The goal of this project is to connect my clients, an urban family of 4, with the amazing rural land they own in upstate New York as their second home. Simplicity, ease of maintenance and the use of materials taken from the 90 acres are the guideposts that orient the project. This work is a sculptural examination of the subtle traces of cultural history and ecological processes on site.
The soil on the project is horrendous. It is a greasy mix of shale and clay that is prone both to drought and standing water depending on the ambient meteorological conditions. The deer pressure is intense with upwards of 40 deer per square mile. No irrigation system exists, nor can it as the well supplies very little water. The wind and cold conditions are extreme. This site was formerly a high pasture for cattle that had been left fallow as a result of its low productivity for a few decades before my clients bought this land. The clients are not avid gardeners. They are quite busy and they live on this site primarily on the weekends.
With these limitations the options for a traditional garden are small. So any “gardening” is limited to two small raised beds inside stonewalls. All other plantings are of the toughest native plants found on the property. But the real opportunity in terms of landscape architecture and the place where I found the greatest potential to build client connections to the land was in the woods. I was helped in this in that my clients have a strong desire to commune with the land.
In this ongoing project my job is to find and connect interesting parts of this land with a path that is about two miles long at this time. It continues to grow. The path starts and ends near the house. It makes a twisted loop through wet thickets, late stage successional fields, rocky outcrops, dark forests and miraculous heights. After using my skills to identify and cut the path the challenge was to provide visual cues to urban dwellers so they could consistently navigate this trail, which passes by no houses, nor roads. The images presented here are of a series of sculptural trail markers, inspired by my own impressions of the woods and made with the materials available to me on the site. My thought was that these markers would act as navigational and directional aids to help my clients confidently and thoughtfully walk through their woods.
In terms of sustainability the project presented here required tiny fossil fuel inputs. Most of the work is done by hand. There is no vehicle access, so walking is the only means of getting here. Biodeisel (B99) is the fuel often employed in the vehicles used to commute to this job-site. The 46 rough sawn hemlock boards are locally harvested and sawn and combined with about 1000 steel nails and some galvanized wire, they compose the complete materials budget for the work presented here. The stuff of this project is gotten from the land where the project is located. This is a conscious attempt to engage an older style of sustainability where the materials immediately available for the most part define the material scope of the project.
Instead of planting, I removed and cut primarily non-native invasive plants to provide an open path about six feet wide. Instead of tidying the fallen debris, I left it and even augmented it to define turns in the path, restrict access to dead ends and generally elevate the impression of the complexity, darkness and inhumanity of the woods.
As I went further and further into the woods this impression of the inhumanity of nature began to be assaulted in my mind with the idea that the woods was in fact sounding the echoes of the farmers, hunters, teenagers, and Indian tribes whose use of the land is both certain and unknowable. My imagination became the only means of access to these invisible prior and current visitors to the land. I am not sure whether nature was humanized or humanity was naturalized as I considered this and built the work presented here.
The work is eerie. People who walk the path described intense, wondrous sometimes even fearful experiences. Because no machinery is used in the construction the land is preserved, erosion is minimized. My work is subtle and my intention is that the drama of the land itself and the thinking it kindles, at once both austere and extravagant, becomes the show for the people who visit.
TEXT by Jon Piasecki
IMAGES Courtesy of Jon Piasecki