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Flight or Fright of Everyday and Developing a Patient Mind

When is the last time you faced challenge? I mean a real deal, in your face challenge? Often I come across this word when reading about 5k race training or when someone discusses the pursuit of higher education – both wonderful ideas. But to talk about challenge as if it only encompasses extraordinary circumstances misses a lot of the beauty in challenge.

Yes. Challenges can be beautiful. To see this requires a change in perspective.

As my husband and I began our parenting journey in 2016 we found ourselves using the word fairly often, and I came to realize that the term was less weighted than it was in the past. In other words, saying, our baby “was a challenge today because he did not want to take a nap” was actually a freeing statement that came with multiple emotions: frustration at a baby’s ignorance of a “schedule,” hilarity at the absurd day we just experienced, and also joyfulness at remembering the smiles of our little one because he would rather spend time with Mama than sleep! “Challenges” became the small hurdles of every day instead of broad planned pursuits on the long-term timeline.

I began looking for challenges in my routine. Please do not get me wrong, I did not try to create unnecessary difficulties. I simply looked closer at my daily life. As I developed a new relationship with struggle, I realized facing everyday “mini challenges” created more introspection and perceptible evidence of growth in my life that I could really appreciate.

Today was one such experience.

Lately I have been experimenting with different forms of yoga and decided to really settle into Kundalini. It speaks to my heart right now and it opened a door for a new meditative encounter. One key aspect of Kundalini yoga is holding or repeating movements for periods of time: two, five, or even eleven minutes. The result is a remarkable focus that prepares the body, mind, and spirit to really settle in to meditation.

Remember: the purpose of asana yoga is to prepare the mind for meditation!

Today’s class was led by the delightful Kia Miller and she asked us to hold archer pose for five minutes and find the drishti (the focus or gaze) over the tip of the thumb on our extended hand.

Five minutes…

I was sore from a pretty intense yoga session last night and wondered if my body could stay in such a dynamic pose for that long. As such, I already doubted my ability to do it. But Kia explained that a pose and focus like this creates in us the skill of being “one pointed,” or super single-mindedness. “Do not even allow the question of coming out of the posture to come into your mind,” she says. “You are cultivating stability.” “Really stand in the posture at full strength. It really takes this level of determination to rise above the old ways of being, to rise above negativity and doubt.”

“Stand in the light of your truth,” Kia says.

This was difficult. But as I focused on the point just past my thumb I thought about how the intensity of this moment does not actually reflect its level of challenge accurately. I should not avoid the aching in my arms because this is a very small challenge with huge benefits: cultivating a focused mind.

I also recognized its relatedness to other small challenges. It is easy to let everyday difficulties build up, one on top of another. Eventually we feel overwhelmed and unable to comprehend it because all is muddled. Standing in archer I had to separate my mind from the situation, as if I was standing outside of it, in order to remain in the pose. In yoga and meditation we call this “observing” the situation. We can claim this exact same mental position in everyday challenges.

Perhaps this is the same as surrendering to God, a concept that is too often repeated, but not very well understood. I heard the phrase “Let go and let God” so often in my 34 years that it sounds weightless, containing little or no real meaning.

I will not give a list of what challenges could be, because everyone has a different experience facing them. In order to deal with them, try mentally stepping aside to observe emotions and your physical state to see what you can learn. Small challenges feel enormous when we let them take over both these aspects of our body. But I guarantee that if you learn to observe instead of react, you start to feel like you are accomplishing instead of suffering.

________

Update:
Challenges are HARD. Tonight is case in point. My dear, sweet boy is having a rough week: major teething, twelve month immunizations, and he has a cold. Nothing is going well, from his perspective. All I want for him to do is eat, because that will be the sign that he is feeling better. Alas, tonight’s dinner did not go well for the two of us. Then it morphed into the highly unusual bath time struggle – normally his favorite part of the day. I nursed and tried to calm him with quiet songs, I settled my own mind. These moments will not last forever. Like the five minutes of archer, I try my best to breath through the intensity.

Please do not think that once I did this all things changed. My husband walked through the door tonight and saw a frustrated look on my face as I cleaned up the kitchen from dinner. But as the evening goes on, I settle in. This is a learning experience.

Life moves. Time continues to flow. We must grow and change and adapt.

Your Body (Image) on Yoga

The experience I describe here is not limited to a yoga practice. However, I believe that yoga in combination with a contemplative practice leads the way to greater self-esteem.

My body and mind have gone through significant changes over the last two years. We will celebrate my son’s first birthday in a week and it is striking to simply look back on the process of pregnancy through delivery to recovery. I recognize each woman’s experience is massively different, but I find myself having a transformation when it came to the way I viewed my body.

I fully expected to go through a slump after Arlo’s delivery in April 2016. I had a cesarean section and knew the recovery would keep me from jumping back into an active life. There certainly were feelings of unfamiliarity with my own body and wanting desperately to fit into my pre-pregnancy jeans again, but at the same time, my pre-pregnancy mindset was not one I wanted to go back to. For as long as I can remember, I stood in the mirror and criticized myself for not being “good enough” – whatever that meant! Holding high expectations and a need to control almost every aspect of myself translated to a constant analysis and review of the curves of my body. I was never comfortable in my own skin, no matter how much I exercised. I also never opened to anyone about this, because after too many strange looks from those I trusted, and responses of, “You are so beautiful! You are so skinny!” I could not find a friend who would let down their guard long enough to really listen. I gave up.

I knew it was wrong. It was unsettling. In my mind, I tried to rationalize and convince myself to stop. No one spoke like this to me, except myself. If we really think about what happens when we criticize our own bodies, we realize how uncanny it is. We should be advocates, not the ones who tear down. It is the most heartbreaking thing in the world.

During pregnancy I felt so beautiful. I felt like my body was in the right place and doing the thing it was created to do. Actually, I was shocked at this revelation. I never dreamed about being a mommy or identified as one whose highest calling is motherhood. I love the women who do. I love the women who do not. We are all goddesses. But, I was surprised at the glory I felt emerging out of this growing belly.

I was worried that after delivery I would go back to the routine of daily self-criticism that threatened to paralyze and kept me from entering fully into the love given by others.

A remarkable thing happened when Arlo was born. Early on, I was too busy to notice my body in ways beyond what I provided for my new baby. This is the fear that some worry about, but for me it was a blessing in disguise. In fact, it was empowering. I continued to see purpose in this body. Previously, I lived like the opinion of others mattered and held myself to a ridiculous standard. In America, young women are cultivated to believe the falsehood that their bodies are for display. Fitness exists to form the body into a perfect physique. It requires blood, sweat, and tears. Now, post-delivery, I completely disagree with a one-dimensional approach to fitness. It should nourish – mind, body, and spirit.

