The Mississippi River flows just beyond the buildings on the University of Minnesota’s East Bank where my office is. Most days, as I have done throughout my 16 years here, I walk along the river to the classrooms where I teach. It would be hard to find a person on campus who doesn’t share a nostalgic fondness for the river as we glance at it, drive over it, and jog and bike across it. We are happy to claim the river under the bridges, across the…
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Imagine pouring out a glass of water. Where does the water go?
After soaking your computer or floor, it would eventually flow to join a greater body of water and become part of a larger drainage system. Where I grew up, outside of Milwaukee, my water would join with Lake Michigan. In the Twin Cities, where I went to university, it would flow into the Mississippi River. From Jackson, Wyoming, where I’m writing now, it would combine with the Snake River and flow into the Pacific Ocean. But Glacier National Park, where I worked in the summer of 2017, has a unique little point called Triple Divide Peak.
The aspiring young undergraduate scientists envision fieldwork as a romantic escape from the office cubicle, classroom desk, and seemingly endless pile of homework. Working alongside experts in their field, they anticipate working in the wildest regions of the world: dense tropical forests, remote mountain ranges, and distant glacial rivers. They see themselves on the forefront of groundbreaking discoveries: truly shattering the scientific community with a cure for Malaria, discovery of a new species, or theory of planetary evolution.
Wilderness is a feeling. It is more than that, of course—wilderness is the wind and the water, the turtles and coyotes, all that exists beyond and around and within our human selves. But when we speak of wilderness, we’re so often speaking about a feeling: that feeling of smallness, strangely comforting, or of connection, or of wonder at how much there is in the world.
When I’m asked to speak about the work I do as an artist, a cultural organizer, and Collaborative Director of Water Bar & Public Studio, I often struggle with two important points of departure: How do I introduce myself when I have so many different roles in my artistic and organizing life? And where do I begin telling the story of this complex, evolving project—which I did not imagine or develop on my own, and which is more of ecosystem that I tend with others than it is a definable creative project?