Chris Muhl Art © 2018

When I started drawing this elephant, I had five white hairs on my head. I can now count nine. I have also earned a gaggle of wrinkles around my eyes from squinting while drawing the tens of thousands of tiny shapes that make up the texture of the skin. I have visibly aged while working on this one drawing. But white hairs and deep wrinkles I warmly embrace. Within the wrinkles of a face, lie the stories of each passing year. With time, each face develops its own unique character. This is the character of you. Worn by the wind, colored by the sun, shaped by decades of laughter and smiles, and sadness and pain. What a beautiful thing to age. With each day, we become more and more unique. And the more we explore, the more risks we take, the more we expose ourselves to the elements of life, the more exceptionally unique we become. The breadth and depth of our character expands exceedingly the further we venture from the crowds of conformity, like trees that grow at the extremes. If you have ever seen a bristlecone pine, you know what I mean. If I were a tree, I would want to be a bristlecone. Their beauty is not defined by height or girth or symmetry. Not everyone admires this type of tree. To one beholder, a bristlecone may appear peculiar, to another just downright ugly, yet for every bristlecone there is someone somewhere who will stand transfixed in wonder as their eyes take in the most glorious tree they have ever seen. They are not loved for being normal, but for being entirely unique. A bristlecone is loved for all its quirks. And isn’t that what we seek most in love, to find that one person who adores us for all our idiosyncrasies? So, there are some perks to growing old and gray. To all of you out there, I hope that you are accumulating the wrinkles of your dreams.

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Introduction

One of the things I love most about art is that it provides an opportunity to create and learn simultaneously. While the hands are lost in the creative expression of the mind, the ears can take in the wisdom of the world through audio books, podcasts, TED speeches, and so on.

While drawing DFA #1, books have carried my mind to every corner of the globe, and deep into the emotions of the heart. I am always amazed how often authors from entirely different worlds say the same things in their own unique ways. Whether on topics of love, nature, religion, philosophy, politics, or society, I hear the same messages again and again. For example, Dale Carnegie, the author of one of the best selling books of all time, How to Win Friends and Influence People, wrote “Everybody in the world is seeking happiness—and there is one sure way to find it. That is by controlling your thoughts. Happiness doesn’t depend on outward conditions. It depends on inner conditions.” Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso (a.k.a His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama) has said “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” And in the words of Abraham Lincoln, “Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.”

In this post, I attempt to dissect the relationship between nature and humans in the 21st century. I believe that an understanding of this relationship is critical to developing a sustainable human existence on Earth, while concurrently improving the condition of human happiness at a global scale.

I write of my own experiences, and of thoughts that have arisen within me from the books that I have learned from. My words here are divided into several parts, 1) I start with my own views on our place in the world with nature, 2) I present a few philosophical ideas for how the division from and oppression of nature arose, 3) I describe the dangers of unchecked adherence to beliefs, 4) I present statistics on human health to demonstrate the effects of our beliefs on human well-being, 5) I provide a little information on current environmental problems to reveal the effects of our beliefs on the natural world, 6) I present a few ideas that convey the importance of reuniting with nature, and 7) some food for thought.

Some readers may interpret my words as an attack on western religions, spiritual philosophies, and creation stories as a whole. This is not my intention. I espouse the virtues of religious and spiritual beliefs. I mean only to call attention to the nature and power of “beliefs,” and the troubles that can arise when large groups adhere strictly and unquestioningly to a belief system. I refer to western religions often because they have been instrumental in shaping the beliefs of modern, western society. I express some concerns about religious and social beliefs, but I am not suggesting that we shouldn’t embrace them. Indeed, it is beliefs that establish the foundation of morality, and right and wrong conduct in society. They can foster acts of kindness and charity, and impel people to live honorable lives. Beliefs are instrumental in forming and upholding peaceful communities. And perhaps most importantly, for many of us, we just need something to believe in. It gives meaning to our lives, and provides us with a foundation upon which we can better make sense of the world, and our place within it. Beliefs, in one form or another, are the initial stepping stone in the journey of human life on Earth. The trouble is, like a gun, beliefs have the power to destroy. However, while the gun requires conscious input to initiate harm, beliefs do not. Our actions are often directed by our subconscious adherence to our own beliefs. And so it is, that we can harm people, decimate wildlife, and ravage the entirety of the natural world without a second thought. They say, “the pen is mightier than the sword,” but it is beliefs that direct the actions of both.

If we seek to create a sustainable human existence on Earth, while improving human well-being, elements of our belief system will need to change. We cannot follow the predominant ideologies of the preceding generations, for they are the source of the environmental and social problems of our time.

One With Nature

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” ― Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

As a child, when the summer months rolled around, my parents would take me into the backcountry of the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains. Crystal clear lakes, meandering streams, and fields of emerald green, all crowned by colossal, granite peaks, provided a playground in which the endless curiosity of a child could adventure for eternity. As I grew older, my friends and I would spend time here fishing and reading. Time in the basin grounds mind and body, soothes emotions, and reestablishes the connection between nature and human.

It has been nearly eight years since I stepped foot in the Cottonwood Basin. On my last trek into this wilderness my friends and I were called to the aid of a hiker suffering from the effects of altitude; I assume acute mountain sickness or high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). After nearly an hour and a half of CPR, we stopped. The man had passed. Today, what stands out most vividly in my mind from this incident are the man’s shoeless feet extending over the flat rock on which he lay, and down into a stream. He died with his feet in the flow; two feet, deep in the cycle of water, the cycle of energy, the cycle of life.

The Cottonwood Basin, and the experiences that I have had within it, have contributed considerably to the development of my own spiritual belief. Though, it is not really a belief at all. Rather, it is an acceptance that I am nothing more than an assemblage of matter and energy in the natural cycle of life in the universe. I believe in that which remains when the human element is removed. I believe in what I can see before me. I am wary of the beliefs of the imagination for the mind is master of deception. I do not doubt that there is some spiritual force, or some mysterious spark of life, but I have never met anyone who can convincingly explain to me how this all works. I remain open-minded, but skeptical.

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” – John Muir

The cycle of life is all around us and all within us. We are interwoven into the fabric of existence. Perhaps even more extraordinary, is that all biotic and abiotic forms exist together and within one another. The abiotic elements, such as water and oxygen, give life to the biotic, and the biotic enrich the cycle of abiotic elements within the ecosystems.

Take a look at your hands. While not visually discernible, at the cellular level they are undergoing a process of continual decay and rebirth. Each cell of the epidermis will be replaced in roughly 10 to 30 days. The body disposes of billions of dead cells every day. The ingredients required to produce new cells are obtained from the world around us. The matter of our bodies and the matter of our surrounding environment are in a state of constant exchange.

To smell the fragrance of the rose, to taste the mesocarp of the pear, to hear the waves upon the shore, to feel the wind upon your face, to watch the sunset upon the Earth, is to be immersed in the everlasting cycle of matter and energy in the cosmos. The pulse of our hearts is a cycle of the elements of life, no different from rain drops descending on a journey to the sea, or the budding and withering of leaves in the spring and the fall.

In life and in life beyond, we remain in this system. We are together forever, giving life to one another. What it is within us that we see in the mirror, is no different than all that we see around us. In this moment the matter of existence may be divided by space, but in the next moment it is united. Time brings all together and all apart and all together again; this is the rhythm of the universe.