I realized this when I rediscovered yoga. I say, “rediscovered,” though I practiced steadily for nearly twenty years, because it was like I met yoga again for the first time.

Finding a quiet spot in an unused room, I placed my yoga mat for the hours in between nursing and playtime. The stolen moments became vital to my well being, and more than ever, I needed a space to connect to myself. Like cultivating the relationship with one’s partner after the birth of a baby, we need to foster the relationship we have with ourselves.

Finding my space on that mat brought me back into relationship with my true self.

How did this happen? Yoga movement asks us to focus on our breathing. We follow the breath and use it to guide the actions of the body, whether fast or slow. We breathe to stretch our limbs and power through difficult poses. We use breath as a timer and as music. With regular practice, we soon notice the breath is a constant companion throughout the day. It is striking that through yoga we come to rely on ourselves – and the Divine within, no matter what name you call it – instead of on others. This kind of self-reliance is not the same as the separation from others for self-protection. It is trust in the self to build and not to destroy. It is a reconnection to the truest and deepest relationship one has in life. The breath takes us to this place within ourselves.

It is amazing how something as simple as focusing on our breathing can create such significant changes in life. Notice I did not describe the level of fitness I attained through the postures, whether or not I can balance in crow pose for five breaths, or the length and intensity of my yoga sessions. These do not matter.

I started to notice small things: putting on an outfit without changing four times, standing taller, eating well and for health instead of stressing over the last meal… smiling in the mirror. My personal shopping habits also changed. I bought fewer clothes to support my self-worth.

Unfortunately, there is not a set plan to get to this place. Of course, though I write this blog entry, I do not think I attained perfection. The goal will be different for each person! It is a beautiful journey. There are so many modes and styles of yoga that one can find the ideal path. Many Americans do not understand yoga enough to know it is not a religion, but a science, and can be placed in line with any religious belief. In fact, I find I have never felt so connected to my spirituality as I do now. The mental and emotional benefits abound.

 

You made it to the end of this blog post. Now, please do me a favor.

Take a deep breath… in… out… in… out… in… out.

Now, do it again. Close your eyes and breathe deeply three times.

That is your breath. Yours. It is no one else’s. It is there for you whether you realize it or not. Divine Love gave you this breath and it follows you through every day of your life. You take in the world as you breathe in and give back to it when you breathe out.
But it is yours. Enjoy it.

Little Daily Mantras

What word do you hold close to your heart throughout the day? What is your mantra? Perhaps without realizing it you latch on to an idea that will set the tone for your waking – and sleeping – hours.

This is not about being happy. Or sad. Both words come with baggage, though they are uselessly flung out of our mouths.

It is not too much to ask that we think about our words, even the words we use internally.

There was a time around the holidays when I would wake up and take ownership over words like, “sad,” “stressed,” “unfinished,” “too much,” “difficult,” “broken”…
I chose these words like a cloak to protect my body from the cold.

The unconscious choosing of words over our lives is a symptom of a broader problem. It relates to a disconnection we create through the constant curation of personas. The more we try to mold outward appearances, the more disengaged we become with the inward self.

Like the slow disappointment that grows between two people engaged in small talk instead of depth, the passive reaching for daily mantras creates small deaths in our spirit if we are not aware of the effect it has over our lives.

You always have a mantra, whether you like it or not.

While it cannot solve concrete problems like encountering morning traffic on the way to work, paying bills, or preventing our dishwasher from breaking, choosing a mantra that is beneficial to our lives instead of destructive will make us resilient. This, in turn, will create joy in our spirits, available to be expressed in ways that correspond with our personalities.

This is on my mind because today I realize I now wake up with the word “creative” on my mind, instead of the previous declarations above. This did not happen overnight. I made a conscious decision to finish the sentence “I AM…” every morning as I start my day. Even if you do not have a daily meditation practice, mindfully decide on a mantra that will create space in your day for possibilities that benefit instead of destroy.

Slowly, my thoughts are turning. Slowly, I feel my spirit return to a true version of myself. I sense a paradigm shift.

The Light of Meditation, and a Confession

Follow the breath
In
          Out
In
          Out
In
          Out
Settle slowly in to the depths
                                                            The deep
Go under, where you can find it
What endures in the heart

                                                            Focus on your heart
                                                            The Heart Center

                                                            Focus on your breath
                                                            The Lifeline

The breath is the thread that connects us to what is above and below. It serves as a rappelling rope between the surface of our senses and the depths of meditation. Follow it down, down, down to settle into the space that is not cluttered with thoughts. This is the goal, and so it is difficult to sense the work happening until after it is finished.

The remarkable thing about this kind of meditation is that you quickly discover your breath is always there. It is a remnant of the experience. It is evidence that the deep is accessible. This discovery is one of the most significant of my life thus far.

Lately, I talk about meditation to almost everyone. There is a reason for it, though. It is changing my life.

____

A few weeks ago I started something I never expected to go through: treatment for postpartum depression. At six months, I thought I was out of the weeds. PPD was not on my radar. I experienced other very demanding seasons in my life that I managed with various anti-stress tools. Life is difficult, but I knew what to do when I felt overwhelmed.

In November my husband, son, and I prepared to move to our new home – freshly built in the perfect neighborhood, after many hours of deliberation and work with a talented builder and architect. Everything in our lives was “perfect.” Our baby slept through the night and was incredibly healthy. Our marriage was always strong, based upon a deep friendship. Our finances were secure. I was at a point in my career where I was finally experiencing the fruit of my labor – the development of a dissertation that I was thoroughly excited about. Soon after the move, I began facing debilitating anxiety and would stress over the smallest trigger. Through the first six months I often exclaimed “I have never been so happy in my life!” It was later replaced with,
“Why do I feel so sad?
I feel isolated. I feel alone.
Why is it so difficult for others to understand me?
I feel like I cannot talk to anyone.
I feel guilty for not being happy right now.”

Certainly, I have loving people in my life. I have a network of incredible family members and friends. They say, “Let me watch your baby so you two can have a night out!” Or, “Just call me when you need something.”

But that is not what this is about.

