Genius Loci: Learning from Nature’s Muse

Genius Loci opening, Friends of Ryerson Woods

The art and design exhibition Genius Loci: Learning from Nature’s Muse opened Sunday, July 8 at Brushwood, the historic home at Ryerson Woods.  We had a great turn-out: over 130 people viewed works by 12 artists, designers, and architects.

Each work selected for the show captures the spirit of a particular natural environment.  The concept was to find artists and designers whose work is not only inspired by these places—prairie, woods, and lakefront—but seems to be born of these landscapes.

Topo House by the Milwaukee architecture firm Johnsen Schmaling is a great example.  This private residence blurs the line between what is landscape and what is architecture.  Located in the “driftless region” of Wisconsin, it’s green roofs seem to spring up from the earth’s natural topography. The building is represented in the exhibition through scale models, architectural renderings, and photographs of the (nearly) completed structure.

Another architect, Jessica Calek, presented designs for a Studio in the Woods.  The branch-like framework of the building’s structural system pays homage to its wooded surroundings, but also recalls the “primitive hut” of Vitruvius and Laugier, a metaphor for architecture’s roots in the natural world.

Cynthia Winter (also an architect) displayed a series of watercolors titled Roadtrip: The Seasons at Ryerson Woods. Seen together, these near-abstract, small-scale images—painted on postcard-sized paper—read as stills from a film, capturing a sense of movement through time and through the landscape.

Jennifer Hines displayed a very different series of works.  The simplicity of her individual ink drawings, Untitled Abstractions, is deceptive.  But viewed collectively, her images capture an entire ecosystem: seemingly separate organisms which together create a holistic environment.  Another series, displayed with the mini-dioramas in the Library, takes a more psychological approach. Forest Photos are imaginary arboreal landscapes where trees serve as metaphors for human existence. Here, Hines’ depicts states of being, rather than actual physical places.

Also in the Library is a conceptual work by artist Rachel Kauff.  Her series Field Books documents three distinct ecosystems: prairie, woods, and wetlands.  By leaving the hand-bound wordless books for 20 days in each landscape—open to the elements—Kauff allowed Nature to record her own stories in her own language.

Also charting conceptual territory is Doug DeWitt.  The long horizontal lines of his constructions, made from found materials, recall the flat Illinois prairie.  These psychological landscapes capture the essence of the rural Rustbelt: its faded wooden architecture, rusted steel equipment, and overgrown vegetation—nature reclaiming the land.

Also working in a hoGenius Loci opening, Friends of Ryerson Woodsrizontal format is photographer Michael McGuire. His images reflect a kind of surreal or dreamlike remembrance of Lake Michigan. By reproducing one section of the lakefront over and over, he captures an illusion of the lake’s vastness. The particular location represented in each photo might remain ambiguous, but the subject matter—and spirit of the place—is unmistakable.

Another photographer, Barry Phipps, photographs trees in different seasons while subtlely addressing the relationships between humans and nature.  In his photo Cahokia (Winter) the long shadows of giant trees reach toward earthen mounds made by humans nearly 1,000 years ago.  The scene captures the mystery and monumentality of this ancient site, as well as the quality of light on a typical Midwestern winter’s day.

Anne Kauff (Rachel Kauff’s mother) captures light and color in her masterful oil paintings of northern Illinois prairies and woods. She paints outdoors which brings an immediacy to the images—a freshness and vitality that is difficult to achieve within the confines of the artist’s studio. Her approach is perhaps the most traditional of the group, but allows her to effectively capture the spirit of prairie, woods, and sky.

Meaghan Burritt, Genius Loci opening, Friends of Ryerson WoodsLooking to the Des Plaines River for inspiration, conceptual artist Meaghan Burritt created a site specific installation for the show.  Project In Situ: Des Plaines River Specimen 1 (PI:DPS1) reconstructs a fragment of the landscape inside of Brushwood, shifting its context and challenging us to reconsider an overlooked part of the natural environment: a “debris pocket” on the river.  The installation—including found objects collected from the river banks—is a meditation on time, movement, and the interconnectedness between humans and nature.