When we pass on from what we call “life,” we become evermore a part of all that is around us. Decomposition of the body is quite literally a transfer of matter and energy. We become the next generation. We become the budding flower, we become its nectar, we become the infant hummingbird, we become the young hawk, we become the matter and the energy that is within all. We are reborn into every shape and form. And what is more beautiful than new life? Life in its infancy is the most extraordinary form of being. What a beautiful privilege to be a part of this system.

I find peace in knowing that all who I have loved, and who have moved on, remain around me forever. If we wish to be with those who have passed, we need simply to sit a while in nature and relish the beauty that is all around us, for that beauty is the new and present face of those who have journeyed on from their previous form. Isn’t this extraordinary enough to soothe the mind? Do we really need beliefs to give us peace? Must we separate ourselves from nature, to feel significant?

Apart From Nature

“Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” – Genesis 1:28

In college, I took a class in environmental ethics. The course dove deep into the realm of environmental philosophy. It was one of my favorite classes because it addressed the origins of ideologies that justify human dominion over nature. One philosophical movement that resonated with me is termed ecofeminism. This movement explores the rise of patriarchal domination, and provides several explanations for the division between humans and nature, and the origins of global oppression.

Many ecofeminist see the rise of patriarchal religion as the origin of division and oppression. “They date the origin of the oppression of nature back to 4500 b.c.,… when the shift from goddess-worshipping cultures to male deities began. In the goddess religions, both the earth and women’s fertility were seen as sacred. There was no gender hierarchy, and divinity was seen as immanent. With the advent of patriarchal religions, people worshipped a sky god, and nature was seen as his creation. The role of the male in reproduction was elevated above the role of the female; women were compared to fields which would gestate and bear the male seed… In the Judeo-Christian tradition, a great chain of being was established with god at the top, appointing Adam to be in charge of his entire creation. Woman was created from Adam’s rib and placed below him, and below the divinely appointed heterosexuals were the animals and the rest of nature, all to serve man. The patriarchal domination of both nature and women was divinely commanded.”1

Other ecofeminists look to concepts of self and dualisms in patriarchal culture. “Value dualisms give rise to value hierarchies, where all things associated with self are valued, and all things described as other are of lesser value. These dualisms of self/other are manifested as culture/nature, man/woman, white/non-white, human/non-human animal, civilized/wild, heterosexual/homosexual, reason/emotion, wealthy/poor, etc. Domination is built in to such dualisms because the other is negated in the process of defining a powerful self. Because the privileged self in such dualisms is always male, and the devalued other is always female, all valued components of such dualisms are also associated with the male, and all devalued components with the female. Ecofeminist who use this approach see the self/other separation as an effective means for explaining the twin dominations of women and nature, since both are always configured as ‘other.'”2

Ecofeminists also provide other explanations for the separation between humans and nature and the emergence of male dominion, including the scientific revolution and gender roles established during early human evolution.

I believe some combination of the above is very likely responsible for the emergence of a patriarchal society and the oppression of women and nature throughout history. Male dominance may have initially been established via inherent behavioral characteristics (males typically more competitive, aggressive, violent…) and physical qualities (males larger, physically stronger…). This is the case in the animal kingdom, why wouldn’t it be true of us. After all, we are just animals. Survival of the fittest is often, but not always, established by the strongest male outcompeting the other males and subduing the female for reproduction. Male dominance could be an evolutionary development, established through the forces of nature to encourage the proliferation of those genes most suitable for the present environmental condition. Patriarchal religion most certainly has played a role as well. Nearly all the major religions and spiritual philosophies follow the words laid down by a male figure; God, Jesus, Moses, Muhammad, Buddha, Confucius, Krishna, Lao Tzu, and so forth. In Greek Mythology, the Earth and sky, the oceans, and the underworld are ruled by three brothers, Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades. The beliefs of the world have also done their part in upholding dualisms. Everyone is at the center of their own universe. The rest of the world is everything else, thus dualisms arise naturally. However, the relationship between ‘self’ versus ‘other’ is defined through social conditioning, and religions and philosophies are hugely influential in shaping the condition of the human mind.

In developing a sustainable human existence and improving human well-being, we must understand the power of beliefs. Beliefs can keep us grounded, but they can also lead us into oblivion.

The Trouble With Beliefs

“Three blind men come across an elephant. The first man happens upon its leg, and concludes it’s a tree. The second man bumps into its trunk, and concludes it’s a snake. The last blind man feels its tail, and concludes it’s a broom.”

In speaking of “beliefs,” I am not only referring to religious beliefs, but also those that uphold social, political, and economic ideologies. However, much of the development of western society has been influenced by religion, as attested to by Thomas E. Woods Jr. in his book, How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. With western religion a driving force in the development of western society, and a fundamental player in upholding beliefs that justify human dominion over nature, I do wonder how compatible some interpretations of the scriptures are with developing a sustainable human existence. It is evident that the Catholic Church itself is concerned about this, as demonstrated by Pope Francis’ efforts to clarify the human obligation to protect nature. He has said, “If you are a Christian, protecting the environment is part of your identity, not an ideological option,” and “A Christian who does not protect creation, who does not let it grow, is a Christian who does not care about the work of God; that work that was born from the love of God for us.” Clearly, the Pope is working to dissuade interpretations of the Bible that suggest that humans have a right to destroy the whole of nature to fuel their material desires. This is the trouble with beliefs, they are open to endless interpretation, and when embraced by the masses they can carry tremendous momentum and inflict immense harm.

Humans like to explain everything, to identify and name all the elements of the universe, to have an answer for all things. Consequently, beliefs abound. I think this is dangerous. Personally, I don’t follow the school of thought that we need a human contrived answer for everything. Why do we have to believe? Why do we feel a sense of guilt or fear if we do not embrace the doctrines of society? Why do we feel a sense of comfort from embracing society’s convictions? Social conditioning, perhaps?

I do not believe that humans are “qualified” to accurately define and explain all the mysteries of the universe. To be blunt, I do not believe that humans are so brilliant as to have a “true” answer for so many of things that we attempt to explain. A review of human history reveals how often all the things we think we know, just aren’t so. Or as Mark Twain put it, “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”

We have a tendency to interpret the creations of the imagination as reality, and then to pass on that reality to the next generation. Why do older members of society impel children to adopt their beliefs, and to varying degrees, shun those who do not adopt them, or those who do not embrace them as vehemently as they do? True, beliefs uphold the presently accepted “reality,” but what if that “reality” upholds prejudices, fosters hatred, fuels bloodshed, or justifies the annihilating of the natural world? Should not that reality be altered? Our reality is the product of the human imagination. The whole of the material realm, with all its beliefs, and social, economic, and political ideologies are a product of the human mind. We can transform any element within the material kingdom to better serve humanity if we desire to. Take a look at the world around you. From obscene political behavior, to senseless environmental destruction, to a rapid decline in human mental and physical well-being, problems abound. Have we learned nothing? Have we not seen what works and what doesn’t? Why must every generation start from square one, making all the same mistakes as the previous? If we wish to improve anything, is there any point in revisiting what doesn’t work? Of course not, yet we force upon our children the same way of thinking that led to all the mistakes we have made in our past. This form of social conditioning forces generation after generation into the same school of thought, with the same ideologies, and inherently all the same misconceptions and biases. No wonder we cannot achieve world peace.

