Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Here is Paul Cate working in the woods with his forwarder. He jokes that other loggers ask him when this machine is going to "grow up".

Things Paul has said in conversation continue to resonate with me. He is committed to careful quality work in harvesting. As he and other foresters have said to me, it's not about the trees we cut, it's about the ones we leave standing.

As I continue to brew the painting ideas to envisage the future of our forests the idea of sustainability keeps pushing resource extraction out of the picture. It's a paradigm shift that's been underway in the daily lives of people like Paul for quite a while.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

This is John Bradley with a few of his forestry students at Hannaford Career Center in Middlebury, VT.
ART of ACTION is a hybrid private commission public art project that I am fortunate to be working on this year. The intention of the project is to inspire the people of Vermont with visual art that addresses issues related to our collective future. To fuel the conversation and brainstorming. To inspire a quality of life that is creatively sustainable. More aspects of the project keep revealing themselves to me as I get deeper into it, because I believe in the power of art to enrich, inspire, motivate and comfort us all.

My part of the project is about the forest that covers the vast majority of this state that I have lived in for 35 years. There's lots to say about why I resonate to the forest, but I'll save that for another time. I have done paintings in and about the forest, alongside other landscape painting, for a long time. Over the past 15 years I've gotten more interested in the grittier side of working with the forest: mills, loggers, equipment, and the work I'm doing for ART of ACTION grows out of that.

This morning Paul Cate called. He is a forester/logger in East Montpelier. I spent an afternoon with him a couple weeks ago to gather material for a painting of current best practices in harvesting trees. It was a sunny afternoon, with plenty of snow still on the ground, which was just what I'd hoped for. The visual qualities of snow are so dramatic, and simplify otherwise complex subjects, like the forest.

Paul had a lot to show me. He uses a 20 horsepower forwarder to get logs out of the woods. This alone is pretty neat to see. It's small, with big tires, and leaves a minimal footprint on the land, for logging equipment. It has an integrated grapple for loading logs onto the back, right in the woods. This saves dragging them over logging roads, where they can do a bit of damage to standing timber, as well as gouge out the roads.

Paul felled a tree with consummate skill, while I photographed the process. A few precise and beautiful cuts, carefully placed wedges, then a tap of his finger, and very slowly the tree started to lean, then fall, exactly where he'd intended it to. By that time the direct light that energizes my painting had left the forest, and we called it a day.

However, since this work is for the ART of ACTION project there was more to see. Paul is a thoughtful citizen of the world and is trying to arrange his life in accord with his convictions. An array of photo voltaic panels sits behind his father's house, and provides electricity for Paul and his wife's home, as well as his dad's. He also has a wood gassification boiler to heat both homes, and plans to heat their hot water with this too. I'm still thinking about these things, and whether they might become subjects for paintings, somehow. It's certainly inspiring. To see someone doing something like that makes it seem more possible for all of us.