Art and the tracks

Two constants in my very young life: art and railroad tracks.

Those still fascinate me.

The environment around the tracks is a weird little world of its own, no matter where.

In the northwestern corner of Ohio, the tracks form a peculiar ecosystem that shifts subtly from place to place. Certain kinds of life thrive there, along the tracks, and it changes depending on whether you walk the tracks by an open field, through the woods, near a stream bank, or over the complex of streets and expressways that circle and slice into the heart of the city.

The same holds true here in the southwestern Mojave, except the developed land is an exurb more than a city/suburb/rural complex. Here, nearly all of the land along the I-15 corridor, from the Cajon Pass to the land north of Apple Valley, consists of expanding exurbs. These are formerly rural areas that have been the fast-growing fringe of high desert cities, running northward on the Interstate. At  least 350,000 people now live in a handful of small towns, cities, and exurban areas, detached from those cities, with open high desert landscapes between them.

I often see coyotes and small mammals, many birds, and reptiles at the railroad tracks near our house.

Near the tracks.

Near the tracks.

Road by the tracks

Road by the tracks

Owl tree

Owl tree

The art. I’m not an artist, really, although I think I see with an artist’s eye sometimes. I have an artist’s tendency to be distracted by things flitting across and near my supposed field of focus. The unexpected. Or the usual in a peculiar light. It keeps me open, not knowing what to expect.

I want to create a landscape wherever I live. The word agriculture comes from Latin root words meaning “cultivation of the land.”  In fact, comparative linguistic reconstruction indicates that the Indo-European root word for agriculture is related to words for both  “tillage” and “worship” (See Wendell Berry, 1996, p. 87). It is hard to ignore the shared place of ecological connections and spirituality in food production. When you garden or farm you naturally feel a connection between the “art” of agriculture and the place you dwell along with the cycles of the season.

Mansanobu Fukuoka illustrates the same point when he says, “Farming used to be sacred work,” (1978, p. 113). It is an artful and even spiritual vocation embedded in the natural world. Farmers and gardeners have the opportunity for deep awareness of the natural environment and they have an opportunity to embrace land use practices that are bioculturally skillful and creative.  Art.

 

Nascent communi-trees at RSF.

Nascent communi-trees at RSF.

California poppies in cactus food garden at RSF.

California poppies in cactus food garden at RSF.

When we did our “eco-art” workshop at Rainshadow Farm, I was enchanted with our “farm art.”  Some of the participants didn’t immediately “get” what we were doing; in the end, everyone was happy with the art they produced in collaboration with the soil.

Eco-art canvases

Eco-art canvases

The painting and drawing that I did as a young person helped me make sense of the world. No definitive answers were ever delivered…but a little sense might be made of this or that corner of an unknown universe. If  not…I would at least have a finished product, a representation of something, to show to other people and use as a means to get their insight.

One last thought. I always used to see the tracks as a way to get going. Right now I need to think about where I’m going to get going to. Life is sweet but life is short. I’ve spent the last two years returning to myself in spite of because of some pretty big obstacles. I’m returning to myself. I’m returning to the tracks and to the art.

Stormy day train.

Stormy day train.

 

Gone.

Gone.

Tracks going north.

Tracks going north.

 

 

Berry, Wendell. (1996). (3rd ed.). The unsettling of America. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.

Fukuoka, Masanobu. (1978). The one straw revolution. New York: New York Review Books.

 

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About rainshadowfarm

West Virginia hillbilly girl grown up. Grew up in northern Ohio. Farmer from birth. Working class academic. Practical agroecologist. Community educator. Single parent of eight. I also teach anthropology at a community college. I like this work and think it's worth doing and doing well. California community college students are some of the most incredible students I have ever known.
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4 Responses to Art and the tracks

  1. Railroad tracks are also wonderful in their ability to evoke ideas about traveling and seeing new places.

  2. rainshadowfarm says:

    So true! Tracks get me thinking about travel every time. You have some wonderful travel photography on your blog.

  3. Reticula says:

    There are railroad tracks a block from my new house. I don’t think they’re used any more, so they provide a good speed bump instead. I’ll still be able to hear the trains downtown though. I love the sound of them in the night — the sound of going somewhere.

    • rainshadowfarm says:

      When I lived in Ohio as a kid it was the same for me. Sometimes I’d walk the tracks thinking they could magically get me out of there. They were vast, they were everywhere. When I moved to the beach in southern Cali I never heard trains. Out here in the desert, they’ve always been nearby. I love the sound of them too.

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