Article by Curator Sam Burnham
Art by Truxton Meadows
“I went to a farm where they were having a country farm fair yesterday with a friend that invited me along. There was an old Caterpillar in the brush in the parking area where they just mowed around it. I was fixated by it because of just where I grew up and being fascinated by those things all my life. So, I HAD to stop and sketch it real quick.“
With that sentiment Truxton Meadows explained his sketch of a piece of heavy equipment. The machine is overgrown with grasses, weeds, and wildflowers. These organisms would fall easily in the path of an operational Caterpillar. As this thing cut logging roads through the forest it leveled plants and churned up the earth where their roots once clung. Now the predator has become prey.
But this machine also cut firebreaks and offered protection from a threat that is menacing the wild lands of the Pacific Coast even as I type. The machine is a tool and it can be used to defend or destroy. In the hands of a true forester this tool benefits the forest because as any 8-year-old learns while reading The Lorax, without the trees, the business is dead.
As I consider this tool I think of Wendell Berry’s work Damage: “I have made a lasting flaw in the face of the earth, for no lasting good.” My contemplation over the last several days has been on this quote. It is the importance of making decisions and changes that will have a lasting good rather than damaging my physical, psychological, and spiritual environment for no lasting good.
The responsible change is in maintenances, improvements, preservations. The recognition of natural, curated, and cultivated beauty aids in wise decision making. It’s a learned art. You have to be intentional about it. At least it is in my case. I’m still learning. I hope I always will be.
Whether it’s proper forest management, conservation of water and soil, or basic home maintenance, what is really being protected is beauty. Sure there are utilitarian reasons for conservation but improving our surroundings impacts our senses. The smell of foliage, the sounds of birds or water lapping on the riverbank, and the sight of colors, tints, and hues all tell us our surroundings are pleasant. In their absence our senses advise us of a jarring void.
Creating and maintaining these surroundings doesn’t mean building nothing, changing nothing, or refusing to intervene in nature. It means creating lasting good. So the Caterpillar, while seeming boisterous, barbaric, and crude, can be used to protect, to build, to improve.
The Caterpillar inspired Meadows because of a deep familial connection to forestry. But there are many layers to this art. Look at them for yourself. What do you see? What is the relationship between beauty and beast?
Art and life interact here. Art provides beauty in our surroundings but it also recognizes the beauty that is already there. This can help us make decisions. Should a tree be cut? What is the lasting good? Should a building be built? What is the lasting good? Again, it’s not about restrictions, it’s about wisdom.
This is where my current situation, my current thoughts and meditations, my present reality have led me. It has been a wild year for sure. But through this process I have found beauty, a greater appreciation for it, and a desire to make more of it, and protect it as best as I can.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire