Art in Nature – Sydney Goldman ’21

So far, this has been a summer best described with strings of adjectives; it has been infinitely engaging, exciting, and fulfilling, but also remarkably busy, draining, and chaotic. I’ve been interning in San Francisco at NatureBridge, a nonprofit that provides year-round environmental education for kids. As my adjectives somewhat illustrate, I absolutely love my internship, but with a full work day and a lengthy commute, I haven’t had much time or energy to explore the city’s vibrant art scene. I almost made it to my favorite museum once, but a group of growling stomachs prevented me from venturing inside; after an accidental, hour-long, uphill-all-the-way hike on the Lands End trail outside the Legion of Honor, my friends and I opted to sit down for a delicious meal of fried chicken and waffles rather than stand up in the Rodin gallery or Pre-Raphaelites exhibit.

Although I’ve yet to have a formal art experience, I’ve been grateful to have some informal ones. In fact, the most rewarding have centered around watercoloring in nature. As part of my internship, I had the unique opportunity to spend a week in the field at NatureBridge’s Yosemite campus. I’m the first to admit that I was a Bad Californian; I had never been to Yosemite before this summer. Luckily, this internship allowed me to both experience the national park in all its glory and to finally become a Good Californian (my badge should be arriving in the mail any day now!).

A Picture I Took at the Tunnel View lookout in Yosemite

NatureBridge hosted a variety of student groups and youth programs while I was staying at Yosemite, so I was able to interact with kids of all ages and backgrounds. The days varied; sometimes we would spend all day hiking, sometimes we would prepare the groups for their upcoming backpacking trips, and sometimes we would have spirited debates over environmental policy. But the nights were always the same.

As the sun embarked on its inevitable descent over the horizon, we would trek across the street to the Crane Flat Meadow. The meadow was an untouched sanctuary for the wildlife of Yosemite. As the fading sun illuminated the greenery in a happy yellow glow, the owls gracefully perched on the treetops and the deer quietly feasted on the grass. And as the glow faded first into a warm twilight and finally into tranquil darkness, we were serenaded by the welcoming melody of the crickets and the gentle rustling of unknown animals in the distance.

The beauty of the surrounding scene felt, in a word, unreal. I couldn’t help but take each step with immense care, expecting to suddenly find myself colliding with a painting, leaving a Sydney-shaped rip in the canvas as if in a cartoon. I could tell that the kids felt similarly; they would reliably fall silent every night, stunned by the natural beauty of the meadow. It was in this stunned silence that we would unpack our watercolor sets and let the magic begin. There was so much to love about those moments at dusk.  

A Picture I Took in the Meadow as the Sun Set

I loved watercoloring. It’s my favorite medium to play with because, speaking as a novice, it is magically unpredictable. I would be mixing this color and that color to produce an orange, but end up discovering the perfect purple. Perhaps novice is an understatement for someone attempting orange and instead creating purple, but these nightly watercoloring sessions at least allowed me to graduate from novice to amateur.

My Amateur Attempt at Translating the Glow of the Trees onto Watercolor Paper

I also loved seeing the kids create art in nature. The groups were somewhat rambunctious, but armed with a paintbrush and a palette, they were as serene as the meadow before them. I knew that I was witnessing a once-in-a-lifetime experience for them.

And I simply loved the opportunity to create my own work of art in nature’s work of art. It’s one thing to admire a natural scene in a museum, or to sketch a natural landscape while lounging comfortably at home. It’s another thing entirely to sit with your back against a rock, with the friendly itch of grass underneath your legs, with the incommunicable beauty of a meadow at sunset in front of your eyes, and simultaneously admire and sketch your surroundings. It is empowering and fulfilling, captivating and thrilling, and, quite simply, exceptionally fun.

I wish I could regale you with stories of the amazing exhibits and galleries I explored this summer, but my only art experiences have been these, in which I am the one making my own art. But I feel that I’ve gained so much by taking this path. I have revived my devotion to creating art, I have realized how powerful a tool art can be to connect youth to the environment, and I have re-discovered my own loving relationship with Mother Earth. Although I am, without a doubt, in Museum Withdrawal, I have my magical Yosemite experience to hold me over until I can get to my next exhibit.