ANN PAYNE lives with two Cairn Terriers and two cats on a steep and wooded hill on the edge of Morgantown WV. She has lived there under those trees for decades. Her house is full of books and odd things she has found outdoors. There is a shaded carp pond, visible from the living room window, through which the carp can be seen, gold gleaming in the dark water. She is visited here by adult children, grand children, friends.
[Ann's words in purple. Faith's in black.]
REFLECTIONS: HOMAGE TO DUNKARD CREEK
A friend who lived on Dunkard Creek called to say there had been a massive fish kill. Ann went to see for herself. Large numbers of green herons, who usually wade into the water to catch live fish, were feeding on the bodies of fish on the ground. There was a hand-made sign: “Who murdered our creek and who will save it?” Muskies and other fish floated dead in the water, The gills of fish were bleeding. Mud puppies which hide in the mud were frantically crawling, with their tiny fingers, trying to get to the air, but they were suffocating and dying. In the end, 90 species of plants and animals which had previously lived in the creek were gone.
Apprenticing in Biomedical Photography years ago, I discovered I am calm – even efficient – in the face of blood and guts. It isn’t that. But there is something about helpless things suffering through no fault of their own that cuts very deep with me. What got Reflections: Homage to Dunkard Creek started wasn’t outrage first, but standing there in the creek and seeing all that suffering, those helpless being plunged into pain, misery, untimely death, and loving them and suffering helplessly with them. That was the heart of it. Then I got angry and frustrated, and then I had to do something.
Dunkard wasn’t so much a protest as a way to introduce people to those amazing beings, their numbers, and how lucky we are to be blessed with such beauty, diversity and wonder. And then to put it together, to see how awful that these beings were so disrespected, disregarded, and violated. It sounds corny but it’s that deep tenderness that I get to first and want to share. It precedes the anger and action. It is from there that I have to act .
Ann talking about the fishkill and the exhibit she curated with work by 90 artists, honoring the 90 species: Reflections: Homage to Dunkard CreeK
A slide show catalogue of the work:
MORGANTOWN YEAR OF THE TREE
A few years ago some people from Connecticut moved in up the hill and behind Ann’s house. The newcomers wanted a Connecticut sort of lawn. They cut down the numerous old trees which had been giving shade, offering habitat, and holding the soil in place.
The trees… Hearing their bodies crash to the ground day after day, the sound of the grinding up of their bodies, the crying of the animals and birds who had dwelt in them – again, suffering for them, with them, helpless. Then I got REALLY MAD and Year of the Tree was born. YOTT 2013 also featured SHADY: Our Neighbors the Trees, an exhibit of 27 artists from three states who answered, artistically, the question, “What do you see when you look at a tree?” Where my ‘neighbor’ (who soon lost her job and retreated to Connecticut) saw only her own ego to which the trees were mere obstacles, pastel artist Susan Poffenbarger sees ancient beauty, Nik Botkin recreates their architectural wonder in giant metal sculptures, etc. These artists see, love, and respect the trees, and through their work, invite others to do so.
Morgantown’s Year of the Tree: There were hikes, and lectures, and trips to City Council, and contests, like the one for The Biggest Baddest Tree in Morgantown and a weekend of art: Carol Hummel guided people in yarning a big beauty on the arts campus.
The Passenger Pigeon Project, of which my friend Ann Rosenthal is one of the organizers, asked one artist from every U.S. state in which those birds had lived to create a piece in honor of the now-extinct bird.
Passenger Pigeons, distinct from the familiar rock pigeons many call “flying rats,”once existed in such large numbers that when a mass of them passed overhead the sound was deafening and it took hours for the group to pass. Unlike rock pigeons, the Passenger Pigeons were a species native to North America. A new book about the birds, A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction (Bloomsbury), by Joel Greenberg is reviewed in a recent New Yorker. Sadly, among other things, these birds who were so numerous they could be called a feathered river across the sky, were not only numerous but delicious. The hunting and eating of them contributed to their extinction
I ended up with (imo a kind of weird) vision, a wounded bird with a mountain-top removal site in the background. I had to use all kinds of source photos and try to blend them together, but the point is that again – these beautiful creations were disregarded, destroyed, in fact mined, the hills for coal, the birds for meat. Forever lost. Then and now.
url to New Yorker review, which contains a lot of information about Passenger Pigeons:
SHH… LISTEN! My current project with Betsy Jaeger, Steve Lawson and Nik Botkin, is a 20-artist collaboration called Shhh . . . Listen! an installation to premier at the Allegheny Highlands Climate Conference at Blackwater Falls State Park in early June 2014. This project highlights 20 regionally common plant and animal species whose populations are dropping rapidly, but who are not yet ‘listed’ as threatened and endangered. The point is to alert the public to common species suffering and vanishing right under our noses (from climate change, habitat destruction, pollution). In other words, let’s quickly start to pay attention. We have a pending disaster we can prevent here and now.