When I die I must give life… (epilogue)

Hold on to what is good
even if it is a handful of earth.
Hold on to what you believe
even when it is a tree 
that stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do
even when it is a long way from here.
Hold on to life
even when it is easier letting go.
Hold on to my hand
even when I have gone away from you.
(Pueblo tribe, Native American prayer)

after the exhibition, the biochar drawing is finally laid to rest beneath a tree in the forest


a clear midnight…

‘This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless, 
Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes thou lovest best.
Night, sleep, and the stars.’

Walt Whitman (A Clear Midnight from the poetry collection Leaves of Grass, 1900)


On Friday 29th June I was fortunate to be interviewed for WGXC Greene and Columbia Counties Community Radio, by writer and arts journalist Deborah Artman. It was another hot, bright day in the Catskill mountains and Deborah travelled up the steep mountain pass to the Platte Clove Cabin to meet me. We sat in the shade of the cabin’s porch and chatted for over an hour-and-a-half as we gazed out over the deep woods. The edited interview was broadcast on the afternoon of 4th July. You can listen to it on-line here…

Based in the town of Catskill, the Greene County Council on the Arts publishes Arts Alive – a free bi-monthly newspaper. The July/August issue of Arts Alive prominantly features the Whale Oil to Whole Foods eco-art exhibition project. You can read the newspaper in PDF format via this link…

guests at Matt Bua’s ‘NoToMushMu’ (No Tools Mushroom Museum)’ in the Siuslaw Model Forest, during the ‘Whale Oil to Whole Foods’ opening on 8th July

It was the Whale Oil to Whole Foods private view opening at the Cornell Agroforestry Centre and Siuslaw Model Forest on the evening of Sunday 8th July. The turn-out for the event was wonderful – over 50 guests enjoyed good company, good food and most importantly some good, provocative art – all in good measure! On the evening, journalist Susan Campriello attended the opening to write an article on the exhibition for the Greene County local newspaper The Daily Mail. Susan interviewed a number of the artists, including myself. You can read the article on-line here…

from whale oil to whole foods…


‘You are the proud owner of great swaths of this nations arctic/alpine tundra, grasslands, prairies, deserts, and forests that are coniferous, deciduous, and tropical, along with an array of aquatic ecosystems.’

Linda Weintraub (from the essay Strategies/Tragedies of the Commons, written for the Whale Oil to Whole Foods exhibition, 2012)

Whale Oil to Whole Foods exhibition
(Greene County Council Arts Gallery, Catskill, NY)

Yesterday I took a trip to the nearby rustic town of Catskill and visited the ‘mother’ exhibition of the Whale Oil to Whole Foods eco-arts festival-project. Greene County Council Arts (GCCA) is based in a small two-storey gallery space on the main street of the town.

The group exhibition is both beautiful and provocative – the fruitful result of a sensitive curatorial collaboration between Fawn Potash and Christy Rupp. Featuring the work of 25 artists the exhibition unites poetic, political, earthy artworks in diverse media which address and explore the economic and ecological histories and possible futures of the Hudson Valley and the Catskill region of New York State.

Whale Oil to Whole Foods exhibition

‘Whale oil was an essential food for First Nations of the Northwest. The Nootka ate it even with strawberries. Europeans, however, had industrial uses for the oil of the whale… …the fat of the whale helped humans measure the progress of time.’

Sparrow (from the essay The History of Whale Oil, written for the Whale Oil to Whole Foods exhibition, 2012)

Whale Oil to Whole Foods exhibition

We cannot put an end to nature…


‘We people are just like our planetmates. We cannot put an end to nature; we can only pose a threat to ourselves… the microbes, the whales, the insects, the seed plants, and the birds, are still singing. The tropical forest trees are humming to themselves, waiting for us to finish our arrogant logging so they can get back to their business of growth as usual. And they will continue their cacophonies and harmonies long after we are gone.’

Lynn Margulis (from Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution, 1998)

‘When I die I must give life’ (Fraxinus spp. No.1) – biochar on newsprint paper, 80″ x 35″

Invasive species of insects (such as the Emerald Ash Borer), plants and even animals, are a threat to the balance of our forest ecosystems. When a tree (i.e. Ash) dies from the effects of being hosted by an ‘invasive’, through controlled pyrolitic burning, its matter can be transformed into a valuable compostable source of soil nutrient. Essential scientific research is being conducted into finding solutions for controlling the spread of invasive species. In the meantime, maybe humans can begin to employ biochar in a process of cultivating new, richly biodiverse forests that can evolve resilience to invasives?

