Sam Burnham, Curator
It was a breezy cold day in west Georgia. Despite the weather, I needed a breath of fresh air. I needed to hear the singing of the birds and the rustle of fallen leaves beneath my feet. So I took a walk in the woods.
The sting of that winter wind on my face wasn't comfortable. It was unseasonably cold and that harsh dryness moved across my cheeks and made my ears burn. My exhalation formed a fog that flowed outward nearly a foot before disappearing as all mist eventually does. While I do despise the cold there is still something about it that is compelling. It is as much a part of the cycle of life as the warmth of spring. Any true Georgian can tell you that our peaches and apples need these frosty days to attain the flavors and qualities that have made them famous. And just as new shoots from a decaying stump, those warm spring days will follow this harsh season. Besides, one cannot truly appreciate that warm March sun on his face if he has not felt that bite of January's wind as well.
Even in this cold and decaying landscape life is not absent. Moss grows on a rock, a frail and inconsequential life eats away at something so permanent and substantial.The very creation of a healthy and fertile forest floor depends, in part, on the ability of moss to overcome granite. With tenacity and time anything is possible.
From such an impossible task comes soil, then herbs and ferns which lead to shrubs and then understory before a canopy rises to give us the forest. While it can be a fragile balance, it is also known across the world. One place that science and religion totally agree - the forest was here before us. In that fragility, like the moss on the rock, is a tenacity. A fallen tree sends shoots skyward, seeking life-giving light.
As the forest finds ways to survive, it presents us with wonders. These are only dependent on our willingness to stop, to look, see, and recognize what is before us. It takes an effort to brave the cold, to get outside, to wander from the comforts of "civilization." We also have to be comfortable in that surrounding. We have to take the forest or the field and not see it as a a place with potential, wondering about the ways we can improve it or change it. We have to look at it as complete, as already serving its best purpose just by being. By becoming comfortable in such an environment we are returning to a healthy state of nature. We are no longer an intruder. We have instead become a part of nature.
I believe it was Wendell Berry who warned against the tendency to photograph a landscape without any sign of man. We mustn't see ourselves as intruders in nature. We mustn't approach the world as it we are the defilers of nature. While that is often the case, we need to shift our thinking. It is not productive to see the presence of people as something that makes the environment any less pristine. There is a history that would support that man tends to develop, pollute, and defile the natural world. But there is also a history of man preserving, protecting, and living in harmony with that same world.
My takeaway from my immersion in that stand of trees is simple. Our goal should never be creating natural landscapes or environments that are free from any influence or presence of man. Our goal must always be to avoid ever having a world where man is never devoid of the presence and influence of natural landscapes and environments.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire