Archive for July, 2012

Happy Birthday, Andy Goldsworthy

How many parched creek beds have we traversed over the years? Lots. Did we notice the dried mud mosaics left behind as the moisture was slowly being squeezed out by a brutal Texas sun? Maybe. Would we think about using this mud mosaic as a canvas to create art? Probably not, unless we were familiar with the work of Andy Goldsworthy. Goldsworthy shows us things we have seen time and again but transformed, into art.

Nature provides him with his materials: ice and snow, leaves, flowers, thorns, stems, twigs, branches and trees, bones, sand, dirt, clay and stone. Time and place are also vitally important in his work. Time is usually an invisible element. Some of Goldsworthy’s works are so fleeting that technology provides the only means of preserving them at all. Photography can capture clouds of powdered stone and splashes of water, a chain of polychrome leaves sent racing down a fast stream or a line of small stone arches beset by the rising tide. Thus, seen on video or in a chronological series of photographs, the element of time may be revealed.

Red river stones ground to powder and thrown Penpont Dumfriesshire August 1995 photo by Andrew McKinna in Time.

Goldsworthy is immersed in the natural world, and his works, like nature’s, are subject to the transformations of time. Sometimes the element driving transformation is light that changes throughout the day, from dawn to high noon, evening, full sun, cloudy shadows or storms. Rising temperatures can reshape art made of ice and snow and, in the end, make them completely vanish. Sometimes change takes place more slowly over the course of the seasons or years. For example, when does a hole constructed of sticks stop being a work of art? When its appearance has changed through the action of wind and weather? When decay sets in and begins the alchemy of wood transformed into earth? Could it be when the work is lost to sight, having been covered with bracken or grasses? Or does the artistic process, once Goldsworthy has set it in motion, continue on through countless transformations?

Stacked sticks found branches Robin Hill Wood 1993

Which brings up the question: where does the artistic process begin for an artist like Andy Goldsworthy? Goldsworthy’s art arises in response to a specific place using materials that he finds there. He does not begin with a blank canvas. Nature has shaped the land and its living elements as, in some instances, has the hand of man. When Goldsworthy steps into the flow of transformation in a specific place and works his magical rearrangements, he too joins the ranks of wind, water, heat, cold and time as an agent of change in the natural world. Does the artistic process begin with his materials? Does it end when no trace of his work remains? We may never know, but we can be delighted and marvel at what he has created and be thankful for the technology that preserves it for all of us to see.

First half of Hollister Cairn, awaiting completion Hollister, California November 1999

Cover of TIME by Andy Goldsworthy

Learn more about Andy Goldsworthy –

Andy Goldsworthy Digital Catalogue

This is one of an occasional series of posts celebrating the birthdays and accomplishments of environmentalists, ecologists, travelers, adventurers, thinkers, artists, writers and scientists who have inspired us to a greater appreciation of and participation in life on planet Earth. Who has inspired you? Please let us know, so we can add them to our celebration list.

Climbing Kilimanjaro Presentation at Post Oak Store, Houston

Climbing Kilimanjaro Presentation July 29th at Whole Earth Provision Co. Post Oak Store, Houston

Setting goals and breaking personal records is an integral part of what it takes to be an elite athlete.

Macon Dunnagan is doing just that this September as he attempts to climb Mount Kilimanjaro four times in 28 days. Dunnagan is no stranger to Tanzania’s world famous mountain: he has summited Kilimanjaro 21 times, starting in 1999, including two ascents already this year. His goal is to make it to the summit six times in 2012. He is the author of the novel, Sons of Kilimanjaro and is Kilimanjaro Expedition Director for Zara Tours.

Mount Kilimanjaro is Africa’s highest peak, reaching an altitude of 19,341 feet above sea level and is also the highest freestanding volcano in the world. The challenges facing a climber on the six day roundtrip to reach the summit are extreme drops in temperatures at night (commonly minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit), high elevation, and unpredictable, dangerous winds.

