Saturday, November 21, 2020

Gardens and Art Intertwined: From Orchids to Monet

"You are the sum total of everything you've ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot - it's all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive."
- Maya Angelou
Orchids at the Denver Botanic Gardens

Wwwwaaayyyyy back in January, which seems like ions ago, my Mom came out to visit me for a week (she lives in North Carolina now-a-days).  We had a list of all sorts of fun things we could do with no real agenda or itinerary, just possible ideas of things that we both thought would be fun to do complete with a list of restaurants we wanted to check out.  One of the things we both 100% wanted to do was to go to the Denver Art Museum to check out the limited time and sure to be extraordinary "Claude Monet: The Truth of Nature" exhibit.  The art museum had assembled 120 painting across Monet's entire career focusing on his relationship with nature.  My mom is certainly more artistic then I am (in the traditional sense) and everything she does always has quite an artistic touch to it.  I've never had the patience to learn how to draw, paint, sculpt, or anything of that nature despite the fact that when I actually sit down to do it I actually thoroughly enjoy it.  The one art form that I have put a lot of time and effort into is photography.  My Dad is a professional photographer so I grew up surrounded by it and I've always taken a liking to looking at things from your not so normal perspective, which as it turns out translates very well into photography and you don't even have to know how to draw, just point the camera and press the button!  To follow the tone of one of my previous posts, Tear Down Your Learning Barriers,  I know I could learn these other art forms if I wanted to.  I've just never actually put the time or effort into learning them, maybe one day I will and in my adult life I have slowly been putting more and more time into these sorts of things.  I do however very much enjoy looking at art and seeing what other people have put their time and energy into learning how to do.  My mom and I were equally as excited to check-out this Monet exhibit and we made sure to get tickets a few months ahead of time as it was sure to sell out and a lot of days had already sold out months in advance for this limited time only exhibit.
Another thing on our list of potential activities was going to the Denver Botanic Gardens.  This is another thing that we both have in common, a love for gardening and sculpting your own art each season that way.  A few days before the Monet exhibit the weather was looking like it was going to be good and seeing as we had afternoon tickets for the Monet exhibit, we decided it would be the best use of time to spend the whole day in Denver and to go to the Botanical Gardens right after breakfast, spend as little or as much time as we wanted there then go to the museum to look at priceless works of art.

