Extracting Art from the Land

A Quiet Moment Before the Last Day of School

A Quiet Moment Before the Last Day of School

But I retained the landscape, and I have since annually carried off what it yielded without a wheelbarrow. With respect to landscapes,–

“I am monarch of all I survey

My right there is none to dispute.”

I have frequently seen a poet withdraw, having enjoyed the most valuable part of a farm, while the crusty farmer supposed that he had got a few wild apples only. Why, the owner does not know it for many years when a poet has put his farm in rhyme, the most admirable kind of invisible fence, has fairly impounded it, milked it, skimmed it, and got all the cream, and left the farmer only the skimmed milk.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Today is the last day of school. Grades are being finalized, reports submitted, textbooks inventoried, classrooms cleaned, debris carried to the trash, and of course my mind is hours south of here. I am not looking across a classroom of desks, but across an expanse of the Gulf to the distant, shimmering horizon. As I put away the art history texts, I don’t see the masterworks of the centuries, but watercolors of foliage, sand and water, waiting to be born.

This morning, before the students arrived, I drew my tattered copy of Walden from my bookbag, a volume that has traveled the world with me since I purchased it at Oregon State University in 1992, and turned to the passage posted above. In every plein air encounter, I think of these words, and the humor of silently drawing off something from the land while no one else has an inkling of what I am doing. With all the talk we hear of our plunder of non-renewable resources, I at least know that I am not taking anything from the land that I survey, nor am I leaving any trash for someone else to pick up when I walk away. The encounter is always quiet and serene, and the only thing that changes going forward is my life. Tennyson said it well:

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!

I am preparing to take all the students of last year with me into the future, and soon I will add the Laguna Madre to my personal constitution. And hopefully, art will continue to be made.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

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2 Responses to “Extracting Art from the Land”

  1. Ryan Elliott Says:

    Your students take you with them on their journeys as well, I know that because of your classes from 1997 have resonated in my mind over and over again. My love of reading and deep appreciation of nature took root with the exploration of walden in your class and I am thrilled once again to be following your literary, artistic, and intellectual journeys!

    Thank you


    • davidtripp Says:

      Thank you, Ryan. It was fabulous visiting with you again recently, and I’m so grateful to be remembered in a good way. I’m so glad to know that Thoreau still resonates with you.


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