Saturday, July 13, 2013

Hemlocks, Adelgids, Sciences, and Arts

What do these four things have in common?

It began on April 19, when Unity College hosted two amazing women who integrate science and activism in their award-winning poetry.  Alison Hawthorne Deming and Elizabeth Bradfield joined faculty and staff in the afternoon for a discussion of their transdisciplinary work. Everyone was inspired by the overarching questions,"How can the sciences inform the arts?" and "How can the arts inform the sciences?" and "How can scientists and artists bring their attention to the same subject?" and "How can the sciences and the arts come together to create meaningful, accessible communication about environmental crises?" Maybe the first step is for the people to come together. Or maybe the first step is to identify a subject.

Following the discussion, the poets met with faculty, students, and community arts folks for dinner at Unity House. The space was abuzz with questions about boundaries and meeting places between biology and poetry, and between sciences and arts genrally. We topped off the day with a public reading by Alison and Liz at the Quimby Library that was attended by over 40 listeners. View a video recording (thanks to librarian Sandy Olson) here.

Later in the spring, I got an email about summer research at Unity, including Unity's Hemlock Ecosystem Management Study. Dr. Amy Arnett, the project manager, tells us that "HEMS (the Hemlock Ecosystem Management Study) is a multi-year study of how loss of eastern hemlock trees affects ecosystems and people in Maine. Mature hemlock trees that create unique aesthetic and environmental conditions in the forests they dominate face infestation by the expanding range of the hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA). . . . The range of the invasive HWA is expanding northward; it has arrived in southern Maine."

HEMS, I learned, is already integrated across multiple disciplines. Amy Arnett is an ecologist who specializes in the study of invertebrates, like the ants of the hemlock forest. Brent Bibles is a wildlife biologist who has set up deer exclosures on the sites to study herbivory patterns. Erika Latty's expertise is in forest ecology and plant biology. Kathleen Dunckel brings her knowledge of geospatial information systems (GIS) to the process of land use planning and resource management.

Recalling Alison's description of her observation and writing at a Douglas Fir research site, and Liz's description of how her work in the Arctic inspired her to write about the lives of Arctic and Antarctic explorers raised the questions "Why not hemlocks? and "Why not us?" And now, four people from the arts are meeting with four people from the sciences. Sculptor Kimberly Callas (who took these photos of a HEMS field site), poet/photographer Margot Kelley, writer Melissa Coleman, and poet/multimedia artist Susie O'Keeffe are each approaching our subject -- HEMS -- in unique ways. Stay tuned to see what happens next!

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