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A few months ago I had a crisis of heart. My EKG was reading “acute ischemia,” which, in lay terms, means: a heart attack was likely. It turned out that there is nothing wrong with my heart, that I just have a wonky EKG, but the doctors had me scared for a few days. I actually left the hospital against their advice (that death was imminent!).To ease my anxiety over the situation I went to a favorite spot in the woods, near the headwaters of Six Mile Creek, to take some photos.

Usually, when I venture out, camera in hand, I try not to have an agenda. I like to see what possibilities are presented to me and then explore them. On this day, in which darkness was rapidly approaching, I found myself standing in the middle of the creek, with my expensive camera and tripod perched on slippery rocks. As the light faded away I had to shoot longer and longer exposures; the flowing water began to look more and more ethereal, especially when contrasted with the few static objects in the view.

While I was in the hospital I had a series of tests done, which included imaging of the heart using dyes or nuclear material injected into my blood, and an echocardiogram. Like an expectant mother watching a sonogram, being able to see the innards of my ticker working away in a live view fascinated me; it was almost worth having to endure the whole ordeal. Whenever I have x-rays, or MRIs done, (I’ve had way too many!) I like to get copies so I can study and even draw from them. This time was no exception. In art school we studied anatomy as a part of figure drawing; I love learning about the body and understanding what we look like under our skin.

The water flowing in the creek felt like the blood in my arteries, in its movement was life. I needed a way to show it. I began to pick up red leaves and throw them in the water as my camera clicked off 2-second exposures. The red blur captured the motion; the fuzzy details and contrast of the waterfalls were like the images from the hospital. Later, I came back with red surveyor’s tape and let it run out in the creek for a few hundred feet. As I traced it with my camera, each image became more exciting.

It is moments like these when I am sure of my vision. Without forethought, I have woven a perfect thread through my work. You may recall an earlier series I did on the heart: a study of the origins of the ubiquitous valentine in contrast with the actual, anatomical organ. This was a perfect recap of that, but with the angle that the crucial flow of blood circulating through our hearts and bodies is like the flow of water through the creeks and rivers. We are all dependent on the flow of life giving fluid.

I plan to keep working on this series, playing in the creek and documenting my process. I’ve included a few here for your enjoyment.

flow project



flow project


cardiac cath image 2


park preserve water patterns


park preserve water patterns



echo copy copy







In so much that an artist does, past work experiences becomes a source for new art. I think about how my past jobs inform and relate to current themes in my work. I’ve had a lot of different jobs-ornamental plasterer, carpenter, welder, house painter, sauna builder, college professor, and art preparator. The first steady job I had was painting billboards during my summers off from college.

Each May, I would leave school as soon as possible and head back to the foothills of the Adirondacks where I had a job with Coe Advertising in Barneveld, NY. I suffered through living with my parents while I worked 40-60 hour weeks, until I earned enough cash to pay off the bursar when I returned to school in September.

My boss, Ralph Coe, knew I was his golden boy the day I showed up for an interview for a job he hadn’t posted. I was compensated well: by the second summer my weekly paycheck equaled my father’s-who was not only an architect, but ironically had once painted signs himself and taught me how to letter. In 1972, when I was 11,  we painted the banner “ We Love the Blue Raiders,” which swung over Main Street during the Trumansburg homecoming parade. Painting signs was not without its personal conflict: although I didn’t care for football and the charade of the homecoming pageant, I loved making that banner. I hated billboards in general, especially the ones which interrupted the roadside view as you drove towards the wilderness, but I loved the job. If you drove to Old Forge and beyond at any time between 1980 and 1985, you saw my artwork. My moral justification was: if  those signs were going to be there, they should finance my art career. Now, I look back on many of them with a nostalgic fondness; they were the last of an era, soon to be replaced by digital avatars pasted up by hard hat crews with no artistic training.
ok corral_1
The last remaining sign that I painted: a back-lit plexiglass light box sign for the OK Corral, in Remsen, was still in place last year, even though the diner was boarded up. Besides being a functional beacon to highway travelers, it became a local cultural icon whose irony was probably most obvious to me. The crude painting of a cowboy on a bucking bronco announced a place only imagined to most travelers in those parts. It did, however, capture the boom and bust spirit of the lower Adirondacks, a region where starting a business was  as risky as picking a bar fight in Tombstone, Arizona; home of the original OK Corral. I called it the “culture of failure”. I painted signs for many places that were struggling. As we said in the sign business, a good sign will only get the customer through the door-the first time.

