Arboretum Paths: Capturing inspiring moments in nature

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A moment of stillness is captured as a Swallowtail Butterfly sips nectar from a rare LeConte’s Thistle at the Arboretum’s Hillside Bog Natural Area. (Photo: Lana Gramlich)

By Pat Drackett, Director, The Crosby Arboretum
MSU Extension Service

Last week’s column focused on secret worlds in nature that await our discovery – places where you may not have looked closely before. This week, after the gallery opening of Alex North’s incredible photographs which portray the beauty of Mississippi Gulf Coast landscapes and bird life, I’ve been pondering how people are motivated to capture moments in the natural world that have inspired them, and convey the splendor they have experienced to others.

Such expertly accomplished works transport the viewer to the moment when the camera shutter clicked. They may also motivate you to spend more time in nature, and record and communicate your own impressions when you are immersed in the natural world.

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Many legendary classical composers, for example, Claude Debussy, Wolfgang Mozart, and Ludwig van Beethoven, have said that time spent in nature inspired their music. Painters in the American Luminist style, such Martin Johnson Heade, Frederic E. Church, and Albert Bierdstadt, sought to convey the vastness of nature in their works, and focused on understanding the qualities of captured light, and how this could be used to bring a scene alive for a viewer.

The American Luminist movement began in the mid 1800’s, and branched off from the more well-known Hudson River School. If you’ve never heard of American Luminism, take a spin on the Internet to see why I found it easy to become obsessed with this style in Art History. These paintings were able to transport a viewer from their fast-paced city environment to exotic destinations such as the American West, or South America.

I would imagine attending a New York City gallery opening to see one of Church’s paintings, such as “Niagara Falls” – this piece can evoke vertigo in the viewer through the bird’s eye perspective of powerful water falling over the sheer drop.

Church’s “Heart of the Andes” measures five by ten feet! These immense paintings would be displayed in a darkened room. People would sit on benches to view the spotlighted scene, using opera glasses to pick up smaller details, such as a bird resting on a tree branch. No wonder over 100,000 people paid a quarter each to experience the painting, which Mark Twain raved about when it stopped in St. Louis on a national tour.

Conduct an Internet search for the keywords “contemporary landscape painters”. Who are your favorites? Perhaps they will be Georgia O’Keeffe or Wolf Kahn. Artists’ life stories can make for interesting summer reading. Search for the photographers who recorded majestic American landscape scenes, such as Ansel Adams or the Kolb Brothers.

Nature can also inspire poetry and other writing. You may have been introduced to Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson in high school, or devoured a nature journal by John James Audubon or William Bartram. There are countless authors to explore.

The pathways at the Crosby Arboretum offer you many inspiring subjects for photography, drawing, painting, or writing projects. We urge you to visit!

If you enjoy writing, consider attending the July workshop, “Bringing Nature to Life in Your Writing”, with Mary Beth Magee. Mary Beth has just released “Ambush at the Arboretum”. In her workshop, she will reveal how to bring nature and your writing to life through a few simple techniques, tips, and exercises to help you “find your voice in nature. The program is Saturday, July 29, from 10 AM to Noon. Call 601-799-2311 to guarantee your seat. Space is limited. Fee for non-member adults is $7.

Interested in beekeeping, but not sure where to begin? Did you know that in addition to producing tasty honey, bees go hand in hand with gardens? These pollinating insects offer the benefit of increasing your yield of flowers, fruit, and seed. Attend the “Beekeeping for Beginners” workshop at the Arboretum on Thursday, June 29 from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. with Dr. Jeff Harris, Extension professor and research apiculturist, Mississippi State University. Dr. Harris will cover everything you need to know to get started with beekeeping, and how to grow and manage your first colony of bees. The program is free to members and $5 for non-members. Space is limited, so please call soon to sign up.

For more information, please see or call 601-799-2311. The Arboretum is located in Picayune, I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road (south of Walmart and adjacent to I-59).