PPD is very different for each sufferer. For me, the constant and overwhelming emotions were not alleviated through the generous assistance of our parents or long talks with my close friends. In fact, I became more anxious when I would prepare for Arlo’s time away from me – pumping breast milk, making his little meals, or packing his bag. Thoughts of going out with friends were quickly shot down by my own internal voice telling me that it was “not possible.” Keeping Arlo with me was just easier. It also kept thoughts at bay of what might happen when he was out of my care. I was on edge. I sensed my days passing by and I had nothing to show for them. My once very productive day turned into a nightly lament of all the things that I could have done, though I felt frazzled and in constant motion. An underlying sadness crept in…

Soon, I found myself waking to the thought each morning,
“Will it be like this the rest of my life?”

At ten months postpartum, Dave and I both realized I needed to talk to someone. My exterior façade was not in line with my interior life. I was in denial and thought that these anxieties were all part of the game. Of course a mother worries about her baby! Of course I am stressed! We had big life changes this year and it will all even out eventually…

After speaking with a wonderful midwife that I trust, I finally felt like I could breathe. It was the first step toward healing.

____

Why did I begin this post with an explanation of my meditation practice?
It is because I began in the midst of the darkness. Though I did not acknowledge the PPD at that point, I knew something was “off.” So, I sat in the darkness searching for the light.

The rector at my church recently gave a message that challenged the idea that “God does not give us anything we cannot handle” – the common, over used, and sadly clichéd line offered to sufferers. She explored the idea that this might not be true, but God actually might set in place a difficult experience in order for growth to happen. A Lenten sermon, the reading was on Jesus’s temptation in the Garden of Gethsemane. Following this dark point, Jesus went on to perform miracles.

Dark points can coincide with the light. I do not find it odd that I was able to establish a meditation practice while simultaneously suffering from PPD. Meditation is not a magic bullet or similar to taking a pill for a headache. The emotions I currently battle that stem from overactive anxiety and changing hormones are also a part of this new emotional experience I have as a mother. I do not believe it will always be this way, but I also do not disregard it as unimportant or take it on as my identity. I insist on living in the light.

My daily meditation is the place I can go to find peace. I am also learning to take the breath with me throughout my day. It is not the solution to PPD, but is an important part of my life. Feeling my breath enter and exit my body gives me a sense of relief, stability, and a feeling of connection to the divine – to a source of strength.

Yoga, Meditation, and Lent: Weaving a Daily Practice

So, what are you doing this year for Lent? I never considered this question until a few years ago when I started attending an episcopal church. I thought it was just another stuffy religious act that meant little to those who practice it. And it is. Until maybe it isn’t.

My life experience with religion and spirituality is an interesting one. I keep thinking one day I will write some kind of memoir about it. Each year as the story unfolds, I find that what once angered me slowly becomes just a part of the narrative. It is who I am.

Now I see how various threads are weaving together to form the fabric of my spirituality.

Ten years ago my spirit was in a bad place. I made a decision to leave an oppressive form of patriarchal Christianity that was based in fear, though it talked a lot about “love.” I was angry because I thought that the only way for me to express spirituality had to be within this system. It insisted this was the only way and that all others were “satanic lies.” I was burned out from trying so hard to be perfect in order to be worthy of this precious love…

Fast-forward to 2017 and you find me in a much different place. Not only have I found a church that is filled with actual love and compassion, I found ways to express a spirituality that were previously cut off from me.

I said to my husband, “By rejecting a spiritual life – because I had such a limited understanding of it – I was rejecting a deep part of myself.”

_____

A week before Thanksgiving I decided to challenge myself to practice yoga every day until the New Year. My sweet son was growing, schedules were shifting for my parents who were amazing caregivers during my gym sessions, and it was becoming much more difficult to actually get to the doors of the YMCA. Daily exercise is a way I maintain clarity and I was starting to feel the strain. So, my desire for movement had an easy solution: daily yoga in my home while Arlo naps. Through the holidays I maintained this commitment, but soon it shifted to something else. I realized that my spirit was nourished while I was increasing in skill, flexibility, and strength. After nearly sixteen years of yoga practice, I fell in love with it – head over heels!

I decided to continue a daily home practice and started reading books about yoga philosophy. I absorbed Paramahansa Yogananda’s The Yoga of Jesus and Autobiography of a Yogi, the Bhagavad Gita, books on ayuerveda, Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar, and learned that…

Yoga IS meditation!

The entire purpose for the existence of yoga is not physical fitness, but to prepare the mind for meditation.

After weeks of daily practice, my mind and spirit were open to this revelation. At this point I jumped headfirst into literature about meditation, a practice I always toyed with, but never made a commitment to any sort of regularity. If I am so devoted to a yoga practice, why am I not also committed to a meditation practice? I immediately downloaded a meditation app (because that is what people do in the twenty-first century!)

______

In America, we often think of yoga as simply the physical practice – what we do on a mat. Rather, full, real-deal yoga brings together eight principles, a.k.a. the Eight Limbs.

  1. Yama: moral code/moral actions
  2. Niyama: purity of behavior
  3. Asana: physical postures
  4. Pranayama: breathing techniques designed to control the life force
  5. Pratyahara: withdrawl of the senses
  6. Dharana: concentration
  7. Dhyana: meditation
  8. Samadhi: oneness with the divine love

It takes years for a student to learn the ways of the eight limbs, but each one of these is considered a yoga. In other words, if you just practice yoga on a mat or at a gym, then you are really limiting yoga’s transformative potential.

Much has been written about this, of course, but here I will bring it back to the progression of my spiritual life and where I am going with this blog post.

After recognizing the need for regular meditation along with my yoga practice, I began inserting it into my life as it is intended: after physical yoga, when the mind is quieted by the breath and focus on physical asanas. I found this to be extremely rewarding. I was less distracted. My body and mind felt ready to dive into the stillness.

I am now convinced that the fullness of prayer and a connection with divine love is found in settling the senses through meditation.

____

This brings me to Lent. Traditionally, people give up something during this season in an effort to understand and identify with the sacrifice that Jesus made when he died on the cross and rose again, eradicating the barrier that was placed between humanity and God. Often folks will give up a food item. Some will go through their accumulated “stuff” and give away a bag of unused or forgotten things every day during Lent. These can be noble actions when the heart is in the right place. However, I prefer to add something to my days, instead of participating in the negative. This year I plan to add a Loving-kindness meditation throughout Lent in order to observe the loving-kindness Jesus embodied on earth.

Loving-kindness meditation develops greater compassion in a person through regular contemplation, concentrating love on people we know and do not know. You can even direct loving-kindness to yourself. It is not based in selfishness, but can be of great benefit if one is suffering from anxiety, depression, anger, or fear. Loving-kindness meditation will actually change your mind to become more aware of yourself and the people around you.