When asked if he had any other climbing goals in 2010, Macon responded “Just Kilimanjaro. I don’t have a desire to climb other mountains. The people (of Tanzania) bring me back.” – Read the full interview in “Cozy enough to climb mountains” by Rachel Sutherland

Whole Earth is pleased to welcome Macon Dunnagan to our Post Oak store in Houston. Please join us for his fascinating presentation about his mountain, Kilimanjaro, and his experiences overcoming personal limits and meeting challenges.

Whole Earth Provision Company
2501 Post Oak Boulevard, Houston, TX
(713) 526-5440

July 29th, 2012
6pm – 7pm

Celebrating Henry David Thoreau

Reflections of Clouds and Trees in the Assabet River – Herbert Gleason 1901

Reflections of Clouds and Trees in the Assabet River – Herbert Gleason 1901

Henry David Thoreau kept a journal. But unlike most of us, he kept at it. And when he died, he left fourteen volumes filled with his observations on life in the fields and forests surrounding his home in Concord, Massachusetts. We can also use the journals to chart the development of his ideas as he wrestled with the important political and philosophical issues of the day. And, since most of the journal entries are dated, we can see what he was up to from day to day. So let’s tag along and see how Thoreau celebrated his 35th birthday in 1852.

“2 p.m. – To the Assabet.

“…Now for another fluvial walk. There is always a current of air above the water, blowing up or down the course of the river, so that it is the coolest highway. Divesting yourself of all clothing but your shirt and hat, which are to protect your exposed parts from the sun, you are prepared for the fluvial excursion. You choose what depths you like, tucking your toga higher or lower as you take the deep middle of the road or the shallow sidewalks.

“Here is a road where no dust was ever known, no intolerable drouth. Now your feet expand on a smooth sandy bottom, now contract timidly on pebbles, now slump in genial fatty mud – greasy, saponaceous – amid the pads. You scare out whole schools of small breams and perch, and sometimes a pickerel, which have taken shelter from the sun under the pads. This river is so clear compared with the South Branch or main stream, that all their secrets are betrayed to you. Or you meet with and interrupt a turtle taking a more leisurely walk up the stream.

“Ever and anon, you cross some furrow in the sand, made by a muskrat, leading off to the right or left to their galleries in the bank, and you thrust your foot into the entrance, which is just below the surface of the water and is strewn with grass and rushes, of which they make their nests.

“In shallow water near the shore, your feet at once detect the presence of springs in the bank emptying in, by the sudden coldness of the water, and there, if you are thirsty, you dig a little well in the sand with your hands, and when you return, after it has settled and clarified itself, get a draught of pure cold water there. The fishes are very forward to find out such places, and I have observed that a frog will occupy a cool spring, however small.

“The most striking phenomena in this stream is the heaps of small stones about the size of a walnut, more or less, which line the shore in shallow water, one every rod or two, the recent ones frequently rising by more than half their height above the water, at present, i.e. a foot or foot and a half, and sharply conical, the older flattened by the elements and greened over with the threadlike stem of Ranuculus filiformis, with its minute bright-yellow flowers. Some of these heaps contain two cartloads of stones, and as probably the creature that raised them took up one at a time, it must have been a stupendous task. They are from the size of a hen’s egg down to the smallest gravel, and some are so perfect that I cannot believe they were made before the river fell.

“…It is an objection to walking in the mud that from time to time you have to pick the leeches off you. The stinkpot’s shell, covered with mud and fine green weeds, gives him exactly the appearance of a stone on the bottom, and I noticed a large snapping turtle on one of the dark-brown rocks in the middle of the river (apparently for coolness, in company with a painted tortoise), so completely the color of the rock that, if it had not been for his head curved upwards to a point from anxiety, I should not have detected him. Thus nature subjects them to the same circumstances with the stones, and paints them alike, as with one brush, for their safety.”

