My ranting about wild nature’s “sublime” enchantments in my next column will reveal how nature immersion and deep time can clarify our understanding of our own “feelings.” We also generate thinking about our appropriate human role in nature.
Our species dominates Mother Gaia quite thoroughly, and often not in Her best interests. Since we co-habit this fair planet with millions of other carbon-based life forms, we do have a responsibility to them to rectify our errors. Sixteen-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg succinctly summarized this responsibility when she caustically charged the world’s adults with stealing her generation’s “dreams and happiness.”
In some very strange ways, what we’re observing today is what artist Tamiko Thiel has portrayed in her Seattle and Munich AR installations titled “Gardens of the Anthropocene.” Wearing augmented reality (AR) glasses or using an iPhone, the visitor sees various false shapes and futuristic designs soaring about in Thiel’s work.
In her colorful Munich subway AR installation, visitors “saw” celluloid bull-whip kelp swimming about, mutant mollusks eating dead neon tubes and the obvious rise of sea level.
We could call Thiel’s dark presentiments of our shared near-future a “Reverse of the Sublime” — where human feelings get distorted and depressed while visualizing how the onrushing Anthropocene Age hammers the mother planet (and threatens our species’ literal survival).
Yet it’s still 2019 CE right now, and those of us lucky enough to dwell in Santa Barbara have many natural resources where we can romp and playfully immerse ourselves in idyllic green nature. A nearby example is the possibility to hike/bike/jog on the seaside bluffs at Santa Barbara Shores County Park in west Goleta. (See 4.1.1. McKinney.)
Thus, on autumn’s first day, my spouse and I set out at 8:30 a.m. from the Santa Barbara Shores Park (and Sperling Preserve) parking lot opposite Ellwood School. Heading south toward the sea, we noticed the birds and the lack of other humans around.
We were celebrating 51 years of marriage, and we both recalled jogging and biking there as callow UCSB students in the late 1960s. We chose to avoid entering the tangled eucalyptus “forest” of the Sperling Preserve near the parking lot, and instead swung wide around it, then tramped through a deep ravine (a lot of bicycle usage) and quickly found ourselves atop the fabled bluffs with spectacular views all around.
Peering inland, we enjoyed the varmint-ridden fields and the local foothills rising up beyond. When we stared down the coast toward the UCSB campus, we beheld Devereux Point’s misty silhouette through the tall eucalyptus saplings. It was still misty and fairly cool even at 9 a.m., and it pleasantly amazed us to observe very few humans about even on a lovely Saturday morning.
Two pairs of joggers trotted by, and we noticed two separate cyclists pedaling in the distance. There are genuine opportunities to relocate deep time out there, even so close to Goleta and UCSB.
We ambled along on the bluff tops for about 40 minutes, and we didn't turn inland until we almost reached Devereux Point, which remained enshrouded in salubrious mist.
Some of the snowy plover nest area restrictions have been removed, and although we searched a bit for vernal ponds, we couldn’t locate any on the 2½-hour easy hike. We looped back to our original parking lot at Santa Barbara Shores Park by coming closer to Goleta and then weaving about in dense eucalyptus shade and jumble. The entire loop, which can be cut short almost anytime, is about 3½ miles roundtrip.
Just as in life itself, the bluffs feature many footpaths, mostly unsigned, and so remain open to cruising through without a rational plan. Along the return loop, we looked into the Coronado Butterfly Preserve.
Nature’s famous uplift and “oceanic effect” contributed to the 19th century’s love of the ravishing “sublime.” This ecstatic sublime effect is easily found on these Santa Barbara Shores Park bluffs, and such timeless feelings literally coincide with deep time sensations. Blue sky, misty outlines of cliffs and white-rimmed surf below, brown earth and many paths beckoning, this area calls out for rambling and exploration.
However, artist Thiel’s negative and “mutant” imaginings in her “Gardens of the Anthropocene” offers the option of imagining a “Reverse of the Sublime” (effect) that may have already started. She shows much of Seattle underwater, with bizarre mutant critters swimming about eating discarded batteries in the new warm seas.
Thiel explains that her “Gardens of the Anthropocene” installation “posits a science-fiction future in which native aquatic and terrestrial plants have mutated to cope with the increasing unpredictable and erratic climate swings.” Basically, her augmented reality work supplies us with some images about this emerging Anthropocene — it won’t be an emergency if we can reduce population and middle-class lifestyles.
My twin German-American grandsons are almost 7 years old, and they live in Munich where Thiel created one of her beguiling AR installations of the “Gardens of the Anthropocene.” European children are far ahead of the benumbed American kids in their understanding that mother Gaia is on her knees — our house is on fire!
What can we do? Work on ourselves and simplify our households. My partner and I have given up beef and pork, milk and overmuch sugar; we walk or take public transport when possible. These are tiny steps, of course, but the true healing work does begin at home with oneself in the sense of act locally while thinking globally.
In Serenella Iovino’s essay about Thiel’s gardens, she writes about the mutant species that visitors see with their special glasses as new creatures breach natural boundaries. She shows how “Gardens of the Anthropocene” combines “ecopolitical prophecy, techno-hallucinations, aesthetic lure, and irony” — these are also the classic features of the sci-fi species termed cyborgs. I know I’ve been suffering “techno-hallucinations” for decades.
As my grandsons grow in vibrant Munich, what kind of a world will they endure when they turn 21? Rush to Santa Barbara Shores Park for some deep time nature immersion now where the sublime will supply relief. Take your children and loved ones with you!
» John McKinney, “Hike Santa Barbara” (2019), pages 126-129; Tamiko Thiel, “Gardens of the Anthropocene”; Serenella Iovino, “The Reverse of the Sublime” in Transformations in Environment and Society, 2019/3, pp. 1-37.
— Dan McCaslin is the author of Stone Anchors in Antiquity and has written extensively about the local backcountry. His latest book, Autobiography in the Anthropocene, is available at Lulu.com. He serves as an archaeological site steward for the U.S. Forest Service in the Los Padres National Forest. He welcomes reader ideas for future Noozhawk columns, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to read additional columns. The opinions expressed are his own.