"The Galaxy Beneath our Feet" - Oil on Birch Board, 2022

Last autumn, I spent two weeks at the United Plant Savers Goldenseal Sanctuary in Ohio as a Deep Ecology Artist in Residence.

United Plant Savers (UPS)  is an organization with an unusually forward thinking approach to conservation of native medicinal plants. Unlike most conservation projects that aim to limit human activity, UPS invites human activity – research and education around the cultivation of threatened native medicinal plants (think American Ginseng and Goldenseal), so that the pressures on wild populations are reduced, while providing herbalists and rural farmers another viable income source. And they also have threatened and endangered lists for medicinal plants, so that herbalists and medicine makers can know which herbs to source carefully.

I’m really excited about what they do, and how they do it. So, for me to earn a Deep Ecology Artists Fellowship with UPS was not only an honor, but life changing.

You can read more about my experience in the article that I wrote, “Emergence“, published in the recent issue of the Journal for Medicinal Plant Conservation (2023).

But one story wasn’t in the article, about a special painting I made there that encapsulated how I practice Deep Ecology in my art.

“Galaxies Beneath Our Feet” was birthed one day, as I walked along the trail behind the yurt I was staying in. I passed by an area with a Buckeye tree who seemed to say, here (I sensed my body relax in this spot), so I set up my painting gear, and got to painting. The next day I came back to the same spot and continued. It was time to paint the ground, so I pondered my options: Brown, Red, Orange? Since it was autumn, those were the natural choices. But no, when I looked at the painting, all I could see were imprints of blue. Blue? I asked the painting. Really? That’s kinda weird… I check again, blue kept calling to me. Dark Blue. Midnight Blue.

Sure, okay, I said, feeling like it was going to turn into one of those paintings that I later regret. But I remembered the words of one of my mentors, Elizabeth Potter Carrington – “every painting is a conversation.” So I went with blue, carefully moving the paint around the white roots. And something happened. The points where the roots overlapped become bright white, like stars. An entire galaxy underfoot became illuminated. With lichen-like trees above.

As I looked at these galaxies emerging within the painting, the nearby coal strip mines seemed to shake. And the forest fluttered. And the ground hummed. And the realization came. This painting is about the universe beneath our feet, the rhizospheres of life surrounding every root like a galaxy of life. In each ecosystem that we wander, we are walking on the surface of a universe that’s larger and more complex than the Milky Way.

That painting has become my favorite. Every time I look at it, I remember the conversation, the urge of blue, my pushback and then consent, and the flurry of insights that poured in from there. A painting is a conversation. Indeed.

You can read more about my time as a Deep Ecology Artists in Residence here.

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