And I think we can all agree that the world needs more love in it right now.

More information on Loving-kindness meditation:

Loving-Kindness Meditation and Change, by Kripalu through The Huffington Post

Loving-Kindness Meditation, The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society

Loving-Kindness Meditation Practice, by The Greater Good in Action: Science Based Practices for a Meaningful Life

“The Consumption of Scenery:” Ideas on Nature and the Digital Screen

“By emphasizing visitor convenience, expediency, and comfort, we have made the national park synonymous with the theme park. In the national park the theme is scenery, not experiencing the environment on its own terms. Park visitors consume scenery in our national parks as much as they consume the obviously synthetic scenery in a Disney World jungle. The experience is easy and painless, no matter the visitor’s age, physical condition, or mental preparation for his visit. Under such circumstances, park visitors are not meaningfully in the natural environment so much as watching the environment, as if it were on television instead of before their eyes.”
John Miller, Egotopia: Narcissism and the New American Landscape (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1997): 59.

 

Ken Burns calls the National Parks, “America’s best idea,” but it might be an idea that slipped our minds. Since the 1800s, the American system inspired countries all over the planet to create preserved spaces, sacred to the people and in protection of increasingly vulnerable wildlife. Lately, I devote my time to perusing blogs by people who spend their lives – either professionally or as amateurs – trekking through the wilderness. I am curious about how they use digital media to narrate their experiences and create a nature aesthetic on a “not-so-natural” platform: the Internet.

So, today in my reading I came across the above passage. The fact that it was written during the cynical nineties did not surprise me. In the twenty years since its publication, the proverbial and literal screen became all the more pervasive. Major parts of the Internet are used for discussions about the outdoors, as well as for the viewing of nature and the wilderness from the comfort of the one’s home. Take this in conjunction with the reality that the American National Parks are susceptible to the political whims of the Trump administration and congressional Republicans. These elected officials respond to a pervasive sentiment upheld by many conservatives: that the protection of natural spaces is not priority, and more critically, that climate change is not a serious problem. Yet, the popularity of Nature in the digital world, particularly in social media, seems at odds with the current political shift.

I am an Americanist. I seek to find consistencies, patterns, and cohesions in the broad culture of the United States. The problem with this is that the country is extremely diverse, and no matter how much some of its citizens insist that culture is singular (Christian, Caucasian-influenced, patriarchal, heterosexual), it is layered and complex. I acknowledge the difficulty in determining a straightforward answer to the previous question. How do we explain a simultaneous fascination with the outdoors, specifically the wilderness, on social media and a dangerous indifference to the health of the natural world? Yes, there is currently a strong political division, but Pew Research reported in 2016 that even those who consider themselves to be “particularly concerned” with the environment do very little in their every day lives to combat the effects of climate change. (Only 20% of adult respondents regularly make an effort to live in an environmentally friendly manner.) Yet, the BBC’s Planet Earth documentary series to the numerous nature flicks found on Netflix, the two hundred million (and counting) posts on Instagram with the hashtag #Nature, and the thousands of pages on Facebook dedicated to the subject all point to an interest in the outdoors. We find access to it through a screen.

Additionally, and importantly, the National Park Service had record attendance during its 100th anniversary, clocking in 330,971,689 visitors!

People are going to the parks. So why do voters and elected officials want to make them more vulnerable? I will leave the political answer for another day. The republicans in congress cannot hold all of the blame. It is not like they just woke up one day and decided that the NPS was a big money pit and they should make it easier to sell the lands.  In fact, the slippery slope of devaluing the National Parks started long ago. I put the blame on the ever-present screen.

America is a visual culture. This may not seem that remarkable to the reader, for the obvious reason that she is reading this blog post through a digital device. Since the advent of television the screen has influenced popular culture.[1] It is a window and a mirror. We try to look out beyond our four walls, but in a way it simply reflects back to us what we want to see: ourselves.[2] Again, this is not a groundbreaking insight in 2017. What we think, though, is that while music, fashion, language, and everyday artifacts are probably influenced by what we see on the screen (smartphones, computers, television, and film), there is no way – no way – that our love for nature is affected!

Nature is our escape from all of that!!

Au contraire. As Miller writes, we use nature the only way we know how: as entertainment. How can our minds differentiate the act of looking at images on a screen from the act of looking at a vast landscape? For some, going into the “wilderness” (as if nature were a separate place away from our normal lives) requires that one takes a smartphone or GPS device: for safety. Today the popular hiking blog The Trek posted an article titled “The Top PCT Thru-Hikers You Should Be Following on Instagram.” Capturing one’s outdoor experiences has become an aesthetic in itself, our smartphones making epic photography accessible to anyone who choses to take the time. No longer relying on Ansel Adams, platforms like Instagram allow us to show our friends and followers where we are in space and time, and hopefully they will be envious of it. Incredible vistas and intimate vignettes, we capture nature and it is embedded with our philosophies about ourselves within the natural world.

These images seem to portray sensitive beings, mindful of a world that has value beyond everyday consumerism. You cannot buy a hike across the Appalachian Trail. You must do it. The journey requires blood, sweat, and tears. And this is probably why many chose to follow hikers through social media. The partition of the screen protects us. We reap the benefits without going through the struggle.

Is this why we treat nature like it is a disposable product, an entertainment that is only there to meet our needs on our demand? We cannot feel the heat, the cold, or smell the earthiness. We buy athleisure for Saturdays at the farmers’ market and wear tech gear meant for excursions in Patagonia during our commute to work.

There is a disconnection in 2017 between our ideals and our actions. Do smart devices create safety, connect us to each other, and draw us to natural spaces we would never otherwise encounter? Or does the screen create a comfortable barrier that allows us to tame and control the natural world? I argue for the latter. And as a result, we make serious political decisions that are colored by the comfort we feel in our own homes.

 

[1] See: Karal Ann Marling, As Seen on TV: The Visual Culture of Everyday Life in the 1950s. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994.

[2] A really wonderful argument for this can be found in David Foster Wallace’s “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction,” Contemporary Fiction, 13:2 (1993:Summer), 151-194.

We Lost a Tree: Pioneer Cabin Giant Sequoia and Collective Sadness

“In California, in Calaveras Big Tree State Park, the historic giant sequoia known for the tunnel in its base came down during the heavy rain…” (NPR Hourly Newscast, 9 January 2017)

My sleepy ears perked up at the information during my brief drive home on this frigid Monday morning after dropping off my son at daycare. It is not every day that we get news about trees in the NPR hourly broadcast, but this one is special. A storm that may be the worst in a decade is pummeling areas of northern California and Nevada. People lost homes and there is tragic loss of life. But the loss of a tree is an exceptional news bit. A quick Google search shows that most major national news outlets are covering this story and my own response this morning caused me to wonder, “Why is this prompting such an emotional reaction?”