blue spuce motel

pioneer inn

I painted billboards and signs for all sorts of businesses up and down Route 12 and 28. Places with endearing cornball touristy names such as: The Buffalo Head Inn, Deer Meadows Motel, and The Rendezvous. Most of these were one-of-a-kind signs, painted in place, with me balanced on a twelve-inch wide plank, juggling cans of paint, brushes, and spray paint. Sometimes I got lucky and did the panels in the shop, which we would put up later. They ranged in size from twenty-four to forty feet long. My layout tools were simple and  “old school”: a wooden yardstick, tape measure, grease pencil, a string compass and chalk line. Sometimes I’d make a pattern in the shop, using a tracing wheel to poke holes in the paper and then use a chalk bag to dust it onto the billboard, but usually I’d just sketch things out in place. I’d work from a postcard sized design–usually completely out of proportion to the actual sign-that Ralph would hand to me as he sent me on my way. After that, I’d be my own for two to three days. People were happy with my work and despite my long hair, which drew comments straight out of a Bob Seger song, I was a celebrity at many a diner—where we ate for free since they owed Ralph so much money.
whitesboro spring     tough case
I liked  painting cars and machinery and animals: my airbrushed (spray painted) version of the famous “Buffalo Head” was never surpassed and I did  a pretty good moose for the Big Moose Inn,  but I was terrible at people. Lettering was pretty straightforward, but it was the spacing that was critical. When you kern in Illustrator, you can tweak the whole line but with paint it was one letter at a time. A “turp” soaked rag was my eraser and stepping back to view the work was never an easy option when on a plank twenty feet in the air. Counter to intuition, serifs made lettering easier; the little flags created flow and compensated for awkward spacing. Focusing on one letter at a time and working forwards and backwards from the center made it pretty easy to misspell words. I can’t tell you how many times I looked up from the front seat of the truck during lunch and was horror-stricken by what I had written. Maybe that’s why cars always honked at me. Some days I’d get so absorbed in my work I’d forget lunch altogether.

one scaffolding rig I used

one scaffolding rig I used

Now I think about my billboard experience as an introduction to a scale that was larger than anything possible in a studio. The works were literally interventions in the landscape, interrupters of the view and with a boldness that could compensate for the velocity of the viewer. Likewise, In the world of art galleries, works have to compete with an increasingly  distracted audience in a hurry to go nowhere. Art has become big, bold, and splashy. In the past, art demanded at least a moment of contemplation. Perhaps billboards can used  to recapture the attention of a world zooming by. In my head I have a project to (temporarily) reclaim some of those billboards and paint images from a past era when traveling included activities such looking out the car window and marveling at the world passing by. These images, showing scenes from my own history, will simultaneously engage and confuse viewers, much like the simplistic logos of so many failed diners: “fine food, complete menu,” leaving them with the question: “Is this art?”




In my last post I showed a selfie photo that had me holding my hand in front of my face as if I was trying to hide my identity. My friend Chris responded with a familiar image of cave art: the outline of the artist hand, stenciled as he (she) sprayed ocher or some other earth pigment over it. It reminded me of finding such a hand print on cliff wall, off trail, in the Gila wilderness in New Mexico. Rarely has such a simple human expression impacted me like that. Not just the image, but the randomness of finding it, without the usual signs and well worn path. It was as if we were the first to see the lasting expression of someone dead for millennia.

Remembering this moment makes me think about the significance of hands, especially regarding identity. We all know that our fingerprints are unique, but what is more unique and interesting is what we do with our hands. Arguably, more so than even our oversized brains, it is our ability to manipulate material that sets us apart from other species. The moment of the first human turning a wet lump of clay into a Venus or dragging charcoal across a cave wall to elucidate his feelings about the hunt is the moment that art took center stage in the history of human development.