Thoreau spent the afternoon of his birthday exploring the Assabet River. So how will you celebrate his birthday? You could read a few choice passages from Walden or the Journal. Or perhaps you’d rather follow Thoreau outdoors and explore the natural world in your own neighborhood. You could even start your own journal to record your discoveries on this, a most auspicious day.

Portrait of Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau’s Journal online

Thoreau’s life

This is one of an occasional series of posts celebrating the birthdays and accomplishments of environmentalists, ecologists, travelers, adventurers, thinkers, artists, writers and scientists who have inspired us to a greater appreciation of and participation in life on planet Earth. Who has inspired you? Please let us know, so we can add them to our celebration list.

Eagle Creek – Inspired by Travel

Eagle Creek Gear

Eagle Creek believes in the power of travel to make us feel at home in the world. Travel transforms strangers into friends, inspires curiosity and opens us to new experiences. And for over 30 years, Eagle Creek has been providing smart, innovative and durable bags, luggage and accessories to make traveling easier. So, are you ready to start packing? Here are some items from Eagle Creek to make packing and traveling easier.

So, are you ready to travel?

Here are some items from Eagle Creek to make packing and traveling easier.

1. The Silk-Undercover Money Belt worn under your clothes keeps important documents and other personal identification items safe and out of sight.  Made from soft-to-the-touch, washable moisture-resistant natural silk fabric, it combines comfort and security.

2. No more worries about leaks or security checks! Eagle Creek’s Pack-It Liquid/Gel Set is a durable, reusable one quart zip-top pouch that meets the 3-1-1 TSA requirements. The color coded tops help you identify what you’ve put into each bottle.

3. Save time, space and hassle using Eagle Creek’s Pack-It System Cubes.   Fold or roll everyday clothing items into the Cubes for quick and easy access.  Keep unruly electronic cords and small clothing accessories under control with the Pack-It Quarter-Cube.

4. Eagle Creek’s Cat Nap Blanket will keep you comfy while you’re in transit. Made from micro fleece, it has foot pockets to keep your toes warm and a zippered lap pocket for your iPod™, glasses or book. The pocket also transforms into the blanket’s carrying case.

5. The Sandman Travel Pillow adjusts to your ideal softness and comfort with an easy to use inflation/deflation valve. Close your eyes, and before you know it, you’ve arrived at your destination feeling refreshed and ready to hit the ground running.

6. Eagle Creek’s micro fleece Cat Nap Blanket is also available in Jade Bali with a subtle floral pattern. It too has foot pockets to keep your toes warm and a zippered lap pocket for your iPod™, glasses or book. The pocket transforms into the blanket’s carrying case.

7. Pack stress free with the ORV Trunk 30. This giant rolling duffle has a large unstructured main compartment with a collapsible mesh divider that’s perfect for organized packing using Eagle Creek’s Pack-It Systems (see #3.)

8. The Pack-It Caddy has zippered and elastic organizer pockets to keep your toiletries in their place. With a convenient grab handle, a shatterproof mirror and a stowaway swivel clip for hanging, you’ll look your best wherever you go.

With Eagle Creek, you’re ready for any kind of travel adventure!

Celebrating Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes

Calvin and Hobbes Cartoon

© Universal Press Syndicate

In May 1990, Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, returned to his alma mater Kenyon College to give the Commencement Address. It was the speech that we all have hoped to hear on graduation day: funny, insightful, truthful and served up with a dash of optimism. In 1990, millions of readers turned to the funny pages every day to check up on the latest adventures of Calvin and Hobbes. Even then, Watterson avoided the public eye, so this speech offers us a rare glimpse into his thoughts on playfulness, merchandising, creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul, and more.

So if you missed out on the Commencement Speech when you graduated or don’t remember it or are still working towards that day, just for the moment, sit back and join Kenyon College’s Class of 1990.

Some Thoughts on the Real World by One
Who Glimpsed It and Fled

Bill Watterson – Kenyon College Commencement – 1990

“I have a recurring dream about Kenyon. In it, I’m walking to the post office on my way to my first class at the start of the school year. Suddenly it occurs to me that I don’t have my schedule memorized, and I’m not sure which classes I’m taking, or where exactly I’m supposed to be going.

