Photos: Linda Laino
While some people may see nature as something to experience out of doors or admire through the window, my preference has always been to bring pieces of nature into my house, to be cared for like a foundling. Part of my bio in recent years has included the line 'finding beautiful things on the ground is a favorite pastime'. These 'things' on the ground, to me, are treasures that I have always been obsessed with carrying to home or studio to study, admire and sometimes paint or draw.
Walks with my then 3-year old boy, Ryder come to mind. It is a cliche of sorts to say that young children teach adults about the world. They ask us to slow down and really see. Since they are looking with fresh eyes, as opposed to our sometimes jaded ones, they are fascinated and revel in pointing out their discoveries. All those long summer afternoons my son and I hunted, heads down, looking. We lined our pockets with the booty. Lots of rocks and bugs and feathers and pods. Always pods. We would later take them home and fill our shelves —and mantels—with them. On a side note, I so miss mantels. We always had them in all the houses we lived in, the old Virginia Victorians that they were. Mantels seem essential to artifact or object collecting, being the perfect height and width for altars to nature.
Many years later, I am still scavenging. Glancing around the room I am writing this in, I can see the large piece of dead fan coral that I picked up on the beach in Tulum and lovingly packed in my suitcase. I knew I was meant to have it when it arrived home completely intact. I see a vase full of feathers that I occasionally pocket as I am walking. I have a windowsill lined with brass bowls that house dead grasshoppers and shells and long mesquite pods Piles of coral from the Caribbean are arranged in a circle like a tabletop Stonehenge. My kitchen table currently holds a handful of giant, chocolate colored pods given to me by a dear friend. Once on a family trip to the northwest, seduced by the gorgeous stones I found on the beach, I filled my suitcase full of them to take back to the other coast. Recently, while walking with a friend in the campo of the high desert where I live I spotted the most gorgeous, freshly- dead lizard. He was a good size and beautiful and I wanted him. My friend helped me to find something to wrap him in so I could take him with me. I was thrilled. No one could believe how upset I was when I later realized that I had left him in the taxi!
Some friends who once thought this predilection of mine a little strange, have now become accomplices. My friend (who gave me the pods) also recently left me a gift of a perfect butterfly in a little tupperware container by my door one day as a beautiful homecoming gift. One of my most precious possessions is a fist-sized conch shell the color of a turquoise stone, given to me by my Tibetan teacher.
What is it about nature specimens that fascinates some of us? A vestigial remembrance of beauty? A desire to feel in awe of a colorful link in our evolutionary chain? Perhaps it is simply being able to be up close and personal to study nature in all it's mysterious intricacies. Surely, there is no better designer. As an artist, my respect is profound and I am consistently reminded of the surreal qualities of certain plants, animals and insects.
Artist and teacher Peter London maintains that as humans, we are nature, and so when we encounter it, we recognize ourselves: like meeting like. And this of course, confirms our connection. It is why a blue sky or turquoise sea bring us calm, why a cool breeze makes us smile, why the smell of a honeysuckle vine allows us to close our eyes and be carried by the aroma, why the flutter of a colorful wing causes us to gasp and why a Luna moth silences us with its regal, pistachio grace.