Unavoidable Life

by Read Baldwin '84

They say you are as likely to be struck by lightning as to become a landscape painter. I have certainly had more than a few moments of thinking, in the words of The Talking Heads, "Well, how did I get here?"

Did it start with my middle-school backyard organic vegetable garden, the one I later photographed for my college applications? It was the seventies, after all.

And then there were the eccentric New Hampshire cousins who founded the macrobiotic commune where I ate integral rice with shoyu and just-picked wild mushrooms and arugula, not common fare in the suburbs of my childhood.

I also had a younger cousin who came home to build fairy rings after an extensive internship at Findhorn, a place where forty-pound cabbages are grown miraculously in the humus-deprived hardscrabble of Scotland's north coast.

Some aspects of my line of work give me genuine contrarian pleasure. No one can accuse me of selling out. I never had to consult those job-growth charts to plot my future. I can feel that in my work I am speaking about something that is important. Some of my paintings suggest the earth may in fact be imperiled, and I am trying to find a way to articulate the sense of... hmm... dread?

I particularly value the redemptive spiritual connections that evolve through the slow and careful articulation of my visions of the land. These are the types of experiences and feelings we rarely have time to appreciate in our everyday lives.

And yet it is important to remember that we are surrounded by the opportunity for these transcendent moments of beauty. I'll never forget the day I was walking back up the Hill, past the Kenyon football field, after my work-study job in the Wertheimer Fieldhouse laundry room, when I was struck by the heartbreaking sight of the golden-hour light on the distant fields to the east.

It was a calling toward a life that was becoming unavoidable, a life that certainly beats getting struck by lightning.

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