On the eastern edge of a fragmented forest dotted with houses the land narrowed to a small oval shaped promontory that met a tidal marsh. Trees that grew on it were scattered randomly across the slope and a hill rose in the middle. These plants were not majestic like the red oaks, birches or tulip trees that stood in the remnant woods nearby or exotic like the plantings that framed the homes within the woods. Shadbush growing at the base of the promontory blossomed with pale cream flowers before leaves opened in the forest. The blooms reflected like clouds across the new moon high tide waters in spring. Deer and red fox passing across the promontory napped there under native sassafras, maple or juniper away from the north wind. In summer, male red wing blackbirds moved within the inner branches of the trees and rose up in a stream dissolving over the farther marsh. One pink swamp rose always bloomed from a shrub on the eastern shore. Foliage sparkled like jewels in autumn, casting stained glass shadows into the flooded cove. Then bees converged on the brush like white flowers of the groundsel bush whose feet stood in the salt water. Smilax grew in twisting rolls of barbed fencing along the slopes creating a green net around the place all year. A path of emerald moss spread to the top of the hill from the west to one tall oak. On sunny mornings a red tailed hawk perched there on a high limb and scanned the land. Like moonlight, every animal that touched the place seemed to be in transit. If the promontory was lifted from the earth its impression would be a deer’s footprint. The cleft of the hoof facing the salt meadow cushioned a huge grey boulder pushed there during an ice age.
One spring evening a raccoon rambling along the moss trail stopped to sniff a young buck’s discarded antler. Two of its points were badly chipped. By the next autumn chain sawing began nearby in the forest. Trees were felled whose canopies left huge holes in the woods. Men worked into the dark cutting and chipping. In a dense fog teams reached the promontory fanning out across the hill with saws. Swinging left and right they cut down small trees. Men dragged saplings away, their crowns scraping along the ground. They dug and carried out armfuls of bushes. One man climbed and felled the oak tree. Others sliced the trunk in slabs and rolled them down to the water’s edge. A hawk flew from the woods and buzzed them. The debris of barges and ships washed in by storms from the sea over decades they picked up and threw on top of the giant boulder. The smell of fresh cut wood wafted in the damp air.
In the early winter of the next year it snowed. A storm high tide washed over the slabs of the oak tree that were left behind. As snow melted in the sun, yellow discs showed above the white ground marking where trees had stood. A man returned in spring rolling a big machine across the naked land and ground down these stumps. The rim of the promontory eroded to black soil. The sun burned the moss path brown. Animals never came to the place again. But the people who bought a house in the woods nearby were pleased with their water view.
Barbara Roux 2018
Environmental Art is a contemporary art form that is inspired and informed by nature and reflects a need to interpret, engage and protect natural habitats. The knowledge and strength I have gained from my direct contact with natural landscapes has led me to respect wilderness ecosystems. My art is a translation of my mission to understand and protect wild things.
The dialogue I create between a viewer/reader and nature in my work uses traditional forms as well as elements presented directly from nature. My projects are often installations created with diverse components that reflect my interpretation of a natural history event. These works may be confined to a gallery wall and floor or at an outdoor site that is specific to their content. In a subtle way I engage nature to create a layering of meanings, visual and metaphorical.
Openly engaging nature in my work creates a partnership with nature I find beneficial. This means using natural materials from a site without destroying their habitat or its smaller niche. The harvest of flowers, leaves or twigs by pruning will aid in the health of a plant. I do not appreciate the Earth Work art projects of the 1960’s that ravaged and gouged the land. To me these works showed a desire to dominate not magnify nature’s role in our lives. One can work with natural cycles and rhythms and create projects that resonate with our own lives. Tides, moon phases, decay and growth are strong themes. When I create with natural materials like flowers the work takes on an ephemeral, fragile and transient quality that life has. When I use cobblestones from a beach, my work shows the strength of elements and the force of water.
Developing a method of inspection, research and discovery of natural ecosystems helps me to create art that invites mystery, wonder and appreciation. Look, listen, smell and touch. Be patient. Learning directly from nature is inspiring. Reaching across disciplines adds a valued layer to one’s process. Science and literature are inspirations for my conceptual and narrative content. It is important not to limit one’s vision or audience. Environmental Art can be a bird made of moss created for a person to discover by accident along a park trail. It can also be a project using text, photos, sound and aromatic seedlings placed under heat lamps installed in a university gallery for a large audience. For me, Environmental Art can be created by one person or many of different ages working together. The goal is to celebrate our natural resources.