My hands play heavily into who I am. If there is one aspect of my life that reigns, it is my ability to make. I’ll admit, I’m not good at a lot of things: playing music befuddles me and  typing is a pain in the ass, but put any tool in my hand and I will make that tool speak.  I will make materials submit to my whim and I can make marks as subtle as feather’s tickle or as bold as a jackhammer’s blast. I submit my hands to incredible abuse and, yet, when I ask them to perform surgeon’s tasks, they comply. In the past week I have blasted holes through concrete, extracted rotten woodwork, drew delicate lines on paper, wove metal into metal with a 5000 degree flame (inches from my bare fingers) and coaxed cement into a perfectly sloped floor. I can’t text worth a damn, but these fingers can weave rope and pull a line as steady as a CNC machine. Without these hands, I am speechless, without identity and lost. If my life can be defined as one existential crisis after another, then it is my hands and their ability to leave a solid mark on the world that resolves each crises and saves me from myself.

I taught welding for many years; after watching many students struggle with the delicate weave of the molten puddle,  I began to realize that a steady hand cannot be taught. I inherited steadiness from my father. He was an architect back when CAD was an insult; the detail and clarity of his drawings blow away anything a computer could ever do. These days, it’s a rare skill to be able to use your hands for anything other than kissing a keyboard. When I shake hands, I instinctively judge a man by his callouses: the rougher the better. (a bit of ochre on the backside isn’t bad either). Despite all of our technology, the world is still a gritty place that needs real fixes.

This past Spring I had major hand surgery: In 2012, I tore the ligament that stabilizes the  connection between the ulna and radius and the carpals in my right (i.e., dominant) hand. For two years I limped along, unable to do what I do, and only able to do anything with the endurance of pain. (For those of you who follow my work: thus, the photos) After several meetings with my Dr., I entrusted her to cut my ulna in two, shorten it, put it back together with a metal  plate and repair the torn ligament. When the wraps came off two weeks after surgery, I almost passed out; with my hand shriveled to a useless appendage I felt reduced to uselessness.  But six months later,  the surgery has worked and I am back to work. It was her hands, with their gifted steadiness, that have made it possible for my hands to regain their voice, to manipulate material, to become my identity once again.

These hands of mine may feel heavy and sluggish or they may ache at times, you may meet me with indistinguishable goo stuck to them, or I may be sitting on them in the dance hall, but they are who I am. Give me a blank cave wall and the possibility of eternity and I will eagerly put these dukes up as a signifier of who I am.




Heavy Hands 1

The Selfie

Making art is a profoundly private gesture, yet, as an artist I want to share my expressions with the world. In the moment, a singular action may seem crazy, but in the context of the artist’s oeuvre, it fits into the pattern of one’s life like a single strand of red wool fits into the greens of a tartan plaid.  We don’t need an audience to cheer us at every move, rather, we need validation through some record of the work having been made— even a bad review will do. Paying a therapist to quietly nod and mumble a few choice banalities will somehow validate all of your concerns; whereas talking to yourself is simply craziness. We simply need a witness.

Like a tree that falls in the forest, many of my artistic actions go unseen. I prefer to work in complete privacy yet my proclivity is to photo-document my actions when possible— and by proclivity, I do mean weakness. To be both documentor and documentee is a contradiction. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, usually applied to science, works here: by turning the camera on one’s self, one can never capture the true nature of one’s self. Selfies are all a lie. So, my work is purest when I don’t care about the outcome or the audience or even documentation. The Zen secret to being an artist is to work like you don’t care,  but to do everything with great care. And be ready for the perfect storm.

When it finally comes to presenting the work—printing it, matting and framing it and then sipping (guzzling) cheap wine while the audience ponders—I have to become a stranger to it. The work is long over, the opening is more a wake than a party, and I am the undertaker. My mind is always on the next moment and, somewhere, I find inspiration for the next work.

