Saturday, January 14, 2012
Rivers of Stone
This is the time of year when trail riding and walking in the woods is the best, if you can bundle up enough against the cold. One of the things that I love about New England is the stonewalls that flow like mysterious veins through the woods here. The walls are so personal, each one with a story about the person who placed the stones in that particular, artistic way. There’s no doubt in my mind that this kind of masonry is art.
When I first moved here, I wondered why so many of the walls were lodged into the deepest woods. Then, I realized that this land was once cleared of trees, and the walls separated fields and property lines. There are still a few farms near our house, but over a hundred years ago, as the Industrial Revolution spread across the East Coast, most of the farms disappeared. I love the idea of the trees taking back the land, starting as little volunteers sheltered by the stonewalls. Now, I live at the edge of this deep, thick forest, watching the give and take between these towering trees and crumbling walls.
I am doing a video with an artist who draws her inspiration from nature, so I’ve been spending more time in the woods this week. I also watched a wonderful documentary about Andy Goldsworthy called “Rivers and Tides”. He talks about time being a great teacher. He says it is relentless, especially as he works in nature: “Time is coming up behind me.” He believes that we often misread the landscape when we just see it as “pretty” or “pastoral”, missing the dark side of it. The stones, to him, are the guardians, protecting something. Living in the same place for a long time allows you to see the progression and appreciate the river of growth that flows through the trees and the land.
One of my favorite things about Goldsworthy’s art is that he makes each work and “takes it to the edge of its collapse. That’s a beautiful balance.” The violent ice storm this October literally tore some of the biggest trees in half. Huge hairy limbs still dangle overhead, waiting for the wind to release them. It looks like the forest is having a bad hair day. Trails that had been carefully carved over time are now covered with wild, twisted branches and logs. Winter in our woods is the time of year to really appreciate the flow and energy between the living and the river of stone.