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“The Field Yearns” is a woodcut by Emily Gray Koehler inspired by the poem “Night’s Testimony” by Susan Stevens Chambers, which ponders a once ubiquitous natural world now irrevocably changed by the actions of humanity. While her prints have often considered the concepts of time and perspective, with “The Field Yearns” Koehler sought to represent, from an arguably jarring perspective, the lonely monocultural change conceived in the minds and executed by the hands of man.
The old tree is long dead. Most of her once majestic form has returned to the soil to enrich future generations. Yet, she has one more function to perform before she is consumed by decay and rot. In spring, nestled among the shelf mushrooms and mosses growing along her hollow prostrate trunk, a seedling sprouts. It is the offspring of her offspring and will grow strong, closer to the nourishing sun than its grounded siblings. With time the seedling reaches tall and wraps its eager roots around the dead tree, feeding off her composting nutrients and reaching for the loamy earth below. Someday, she will be gone, a part of the rich forest humus, but even then her shape will remain, a vacancy sculpted by the roots of her progeny.
From the cooled comfort of my vehicle, I can see that these lands are both alien and unmistakably beautiful. I’ve read about their formation: nearby tectonic explosions, inland seas with strange inhabitants, and millennia of erosion. It sounds dramatic, but I know it happened slowly, too slowly for a mortal life to truly grasp. As I step from the comfort of my car into the blasting heat, I realize that this beauty, this history, has teeth. This land is the concept of change made manifest in the most unforgiving ways. Its beauty is nothing without its severity. I snap a few photos and return to the safety of mobile air-conditioning, like all the other tourists and I realize, I am the alien here.