A note on some trees in the Rio Grande bosque

Dirt path flanked by twisting tree trunks topped with green leaves.

Bosque as garden

Lissa and I ended a bosque walk yesterday lingering on the bench from which the photo above was taken, talking about aesthetic vision. Her art has long focused on textures and patterns, and we stopped again and again so she could take pictures of leaves – not individual leaves, but leaves in community, golden on the ground from last year, fresh baby green as the cottonwoods have been leafing out over the last ten days.

On its own, my mind does entirely different things with this scene – sussing out the age of the cottonwoods, the flood history, the management processes of tree thinning and trails, the moral baggage of the different words I might use to describe the elms, the deep stories I might write.

And then Lissa drew my attention to the leaves.

The trail north from Rio Bravo Boulevard followed the river’s edge, with water backing into the shallows, wetting the ankles of willows that have made their homes on a shelf cut along the river’s edge to create habitat for a fish. Lissa stopped, again and again, to shoot pictures of the water and the trunks of the willows.

Four decades of life with this artist has been a joy, but that word – “joy” – doesn’t do justice to the depth of the experience. We walk. Lissa sees something, stops. It’s a thing I hadn’t seen, or hadn’t seen in the particular way she did. I see her seeing it, look, and see it in a new way. It is the aesthetic foundation of my being in the world.

There is a continuum here, which Lissa and I talked about as we sat on the bench. My father was an artist. Before he died, I’d been to this same bit of forest, looked at these same trees, with him. This way of being in the world, the aesthetic foundation gifted by life adjacent to an artist, has been there from the beginning. For all but a handful of my 65 years, I have lived with a working artist.

It’s a defining characteristic of who I am.



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