I walk along the Minnesota River regularly and ritually. For me, the place is essential, life infused. I pay attention. My walking becomes a meditation. I know I am a visitor –these are Dakota lands. They include the Bdote, the confluence of Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, the site of the Dakota origin story.
When I began to exhibit work about what is now called Crosby Farm Park, I was astonished how many people feel a connection to this place—hikers, birders, bikers. Often I am the only one without a dog. Last spring I saw a father in waders with fishing poles, his son on his back.
His son was on his back because seasonal flooding in 2019 was extreme enough to inundate paths and officially close the park. Trees that in other years hosted temporary puddles at their base—which captured the color of the sky—had trunks under feet of water. I was startled to discover, when I looked to its top, that a clump of trees whose base I have drawn several times is actually dead. I do not know if this cycle is normal, if certain trees growing in a flood plain have shorter life spans. There are enormous trees that must have been young when the Dakota lived here, before being expelled from Minnesota in 1863. But there are also many that have fallen.
These thoughts –about nature, knowing a place by foot, history, and climate change –are active in my mind as I walk and work. I do not work plein air but in retrospect, in the studio, my resources experience, memory, photographic reminders, the gestures of my arm. I am using oil stick on paper; the sticks are thick, somewhat awkward. I feel each mark as I lay it down. People tell me the work is beautiful, not an easy beauty but one that includes the fierceness of destruction, the implacable cycle of decay –and hopefully, replenishment. People also tell me they use my work to ignite their memories, to revisit their own experiences along these or similar waters. In order to commit to protecting our waterways, our wild places and the multiple ways in which we know them, we need awe and pleasure alive within us, to help us continue what we need to do.
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