We use our blogs for many reasons and purposes. Mine has been used to illustrate an artistic life. Sometimes to inform, sometimes to market an upcoming exhibit or show work that doesn’t fit into a collection (yet).
What if I occasionally use this space for observations, field notes, and ideas, just as one would use a captain’s log or a day journal? Who would that benefit? Who on earth would read it?
Below is a stream of consciousness that while effective, popular blog posts feature the top ten whatever’s or three top tips to get you to where you want to go, this will have none of that. You have been warned.
I consider myself an environmental artist. There are many of us witnessing what is happening to our world and expressing it in our art. There is despair, yes, and also hope with a call to save all that we can, including ourselves. To know, like many of the plants I observe, we are resilient. (Really — never, ever underestimate the tenacity of a plant).
In the past two-going-on-three years of being able to practice my art full-time, I’ve become aware of a shift in me. I give myself time to be still. I have the birds to thank for that. They’ve taught me how to meditate. Since I don’t have a pet and have a desire to observe the wild up close, I feed the birds.
I note their behaviors and then cross-reference what I witnessed in a search (sometimes). I have seen cardinals court their sweetheart by offering her seeds which she excepts from his beak. A kiss. I have seen a male cardinal feed his fledgling daughter. I have also, in horror, seen cardinals defend their territory to the death. Last Thursday was a terrific battle and a female cardinal was taken out.
Mourning doves, as demure and docile as they seem, can be aggressive bullies, towards each other and other birds.
Females of the finches all seem to get along as if girlfriends having lunch together. It can be just as peaceful if a male comes and joins in.
A catbird bravely wanders about our front porch. Could she be looking for ants? There are so many ants in my garden. Troops of them.
My garden is now in its third year and finally looking like an honest-to-god respectable flower bed. There are plants that still get eaten. There are those that are thriving and therefore must be divided. A few have surprised me with their resilience. A rescued rose bush now bears three rich red blooms, a sharp contrast to everything else growing alongside. I’ve never been a true fan of rose bushes and know more about their wild cousins than their cultivated kin. The hardiness of this little rose bush makes me determined, proof that perseverance has its rewards.
Weeding. I am a casual weeder. Pulling mainly and mostly buckthorn seedlings. Knowing that plants communicate (among other things) with one another through their root systems with the aid of mycorrhizal fungi, I wonder by pulling weeds did I just take down their phone lines?
I placed a make-shift bird bath stands off to the side of the garden as summer grew hotter with no rain in sight. It took awhile and then from the corner of my eye, I see a bird drinking from it. Now the word is out that this is a reliable watering hole, safe and in the shade.
I’ve heard that birds that stay year-round, like the cardinals, blue jays, woodpeckers, nuthatches, crows, and chickadees, learn the comings and going habits of their human neighbors. Often I hear the chickadees scolding me as I step out onto the deck to replenish the feeders. I wonder, do they have a name for me?
All the threads in which to write poetry, an art form that I’m having a love affair with, and sometimes manage to write a halfway decent response to this lover.
Lover. I heard in an interview with an author that the mention of the word “lover” people recoil. Are we really that prudish? The birds certainly know how to take a lover. The way the bumblebees hover and gather around the speedwell appears to be an act of love.
There is so much to observe and experience out in nature if we only take the time to do so. In our overly technological and materialist world, we are slowly dying inside. Feeling we are separate and not a part of nature is no accident. It has been slowly happening since the industrial age.
Environmental artists, such as myself, have been saying this, in many forms, for a while now. I make the plea to reconnect ourselves with nature as a way to overcome the paralysis that we are in a crisis. In order to save all that we can save, we need to reconnect with our true nature through nature. When we find meaningful connections, love inevitably follows. And what we love, we are driven to protect.
The watercolor shown above is a project of two years in planning and commemorates a time and place that defies accepted lawn maintenance practices and aesthetics. What follows is the story ofA Little Chaos.
People who know me know I changed addresses a lot (12 times, to be exact) since 2008 when we lost our first house in the mortgage-backed securities debacle.
Where ever I’m living, I encourage a bit of wildness.
What people who know me don’t know about me is that for every place I moved into, I encourage a bit of wildness to be a part of my stay there. The staple is feeding the birds, which usually turns into, by default, feeding the rabbits, turkeys, ducks, and squirrels. When I could garden, I planted native plants for pollinators. I love watching the bumble bees, their bodies too big to logically fly as physics tells us, their hypnotic buzz vibrating in the key of C.
The yard is too dangerous to mow.
The biggest wildness happened when we occupied the last house we would rent before buying one of our own. As tenants, we were responsible for yard maintenance. The front and side yards were straightforward. However, the backyard was an uneven gauntlet of obstacles. My husband and I looked at each other, our eyes stating the obvious, “This yard is too dangerous to mow.” We said nothing to our landlord about this. Instead, we let the backyard go wild.
A Little Chaos. Watercolor on 300lb Fabriano Hotpress Paper. 29.25” x 21” Unframed.
I sincerely hope Aspens exist in heaven.
