(This is the second entry in my sculpture project journal. Photos will come later. If you want them in order, read July 15th first…)

Monday afternoon: stopped for lunch. I’m sitting at my lap top (an old model, second hand, with missing key, but a marvel nonetheless) in my little tent-trailer pop up. Outside the window to my right is a clearing with waist-high of ferns where three deer grazed early this morning.

Soft needled white pines surround the clearing and a grassy area at one end of it, where Andrea (who brought her banjo on this trip) is walking the outline of a labyrinth in kind of a week long meditation. Little by little the path is being beaten into the tall grass. I took her an orange and offered to lend her my propane weed burner to scorch the path into the field, but that may not be the meditational experience she was hoping for. ;0)

Between last night and this morning I have pretty much scoped out the property. I saw so many things I used to consider lovely and sacred, and remembered suddenly having written (and published) woods poems in a past life: ones about morels, and about the mossy cathedrals that remain when stumps rot to mossy mounds and worm-carved spires.

Several of us walked around seeing with sculptor-eyes the gnarled roots, bark textures and land formations, and came home last night dissatisfied with ideas that had seemed worthy back in the classroom. At our campfire “meeting” last night, the profs agreed that a certain evolution was inevitable, and a good thing — but they hoped we would stay with at least the essence of our initial plans.

This morning’s walk took me through a bog where — though dry — the low areas rest on so many layers of compost and peat-like humus, it feels like walking on a floating surface. I spotted a long snake stretched on a bare log under the ferns, and laid down on the path to photograph him.

Suddenly there was a loud snort-grunt and a thump that I could feel in the ground beneath me. Startled, I rolled to look behind me and saw an enormous white tailed deer, a buck, bounding in what seemed like eight foot leaps across the ferns and underbrush. Each time he landed he let out a snort; I could hear him breathing, and he came so close to leaping right over me that it made quite an impression. I had not imagined a deer in the woods to be so loud; it reminded me of the way my horse grunted for every breath when he galloped hard,

Once I had explored the bog I headed for the back edge of the property to explore a planting of pines. My feeling as I wandered through was the same as years ago in Oregon replanted areas: it is more farm than woods, more like rows of corn than a forest. The trees are planted in rows, close together to lower branches won’t develop and interfere with board-feet of knotless lumber. Their race to the sunlight has made the green canopy above almost invisible from beneath. Still, the occasional maple or hardwood has filled a gap to add variety to the monoculture.

The back edge of this wonderful wooded land is the property line of a housing development. I tried to work through in my head why it should make me so annoyed to see vinyl siding, chem-lawns and bright plastic playground equipment up against the woods edge. After all, I live in a house in a neighborhood that used to be woods. Lots of people love the woods and want to live nearby. Is it really that nature’s patterns are all beautiful, and human ones ugly? Or is it just my own short-sighted bias?

The birds didn’t seem to mind. Maybe those yards have birdfeeders. I worked hard to see that line between woods and neighborhood as a continuum of habitats instead of a boundary, but didn’t have much luck. I felt better when I had put enough space behind me so that the artificial colors and horizontal parallel lines were out of sight.

So here are the ideas that have been taking seed in my mind since Diana and I started talking about some honey pots I had made. I had used the beeswax foundation beekeepers can order pre-printed with the first raised ridge of honeycomb cells, so the bees will build on what is already neatly ordered.

“It’s too regular”, she said. It was; it looked mechanical. Bees on their own do build intricate hexagonal cell rows, but they have some variation; they conform to the hollow of a tree, get foreshortened of lengthened, rounded on the corners. I have recently learned that many beekeepers use a top bar hive that allows bees to build from start their own comb size and shape, and inevitably, they build smaller comb and regress to a smaller, more natural size bees that might be resistant to some of the parasites that plague bigger bees. Apparently, in the name of productivity, we have made an oversized bee with a “supersized” honey storage comb. Like the cattle we’ve bred to be too large to mate on their own, and the turkeys, and the sterile franken-hybrid produce…

But that’s another story.

What I know is that I like the comb built by bees better than the comb printed at the factory. I like the subtle wobble and comb-marks of the field of straw harvested by the Amish, on hilly terrain and drawn by horses, better than the wide uniform stripes and shrink wrapped bales of the mechanical harvesting machines. I like the winding path the deer makes better than the straight line roads laid out by humans.

And here I am in the woods, handed the job of making art to place in this setting. It seems a heady responsibility. I feel the way a religious artist might feel if commissioned to make a piece for a church or cathedral: this is a sacred place, to me. Whatever little human project I can muster will pale in comparison to a single mushroom, a clump of moss, a wet frog and its song. It feels arrogant even to try.

The best I can hope for is to imitate the natural, or find some balance between the human hand and natural creation. A winding human footpath through the forest is not a highway; there’s an element of balance, there, and compromise. This fern is trodden underfoot, but we go around this tree, this low wet spot, and follow the trails the deer already made for us, wherever we can.

So I chose a place for my first sculpture. It’s not far from a path, because it’s a nice spot and I have to haul clay in a wheelbarrow. It is in visual range of an uphill sandy dome, and a downhill brush-choked mucky lake-pond. I have carried sand down and water up to a tub of old contaminated pugmill clay I brought from home, and returned for a wheelbarrow full of straw and wood shavings from Earl Clark the woodworker just down the road.

It’s far enough from my camper to the lake that I pack water, and food, and plan to spend several hours there at a time. I have put up a sonotube anchored with a rusty fence-stake I found in the woods. I drilled holes all over it and inserted short sticks to “hold on” to the cob mixture. I had planned to use chicken wire and
roofing nails, but I want to try using only natural materials, if I can. The cardboard sonotube should burn out of the inside when the project is done.

Tonight’s dinner team made enchiladas, we played some flashlight bocci, and now I am ready to sleep. More tomorrow.

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