Finally, furniture designer Jacob Wener of Modern Industry displays three of his designs in the Great Room: a coffee table, a console, and several benches.  Horizontal lines reflect the city’s flat terrain. Reclaimed wood recalls Chicago’s motto Urbs in Horto—a city of parks and tree-lined boulevards. The recycled steel framework references Chicago’s legacy of architectural innovation and structural engineering feats.  The final synthesis of form and materials captures the spirit of the City of Broad Shoulders.

When organizing the show, I purposely chose this diversity of artists and range of approaches to the shows themes.  Each individual artist, in his or her own way, is listening to the genius loci and creating pieces that are in harmony with the natural environments that inspired them.

—Franck Mercurio, Curator

Franck Mercurio is an independent arts consultant, curator, and writer based in Chicago.  Before starting his own consultancy business, Franck served for eight years as an exhibition developer for the Field Museum.  Last year he curated the Art of Green (10 July 2011 – 31 August 2011) for Friends of Ryerson Woods, an exhibition that featured the work of twelve regional artists and designers who are creating art and designing objects in sustainable ways. 

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Genius Loci: Listening to Nature’s Muse is on exhibition in the Brushwood Gallery at Ryerson Woods in Deerfield, Illinois until August 31, 2012.  Brushwood is open to the public:  Tuesday – Friday, 10am-2pm; Sunday 1-3pm;  or by appointment. For more information, contact Friends of Ryerson Woods at 847.968.3343 or visit www.ryersonwoods.org/Programs/Art/ArtExhibitions.html.

WHAT TO READ by Marion Cartwright

As we are about to launch our 2012 programming wrapped around the theme Lessons from the Prairie, we’ve decided to offer a new aspect to our blog.  Several times a year, we will invite individuals from the conservation community to share their list of recommended reads with our readers.  Here read about the books that have influenced our good friend Marion Cartwright.  With vast experience in organic gardening, ecological restoration and environmental education, we are so pleased to share Marion’s list of must-read books.  Enjoy!

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The Garden at Elawa Farm in Lake Forest, a recent project of Marion Cartwright’s.

The current 5-year Farm Bill is set to expire this September 30 and the House and Senate Agriculture Committees are working on recommendations.  Now is the time to write your members of Congress.  What do you want to tell them? What will you recommend be kept, dropped, changed in this next farm bill?  How much can any of us be expected to know about how our food is raised, transported, processed, made safe for consumption?  How much say do we have about soil and water health in our country? What is a healthy American diet anyway, given the way recommendations keep changing over the years?  How many U.S. citizens don’t have access to the healthy foods?  How are other countries dealing with agricultural policy and practices?  Big picture questions.

Then there are the personal, in my backyard questions.  If you want to grow more of your own food and flowers following organic practices, how do you go about that, in the place you live?  What if you want to raise chickens for eggs or goats for milk and cheese?  What if you want to take out the Scotch pines and Norway maples and plant native trees?  Do you know what pesticides and herbicides and fertilizers your neighbors and local government agencies are using? Is your soil and water healthy?

These questions have been front and center for me both personally and professionally for 35 years.  I have read a lot, attended lectures and conferences and town meetings, started gardens at schools, grown gardens for my own family, and created 1-2 acre organic market gardens in more than one place.  I have also spent over 10 years working to restore degraded native woodlands, prairies and wetlands and delivering environmental education focused on keeping native ecosystems healthy.  The need to read has been intense.   Here are a few of my go-to sources, the ones that provided either inspiration or factual information to guide me.

Older, but also wise, and still relevant and inspirational today:

A Sand County Almanac, by Aldo Leopold, Ballantine Books, 1966

If you haven’t read it yet, it’s time.  If you have, this in one book to read again (and again) ‘nough said.

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The Albrecht Papers: Soil Fertility and Animal Health, by William Albrecht, Acres, 1975.  A soil consultant recently summarized the life and career of soil scientist Albrecht by saying, “Everything this man ever wrote is 100% correct.”   The health of plants and animals on a farm (and ultimately human health) are dependent upon the soil health.  We hope to breed plants to tolerate diseases, but if plant nutrition is deficient that will remain a vain hope.  Why didn’t more farmers and university professors and U.S.D.A. and extension service staff study read this book?