I fully expected a suburban landscaping aesthetic to kick in. It never did. Instead, I watched as nature took over. There was some cultivation in play — Hosta growing around the base of an Aspen tree, Japanese Pachysandra encasing an old tree stump, and lots of ferns spreading where ever they wanted to. The yard held tall Aspen and Pin Oaks, plus four sad little Blue Spruce trees along the neighboring fence. If I could have moved them to a more suitable spot, I would. In time, Aspen saplings started to spring up, their thin reed-like trunks waving golden green leaves in the breeze. It’s another affirmation that I sincerely hope Aspens exist in heaven.
As the backyard returned to wild, various plant species took root among the grasses. Most people would label them weeds. I suspect many were either edible, medicinal, or both. I discovered what the invasive garlic mustard looks like as one started blooming among the ferns. They really are an attractive plant. However, knowing so many volunteer their weekends to pull them out of the ground, I reluctantly did the same.
Detail views of A Little Chaos.
To the rabbits, the backyard was a giant salad bowl.
The rabbits certainly appreciated the wild greenery. To them, the backyard was a giant salad bowl as well as habitat. It had turned into a lazy sanctuary where I would catch the rabbits sprawled out under the kitchen window after a warm afternoon, with no barking dogs or high fences to contend with.
Then there was JoJo.
Then there was JoJo, a spunky chestnut-streaked chipmunk we befriended. Chipmunks are the smallest member of the squirrel family, highly territorial, and despise their own kind but will take a shine to humans. There was some getting to know each other. At first, I thought JoJo was male. Then one day, she stood up on her hind legs to reveal that, in fact, she was expecting. From then on, we called her Mama JoJo.
Feeding her by hand was an electrifying experience.
As she grew more and more comfortable with us, we started feeding her by hand. She had an affinity for black sunflower seeds. Then I read feeding chipmunks black sunflower seeds was like providing them with a steady diet of chocolate bonbons. So I switched to offering her unsalted, organic, if possible, variety of nuts, all of which she took readily. There are people who preach the downfalls of feeding wild animals. I understand where they are coming from if not wholeheartedly agree with them. Still, there is something thrilling and so surreal as Mama JoJo put her little paw on my hand while taking her presented nuts and stuffing them into her cheek pouches. It was an electrifying experience.
With food, there should be water, too. I placed a small desert bowl of fresh water that once held crèmes brûlée on the steps leading out of the three-seasoned porch. It was the perfect size for Mama JoJo. And it became the perfect-sized watering hole for others, too. During the heat of the summer, just about everyone showed up for a drink, even butterflies.
Then the fireflies showed up.
There were many afternoons that I would hang out in the backyard observing the birds, the insects, and the way the light filtered through the trees. It was lush and quiet (with the exception of Mama JoJo’s insistent barking to protect her territory). Most of all, it was a wild oasis among manicured and chemically induced lawns. One reward for letting the backyard run wild was when the fireflies showed up. The backyard appeared strung with little lights, twinkling off and on in the night air. The thick vegetation kept the night air moist and humid, creating a suitable environment for fireflies to congregate.
I saw fireflies all the time growing up. I recently learned their numbers have fallen to endangered status due to urban-suburban development, drained wetlands, and light pollution. Fireflies use their flashing lights to communicate, find a mate, defend territory, and fend off predators. I’m glad we could provide a little refuge for the fireflies that summer among all the yard lights and mowed lawns on either side of our rented house.
The Nest Generation. Graphite + Watercolor. 16 ” x 20” Framed. Gifted to our landlords.
A peace offering.
When it came time to move out, I wrote a detailed letter to our landlord explaining why we let the backyard go wild and how much I loved it. I wrote about its potential and all the things they could do back there that did not involve mowing. As a “peace-consolation” offering, I gifted a drawing that the landlord’s wife had seen exhibited at the Minnetonka Center for the Arts and expressed how much she loved it.
The landlord’s response to “our not mowing the backyard” did not align with my sentiments. In short, he was pissed. But that’s what security deposits are for. A portion of it went to cutting back all the wild we had let happen. While I feel sorry for the loss of habitat and all the natural beauty I experienced, I feel sorry for the landlord for losing a secret garden he will never know.
I knew I would probably never have this experience again and wanted to memorialize that wild backyard and all that it had given me. It was two years before I could define my approach and carve the time needed to make a piece that could speak to the importance of creating and keeping wild spaces wherever we can. By doing so, we nurture the wild side of ourselves, too.
If I were to attempt such a project again I would think to include the birds, the rabbits, and of course, Mama JoJo. Let your eyes do the imaging. They’re all in there somewhere.
Terra Kind Studio is the creative working home of visual artist, writer, apprentice poet, and graphic designer Kristin Maija Peterson.
“I write stories about of my work to bring you a connection and understanding of the thinking that goes into my work. As a self-proclaimed “Beauty Hunter,” I seek to represent the wild, the messy and the misunderstood places and spaces that are either ignored or destined to be controlled or developed. There is such beauty in the natural chaos of things. I hope your visit here is an inspired one.
Be kind to the earth. Be kind to others and especially be kind to yourself.
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