On today’s walk, I fantasize about an art show featuring the decades of student contribution to the woods. Students current and past, maybe even deceased, standing by their pieces. It’s often difficult to find a single spot in the woods completely absent of some creative addition.
Among the most notable are: the skeleton of a desk and chair, long decayed, fastened thirty feet up an oak tree; an altar-like assortment of mirrors, clay figurines, and painted glass that’s only visible in the warmer months, freed of the forest’s detritus; various handcrafted wind chimes that, like the desk, are placed at an inexplicable altitude; the ruins of some wall or dam, now serving as a canvas to the unskilled graffiti artist; et cetera.
Another gallery in the art show would be dedicated to student forts. There is Kai’s Fort, named after a former student that someone surely knew, which isn’t really a fort but more a felled tree with a fire pit adjacent. There is the Bomb Shelter, an ancient waist-high triangle of stacked logs littered with beer cans with outdated labels, the ground inside littered with long-decayed cigarette butts. Its roof is caving in and the earth below it has turned to either puddle or slow-moving stream. There is the Gnome Home, a large teepee-style structure ringed with intricately laced vines and strings, many supporting dangling bits of glass, braided thread, flowers real and fake. Its name is etched into a nearby poplar, doming the hat of an impressively detailed gnome. Recently the fort part of the Gnome Home fell, and the branches were repurposed into more secure walls.
The show would feature student art at its prime. The Gnome Home would tower above its spectators, the Bomb Shelter would serve as such, Kai would explain that Who really defines a fort? A student (alum?) would work at their desk, thirty feet up. The breeze would always catch the wind chimes exactly right.
The art of the woods is the art of Guilford, and the art of Guilford is often the art of the woods. These installations, although not strictly natural, give the land much of their character as it is now known. To me, and to many students on the four-year cycle, I would assume, the state of the woods redefines “natural.” It was like this when I found it, and within four years it couldn’t possibly transform too drastically. Perhaps it is the impossibility of knowing the source of each thing’s creation, the solidity in their existence in this place. A structure, work of art, could have been built the morning I stumble upon it, and I could accept it as old as time.