This biochar artwork (tree bark rubbing) is the first in a new series of my ‘organic compost drawings’. These ephemeral drawings are gifts to the soil and a symbolic ritual of thanks. When hung from a tree or laid to rest on the earth, they decay and (in a humble way) enrich small areas of earth. Through a symbiosis of ideas and organic processes, the drawings celebrate the natural cycle of life, death, rebirth and entropy of which we are all a part.

Biochar is a form of charcoal (made by pyrolysis). It is a stable solid, rich in carbon and can be used as a soil amendment which endures in the earth for thousands of years. Due to its carbon sequestration properties, biochar has the potential to help mitigate climatic change, locking-in carbon that would otherwise escape into the atmosphere. This carbon matter can increase soil fertility and thus raise agricultural productivity and reduce pressure on our forests.

‘When I die I must give life’ (detail)

knowledge is a moth…

Bug Cinema, 10pm (3rd July 2012)

‘…knowledge is a moth…the moths are the heralds, or better yet, the guardians of eternity…the moths carry a dust on their wings, a dark gold dust. That dust is the dust of knowledge…The moths have been the intimate friends and helpers of sorcerers from time immemorial. Moths are the givers of knowledge and the friends and helpers.’

– Carlos Castaneda (from the book Tales of Power, 1974)

species: tbc
family: Geometridae
common name: Banded Moth / inchworm

species: Tortricidia testacea
family: Limacodidae
common name: Warm-chevroned / Slug Moth

Slowly but surely the moth identification is happening – facilitated by Heather’s expertise through daily correspondence. I’ve become very much at home in the forest after dark and the moths (and other insects) in the shifting vicinities of my portable glow lab seem curious of the light. However, I’ve yet to encounter any species that I would regard as particularly ‘exotic’. For example I’m still waiting for a glimpse of the Lunar Moth which apparently inhabits the area.

We’re in the middle of another heat wave up here in the Northern Catskills (95 degrees+) and the earth is bone dry – good conditions for forest fires. After having a conversation with an ecologist at the Agroforestry Centre today, I learn that it seems the diversity of moths at the moment is likely limited due to the dryness of the atmosphere. So, maybe a day of rain might be of benefit…?

Bug Cinema – a human guest

I thought the earth remembered me…

Sleeping in the Forest
I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I heard the small kingdoms
breathing around me, the insects,
and the birds who do their work in the darkness.
All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.

Mary Oliver (from Sleeping in the Forest, 1979)

Bug Cinema, 9.30pm (2 July 2012)

Last night’s Bug Cinema experiment was a bit more eventful. I set-up the light trap on the edge of the model forest in the vicinity of the ponds. As night fell, the air was filled with the chorus of hungry frogs in the pond and the fleeting sparks of fireflies. Again, the distant coyote song kept me company.

I’m working with somewhat limited technical resources, so currently the glow lab is illuminated by a mix of black light (UV) and also white light LED bulbs, set on a 20ft cable which runs from the 12v battery solar panel unit. The 18′ x 5′ length of stretchy, white spandex-type fabric forms the actual membrane of the glow lab – it radiates the light beautifully.

part of the Bug Cinema kit (deconstructed)

So, last night Bug Cinema was host to a diverse profusion of little brown moths (LBMs) which are often tricky to identify. However there were a couple of guests that might yield some possible identification, with Heather’s expertise.

Tonight is a full moon and I wonder if I might encounter the green, iridescent grace of the Lunar Moth I’ve heard so much about. The symbolism would be fitting!

species: Eulithis populata
family: Geometridae
common name: Northern Spinach

The ancient hemlocks…

the forested summit of Indian Head Mountain

‘The ancient hemlocks… Their history is of an heroic cast. Ravished and torn by the tanner in his thirst for bark, preyed upon by the lumberman, assaulted and beaten by the settler, still their spirit has never been broken, their energies never paralysed… Nature loves such woods, and places her own seal upon them…’

John Burroughs (from, In The Hemlocks)

a view South over the Catskill Mountains from the summit of Indian Head Mountain

My hike to the summit of Indian Head Mountain was one of the strangest and memorable walking experiences I’ve ever had. The forest is so thick that one has no vantage points, nor views. My spacial awareness was informed by a different perspective: I walked beneath thick canopy, between markers, across ancient roots and through a fragrant, vast enclosure…until I reached the summit, then from a gap in the trees, the grand vista of the Catskills greeted me.