Photo by Stephen Mead


Stephen Mead

The earth’s pull is magnetic at times, almost a beckoning. Where this affinity comes from probably has a scientific basis, the mineral content of certain soils perhaps, creating a tuning fork hum only marrow or iron in the blood can detect. The rhythm chants and chlorophyll, rising green to the top of grass blades, does sing back.

Poets, according to myth, have a deeper sense of being rooted to the ground. I am not sure how much of that theory is romanticism, but I do believe particular kinds of creative individuals are more drawn to expressing the earth–body correlation. Farmers, environmentalists, garden-workers, and all those who work off or live for the land have a connection to it that is mysteriously profound.

Hunters, gatherers, agrarian societies from primitive shore to shore around the globe: how can we not have a genetic predisposition with what our feet travel upon? Is to lose that link, an awareness of it, to be thrown out of balance? For me the answer is a resounding “Yes”, but I know of many who would be quite sound and content living in shopping malls. These people have adapted to modern society with far more useful coping skills than I have to fit and survive.

The rural is family to me—familiar and yet strange.  Farm-raised, I am much like a salmon pushing upstream, a flicker of copper with elements of childhood echoing in my cells. That my writing and art carries vestiges of this influence must be as true for those who grew up in suburbs or large cities, and what shapes the voice of these sentences is memory transfused through experience. While growing up, of course, Nature’s neutrality for either cruelty or reverie was felt viscerally, but not given definition. Time has done that, though more as a surrealist than a realist in the imagery my art has managed to borrow and also obtain shape from. No, I am not someone who paints or writes of actual landscapes or seascapes much.  What comes through me more is a collage of their details. These details all have a character, a spirit, not necessarily even mine, except while I am living it. There is instinct and intuition to this alchemical osmosis. I am a sojourner along the way.

The summer after I graduated high school is when I found myself growing increasingly obsessed with making a definable record of the fluid and the nebulous inherent in this passage. Such preoccupations took hold of me earlier, and I still have yellowing manuscripts and pastels of those efforts, but it was the summer after graduating high school where the process of becoming took on a nearly desperate, if disciplined, insistence. I recall taking my mother’s small black plastic 110 camera and getting lost for hours. Being solitary by nature I often spent hours as a kid and teen, roaming the acres of my family’s property, usually wandering the banks of the streams and creek which ran through the hills there.  

Minnows became legions of silver ships, and the bilious jelly of tadpole sacs seemed interplanetary. Lily pads were islands floating over clay striations, the occasional turtle, and schools of rainbow sunfish. The zipping shimmer of water bugs, and dragon flies of rainbow transparency, half-alien, half-angelic, buzzing overhead, was orchestral as evening came on, and the peepers made a chorus for the flickering silence of lightning bugs.

The summer after I graduated high school the significance of all of this and more became inspiration magnified. I was fascinated with shadows and reflections, both the patterns of algae beneath the water and clouds distilled upon its brown. I took numerous photos of this phenomenon and experimented with floating Queen Anne’s Lace through the viewfinder. Then the sky itself was a huge lens, and when lying down I traversed the heights of milk weed pod fluff and purple thistle crowns as though they were eyes. The sky was see-through, blue after blue sheets these antennae recorded, but I felt the sky was watching back too. I imagined laying huge mirrors on meadows to capture the effect, yet horizon lines too held wide wonder, especially when there was nothing but rolling waves of straw leading to them. The world was other, apart and gigantic.

Next, the macrocosmic turned micro, and dilapidated barns and abandoned milk houses, with their flowering weeds through the cracks, created universe upon universe. Woods too, with their brambles of gorse, the fallen logs of ant-hole civilizations and lichen steppes, seizing me like a botanist, as did my father’s gardens with their cornflower stars and nebulae of indigo cabbages. 

What was I attempting to document? What was it I thought I would lose, was in the process of losing, while transitioning into young adulthood and the responsibilities of entering the work force? Innocence? But I was already an old-soul. Individuality? But I was already a queer duck. No. It was as if the photos were planting seeds while simultaneously making a time chest. I was hoarding and harvesting with no sense of practical anthropology, no thesis goal in sight to set out like a blueprint, a way to trace back a full proof answer as to why things were the way they were.

Decades later, tossed by tides of cities, jobs and the shifting winds of relationships, the constant question of that summer gives me an answer now that I was then what I am still: pagan as a druid and wild with the good wilderness that is within all whether we recognize ourselves as artists or not. I have gone from pastels to watercolors to oils to acrylics to mixed media and even film. I have found myself adding spices and rice to my canvasses as well as jewelry and glitter. I have found myself returning to those photos and that summer as much as I continue to keep a chronicle of existence with new photos and new scribbles. I have found myself returning to myself by losing myself to something larger. I have yet to determine if that larger energy is a god, but certainly the earth is a heavenly body eternity spins, coloring outside of the lines.

Photos by Stephen Mead

Stephen Mead is an Outsider multi-media artist and writer. Since the 1990s he’s been grateful to many editors for publishing his work in print zines and eventually online. Recently his work has appeared in CROW NAME, WORDPEACE and DuckuckMongoose. Currently, he is a resident artist/curator for The Chroma Museum, artistic renderings of LGBTQI historical figures, organizations and allies predominantly before Stonewall.