Most reporting of the event references the historic characteristics of the tree. While we do not know the exact age, most of the giant sequoias in the North Grove are at least 1,200 years old. This fact alone causes most people to pause and place a hand on these specimens in hopes of connecting to an earlier era. Often, it is only through a sense of place do we feel we can physically interact with history – spiritual pilgrimages and holy sites are the epitome of this desire. Additionally, news outlets point out the Pioneer Cabin Tree’s giant car-sized tunnel at its base, carved in the 1880’s. This is clearly the sequoia’s claim to fame. So the historic significance of this particular tree is twofold: first, its natural history through a connection to an ancient past, and second, its social history with the first tourists to the visitation of that exact spot.

This tree is significant not only for its historic and cultural relevance, but also for the time in which it fell. We are at a pivotal moment in American politics – this is one thing that both “sides” can agree on. Emotions ran high this year and they are still cooking after turning down to a vigorous simmer following the boil. We collectively lost important cultural figures, too many to note here, but their passing almost signifies the beginning of a new era, one that is thoroughly intertwined with politics. We have at our hands a new culture war.

And then we lost a tree.

At the time of westward expansion toward the Pacific, and in the throes of the American Civil War, the first European Americans considered the immense trees of Yosemite to be “the botanical correlate of America’s heroic nationalism at a time when the Republic was suffering its most divisive crisis since the Revolution.”[1] Additionally, and in-line with beliefs that America was a mission supported by a blessing from God, the trees were old enough to connect Americans to the birth of Christ. Thus, not only for their grandeur, the sequoias are mystical because they symbolize the spiritual and carry the hopes of a nation in its branches.

the_pioneers_cabin_and_plutos_chimney_big_tree_grove_calaveras_county_by_lawrence__houseworth

“The Pioneer Cabin and Pluto’s Chimney,” 1864-1874, By Lawrence & Houseworth, Original source: Robert N. Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views. New York Public Library.

Our imagination is peaked by trees and the fascination is not limited to American culture. Religious stories revolve around trees. We live in trees through homebuilding. We travel in trees with boats. Trees permeate almost every aspect of our lives through paper, jewelry, home décor, objects of luxury, artwork, and essential tools. There are few other resources that we use in such varied forms.

We lost a tree this weekend and it provoked a big response. As one Facebook commenter wrote, this one “made a sound when it fell.” Others commented about how “sad” it is that we lost this tree or shared their family vacation photograph for others to see. After a year of losing celebrity after celebrity, one celebrity tree is gone. But the reasons for its fame arrive out of ambivalence. Pioneer Cabin Tree would not be renowned if it were not for the massive hole at its base – a hole that eventually killed the tree, leaving only one branch alive at the top. People took pictures with Pioneer Cabin because it had a tunnel through it, and now news outlets and social media alike are crying out. The Huffington Post published a particularly scathing article title:

Pioneer Cabin Tree, Iconic Giant Sequoia With ‘Tunnel,’ Falls In Storm:
The tree was “barely alive” due to the hole punched through it in the 1880s.

The language is meant to provoke and point to the injury that a violation like this can do to trees. Using the language of abuse, it also subtly chastises all the visitors who found fascination with Pioneer Cabin, as if they were witnesses to the crime.

If an unofficial assessment can serve as evidence, there are many who “loved” this particular tree. Reactions of anger and sadness over the loss reveal the contradiction that is characteristic of our current climate crisis. Things that we cannot control make us sad, but Americans are dangerously ambivalent to things that we can control. There is also a misunderstanding of the word “preserve” as it relates to the natural environment. I believe many to understand it as “keep forever this way” instead of letting nature take its course. A few Facebook commenters asked what was to be done with the remains of the tree. Is there potential to sell off the pieces for commemoration? Others remarked (correctly) that the tree will nourish the forest floor.

It is a poignant loss, but is it really sad? Remarks like this indicate feelings that the tree was for us. While the tree connected us to our national past, even our cultural or spiritual past, sadness comes from the knowledge that the tree no longer exists. From this perspective, Pioneer Cabin’s existence seemed to be for the benefit of human culture. This freakish tree with a gaping hole is no longer around for us to take family vacation photos with it. It is not for us, but that our government regulates space for it to thrive sometimes blurs the lines of ownership. Do we permit the trees to exist only for the sake of our benefit?

There are many things that we ask nature to do for us. We want it to be itself, but to serve us. We want it to remain authentic, but never change. We want it to survive and be self-sufficient, to pull itself up by its boot straps and not take entitlements. We want nature to be wild, but we want to snuggle up close. We want nature to understand political borders and established treaties. We want nature to know that we love it and need it, but we have our own lives to tend to and cannot be bothered to help out during a crisis. We ask nature to provide for our physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing, and to continue to be a source of entertainment for our personal vacations. But we want to be left alone when we go home. We understand that nature is a part of us and bla bla bla, but, nature, please do not come too close or ask too much.

If we are really sad, let’s consider that the groves of giant sequoias are threatened more and more by climate change, as scientists worry that slow growing specimens might not keep up with the drastically shifting environment. Clearly, as illustrated in the event over the weekend, the increasing severity of storms due to changing climate is also a threat to giant trees, smaller trees, and all the flora and fauna that live in these ecosystems.

Pioneer Cabin Tree’s cultural significance is important to us. It is not my intention to say otherwise. But it is immensely critical that we recognize the reasons we are attracted to these trees, and use it as a starting point to propel us to greater things.

[1] Schama, Landscape and Memory (New York: Vintage Books, 1995): 187.

Seeking the Mother’s Psalm

Well the sun is surely sinking down
But the moon is slowly rising
And this old world must still be spinning ’round
And I still love you

 So close your eyes
You can close your eyes, it’s all right
I don’t know no love songs
And I can’t sing the blues anymore
But I can sing this song
And you can sing this song
When I’m gone 

Well it won’t be long before another day
We’re gonna have a good time
And no one’s gonna take that time away
You can stay as long as you like

I find myself humming this lullaby throughout my days now. I use it to calm my son, who seems to respond to the intimate truths in James Taylor’s lyrics. For me, the sweet sadness of “you can stay as long as you like” is a reminder that one day Arlo will decide he does not need me as much anymore. Taylor intended the ballad for Joni Mitchell, so of course it is deeply romantic. But these days I hear it with new ears. I find myself turning many popular tunes into lullabies. Some deeply rooted themselves inside my spirit as the psalms of early parenthood.

