“We’re Here For A Good Time, Not A Long Time”

This week, my grandfather, Dr. Ronald T. Abbott passed away. He earned his medical degree at the University of Glasgow, and his father, Dr. Sydney Gilchrist Abbott, earned his veterinary degree at Glasgow Veterinary College (which would later become part of the University). As a young man, Grandpa loved fast cars, his country, beautiful women, alcohol, bathroom and absurdist humour, and dogs. As an older man, he loved fast cars, his country, alcohol, bathroom and absurdist humour, his dogs, and a beautiful, tender and kind lady who cared for him until his last.

Ronnie B & W 1956.jpgGrandpa was a rabble-rouser, an adventurer, and was always busy with a new object of his focus and affection, motorized or otherwise. At twelve, I heard about his adventures riding his motorcycle from Iowa to Tierra del Fuego, at fifteen, of his adventures to Alaska and close encounters with bears. At twenty, he sent a short story about the time he mistook a brothel somewhere in the wilds of Mexico for a hotel. And no, he did not speak Spanish. Throughout those years, he had a habit of showing up out of the blue (usually in a different car each time), waltzing in with a belch, a smile, and a “hi, Dearie!”, typically in that order. Seeing him was never boring and was frequently a delightful break from ordinary days.

He was, at times, an abrasive man, but was a man who thought clearly with an evident sense of charisma and confidence which carried him through life effortlessly — going through a reported approximated eighty sports cars in five years in addition to airplanes, dogs, and motorcycles. The impeccable Scottish brogue didn’t hurt either.

At the peak of his medical career, his personal choices, career, and life path often took him away from the responsibilities fathers often encounter at bedtime — checking for ghosts in the shadows, reading, and telling bedtime stories — but my own father was never less grateful for the happy times they did share despite. I would ask that he tell them, in all hilarious detail, over and over as I lay down to sleep on nights when my mother was teaching a late class at a local University. Dad would always repeat the same ones.

I would beg for more stories of this ultimate reckless adventurer-leader — camping in Yellowstone and hearing the dogs fighting with bears as the camper rocked my father and his brother, being stalked through the woods, fishing for dinner, and my Dad, riding motorcycles across the great plains with his .22, being chased by bulls — but would, more often than not, come up empty. There was a finite supply of stories to tell, and I had heard all of the ones my father wanted me to hear. I wanted desperately to have these adventures — the three of us — on our own. Grandpa was an easy character to idolise.
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But Grandpa was still busy ticking things off the list of adventures to have, and I respected that. My father painted him as a character in a story book — Mr. Toad from the Wind in the Willows was a favorite parallel, always looking for another wild ride and always captivated by the sights, sounds, and smells of a clean engine. I came to admire and adore this feature of him — for his absence was in fact a distant presence as this character, off to seek more stories, and I learned early to appreciate this from a distance.

But where Grandpa was still busy with his adventures, others filled the void. A wonderful neighbour, Professor Kent Newmyer, came into our lives, and is always there to listen and share stories (he will probably never know how much this means to me).  My father gave up his own adventures (of which there were many) to check for ghosts in the shadows of my room, read bedtime stories, teach me to whittle, to work on cars, and take me fishing or to the flea market.  I dreamt up adventures of my own. And Grandpa was still there, too — a character to admire and adore.

The night he passed away, the streets of Glasgow were eerily vacant as if bereft of the normally-lively spirit of the population. All the pubs were empty but one, appearing equally sombre from the outside, in which an impromptu, ten-piece fiddle and cello band enjoyed some drinks while playing a lively melody to what seemed the entire population of the city. I couldn’t have known, but as he passed, I sat in that Glaswegian Whisky bar and knocked a few scotches back with an elderly, politely-vulgar Glaswegian man (with certain disdain for the English) with whom I spoke for hours about politics, culture, and current events. I thanked him for his time. I explained that Grandpa was passing and how much a simple conversation meant. We talked and laughed until the bar spilled onto the streets and bequeathed back to Glasgow the fervor it had been missing.

