|Elk at Cascade Head.|
By Bob Ferris
I took a break this past weekend. I danced away from politics, social media and the internet (mostly). I did not look at the president’s tweets nor see Stephen Miller’s forced ejection from the CNN studios. Rather I returned to my roots in science, expanded my appreciation of the complexities of art, and walked for a few days in places where at least some semblance of wildness clings tenaciously to the earth. For me (and my artist wife) that trifecta experience happened at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology at Cascade Head Ranch north of Lincoln City, Oregon.
For those trained in the sciences and existing far from the intellectual give-and-take so common during our academic years, euphoria springs from hearing well-presented ideas and then participating in the resultant exchanges. Certainly we still have interactions steeped in science, but countering the claims of someone denying climate change or the ecological value of wolves on a particular landscape is far different than exploring much deeper ideas with someone who understands both these concepts and others. It is as different as listening to your neighbor's child during their first week of violin lessons and then enjoying the artful bowing of Itzhak Perlman.
While I think it is important for those who can to argue vigorously and often for science and scientific principles, it is also important for us to fill our figurative and literal inkwells. I did this, in part, by listening to a couple hours of talks given during a "show and tell" event at the Sitka Center where their five fall resident artists presented their work or works-in-progress. I suspect that all of these events are probably different in specifics but not in general theme or impact, but I will relate some of mine on this one (see here for upcoming set of residents).
Now before continuing I will admit that I once "regaled" a woman at a cocktail party with my elation after hearing of an organism so small that its cell walls were shredded by water molecules in the meniscus of a sampling pipet prior to being subjected to electron microscopy. It turns out the woman in question was not looking at me with adoration or amazement but gathering breath to label me the “most boring man on earth” before leaving. So with this in mind, imagine my glee when one of the resident artists was a molecular biologist and granddaughter of Francis Crick of DNA fame and his artist wife Odile. That Kindra Crick pursued both science and art seems a somewhat surreal expression of genetics and cultural inheritance. As her interest is in the mechanics of memory it is no surprise that she has created a room-size art installation that allows the viewer to walk-through her artistic interpretation of this phenomenon. Her work at the Center fused this type of interpretation with mapping and the Cascade Head topography in a printmaking exercise.
|"Qualia: To Experience Red" by Kindra Crick (2015)|
Others on the program talked about arboreal ecology, riverine restoration, mycology and the allure of islands. Each fully demonstrating the principles of the Center as well as illuminating their own art and science interface “super power.” Having sat on selection committees tasked with choosing not only stellar candidates but being sensitive to the mix and diversity of the resultant assemblage, I recognized the “art” in this also. The success being the full room in attendance and the general feeling that more could have been said rather than “when is this going to be over.”
The effectiveness of this exercise is greatly enhanced by two catalytic factors. The first is a fertile and supportive audience and community. Time and time again we see the association of creativity with safety and support. When the collective crowd energy is shouting "go deeper" and "be freer in your thinking" that is when the magic in this realm happens. There has always been a lesson here in terms of quality of science under a more progressive setting versus those that are restrictive or forced. It is illustrative here to understand that the USSR historically produced a lot of science but much of it was not very rigorous or discipline-expanding. It is good that we are reminded that we risk this type of scientific stagnation if our current course of ignoring and strangling science is continued. Events like this give form to what we risk.
The other catalyst is just simply nature itself or the intellectual release enabled by the experience of swimming in the wild world's manifold wonders. One cannot hike to the top of Cascade Head or touch the waters of the Salmon River without some viscerally positive response. Researchers Rachel and Stephen Kaplan found this long ago when looking at employee performance when nature was introduced to corporate campuses and it applies broadly. It has been one of my career drivers as I fully understand that we become bereft as a society and nation as the landscape around us becomes less and less wild. We risk so much being led by those who do not grasp this fundamental principle or think it of less value than another digit in a brokerage account.
|Mouth of the Salmon River with the foot of Cascade Head to the right.|
Part of my purpose in writing this is to encouraging folks to seek out places such as the Sitka Center as functional refugia as we experience this present, ever-escalating war on science and the arts. These organizations and their sites should be visited and supported as they provide much needed intellectual grounding and a therapeutic balm for those walking wounded struggling to protect our precious science and arts. Yes, this is yet another call to get out and get active, but that seems an essential repetition at this juncture. And if it does your soul and eye benefit, as this did for my wife and me, then so much the better.