The day before, I looked at the Botanical Gardens website to make sure they'd be open and realized that they had an Orchid exhibit going on and it would be open during our visit.  This solidified our decision to go there before the Art Museum as we both love orchids.  I have quite a complicated love / hate relationship with orchids for a few reasons.  In 2008, during my last summer of college, I took an epic adventure where I traveled solo for as cheap as I possibly could across Ireland, Turkey, India, and Nepal.  Looking back on this, I'm amazed at how cheap I actually was able to travel on that trip.  That does have its downsides though, such as a $1 / night hotel in New Delhi, India that had bullet holes through the door, blood stained bed-sheets, prison bars instead of windows, and gunshots going on right outside my door at night.  That's an entirely different story for a different day though.  On this trip I spent four weeks in Nepal gallivanting throughout the mountains, enjoying the peace, quiet, and tranquility that the Himalayas possess.  Directly after arriving in Nepal I met this very nice Australian lady named Clare who was doing an oddly similar trip to mine.  She was traveling solo, out for an epic adventure, wanting to enjoy the mountains as much as possible, and basically doing a lot of soul searching.  We hit it off and became very good friends instantly!  We both had one part of our Nepal trip planned, trekking to the base camp of Mount Everest and we just so happened to have the exact same itinerary and schedule for this.  We ended up hiking and talking together for each day of that two week trek and we had a blast.  In addition to talking to each other for 10 + hours each day while admiring the Himalayas we: came within 10 feet (3 meters) of the elusive Snow Leopard, joined monks for a 2 hour meditation (we were unexpectedly invited), explored their temple, got blessed by the monks, saw and marveled at Mt. Everest in an up close and personal fashion, and saw a whole lot of avalanches.  It was an absolute blast and is something that I'll never forget.  At the end of this trek neither of us had any firm plans for what we were doing for the rest of our time in Nepal and neither of us wanted to make any plans so we exchanged contact information for the future and parted ways.  After two days of exploring Kathmandu, I decided to go see the jungles of Nepal to try and find some tigers and who knows what else.  I was walking through the streets of Kathmandu in the wee hours of the morning to go to the bus station when a rickshaw zoomed right by me and as it does I hear, "Hey James, where are you going??"  I was still half asleep and this unexpected occurrence jolted me awake, I looked over and Clare was leaning out of the rickshaw with a big grin on her face.  I yelled back that I'm going to the jungle and she said, "Me too!  I'll see you at the bus station."  We met up once again and explored the jungles of Nepal together and we once again had an absolute blast.  We had both been blown away at our very unexpected Snow Leopard encounter in the mountains and on one of our jungle hikes we were talking about that experience; while doing so we randomly stumbled across Orchids growing in the wild among the jungles of Nepal.  We probably stared at these Orchids for at least an hour as we were both in awe at seeing them in their natural environment and we weren't even looking for them, we just stumbled across them, which is exactly what happened with the Snow Leopard.  Orchids in the wild are one of the most stunning things to see when you're not expecting it (almost as stunning as coming across a snow leopard unexpectedly).  If you think Orchids are marvelous when you see one at somebody's house, try seeing them in their natural environment, it is a truly magical experience and you will never forget it.  After our jungle adventure Clare and I once again parted ways, we assumed we'd talk again after we both got back to our respective countries.  However we happened to run into each other one more time in Nepal, completely unexpected again, and in a completely different part of Nepal.  I've had this kind of thing happen maybe a handful of times in my life where the Universe just seems to be pulling you one way or the other, time and time again.  I've never had it happen this much with one person though.  Clare and I explored a completely different part of Nepal together, one more time, while joking and laughing about how the Universe is apparently never going to let us part ways.  After this trip, Clare went back to Australia and I went back to the U.S., we talked almost every day for about a month.  We made rough plans to travel together again in the hopefully near future, our eyes were set somewhat vaguely on anywhere in Africa or South America, we couldn't decide on any one destination, we wanted to see it all!  After about a month our conversations came to a screeching halt and we went from talking every day to not talking at all.  After another month of not hearing anything from Clare I received a message from a close friend of Clare's letting me know that she had been killed in a car accident.  A few weeks later I received an e-mail from Clare's parents.  They had been going through her journals and that's where they found my e-mail address along with a ton of mentions of me, our adventures together and they sent me an excerpt of what Clare said about me in her journal.  It was one of the nicest e-mails I've ever received along with the tremendous heart break of knowing that I wouldn't be seeing a good friend ever again (in this life anyways).  It ended up that the last time Clare and I had talked was the day before she had been killed.  She just no longer existed on this planet and I had been none the wiser about it.  The news of Clare being killed was devastating to me to say the least given the great times we had together and while we had only known each other for a short time it felt like we had known each other our whole lives since we had spent a ridiculous amount of time just talking to each other while exploring the wonders of the world.  A lot of these conversations were centered around nature, sustainable living, alternative medicine, etc.  Which at the time, were subjects that I knew next to nothing about and had never really even thought about.  To this day whenever I see Orchid's I have vivid memories that come rushing back to me of Clare and me stumbling across them in the jungles of Nepal.  To complicate my relationship with Orchids further, I just can't keep the damn things alive.  I've only tried keeping and taking care of Orchid's twice and both times I killed the plants extremely fast.  They're unbelievably temperamental plants but their beauty is unparalleled.  Our experiences in Nepal are what made me want to attempt to keep Orchids of my own, which I failed miserably at and realized how temperamental these flowers actually are, which in turn made those prior experiences even more magical since I then knew that the conditions have to be just perfect for these flowers to grow.  Orchids are expensive and take a lot of patience, I currently enjoy watching other people take care of them and keep them alive but I don't currently have much desire to learn how to do this myself in the off-chance that I'll manage to keep this very expensive (but beautiful) house plant alive.  I'm sure I'll attempt them again in the future, but spending a bunch of money on a flower and killing it nearly instantly (twice) is enough to make me say, screw this plant.
People in Himalayas
Clare and myself in the Nepalese Himalayas - Dughla, Nepal in 2008 - 15,000 ft (4,572 m)