“As I walk up the steps to the post office, I realize I don’t have my box key, and in fact, I can’t remember what my box number is. I’m certain that everyone I know has written me a letter, but I can’t get them. I get more flustered and annoyed by the minute. I head back to Middle Path, racking my brains and asking myself, “How many more years until I graduate? …Wait, didn’t I graduate already?? How old AM I?” Then I wake up.

“Experience is food for the brain, And four years at Kenyon is a rich meal. I suppose it should be no surprise that your brains will probably burp up Kenyon for a long time. And I think the reason I keep having the dream is because its central image is a metaphor for a good part of life: that is, not knowing where you’re going or what you’re doing.

“I graduated exactly ten years ago. That doesn’t give me a great deal of experience to speak from, but I’m emboldened by the fact that I can’t remember a bit of MY commencement, and I trust that in half an hour, you won’t remember yours either.

“In the middle of my sophomore year at Kenyon, I decided to paint a copy of Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” from the Sistine Chapel on the ceiling of my dorm room. By standing on a chair, I could reach the ceiling, and I taped off a section and made a grid, and started to copy the picture from my art history book.

“Working with your arm over your head is hard work, so a few of my more ingenious friends rigged up a scaffold for me by stacking two chairs on my bed, and laying the table from the hall lounge across the chairs and over to the top of my closet. By climbing up onto my bed and up the chairs, I could hoist myself onto the table and lie in relative comfort two feet under my painting. My roommate would then hand up my paints, and I could work for several hours at a stretch.

“The picture took me months to do, and in fact, I didn’t finish the work until very near the end of the school year. I wasn’t much of a painter then, but what the work lacked in color sense and technical flourish, it gained in the incongruity of having a High Renaissance masterpiece in a college dorm that had the unmistakable odor of old beer cans and older laundry.

“The painting lent an air of cosmic grandeur to my room, and it seemed to put life into a larger perspective. Those boring, flowery English poets didn’t seem quite so important when, right above my head, God was transmitting the spark of life to man.

“My friends and I liked the finished painting so much in fact, that we decided I should ask permission to do it. As you might expect, the housing director was curious to know why I wanted to paint this elaborate picture on my ceiling a few weeks before school let out. Well, you don’t get to be a sophomore at Kenyon without learning how to fabricate ideas you never had, but I guess it was obvious that my picture idea was being proposed retroactively. It ended up that I was allowed to paint the picture, so long as I painted over it and returned the ceiling to normal at the end of the year. And that’s what I did.

“Despite the futility of the whole episode, my fondest memories of college are times like these, where things were done out of some inexplicable inner imperative, rather than because the work was demanded. Clearly, I never spent as much time or work on any authorized art project, or any poli sci paper, as I spent on this one act of vandalism.

“It’s surprising how hard we’ll work when the work is done just for ourselves. And with all due respect to John Stuart Mill, perhaps Utilitarianism is overrated. If I’ve learned one thing from being a cartoonist, it’s how important playing is to creativity and happiness. My job is essentially to come up with 365 ideas a year.

“If you ever want to find out just how uninteresting you really are, get a job where the quality and frequency of your thoughts determine your livelihood. I’ve found that the only way I can keep writing everyday, year after year, is to let my mind wander into new territories. To do that, I’ve had to cultivate a kind of mental playfulness.

“We’re not really taught how to recreate constructively. We need to do more than find diversions; we need to restore and expand ourselves. Our idea of relaxing is all too often to plop down in front of the television set and let its pandering idiocy liquefy our brains. Shutting off the thought process is not rejuvenating; the mind is like a car battery – it recharges by running.

“You may be surprised how to find how quickly daily routine and the demands of “just getting by” absorb your waking hours. You may be surprised to find how quickly you start to see your politics and religion become matters of habit rather than thought and inquiry. You may be surprised to see how quickly you start to see your life in terms of other people’s expectations rather than issues. You may be surprised to find out how quickly reading a good book sounds like a luxury.

