Fifty years ago last month, the Wilderness Act of 1964 was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, creating a legal definition of wilderness in the United States and protecting by statute federally owned land previously preserved only by executive action.
The Wilderness Act Performance Series, which celebrates the act’s 50th anniversary, is the brainchild of Atlanta-based composer Stephen Wood. Wood has invested much personal time and passion into the project, but is quick to give credit to the panoply of artists and supporters who have engaged in it. The series began September 14 at the Shambhala Tibetan Meditation Center and runs through October 12, presenting works created explicitly for the celebration by a total of 23 composers, visual artists, photographers and poets, in locations the project has tagged as relevant nature preserves.
The second, which ArtsATL attended, was held Sunday, September 21, at Woodlands Garden of Decatur. The garden’s small but cheerful pavilion, redolent with the smell of cedar, was venue for the day’s musical performance. Eric Fontaine’s “Condensed History of Woodlands” and Stewart Engart’s “Amid Tumult” were the compositions premiered, both scored for violin, viola, saxophone, piano, guitar and percussion. Each is an amiable enough work, though not particularly distinctive. Nevertheless, the composers seemed to embrace their experiences of the garden with sincerity in their music.
In his program notes, Engart calls Woodlands Garden a “hospitable region of wilderness surrounded by inhospitable urban sprawl.” That is not really the case, however, measured by the act’s own definition of wilderness. Although a nicely wooded enclave, it is a partially cultivated garden, not wilderness.
Witness the area just outside the pavilion where one part of Edie Morton’s “Floating Gardens” was hung from a tree. Like her indoor pieces for the event, a mumiere entitled “Deer Blossom” made from debarked holly and leaf-embedded paper, and the illuminated encaustic painting “Owl Moon,” this smallest part of “Floating Gardens” felt more at home with the surrounding natural-ish environment, demanding a much closer look at its organic detail.
I observed about a dozen people step up to it to get that closer look. After they moved away, I positioned to take photos of Morton’s work, then began hearing severe admonitions coming from a woman in a little green cart. It seems I crossed a nearly invisible line made of small stones buried in the ground. Stepping back to the path side of the stones, I apologized. And no, I did not step on a plant.
But that was evidently not enough for her as she continued to rail. She concluding her acrid scolding with the emphatic phrase “and I am the Gardener!” Her little green vehicle, a kind that would not even be allowed on actual wilderness land, then scuttled away down the path. However righteous the indignation, and there is some merit to it, it was delivered in a manner that does not win supporters. My intent had been to go listen to the poetry of Stephen Wing, but given the circumstances I decided otherwise and departed.
The third series event took place this past Sunday, September 28, at the Outdoor Activity Center in West End. But fear not: two more remain in the series.
Coming up this Sunday, October 5, is the penultimate presentation at the 2,550-acre Davidson-Arabia Mountain Preserve in southeast DeKalb County, home of the rare native plant species Diamorpha smallii. This penultimate event will feature the works of composers Myles Brown and Connor Way, poet Abi Konnig, photographer Simon Salt and visual artist Janna Dudley.
Chamber Cartel, the music ensemble in residence for the first four weeks, will perform Brown’s “Happy Trees” and Way’s “I Wander into Stillness.” The musicians are saxophonists Tim Crump and Brandyn Taylor, guitarist Thomas Avery, violinist Tracy Woodard and Chamber Cartel director and percussionist Caleb Herron.
The final event takes place October 12 at the Chattahoochee Nature Center, featuring works by composers Sarah Hersh, Nathan Bales and Stephen Wood; photographer Eric Bowles; and poet Peter Peteet. The music will be performed by Clarinets for Conservation.