I have been dreaming of Utah these past nights. Not those kind of dreams you have when you are wishing you could go somewhere. Not the melancholy type. But the kind of dreams that are had from experience, when your subconscious is so full of an experience that it pours out of you after you have had it. The dreaming is rich of the landscape. They are not full of saga or people, or any far-fetched narrative. They are full of the place, the feelings, textures, smells, and colors. Every night after I close my eyes I relive the place. The overwhelming beauty.
I have never had such realistic and vivid dreams before of a real place, portrayed in a true and actual dynamic. I am wondering what this means for my psyche. Have I found my spirit home? Or was the experience simply overpowering that my subconscious is relishing the intensity of the memories?
I have been in many places across this landscape of Utah, visited it’s canyons, rivers, plateaus and rock formations. But never for as long as I will when leading Quest. So today I begin the great “count down” for departure. In planning the trip I referred to the Utah Gazeteer, map book extraordinaire. But the scale of the plateau of southeastern Utah is immense and leaves me with only a fragmented sense of this expanse of landscape. I wanted a map that would guide me across this place that I could look at whole. I chose a map to order sight unseen, yet thinking it would reveal the mystery as a whole . Today as I review the readings the program participants and I will read encamped on some mystical spot of sandstone I unfold the map. Ha! The map covers the southern edge of the area in question. But the northern portion if the area I am interested to study is not to be found . Looking back to the map guide selection , you know the little overlapping boxes that denote which map covers what area, I realize the map I want does not exist! Maps ring the area in question , but not the place. And that is the magic of the upcoming journey. Seeing, feeling, touching, smelling for ourselves that power of a landscape we do not know from reading a map or previous experience. Soon the days will be of this journey, dust trailing behind us as we get to know the mystery.
Before you arrive, I want to give you a little bit of context on this studio. I assume everyone has reviewed Remote Studio on the Artemis Institute web site. If not, you should. You will be better prepared to learn and discuss the more you understand the program. Read some of my essays on the website if you have the time. In brief, the Remote Studio and its format are developed out of ideas for teaching design from previous experiences and my PhD research. The program is an alternative to the abstract-rationalistic and scientific organization of teaching that pervades university programs. The course sequence will be orchestrated through hands-on, first person experiences from which each of you will gain unique and personal knowledge. One of the primary focuses is to help students re-engage with the rest of the world and the intuitive intellect. It is my belief that a good way to proceed is to provide students with inspiring and unknown environments, where their expectations have not been specified with “what to expect” lectures, and pragmatic projects. I also believe that the best way to understand your ideas is not through mock or “virtual” projects, but through hands-on immediate projects that are the intentional result of your imagination and reflections. We will discuss these ideas at length during the semester.
With these interests in mind I ask you to understand and accept that the studio may not always run smoothly, not only due to the nature of this type of educational model, but because of the context of real life: clients, weather, materials, people, etc. Certain dates will be scheduled such as the trips, but the itinerary for the trips will not be completely delineated. Sometimes the weather does not cooperate and we change the dates of hikes. The small individual project schedule (called vessels) and reading will be fairly well determined, but are always subject to change if we decide they just are not serving us best, or discussions need to be shifted to accommodate clients or weather. If you are some one who requires notification of a complete plan this studio process may put you on edge. From this experience it is possible you will learn something new about yourself. It is important that studio members communicate well with one another, this means good communication with me and anyone assisting you from the Artemis Institute. If we have good communication we will learn the most from one another.
Food. What I eat has been a long preoccupation. Long before Michael Pollan gained fame with his book “Second Nature” I was fascinated with food and eating. I am not exactly sure why, I guess it seems to bring the world into perspective for me. The tastes of food tie me to an experience and a place. They are specific, like scents that can bring you back to a place or memory when you smell something in particular.
When I was thirteen I chose to celebrate my birthday at an herb farm that was out in the country in Texas. When I think back to this event, I marvel that there was such a place in Texas, and that I wanted to celebrate my young teen birthday there. No wonder the kids in high school looked at me strange. I was and am strange. The choice of eating at the herb farm was not only for the food, but for the experience. The experience of eating, the celebration with friends, and the place. It was a marvelous place of gardens and green houses. It was architecture tied with food. And maybe that is where architecture and food tied together for me for the first time.
