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A Meeting of Art and Science

A Meeting of Art and Science

January 19, 2017

Gifted poet, essayist, and naturalist, Alison Hawthorne Deming to speak at Moravian College

Apparently both a gift for language and a love of nature threaded their way through the family lineage from Nathaniel Hawthorne to great-great granddaughter Alison Hawthorne Deming. The 19th-century novelist who spent a summer living in Maine with his family, recalled that time warmly: “Those were delightful days, for that part of the country was wild then, with only scattered clearings, and nine tenths of it primeval woods.”1

Today, 21st-century poet and essayist Deming also feels a deep connection to the natural world, which plays prominently in her work, including the titles Stairway to Heaven, Death Valley: Painted Light, Zoologies: On Animals and the Human Spirit, and Science and Other Poems, winner of the Walt ahd_photo2.jpgWhitman Award of the Academy of American Poets.

An award-winning writer, Deming received an MFA from Vermont College and several fellowships, including a Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University and two poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. She is currently Agnese Nelms Haury Chair of Environment and Social Justice and Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Arizona, and she comes to Moravian Thursday, February 2, to present “Going Hybrid: New Relationships between Art and Science in the Era of Climate Change” at 7:00 p.m. in Prosser Auditorium.

"I will share the exciting new ways people in the arts and sciences are collaborating in order to communicate about climate change," says Deming, who will also present the work done at the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest in Oregon and at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens in Florida among other projects. "The arts can deepen and enrich an understanding of science, bringing emotional and spiritual resonance to facts. And science can learn from the arts how to tell stories that are accessible, leading to unexpected insights and language."

In addition to Thursday night’s presentation, Deming will be the Keynote Speaker at this year’s Moravian College Writers' Conference, February 3-4, where she will do a reading of her work.

Enjoy a sample of Deming’s writing with this passage from “Murray Springs Mammoth,” the first essay in the book Zoologies, in which the author describes a visit to the Murray Springs mammoth site of the Desert Laboratory in Tucson, Arizona, a National Environmental Study Site. Here, she explores the Murray Springs washout:

I run my finger along the Clanton clay, the black strip of sediment that marks the cut bank about three meters below ground level, algal deposits laid down in the days when mammoths tusked into the mud to dig their wallow. Arid sandy soil lies over the black mat, a measure in dirt, silt, and dross of the long interval between the mammoth’s life and my own. The streambed is as dry as ash. The air, dry and hot as an oven. Inching my finger gently at the sand and clay, I’m startled to touch one tiny calciferous dwelling after another packed into the marly bank. A spiral tube, a horn shape, a clamshell, a miniature conch. Mussels and snails. Then pointing out from the black stratum, a knuckled bone like the thigh joint on a chicken leg grabs my eye. I pick the bone loose. It is frailer than an eggshell and as hollow.

What bird sang on this stream bank at dawn and dusk in those year when hunters flensed meat from gigantic bones and hung it over pine rails to dry? What mind listened to the song and, exhausted from the day’s labor, felt joy settling into evening? What body slept inside the long ache of good work, riding dreams into the underworld, and then startled awake at dawn to an exaltation of birdsong?

            The white bone crumbles at my touch.

1Mellow, James R. Nathaniel Hawthorne in His Times. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1980. ISBN 0-395-27602-0.