“At school, new ideas are thrust at you every day. Out in the world, you’ll have to find the inner motivation to search for new ideas on your own. With any luck at all, you’ll never need to take an idea and squeeze a punchline out of it, but as bright, creative people, you’ll be called upon to generate ideas and solutions all your lives. Letting your mind play is the best way to solve problems.
For me, it’s been liberating to put myself in the mind of a fictitious six year old each day, and rediscover my own curiosity. I’ve been amazed at how one idea leads to others if I allow my mind to play and wander. I know a lot about dinosaurs now, and the information has helped me out of quite a few deadlines.

“A playful mind is inquisitive, and learning is fun. If you indulge your natural curiosity and retain a sense of fun in new experience, I think you’ll find it functions as a sort of shock absorber for the bumpy road ahead.

“So what’s it like in the real world? Well, the food is better, but beyond that, I don’t recommend it.

“I don’t look back on my first few years out of school with much affection, and if I could have talked to you six months ago, I’d have encouraged you all to flunk some classes and postpone this moment as long as possible. But now it’s too late.

“Unfortunately, that was all the advice I really had. When I was sitting where you are, I was one of the lucky few who had a cushy job waiting for me. I’d drawn political cartoons for the Collegian for four years, and the Cincinnati Post had hired me as an editorial cartoonist. All my friends were either dreading the first year of law school, or despondent about their chances of convincing anyone that a history degree had any real application outside of academia.

“Boy was I smug.

“As it turned out, my editor instantly regretted his decision to hire me. By the end of the summer, I’d been given notice; by the beginning of winter, I was in an unemployment line; and by the end of my first year away from Kenyon, I was broke and living with my parents again. You can imagine how upset my dad was when he learned that Kenyon doesn’t give refunds.

“Watching my career explode on the launch pad caused some soul searching. I eventually admitted that I didn’t have what it takes to be a good political cartoonist, that is, an interest in politics, and I returned to my first love, comic strips.

“For years I got nothing but rejection letters, and I was forced to accept a real job.

“A REAL job is a job you hate. I designed car ads and grocery ads in the windowless basement of a convenience store, and I hated every single minute of the four and a half million minutes I worked there. My fellow prisoners at work were basically concerned about how to punch the time clock at the perfect second where they would earn another 20 cents without doing any work for it.

“It was incredible: after every break, the entire staff would stand around in the garage where the time clock was, and wait for that last click. And after my used car needed the head gasket replaced twice, I waited in the garage too.

“It’s funny how at Kenyon, you take for granted that the people around you think about more than the last episode of Dynasty. I guess that’s what it means to be in an ivory tower.

“Anyway, after a few months at this job, I was starved for some life of the mind that, during my lunch break, I used to read those poli sci books that I’d somehow never quite finished when I was here. Some of those books were actually kind of interesting. It was a rude shock to see just how empty and robotic life can be when you don’t care about what you are doing, and the only reason you’re there is to pay the bills.

“Thoreau said, “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” That’s one of those dumb cocktail quotes that will strike fear into your heart as you get older. Actually, I was leading a life of loud desperation.

“When it seemed I would be writing about “Midnite Madness Sale-abrations” for the rest of my life, a friend used to console me that cream always rises to the top. I used to think, so do people who throw themselves into the sea.

“I tell you all this because it’s worth recognizing that there is no such thing as an overnight success. You will do well to cultivate the resources in yourself that bring you happiness outside of success or failure. The truth is, most of us discover where we are headed when we arrive. At that time, we turn around and say, yes, this is obviously where I was going all along. It’s a good idea to try to enjoy the scenery on the detours, because you will probably take a few.

“I still haven’t drawn the strip as long as it took me to get the job. To endure five years of rejection to get a job requires either faith in oneself that borders on delusion, or a love of the work. I loved the work.