…the psalms of early parenthood: love, struggle, lamentation, and gratitude. The life experience of being a parent needs more psalm writers. We have days that direct hymns of gratitude, cries of lament, and songs of thanksgiving. I recall that I never felt so many emotions until these days watching my son grow.

I intensely feel the contradictory nature of caring for a child while attempting to form a sense of individuality. I am becoming more aware of the sources of my identity.

As a professional who sometimes studies the cultivation of identity, I have come to think that identity stems from broad social structures. I never needed to confront my personal identity in such a momentous way before now. Even as I contemplated the decision of changing my last name for marriage, there was not the ground shaking, identity-making experience that I find in motherhood.

I am a writer. I am an academic, a professional, and an educated woman.

The problem with these labels is that they fail to live up to reality. They are bulky words that take up space when we speak them out loud, but they ultimately fall short. It is because they are not substantial or proactive – or essential. They exist conceptually, but do not move me forward. Though perfectly fine labels, they do not function as identity parameters. Except, maybe, “writer.” But even this, I believe, is a shifting designation that is more spiritual than practical, more intimate than open.

I am a writer, but these days the majority of my writing remains in my head as I rock my baby to sleep, attempt a five-minute shower, or witness a beautiful developmental milestone. The weight of this title gives me pause as I place heavy importance on it that I cannot move my hand to pick up a pen. It is jealousy of the writer who spends hours at her desk, mulling over the perfect word and expounding on past participles that paralyzes me. I also, for some ridiculous reason, imagine that creative writing becomes less creative when executed on a word processor. So I cumbersomely labor away at longhand in one of the numerous journals that find their way tucked in the drawer near the rocker, by the bedside table, or stacked on the kitchen countertop. I worry too much about the lurking hand cramp and then forget what I wanted to say in the first place. I have so many ideas about what a writer does, looks like, and thinks about that I suppress my words before they have a chance to live.

The anxieties over writing derive from personal questions of identity. I seem to be in a crisis. I remember the feeling of previous crises, surprisingly. There was the crisis of identity after high school as friends moved away, the mini calamities that attended the breakup of a romantic relationship, and the devastation of rejecting the legalistic religion of my childhood that left me in a state of emotional panic. It has been a while since I had a good, old-fashioned crisis. All of the previous have been resolved, and the resolutions flourish in their maturity. The current crisis hits hard because it was so unexpected.

A “crisis” is feared because we are expected to maintain a façade of perfection. We lightly call these “transitions,” though this gives the experience a watered-down effect. We dismiss the individual going through a “mid life crisis” with a wave of the hand. No, I am talking about a real-deal crisis – one that stops you in your tracks and forces a re-evaluation of your surroundings. It is uncomfortable. It is difficult. It is often ignored.

And then if it is ignored, you never have to change.

Motherhood, in particular, is a radical physical change. Why would we not expect the same for the emotional, mental, and spiritual experiences of a woman who goes through childbirth? Feminism asked us to reject these latter experiences so that we do not come across as weak or incapable of maintaining a public life like men. To be important, we must produce, produce, produce! Be productive, they say. Do not stall. Do not take moments to gather yourself. Do not nurture. Produce!

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The author and her son, Arlo, May 2016

As the tide of daily life pulls me through a current that seems to run faster and faster, I grab on to the essentials. This is a process of identity reformation that will not be bound by previous requirements for the labels. I am a mother who writes, a wife who thinks, and an academic who has a family. I am a creator who lingers in the space of the day to day.

Selah, mamas and papas. Selah.

“Rape of the Land:” 21st Century Ecofeminism and Environmental Rape Culture

One of the primary theoretical driving forces in the emergence of ecofeminism in the 1980s is the “rape of the land” concept. Essentially, ecofeminists argued that the root of contemporary ecological problems rested in a patriarchal society – one that placed a lower value upon the “other,” which was anything outside of the perceived norm: anything not male, not white, not heterosexual, and not “civilized” culture. Women, racial and ethnic minorities, indigenous people, and homosexuality all fell under this category. The realization that nature was also in this group was the work of early ecofeminists like Carolyn Merchant, Susan Griffin, and a slew of other creative and bright minds. The idea that a patriarchal society could “rape the land” stemmed from two theories:
1. That it is the nature of a patriarchal society to dominate and control entities that fall outside of established rules of culture.
2. That women could reclaim imagery of the goddess in nature (or, Mother Earth) as a source of power.

A few of the ways in which it was perceived the land was victim of violation was illustrated in the severe pollution highlighted by Rachel Carson, the overexploitation of whole species from the earth, and the controversial issue of nuclear power without proper waste disposal. Early ecofeminists decried the take, take, take of a patriarchal system that, at its core, believed in the authority of efficiency and use. By reclaiming the earth goddess for both divine and intellectual inspiration, ecofeminists connected the “body” of the land with the body of woman at the height of a renewed feminist awareness that sought the social and political respect of the feminine mind and body.

Considering the deep historical and rhetorical connection between ecofeminism and protests of rape, and the current conversation among American feminists regarding what is now dubbed “rape culture” in the twenty-first century, is there still a theoretical link between the environment and physical rape? Are there situational similarities that need to be revealed?

While these questions require a deeper analysis than what I can provide in one blog post, I will pose a few problems to consider. First, the indictments of a contemporary “rape culture” are many, including but not limited to: the realization that rape is more common than we think, that victims are often questioned about their “role” in the assault, regular complaints of disappointment in how the charge will affect the accused rapist’s life, and the prevalence of rape in popular jokes. “Rape culture” is considered by many to be a made-up grievance by extreme feminists who are looking for something to protest. Rape culture, in fact, continues as an extension of an archaic patriarchal system of dominance and conquest, but hidden by the apparent progress of feminism in mainstream culture that allowed women to live with greater independence, garner successes in reproductive rights, hold esteemed political positions and run for the office of presidency. So, the essence of rape culture is that is hidden. It is not obvious to us as we go about our days until we face it head-on, as many unfortunately do. It is important to acknowledge that rape is not limited to female victims, but 1 in 33 American men have experienced assault [RAINN]. Rape culture is a problem that we do not see, or wish to see.