One Good Rope

Besides all of the tangled masses of long rope that I have been finding caught in the rocks, I’ve been collecting short bits that appear in the mats of flotsam on the beach. The range of colors is amazing: blue, green, yellow, orange and several pastel shades. Looking at my collection in a pile, you’d think there had been a celebration, but, thinking about the extension cords that often snake around my feet in my studio, different colors make it easier to keep the mess untangled; or, like the mass of wires in the guts of a car’s fuse box, the colors make it possible to trace one line from what would otherwise be a mess of monochromatic spaghetti. On a fishing boat, it must be hard enough just to stay on your feet, much less keep track of which rope goes to what. Hopefully, not many fishermen are color blind.

Many of the pieces have these wonderful splices in them, which look like the braids of a rag rug, either to join two or sections or to make a loop or an end. The pieces range from one to several feet in length are about one-half to three-quarters of an inch thick. All rope is made the same way: three distinct strands formed from fine fibers twist around each other in a counter-clockwise direction. The strands themselves are tightly wound in a clockwise direction so that the twisting actions work against each other and hold it all together. The more stress applied, the more the rope binds on itself. A rope can be made as long as needed regardless of the length of the fine fibers, which can be jute, hemp, cotton, nylon or, as in the case most beach rope, polypropylene, which floats and doesn’t biodegrade. A splice simply weaves the strands of two ends together, or in the case of a loop, an end back into itself. I’ve decided to take all of these cast off pieces and make one long rope.

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate rope. As a Boy Scout, I learned how to tie knots and lash together sticks to make lean-tos and towers. Later, as a house painter, the antiquated scaffold hoist that I used relied on ropes to take me up and down the side of a house so I could work half a day without touching the ground. I inspected my ropes regularly; like a rock climber, I knew my life depended on them. Years later, working on the Cayuga Lake Triathlon, I had to come up a system to create a half-mile long string of buoys that would define the swim course. We used one length of yellow polypropylene, splicing in loops for buoy clips and anchors so that it could be rapidly deployed. Looking at old race day photos, I know, this experience informed later projects, like the 1500 foot line of stones I created in the Oregon high desert. A line in the landscape can imply an almost infinite scale; physically manifest as fence or road or a rope, it is the perfect marriage of the abstract to the tangible. Like a yellow police tape, a line can be seemingly insignificant and, yet, can impose unmistakeable consequences. Rope is also pretty handy stuff; it is one of those things, like the wheel, that defines civilization, yet, unlike other technology, it is pretty much unchanged and it is certainly less glamorized. Its perfection lies in its simplicity and the way it utilizes the natural tendency of things to twist and bind on them selves. Pulled taut into a straight line, it is perfectly stable; left to the forces of nature, it will eventually curl into itself and form a useless tangle.

As I work and teach myself the splicing process, I find that the easiest way to work is to start a foot back from one end. After the strands of the second rope are weaved into the first, the extra rope is trimmed off. The floor of my work space is soon covered with all of these little ends and I begin think about all the short bits of plastic rope that litter the beaches. I realize that much of it is probably not lost, but simply discarded. Suddenly, reconstituting all of these bits into a new rope becomes an indictment of those who live off of the sea.

My spliced rope is almost 100 feet long now and made of twenty or so pieces. Much of the rope is worn and frayed but the splices look pretty good (but not as good as the fishermen’s), so I know they will hold under stress. The project would be meaningless if the rope wasn’t strong, so I test it by tying one end to my car and the other to a tree. As I release my clutch, the rope binds on itself and the engine bucks and stalls. That is one good rope.

IMG_2249     work shot at Baie St Marie, Nova Scotia      work shot at Baie St Marie, Nova Scotia    IMG_2714   IMG_2726

A Complex Geology

Nova Scotia’s geology rivals it’s political history in complexity: the land itself is a hybrid of disparate formations from across the Atlantic. The northern region was a part of, in geology speak, Avalonia, a shifting microcontinent that was torn between Gondwana and Laurasia during the re-shuffling of the earths’ crust. The southwest region, where I am staying, is called Meguma, and was a shard of North Africa that clung to America during the break-up of Pangea. Like a telltale paint chip on an offending hit-and-run car, the rocks I look over as I gaze at the bay match those found in Morocco. If the Acadians had been around then, they could have just clung to this shifting rock instead of immigrating in the wretched boats that initially brought them here.

