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What is it in the natural landscape, the open sky, or the play of light on water that captures our fascinated attention, enlivens the body, elevates the mood and transports the soul? Most of us have experienced the hypnotic quality of watching clouds change shape, or been awed by observing stars in a brilliant night sky, or felt the healing power of walking the beach or alongside a river. The fascination of water, fire, and light can be taken for granted or taken as a question.
As a sociologist, I spent decades trying to answer why it is that our population, child and adult, is so often cut off from these elemental experiences in nature for the better part of the day and the year. People in our culture are for the most part systematically channeled into artificial environments like schools or offices, factories, malls or prisons. What experiences are lost to a population that is physically institutionalized in this way?
I’m not saying I can answer these questions, but certain thinkers have suggested intriguing possibilities. The anthropologist of children, Edith Cobb, suggests that there is an exaltation arising out of a direct connection of the human nervous system to systems of nature. When this connection is not interrupted by monotonous environments or constant abstract experiences, Cobb notes: “a direct organic participation of the perceiving nervous system in the systems of nature, a sheer unbounded physical and psychic experience of nature as cosmos, evoking a passionate response…sensed as a continuity of self with nature’s behavior.” Her research reveals that the elation arising out of our physical response to immersion in a rich environment is an authentic source of awakening intellectual wonder and the joy of knowing.
So this is one reason I am drawn to paint the surface of water, the play of light, the intermixing of water and light in the atmosphere and over the land. I feel fortunate to live on the southeastern coast of Massachusetts that has an abundance of sublime landscapes—marshes along rivers, streams and brooks in forests, well kept agricultural land bordering directly on the sea, as well as its renowned maritime vistas. As someone who has come late in life to painting, I offer homage and continuing reflections upon my extraordinary place on earth.