Is there an environmental “rape culture?” I argue, in the United States, there is.
The international community came together in Paris at the end of 2015 to find real solutions to problems of climate change, while American politicians running for the nation’s highest office continue to deny its existence. Often cynics will argue that it is pointless to make the American public change course because other developing countries (they cite China) are not regulating their production of CO2. Energy industries like coal and natural gas fracking resist environmental change out of economic reservations, fueling the fears of working class Americans in those industries and pitting them against environmental progress. Still others cite religious texts to “show” that the inherent role of human culture is to “subdue the earth.”

Essentially, in the United States, Americans just do not know whom to trust because of the abundant contradictory “evidence” thrust in their direction. It also does not help that in an effort to show a “balanced” view, certain news outlets provide a one-on-one debate between a climate scientist and a skeptic, as if the opinions are equal. As we know, this is certainly not true.

This is the problem: if rape culture is rooted in a suspicion that the assertions of the victim is valid, or a blatant indifference for its existence in contemporary culture, then an “ecological rape culture” may also be real.

It is no longer suitable for ecofeminists to identify the “rapists,” but to convince the crowd that the rape occurred.

Theoretical ecofeminist principles must be formed that adapt to twenty-first century needs. The ecofeminist perspective of the 1980s is not suitable for today’s problems and the challenges must be addressed in a different manner. Ideally, it is not only skepticism that needs to be tackled, but apathetic attitudes by those who know the facts.

 

Further reading:

Diamond, Irene and Gloria Feman Orenstein, editors. Reweaving the World: The Emergence of Ecofeminism (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1990)

Dunnaway, Finis. Seeing Green: The Use and Abuse of American Environmental Images (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015)

Griffin, Susan. Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1978)

Hoffman, Andrew J. How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015)

Howe, Joshua. Behind the Curve: Science and the Politics of Global Warming (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2014)

Merchant, Carolyn. The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1983)

Plant, Judith, editor. Healing The Wounds: The Promise of Ecofeminism (Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1989)

A Photograph and a Painting: William Henry Jackson, Thomas Moran, and Capturing Yellowstone Vistas

 

William Henry Jackson is one of the best-known photographers of the nineteenth-century, publishing images of the Yellowstone wilderness as a member of the government-sponsored Hayden Survey before it was a national park and documenting the White City during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition for tourists and posterity. He became a legendary figure in the narrative of National Park history, and living to almost one hundred years, served as a link between the twentieth-century obsession with the west and the myth of the frontier.

Through the antebellum era there was a widespread assumption that the West was uninhabitable for “civilized men.”[1] It was too desert-like to be worthwhile. Eventually, this belief gave way to a large-scale welcoming of frontier expansion by the general population for Euro-American settlers as a result of conclusions derived under the directorship of Ferdinand V. Hayden (1829-1887) during the U.S. Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories. These surveys helped to “[destroy] the myth of the desert and legislat[e] the myth of the garden in its stead.”[2] Hayden approached Jackson in the spring of 1870 to become the official photographer for a large information-gathering survey that would cover parts of Colorado and Utah, which would cover the full Wyoming Territory.[3] Interest in the natural landscape transformed from the Emersonian pastoral ideal to an organized documentation and cataloging of the sublime.

Jackson’s role as photographer of these areas positions him at the center of technology, wilderness, and masculinity. Early outdoor photography operated as a contrasting practice to nineteenth century feminine sentimentalism, exemplified by Douglas through the iconic Little Eva of Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin: the embodiment of worshipful religious piety and wisdom, sweetness, and was generously maternal.[4] Additionally, Americanist Lois Banner defines the physical characteristics of the ideal woman under the image of “the Steel Engraved Lady.” Found in antebellum fashion magazines and widely seen lithographs, she is definitively passive. It was not the expected character of the ideal woman to lug heavy equipment over the bounds of the earth. Though women did participate in the photographic process and certainly contributed to the cultural works of the century that incorporated themes of nature through writing or painting, the arduous task of towing hundreds of pounds of gear and dangerous materials outdoors during government surveys or professional exploratory excursions was bestowed upon male photographers. In his autobiography, Jackson remembers, “Going at it in the open meant labor, patience, and the moral stamina – or, perhaps, sheer phlegmatism – to keep on day after day, in spite of the overexposed and underdeveloped negatives, and without regard to the accidents to cameras and chemicals.”[5] Living the frontier life was also a marker of masculinity. Since women were expected to be the moral center of the home, and ultimately one of the pillars of a republican nation,[6] there was little room for them on the edge of society.[7] Jackson, like many of his male peers, “seemed the perfect marginal man for the marginality of this actual frontier.”[8]

From the beginning, people assumed that there was an inherent truthfulness to the camera lens. Instead of having a creative mediator, such as the painter with canvas and brush in hand, a camera “captures” and “abolishes the narrow entrance ways of painting though which only certain prestructured faces, scenes, arrangements, and scales of space can enter and present themselves to be seen.”[9] As the industrial age moved along, new ways of seeing shattered the old and created new expectations. Landscape art of the early nineteenth century was thoroughly immersed in sentimentalism through the pastoral and the sublime. Works by American landscape painters Frederic Church (1826-1900) and Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) were meant to move the viewer to great emotion and enthrallment. While both artists worked alongside the developing field of photography, the reason for modern technology’s existence was drastically different. Importantly, “the work of early landscape photographers was personal work, or work intended for a rather small audience of dedicated amateurs and educated professionals, and it was devoted to structuring landscapes in familiar terms.”[10] Or, in Jackson’s case, for the use of the United States government. Though he found it immensely important to capture a pleasing image,[11] the photographs were meant for dual audiences: the federal government and for whomever Jackson wished to view them afterwards.

This dichotomy is seen between the images made by Jackson and the landscape artist also hired by the survey, Thomas Moran (1837-1926). They worked closely together during the weeks in Yellowstone, Jackson writing “Moran became greatly interested in photography, and it was my good fortune to have him at my side during all that season to help me solve many problems of composition. While learning a little from me, he was constantly putting in far more than he took out.”[12] Both the photographer and the painter created images of what Jackson called “the climax of the expedition:” the Yellowstone Falls and Grand Canyon. They are, however, significantly different types of images. It was Jackson’s primary task to document the area for congress, posterity, and on a secondary level, for the possible purchase of prints by patrons.

If taxpayers and Congressmen alike wanted more evidence, none of them wanted it half so much as Dr. Hayden. He had a double motive. The abstract scientist in him wanted more facts to work with, while the practical planner in the man at once saw how a widespread public interest could keep his Survey alive permanently. Hayden knew Congress would keep on with its annual appropriations exactly as long as the people were ready to foot the bill, and he was determined to make them keep on wanting to.

