Sunday, January 1, 2012


Welcome to 2012! A time of looking back and of looking forward...

This will be the start of my 52nd year of life on earth. In all this time--five decades, holy shit!!!--I've never felt I've really accomplished anything. True, I got an art degree way back in the 1980s, but after graduation I never seriously attempted to make my living as an artist. Back then I labored under the unfortunate delusion that if I wasn't a famous artist by the age of 25 I might as well hang up my painter's smock. I didn't seem to realize that talent was only half the battle, that you had to believe in yourself enough to produce a body of work and keep going in the face of the piles of inevitable rejection letters before you could actually call yourself an artist. But I was a sensitive little flower back then, before I knew I had thorns...

Fast forward twenty-five years later: in 2009 I got my master's degree in plant biology. Now I work in an arctic ecology lab at the University of Alaska, I've been to one of the coolest remote science stations in the world, and I'm applying to the PhD program in biology. In all truth I still don't know if I'm really cut out to be a scientist. I guess there's only one way to find out. Apply, collect some data, and if I get rejected, keep going until it makes sense not to anymore.

One -30 F day last week Joe and I took a walk around Toolik camp over to the sauna, where Faye had spotted a small herd of caribou on her rounds the day before. I wanted to see if we could spot them out on the lake, which stretches away from the sauna railings to the North and West for a couple of miles to the far shore. We started to walk down the bank onto the lake, and before I knew it I found myself creating spiral footprints in the untracked snow. Joe followed my tracks and made the spirals more deeply etched. I didn't want to short cut over them because the otherwise pristine white lake would be marred by yet another intrusive member of our species leaving random ugly footprints over everything like a cockroach tracking over a just-mopped kitchen floor.

Each day I went out and added a few more fresh spirals, and I found the experience very grounding and immediate, nothing more. There was not much thought to it other than not wanting messy looking footprints everywhere. The spirals seemed more respectful, more thoughtful, and they looked pretty.

After taking a series of photographs and looking them over I realized this was probably my best ever attempt at "art." Yes, it looks just like Robert Smithson's "The Spiral Jetty," but that isn't the point. For the first time I made something that satisfied my wish to make something of beauty that didn't have to last forever or prove anything. It happened on the spur of the moment. It was pleasant to walk over the frozen lake in the glowing light of the arctic afternoon and not think too much about anything. I was able to enjoy a walk, get some fresh air, and make something that made sense to me, for some reason. If I never do something like it again that is OK. It is now a happy memory, which is enough.

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