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Posts Tagged ‘nature’

Thinking Like a Mountain

July 30, 2015 | by

How Aldo Leopold came to conservationism.

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Aldo Leopold on a trip to the Rio Gavilan, ca. 1936. Photo: U.S. Forest Service

On the first day of April 1944, Aldo Leopold sat down at his desk to craft a confession. Leopold’s reputation was already growing across the country—a champion of modern wildlife management and the father of the Gila Wilderness, he was known as a good man and great teacher—but this would be something new and strange from a figure many would come to revere as the patron saint of American conservation. Leopold had recently received a letter, one in a long series of correspondence with his friend, Hans Albert Hochbaum, critiquing the essays Leopold was slowly producing for a book. Hochbaum mentioned the wolf, an animal that remained conspicuously absent from Leopold’s drafts: “I think you’ll have to admit you’ve got at least a drop of its blood on your hands.”

Hochbaum was talking generally, but the comment reminded Leopold of an incident that dated back to 1909, when he was just twenty-two. Read More »

The Magazine of the Southwest

July 17, 2015 | by

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From Desert’s masthead.

Nicole’s staff pick from earlier today reminded me: I’ve been meaning to draw attention to the riches of archive.org’s Magazine Rack, a clearinghouse for defunct, forgotten, and abstruse periodicals from decades past. Anyone interested in media and design will find something diverting here. They’ve amassed a stupefyingly diverse collection, including such celebrated titles as OMNI (once the best sci-fi magazine around) and more … specialized fare, like The National Locksmith, Railway Modeller, and, of course, Sponsor, the magazine for radio and TV advertising buyers. All of these have been carefully digitized, and they’re free.

The best discovery I’ve made so far is Desert Magazine, a monthly dedicated to everyone’s favorite Class B Köppen climate classification. A journal of the Southwest with a conservationist bent, Desert dates to 1937 and ran for nearly fifty years, ceasing publication in 1985. Its founder and longtime publisher, Randall Henderson, died in 1970, well before I was born, but I like the cut of his jib. (Probably the wrong metaphor—few occasions for sailing in the desert.) In any case, he sounds like a copywriter from the J. Peterman Company: Read More »

April in the Berkshires

April 6, 2015 | by

North Adams, Massachusetts, in April 1934.

“April in the Berkshires,” a poem by William Matthews from our Spring 1987 issue. Matthews died in 1997. “Auden was wrong,” he said in a 1995 interview: “It’s not true that poetry makes nothing happen. It tends to work its wonders in a very small arena. It makes you more interesting to yourself, and you and me, at its best ... It has the power to perform a kind of cleansing, or rinsing of the sort for which for a long part of human history, we had only images of theological intervention to describe.”

Dogs skulk, clouds moil and froth, humans
begin to cook—butter, a blue waver of flame,
chopped onions. A styptic rain stings grit and soot

from the noon air. Here and there, like the mess
after a party, pink smudgily tinges the bushes,
but they’ll be long weeks of mud and sweaters Read More »

Erotic City

February 11, 2015 | by

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Aaron Wexler, Erotic City, 2014, acrylic painted paper and print material collaged on paper, 16.5" x 24".

Aaron Wexler’s new solo show, “The Basket Looked Like an Ocean, And I Was Just Throwing Rocks In It,” opens tomorrow at Morgan Lehman Gallery. Wexler’s work uses elements of collage, printmaking, and painting; these new projects include everything from Audubon illustrations to found photographs of jungle gyms.

Shapes are everything in Wexler’s work. He seems consumed by the moment when order becomes chaos, when geometry lapses into anarchy: even when his palette verges on the neon, his great subject is the tangle of nature. “I am in awe of nature every day,” he told BOMB in 2010:

I’m a city kid from West Philadelphia; nature is one giant mystery to me. I love the redwoods; I love scary looking tropical flowers; I love how weeds grow out of dirty bricks on nearly deserted streets. I love how innocently sexual nature is and how it surrounds us (if we’re lucky and in the right places). Most of all though, I love how organic objects can seem so foreign, alien, and new—an endless source of forms and imagery.

As the name of his show suggests, Wexler has a knack for titles—his best summon a kind of hallucinogenic outlandishness, but you can always sense a raised middle finger hovering somewhere in the background. They sound like the best albums our rock luminaries never recorded: The Love Life of a Leaf, Sure, After the Glitter Is Gone, and—a personal favorite—Erotic City, after the Prince song. (When in doubt, always borrow from Prince.) Read More »

A Worshipper of Flowing

June 30, 2014 | by

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A sketch of Miłosz by Zbigniew Kresowaty.

A happy birthday to Czesław Miłosz, who was born today in 1911 and died in 2004. Miłosz nursed a lifelong fascination with science and naturalism, particularly as they were reconciled—or not—with the Catholic teachings of his youth. He outlined the opposition in his 1994 Art of Poetry interview:

INTERVIEWER

What fascinated you about nature?