That was where I came in. No photographs had as yet been published, and Dr. Hayden was determined that the first ones should be good. A series of fine pictures would not only supplement his final report but tell the story to thousands who might never read it. Photo-engraving and ten-cent picture magazines were still unknown; but an astonishing number of people bought finished photographs to hang on their walls, or to view though stereoscopes.[13]

Even if average Americans wanted to purchase images of the Yellowstone exploration, it would be less for the artistic merit (though certainly evident) and more for the documentation the event and location. Jackson created thousands of photographs during his time with the survey, but the photographs of the Grand Canyon are certainly breathtaking. One in particular, titled “Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, From the East Bank” (1872) relies on the optics of texture to provide depth of perception. The Yellowstone River weaves its way through the center of the picture plane, cutting between rock and cliff, framed by forests of pine. The horizon is high in the background, with a pale sky looming above. Close to the viewer are ancient pines and as they recede toward the Lower Falls, one gets a sense of the steep degree of the sharp descent below. Faint lines interlace over the rock walls around the falls and large faces of earth, rock, and trees protrude over the threadlike river. The photograph is indeed magnificent because the scenery is magnificent. After years of the public laughing at messengers who describe the wonders of Yellowstone, a photograph will help them believe.

Jackson, Grand Canyon from the Yellowstong, Nat Archives

William Henry Jackson, “Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, From the East Bank” (1872), National Archives

 

The expectations for Moran’s paintings were slightly different, based upon sentiment of feeling and reality. The challenge that the painter could conquer that Jackson could not is the replication of color along the ravine. Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon has unique hues from mineral stains of hot springs and steam vents and, in his later years, Jackson remembers the painting’s “accuracy.” “So far as I am concerned, the great picture of the 1871 expedition was no photograph, but a painting by Moran of Yellowstone Falls. It captured, more than any other painting I know, the color and the atmosphere of spectacular nature.”[14]

This requires us to ask what a “real” picture of nature might contain. Is it the topography, as seen in Jackson’s photograph – though, only partially because he did not have access to color imaging – or is it the creation of “atmosphere of spectacular nature?” A similar painting by Moran titled The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (1872) provides an almost equal perspective to that of Jackson’s photograph. The landscape is an immense 84 x 144 1/4 in. and like other nineteenth century works of the same genre, allows the viewer to “step into” the scene. Moran’s perspective is comparable to Jackson’s, but more painterly qualities are employed. As mentioned, the rich use of color is stunning and he shows the gradients of pale yellow to deep sienna along the walls of the canyon. At the center of the picture plane in the distance is a perfect view of the Upper Falls, consumed by sublime visuals. Instead of a pale sky in stark contrast to the texture of the land, Moran reworks the scene with deep gray sky and an abundant mist floating from the falls to the heavens.

Moran, Grand Canyon Yellowstone, 1872 SAAM

Thomas Moran, The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (1872), Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Yellowstone River weaves brightly in blue between craggy walls of yellow and brown. Rich green pines are artistically placed in contrast to the rock and earth, less uniform but with more sentiment of feeling. Moran even provides rugged trees reminiscent of Thomas Cole’s (1801-1848) signature dramatic foliage in the foreground to frame the image, but only a few and on the left side of the picture. Balance is the enemy of sublimity. Finally, four individuals and two horses are added at the edge of the cliff at the bottom of the landscape, for both scale and to draw the viewer in to a more contemplative engagement with the scene. Consider the men taking in the vast expanse of the Yellowstone – Moran insists that you should do the same.

One can gain a greater understanding of Moran’s goals through his correspondence with Hayden after the expedition. In the spring of 1872, he wrote the geologist about the work in progress.

I have been intending to write to you for some months past but I have been so very busy with Yellowstone drawings, and absorbed in designing and painting my picture of the Great Canõn that I could not find the time to write to anybody. The picture is now more than half finished and I feel confident that it will produce a most decided sensation in Art Circles. By all Artists, it has heretofore been deemed next to impossible to make good pictures of strange and wonderful scenes in nature; and that the most that could be done with such material was to give topographical or Geological characteristics. But I have always held that the Grandest, most beautiful, or wonderful in nature, would, in capable hands, make the grandest, most beautiful, or wonderful pictures; and that the business of a great painter, would be the representation of great scenes in nature. All the above characteristics attach to the Yellowstone region, and if I fail to prove this, I fail to prove myself worthy the name of Painter.[15]

Of great concern is the potential “sensation” the painting could provoke in the viewer. As Moran realizes this potential for nature paintings, he desires to prompt the feelings one would have when looking at a grand landscape in person.

American culture is deeply rooted in visual imagery and so it is imperative that we understand the purposes of the different structures of production. Particularly, in an era where we can access digitally enhanced or traditional images through smartphones and computer screens, art galleries and theatre stages, understanding the meanings of platforms will serve us well.

 

 

*Featured image: By Brocken Inaglory – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4391496

[1] Jackson, William Henry. Time Exposure: The Autobiography of William Henry Jackson (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1940. HathiTrust): 176.

[2] Ibid., 181.

[3] Hales, Peter B. William Henry Jackson and the Transformation of the American Landscape. (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988):69.

[4] Douglas, Ann. The Feminization of American Culture. (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1977): 2.

[5] Jackson, Autobiography, 178.

[6] Linda Kerber, Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1980)

[7] William Henry Jackson writes extensively in his autobiography about whole communities of Mormon believers moving to the frontier. Women and children were certainly a part of this experience. Additionally, it cannot be assumed that there were no women on the frontier, but the point here is that the ideal of the Steel Engraved Lady resisted the necessary skills that one needed to live in such a community.

[8] Hales, 25.

[9] Philip Fisher, “Democratic Social Space: Whitman, Melville, and the Promise of American Transparency,” The New American Studies: Essays from Representations, Philip Fisher, editor (Berkley: University of California Press, 1991): 84.

[10] Joel Snyder, “Territorial Photography,” Landscape and Power, edited by W.J.T. Mitchell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002): 179.

[11] Hales, 72-73.

[12] Jackson, 201.

[13] Ibid., 196.

[14] Ibid., 200.

[15] Letter from Thomas Moran to Frederick V. Hayden, 3/11/1872, Records of the U.S. Geological Survey 1839-2008, Chronological Letters Received 1867-3/21/1874, National Archives, https://catalog.archives.gov/id/6423593?q=Letter%20from%20Thomas%20Moran%20to%20Hayden#.VrzM6jfV_g0.link