The natural world can inspire wonder and awe. I can be transfixed by the flight of a bird, the movement of water, or sunlight brushing snow. For the past few years I have been expressing this world in a series of paintings. Inspired by poetry, lyrics and my outdoor ramblings, the subjects of the paintings—water, wings, nests, trees—form a metaphor for the human condition and questions about destiny.
When outdoors walking the woods or skiing a mountain, I feel as if I am partaking in an adventure. As a child my siblings, neighbors and I would play in the neighboring woods building complex narratives and forming the environment to support our stories. In turn books we read and media we consumed influenced our play-stories. Gulliver’s Travels mixed with Batman in our games as we escaped the traps set by Lilliputians on the forest paths. And along those paths, we discovered where real-life rabbits ran, birds nested, and deer slept. The physical world where we played out fantastical narratives was ever changing, unpredictable, and a master teacher of creativity.Today where do we allow our mind to wander and therefore discover?
Our children often do not have access to play in the natural world; factors include tightly scheduled formal activities, increased homework requirements, daycare environments, lack of adequate adult supervision during daylight hours, unsafe neighborhoods, etc. Yet the nature of childhood is to run, to play, to explore, and to learn by doing. I believe that electronic games are popular because they return to youth a world to explore. Through games youth explore, try out behaviors, and create their own life stories based upon narratives and mechanics designed by professional game designers. Games are a powerful medium for learning skills and producing critical thinking. But the question that haunts me is are we not learning merely what we already know and have already envisioned? How do we create the unknowable?
Technology calls to us like Odysseus' sirens. Exquisitely we've designed our devices for reward and response: the adrenaline rush, the dopamine commander. We are learning to heed the small screen as if it is what matters and we hurry to its insistent buzz—an apt guide for our endless pursuit of the material. But life I am finding is all too short and the screen is lonely comfort when we face our destiny. It is then that we recognize we must know how to be alone with ourselves. Where then is the quiet that leads us there? Where is the silence of a startled forest or the rapture found in a winter's moonlight?Has the technology we've created made our world larger or smaller?
As we overcrowd our world, build out urban and suburban environments, consume and dispose of products that outlive our lifetimes, and now live more digitally are we forgetting our essential and elemental connection to our planet? As I wander Vermont’s hillsides, I wonder can an experience be constructed to reintroduce us to the unpredictable? Can a new narrative be created and shared to reconnect nature’s beauty and wildness to our own existential selves?