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Forest Farming: Towards a Solution to Problems of World Hunger and Conservation, by J.Sholto Douglas & Robert A de J. Hart, with  a foreword by E.F. Schumacher, Rodale Press, 1978. Agriculture in mountainous, rocky or dry regions is a disaster and is happening more and more with the pressure of overpopulation, but trees are salvation, providing food, clothing, fuel, shelter, soil retention, water cycle balancing. This book will lead you to read more about Permaculture.

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The Unsettling of America, by Wendell Berry, Sierra Club Books, 1996. Wendell Berry is an articulate and knowledgeable advocate for family farms, local economy, the value of human work, and the cultural and spiritual life of farming.   A distillation of years of Berry’s thought can be found (on-line) in his April 2012 address for the National Endowment for the Humanities.  He was selected this year to give the annual Jefferson lecture, the most prestigious honor the national government bestows on academics.

More recent:

Reclaiming The Commons: Community Farms and Forests in a New England Town, by Brian Donahue, Yale University Press, 2001.   Helpful example about how a community can organize and support a local farm (with animals) for the local community and also harvest a local woodland for syrup and wood for the community. Still going strong today in Weston, MA.

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How To Grow More Vegetables (and fruits nuts, berries, grains and other crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land than You Can Imagine, by John Jeavons, Ten Speed Press,  1974 first edition, 2006 7th edition.  A primer for the backyard gardener with limited space.  Though I don’t find the need to double dig my beds as frequently as Jeavons, there is a lot of helpful information to help you with a garden plan and an extensive bibliography and supply catalogue list.   Jeavons is all about soil sustainability and encourages gardeners to grow their own compost crops rather than bring compost in from the outside (robbing Peter to pay Paul as he sees it).

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The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America’s Underground Food Movements, by Sandor Ellix Katz, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2006.  Chock full of facts and figures on where modern industrial agriculture and the food industry have gone awry and ideas for positive change, both at the policy level and in our own homes. Each chapter includes a list of Action and Information Resources.  For people interested in taking more direct responsibility for their own health and nutrition, this book goes into detail about how to grow it, forage for it, ferment it or cook it yourself and it gives lots of examples of how food was grown and prepared “traditionally” for years.

And even if most of you have already heard about these or read them, my personal list just wouldn’t be complete without them:

In Defense of Food (2008) and The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2006), by Michael Pollan, Penquin Press.

“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants” is Pollan’s simple, clear message in the former.  It’s all here: how we produce and market food and learning how to eat healthily again.

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The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Pollan provides an inside look at industrial farming and organic, sustainable farming practices.  You will also go on foraging and hunting trips with Pollan.

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Consulting the Genius of the Place: An Ecological Approach to a New Agriculture by Wes Jackson, Counterpoint, 2010. Agriculture has gone through an Age of Monoculture.  And it is not sustainable.  If we hope to continue providing food in perpetuity, we must transition to the Age of Perennials. Jackson has been doing research since 1976 at his Land Institute in Kansas to help us make this transition.  The new farm bill needs to support this research and effort.    Write your government representatives and senators.  Come to the Smith Nature Symposium at Ryerson Woods on May 19th to learn more from Wes Jackson himself, the keynote speaker!

Marion Cartwright is a long-time member of Friends of Ryerson Woods and previously a member of the Board of Directors. Thank you, Marion!

Guest Post: Emilian Geczi on Richard Louv

In anticipation of best-selling author Richard Louv’s upcoming talk for FRW, we invited our good friend and esteemed colleague Emilian Geczi to submit a guest post on our blog about the significance of Louv’s writings to him and his work.  Enjoy!

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Emilian Geczi on Richard Louv

Like many conservationists, I came across Richard Louv’s writings well after reading the works of Thoreau, Leopold, Carson, and others who popularized the environmental cause in the United States. Louv, like his predecessors, has been able to strike deep chords by utilizing an accessible, almost poetic, language to describe our relationship to the natural world. I read these authors’ works as much for their message as for their expressive and lyrical style.

