Although I was raised by the ocean, I didn’t know how to “read the water” until I began rafting the great rivers of the American west-the Colorado, Rogue, Selway, Salmon and American. In the whitewater rafting world, reading water is how you chart a course through rapids. It is how you follow the “tongue” into the current, avoid the holes in standing waves and catch an eddy when you want, rather than the eddy catching you.
Decades later, along the gentle flow of a New England autumn stream, I found myself reading the water in a different way, plotting courses for sticks and leaves through “rapids” created by elevation drops, measured in inches rather than feet. Watching the water’s fluid dynamics on such a micro scale, I realized that the shapes and curves mimicked those in the big water of Western rivers. And then came my real aha moment – those exact same patterns dance throughout the botanical forms in my home garden. It was the colliding of two worlds. Rebounding ripples became gentle trapezoids like those in my giant hostas, and vein patterns mimicked water trails along the breaking edges of a current.
Moving water has a language of currents, ripples and standing waves, while my garden speaks in patterns, shape, texture and color. In the Garden and the Brook series I bring these worlds together for a conversation, like a curator bringing together elements from different collections. To create what sounds like a contradiction–a still life in moving water, I select plants from my home garden and secure them in gently flowing woodland streams. But, unlike a still life created in a carefully controlled setting, my botanic elements dance at the mercy of wind and currents. My plants shift in and out of focus as the water curls around sharp edges, creating new tableaux. There is drama at the margins where water and plant meet, magic in the repeating patterns and momentary flashes of brilliant color.
While all the elements of my “still life” are in motion, I must move with thoughtful deliberation to capture the unfolding scene. The frenetic deadline speed of my past gives way to a “meditative stillness” that allows me to see deeply into the world around me.