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I was his first-born grandchild, and I will forever respect him for the gifts he gave to the people I love and cherish: humour, adventure, and a love for the parts of life a Glaswegian cab driver named Stevie best described when he once told me “we’re here for a good time, not a long time”.

Whether right or wrong, we often pursue things in life to seek the pride of those we love, or to otherwise fill the spaces which are, to some extent, unfilled either due to our own flaws or the flaws of the characters in our lives. In seeking the adventures I have seen thus far, I hope only to have achieved the pride of my Father, for everything he has sacrificed, so that I may pursue my own ‘Miss Toad’s’ adventure.

So, if you partake, knock one back tonight for the man who in is part responsible for my globe-trodding — and if you don’t, picture my Grandfather staring at you, belching, and bluntly asking “Why not?” in perfect Scottish brogue.

 

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“Sky’s On Fire”: Urban vs. Rural Reactions to Fire

On March 5th, 2017, a fire tore through a Scrap Yard in Govan, Glasgow, sending plumes of billowing smoke skyward — much to the curiosity of Glasgwegians. On the streets in City Centre, on campus at the University, and in Partick near the River Clyde, bystanders at bus stops and crossing the street stood frozen in awe of the never-ending formations forming from the billowing smoke.

A few months ago, I was living and working in Northern California when wildfires tore through the hills, blackening everything in their path. Wildfire crews worked around the clock to extinguish the flames, but not before a fair amount of damage had already been done. There’s only so much which can be done for a wildfire when the fields of sun-dried grasses present an opportune tinderbox for even the smallest flame (I reflected on that experience with an essay and photo series here).

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After The Fire II, Brooks, California © Caroline C. Evans Abbott 2016

In both scenarios, a fire commands the attention of powerless bystanders who chance upon it or its effects. But in stark contrast to fires in urban areas, bystanders can be few and far between, only seeing the effects of a blaze up close and personal when it’s on their doorstep.

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Lake Berryessa Fire, Brooks, California, (c) Caroline C. Evans Abbott 2016

But in urban areas like Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city by population, human reactions happen in real-time, expressing emotion and concern for something which instantly hits close to home. The outrage, concern, fear, and sadness hits every citisen within hours of the first spark.

IMG_4214.jpgAnd fire crews in urban areas clearly have a different set of parameters to work with: tasked with extinguishing a flame in an incredibly high-risk area where human life flourishes and congregates.  Urban areas are engineered around accessibility, and while battling a blaze in a densely populated area carries with it its own logistical issues, a wildfire taking multiple acres of land per day in the midst of some of the most unforgiving terrain in the world for motorcars is not an easy task — simply getting firefighters and tools to the periphery is a critically challenging, dangerous, and very costly endeavour.

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Urban Fire Under Glass, Glasgow, Scotland, (c) Caroline C. Evans Abbott, 2017.

Even from the safety of a cozy flat, there are few views which are not inclusive of a fire’s effects in some light — and the longer it burns, the more this issue presents itself. The slightest change in vantage point in an urban area will reveal the fire’s presence even if the fire itself is not directly visible: the demeanour of bystanders going about their day to day, the chatter of a local shop, a television or radio giving updates. Concern hangs thick in the air.

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Fire’s Effects Linger in the Atmosphere, contributing to Beautiful Sunsets — themselves often a product of pollutants. Glasgow, Scotland, (c) Caroline C. Evans Abbott 2017

But in California, where the Lake Berryessa fire burned thousands of acres, outrage, while certainly felt amongst NorCal’s population, was not as personal: it wasn’t on their doorstep… yet.

We have something to learn from the discrepancy between these events not just for their obvious differences, but chiefly, for their overall commonality. It is critical for the preservation of forests and the management of wildfire, particularly, that accessibility to personalised images which demonstrate fire’s impact on human and animal populations are distributed — because otherwise, human populations will always continue to be more terrorised by a lit match in a humid cement jungle than in a massive field of hay.

