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The woods, the weeds, the village

weedslo Local filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Village” opened this weekend. It’s a story about an isolated village surrounded by a spooky woods.

So I thought I’d talk about some woods surrounded by a village — the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, 500 acres of forest and field encircled by Philadelphia’s Roxborough section. Roxborough’s not spooky but I sure did feel its presence when walking through the woods.

The weeds

Just for starters and a little off subject if not off the trail, look how glorious the weeds look. (top image) You’d pull the suckers right out of your own yard, but here, left to their own devices weeds are lush ground cover — and much better than grass.

The village


When I took my walk last Saturday to see Extinct/Extant, 7 new outdoor installations along the Grey Fox trail, I kept listening for birds. I heard a few but what I heard alll along the trail without really wanting to was the sound of cheering moms and dads at little league games in the neighboring baseball field across Hagy’s Mill Rd.

I can’t say the noise spoiled the experience but it separated me from nature and reinforced the idea of the woods beseiged by the village. (that’s Brian Tolle‘s “Nature is a Personality,” a quote from H.D.Thoreau running on the ground along side the trail.)

The art


Mostly you don’t need art when you’re in the woods — the place is chock full of material to direct your thoughts. But the Schuylkill Center uses art as a kind of ecology teaching tool — like a little time out along the trail to think somebody else’s directed thought.

“Extinct/Extant,” organized in conjunction with Philadelphia Sculptors and part of the Big Nothing festival, is a somber exhibit, as dictated by its subject matter — life and death, the extant and extinct of the show’s title.

Tolle’s “Nature” and “Soiled” by Jackie Brookner, Liat Margolis and Alex Robinson, (image above) draw your eyes and your thoughts down to the earth, dirt, soil that is the beginning of and final resting place for life. Brookner and company’s piece, a plastic shed buried in the ground with the dirt mound beside it, was downright funereal. I can’t say I thought about ecology when I encountered it. But I thought about funerals and people I miss.

Darla Jackson‘s “Shadows of the past,” (not shown)a sculptural installation that was like a 3-D line drawing of a pack of running wolves, was a good piece but was almost invisible, which was the point, of course, about wolves which no longer roam these parts.

Sylvia Benitez‘s “Wrap Song,” (also not shown) was perhaps the most lyrical and life-imbued of the lot. Benitez attached what looked like wagon wheel halves onto the trunks of trees.


She called the half-wheels tree harps and while I never would have gotten that reading without her artist’s statement, I thought the piece evoked something of our pioneer past and the thought that forests carry the memories of bygone eras. I love that thought.

Knox Cummin‘s “Galactic Nest” (image above) made a dark resting point on the trail, as did Jan Tomilson Master‘s “6 Hold (for Penn).” (image below)

Both works used sticks scavenged from the site to create small shelters that, once inside, either blocked out the woods (Master’s piece) or turned your thoughts to darker matter (Cummin).


In the Center’s main building, are the artists proposals for their works are displayed in the lobby. I happen to love sculptors’ drawings and Cummin’s drawings (image below) were lovely schematics.

(Master and Edward Dormer also had some nice working drawings on view).


Dormer, whose piece, “Landing: East West Cycle” has a kind of Christo the gardner aesthetic, wrapped the ground around several trees in a grove that’s overrun with invasive Japanese stilt grass. (image right)

It might have been a little too much gardner and not enough Christo but Dormer’s other work on the trail, “Cut Here,” is a complete honey.


Libby wrote about “Cut Here” in her post and I’ll just say here that I liked the work very much and thought its simple idea and simple execution combined for perhaps the most eco-evocative piece in the woods. (image)

By the way, local filmmaker Peter Rose shot film of Dormer’s “Cut Here.” (image below, sorry you have to squint to see the pink bands around the tree trunks)

Rose told me he included Dormer’s piece as a three-minute segment in a larger work he made, “Flat Rock,” which includes ten short observations about landscape.


Rose produced the work with high definition equipment for the HD satellite channel “Voom.” I’m working on more information on where and when to see Rose’s video, which sounds nifty.

Meanwhile, check the Weekly (PW) next week for more thoughts.