Pacific tree frogs are nocturnal, but I caught a daylight glimpse of one last week on Grass Mountain. I inadvertently disturbed its bedroom by lifting the fallen alder limb under which it had been resting. It was the size of my thumb and stared up with dark eyes, legs folded in close, its heart beating visibly through its taut, lime skin. It looked at once courageous and vulnerable.
While it was a thrill to find the frog, I felt a pang of guilt too. Experiencing a poetic sense of symbiosis with the natural world and actually being an aware and respectful citizen of the planet are different. As a western, post-industrial human, my role within the web of life has largely been that of an oblivious and conquesting outsider.
"I'm not sure I've ever been anywhere this quiet before," shared our newest artist in residence, Daesha Devón Harris, reflecting on her first night at Sitka. "It's the kind of quiet you can hear." We talked about the "night songs" urban existence drowns out. Another name for the Pacific tree frog is the Pacific chorus frog.
Harris's photographs spellbind and unnerve me in a way akin to my amphibian encounter. Her series, Just Beyond the River, incorporates vintage photos of African Americans which Harris submerges and re-photographs underwater, and then layers with botanical imagery and oral history etched on glass. Her lush and liquid works are at once life-affirming and haunting. Harris's art is featured this month in Smithsonian Magazine, and you can view the full series online. She will be one of five Sitka Center residents presenting work at our Show and Tell event on Saturday, April 27.
The Garden of Eden themes explored in the ceramic sculptures of Pacific Northwest artist Chris Antemann, Sitka's most recent Jordan Schnitzer Printmaking Resident, also got under my skin. Her figurines seem unfulfilled by their Rococo world in which flowers and butterflies are reduced to decorations on their opulent undergarments and tattoos on their porcelain limbs. I imagine them abandoning their pedestals, running barefoot to the riverbank and surrendering to the current.Antemann's show, Forbidden Fruit, will be on exhibit at the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia from June to September 2019.
What does it mean for humans to live in accord with each other and the natural world in today's context? When we expand our definition of ecology to include issues of environmental justice and social equity, what new imperatives surface? When we quiet our assumptions about whose art "fits" and to whom the natural world belongs, what night songs might we hear for the first time?
With awe for the artists, ecologists and treefrogs in coexistence at Sitka this spring, and the power of their voices to quicken our heartbeats,