Inspired by Goldsworthy

Brooke and I went on a canoeing expedition with Andy Goldsworthy.

Brooke is my brother-in-law; Goldsworthy is the English artist and nature sculptor (see story above). Goldsworthy joined our trip in spirit – and that was full participation indeed, as it turned out.

Brooke and I had paddled across Hatch Cove in Maine to the first island in the tidal bay of the Bagaduce River. We wanted to explore the ancient hand-dug well – the island had been a way point on the underground railroad – and collect artifacts. Ospreys soar above the oblong island, and raccoons, bears, and deer traipse across the mussel shoals at low tide, leaving crab and urchin shells from their meals beneath the oak trees. On a previous visit, I found an enormous osprey feather. We hoped for a similar treasure this time.

But we had been looking at photos of Goldsworthy's work – and so, instead of collecting feathers, we were inspired to make art from found objects while the tide receded. No forest walk, much less a stroll in the park, can be the same after seeing Goldsworthy's "take" on the sculpture imbedded in the natural world. When you walk with his insight, you come to a new understanding of art, nature, and inspiration. Therefore, Brooke and I found ourselves in the intertidal zone of possibility.

I wondered, for instance, how hard it would be to stack some of the smooth, barnacle-encrusted granite on the pebbled shore; how hard it would be to leave something for the tide to nibble and grate at on its return.

I discovered the sleight-of-hand by which you can balance an impossibly large stone on its nose: use small pebbles, even sand. Chinked and wedged under the ledge of an overhanging rock, the small stones and granules disappear and create the impression of great weight gingerly balanced on the head of a barnacle. Stone upon stone can follow until a tower presides over the beach with improbable equilibrium. The resulting statue takes on the feel of weights airborne. The heft of big, stolid rocks lifts up and seems to reach skyward. At such an invitation, the beach stones begin asking to dance.

And so I quickly erected three portly, bottom-heavy dancers, of varying heights, that resembled so many men stomping up out of the water for air. Or, as the tide crept in, slinking back to the murky depths from whence they came.

Brooke found his artistic license elsewhere. He discerned a kind of mandala in the arrangement of iridescent mussel shells against a light granite background, fenced in by a prairie of green grass stalks. He created another array, as if the mollusks had been surprised while in a powwow, and were scurrying for cover.

Then Brooke found the seaweed. The photographic record will show him wearing a shaggy headdress of rockweed, and a shawl and skirt of kelp fronds. He had fully merged with his medium, the wildman-of-the-Bagaduce sprouting organically from the dark rocks.

There is a certain silent, phantom, six-hour cadence to art concocted in the intertidal zone between high tides. As Goldsworthy knows, when his ice-sheet bridges are touched by the sun, their minutes are numbered; the tide will surely and slowly dismantle my dancing cairns! Perhaps there is a note of sadness in these effects of time and tide, but I would prefer to feel that herein is part of the artistry: a renewal of possibility and opportunity, part of the ebb and flow of creativity. We were responding with the landscape, not merely to it.

My Bagaduce island cairns are a performance, after all. They stood for a while as sentinels to curious paddlers flowing past. For one tidal cycle they enacted my sense of their grace and poise, before snuggling back down, boulder to boulder, in underwater "rockness."

We paddled away from the island in the afternoon, leaving our cairns and Goldsworthy mandalas to the elements. But when we got back to the driveway at home, a new inspiration was waiting. The stone wall in front of our house had a different look to it – or we had a different view of it. These stones, too, wanted to dance. So we set to work stacking them into a stone arabesque.

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