Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Green Pasture

'I know a painting so evanescent that it is seldom viewed at all, except by some wandering deer. It is a river who wields the brush, and it is the same river who, before I can bring my friends to view his work, erases it forever from human view. After that it exists only in my mind's eye.'  I'm always interested in examples of the landscape creating its own art, and in 'The Green Pasture' section of his environental classic A Sand County Almanac (1949), Aldo Leopold writes of the way the river builds up a painting, first with silt and then with plants which in turn attract birds and animals.

'To view the painting, give the river three more weeks of solitude, and then visit the bar on some bright morning just after the sun has melted the day-break fog. The artist has now laid his colors, and sprayed them with dew. The Eleocharis sod, greener than ever, is now spangled with blue mimulus, pink dragon-head, and the milk-white blooms of Sagittaria. Here and there a cardinal flower thrusts a red spear skyward. At the head of the bar, purple ironweeds and pale pink joe-pyes stand tall against the wall of willows. And if you have come quietly and humbly, as you should to any spot that can be beautiful only once, you may surprise a fox-red deer, standing knee-high in the garden of his delight.'

Photo: Wikimedia Commons (James Lindsey at Ecology of Commanster)

There are several instances in the book where nature is described as a superior, more fundamental kind of culture - the essay that follows 'The Green Pasture', for example, is called 'The Choral Copse' and describes 'the misty autumn daybreaks ... What one remembers is the invisible hermit thrush pouring silver chords from impenetrable shadows; the soaring crane trumpeting from behind a cloud; the prairie chicken booming from the mists of nowhere; the quail’s Ave Maria in the hush of dawn.'  This kind of artistic epiphany in the landscape is a nice way of promoting the land ethic to city folk like me who admire the naturalist's endless curiosity and patient observation of wildlife but, to be honest, would rather not read too much of the detail.

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