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From the Zen Garden to the Zen Forest

Tuesday, August 1, 2017, by Salua Rivero
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[Inside the Fast Forward Future art piece installation]There was only one place, my secret place, on my campus in which I felt happy and free; the Zen Garden. It was the only green space on campus, a tiny square hidden by trees and only one picnic table to sit on. That was where I went to read, to write poetry, to meditate, to be alone and to think. After a while, I realized that I only felt happy while I was there, since I spent most of my day in class or working. I went there every morning before class, during lunch and during every break I had. I knew my heart yearned to be outdoors and that was as close to being outdoors as I could get in Downtown Miami.

The best event that happened to me during college was discovering my passions; art and ecology. After I discovered this, most of my energy went into reading books, exploring my creativity, and taking classes such as art appreciation and environmental biology. As much as art and ecology seem like opposite subjects, I am in love with the idea of ecology inspiring art and art inspiring ecology. It has been challenging to love both the sciences and the arts, and I have felt pressured to pick just one, but I know that I ache to do both as a career.

[Sanding some milled timber found in the woodshop garage so that it is easier to paint.]Harvard Forest made one of my biggest dreams, that once seemed impossible, come true; to do both art and ecology as my job. It also allowed me to feel regularly what I only felt a couple minutes a day in the Zen Garden back in Miami; happiness and fulfillment. The Hemlock Hospice project, which focuses on the declining hemlocks because of the hemlock woolly adelgid, was my first choice when I applied because it was the only project which fuses both art and science. My experience in art, at the time, extended mostly to just photography and writing but I knew that I was capable of stepping out of my comfort zone. I knew that this project consisted of 3D installations, design, Photoshop and woodshop skills, which I had no experience in. This did not stop me from applying and having confidence that I could do anything I set my heart and mind to. Prior to this, I had only taken one ecology class while being a philosophy major. Regardless, I felt like this was the type of place and job that I belonged to be in. I knew that it was a good fit for my interests and passions. I was right.

I feel very connected to the idea of creating a narrative through art which focuses on the declining hemlock species. The idea behind the hemlock hospice project is to direct our attention to a species that is quickly dying without attempting to prolong or to save its life. It means we try to support the species and the communities affected by its death during its last years of life. This project consists of using recycled materials from Harvard Forest that have no further use. We use items that we find in the field such as fallen logs and stumps, items that we find in the labs such as metal and glass containers and items found in the woodshop such as milled timber and buzz saws.

[	 Pic 1: My mentors, David Buckley and Aaron Ellison and I holding the Dendro Data Stick art piece. ]In order to create artwork that represents this idea, I work with designer-in-residence, David Buckley Borden and senior ecologist, Aaron Ellison to create a narrative which can express our attitudes towards this falling giant through art. At the beginning of the project we asked ourselves the following: How does this event portray the way we react to “tragic” situations? How does the decline of the hemlock affect animal, plant and human communities?  How does an understanding of the way the insect spreads teach us a lesson about the environment and ourselves? When do we need to learn to step back and let nature take its course? We knew that we wanted to express the results of ecological research done at the Hemlock forests. We also wanted to ignite some sort of thought in the audience, to make them aware of the way the think and behave towards events such as a dying species.

For my independent project, I decided to combine what I had learned during this project, and what I already knew. Therefore, I made small art installations, inspired by nature, using items from nature, photographing them and matching them with writing pieces. Before I leave Harvard Forest, I will have a photography book published so that I could share my artwork with the rest of the summer program students and possibly future summer students. Coming in to this project, I never expected to accomplish something I had only dreamt of doing; publish a book. I felt excited every time I had an idea for a piece, because I knew I had support from my mentors to get it done and find the materials necessary to bring into reality. I also enjoyed practicing photography and writing as part of my job, which used to be only a creative hobby for me.

[The Hemlock Hospice crew David Buckley and I with visiting artist Salvador Jimenez next to The Exchange Tree art installation. ]My experience with this project and Harvard Forest will be one that I treasure in my fondest memories. I learned a lot about art and ecology this summer, and I learned more about myself and my career preferences. Working in a place where I am constantly surrounded by nature and by creative, intelligent and supportive people, I feel inspired and motivated every day. I wake up every morning excited to go to work, because it is never the same. One day I am in the field, another in the art studio, in the woodshop and sometimes in the office with my mentors. I feel like I can do anything I desire, and have people to support me. I will forever be thankful that I got to experience such a beautiful and special place. Harvard Forest is where I worked, where I explored by passion for the environment by taking walks in the woods and where I contemplated my future studies and career choices. I will come back to this place in the future with my memories, to remind myself to always hold a sense of wonder for the natural world and myself. At home, the only place I felt truly connected to nature and my inner self was the Zen Garden on my campus, now I have the Zen forest; a place where I find enlightenment in daily endeavors.

Salua Rivero will be transferring to New College of Florida and is going to major in environmental studies with a minor in philosophy.  

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