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treebark, butterflies, transformation...
October '23 newsletter
September was filled with nature walks, good music, tasty food, and lots of art. I spent a great deal of time getting the last field recordings and photos of summer greenery before the foliage started to change. Now it feels like I have even less time to capture as much of autumn as I can before the chill of winter sets in.
It has always seemed to me that autumn is the shortest of all the seasons, like a brief exhale after the top of the full inhale that is summer. It feels that much more precious knowing that soon we must hunker down for the long cold. Whether you find winter harsh and necessary or embrace the snowy darkness with glee, autumn is the transitory. The colorful, crisp path between extremes.
Autumn is a season of transformation and change.
I am not so concerned with forcing a transformation or change in my life since I know it must, and does, happen anyway, regardless of my opinion on the matter. I try not to resist the direction autumn takes me - it may seem counterintuitive, but a busy autumn feels good in the bones for me this year and that’s okay. I watch the honeybees and hornets buzzing frantically around, searching for the last pollen strongholds of the season. Squirrels scurry around collecting acorns and walnuts that litter the forest floor, trying to fatten against the coming cold.
The world around us is overflowing with a final burst of energy before dormancy (though, we will see just how much hidden life there is beneath the blankets of snow soon enough). Revel in it while it is here.
A project really close to my heart right now is something I have been calling “The Timid Wild” - that’s still just a working title - where I have been documenting natural/wilderness spaces in Ohio through photography, audio recordings, and creative writing.
As I have spent more time getting to know my local land and soaking up some ecological study, this project has been forced to grow and expand.
To start, I’ve always known the “Nature Gap” exists (you can do some light reading to start learning about it here and here) and that it severely impacted my access to the outdoors from very early in my life.
I will never forget sending a photo of turkey tails (a very common, edible mushroom) to one of my Denison professors asking him what I was looking at and getting the lighthearted response “Turkey tails. Have you never been outside before?”
And the answer was honestly, no, I had not been outside before.
Sure, I walked to school each day, went to the store, and rode the bus around the city to libraries and events as I got older, but had I been outside? Truly?
My idea of wilderness was the manicured park with a rose garden next to the library in the “good neighborhood” (Cbus locals, yes I am talking about Park of Roses). While that sort of park is certainly beautiful and necessary for community wellness and recreation, I could still barely access it. Lack of transportation was one factor, but being questioned by police anytime I visited local playgrounds or parks was also a factor.
As a quiet, nonintrusive teenager, I was still confronted by local cops and asked to leave public areas on multiple occasions after they claimed they were called about kids being rowdy or fighting. It was almost always me just reading a book on a bench or swinging quietly and watching the clouds.
So my experience even in public, urban spaces was limited. I certainly had never roamed dense woods or gone digging for mushrooms. That was for white people, wealthy people, those people - some mysterious, elite group that I knew didn’t include me.
As an adult living in what I call a “sub-rural” area (urban/suburban : rural/subrural - why don’t we have a term for it?) I have become extremely fortunate to have wild spaces finally within distance. I am in a higher socio-economic status than I grew up in, I have a car, and I am lucky enough to see a two-hour drive as “easy shit” if I want to go get lost in the woods.
I work for a nonprofit that conserves and researches trees and plants, so I also have more access to educational information than I ever have before.
The expansion of this artistic project comes not from the expansion of my own world, though. Rather, it comes from the cognitive dissonance of reconnecting with childhood friends, inviting them for hikes, and hearing them say they’ve still never been.
The world is literally burning around us thanks to climate change, and people are working harder than ever to conserve and protect our land. A sidenote that should really be a main point of this newsletter is that right here in my city, we just had a series of earthen mounds, currently called the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks, named a UNESCO World Heritage site (for context, think Stonehenge, Machu Picchu, the Acropolis of Athens - it’s a big fucking deal).
Not a single person from my childhood, many still living in our nature-deprived area less than an hour away from these sites, even knows what the hell I am talking about.
The lack of knowledge (speaking of, the pink stuff in the slowed video above is thistle and the butterfly is a tricky one, so I am not sure) and opportunity for experience doesn’t just sadden me, it makes me angry.
This anger perhaps doesn’t have a space to be raw and untethered in this particular project, but the grief certainly does. I will continue to gather photos, videos, and audio recordings of Ohio spaces and I am still putting together the spoken word and poetry parts of the final product I am envisioning, but I hope you enjoy insight into this work-in-progress in the meantime.
The work I do as an artist stems from experiences like this. It is born out of these slow simple moments I spend contemplating local land and the life and history it holds. Or the careful tiptoeing up to a butterfly, a snake, a cluster of bees and other pollinators. The time I spend shoving a microphone into a field of goldenrods to capture the sounds of buzzing, or holding the microphone up to a tree branch to catch a birdcall.
I am breathless and in awe as I capture the flutter of a grasshopper just as it flits away.
And that’s where the words of poems start to form. The notes of musical pieces swirl, waiting for me to write them down.
Artists, writers, musicians, whatever you call yourselves - if you are a creative and you are stuck, it really is what we experience that gets the juices flowing. Easier said than done, since our experiences can be limited in comparison to those of others, but we can still see the sky and breathe the air.
If you’re a reader who’s local to central Ohio (sorry to those of y’all in other parts of the country and the world, love you) and especially if you are a local creative and you want to see the spaces I’ve featured here, just drop me a line! I am hosting some informal walks for buddies, but likely won’t advertise it publicly or widely.
As always, thanks for spending this time with me. Stay safe, rested, and hydrated. *And read below for project updates and Substack info if you could. Please :)
above: pearl crescent butterflies (photographed at The Denison Biological Reserve; September)
above: look closely - pollinators in a field of goldenrod (photographed at The Denison Biological Reserve; September)
Since several people asked me what Substack is, it’s an email newsletter platform that helps me share my writing and art more effectively. They make it easy for you to access my content and support my work as a writer and artist. You can enjoy most of my work for free, and there’s an option to access some paid content too (currently my paid offering is Tales From Niveen, check it out!)
In addition to email, you can also view my content on a customized desktop version of Substack (my preference) and through the app. Substack hosts many creators, and I recommend checking out a few of my besties who are making magic over atand . *and the UAC team is moving to
What I love about Substack is that it has so many amazing features and costs creatives absolutely nothing to use - I am excited to continue exploring the possibilities here and hope this little blurb provides clarification. Thank you for joining me on this exciting new journey!
Voice and Writing Projects
Extraplanar Radio Show, Tales From Niveen, and several other projects all update this month. Rather than shove all that into this monthly newsletter, you will simply receive occasional email updates as things become available - subscribe to each section individually (Tales From Niveen is the only paid section) to receive notifications each time there is new content.
The Mixtape has been updated! Remember, this playlist will change on the first of every month and includes 30 songs I’ve got on repeat when I’m trying to make art/get into my flow state. Save it, download it, enjoy it!
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