In a pair of sensible shoes, Marlene Creates doesn't slow down as she avoids raised tree roots and navigates slippery stepping stones, flitting down her mossy forest pathways as easily as the snowshoe hare she longs to see on the property.
Creates' life and that of her six acres of boreal land have intertwined, and her experience living on the property makes up a dynamic element of her work as a visual artist and poet.
Creates is opening up her property, which she calls her Boreal Poetry Garden, in Portugal Cove to the public in honour of the United Nation's International Year of the Forests. Four evenings this summer, starting today, she will lead a walk through the forest, stopping to give poetry readings.
The poems are site-specific to different points along the trails Creates has made, and were inspired by things she experienced at those exact spots - a hawk leaving a strike mark in the snow, the silence left behind after a scared moose hurried away, the brush of a yellow leaf on her lips as she passed by. The poems were written in all seasons; some in the rain, some in the dark.
"These poems, I won't stand up at The Ship or a lecture hall and read them," Creates said, smiling. "The whole idea is that people are standing there in the forest, using all five of their senses. There's a dynamic, I hope, between what they're hearing (in the poems), the ambient sounds and what they're seeing."
Creates' poetry is full of Newfoundland vernacular, and she's given names to certain areas. There's a valley called The Droke and a rock face she calls The Tolt, which she had inspected by geologists who told her it is made of 70 million-year-old compressed lava from a pan-African volcano.
Creates lost about 30 of the trees on her property in hurricane Igor last fall; some of them ripped up from the ground by the roots; others cracked off. She asked botanists to take samples of the fallen trees to date them, and she's placed markers by each one, where she'll inscribe the tree's age.
Creates has also taken slices of the trees and used them in her newest art installation, "Our Lives Concurrent for 58 Years Until the Hurricane," which will be on display on the main floor of her home - where she has a small gallery space - before the walk.
For the piece, Creates has arranged the pieces in a sort of map, according to where they were located on her property.
"I'm looking at how the lives of those trees and my life coincided until the hurricane," she explained. "The trees were developing coincidental with my life. It's almost like looking at them is looking at time that has passed."
Creates, who moved to this province in 1985, has explored the relationship between the human experience, memory, language, land and the impact they have had on each other for more than 30 years. She was the first solo artist to exhibit at The Rooms, and her work has been presented in hundreds of exhibitions across North America, Europe and China.
Her usual medium is photography, and the poetry walk actually started out this way: Creates wrote short site-specific Haiku poems which she would then hand-write on card and photograph in a particular location.
It soon became clear to Creates, however, that photography might be only a two-dimensional way to convey her experiences in the garden and not do them justice.
"There were so many experiences I was having that weren't being conveyed by photography," she explained. "Sounds are a big part of my perceptions that I was unable to photograph. I turned to words to capture some of the more fleeting perceptions.
"It's very important to me that people see and hear and feel while I'm reading the poems, and the best way to do this is to bring them there. My poems and words are really just a way to bring people's attention to what's already there."
Though she's made a small chapbook of her Boreal Poetry Garden poetry, Creates has no plans to further publish them.
"Really, my way of publishing them, making them public, is by reading them in the place," she said.
"This place is so inspiring - I used to travel to find my subject matter, but I will never live long enough to take all this in."
After the walk, which takes about 45 minutes, depending on how many poems Creates is inspired to read, participants will gather around a bonfire for refreshments and a reading by a guest poet. She's invited four local poets she feels have distinguished themselves by the attention they've paid to the natural world: Mary Dalton, Tom Dawe, Don McKay and Danielle Devereaux.
The poetry walks will take place today, Aug. 3, Aug. 11 and Aug. 23 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 ($10 for students, seniors and the unwaged), and space is limited to 25 participants each time, so pre-registration is required by contacting Creates at marlene.creates@ nf.sympatico.ca or 895-1020.
The event will go ahead in the rain (which Creates doesn't mind, since it boosts the flow of the waterfall on her property), but if it's pouring, she'll postpone and let participants know via email.
"I hope these poetry events will enhance the audience's experience and perception of the boreal forest. That's what it's really about," she said.
Those who are unable to attend one of Creates' poetry walks are invited to take a virtual walk with her on her website at www.marlenecreates.ca.