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Holistic view from Sitka
The divide some grownups perceive between science and art has always perplexed me. My earliest four-year-old memories of drawing revolve around nature and animals. I remember the artistic liberty I felt painting wings on a yellow lion ascending into an azure manila paper sky, and the anatomical accuracy I strived for the day I took my naturalist sketch pad to the zoo. As young people, our curiosity about the world around us and our desire to find our own voice within it are as natural as our biological impulses to sing at daybreak or howl at the moon.
If there is an intellectual ravine between the arts and sciences, the imaginations of Sitka's spring residents leap spryly back and forth across it daily. Eli Neumann-Hammond samples sounds from the natural world to make his music. Photo-transferred barnacles collect on the floor and tabletops in interdisciplinary artist Brie Schettle's studio. Meanwhile, in naturalist Ingrid Erickson's studio, constructed wings and skulls are pinned to the walls and peek out from the windows like origami-meets-taxidermy specimens.
The more time I spend at Sitka, the more convinced I am that the art-science gap is a paper tiger.
While the coexistence of art and science has been a naturally occurring phenomenon at Sitka for decades, it's becoming an increasingly popular-and urgent-societal idea in the context of finding fresh approaches to solving 21st century problems, from mental health to climate change.
Spring resident and rare species biologist Susan Waters studies the impacts of native pollinator restoration on endangered butterfly populations. The offset couplets in resident Chris Rose's poem, Coastline, ebb and flow like waves: "He walked into the water and drowned. / You walk into the ocean. And breathe." Fabric artist and resident Laurie Lambrect's yarn-covered rocks simultaneously evoke a sense of geological patience and the inner quietude of the knitter. I imagine her besweatered stones perched on promontories, bearing witness to rising sea levels, ready to remove a layer as things heat up. The humor in Lambrect's work and the beauty in Rose's help me stay with their uncomfortable subject matter longer than is my nature.
What wisdom do animals on the brink of extinction have to share with a population just beginning to grapple with its global interdependencies? What if human empathy and altruism could spread as rapidly as a virus?
It seems both butterflies and poetry have something to teach us about our own fragility and resiliency.