My mother and I arrived at the Denver Botanical gardens, immediately found the orchid exhibit and set about wandering around and gawking at these truly wonderful flowers.  The exhibit itself was setup in a neat fashion, the Orchids weren't all just clumped together, they had them spread out, planted, and placed amongst part of the Botanical Gardens normal tropical exhibit.  It turned it into a bit of an easter egg hunt, where you're just walking around and you go "OH LOOK, there's on orchid, OH there's another one over here, and OH LOOK at the one wwwwaaayyy over there."  Then you walked into this sunny hallway that was just lined with every type of orchid imaginable.  It felt like you had just wandered into a real life Dr. Seuss book.  Some of the orchid flowers were very small, smaller than a thumbnail, others were really big, some were striped, some were plain, some I thought surely had to glow in the dark from the vibrance of their colors, ALL of which were fantastic and wonderful in their own way.  It was fun wandering around, looking at each and every flower, pondering how perfect each and every one is in its own unique way, yet they are all very distinct from each other (much like humans) while having flashbacks to me having this exact same wonderment and amazement in the middle of the jungles of Nepal.  Where we were just standing on the jungle floor, with a light mist in the air, staring up at a few trees that had these very colorful orchids on them that somehow looked both wwwaaayyyy out of place but yet in place at the exact same time.  After getting our fill of Orchids we made our way around the rest of the Botanical Gardens.  This never gets old no matter how many times I walk around these exact same grounds.  The layout is always generally the same and they have different art exhibits on the grounds from time to time but everything else is dynamic and is never ever the same.  Every time you go, it's a different season, different flowers are blooming, there are different bees and birds flying around.  You could go there each and every day and there will be small changes from one day to the next and no two days will ever be the same.  January is a very interesting time to go to the Botanical Gardens because just about everything is dormant, workers are getting the grounds ready for the upcoming season, and there are very few other people just wandering around enjoying everything.  The cool thing about this is you get to see the botanical gardens in its raw state, the blank art canvas if you will AND there's nobody else around.  It's the ground work for what everything will become in the coming months when the grounds are jam packed with people trying to see the blooming flowers.  While it is very common for people to enjoy the grounds when that piece of art is in a more finished product and in a more aesthetically pleasing state.  Very few people take the time to enjoy that blank canvas, to see what it looks like behind the scenes before anything starts growing.  Which if you do, you'll actually have a lot more appreciation when you go back and see the grounds in their full mid-summer glory when everything looks 100% different and more complete than in January.  After we wandered the grounds in its entirety and spending time looking at small aspects that we normally would never notice or look at we made our way to the art museum to gawk at more official pieces of art.
Poster About Chocolate
Very true poster about chocolate at the Denver Botanic Gardens - I still laugh every time I see this!