But there was something about Richard Louv’s writings, particularly his Last Child in the Woods, that set him apart from most other nature or environment writers I had read. American environmental ethics and nature writing are largely discourses between individuals and nature, or individuals and the land. Aldo Leopold, for example, went to great lengths in A Sand County Almanac to argue that people are part of a larger natural community and that the land is entitled to ethical considerations as much as our fellow human beings are. This land-based ethic has been a powerful force for positive change ever since.

But this conceptualization of our role in the world has its weaknesses. The land, for example, is an alien concept to many youth growing up in our nation’s cities. For many – too many! – Chicago high school students who participate in service learning trips at local forest preserve sites, the trips are their first experience of a safe, green space where they can explore, laugh, discover, unwind.

Richard Louv points to a different and complementary ethical philosophy: an intergenerational ethic where the focus shifts from the relation between the individual and the land to the relation, mediated by the land, between a child and a parent figure. What are the outdoor experiences that you remember fondly from your childhood? What outdoor family traditions – picnicking, hiking, fishing, gardening – do you hope to pass on to your children? These are the kinds of questions that Louv asks us to consider. Our family practices and cultural heritage become as important in this conceptualization as the land, and this allows conservation organizations to engage new and non-traditional allies in their work: libraries, faith and community service organizations, health agencies, and others.

I draw on Richard Louv’s philosophy every day in my work at Chicago Wilderness. Our member organizations’ Leave No Child Inside programs are predicated on the value of childhood experiences in nature, not just to children’s emotional, social, and physical development but to nurturing the next generation of conservation leaders and supporters. The Leave No Child Inside initiative’s premise is that our children will not become the next Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold, or Henry Thoreau unless they have fun outside with a parent, grandparent, teacher, or other adult role models while growing up.

Emilian Geczi coordinates the Chicago Wilderness Leave No Child Inside initiative. He works with environmental, educational, faith-based, and other organizations to support programs that connect children with the outdoors. He has an M.S. degree in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont. To learn more about the Leave No Child Inside initiative, visit the kidsoutside.info website or contact Emilian at emilian.geczi@chicagowilderness.org.

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Friends of Ryerson Woods is thrilled to offer our supporters and the residents of our region the opportunity to hear from acclaimed author Richard Louv, who coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder.” His ground-breaking bestseller, Last Child in the Woods, linked the lack of nature in children’s lives with the rise in obesity, attention disorders and depression. This galvanized an international movement to reconnect children with nature.

Don’t miss this opportunity to hear Louv discuss his new book, The Nature Principle, which offers a new vision of the future, in which our lives are as immersed in nature as they are in technology. This event is presented in partnership with the Institute for Integrated Environmental Education, Lake Forest Book Store, Lake Forest Open Lands and Liberty Prairie Conservancy.

An Evening with Richard Louv

Friday, April 20

7:30 p.m.

Prairie Crossing Charter School Gymnasium

1531 Jones Point Road, Grayslake

To sign up for this FREE event, click here.

April is National Poetry Month

“A poem begins with a lump in the throat.”  Robert Frost

Were you aware that April is National Poetry Month, a month-long celebration designed to increase the visibility of poetry and poets in our culture?  As an organization that celebrates the intersection of art and nature, we wanted to offer a few ways for those interested to further explore nature poetry.

Orion is celebrating National Poetry Month a special curated selection of poems that will be updated daily.  Visit their website daily to see their selections, or get poems delivered to you by following Orion on Twitter or Tumblr.

From one of our favorite poets:

This is My Letter to the World

By Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me,
The simple news that Nature told,
With tender majesty.

Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see;
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me!

Emily Dickinson was an American poet who lived an introverted and reclusive life. Thought of as an eccentric, she was known for her penchant for white clothing and her reluctance to greet guests or, later in life, even leave her room. Although a prolific private poet, fewer than a dozen of her nearly eighteen hundred poems were published during her lifetime.

Friends of Ryerson Woods is increasingly interested in exploring how nature and culture are linked.  As such, we recommend Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry by Camille T. Dungy published by the University of Georgia Press in December 2009.  Black Nature is the first anthology to focus on nature writing by African American poets, a genre that until now has not commonly been counted as one in which African American poets have participated.   It features poets including the writers Harryette Mullen, Ed Roberson, Evie Shockley, Natasha Tretheway, Camille Dungy and Al Young.