New Glasgow Guardian Article Out Now: “Glasgow protests Trump’s Muslim Ban”

At the end of January, I covered Glasgow’s two protests of Trump’s ‘Seven Nation Ban’ — or ‘Muslim Ban’ in a much more ‘newsier’ style than is typical of my past work for the Guardian. I investigated two separate rallies which took place within mere blocks of each other — one sponsored by Stand Up To Racism (SUTR), and the other, a privately-organised and unaffiliated event organised by Hali Amezianne Campbell. The new article investigates the reasons for the two separate gatherings in addition to covering the events themselves. Read it here.

Covering these events and subsequently reflecting on them  has given me immense faith in the character of the global community and in humanity, but has also elucidated the fact that truly, no one is perfect — particularly political parties, individuals, organisations, and factions — no matter how worthy their cause. Critically, it has drawn to my attention the fact that the responsibility of global citisens (in an age which poses increasingly more daunting challenges to that state of being) is ‘simply’ to keep one another in check: fact-checking, remaining objective, and ensuring that we all recognise our ability to morally falter. The longer an individual remains unchecked, the higher the risk of detrimental decisions, and serious ramifications to follow. The task of democratic constituents is to continue challenging our leaders — something the American press is consistently attacked for doing, guilty of doing incorrectly, or some combination thereof.

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Protesters take on increasingly sombre expressions as protests continue, growing in numbers: Glasgow City Centre Trump Muslim Ban Protests, Glasgow, Scotland, Caroline C. Evans Abbott, January 2017.

Conjoining photography with writing through my continuing coverage of Glasgow’s reaction to Trump’s election and subsequent executive actions — and this project in particular — is an exceptional opportunity for which I am very grateful. To capture the faces whose attendance to these rallies made the difference in proving Scotland and the United Kingdom’s majority state of solidarity with United States political discord has made all the difference in the way I perceive, process, and draw conclusions from the cultural events I cover.

Reading student journalism from around the world can truly take one on a journey without ever leaving your desk — for this reason alone, I encourage everyone to reach out and take a few moments to read some content they otherwise may not have.

 

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“A Boy Called Blue”, Glasgow City Centre Trump Muslim Ban Protest, Glasgow, Scotland, Caroline C. Evans Abbott, Jan. 2017

A sample of the article, below, details my interactions with a young boy called Blue (above) whose protest sign was by far the greatest of the night. For more photos of the rally and a thank-you note to Blue, click here.

But among the swarming crowds trying to make sense of the separate rallies, a little face, bundled in hat and coat, held a sign high at the periphery and gazed into the droves of people. His name is Blue, with eyes to match, and as he bravely consented to have his photo taken with permission from his Dad, he peered over the top of the cardboard picket sign he made all by himself, it’s big letters and colourful handle conveying a very direct message: “Mr. Trump [,] Everyone is the same change your ways!”

Hues of Old Glasgow

Glasgow is a friendly city rife for exploration even on the coldest of days. The winter brings with it the evocation of drab imagery: it is expected that every day spent wandering in this bitter season will include only gales from the North Atlantic to match the monochrome surrounding denizens whose wardrobes seem to have submitted to the bleak conditions. Fortunately, aside from the frigidity of the atmosphere, none of that is accurate… at least not all of the time.

The city is, of course, unforgivingly cold in the winter. Humidity hangs motionless in the air and sinks into even the most weatherproof of clothes indiscriminately. Citisens and visitors old enough to have errands appear as regularly as ever, going about their duties, where children seem less easily affected by the cold, darting between alleys and streets chasing one another on scooters and bikes. Aside from the historic tenement flats overlooking some of the city’s most popular roads, their ancient architecture looms over modernised storefronts as occasional, glamorously sleek structures blink between them.

Living here demands recognition of this fact: it is a confluence of old and new at every turn, an undeniable embodiment of the cyclical nature of life. History is patchworked into every element of life here even in the most modernised parts. Often, this overlap is felt most strongly through the creative freedoms taken by residents of tucked-away homes and buildings: using colour and quirkiness to underline the overlapping ages through architectural self-expression.

Attn. Mr. Trump: You Are No Son of Scotland

When I arrived in Scotland this September, a cab driver told me “Scotland always welcomes back her Sons and Daughters”. This sentiment has been echoed by many for each month I have been here, often at points when I would otherwise have felt alone. Instead, I felt surrounded by a community which loves its people – all of its people.