MILOSZ

Well, my great hero was Linnaeus; I loved the idea that he had invented a system for naming creatures, that he had captured nature that way. My wonder at nature was in large part a fascination with names and naming. But I was also a hunter. So was my father. Today I am deeply ashamed of having killed birds and animals. I would never do that now, but at the time I enjoyed it. I was even a taxidermist. In high school, when I was about thirteen or fourteen, I discovered Darwin and his theories about natural selection. I was entranced and gave lectures about Darwin in our naturalists’ club. But at the same time, even though it was a state school, the priests were very important. So on the one hand, I was learning about religion, the history of the Church, dogmatics, and apologetics; on the other hand, I learned about science, which basically undermines religion. Eventually I turned away from Darwinism because of its cruelty, though at first I embraced it. Nature is much more beautiful in painting, in my opinion.

INTERVIEWER

Can a connection be made between the naturalist’s and the poet’s appreciation of nature?

MILOSZ

David Wagoner has written a poem called “The Author of American Ornithology Sketches a Bird, Now Extinct.” It’s a poem about Alexander Wilson, one of the leading ornithologists in America, shooting and wounding an Ivory-billed woodpecker, which he kept to draw because it was a specimen that was new to him. The bird was slowly dying in his house. Wilson explains that he has to kill birds so that they can live on the pages of his books. It’s a very dramatic poem. So the relation of science to nature, and I suspect also of art to nature, is a sort of a meeting of the minds of both scientist and artist in that they both have a passion to grasp the world …

That passion is in evidence throughout “Rivers,” a prose poem by Miłosz published in our Summer 1998 issue; here the geological and religious meanings of rivers are made to sit—illuminatingly, if not comfortably—next to each other. It’s an appropriately crisp read for a humid summer evening, and it begins:

“So lasting they are, the rivers!” Only think. Sources somewhere in the mountains pulsate and springs seep from a rock, join in a stream, in the current of a river, and the river flows through centuries, millennia. Tribes, nations pass, and the river is still there, and yet it is not, for water does not stay the same, only the place and the name persist, as a metaphor for a permanent form and changing matter. The same rivers flowed in Europe when none of today’s countries existed and no languages known to us were spoken.

Read the whole poem here.

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Reading Through the Leaves

November 5, 2013 | by

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I was recently asked by a Canadian online magazine to visit with the books on my shelves, to find what I’ve hidden in them over the years—old boarding passes, postcards, grocery lists, a love letter never sent. Yes, I found all these things, but mostly I found tree leaves in my books. The editor wanted a picture, fifty or so words, but I kept writing because it bears explaining why I do this—how I take leaves back to my apartment to identify them, compare them to pictures in other books; and once I’ve named them, or sometimes because I’ve failed to, how I feel compelled to keep the specimens—from ash trees, lindens, London planes, honey locusts, and as-yet unknown (to me) trees all over Brooklyn. They are slipped between pages of novels, story and essay collections, a biography, books I have read and often reread, and when I open them later, forgetting myself and the last day I read that book and where, and under what tree, the leaves reenact the fall, not just one leaf but several, all different sorts, falling, or it’s the fragile end of a branch of a pinnate leaves that’s waiting for me, as here in this photo.

I do this in part because Brooklyn, and Brooklyn Heights in particular, where I’ve lived for over twenty years now, has always felt a refuge from a New York City urbanity that is unabashed and demanding, denuded of softness. The streets in Brooklyn Heights in spring, summer, and every year longer into fall are canopied by the copses of trees, reaching for and finally catching each other. These streets feel like invitations to secrets—the right to secrets—to full breaths and quiet even in this city. The other reason I do this, will always do this, owes to my grandfather, who was an arborist, or tree surgeon, in Vermont. Truth be told, he taught me nothing about trees. I was too young to ask, and in my teens, approaching my twenties, when I did think to inquire, he didn’t seem to care to talk about all the trees he’d pruned, saved, and declared beyond saving, especially during the height of the Dutch elm disease in Vermont, when he and his crew carved up hundreds of elms and carted them away for burning.

He wanted to talk about his life before he was married and settled with children and responsibility in Bennington. He’d been a salesman, an itinerant in the 1920s, and lived in rooming houses up and down the East Coast, from New York to Florida, with other young men similarly and mostly happily unmoored. He saw in my youth his own and described men he’d protected from bigger men, men he’d hit, drank with, women who’d been kind, whose faces now were simply the faces of angels, that out of reach. He died when I was nineteen before my sisters and I had all the right questions to ask, so now I can’t stop asking when I look up from my reading on a city bench or stoop: Is that a Chinese scholar tree? Is that one a Norway maple? I asked recently while reading Grace Paley’s collected stories, reading I first did in the nineties and still do fairly often now, for the immediacy and singularity of Paley’s voice, her frankness and energy (partly a gift of city living and loving), and her humor even when confronting human sorrows and disappointments. The book is full of dust from leaves, like the ones pictured here, that want to disintegrate. I won’t let them. I close the book and reseal them—keep the conversation going.

Amy Grace Loyd’s debut novel, The Affairs of Others, was published by Picador on August 27. Loyd is an executive editor at Byliner Inc. and was the fiction and literary editor at Playboy magazine. She worked in The New Yorker’s fiction department and was associate editor for the New York Review Books Classics series. She has been a MacDowell and Yaddo fellow and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

 

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