Standing at the edge of the ocean, I tell my children the story of how the seas formed 3.8 billion years ago, the result of a great rain that lasted millions of years. Before, there had been no water, only roiling clouds and molten rock. Then the deluge began, eroding the land to form saltwater, which has been ebbing and flowing, just like this, every day since. Deep time, as John McPhee terms it, is the line on which I try to locate myself.
I watch a line of pelicans glide over the breakers as gulls cluster and cackle on the shore. On my right, a tern lies, belly splayed and picked clean, near the seal carcass that has been weaving its way back into the sand for two months now, like an old burlap sack. Though I stopped believing in God as a child, as I look out at this infinite vessel, it is not lost on me that I, too, am a believer.
It is easy to think the mundane is different from the sacred. So I seek out philosophers – Spinoza, Whitehead, Latour, Serres, Keller – who articulate a position that stands in stubborn solidarity with every single thing. If there is only one substance and one system, of which everything is an evolving expression, then my relationship with the world becomes that of cell to organism, and I can, on occasion, experience life as an immanent, shimmering plane. Physicists, poets, and mystics agree on this point, leaving us with the uncomfortable realization that most of our cultural assumptions and definitions are wrong. We are not only part of nature but there is an inherent equivalence of all its parts, from the So I spend time with an array of creatures, objects, and systems that shed light on the relationship between the parts of the whole. Perhaps, one day, we will see ourselves as interdependent.
It’s a foggy morning, low and damp. It’s easier to see clearly on days like this, without the stark shadows of right and wrong, that everything is connected, even the broken plastic bucket tangled in the kelp next to me. Should I pick it up and put it in the landfill that will also one day be an ocean? What is the half-life of my neighborhood, its tidy houses a few yards away, staring at the incoming tide?
Contemplation feeds action, so I return home and get back to work, creating projects and relationships that seek to engage people at the level of meaning and purpose, growth and change. The climate crisis is waking many from the consumptive slumber of recent decades, and I feel compelled to engage in the difficult work of building a world where my children can thrive. I believe we will thread this needle, but imagination is needed to tell a new story, one that refuses heroes and villains, but rather finds the threads that bind all to all.
Such stories are best told quietly, like fables, because the world is scary enough without all the screaming. So my art practice meets people where they are, listens as much as it speaks, and invites people to consider possibilities. It is through such means that I have been moved toward closer connection with nature, and it is through such experiences that I hope to reach others, expanding the web of concern and commitment. Epiphanies are possible, and they matter. For me, ideas of emergence, complexity, equivalence, and transformation can move the conversation forward.One day, I plan to found a center for inquiry at the edge of the sea that explores the intersection of art, philosophy, and ecology: a place where artists, scientists, philosophers, and religious thinkers will gather to generate new language, construct forward-thinking paradigms, and create artwork that imagines a complex yet resilient future.