Just like me, Donald Trump is a Scottish-American citizen. And as a Scottish American whose culture and family is rooted so deeply within this community, I can speak to the fact that that connection carries with it a great deal of pride. Pride in country, in family, and in fellow men and women.

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Peaceful Protest: Inaugural Protest a Demonstration of Varying Opinions Coming Together to Admonish Trump. Glasgow City Centre, Trump Inauguration Protest Rally. Glasgow Scotland. 20 January, 2017. Caroline C. Evans Abbott

The fire and ferocity behind Scotland’s pursuits of freedom are a well-documented (and frequently embellished) facet of our culture. That fervour was present tonight in the hearts of the people who came together in City Centre.

There were no blue faces tonight, no tartans – and no, no haggis. But there was peaceful protest, there was ferocity, and there was a sense of safe community.

Being behind a lens frequently gives you a free social pass into diplomacy — the world sees you photographing and assumes you are doing your job and are to be left alone.

I make every effort when photographing to reveal truth, to remain objective, to analyse in the moment so that others may see that truth: to capture my perspective through compositions which convey the emotional and cultural relevance of a scene. But today I am a participant as well.

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“Mary with Child”: Protesters Smile at Joke Told by Speaker. Trump Inauguration Protest Rally, Glasgow City Centre, 20 January 2017. Caroline C. Evans Abbott

Behind my lens, I was shaken and moved to tears as a man began his speech with an emphatic battle cry: “Donald Trump: I am not afraid of you”, followed by the screams of the crowd. Sons and daughters of Scotland and of the World stood together tonight in a joint effort — putting aside political and cultural differences to stand in solidarity with my American friends and family. With me. With you.

Today my heart bleeds for the millions of innocent people at home who are afraid of facing a future which jeopardizes their religious, social, and human freedoms. For my friends. For my family. For those who choose to believe the values of the Democratic Party to be so clearly portrayed by one or two examples, and who then choose to regard my loved ones and I as ‘unsaved’ because of it. If that is the saviour you follow, then I am justified in divorcing myself from your brand of faith and am further at peace with my own.

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Protesters Gather Below Donald Dewar Statue. Glasgow City Centre Trump Inauguration Protest Rally. 20 January 2017. Caroline C. Evans Abbott

Mr. Trump has taken his oath today, and it is my hope that millions of Americans do so as well. Whether they be participating in his festivities, remaining impartial, or protesting his inauguration, may they vow to keep their hearts and minds open to the opinions of their fellow Americans.

It is my hope that they vow to expand their horizons. To not get angry, but to be thoughtful. To read more. To vow to do act with the class and grace our nation deserves, to commit acts of kindness, to deny gilded temptations which gloss over the truth. To make themselves uncomfortable, and then to come to terms with why they may feel that way. To swear an oath to defend our nation from whatever evil it will encounter: to defend your brothers, your sisters, your countrymen.

Mr. Trump may not support the arts, education, equal rights, or maintaining the separation of church and state which we rely upon for democracy to function, but I do.

In protest to Mr. Trump’s ideologies concerning education, the arts, his blatant lack of support for Native American rights, and his demagogic rhetoric, I will take to mine in whatever way I can through my art and writing.

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He has taken to demeaning, to bullying, and to fighting a big story with a bigger one. He has chosen his weapon of choice in a battle for America. And I will take up mine.

Scotland took a stand today, alongside thousands of citizens all over the world to protest the entry of a man into the most powerful position in the world – a man whose clinically narcissistic temperament has been overlooked by a population which felt abandoned by our government. That abandonment is what we must address going forward: with love, with education, and with exposure to the arts. But all good things in moderation, and I feel I speak for Scotland and for many Scottish American citisens when I say:

Mr. Trump, you are no Son of Scotland.