Barbara Roux 2009
For years the flora and fauna within our area has shown changes. Change is a part of life and death. These changes can be observed from a distance and up close. Habitat niches have been altered by contractors, invasive plants, weather, animals and disease. In some areas unnatural landscape features have been created on new home plots where older and smaller houses were taken down and new larger ones built. New houses appear to be far more the focus of these projects than the landscape elements of these properties. Native and mature landscape flora is in some cases cleared away for new plants and lawns instead of integrated into the new planting design. Young trees planted that create enclosures for a house, pool, and other structures don’t seem to connect natural aspects of the property to these structures. These live enclosures are often formed of small evergreens of equal height native to colder climates meant to reach 80 feet or more. When planted in rows 10 feet on center or closer, little space is allowed for them to grow to maturity. These evergreens often have no natural configuration or understory plantings. They seem to stand as soldiers. And their color never changes with the seasons to provide interest. The growing use of hard surface driveways, turnarounds and courtyards on private homes is also less integrating than the use of light gravel. Gravel provides drainage mitigation, is cooler and a natural material that allows tree roots to breath under it. Natural rhythm and variety in plantings is still evident in our coves, sanctuaries, vacant lots and many treed private residences that are a hallmark of our area. This hallmark is a positive aspect both for aesthetic reasons of texture, form, color and fragrance but also valuable as habitat ecosystems and niches for our native plants and animals and helpful to our air quality and erosion control. They are a source of wonder and education into our natural history and the ecology of our coastal, meadow and forest environment.
Maintaining properties here, whether private or public has its problems. For many years there appeared to be a lack of control of non native invasive vines such as Oriental Bittersweet, Japanese Honeysuckle, and garden escapees like Wisteria. Now new fast growing vines like Mile a Minute plant join the list taking over our sunny verges in certain places. Shrubs like Japanese Knotweed have created clumps of dominating foliage clogging areas of our fresh water wetlands. Multiflora Rose has been here for decades crowding out other plants and continues to do so though it’s late May blooming tiny blossoms smell lovely. Norway Maple, once the choice for shade in our school yards if allowed to grow wild will seed and take over an area so nothing but its offspring can grow under its matted roots. Some public refuges are now clearing away at invasive vines and removing them from trees in areas where they were once allowed to grow as cover for native animals. Now new native invasive and pioneer plants have come in there like the deep rooted Pokeweed. Certain mature native trees however have been plowed under on private sites with the vines that cover them instead of cutting off the vines or pulling them out. Prevention and preservation are viable alternatives. Removing or cutting back these vines and shrubs when they are young are possible. Weeding by hand is a remedy.
The landscape industry itself seems to consist of weekly maintenance crews of trucks and trailers arriving to provide high maintenance required from manicured turf lawns and ornamental plantings. Their use of high powered back pack leaf blowers on lawns and driveways that are sound polluting can be heard outside far away. These workers come even when the leaves are not yet open on the trees in March and begin their sweep. Their removal of leaf debris under trees that have an understory of native shrubs like Maple Leaf Viburnum, Mountain Laurel, Spice Bush and Shadbush and a groundcover of ferns can be damaging. Their root systems can be shallow and require protection and nutrients from leaf litter. The larva of butterflies and moths need to survive in this leaf debris as well. And piles of leaves pushed along a neighbor’s verge are not only intrusive and unsightly but can rot the root collars of trees they are piled against. The odor of chemicals emitted from gas back pack blowers is also offensive to our environment. Areas devoted to pristine lawns serviced by landscapers are often treated with chemicals that have a number of cycles and provisions for everything from pre emergent herbicides to fertilizers and broadleaf weed control that may raise the toxicity level of water run off that reaches our harbors, ephemeral brooks and wetlands, a nursery habitat for many animals and plants. This is a land of hills and valleys. Some residents still use wells for their drinking water and we need to keep that and all our drinking water safe from run off chemicals. Our wetland habitats need healthy breathing space to grow into areas they will seek as global warming causes waters to rise. Some wetland birds are making a large showing here now like the Osprey but there is a huge decline in certain songbirds that migrate to New York State. This may be caused by a complex combination of habitat loss and polluting chemicals in certain habitats. White tailed deer have also been a presence in recent years and have had an impact on the erosion of our forest understory. Plant disease too has taken a toll.
In many areas of our village, people continue to integrate native habitats and non native plants with their homes and are in tune with the flora and fauna that thrive here. Peninsulas of trees, shrubs and groundcover extend from their homes into natural woodland or landscape buffers. Many residents allow a natural process to take place between the ecosystem components of their grounds. They compost food scraps. They use safe organic herbicides. They use a quiet rake on their lawns. Some native trees that die and fall are allowed to decay to provide food and shelter for a host of small animals and plants. Native flowers like Wild Geranium and Aster bloom next to non native Hostas and thrive. Tulip Tree and Oak and Birch canopies shield understory native Dogwood and Viburnum and ferns. Oxygen is given off from plants and their roots absorb rain and nutrients and an ecological harmony exists. On some parcels, meadows still exist and orchards of heirloom apples still bear fruit. Some residents and park areas allow native evergreens like Red Cedar to colonize with Goldenrod and Black Eyed Susan on sunny slopes. And the waves hitting the pebbles along our shores at low tide can still be heard.
Barbara Roux 2008