ice having to move farther south, away from us. The grief of what we are destroying, the joy of what remains. The beauty and the terror: not of getting trapped in the ice, but of losing the ice, the great melt underway.
There is an absence here, an absence of human presense, like a fresh breeze through an open window in a room that has been closed for centuries. It is a place to rest worry and fear, to see by the light of a new path, a new way of living on this planet. There is a lack of thinking that there is anything here for us to do, other than witness.
I still dream of moving through the ice gallery, a gallery of sculptures by elemental forces. Nature doesn’t cling to her creations, said one of my companions. It's like a sand mandala, he said, the beauty formed, and then swept away. Beauty, on a different time scale than ours. More slowly, gradually, at least from our perspective. Geologic time. Earth time.
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Thursday, April 2, 2015
I recently had a poem published in A Year of Being Here.This marvelous blog posts a poem a day, all of them "mindfulness poetry." Most are by contemporary poets, some by relatively unknown poets (like me) and others whose work you've no doubt heard of or read. Some of the voices reach farther back in time, too, to Wordsworth and Meister Eckhart and Rumi.
Mindfulness, as I understand it, is just about being in the present moment, in the here and now. While the site isn't focused on nature poetry, you'll notice that many of the poems, and accompanying artwork, are often about or set in or referencing the more-than-human world.
This is understandable, since the natural world gives us ample models of being present. Just watch a bird or tree or wild being of any kind, and you'll notice that they live their lives (as far as I can tell) always in the present moment. They don't worry about or plan the future, and they don't gnaw on what happened in the past. They do not, as the poet Wendell Berry once wrote, "tax their lives with forethought of grief."
And art: the best inspiration I've ever had has come when I am present, fully present, to whatever is going on right here and now, right in front of me. The mind eases out of the chatter of past/future thinking, and something new opens up, some new slant of light slips in.
So, mindfulness, art, nature - it's all intertwined, all same-same. And this blog, A Year of Being Here, is full to bursting with some of the most inspiring poetry I've ever read. As the curator of the blog, Phyllis Cole-Dai, writes:
If you enjoy the taste of the wild berries I’ve picked, grab a pail of your own and head for light. That’s where these poems grow; there, and in the dappled dark of the woods. You’ll have a fine time, searching for them amongst the bushes and the brambles, so long as you go slow and watch out for thorns and bears.