“How do we know the forest? How does the forest know us? As climate change alters the landscape and its ecology, how do we bridge our past experiences of this place to our future hopes?”
I recently heard the Institute on the Environment’s managing director, Lewis Gilbert, talk about interdisciplinary work in terms of “boundary objects” — topics that can unite people, such as a banker and a butcher at a dinner party discovering they are both into baseball. At a recent IonE-sponsored workshop I co-facilitated, the beautiful and changing forest at the University of Minnesota’s Cloquet Forestry Center was the boundary object for scientists, artists and community members. “Forest Trails & Forest Tales: Exploring Place, Story, and Climate Change at the Cloquet Forestry Center,” was held June 21-23 and engaged many perspectives on the history and nature of the center, how it is being altered by climate change, and what it means to both adapt and respond to those changes.
The Cloquet Forestry Center is the primary research and education forest for the University and is located within the Fond du Lac Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa Reservation, with which the University of Minnesota partners on forest management and educational programming. Several band members presented at the workshop and offered their perspectives on the land, including artist and cultural museum director Jeff Savage, community member and retired educator Vern Zacher, and 13 Moons Fond du Lac Tribal College Extension program coordinator Nikki Crowe. For this community, the land is integrated with its identity, tradition and daily life. Jeff described how the creation of a traditional canoe, for example, offers a chance for older community members to teach youth to appreciate the forest and about natural cycles of bark growth as they learn from the hard work and pleasures of building something both useful and beautiful together. It is also an opportunity to raise awareness of the future for birch trees as the forest changes.IonE resident fellows Peter Reich and and Rebecca Montgomery (College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences) and IonE Boreal Forest Project forest ecologist Emily Peters shared research projects that reveal existing indicators of climate change and predict its future implications. Also discussed was phenology, the observation of timing of biological events as they relate to climate. This is something many can relate to as they observe events such as flowers blooming and butterflies emerging. Extending the pleasures of nature watching to include citizen science can help track the influence of climate change on the delicate timing of ecological interactions. Workshop participants also explored future climate implications as they visited the B4Warmed research site, where rings of heat lamps placed in the forest simulate predicted warming and help determine which tree species will be favored as the climate shifts.
University of Minnesota art faculty, including David Feinberg (College of Liberal Arts) and Alex Lubet (School of Music), and recent graduate student and eco-artist Tanya Gravening brought themes of healing and relevance, integrating personal experience with global issues and engaging presenters and workshop participants of all backgrounds in interactive sessions. Storytelling was another theme as English professor Dan Philippon (College of Liberal Arts) guided participants in writing as a means of exploring their experience of the workshop and its meaning. Dawn Newman, University of Minnesota Extension Indian community liaison and educator, facilitated a discussion of what the forest meant to each participant and guided small groups in making collaborative sculptures that expressed visions of both hope and fear for the future of the forest.There were many more presenters, and the conversation overflowed as participants each brought stories and insights from their own roles as artists, educators, naturalists and more. It will take some time to digest all the connections that were made. Some will appear in a fall exhibition associated with the project, and some will be developed as seeds of new conversations we bring out of the forest to our many lives in the larger world.
The “Forest Trails & Forest Tales: Exploring Place, Story, and Climate Change at the Cloquet Forestry Center” workshop is part of a project called “Conversation-E: Science + Art in Dialogue and Service to Sustainability,” led by Jonee Kulman Brigham (Center for Sustainable Building Research, College of Design), Roslye Ultan (College of Continuing Education) Peter Reich, Rebecca Montgomery and an advisory team within and beyond the University.
The second part of the project is a fall exhibition, “Tales of Environmental Turbulence: The Common Trail of Art & Science,” to be held at the Institute on the Environment Oct. 16, 2013, through Jan. 6, 2014, featuring artists and artist-scientists collaborations exploring responses to environmental disruption. Look for the call for artists, exhibition announcements, and more information at conversation-e.blogspot.com. The workshop was made possible by a mini grant from the Institute on the Environment, community partner GATE (Greening and Art Together Evolving), Cloquet Forestry Center, and the contributed time and talent of the advisory group and workshop presenters.
Jonee Kulman Brigham is a research fellow with the Center for Sustainable Building Research in the College of Design and co-founder with Roslye Ultan of GATE. Photos courtesy of Jonee Kulman Brigham.
Intro photo: IonE resident fellow Peter Reich (CFANS) describes the B4Warmed research project and how it helps predict which trees will fare better under changing climate scenarios.