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“Sons of Scotland”: Two Young Boys Watch Protest Unfold. Glasgow City Centre Trump Inauguration Protest. 20 January, 2017. Glasgow, Scotland. Caroline C. Evans Abbott

“More Than a Memory”, Glasgow Guardian Article – Glasgow University Memorial Garden’s Role in Remembrance with University Chaplain Rev. Stuart MacQuarrie

I recently had the chance to sit down with The University of Glasgow’s Chaplain, Reverend Stuart MacQuarrie on behalf of The Glasgow Guardian to discuss the understated elegance of the Glasgow University Memorial Garden’s embodiment of a greater purpose – one of remembrance and learning, and a contemporary call for peace:

We are faced with the rise of an age which could benefit greatly from outward demonstrations of grace, empathy, and love for our fellow man – a time when it is greatly tempting to defend the hierarchical importance of our contemporary politico-social tribulations, wars, genocide, hate crimes, and political buffoonery. But to indulge our fears, our prejudices, and our biases is to deny the institution and purpose of higher education in favour of the often-easier route. All paths of hate lead to war, all paths of ignorance lead to fear, and our actions on those paths, no matter how socially enforced, are chosen. Remembering what we have lost and what we have learned in loss does more to honour to the lost themselves than woefully mourning the cavity felt in their absence alone. Not “now more than ever”, but just as critically as before, we are faced with the consequence of governmental failing at a scale which crosses political platforms and international borders. We are presented the choice to enact positive, microcosmic change to offset large-scale tragedy.

from “More Than A Memory: Glasgow University’s War Memorial Garden”, Caroline C Evans Abbott

Rev. MacQuarrie offered excellent insight and shared plentiful, realistic, and encouraging sentiments which resound particularly strongly during this time of international politico-social discontent, stressing the Chaplaincy’s inclusive ideology:

“Communities are just made up of individual human beings. And people with good bits and bad bits – I kept saying at the Freshers address: I couldn’t care less whether anyone is Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Secular, Humanist, whatever – I care even less whether anyone is gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgender – what’s important is who the person is, and who they aspire to be. The University Chaplaincy has got to lead on that.” – Rev. Stuart MacQuarrie

It is particularly critical that in times of large-scale societal disagreement with the power for serious social division that we regard the memory of the fallen, forgetting neither the reason for their absence nor the lessons we have learnt through it.

Working on this piece offered me a great deal of peace during a trying time, and I am thankful for the wisdom the Reverend shared in the context of current and lasting global tribulations.
The full article is available on the Guardian’s website, where you will find a plethora of great work from my peers, and will be available in print upon publication of the November issue.

“Nothin’ Left to Burn”: California Wildfire and the Metaphor of Human Choice

For days, weeks, or even months after a fire, ash and smoke linger visibly in the atmosphere, purveying the haunting scent of autumn to the denizens of this vacuous land. The effects of our human actions linger, too, like so much smoke, whether we are aware of or care for their damage or not.

These vapors of deadened leaves and thick woodsmoke temporarily veil the fixture that is that unrelenting sun, as ash from low-hanging clouds of smoke fall in fragile, soft flakes like snow, but these false disparities are hardly welcome ones.

Chemical Drop, Capay Valley, California © Caroline C. Evans Abbott 2016

 

Like any parent, Mother Nature’s great patience sometimes abates, punishing even our most minimally careless actions with irrevocably-damaging, fearfully-profound responses — the proverbial straw thus breaking the camel’s back, and calling upon the resulting denial of service as hope for change.

Locals of this area are hardly passive about this element of California’s weather: there is a mutual understanding visible within the fear that the next fire may be just close enough to their own home to cause for an evacuation — perhaps just close enough to fondle the property lines of the homes in which they house their memories. California’s drought (combined with the fact that wildfire is, of course, an integral part of the ecological structure of the region in some ways) makes for a perfect firestorm.

During these troubling times, the murmurings which circulate in small factions of wary community members here are statically similar, and are always expressed in somber consensus: there’s simply “nothin’ left to burn“. Blackened hills in recovery all-too-often play host, their charred remains a framed horizon over which smoke can be seen billowing from their neighbors. The smoke slows everything here (traffic and conversation included), and within a few days, a new fire will overtake the mountains and turn the horizon into a nihilistic minimalist’s photographic dream-come-true.

