July 18, 2004

Nature Beckons Us to “Come See!”

Filed under: Art and About Nature — admin @ 3:12 pm

I was walking with my mother-in-law one Sunday morning after she had just spent a couple of hours exploring the wonders of nature along Monterey Bay with my son. She reflected on the gift young children give us by reminding us to notice and appreciate the smallest details, like whether a flower has four petals or five.

Her comment came back to me as I viewed “Revealing Nature’s Mysteries: the Photography of Susan Reynolds,” on exhibit at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek. Since childhood, Susan has profoundly appreciated the wonder of nature, and has the artistic talent to capture it in photographs in a way that reflects the vital emotional, psychological and spiritual relationship between humans and the earth. As a fourth generation Californian, she also uses her camera as a tool for environmental activism, with the hope that every time someone connects with an image from nature through her photographs, she has won another crusader toward the cause of preserving wild and open spaces.

I was lucky enough to walk through the exhibit with Susan. Over half the photos are images taken a relatively short distance away from all of our homes. The hills, grasses, rocks, trees, clouds and sunlight are familiar to all of us, but you may have never looked at them the way Susan has. She notices the splendor of the details, and admits that even she has only recently come to appreciate some of her most local photographs. She is understandably in awe of the natural grandeur in places like Glacier Natural Park and Death Valley, images from which are also included in this show. But in re-examining the multitudes of photos she has taken on hikes beginning practically outside her back door, she found images that she calls “just as amazing and grand” in their own way. Many of these images she never considered showing until an injury forced her to slow down and she found herself noticing details that had even escaped her conscientious eyes.

While we’re speeding on the freeway past the land preserved by East Bay Regional Parks, or jogging on a path looking neither left nor right at the astounding environment in which we choose to reside, too many of us don’t stop to think about a buckeye, or an oak, or lichen on a rock. We don’t think about how the light on a California hillside is distinctly different each season, each time of day, or even from moment to moment.

I grew up here and can honestly say I never thought about Contra Costa landscape as being special in any way. Three factors have spurred me to treasure our natural environment and fight to save it. When I entered the housing market six years ago, I became profoundly aware of how much humanity is forced upon us. Suddenly, I started looking for escapes in nature to get away from people and people products.

Then I started meeting local artists, and I learned that the light and landscape of my home county is unique, which is why it inspires so much creative activity around here.

And lastly, my children make it a point to show me that some flowers have four petals while others have five.

While searching for my keys in my purse after saying goodbye to Susan, my fingers found a leaf my son gave me months ago after a walk around our neighborhood. Susan had just told me that the Iroquois Indians have a saying: “Think seven generations ahead.” I think I heard my great-great-great-great-great grandchildren’s voices when I held that leaf.

July 1, 2004

Loss of Imagination’s Innocence

Filed under: Art and About Me — admin @ 4:22 pm

My first-born was barely a few days old when someone remarked, “Wouldn’t it be great to be a baby? All you have to do is eat and sleep.” Although I was only a new mom, there was nothing I had observed in my tike’s daily life that made me think he had it so good. The only way he could communicate with the buffoon adults in his life was to cry, and nothing that I take for granted, like muscle control and bodily functions, was easy for him. But that first person wasn’t the only one to make the comment, and every now and again I run into an adult who wistfully gazes upon my children and sighs about how great it is to be young and carefree.

I find this attitude intriguing, and I don’t subscribe to it in any way. Kids have a lot of things they have to sort out in their day-to-day lives to give them the library of experience that once again, I take for granted as an adult. They may not have to worry about paying the bills, but they do have to navigate hairy situations like sharing their favorite truck with other youngsters at the playground. Now that’s stressful. I had a good childhood and a fairly smooth adolescence but there is nothing in the world that would make me go back to any other age than I am right now.

Well, maybe one thing.

In my adulthood, my imagination has lost its innocence and I really want it back. This realization became clear to me just last week when I was confronted with the first example of life experience ruining a perfectly good childhood memory.

My kids discovered the wonders of the DVD version of “Free to Be…You and Me” and started playing it repeatedly. At first, this made my heart soar. As a true child of the ’70s, I loved Marlo Thomas’ reinvention of storytelling stereotypes, and the record played continuously in our house during my formative years. I still know every song and story by heart, and they still make me want to dance and sing.

By I had a rude awakening when my 32-year-old brain accessed its bank of knowledge while watching the DVD version. When I was a kid, I didn’t know Alan Alda, Mel Brooks, Harry Belafonte and Michael Jackson were supplying some of the talent. But now when I listen to their voices, I’m continually thinking, “Hey, that’s Mel Brooks.” Or I’m envisioning the familiar body language of Alan Alda. Or the irony of Michael Jackson singing, “We don’t have to change at all” in a song about accepting yourself and others for the way they look.

And as an adult, I may be able to appreciate the multiple levels of meaning imparted by casting Rosey Grier to sing “It’s All Right to Cry,” but that song was already pretty deep for me, so I don’t necessarily embrace the enlightenment.

The loss of my imagination’s innocence is an unwelcome visitor, showing up when I least expect it. Another recent example is when I watched “Finding Nemo,” which I think is a wonderful film. But I will always see the lead fish not as Marlin and Dory but as Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres. Both actors are superb in their voicework for the film, but I am unable to completely let go of their real identities and travel under the sea with them in suspension of disbelief. I envy my kids who are getting the full thrill of the movie by knowing the characters only within the context of the story. Enjoy it while it lasts, kids!