Departing Landscape: Shooting Stars

The disastrous effects on our earth of thoughtless human activities are becoming painfully obvious, and Nature is clearly undergoing great suffering. When a beloved suffers, there is often little one can do to help them – sometimes all you can do is be with them. But it is vital that we all advocate for change in how we relate to the natural world. I believe that as artists a powerful way for us to advocate is by bearing witness to the beauty of the earth – to its profound integrity, its incomparable importance, and its suffering.

In July of 2021, I was fortunate enough to participate in “Composing in the Wilderness,” a unique program where composers travel to the backcountry of Denali National Park in Alaska and spend four days in the wilderness, drawing inspiration. We then created music based on this experience. The music was premiered and recorded by the esteemed ensemble Corvus at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival.

Departing Landscape: Shooting Stars is the work that I created, supported by the generosity of the Puffin Foundation. The title is from a statement by composer Morton Feldman, where he called the decay portion of sound “this departing landscape.” For me this phrase evokes the poignance of the natural evolution of sound from attack to decay, and also the poignance of a wilderness that may very well be departing from us. Shooting stars are tiny, graceful wildflowers that blanket the arctic tundra. Seeing these as I hiked through the wilderness, the contrast and profound connection between the sublime, silent power of the great mountains of Denali, and the delicacy of the fields of tiny wildflowers were deeply moving to me. And I was heartbreakingly aware of the incredible fragility of this wilderness, for all of its power, and how so many wild places are vanishing forever. Not a month after I left Denali, I learned that the road near a particularly splendid mountain pass in the park had collapsed due to the melting of the permafrost. And it is a sad fact that the tree line is advancing, slowly crowding out the beautiful wildflowers that I loved.