A few weeks ago, I cheated the calendar and fled to Texas in a desperate search for spring. My daily commute between home and work was along a 20-mile or so stretch of four lane dual highway often stacked with wolf packs of cars and pickup trucks jockeying for position. My concentration focused on the moving vehicles around me with occasional glimpses along the roadside and off to a distant pasture in the rolling ranch land half way between Austin and Houston. Thanks to Lady Bird Johnson’s Beautification Act of 1965, Texas roadsides burst with Indian Paintbrush orange, Primrose Pink, Texas Yellow Star and Blue Bonnets, the proud state flower. Spring definitely was in its glory along with the temperatures to prove it.

With the memory of the Texas commutes still in my muscles, I was returning from Casper last week along the interstate. The experience could not have been more dramatic. While only tinges of green here and there hinted at the possibility of spring, I was barely aware of the roadway let alone the absence of any traffic, let alone another vehicle in either direction. Gazing straight ahead, I realized that even my peripheral vision was filled with the vastness of the land around me. Best yet was the brilliant clean blue sky overhead filled with tufts of cotton candy clouds all the way down to the horizon line.

Small wonder that many of us draw upon this land for our livelihood, our recreation, our sense of place. The land holds our heritage, our history and our personal stories of belonging. Small wonder that artists, writers and musicians over the decades have recorded their experiences of this vast land and open sky. In their compositions, they share their personal insight and feelings. Through their individual expression, they challenge us to look and feel and think about our land and sky, to renew again a delight and appreciation for where we live, work and play.

I marvel each month as four visual artists and two writers come to Jentel for a month to work on a creative project. Currently, several are engaged in different responses and reflections on landscape.

Loren Erdrich is making a series of paintings inspired by a natural pigment once mined in Wyoming. She hopes to examine the physical and emotional residue of pigment extraction and the temporal boundaries of reclaimed areas.

Christina Lihan is attracted to industrial, heavily engineered structures: an abandoned steel mill furnace, pipes carrying crude to be made into gasoline, complex bridge trusses, a North Sea oil platform, gigantic cranes lifting cargo off a container ship, construction cranes carrying steel rebar to build a skyscraper. This prompts her to ask questions such as, “What then is the incongruous connection to the land and sea of these structures? The impact? Can it be improved? How can I convey the findings in my art? Perhaps abstractly?”

Mike Alberti’s short stories focus on residents of rural communities. He explores the violence and the environmental exploitation that characterize the history of White Settlement in the American West, the historical conceptions of climate change, from the “rain follows the plow” period of the late nineteenth century, through the environmental catastrophe of the Dust Bowl, to the present day struggles to continue dry land farming in the face of consistent drought.

Alexander Lumans is working on a draft of The Half-Finished Heaven, an ecological novel set in the contemporary Arctic about a disgraced Norwegian Polar Guard hired to protect an expedition that confronts extreme climate. This manuscript left me stunned and shocked my imagination.

Alas to all, who may muster the patience, spring will deliver the long yearned for color and textures of the season along with warmer temperatures that allow us to shed our winter layers.

As hands in dirt place bedding plants for future bouquets of color and harvests of fresh tastes, think of ice cream cones and summer concerts in the Kendrick Park. Think of the farmers market on Third Thursdays and craft fairs. Think of Sunday brunch at The Brinton and a walk through the galleries. Think of a scenic drive out to Ucross for an exhibition opening. Drop into SAGE Community Arts on the first Tuesday for Jentel Presents or an evening gallery event. Stretch out on the patio with a new bestseller from Sheridan Stationery, Books and Gallery. Tap your toes to the fiddlers at the Occidental on Thursday evening.

Spring brings renewal to the gardens and landscape, renewal of our spirits, and renewal in life and all it has to offer. Goodbye snow and gray days! I’m ready for spring.

 

Mary Jane Edwards is executive director of Jentel Foundation.