Just as nature is too often defined as wilderness when, in fact, nature is everywhere we are, our nature poetry is too often defined by Anglo-American perspectives, even though poets of all backgrounds write about the living world. By creating an anthology of nature poetry by African American writers, poet and editor Dungy enlarges our understanding of the nexus between nature and culture, and introduces a “new way of thinking about nature writing and writing by black  Americans.”— BOOKLIST, starred review

You might enjoy viewing this video from the Black Nature: A Symposium on the First Anthology of Nature Writing by African-American Poets at The Berkeley Institute of the Environment in 2010.  They read from their work and participate in a discussion on the literary and environmental issues raised by the new anthology.

A closing poem in celebration of the trees that define our landscape here at Ryerson Woods.

TREES

By Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)

I THINK that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,

And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear

A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.

“Trees” was originally published in Trees and Other Poems. Joyce Kilmer. New York: George H. Doran Company, 1914.  Best known for this poem, Joyce Kilmer was killed in action during World War I while serving in France on July 30, 1918.  

Wolves + Moose in NYT

We invited our friend, Benjamin Goluboff, to submit a guest post to our blog about a recommended read.  We love his mind and we think you will too!  Ben has led our Ryerson Reads book discussion series for eight seasons and is a professor of English at Lake Forest College.

One of the many reasons to be an obsessive reader of the New York Times is the first-rate reporting on wildlife and wildlife conservation that the Times has offered over the years. Since 2010 theTimes has featured a section called Scientist at Work: Notes from the Field. This is a series of blog posts by researchers in various disciplines studying wildlife around the world. The Times calls the series a “modern version of a field journal, a place for reports on the daily progress of scientific expeditions — adventures, misadventures, discoveries. As with the experditions themselves, you never know what you will find.”

Featured scientists have included the Field Museum’s Doug Stotz conducting a biological inventory in Peru’s northern Amazon, and Stanford University’s Caitlin O’Connell-Rodwell studying elephant societies in Namibia. A particularly fascinating blog appeared last year by Roland Kays of the New York State Museum who tracked radio-collared fishers in urban and wild settings around Albany New York. Do Fishers really prey on house cats? Do Fishers really scream? Read Kays and find out.

This winter I have been reading a series of blog posts (just concluded) by John Vucetich a wildlife ecologist from Michigan Tech who leads the wolf-moose Winter Study on Isle Royale National Park. Isle Royale is an island wilderness in Lake Superior. Roadless and accessible only by ferry, Isle Royale is a kayak and backpacker destination in the summer; in winter it is the site of the longest continuous study of predator-prey dynamics in the world. Since 1958 ecologists have monitored the shifting populations of wolves and moose on the island, deriving insights about the life-cycles of both species, and dispelling the myth that predator-prey interactions are governed by the “balance of nature.” Learn more about the Winter Study here: http://www.isleroyalewolf.org/overview/overview/at_a_glance.html

Vucetich’s posts describe a winter spent flying transects over the island and snowshoeing across its interior following the Chippewa Harbor pack as it pursues moose in the island’s deep snows. Along the way we learn something of the personality of the pack, the craft and determination of the researchers, and the shifting emphasis of the long-term study. Vucetich writes: “During the first two decades that scientists observed the wolves on Isle Royale, the predators had a very strong influence on moose abundance. Then climate replaced the influence of wolves over the next two decades. Understanding nature and the lessons of long-term research may require adjusting our sense of what counts as normal.” The writing is crisp and the story is well told. A recommended read for Friends of Ryerson woods, Vucetich’s blog can be found at: http://scientistatwork.blogs.nytimes.com/author/john-vucetich/

Benjamin Goluboff

American Chestnut

A post by Sophie Twichell, FRW’s executive director:

