I used to collect little acorns and other pretty natural things on my hikes, but then I read an artist friend's FB post and it changed how I thought about it. Here are Amy Lehr Miller's thoughts:
For the most part, people collecting a few rocks to paint or taking shells home isn’t something I have a problem with, I’ve done the same. Long ago, my best friend, Tammy, did her art thesis and symbolically addressed the issue of only taking from the environment and not giving back. She made wire cages and put rocks and stones in them with the intent that people participating having the responsibility to photograph them being returned to natural places by water.
Each participant of Petro Rockhounding, Inc. payed $25 and signed a contract. The money went to an environmental charity to help protect Narragansett Bay. If they kept the items as decorations on their desks, or such, for too long, they would be collected and reinstated back into the project. Tammy did just that, even to a professor at the college!
Today, I came across some chat groups and the comments made me feel sick to my stomach, as people showed hoards of seashells and rocks, and everyone was salivating and there was a palpable sense of greed as people talked about going to this place or that, and gathering big hauls, or pouring resin over whole collections.
If this wasn’t a huge trend, and spread so widely online, through photos, it wouldn’t concern me, but it does. It reminded me of the disgust I felt as a child in beach gift shops where everything was made with so many shells glued together. (Tacky was beside the point.) As a kid, I really disliked the feeling of exploiting nature as commodity, on that kind of scale. We never threw away the beach shells or pebbles we collected as kids, and it wasn’t a huge collection with all the years added, but as Tammy observed in her essay, “They sit, away from air and water, sun and wind, in dark drawers, getting dusty in cubbies never looked at. It’s ok to cherish collections, I do, but how many do you have that can be returned?”
Some of the shells, I have kept for the garden, but when we go to the beach these days, I return those old shells we gathered decades ago, and the new ones I find are only a handful and destined to be returned again.
Since Tammy’s passing, I’ve released some of her rocks and passed on some to others to release. I’ve got one more I need to let go of (emotional tug) and so this is a prompt. And two more are promised to friends in other countries... The feeling of greed is something that bothers me, and doesn’t pertain simply to money. I have a lot of material items and am on a journey to keep shedding that kind of weight. The beach taught me that I craved that, a couple of years ago... it’s a long process, but I was inspired in a small sweet bedroom by the sea, in a cottage built in the 1920s, and a little vanity, and a dresser that could hold enough clothes, and my closet with three sundresses, and two pairs of shoes. I felt happier there, of course because it was the beach, but in part because it was so spare in that lovely room. I didn’t need things, I was enjoying the people, activities, calm, my surroundings and my thoughts.
This is my meditation to share today. What am I holding onto that holds me back? What do I take from nature that ends up hidden away and forgotten?
What things am I greedy about and how can I begin to let some of that go, in order to gain freedom? What things bring me joy but don’t need to be hoarded?
Who could I be if I spent less time organizing things, looking for things, buying things, or collecting so much?
Just wow. Amy's words and Tammy's project resonated with me on the deepest level. I love looking at natural objects. I love them so much that I make art about them! But I also know that I have participated in this theft and not appreciated these objects enough to justify my taking.
A displaced seashell should be a hundred grains of sand churning in the ocean, a piece of collected lichen should still be anchored to a tree stump and home to a beetle, and a stolen acorn should have already started its journey in the soil growing into the grandest tree in the forest or perhaps it fed the young mother who would raise a den of precious baby squirrels this coming season.
I believe the ripple effects that we create matter. So, instead of bringing home acorns and interrupting those oak trees, I started creating these mini paintings that I call my Lucky Acorns.
"Lucky Acorn", acrylic paint and gel pen on recycled paper, 3"x3" and 5"x5" framed, $15 each. Find them in my shop here.
So, when I stumbled upon a clearing in the woods filled with tiny black acorns the very next weekend, I laughed! They told me I must be on the right path.