June 26th, 2016
Last Friday Joan and I took a walk through the Tekakwitha Woods Forest Preserve. On such a sunny and hot midday the woods were refreshingly cool. Enormous old oaks and maples shade out undergrowth and the views inside this woods are surprisingly long. There are great prospects into ravines formed by snow-melt and occasional torrents that flow down-hill toward the river below. We walked along the path that runs through the wooded bluff and eventually connects with other walking paths that meet and run along the south side of the Fox River. This is a place where the north/south Fox takes a sharp bend and momentarily flows northwest.
The river level is lower as June is coming to a close. The slow moving water is turgid. We were surprised by the amount of trash and litter along the river path. Among the cans and plastic bottles strewn here and there we stepped over an upright half-filled 64 once plastic orange juice container – someone just left it standing there, cap off, bugs floating on the surface. Looking across the river we could see mud encrusted sheets of plywood, vestiges of hunting blinds whose crude geometry lurched out of the underbrush. “How about painting this stuff?” Joan asked. Her question challenged my intention to achieve an honest visual account of the Fox River.
What is an honest visual account? There is a sense in which any sort of focus excludes from view anything outside that focus. I know from my experience as an art teacher that you can increase the range of a student’s visual capacity – you can teach a person to see more. But you can’t see everything at once. Is it a question of seeing the trash versus seeing untrammeled natural forms?
I struggle with the limits of my own visual and mental capacities. Here is where a good guide can be so helpful. Artists perform that service by giving us varied ways to see the landscape. First we learn to see with them, then we see through them, then if we’re diligent, we learn to see beyond them. There is a process of discernment going on here. Should I paint the trash? I’m haunted by the question.