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Artist Interview

Todd Lynch of Ecotropy Landscape Design

March 7, 2017

Photo Credit: Erin Long 

We always love bringing a little wilderness into Ode. But landscape artist Todd Lynch brought us a forest. Literally. He bolted tree branches to our floor, bent and braided them up to the ceiling and around our ducts. He hung chandeliers made entirely of strung leaves and individually glued Queen Anne's Lace. He collected root systems to which he attached culled and foraged findings. To call him a landscape designer and artist is accurate, yes, but he is more than that: nature's magician; sorcerer of sticks and stones; visionary of the wilds. Meet Todd Lynch of Ecotropy Landscape Designs this Friday, March 10th, from 6-8pm, where he will help you imagine and create your own natural, living art piece.

What’s your spirit plant?
My spirit plant is the white oak. There have always been oaks in the many places I have lived that I could go to when feeling either down or joyous. Oaks are my favorite trees to climb and their branches have held me and given me the perspective I’ve needed to see my way through difficult straits. On walks, they are companieros when I see them, their stout girth and joyous canopy surrounded by the jostling, fast-growing pines and birches. I identify with their presence – quiet, generous, and resolute, slowly growing and thriving amidst the constant dynamism of their ecological context. Getting lost in the dark cast of a pine and hemlock tangle is a metaphor for the kind of mind I experience sometimes. Arriving at a clearing where the oak thrives is miraculous and life-affirming everytime.  

Their medicine has been used to treat gastric problems, inflammation, wounds and, in some cases cancer. I’ve never used the medicine of the oak in that way, or eaten its plentiful fruit…but it gives me something richer and more dynamic… a living reminder to take it slow, to be generous, and to always spread my arms to shelter those I love when they need it.

What’s in your tea?
The tea I brought tonight is mint, nettle and tulsi. We grew these at our home and they form the base for our everyday tea in the spring time. I love the robust, earthy flavor of the nettle combined with the spice of the mint and the balance of the tulsi. Part of the magic of growing and drinking our own teas is feeling a sense of gratitude for the plants. That gratitude comes from being in relationship with each plant from seedling to harvest to preparation as tea, tincture, salve or honey. This kind of folk medicine is the most amazing way to integrate the external landscape into our own internal landscape.

How does nature speak to you?
I like this question, but it is hard to answer, because there are so many voices to be heard when out in the landscape…I try to listen and be as quiet and respectful as I can and gradually I become immersed. I always think of the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) when I take walks. More than anything, I am always astonished by the range of new stories and expressions that I encounter each time I return to honored places in the land or waterscape. One of my favorite ways to listen is to swim in open water…where I can physically be immersed and have my conventional way of being in the world up-ended…places like The Bend in Chesterfield or the DAR in Goshen are especially magical. 

What’s a dream art project for you?
I’d love to create a woven installation of plant material (like the photo below) that takes over an abandoned building – blurring the lines between spontaneous plant growth and man-made art. I’d have help from local students who would be participating in a school program on ecology/hydrology that I would teach in the same city where the installation would be located. Sharing how natural patterns and processes work in the landscape and making art inspired by those experiences with school groups energizes and inspires me. It’s the direction that I’d like to pursue more with my art-making. Part of the joy of art making for me is to witness people connecting seemingly disparate strands of their experience into a whole understanding because of something I have shared with them.

Best sound:
Other than the singing of my children, my favorite sound is found when I sit next to frozen streams and listen. It has to be that window of time where there is deep cold without snow, so I can witness the lava-lamp effect of the air bubbles moving through and against the ice. The music that the water and ice generate reminds me of the throaty bass of a tabla, hit directly in the center of the drum head. It makes me smile and laugh because that sensual vibe is not something I’d expect to hear in the midst of the winter forest’s austerity.

Who inspires you?
My grandma Jean is one of my inspirations. I used to love visiting her in Evanston, Illinois. She and I would adventure all over Chicago – not to museums, but to places where we could find free books, or listen to street musicians whom she had befriended. It seemed to me that she was the patron saint of alchemy. She could find enchantment in the humblest of materials – crushed beer cans or dried worms – and make others (even my grandfather) see how beautiful and poetic they were. Knowing that she lived her truth in such a way, in the era in which she did, compels me to honor her gifts to me and the world. When I integrate something unconventional into a composition it’s my way of thanking her for her brilliance and to ensure that there is space for all kinds of beauty to be celebrated.  

Photo Credit: Erin Long

Words to live by:
For some people, what they are is not finished at the skin, but continues with the reach of the senses out into the land. -- Barry Lopez

Hopefully there will come a time when I have no words, where I can honor and hold that kind of stillness that I so need, crave and desire in the natural world…One day the landscape will take the language out of me. --Terry Tempest Williams

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. -- John Muir

Favorite poem or book:
My favorite book is A River Sutra by Gita Metha. I had loaned it to friends so many times that I give copies away to folks instead. I love that it is a collection of stories that somehow all intertwine and that the unifying element is the River. A theme of connection and engagement in our lives is especially poignant for me during this time we live in currently.

What do you think is the most fascinating natural occurrence, plant, color, or design?
I’d probably say something different every day, but since we’re still in the grips of the winter, I’d say ice formations are an obsession for me. Again, that time when there is no snow, but just profound cold (also great for ice-skating on open water), there is the best ice. In particular, I love places where bubbles form and freeze. Over time, there is this spectacular layering effect of accumulated frozen air (when does air even accumulate?). These arrangements are spontaneous and joyful…I can almost hear the voice of the stream in each of these compositions. Someone else’s time defines our lives every day. Schedules, and having too little or too much time, can be overwhelming. A healing element of nature for me is that it is on its own time, and witnessing these bubbles reminds me of that…and challenges me to define my own sense of time and attempt to inhabit it.

What are the first signs of spring you notice?
The first signs of spring I notice are the songs of the red-wing blackbirds, the dances of the woodcocks, and the flush of exuberance of the willows up the hill from our house. I also love the earthy smell of the first warm rain and how it somehow summons mass salamander migrations across our roads as they seek places to spawn.