Children are not born biased towards others. They adopt negative or positive biases via social conditioning. And even if one’s beliefs are grounded in love and understanding, the very act of believing creates dualisms. There remains an underlying credence that this belief is right, and that belief is wrong, or this group is right, and that group is wrong. And so, even within a peaceful community, we see divisions. As the saying goes, “Birds of a feather flock together.” And humans certainly “flock together.” We divide ourselves into nations, then into political affiliations, then into religious groups, then into racial associations, then into ethnic communities, then into college or sports affiliations, and on and on. Research suggests that it’s simply human nature to band together. There are clear advantages to doing so. According to Herbert A. Simon, “Organizations are visible everywhere in all civilizations, ancient and modern, and they provide key social mechanisms because we are so ready to form attachments to them, and to orient our behavior to the accomplishment of their goals. Governmental organizations, corporations, formal and informal associations, and traditional groups like the tribe or family all depend on our loyalties for their effectiveness and utility.”3 However, there are also strong, social disadvantages that arise from group formation. To quote Simon again, “loyalty to groups creates in us a strong tendency to evaluate events and prospects in terms of whether they are good or bad for ‘our’ group, whatever their effects on others. We divide the world into ‘we’ and ‘they’, and when the outcomes for ‘we’ and ‘they’ diverge, we have little hesitation in choosing the outcomes favorable for ‘us’, whatever may be the detriment to ‘them’. When the conflict becomes acute, as it often does, we are quite ready to visit harm on ‘them’ if we believe it will protect ‘us’ from harm, or even if we believe it will simply lead to gains in the achievements of ‘our’ goals. So war, conquest, and slavery have been with us from the earliest history of humankind.”4

At the heart of any group is the belief system upon which the group is founded. It is beliefs that drive a group to engage in productive or destructive behavior. Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that often arises from within groups. It is an event in which members of a group make irrational, dysfunctional, or non-optimal decisions “fueled by a particular agenda or simply because group members value harmony and coherence above rational thinking”5 The concept of the “American way of life” is an example of groupthinking. At the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 George Bush Sr. declared, “The American way of life is not up for negotiations.” And millions of people buy into this belief because it is our God-given right in the land of the free. Unfortunately, the American way of life is the most destructive force on the planet. It is entirely unsustainable. “With less than 5 percent of world population, the U.S. uses one-third of the world’s paper, a quarter of the world’s oil, 23 percent of the coal, 27 percent of the aluminum, and 19 percent of the copper,”6 according to Dave Tilford of the Sierra Club. Mathis Wackernagel, director and co-founder of the Global Footprint Network, and his colleagues have calculate that “it would take four Earths – or to be precise, 3.9 Earths – to sustain a population of seven billion at American levels of consumption.”7 Clearly, in Terms of achieving sustainability, beliefs can be a very big problem.

Firm beliefs can prevent the mind from questioning the validity of “truth,” and can foster blind allegiance. This has fueled many of the most egregious atrocities of humanity. The numerous events of ethnic and religious cleansing throughout human existence are a prime example of blind allegiance in action. However, blind allegiance fuels violence and oppression of every form and scale. Feelings of hatred and/or acts of cruelty towards others because of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or physical and mental disabilities initially arise from social conditioning and blind allegiance to the condition of our own individual “reality.”

The more entrenched we are in our beliefs, the more our sphere of influence decreases. We read books, watch shows, associate with people, and engage in conversations that uphold our beliefs. We shun those who threaten our beliefs, and in the process, we may exclude the bulk of the wisdom and knowledge in the world from our sphere of influence. We lose our capacity to learn and grow. We trap ourselves within the box. Why? Perhaps, it is because of fear. To quote David Bayles, “Nature places a simple constraint on those who leave the flock to go their own way, they get eaten.” Yet, time and time again we see that growth arises from leaping out of the box. To quote Bayles again, “We do not long remember those artists who followed the rules more diligently than anyone else. We remember those who made the art from which the rules inevitably follow.” The innovators of human society, including the revered spiritual and religious leaders form our past, are remembered because they wandered far beyond the box. They chose their own path. However, in their wake, new boxes were formed, and the vast majority of people jumped into them. Society loves to make boxes, and people love to jump into them. However, no one can reach their full individual potential when they are glued to the footsteps of someone else, especially when those footsteps have been obscured, often beyond recognition, by many generations of interpretation. Such is the way with footsteps. They fade away with the wind, the rain, and time. What remains is only interpretation. And interpretation is subject to the follies of the human imagination, and worse yet, to the desires of the human agenda.

Perhaps it is simply human nature to bend, twist, reshape, and manipulate information until it is in harmony with our own ideological reality. For humans, subjective reasoning often forms the foundation of logic. One might argue that this is not a very strong foundation. I would agree. One might also argue that this would lead to a world of biases, disagreements, violence, and war. Look around you.

The Destruction of Nature

We live in a world that has been radically altered and redefined by the human imagination. We live in a material kingdom that grows and grows under the guise of progress. What is our destination? Is progressing for no other reason than to progress, a good thing? We are racing forward into the unknown without a map. We are burning up the planet’s finite resources to fuel a way of life that is not sustainable, nor beneficial to our emotional and physical health. What are we doing?!!!

Earth is the only home we have ever known. Our livelihood is dependent upon the condition of this planet. The natural world provides us with all the resources we need to survive, and it is in fast decline. Climate change is only one of the many problems that we face. Overpopulation drives human consumption of natural resoucres at a pace far beyond the planet’s biocapacity. Species extinction threatens the balance of ecosystems and undermines their capacity to provide the ecosystem services that make life on Earth possible. Our oceans have become the largest landfills on Earth, with the amount of plastic expected to outweigh pound for pound the amount of fish by 2050.8 Air quality, the world over, poses risks to respiratory health in many of the major cities of the world.

The list of environmental issues goes on and on, yet we remain stubborn to change our ways.

FYI, the following animals are critically endangered. They represent only a tiny fraction of the total number of species listed as critically endangered or endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Primary threats include habitat loss to humans and loss of genetic variation within populations. The later is largely as a result of overhunting and poaching.

The Destruction of Ourselves

Do we really prefer parking lots to paradise? Is the material world so amazing that we should destroy the entirety of the natural world to uphold it? Are we creating a world that is in tune with the natural emotional and physical condition of our species? I mean this quite literally. Is the material kingdom the ideal habitat for Homo sapiens? What is the true cost of living within the world created by the human imagination? I rarely, if ever, hear people asking these questions. Yet, I believe they are the most important questions that we can be asking ourselves as we attempt the creation of a sustainable human society. There are many indications that the current state of modern society is wreaking havoc on human physical and mental health.

Modernization has brought forth the sedentary lifestyle, and with this, a gamut of health problems. According the the World Health Organization (WHO), “approximately 2 million deaths per year are attributed to physical inactivity, prompting WHO to issue a warning that a sedentary lifestyle could very well be among the 10 leading causes of death and disability in the world.”9 “Sedentary lifestyles increase all causes of mortality, double the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and obesity, and increase the risks of colon cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, lipid disorders, depression and anxiety. According to WHO, 60 to 85% of people in the world—from both developed and developing countries—lead sedentary lifestyles, making it one of the more serious yet insufficiently addressed public health problems of our time. It is estimated that nearly two-thirds of children are also insufficiently active, with serious implications for their future health.”10 Clearly, the world that we have built is not in tune with the natural condition of the human mind and body.

