James Trainor


Old Growth

Old Growth

Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less / Withdraws into its happiness; / The mind, that ocean where each kind / Does straight its own resemblance find / Yet it creates, transcending these / Far other worlds, and other seas; / Annihilating all that’s made / To a green thought in a green shade.

—Andrew Marvell, “The Garden,” ca. 1668

Cabinet, Issue 48, Summer 2013, Trees


Driving back and forth over the same lonely ribbons of cracked and frost-heaved tarmac road one summer afternoon in central Maine in 2009, searching for the remnants of Pratt Farm, I ultimately found that I had already passed it several times without even knowing it. What I was looking for was a defunct pastoral farm turned Land Art site (in the black-and-white 1970s-era photographs in my worn copy of Earthworks and Beyond, it had the clipped turfy look of a patch of boreal tundra fringed by distant evergreens) but the tall dark stands of swaying spruce and fir and birch, the wild groves of alder and swales thick with late-August under- growth, bore no relationship to the pictures in the book. Where were the sod breastworks? The coiled stone spirals? The geometric labyrinth? The reverse pyramid? The Neolithic mounds? This was clearly a different place.

Retracing my steps, I drove back down another road named French Settlement which dead-ended in nothing more settled than a bog while checking with OCD regularity the simple directions I had found online (back in the city they had seemed almost annoyingly exact, allowing little room for adventure or mystery or the thrill of discovery, but now they revealed themselves as blithely notional and almost glib, written by someone who’d clearly never been there and never would be). This was beginning to have all the trappings of creeping failure. It had already been a trip of near-misses—a narrowly averted moose collision on a dusky highway, a tire blowout at the crest of a remote mountain pass—and now, after a significant detour, my search for a long-lost Land Art site was threatening to become a pilgrimage to absolutely nowhere. Earlier in the day, at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture twenty miles away, I had mentioned my quest to find the legendary site, anticipating amusing field trip anecdotes and critical opinionating from the artists-in-residence for whom Pratt Farm must surely have been an obligatory stop on any grand tour of local art offerings. After some polite, quizzical nodding of heads, it became clear that no one, not even the school’s director, had ever heard of the place, or its creator, artist James Pierce. That should have been a warning sign that something had gone awry, that Pierce and Pratt Farm had failed to garner a place on the canonical list of Land Art destinations...

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