Walking along the rocky shore, this tangled geology can be read in the rainbow of colors and textures underfoot. Sometimes the stones are perfectly ordered, like at Belliveau Cove, where it is hard to believe that the beach was not trucked in and mechanically raked like the shores of New Jersey. In other places, small rocks and large boulders compete for space in the tidal zone between the mats of rubbery seaweed and the jutting cliffs of tilted layers of what was once soft shale, which forms the bedrock here. It is not like the loose layered stone of my homeland in the Finger Lakes, whose horizontally stacked flat layers form an easy reading of the past 300 million years or so. The grey rock here has been through some hard times: cracked, bent and heated under pressure. Long straight fissures—familiar sights in the gorges back home–are all filled with white quartz, so that it looks as if someone ran back and forth with a leaking bucket of white paint. A cave at Smugglers Cove Park, used to hide booze during prohibition, is the result of a ten foot wide intrusive dike of black lava being eroded as the surf pounded away at it. The park signage refers only to the colorful recent history and makes no mention of the much more interesting black stripe that crosses the cove. Across the bay, a long finger of land intervenes between the Bay of Fundy. Its basalt lava cliffs, which gleam orange in the afternoon sun, mark the edge of another geologic region. To complicate (or enrich) things further, the glaciers brought granites, gabbros, conglomerates and other rocks from the North as they spilled over the land, dropping them here before melting and retreating. The pounding surf and flowing meltwater polished the stones and arranged them on the beach for tourist to gather and take back to their homes. Eventually, these house bound collections will spill out into the gardens of foreign landscapes; certain to confound future geologists.

Despite this complicated history, there is an underlying order here, where the ocean meets the land. Even the range of hues in the seaweed seems informed by the multicolored rocks. I try to refrain from photographing every other stone, or worse, collecting them all, and keep my work focused on the more didactic, with an eye towards the aesthetic. I turn over stones and probe crevices in an attempt to understand the Gestalt of the big picture: that which binds the animate to the inanimate, the mundane with the extraordinary and me to everything else.

work shot at Baie St MArie, Nova Scotia         nova scotia.060914.a.0205

work shot at Baie St Marie, Nova Scotia    work shot at Baie St MArie, Nova Scotia          

IMG_2438    work shot at Baie St MArie, Nova Scotiawork shot at Baie St MArie, Nova Scotia


Once I’ve determined my process, I challenge myself to stick with it. Unraveling wet, stinky beach rope that I pull out from the nooks and crannies on the rocky beach has it’s discouraging moments. As both taskmaster and worker, I force myself to completion with the same kind of discipline that got me through marathons in what, now, seems like a past life. Hunkered down in the midst of flotsam covered with rotting tidal muck I become lost in the process and fall into a meditative rhythm. Slipping into the scene, I notice things that the hurried approach of our modern lives tends to sidestep. Yesterday, right about the time I was daydreaming about all the disgusting things I might find in the tangle of grossness, I heard a rustle from under the rocks. A minute later, the brown, furry face of a mink was poking out, curious as to what I was up to. I began to notice other wildlife: grey seals with their raspy breathing as they surfaced for air, and loons, whose yodeling reminded me of the Adirondacks. Watching the ocean requires the patience of a monk but is rewarding not just for what you might see, but for the state of mind that ensues.

My mindless labor leads me to all sorts of fruitful thinking. I’ve worked all sorts of jobs–from teaching college to digging ditches; it’s the menial jobs I’ve had doing things like house painting, mowing lawns or sanding floors that have coincided with my most productive periods of creative thought. I’m not very good at sitting still, so I might as well be productive while I ruminate about life.