Increasingly, research is revealing correlations between increasing use of technology and decreasing life satisfaction. According to an article published by UNICEF, “Too much passive use of social media – just browsing posts – can be unhealthy and has been linked to feelings of envy, inadequacy and less satisfaction with life. Studies have even suggested that it can lead to ADHD symptoms, depression, anxiety and sleep deprivation.”11 Jean Twenge, a professor from San Diego State University, found a significant increase in major depressive episodes among teens between 2011 and 2015. “With more examination, Twenge recognized that the rise of the smartphone among teenagers coincided with the rise of teens’ feelings of uselessness, as well as with the fall of their satisfaction and happiness.”12

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “depression affects about 16 million American adults every year.”13 That’s nearly 5% of the US population. In my mind, this is an enormous number people trying to make sense of the world that they are living in. I have read that many indigenous tribes have no concept of depression or anxiety. And research has shown that there is a strong correlation between urbanization and declining mental health and increasing behavioral problems. “The range of disorders and deviancies associated with urbanization is enormous. Some of the [these] are severe mental disorders, depression, substance abuse, alcoholism, crime, family disintegration, and alienation.”14

Additionally, in the US, “suicide rates have been rising in nearly every state. In 2016, nearly 45,000 Americans age 10 or older died by suicide. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death and is one of just three leading causes that are on the rise.”15 Am I missing something here? If the field of psychology is truly advancing, if our understanding of the human mind is improving, if the effectiveness of our medications is progressing, how on Earth are these conditions and statistics possible?

Recently, I watched Salif Mahamane’s TED speech about his life with ADHD and his research on the origins of this condition. He remarked that researchers have recently discovered that “men of a certain nomadic group in kenya who had a genetic variant that’s implicated in the restlessness and shifting curiosity [characteristics] of ADHD were better nourished than their counterparts without the variant, but in a group of those same people who had split off to live sedentary lives, the men with the variant were undernourished compared to their counterparts.” This research suggests that ADHD may very well be an adaptive trait, and has raised new discussion as to whether ADHD should even be pathologized. In other words, behavioral characteristics that psychiatrists have associated with the term ADHD, may simply be normal human behavior in a unnatural, material world. I am not a medical professional, but I cannot help but wonder how many behavioral patterns pathologized by medical “professionals” and stigmatized by society are simply normal human responses in a world of concrete, steel, congestion, and noise pollution. Imagine how a mind evolved to identify a flash of color in a forest of green must react on the streets of a bustling city, with all the colorful billboards, honking horns, shouting people, and not a tree or deer in sight. Could it be that many of the patients that psychiatrists shower with medications are simply struggling to cope in a world completely, and unknowingly, alien to them? Perhaps more concerning, is that a dozen psychiatrists may each prescribe a slightly or entirely different concoction of drugs to the same patient. Do we really know what we are doing?

What was it Mark Twain said? “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”

One of the fundamental tenets of evolution is that it generally occurs over long periods of time; at the very least, multiple generations. There are examples of species evolving in relatively short periods of time (several decades), such as the finches of the Galapagos Islands studied by Peter and Rosemary Grant, and the peppered moth of England during the Industrial Revolution, but generally when we speak of evolution, we are referring to events that occur over thousands or millions of years. For example, if you embrace the scientific origins of Homo sapiens, then modern-day humans are the product of roughly six million years of hominid evolution. Species evolve as environmental conditions change, and in nature, these changes generally do not occur rapidly. Through natural selection and genetic variation, species better adapted to the present environmental condition outcompete those with less favorable traits. Sound familiar? As I wrote above, researchers have recently discovered that “men of a certain nomadic group in kenya who had a genetic variant that’s implicated in the restlessness and shifting curiosity [characteristics] of ADHD were better nourished than their counterparts without the variant, but in a group of those same people who had split off to live sedentary lives, the men with the variant were undernourished compared to their counterparts.”

One of the fundamental characteristics of the human material kingdom, is rapid change. Not only does technological innovation occur at lightning speed, it is encouraged because it fuels economic productivity. I propose, that we are manually altering the condition of our surrounding habitat at a rate that far outpaces our ability to adapt to it, and for no other reason than greed and “progress.” Genetic variation may very well favor some individuals over others, and so there are those who can cope with the changing environment. However, if there is any validity to evolutionary science, then there is every reason to believe that large numbers of people will struggle to exist in a rapidly changing environment such as ours.

Return to Nature

Through the ages, we have relocated our society from within the natural world into the modern, material realm. The innovations of humanity are extraordinary. There is no question about that. However, I do believe that we should more often question the effects of our innovation, and whether they are beneficial or detrimental to the condition of the natural world, and to our mental and physical health. It is very clear that in transforming our ideas into reality, we have failed to manage the planet’s resources sustainably. But there is also growing evidence to suggest that the condition of our well-being is in peril. Our inner world, comprised of mind and body, is in a battle against increasing depression, anxiety, obesity, heart disease, cancer, and so on. Clearly, a wave of evolution is needed to restore the balance of our outer and inner worlds.

Evolution is a change in the characteristics of an organism(s) over generations in response to a changing environment. Though, generally used in reference to species, I do believe that evolution applies as much to animate life, as to inanimate systems. Systems must also change to adapt to changing environments. There is sufficient reason to change our social, economic, and political ideologies. Those of the preceding generations are no longer suitable to guarantee the health of the natural world, the health of the material world, and the health of our inner world.

I think of Robert Frost, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”

For humanity, the two roads are ideological. Both are “paved with good intentions,” but only one will lead us to our salvation. It is the road “no step [has] trodden black.” It is the path of evolution. We may as well embrace it, for whether we like it or not, necessity will hurl us down it. Increasing demand (overpopulation) and decreasing supply (dwindling natural resources) will foster increasing government regulation. New policies will redefine the ways we live our lives, they already are. The question is not, what will change? It is, what won’t?

I believe there is sufficient evidence to suggest that human health is dependent upon a connection with nature. Research is revealing that many of us possess traits that are best suited to natural environments. Additionally, research has shown that time in nature can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, boost the immune system, improve sleep, and speed up recovery from injury and illness.

Bill First, of Forbes writes, “Increasingly, healthcare and public health professionals are recognizing that the social determinants of health—including where we’re born, live, work, play and age—collectively have a far greater impact on our health outcomes than the healthcare delivery system. It’s estimated that healthcare services account for just 10% of longevity, while social and environmental factors account for twice that at 20%, genetics 30%, and individual behaviors an estimated 40%.” 1617 Additionally, First writes, “A 2006 American Scientist study on perceptual pleasure and the brain chronicles how viewing stimulating, dynamic natural scenes triggers an increase in interactions of the mu (opioid) receptors in the brain’s visual cortex—making viewing nature a physically pleasurable experience compared to looking at a blank wall or concrete-covered street.” 1819

I believe humans seek nature because it is where we naturally belong. We visit national parks, travel to foreign lands, and hike, and camp, and bike because we are inherently drawn to wild places. What it is in a view that captivates the soul, that leaves us speechless, and reawakens the sense of wonder that children know so well, must to some degree be the resurrection of a connection that wanes whenever we turn our backs to the world from which we came.

What is a life without nature? Every place we mine, or log, or otherwise decimate, is a place that will never be as it once was. There are places on Earth that only memories or photos can now describe. It saddens me to think that places of extraordinary beauty, such as Palau, Tuvalu, the Maldives and the Seychelles may be lost to sea level rise. And imagine a world without gorillas, orangutans, lions, rhinos, and elephants. What then? Increasingly, will our interactions with nature become virtual? Will we have to slip on a pair of virtual reality headsets and wait while nature loads? What will this do to our mental health?