Tonight our RYERSON READS book group will discuss Susan Freinkel’s American Chestnut: The Life, Death, and Rebirth of a Perfect Tree. I am looking forward to the group’s discussion of this book, led by Professor Ben Goluboff of Lake Forest College.  The group will explore this lost North American tree and the Chestnut blight that killed millions of trees in the first decade of the 20th century.  The blight (a type of fungus) gained entry to this country on an imported chestnut tree from Asia, which Americans began bringing into the US in the late 19th century.  The fungus could kill a mature tree in just 2-3 years.  By mid-century, it was estimated that the blight killed between 3-4 billion trees!  That’s enough trees to fill nine million acres . . . enough to fill Yellowstone eighteen hundred times over. The book also assesses the blight’s impact on forest ecology and human culture, as well as discussing the ongoing project to breed a disease-resistant Chestnut. Lots of good discussion material for tonight.

Although the book explains in detail the measures taken to try to stop the blight, to develop disease-resistant trees and more, while reading I focused on imagining a landscape filled with wild chestnuts.  You know how people ask, “if you could go back in time, who would you like to meet?”  For me, it has always been “what would I have liked to have seen.”  My answer is “skies darkened for days by migrating passenger pigeons” or “millions of acres of uninterruped prairie” or “the migration of millions of American bison.”  I look at the landscape around me and try to imagine what it would have been like to be a part of it 500 years ago.  This book added a new vision for me . . . witnessing wild chestnut trees filling the forests of Appalachia.

The dominion of the American Chestnut tree sprawled over more than 200 million acres, spreading the length of the Atlantic seaborad and west to Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. Unlike other parts of the world where the chestnut was a cultivated tree (a family with a chestnut orchard would never go hungry), here this tree was never tamed — it remained a wild forest king.  According to Freinkel, “legend has it that a squirrel could travel the chestnut canopy from Georgia to Maine without every touching the ground. Along the way it would pass over at least 1,094 places with chestnut in their names.”  Appalachia was defined by the chestnut, where they could account for as many as one in every four trees. Trees there were giants — 12 feet wide and ten times as tall!

Although the tree wasn’t really ever formally cultivated for its nuts,  people certainly gathered the nuts, which were sweeter than other types of chestnuts but also smaller (little acorn-size kernels that were difficult to peel).  The trees produced nuts every year, and a single tree could bear as many as 6,000 nuts. Did you know that “nutting” parties were an annual autumn ritual in the cities and growing suburbs throughout the chestnut belt? “Not only country boys — all New York goes a-nutting,” observed Henry David Thoreau.  Believe it or not, there was even a specific term, “chestnutting,” for the collecting of the beautiful shiny, smooth nuts whose sweet flavor could be enjoyed raw, as well as boiled or roasted.  Thoreau also wrote, “I love to gather them, if only for the sense of bountifulness of Nature they give me.”

The Cherokee protected their chestnuts by burning competing trees. The tree was the source of many remedies, including: tea for heart trouble or to stop the bleeding after birth, leaves for sores and as cough syrup, and galls to make an infant’s navel recede.

The Iroquois celebrated the chestnut tree in their story, Hadadenon and the Chestnut Tree.  “Hadadenon lived alone with his uncle; the rest of the family had been killed by a group of seven evil witches. Their only food was a cache of dried chestnuts that was magically replenished at every meal. One day, Hadadenon foolishly destroyed the last of the magical nuts. His uncle cried that they would starve, so Hadadenon resolved to steal more chestnuts from a grove of trees jealously guarded by the seven witches. After many tries, he managed to get into the grove and take the nuts he needed, an act that broke the witches’ curse and restored his family to life. Hadadenon gave each of his relatives a chestnut and told them to plant the seeds everywhere.  The nuts, he declared, were a sacred food, to be shared forevermore with all who wanted them.”

The majesty of the chestnut was also captured in well-known poems, such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem published in 1841 The Village Blacksmith which begins “Under a spreading chestnut tree / the village smithy stands.”  Although not considered one of his major works, Robert Frost wrote a poem about the chestnut blight:

Evil Tendencies Cancel

Will the blight end the chestnut?

The farmers rather guess not.

It keeps smouldering at the roots

And sending up new shoots

Till another parasite

Shall come to end the blight.

Robert Frost (1936)

To learn the status of the chestnut tree today, I hope you’ll join our discussion tonight (7:30pm at Brushwood, $15 or $10 for FRW members) or read the book on your own.