“Drawing comic strips for five years without pay drove home the point that the fun of cartooning wasn’t in the money; it was in the work. This turned out to be an important realization when my break finally came.

“Like many people, I found that what I was chasing wasn’t what I caught. I’ve wanted to be a cartoonist since I was old enough to read cartoons, and I never really thought about cartoons as being a business. It never occurred to me that a comic strip I created would be at the mercy of a bloodsucking corporate parasite called a syndicate, and that I’d be faced with countless ethical decisions masquerading as simple business decisions.

“To make a business decision, you don’t need much philosophy; all you need is greed, and maybe a little knowledge of how the game works.

“As my comic strip became popular, the pressure to capitalize on that popularity increased to the point where I was spending almost as much time screaming at executives as drawing. Cartoon merchandising is a $12 billion dollar a year industry and the syndicate understandably wanted a piece of that pie. But the more I thought about what they wanted to do with my creation, the more inconsistent it seemed with the reason I draw cartoons.

“Selling out is usually more a matter of buying in. Sell out, and you’re really buying into someone else’s system of values, rules and rewards.

“The so-called “opportunity” I faced would have meant giving up my individual voice for that of a money-grubbing corporation. It would have meant my purpose in writing was to sell things, not say things. My pride in craft would be sacrificed to the efficiency of mass production and the work of assistants. Authorship would become a committee decision. Creativity would become work for pay. Art would turn into commerce. In short, money was supposed to supply all the meaning I’d need.

“What the syndicate wanted to do, in other words, was turn my comic strip into everything calculated, empty and robotic that I hated about my old job. They would turn my characters into television hucksters and T-shirt sloganeers and deprive me of characters that expressed my own thoughts.

“On those terms, I found the offer easy to refuse. Unfortunately, the syndicate also found my refusal easy to refuse, and we’ve been fighting for over three years now. Such is American business, I guess, where the desire for obscene profit mutes any discussion of conscience.

“You will have your own ethical dilemmas in all parts of your lives, both personal and professional. We all have different desires and needs, but if we don’t discover what we want from ourselves and what we stand for, we will live passively and unfulfilled. Sooner or later, we are all asked to compromise ourselves and the things we care about. We define ourselves by our actions. With each decision, we tell ourselves and the world who we are. Think about what you want out of this life, and recognize that there are many kinds of success.

“Many of your will be going on to law school, business school, medical school, or other graduate work, and you can expect the kind of starting salary that , with luck, will allow you to pay off your own tuition debts within your own lifetime.

“But having an enviable career is one thing, and being a happy person is another.

“Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential – as if a job title and a salary are the sole measure of human worth.

“You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you are doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

“To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.

“Reading those turgid philosophers here in these remote stone buildings may not get you a job, but if those books have forced you to ask yourself questions about what makes life truthful, purposeful, meaningful and redeeming, you have the Swiss Army Knife of mental tools, and it’s going to come in handy all the time.

“I think you’ll find that Kenyon touched a deep part of you. These have been formative years. Chances are, at least, your roommates have taught you everything ugly about human nature you ever wanted to know.

“With luck, you’ve also had a class that transmitted a spark of insight or interest you’d never had before. Cultivate that interest, and you may find a deeper meaning in your life that feeds your soul and spirit. Your preparation for the real world is not in the answers you’ve learned, but in the questions you’ve learned how to ask yourself.

“Graduation from Kenyon, I suspect you’ll find yourselves quite well prepared indeed. I wish you all fulfillment and happiness. Congratulations on your achievement.”

Bill Watterson Portrait courtesy of Cleveland Plain Dealer

Photo courtesy of Cleveland Plain Dealer

This is one of an occasional series of posts celebrating the birthdays and accomplishments of environmentalists, ecologists, travelers, adventurers, thinkers, artists, writers and scientists who have inspired us to a greater appreciation of and participation in life on planet Earth. Who has inspired you? Please let us know, so we can add them to our celebration list.