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Conclusion

We may know the lay of the land, but we are only just beginning to understand the way of it. Humans are not omniscient creatures. There is so much we do not know.

We speak often of progress, yet by definition, progress is nothing more than moving towards a destination. As far as I can tell, humans have no clear, or universally agreed upon destination in mind. Perhaps destinations should be brought to the forefront of social, economic, and political debate. For only then can “progress” be substantive. I also believe it is important to distinguish between negative and positive progress. In my mind, positive progress means moving towards a sustainable human existence while improving human well-being. Positive progress is a process of evaluating the consequences of the actions of the past, accepting what has worked and what hasn’t, and not repeating the later. All too often, our beliefs and ideologies do not progress. They remain stagnant because we do not scrutinize their impacts on both human and planetary well-being. While in theory, technology and medicine are always progressing, in reality they cannot actually progress if our understanding of ourselves is not progressing. For example, we generally view innovations in technology as positive progress. Yet, correlations between increasing technology and declining mental and physical health suggest otherwise. Likewise, we typically view innovations in medicine as positive progress, but all too often these advances are simply remedies or band-aids to problems that we have created.

Achieving sustainability and improving human well-being are goals that can be obtained simultaneously. However, we will never achieve these ends, if we are unwilling to acknowledge the flaws of our belief systems. If we are to progress in a positive direction we must embrace ideologies that “truly” promote the well-being of nature and our place within her. The prominent Norwegian philosopher, Arne Naess wrote, “The ideological change will be mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of inherent value) rather than adhering to an increasingly higher standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between bigness and greatness.”

So much of the human journey throughout history has been characterized by a separation from nature. Carried on by our beliefs, we journeyed, physically and mentally, further and further away from her in our quest to build out the “big” kingdom of our imaginations. We tear down forests to build walls to keep nature out. We adorn our walls with windows to see the world, but through glass we cannot feel, hear, touch, and smell the world out there. We have created traps and poisons to kill every living creature that dares to enter into our domain, with not a care in the world for the pain we inflict. As our population grows, we push further into nature, forcing all the “vermin” to walk the plank toward extinction. And Increasingly, to view the world around us, we look not up, but down into a magical, electronic mirror.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, show me the fairest life of them all.

In seeking “big,” many of us have diminished the quality of our lives to nearly zilch. We are holed up within our homes, within our rooms, at our desks, or glued to a screen through which we experience the majority of life. What a sentionally “big” life we have created.

It need not be this way. We can rediscover “great.” It comes naturally when we let go of “big.” When we stop seeking more, and strive to appreciate less, we discover a world of incredible depth. Perhaps Louis Armstrong said it best:

“I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They’re really saying I love you

I hear babies crying, I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more than I’ll never know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world”

Yes, it is a wonderful world, and our happiness lies in believing that it is worth protecting.

From all of us here in the studio, thanks for reading!

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Update: 30/17/2019

When I first wrote this post, I was concerned that some people might find my words too aggressive, or my attack on the “brilliant” innovations of humanity, unjustified. I know I am strong in my own opinions. However, after writing this post, I began reading Silent Spring, by the renowned, American marine biologist, author, and conservationist Rachel Carson. Throughout the book, I have encountered striking similarities between her words and mine. I want to share a few words of hers here as I believe it lends credibility to the points I have made in this post.

“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.” ― Rachel Carson

“A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full or wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later year…the alienation from the sources of our strength.” ― Rachel Carson

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” ― Rachel Carson

“But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself.” ― Rachel Carson


1 Gaard, Greata, and Gruen, Lori, “Ecofeminism: Toward Global Justice and Planetary Health,” pp. 276-287 in Environmental Ethics: An Anthology (Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2003).
2 Gaard, Greata, and Gruen, Lori, “Ecofeminism: Toward Global Justice and Planetary Health,” pp. 276-287 in Environmental Ethics: An Anthology (Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2003).
3 https://academic.oup.com/icc/article-abstract/11/3/607/1044114?redirectedFrom=PDF
4 https://academic.oup.com/icc/article-abstract/11/3/607/1044114?redirectedFrom=PDF
5 https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/groupthink
6 https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/american-consumption-habits/
7 https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33133712
8 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/01/20/by-2050-there-will-be-more-plastic-than-fish-in-the-worlds-oceans-study-says/?utm_term=.b02894c41e60
9 https://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/release23/en/
10 https://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/release23/en/
11 https://www.unicef.org/stories/social-media-bad-teens-mental-health
12 https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2018/06/gse-phones-study/
13 https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/diseases/depression-anxiety.html
14 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2996208/
15 https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/p0607-suicide-prevention.html
16 https://www.forbes.com/sites/billfrist/2017/06/15/the-science-behind-how-nature-affects-your-health/#66c0709e15ae
17 https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsa073350#t=article
18 https://www.forbes.com/sites/billfrist/2017/06/15/the-science-behind-how-nature-affects-your-health/#66c0709e15ae
19 http://cvcl.mit.edu/SUNSeminar/biederman_vessel_amsci06.pdf

Hello everyone!

It has been a little more than a year and half, and the finish line for DFA #1 is finally in sight. It’s hard for me to believe that so much time has past.

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Image 1: The journey begins, July 2017

The hardest parts of the drawing have been completed, and the final portion is moving along fairly quickly. Within a few weeks I’ll be into the final touches, which involve finishing shadows and highlights, and accentuating or fading prominent wrinkles and other features.

I have said it before, but this project has been a test of will and patience for me. I’ve had to step away constantly to travel for work, and diving back into the project has been difficult at times. It hasn’t been easy to sit and draw tens of thousands of tiny points, lines, and polygons on a sheet of paper, while beautiful days ripe for adventure pass by hardly noticed, but work we must, and ideally in pursuits of passion.

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Image 2: Nearing Completion, February 2019

As the drawing phase comes to a close, I’ll be moving into a multimedia design phase (I’ll elaborate in a future post), scanning/printing, framing, art promotion, and lastly (fingers crossed) artwork sale, and charitable donations.

I have no idea how this artwork will be embraced by the art world. The value of art is so subjective. A red dot on a canvas can sell for millions and grace the walls of the world’s finest art institutions, while works of great toil and complexity can pass through the art world entirely unnoticed. It reminds me of the Stephen Jay Gould quote, “I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.” Too many fine artists have passed on from this world unnoticed, but if their life’s toils were meaningful to them, so be it.

The Inherent Value of Art

Many people believe that art offers no necessary function, and therefore cannot be definitely valued. For some works, I believe this is true. However, there are many works of art that I believe do provide a necessary function, and there value is inherent. The art world is filled with theories for why an artwork should be valued. Many of these theories are obscur, or open to interpretation, which is why there is so much debate. I believe an artwork is of great value if it can stimulate the emotions of the audience. This is the practical value of artwork, and I think this is less debatable.

All forms of art have the power to educate, to enlighten, and to empower. Humans are certainly not emotionless robots acting only in practical manners. Humans are emotional creatures, and our emotions drive our actions. An artwork holds inherent worth if it speaks to the emotions of an audience. If a work can inspire people to act good, to be kind, to care for the world around them, then it is of great value. The words of a book, can reach the eyes and minds of millions of people through mass publication and distribution. If held in a public place, a drawing or painting can do the same, as millions of museum visitors stand before the piece and feel its message.