Since that birthday I have remained engaged with food and eating. How it is prepared, where it is grown or produced, differences in spice and deviations relative to the place. I have years of specific memories of eating. I have a collective of experiences of growing food and then learning how to cook with what I have grown. And today I am thinking about how food, eating and growing is becoming a discussion point for sustainability.
If you have been a student at Remote Studio you know that cooking and eating communal meals is an important aspect of the semester. I intentionally integrated cooking and eating into the program because of my belief that how and what we eat is critical to a whole and potentially best lived life. It enriches us, it grounds us, it defines place. It is celebratory, it can give meaning to events, it provides memories and ultimately helps us share our lives with others.
When does house become home? When we build it, furnish it, decorate it? spend a season or years in it? Cook, clean and make “to-do” lists in it? Make the beds and hang the art? Listen to music or make the music that dwells between the walls? When we live time in it? Make memories and love in it? Leave it and return?
I knew this once. Where to find home. Home came easy. Seemed easy when I was younger. Now I look for home everywhere and it seems to be nowhere. Home is peace. I think home must be when I breath in and out. I must practice. Breathing in and out. And maybe then home will appear before me in the time between breaths.
Dog’s know what they like. And they show us all the time. I am also impressed by their memory of places. My dog Noel travels a lot. Almost everywhere I go, she goes. After being in Louisiana for five months we made the journey home to the mountains. She happily hopped in the car when I loaded it for our trip. She thinks anywhere with me is better than staying put by herself. After 12 hours of driving she let me know how she felt (see the picture for yourself.)
The next day, more of the same. Driving. And then at the end of the day the landscape changed. About three hours from Jackson Hole she could smell the difference in the landscape. Could she recognize the distant peaks of the Wind River Range?
oh, yea. now this is home
An hour from the Tetons she definitely knew where we were. Just take a look at the rest of the photos, shown in sequence. We arrived to Remote Studio and I unpacked while she sat on the table looking out the window.
The next day, under a beautiful blue spring sky, we took our first hike of the season. A place well known and loved by her, where leashes are packed away and the creeks flow abundantly with clear, cold water. Six miles of peace and joy! She remembers each side trail and every bush from her previous experiences. She knows her truth and she knows her place.
I am on the road again. Traveling away from Louisiana. A few hundred miles across a state line and the horizon in front of me seems like another reality. I imagine in a way , that’s true.
We seem to lose sight of what is important in the world when things are not right in front of us.
water blurred with land
I visited Grande Isle, on the coast before leaving Louisiana. Grande Isle was a resort destination at the turn of the last century. A landscape that Kate Chopin wrote of in her novel “The Awakening.” It’s beauty must have been significant – it must have been full of grace. Today it is crowded with cheaply built beach homes. The grace is gone. Grande Isle is recently remembered by most because it was the primary beach that the oil spill from the Deep Horizon disaster washed up on. The oil is now buried under the sand. Upon the sand are the things that mark the island’s condition and abuse. Shells mixed with plastic debris. The loss of birds to the oil pollution still obvious.
on the beach
I remember Grande Isle on this day, and on the days to come when I return to my home in the Northern Rockies.
As much as I look forward to going home, I will long for another day on the marsh, another day full of the scent of magnolia, jasmine and gardenia filling the streets of Spanish Town.
“this is much more fun than learning…” she said. And like a passage from “Alice in Wonderland” after Alice fell down the rabbit hole I responded,” but you are learning and you haven’t even realized it .” The day was glorious. Full of new experiences. Immersed in the world as we all should be, learning from the world and each other. Not in a room, or from a text book lesson. Boat rides to the beach edge , walking the ridge alive with ancient oaks, the first line of protection for the marsh from hurricanes . Up bayous and dispersed in groups of two and into the marsh to wander through a vanishing landscape. Polling the boat through shallow water . Pulling caught catfish from the line. Knowing where your dinner comes from. This is the best source of learning. Learn to live and love. Be passionate about the things in life you care about.