Process oriented art lends itself to emotional outcomes. I’m reminded of Jackie Winsor, a post minimalist sculptor who was a native of Newfoundland. She created a series of sculptures–mostly cubes–that were meticulously built of layers and layers. Once completed, she would make gut decisions that often resulted in the degradation of the work and then a final resurrection (Burnt Piece, Exploded piece, Dragged Piece). I was fortunate enough to be her escort for a day in 1985, when I was a grad student at Cornell. Our long conversations made me aware of a way of working where the repetitive actions of making could become an act of self-revelation and that expression wasn’t necessarily predictable. At the airport, we were so engrossed in conversation, she almost missed her flight. My working process here is like getting lost in a really good conversation, except that the dialogue is internal.

Eventually, my steady work leads to small triumphs: a knot untied, a freed loop of rope, then, finally, after three or four hours: from a wet lump of flotsam, I have extracted 450 feet of good rope!

work shot at Baie St MArie, Nova Scotia work shot at Baie St MArie, Nova Scotia work shot at Baie St MArie, Nova Scotia work shot at Baie St MArie, Nova Scotia work shot at Baie St MArie, Nova Scotia work shot at Baie St MArie, Nova Scotia

Beach Rope

Like a tourist reaching the ocean for the first time, my first mission upon arriving here at Baie Ste. Marie was to explore the beach. Not finding the rope-lined paths down the rocky bluff that I was given direction to, I took a gamble and headed straight over the guard rail. After negotiating boulders and dense undergrowth I landed on the rocky shore and was immediately confronted with a dense tangle of fishing rope caught up in the driftwood skeleton of a tree. Instantly I saw the potential for metaphor: the entropic mass representing the chaotic force of nature, the ebb and flow of the tides pushing and pulling on the ropes, eventually twisting them free from their utilitarian purpose and turning them into flotsam; rejected by the ocean as a plastic intrusion. The conflict was ubiquitous: everywhere I looked I saw tangled masses of rope caught on the rocks. The chaos somehow relates to my current state: here I am, four weeks from home, alone and with only a vague sense of purpose. Sorting the mess out seems like the natural thing to do.

I  began with the all-too-familiar exercise of untangling: un-twisting, pulling, and separating the organic from the inorganic. Rope has memory: on the deck of a boat, rope is carefully coiled so that is can easily slip into the water. The diameter of the coil relates to the natural motions of the arm swinging in arcs as one layer is laid on the next. The next time it is coiled it will remember this arc and fall easily into a similar circle. Poorly coiled rope easily tangles, and worse, can grab at ankles or hands as the weighted lobster trap pulls it’s tethers into the deep. The violence of the tidal currants pushes and pulls on these ropes, spinning the traps, twisting and binding the rope until it forgets the gentle circling of the fisherman’s arm. Eventually it breaks free and is ejected onto the rocky shore, sometimes, dragging the traps and buoy with it. Most of the rope is plastic polypropylene, which does not bend easily. Some of it has been so twisted that it forms freakishly deformed nodules of knots, like cancerous growths, that splay out from the main trunk. Some rope is cotton, which is softer and more flexible, with fibers that have a softer touch to the hand. This rope easily forgets the violence of the tides and falls easily back into coils. The softer rope will sink whereas the plastic rope will float. In some cases, the Lobstermen want the advantages of both: the buoy end to sink so as not foul the approaching boat, and the lower end to rise up as the traps are pulled. In this case, the two ropes are woven together, end to end, to form one length. The weave intrigues me as does the variety of colors in the bits of plastic rope that peek out from the rocks. The more I think about it, the more I see more layers of meaning waiting for my interpretation.

In the next few weeks will try to untangle the ropes and weave together all of the colored bits of rope I find, putting the rope back on the beach with a kind of absurd logic,  and documenting my process as I proceed.


work shot at Baie St MArie, Nova Scotia untagling flotsam 3 untangling flotsam 2 untangling rope # 5 Untitled-1

Baie Sainte-Marie

I am on the west side of Nova Scotia, on Baie Sainte-Marie, for a four week artist’s residency. I have been awarded use of second home, over looking the bay, generously offered up for artists-alumni of Maine College of Art who wish, or need, a respite from the hassles of daily life so that they can focus on their work.