Today, we see a natural world in peril. The condition of our planet is suffering. Overpopulation, pollution, climate change, and mass extinction events threaten the integrity of our fragile planet. Never has there been a more critical time to inspire people to act for the common good. This is the hour in which art can provide its most valuable service.

What value does my own artwork have?

In responding to this question, I’ll start with a passage from the film Good Will Hunting.

“So if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling. If I ask you about women, you’d probably give me a syllabus about your personal favorites. You may have even been laid a few times. But you can’t tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy. You’re a tough kid. And I’d ask you about war, you’d probably throw Shakespeare at me, right, “once more unto the breach dear friends.” But you’ve never been near one. You’ve never held your best friend’s head in your lap, watch him gasp his last breath looking to you for help. I’d ask you about love, you’d probably quote me a sonnet. But you’ve never looked at a woman and been totally vulnerable. Known someone that could level you with her eyes, feeling like God put an angel on earth just for you. Who could rescue you from the depths of hell.”

Vicarious, Sensory Stimulation

How do you tell a story, or draw a picture that conveys the magnificence of real life? How do you capture the essence of nature’s perfection in an artwork? What is it in wild places or in wild creations that enrapture us, that fill us with a sense of awe, and awakens our deepest and truest capacity for appreciation? Beauty is not defined, it is beheld. But the nature of our world is such that the vast majority of its beauty will never be beheld by the vast majority of its human inhabitants. So it is, that the critical connection between humans and nature, required to inspire people to act to protect nature, will be upheld through a medium such as film, books, pictures, paintings, drawings, and other works of art.

Drawings for Africa #1 is my attempt to harness, not the image of an animal, but the essence of his being. I don’t want the audience to see simply a picture of an elephant. Rather, I want them to feel the grandeur of his existence. I want them to see what words cannot describe. I want a child who has never seen an elephant to stand before this work and feel the explosion of wonder that befalls anyone who stands before these sensational creatures. I want all people to know what we stand to lose if we do not stand to protect and preserve.

Experiencing Through the Artist

Oscar Wilde wrote, “every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion. It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the coloured canvas, reveals himself.”

If this drawing is in any way a depiction of me, I hope the audience sees within it what I see in the magnificence of nature. I hope they see a toil of passion and a product of a heart willing to sacrifice time for a cause of deep meaning to the mind. I believe few people will ever take the time to draw an animal at this size and detail. In this respect it is a rarity, and I’ll selfishly admit that I derive some pleasure from that. The drawing is both realistic and abstract, the later perhaps to a debatable degree. Zoomed in, the artwork is seemingly chaotic, somewhat like a Jackson Pollock piece, with tens of thousands of tiny points, lines, and polygons clustered together in no discernable pattern. As we zoom slowly out, the chaos transforms into order; patterns emerge, shapes form, and a creature begins to appear. Zoom out more and an elephant, radiating in all his splendid physical intricacies, is clearly depicted.

I think much of life is like this. One flower on a hill often goes by unnoticed, while a billion flowers together create a blanket of color that excites the eye. One star in the midnight sky is not much to behold, but a trillion stars shining brightly together create the beauty of the universe. And the seconds we are living now will pass by hardly noticed, but all the seconds of our days amount to the years of our lives, and the splendor of our memories. And each action we take, no matter how small or great, amount to the quality of our character.

Today, we see our nation divided by selfish desires, thoughtless words, hateful rhetoric, and blind allegiance. We see how ugly a world of division can be. To quote Oscar Wilde again, “To define is to limit.” If we are to create a sustainable human existence, and if it is peace we seek, we must see that definitions can create divisive and hideous boundaries. Group affiliations can foster group thought, which often impedes rationalization, and shackles the heart and mind, preventing them from realizing their potential for love and knowledge. When we remove definitions, when we cast away labels, unity can prevail. We can love without constraints. We stop judging, we lay down our prejudices, and we begin to approach others with understanding and tolerance. What more do any of us want than the freedom to flourish and shine, the freedom to love, the freedom to be, the freedom to pass from life in peace. There is no true (unbiased) reason why we cannot do this together peacefully.

DFA #1 is not only a depiction of the essence of an elephant, it is a depiction of the beauty that arises in unity. It is a depiction of what can be when all the pieces of the puzzle of life work together in harmony. I believe this is a critical time to remind the world of this beauty.

If you have made it this far, thanks for reading! I wish everyone all the best!

 

I’ve started the shading process on the face and trunk. Shading is where the fun begins, and I’m very excited to begin this process.

This project has really been a trial of patience. I had no idea when I started, how much time this would take. Along the way, I’ve listened to dozens of books that have carried my mind to every corner of the globe and throughout the span of human history. I’ve listened to thousands of songs of every genre. I’ve felt loneliness and isolation, and I have felt love and comfort. At times, my hand has even etched the emotions of my heart into the drawing.

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And so for me, this artwork has become a journey of learning, an expression of love, and a test of my will. While there’s much work to be done, the fun is really just beginning. I look forward to sharing this adventure with you!

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I hope everyone is happy and healthy, and enjoying lives filled with love, laughter, and smiles. And whatever your life’s pursuits may be, I wish you the best in achieving all that you can be.

I’ll leave you with a short fable that I picked out of Thoreau’s, Walden.

“There was an artist in the city of Kouroo who was disposed to strive after perfection. One day it came into his mind to make a staff. Having considered that in an imperfect work time is an ingredient, but into a perfect work time does not enter, he said to himself, It shall be perfect in all respects, though I should do nothing else in my life. He proceeded instantly to the forest for wood, being resolved that it should not be made of unsuitable material; and as he searched for and rejected stick after stick, his friends gradually deserted him, for they grew old in their works and died, but he grew not older by a moment. His singleness of purpose and resolution, and his elevated piety, endowed him, without his knowledge, with perennial youth. As he made no compromise with Time, Time kept out of his way, and only sighed at a distance because he could not overcome him. Before he had found a stick in all respects suitable, the city of Kouroo was a hoary ruin, and he sat on one of its mounds to peel the stick. Before he had given it the proper shape the dynasty of the Candahars was at an end, and with the point of the stick he wrote the name of the last of that race in the sand, and then resumed his work. By the time he had smoothed and polished the staff Kalpa was no longer the pole-star; and ere he had put on the ferule and the head adorned with precious stones, Brahma had awoke and slumbered many times. But why do I stay to mention these things? When the finishing stroke was put to his work, it suddenly expanded before the eyes of the astonished artist into the fairest of all the creations of Brahma. He had made a new system in making a staff, a world with full and fair proportions; in which, though the old cities and dynasties had passed away, fairer and more glorious ones had taken their places. And now he saw by the heap of shavings still fresh at his feet, that, for him and his work, the former lapse of time had been an illusion, and that no more time had elapsed than is required for a single scintillation from the brain of Brahma to fall on and inflame the tinder of a mortal brain. The material was pure, and his art was pure; how could the result be other than wonderful?”

 

 

Lost in stormy seas

In its 2014 Synthesis Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change (IPCC) stated that “…stabilizing temperature increase to below 2°C relative to pre-industrial levels will require an urgent and fundamental departure from business as usual.”

The late and renowned Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess said that, “The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease.” Naess went on to say that “Policies must therefore be changed. The changes in policies affect basic economic, technological, and ideological structures. The resulting state of affairs will be deeply different from the present.”