After arriving at the art museum we learned that the Monet exhibit had sold out a few weeks ago and there were signs everywhere saying this but we bought our tickets months ago, so we were all set!  We did have to wait for our official start time though.  These types of high popularity exhibits always seem to be a strangely odd social experiment that make you wonder if there's a two way mirror somewhere with psychologists behind it, taking notes on how everybody is behaving.  There's always a timed start and you're only supposed to spend so much time within the exhibit.  The thinking behind this is to try and keep everybody spread out and to keep parts of the exhibit from getting too crowded, so everybody has an equal chance to see and gawk at each piece of art.  What is really turns into though is just mass, slightly organized, chaos where everybody is highly annoyed at each other but trying not to show it.  Each timed start is basically the start of a race as you enter into the chaos and you realize that the timed starts and limited time in the exhibit really don't do anything and it's just mass amounts of people...everywhere...
While we waited for our time to enter the rat race of seeing Monet, we wandered around the rest of the art museum, which is really pretty neat to see.  All sorts of random pieces of art, some interactive pieces, some not, some you think are interactive and you later find out they're not (I'm kidding).  On this trip there was a cool, hall of mirrors, that you could walk through and be surrounded by mirrors, which is actually really neat.  By far, one of my favorite parts of going to an art museum is walking around acting like a pompous and arrogant art collector.  This is impossible to not do when you are going to the art museum specifically to see a Monet exhibit.  Walking around the art museum in a t-shirt and hoodie while making a lot of backhanded comments about art and art collectors while pretending to be an art collector yourself and loudly mispronouncing artists names (or saying them properly but really enunciating every syllable) is a ridiculous amount of fun, you should try it sometime!  Don't you worry, my mom has a lifetime of experience of dealing with me doing these random shenanigans and it is expected no matter where we go.  Luckily for her and everybody around me, I normally don't keep this up for too long but it will come out in random spurts.  It just depends on how many people are giving me the "I'm going to slap you across the face if you don't stop" deadpan death stare vs how many people are enjoying my antics and laughing.
After entering the Monet exhibit and getting over the fact that the timed starts and limited time in the exhibit do absolutely nothing as there are just mass amounts of people everywhere, all equally uncomfortable yet surrounded by priceless works of art which is the only thing keeping everyone from losing their minds.  You quickly forget about that as you walk around gazing and just getting lost in each piece of art.  You're allowed to get a few feet away from each piece of art so you can look at each piece up close but also far away and everywhere in-between.  Art, especially really good pieces of art, look completely different close-up and far away.  When you look at art from a distance, you see the completed work as a whole.  But when you look at it close-up you can see each individual brush stroke and you realize that somebody literally took a blank canvas, spent a bunch of time on it doing one brush stroke at a time and they ended up with a masterpiece.  A blank canvas + time + ingenuity + imagination = art.  As you walk around, each piece has a small description for it and there's also an audio tour that is chalk full of anything and everything you ever wanted to know and really made me want to go all-in on my art collector character (but I didn't).  As we walked around, looking at these magnificent pieces and learning about them as well as Monet's life a few things became abundantly clear.  Monet spent a lot of time trying to get away from people, away from crowds and to just immerse himself in nature.  He very much enjoyed nature and saw art in nature itself and his art was basically trying to replicate this as much as he could.  One of his pieces in particular has fog on it, the details of which are stunning.  Without the fog it would still be this amazing piece of art just because of the details of each piece of the scenery but then when you throw in the fact that he was somehow able to paint and convey the fog on top of this, it's just mind-blowing.  Then you go to another piece of art that has these intricate ripples along with reflections in a pond and it looks just like a photo from a far but then up close you can see each individual brush stroke that made that happen.  At the end of the exhibit there was a section about Monet's garden and how he enjoyed spending his time there, painting it, and sculpting the garden each year from nothing.  That's when you realize that Monet's garden was just his real life piece of art that was ever evolving and changing.  I've always viewed my urban farm as a piece of art where each year you are starting with nothing but you get to decide where each plant goes and each year you are making this giant, living piece of art that constantly evolves as the season progresses.  It was very cool to see that is basically the exact same way that Monet felt about his very own garden and how that feeling transcends time.  The world he lived in was vastly different from our world today but there are a lot of these core similarities that haven't changed.  Such as the longing to get away from people and to just be left alone in the wilderness to enjoy nature.  Or coming to the realization that you can't do this all the time but as a middle ground you can bring the nature to you and have your very own piece of nature at your very own home while also making it into a piece of art.  It's so intriguing to think about how these ideas and thoughts can transcend time and essentially connect two people from two completely different eras.  My favorite part of the Monet exhibit (aside from all of the priceless works of art) was at the end of the exhibit they had a short video of Monet whom looked happy as could be smoking a cigarette, painting in his garden, while wearing a suit.  It was just this really weird mix mash of things that do not go well together and shouldn't be done at the same time but here is this artist just looking happy as could be and I imagine he's thinking, "I don't care if this looks odd or out of place to you, I'm going to do it regardless, because that's what I want to do, deal with it."
Person Looking at Art
Person admiring one of Monet's many masterpieces

I left that art exhibit not only with a new appreciation for Monet and his pieces of art but with this newfound realization that what I'm doing in the urban farm, while it may be odd to most, is just what I want to do so who cares what people say.  Each year I start with a blank canvas, as do the Botanical Gardens, but it always morphs into this beautiful piece of edible art.  Once people see the finished product, they always appreciate it and ask me how I do that.  But when you take the time to examine it and look at it up close you can see each individual plant, each brush stroke, that was intentionally placed there and it takes time to put each brush stroke in its place to get to that final, finished product, that only then will the vast majority of people ever appreciate.
Urban Farm Sunset
My mom enjoying a sunset on the urban farm
Monet Piece of Art
Monet Artwork

Monet Piece of Art
Monet Artwork

Monet Piece of Art
This is the fog piece, "Morning On the Seine" by Monet

Monet Piece of Art
"The Geese" by Monet.  Check out those ripples!

Monet Piece of Art
This piece is jam packed full of action, I like it!