My work, as of late, deals with developing a dialogue with specific places. Having only a vague notion of what I’d find here, my mission is to explore and learn about the landscape and the people who call this home. The region defines itself as Acadian, a culture defined by a people that originated from France, but who, historically, have been shoved back and forth between French and English Rule. After a while they just didn’t care any more and had no interest in the politics or wars that were dictated from thousands of miles away. “Arcadie,” the name used on early maps, means a land of beauty and tranquility; the Acadian way of life has come to mean a peaceful and free-spirited existence. Despite their neutrality, Acadians became the scapegoats in many of the French and English conflicts; they suffered deportations and worse for not claiming allegiance to the ruling party du jour. A map of the Acadian diaspora hanging in the over sized, open kitchen that is quickly becoming my seat of operations, looks like a tangle of yellow lines with arrows going back and forth across the Atlantic, between France and the Americas.

Although only about twenty percent of the people here make a living harvesting the natural resources of the land and sea, the culture is inextricably tied to the water. The ebb and flow of the tide–which varies by tens of feet—is evident miles inland as rivers reverse direction twice daily and bridges alternately kiss the water and then stand on spindly legs. A road map of Nova Scotia is simply a lasso of one or two lines that follow the shore. Tendrils of roads reach into the blank interior, fading as they leave the coast; life here is wedded to the coast. In my time here I will focus on this relationship and keep my eyes to the sea.

nova scotia140903_0006

waiting for the ferry in St. John

IMG_1572 work shot at Baie St MArie, Nova Scotia

Sunsets may be a worn cliche- but they do inspire a creative mood.

Sunsets may be a worn cliche- but they do inspire a creative mood.

The Glacier’s Receding

series from university sand and gravel

For the past year or so, I have been photographing in the gravel pit in Brooktondale where I live. Geologically speaking, the site is a hanging delta, one of the many remnants of the ice age that define the topography of the region. It is a place where rushing melt waters met an enormous post-glacial lake and laid down deposits of sand, gravel, clay and the occasional erratic boulder, oddballs from places to the north. During the Pleistocene epoch, flowing sheets of ice inundated the landscape and bull dozed deep valleys. As each wave of ice retreated, torrents of melt water finished the work: rounding hills, filling valleys and moving material. Water has a way of separating materials: coarse from fine, rocks from sand; this is visible in modern rivers and deltas. The sand and gravel operation simply takes nature’s process one step further and uses machinery to sort the stones by size and clean the sand, providing an essential commodity for the region.

Having spent so much time in the western landscape of rock and sand, it is only natural that I am drawn to this barren landscape, devoid of vegetation, and full of rough textures and muted colors. The sky is wide open here, making it good place for star-gazing. The relative seclusion allows me to do my work without having to explain myself. My favorite time to explore is on a bleak winter day, with a thin layer of snow and late in the afternoon, under slate gray skies. Then, the pit feels like the glacial remnant that it is. Piles of rock mingle with the shores of vast ponds, pathways meander and the workings of the machinery are confused with the workings of nature. At first it seems like chaotic destruction, but then an orderly process of collaboration with the forces of nature becomes apparent. From certain angles, the piles mimic the surrounding hills, carved by the glaciers, and the frozen ponds look like rivers of ice. Glimpses of machinery, each assigned a primary color, reel everything back into scale.
Some might consider such an excavation as an insult to the landscape; certainly the extractive process of mining is often open to criticism. But, here, I am only reminded that the biggest mover of earth has been nature herself, and that she probably isn’t done yet. By peeling back the layers of the earth and exposing the geologic history, the scale of our impact on the history of the planet, becomes clear. We are probably more insignificant than we think. A future wave of ice will surely come and erase all of this effort and rework the landscape once more.

 gravel pit university sand and gravel

series from university sand and gravel

 gravel pit university sand and gravel

gravel pit university sand and gravel

series from university sand and gravel

gravel pit university sand and gravel