Overpopulation is the most pressing environmental issue we face today. In 2017, Earth Overshoot Day (EOD) occurred on August 2nd. EOD is the day of the year when human consumption exceeds the annual biological capacity of the Earth. Since the 1970s, EOD has progressed to earlier dates within the year. The most significant environmental problems of our time stem from overpopulation and overconsumption of natural resources.

How do we move away from business (and life) as usual, while maintaining our perceived quality of life? Clearly, this requires an ideological shift.

Naess proclaimed, “The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of inherent worth) rather than adhering to an increasingly higher standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between big and great.”

I happened upon “great” one day while riding a bike. To elaborate, I want to share a story from my own life.

I grew up in Los Angeles, but was fortunate to have parents that took me often to places wild and beautiful. We hiked and biked on the weekends, and enjoyed summers in Yosemite, and camping in the Sierra Nevadas.

The wild has always been a place I love, yet despite this attachment, there was a time in my life when I lost my inner connection to nature. I don’t know how to describe the feeling. What I remember is, not deriving lasting pleasure from a walk among the woods, or a view atop a mountain. What it is in me that sees the beauty in nature and creates a sense of wonder or attachment, was gone.

I went several years like this.

Discover her, love her

In 2013, I moved to Arcata, California, where I lived for three years while attending college. This small town of 18,000, lies four and half hours north of San Francisco. Arcata is bordered by forests of towering coastal redwoods to the north and east, Humboldt Bay to the south, and the exquisite Northern California coastline to the west. If you’re looking for an adventure into the heart of nature, look no further.

The tranquility and isolation that can be enjoyed around Arcata is a far cry from the traffic, congestion, and chaos of Los Angeles. And this was exactly what I needed to rediscover one of the most priceless, yet costless joys on earth, a journey into the wild.

While in Arcata, I spent every weekend along the coast, or in the woods, or atop a mountain. For the first year and half I felt the same feeling I had in Los Angeles. Nature was there, and I loved her, but still something was missing. Then one afternoon, while riding my bike to school, I looked up to the sky; it was a window of blue, in a frame of emerald green needles. Rays of amber light flickered through the trees, and somewhere in that view I rediscovered the wonder and everlasting pleasure that nature can provide. It is one thing to look at a flower and find it beautiful, it is quite another to hold that flower and feel something deeper than what the eyes behold, a feeling of awe, of warmth, of comfort, of love.

Contrary to what I would have believed, it was not a separation from nature that made me love and long for her. Rather, it was the daily interaction with nature that enabled me to discover and appreciate all the little nuances of her. She was always beautiful, but I suppose my attraction had become superficial, and as a consequence I had lost the ability to truly appreciate her. In living daily with her, listening to the wind in the trees, the ripples in the streams, the thunder upon the ocean, I heard her thoughts, and longed to hear more. In walking through the woods, I saw her creations in all their magnificence and all their delightful quirks. I climbed her rocks and swam in her rivers and lagoons. I tasted her fruit and smelled the sweetness of her breath.

Rejuvenating a deep connection for nature was not something that came without effort, but I wanted it, I immersed myself in the pursuit of it, and in the end, I found it.

I think of the day on the bike often, as it is the moment in my life when I discovered the “difference between big and great.”

Somewhere in the glitz and glamour of urban life I lost the ability to truly enjoy the simplest of pleasures. Perhaps an excess of entertainment opportunities combined with a tendency to crave new and more exciting experiences had made me numb to nature’s offerings.

I think it is import to understand that the material world is the realm of our imaginations. It is the world that we created from our dreams and ideas. While it is sensational in many ways, it is also artificial, and we as natural beings originating from a natural world may unknowingly lose our way within it. Our concepts of pleasure and excitement may be corrupted by an excess of lustrous, artificial entertainment.

Through love of nature we can attain sustainability

Discovering “great” had profound implications on my own life because it enabled me to see how little I need to be happy. So many of the innovations of the modern world are simply luxuries, but we grow to perceive them as necessities because we equate owning them with attaining a high quality of life.

Despite what people, or advertisers, or society may say, we really do not need much to be happy. And this is good to remember, as consuming less will steer us in the direction of sustainable living.

Big lives are filled with material stuff that come and go with no true consequence. Great lives are filled with experiences that create the memories we will cherish until the end our days.

Perhaps George Strait said it best, “I ain’t never seen a hearse, with a luggage rack.”

I share this story as a lesson from my own life about the influence of society and the complexity of pleasure. I was completely unaware of the negative influence of urban life on my own well-being, until I dared to live a while among the woods.

The trunk is finally done!! Or rather, the outline is. I still have a little shading to do.

My goal with this project is not to create a photo-realistic result. Rather, I want to capture what it is in elephants that makes them so grand. It’s more than just their size; they look wise, they look ancient, they appear almost omniscient. And perhaps they are, and we’ll never know. But how do you capture this in a work of art? I am sure 100 artists would create 100 unique ways to do so.

If I were to paint the galaxy, conveying its enormity, would I need to paint every star, or is there a threshold beyond which the eye of an observer can no longer perceive a difference? And is there a threshold at which point the imagination can easily expand from, filling in the gaps? In drawing this elephant, I have played with these questions, and they have defined my style.

The trunk of this work contains ~15,000 (this is a rough guess) tiny shapes. The entire artwork may contain over 100,000. While I have not captured every tiny detail, I hope that I have captured enough to trick the mind into seeing more than is actually there, and to stimulate the imagination to implant an aura into this inanimate form.

What is the purpose of this art?

Elephants are sentient and intellectual beings. They posses an extraordinary degree of emotion and affection. It is sickening to think of how these creatures are treated. Poaching is a grotesque act of pure evil. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that humans and elephants share similar capacities for empathy and love. And so it is, that when a heard of elephants is gunned down by poachers bearing fully automatic weapons, we can only assume that they feel the same pains (physical and emotional) that we would feel in that situation.

The battle against poaching has become a violent engagement. Both poachers and rangers are losing their lives. This could all be avoided if consumers would just stop buying ivory. A product with no demand has no market value.

This artwork is meant to generate further awareness for the plight of the African elephant, but I mean to do so by depicting what we stand to lose. The artwork is very much scientific, produced in a style akin to scientific drawing. Producing the artwork in this style conveys the elephant as the result millions of years of evolution; sculpted by the forces of nature over a great expanse of time. Or, for the religiously inclined, the product of divine creation. But regardless of their origin, their future lies in our hands. In the blink of an eye they could all be gone.

So, when completed, this elephant will stand as an artistic and scientific depiction of what is, or possibly in the years to come, of what once was.

Around the world, there are many extraordinary creatures on the verge of extinction. Whether or not they will be here in the future is left for us to decide. Most importantly, we as consumers of the Earth’s resources have control over what we will and will not buy. This world will always be filled with greedy people willing to make a dime at any cost, but consumers have the power to control what these costs will be.

The learn about the current wave of extinction events, please see The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert.

 

Wrinkle by Wrinkle

For anyone following my blog, I’m sure you’re wondering, when will DFA #1 (a.k.a. the elephant drawing) be done. I hear this a lot from friends. The answer is, it’s still several months away from completion.

Why is it taking so long?

Well… I’m not a full-time artist. I’m currently working on wildfires, and my pencil only hits the paper between field assignments. Come the end of the fire season, I’ll be on DFA #1 non-stop until completion.

