Monday, February 22, 2010

Monday Morning Freewrite

It was a summer weekend a few years ago. My love and I had driven well outside of the city to join her folks for a weekend of camping and visiting a few wineries. The next day we came upon the Brotherhood Winery. Touting itself as America's Oldest Winery we were intrigued and stopped in for a tour and tasting. Our guide was a thin man, full of energy. He reminded me of a young Sammy Davis Jr. and in fact his name may very well have been Sam. Sam had his little spiel down pat, and wasted no time sharing with us the winery he had apparently come to know and love. Through the tour and tasting, both of which were fabulous, he kept repeating a phrase. "Love the wines you drink, and drink the wines you love" was his mantra. Whether a wine snob or a total novice you are going to realize that there are wines that speak to you. Enjoy that process of discovery and don't waste your time drinking wine that doesn't appeal to you. If you like a wine that someone else puts up their nose at, then so be it, it is a personal choice and there is no right or wrong answer. And at the same time, drink the wines you love. If there is a bottle that you know will benefit from aging, fine, but don't have a full shelf of bottles you never drink because you are waiting for something or someday. Buy two bottles, he would urge with his quick smile, one for now and one for later. Though I don't remember if he ever said "Carpe Diem", the sentiment was along those lines and it made a lot of sense. Recently I have been thinking a lot about Sam and his words of wisdom that day. Clearly he spoke to me, about the subjective journey through life that each of us leads, about the fragility of life, and the importance of doing what you love and loving what you do. To jump from one cliche to the next, he is right, life is too short.

In a few months I am going to be teaching a group of high school kids about gardens and garden design. I have already been thinking about how to describe the creativity, vision, and planning that goes into creating a beautiful landscape. Great garden design takes knowledge and foresight to set the foundation, and from there nothing is more valuable in the world of horticulture than time. Time shows you how plants will grow into a space, carefully helped along by the watchful eye of the gardener and careful use of pruners and saws to mold the vision. You have to see what becomes of the environment you set out to create, and how people choose to relate to it. How can I describe that to a bunch of kids raised in a technological age of instant gratification, older in years but still teething on their electronic pacifiers we call the Blackberry and the Sidekick?

I suppose this is why I first went into anthropology in school. Thanks to amazing education and amazing educators I realized that school is really all about problem solving. The better the school the better you become at problem solving, and thinking outside the box to achieve the proper solution. I remember Mario Montano, my college adviser, and how he would ingrain in me that anthropology was not a career path as much as a mindset. Each person lives in and creates their own environment based on their subjective views of the world around them. If you are good you can take a step back and look objectively at the same scene, what went into creating it, why it is as it is, and what it means in relation to the bigger picture of life. Then you can start to think as an anthropologist. Every class that wasn't an anthropology class I filled with art. And I guess it is no wonder why Edward Hopper would to this day be one of my favorite American artists.

(Chop Suey, oil on canvas, 1929)

Shy and introverted, Hopper depicted snapshots of American life in relatively simple and straightforward scenes. Yet he got you right there, right into that environment, right alongside those characters and how they interacted with their own space and reality. I was thinking yesterday about one of my favorite Hopper paintings, "Early Sunday Morning" from 1930.

I guess what speaks to me most is the sense of pause that Hopper created with his artwork. He not only presented a scene, but he gave you the chance to sit and meditate on that scene. He gave you that little glimpse into another time and place so that you could wonder about the little things, how the sun bounced off the geometric shapes, how the soft forms of the people related to those lines, how man and nature fit together to create life. I could sit and look at Hopper's paintings for hours on end. Others might completely disagree, and let them, for art is like life, and it is a subjective experience.

But some things are givens. In this country, in this technological age, we all have to work; there is no denying it. My mother pointed out a long time ago that in our lifetimes we will work more than we will do anything else: sleep, eat, spend time with loved ones, etc. So you might as well do what you love and love what you do. We can look at great leaders and creators and visionaries and see that they never got to where they did by standing idle and waiting for life to come to them. With a good education and strong foundation we can see challenges laid out before us, and we can take on those challenges to better our lives and the lives of others around us. We each have a different take on life and a different way to contribute. The tree work I love to do might not speak to others, the same way others line of work might not make sense for me. But together we work to provide and maintain an industry that the rest of the world relies on.

Every day I see hundreds of people going about their business in this, one of the greatest cities in the world. Yet most people seem unhappy, and grimace and rush through their days, their work, and their lives. And I am not saying that I don't do the same. But isn't it a shame that we don't take the time to step back and look at our environment? I was spilling through old photos long since forgotten about and came across some shots from a field trip to nurseries and gardens out on Long Island. I found one shot of a statue, washed with age but still standing strong and stately in front of a stand of London planetrees. I thought, this is beautiful but I missed it the first time around. I too forgot to take the time to meditate on the little things that enrich our lives, that provide the quality in "quality of life". So, in the words of Jon Stewart, here is your moment of Zen.

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