The selection of books for next season of RYERSON READS (our 9th season!) will be announced next week.  Be sure to check our website at http://www.ryersonwoods.org/p/RyersonReads.html.

Guest Post: Nature in the Classics

After his wonderful presentation at our most recent Nature in the Classics concert with the Music Institute of Chicago Academy, we asked Jim Setapan if he would share a few more words about the relationship between nature and the great classical canon.  Jim is Director of the Academy and Conductor-in-Residence at the Music Institute of Chicago.  Don’t forget, our last Nature in the Classics concert is coming up on Sunday, March 18!  For more information, please see our Events listing. 

It is clear that love of nature was of paramount interest to many of the great composers. A brief list of some of those for whom a daily communication with nature was a necessity would include Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Elgar, Richard Strauss, Sibelius, and Mahler.

The list of works inspired by nature shows that many, many composers drew their inspiration from all matters outdoors.  A short group would include:

Vivaldi- The Four Seasons

Respighi – The Birds

Messiaen – many pieces inspired by bird calls

Prokofiev – A Summer Day

Joan Tower – Sequoia

Ferde Grofe – Grand Canyon Suite

Samuel Joners – Palo Duro Canyon Symphony

Frederick Delius – On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring

Borodin – In the Steppes of Central Asia

Many German Lieder (songs) speak of the beauty of nature

Beethoven – Symphony #6 (Pastorale)

A list of musical pieces inspired specifically by water would include:

Debussy – La Mer (The Sea)

Johann Strauss jr. – Thunder and Lightning Polka

Benjamin Britten – Four Sea Interludes from the Opera “Peter Grimes”

Wagner – Flying Dutchman Overture

Smetana – The Moldau (a river running through Prague)

Handel – The Water Music

Schumann – Symphony #3 (Rheinish)

The inspiration continues today; the Chicago Symphony’s 2012-13 season includes a section called Rivers, with music based on this feature of nature.

Nature informs not only the content of classical compositions, but their form as well.  Take for example the Golden Section – a sense of perfect proportion ( a division of a length so that the ration of the smaller part to the larger is the same as that of the larger part to the whole; approximately 0.618) which occurs widely in nature, and also in architecture, the visual arts…and music. Some composers used this perfect sense of proportion of form, pitch, rhythm, and tempo instinctively – Bach, Mozart, Brahms; and others, such as Bela Bartok, used it consciously.

A similar relationship has often been at work in the creation of a musical motive, such as the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony: its development and growth throughout a piece of music parallels nature’s life cycle.

What a wonderful giftt nature has given us musicians!

Jim Setapen
Director of the Academy
Conductor-in-Residence
Music Institute of Chicago

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Benefits include advance registrations to special events, Ryerson Almanac newsletter, discounts and member trips.

For more information, please see: Join Friends of Ryerson Woods.

Listen to Dale Bowman’s “Outside”

Listen to Dale Bowman’s “Outside”

Take a listen to Chicago Sun-Times columnist Dale Bowman share his passion for the natural world in his podcast “Outside” (via iTunes). This week Bowman interviewed Friends of Ryerson Woods Advisory Board member Doug Stotz, Ph.D. and senior conservation ecologist for the Field Museum.  He gives context to the eruption of snowy owls this winter, then discusses other topics, from Northerly Island to Dixon Waterfowl Refuge.

Art Opening: Photographs by Colleen Plumb

Sunday, March 4, 2012
1:00 – 3 :00 p.m.

FREE ADMISSION

Don’t miss the Chicago area opening of Animals Are Outside Today, an exhibition of photographs by Colleen PlumbIn this solo show, Plumb examines relationships between humans and animals, studying how animals are woven through the fabric of culture. Living and dead, real and fake, as displays or companions, these images investigate our ambivalence or perhaps multivalent attitudes toward animals, exposing both our kinship and disjuncture from other creatures of the Earth.

Opening includes a talk by the artist and a book signing.  Her book Animals Are Outside Today is available for purchase online. This event will be held at the historic Brushwood home at Ryerson Woods.

Exhibition runs March 4 – April 29.