For those of you who have followed me this far, thank you!!! I have some big plans for the completed drawing and prints. I look forward to sharing the experience on my blog.

Cheers!

I am currently back at work on the elephant drawing, a.k.a. Drawings for Africa #1. This is by far the most taxing project that I have ever undertaken. I’m working from photographs and trying to sketch out every detail that I can see. Each little feature of the skin becomes a polygon, or a line, or a dot on this enormous sheet of paper. I estimate that I have now sketched out somewhere between 10,000 and 13,000 tiny polygons.

When zoomed in, the patterns appear as a scene of chaos, like a madman’s abstract depiction of the galaxies of the universe crammed onto a Petri dish.

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As I listen to audiobooks while drawing, the shapes seem to transform with each story. A few weeks ago, I listened to Hemingway’s “The Green Hills of Africa,” and the shapes began to appear as animals, and lakes, and rivers. I then listened to “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage,” and the shapes started to resemble the broken hunks of ice on the vast, antarctic, ice sheet upon which Shackleton and his men were stranded for 15 months. Now, while listening to Dickens’ “David Copperfield,” the shapes have become an odd illustration of the tumultuous personalities and harmonious interactions of Dickens’ enchanting characters.

Standing back from the drawing, it is hard to believe that this jumble of shapes becomes the figure of an elephant.

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I suppose many parts of life require a glance from a distance to be fully appreciated, as the totality of their magnificence lies in the synthesis of their elements.

Lie upon your belly on the valley floor of Yosemite, and you’ll see a jumble of pebbles, and twigs, and leaves, and sand. Rise up to your feet, and look out towards the peaks, and the eyes take in a seen that could tickle one’s fancy for eternity.

And in love, isn’t it true that we, from time to time, find ourselves so caught up in the deluge of life’s events that we must step back to see how wonderful our relationships truly are?

I wonder how magnificent the universe would appear if we could stand atop a prominence and view upon its entirety. Perhaps we’ll never know the beauty of this scene, but maybe, just maybe, it bares resemblance to the assemblage of shapes on the surface of an elephants skin.

Well, that sums up my ramble. I hope everyone is well!

Drawings for Africa: October Update

Hi everyone! Here’s an update for the Drawings for Africa project.

Due to work, and other smaller tasks related to the project, the progress has been a little slower than expected, but I’m excited to say, it’s coming along well, and the process is speeding up!

Here’s a short clip from this morning. Sorry about the video shake. The camera is attached to the easel, and when the video speed is increased considerable, the shake becomes pretty bad. I’ll fix this issue in future video updates.

I hope everyone is well, and thanks for tuning in!

Hi everyone! I have had a few comments on the large easel that I created for the Drawings for Africa project. So, I thought I would provide an update highlighting some of the features. If you would like to see how the easel was built, please see my earlier post, Building a Big Easel!

As the first elephant drawing evolves, I have been adding new features to ease the drawing process and to enable better documenting of the journey.

I’ve added lights, a magnifying glass, and an adjustable camera mounting system.

If you are interested, check out the video! Perhaps it will provide you with ideas for your own projects.

If you have thoughts or suggestions, please feel free to comment.

New capital of the U.S. ivory trade: Washington, D.C.?

Washington, D.C. appears to be the new hub of the country’s ivory trade, according to a report released Wednesday.

For those of you following my blog, I want to share with you this post from Conservation International (CI). To go directly to the article, please click here, or see the link at the bottom of this post.

If you have heard about poaching in the news recently, you have most likely noticed that most articles point to Asia as the primary source of demand for ivory. China, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam are often noted as key markets.1 However, many people are not aware that the U.S. is also a key player, with the second largest market after china.2

U.S. ivory imports were outlawed in 1990, when a ban established by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1989 went into effect. However, the CITES ban did little to reduce illicit ivory imports, and distinguishing between sanctioned and illicit ivory is nearly impossible.3 Consequently, the ivory market in the United States has flourished. In recent years, some states, notably California, Hawaii, Oregon, Nevada, New jersey, New York, and Washington have introduced laws banning ivory sales. In response, ivory sellers have moved their inventories to states with no trade regulations, including Washington, D.C, Virginia, and Maryland.4

In an effort to save elephants and reduce illicit ivory imports, the Obama Administration introduced a new, “near-total” ban on domestic ivory sales on July 6th, 2016.5 This ban is intended to prevent the masquerading of illicit ivory as sanctioned ivory. Time will tell whether these new measures will prove effective in reducing illegal ivory imports.

You can help save elephants by spreading the word about ivory and poaching, signing petitions, and writing letters to lawmakers in support of ivory bans. And most importantly, never buy ivory! To keep up on the status of African elephants, check out the IUCN Red list. Click here to support the IUCN’s 2020 species assessment goal.

via New capital of the U.S. ivory trade: Washington, D.C.? — Human Nature – Conservation International Blog

1 Strauss, Mark. “Who Buys Ivory? You’d Be Surprised.” National Geographic, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/08/150812-elephant-ivory-demand-wildlife-trafficking-china-world/. Accessed 25 August 2017.

2 Smith, Jada F. “U.S. Bans Commercial Trade of African Elephant Ivory.” The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/03/world/africa/elephant-ivory-ban.html?mcubz=0. Accessed 25 August 2017.

3 Arnold, Chris. “New U.S. Ban On Ivory Sales To Protect Elephants.” National Public Radio, http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/06/02/480494835/new-u-s-ban-on-ivory-sales-to-protect-elephants. Accessed 25 August 2017.

4 Bale, Rachael. “Why D.C. Is the New Hub for U.S. Ivory Sales.” National Geographic, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/07/wildlife-watch-washington-elephant-ivory-for-sale-united-states/. Accessed 25 August 2017.

5 “Ivory Ban Q&As.” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, https://www.fws.gov/international/travel-and-trade/ivory-ban-questions-and-answers.html. Accessed 25 August 2017.

What the heck am I going to draw on?! This easel needs to be BIG!! After a quick bout of research on Google Images, I opted to build a large version of the classic table easel.

Using wood and metal fasteners, I built a sturdy, albeit cumbersome, easel.

For the drawing surface, I acquired a large Plexiglass Acrylic Sheet. This makes for a perfectly smooth surface. Although, I’ve discovered that, on hot days, the Acrylic expands, resulting in a slightly undulating surface. This is remedied with the addition of more screws around the perimeter of the Acrylic sheet. Alternatively, drilling holes ~2-3 times larger than the diameter of the screw, and using large washers, would keep the sheet fastened to the frame, while allowing it to expand without bowing.

Given the severity of plastic related pollution in our oceans and waterways,
I was hesitant to buy a large piece of Plexiglass. In my own life, I try to minimize plastic usage, opting for reusable and easily recycled options such as stainless steel, glass, fabric, and just about any alternative I can think of. However, Plexiglass has its advantages in this situation, and I will be using this easel for many years. Should any damage occur to the surface, I will reuse the Plexiglass in other applications around my home. If I ever need to dispose of it, I will seek out a facility capable of recycling it properly.

I chose a 50″ x 10 yd roll of Stonehenge 90 lb, acid-free, fine art paper. To get the paper on the easel, the roll is placed on a roll holder at the top, pulled down over the easel surface, and taped in place.

Watch the video to see how it came together. If you have questions or suggestions, please feel free to comment.