 

On The Prairie, Yolo County, California © Caroline C. Evans Abbott 2016
On The Prairie, Yolo County, California © Caroline C. Evans Abbott 2016

The ominous plumes of smoke rising from California’s iconic hills provide scale to its expansive, open skies: standing next to these wonders begotten of nature itself, we understand little more than the general concept that ‘we are small’. Where in New England and communities like it, trees and canopies overtake the skyline almost everywhere you look, these vast, open plains, parched hills, and cloudless skies are, in their magnitude, often difficult to grasp due to such conditions and the lack therein of comparative microcosm.

In the academic world, we are taught that each action is to bear an equal and opposite reaction both literally and figuratively, and the natural world is no different. Because that which some find “insignificant” — the disposal of a cigarette butt, coals left in an all-but-dead campfire — is frequently met with enormity in reaction by the earth under such a firestorm of circumstance, and here we are provided further insight into the lesson the earth conveys in so doing.

Nature lends to us through these disasters, leading by example as a teacher, indicating that the significance of our interactions with the land in any capacity, great or small, should be borne only with the awareness and understanding of the great responsibility necessary to respect its resources. Viewing that concept through an academic and spiritual lens lends even further insight into the metaphoric qualities of these conditions, and there we can make several observations.

Plume II, Capay Valley, California © Caroline C. Evans Abbott 2016
Plume II, Capay Valley, California © Caroline C. Evans Abbott 2016

In its destruction, a wildfire will have amounted to magnificent and horrific visual effect, illustrative of how a mistake, bad judgement, or careless action at the hands of a single human being can amount to more damage than one person could ever hope to rectify alone.

This secures the understanding not only how much human beings of capable of, but the potential therein to cause both disaster and balance. As communities gather ever-closer in the wake of disaster with hopes for safety in numbers, such activity begets the establishment of communal efforts aimed at the rectification of the careless mistakes of others — mistakes which so frequently cause these fires.

But the enormity of natural reactions to human stimuli is offset by the individual’s insignificance often felt upon staring at an unimaginably large plume of smoke, rising into the comparatively small atmosphere, reaching volume greater than the mountain from whence it came — presumptuously, we realize that this itself is certainly larger than a human being could ever be. But as a product of nature ourselves, we equally and oppositely reach its capacities for destruction — we have begotten this destruction, this response elicited by our action, and as such, we are afforded yet another shift in perspective…

These fires are perfect metaphor for human choice: that human beings must consider the consequences of their actions both in feeling and in application prior to acting upon their impulses and wonts — even the simplest ones.

Our actions taken in love, in war, and in every moment between require the utmost attention to detail in our self-awareness not because we should strive for an flawless, emotionless existence, but because the world requires little of us as a species apart from our implied task of taking care of one another.

Crews Assemble, Brooks, California © Caroline C. Evans Abbott 2016
Crews Assemble, Brooks, California © Caroline C. Evans Abbott 2016

 

Forever, communities of all sizes will take upon themselves the task of repairing the losses and damages to one another accrued through human error or borne of human choice all in the same manner.

Thereby, to temper one’s emotional response wisely is to do great service to humankind — temperance which is never fully achievable but something to which humanity is, as a unit, capable of working towards for the betterment of all its members and all functions thereof. Self awareness, altruism, and empathy are the only cure to the inherent tendency of human beings to simply be human… that is, to err.

 

Plume Rises, Capay Valley, California © Caroline C. Evans Abbott 2016
Plume Rises, Capay Valley, California © Caroline C. Evans Abbott 2016

 

Within each of us, the spark exists to act with minimal to no consideration for others, no matter the fortitude of our sense of personal decorum, and certain situations, people, and conditions are tempting tinderboxes. Metaphorically, a dropped cigarette butt, an improperly-extinguished, legal campsite, or an illegal campfire all represent choices made with either ignorance, thoughtlessness, or with great inconsideration to potential eventualities. In each hypothetical circumstance, the reasoning for having taken the action, or the corresponding explanation thereof is irrelevant, because the outcome — and corresponding chain reaction — is the same. But the forest has no tongue, as so astutely noted by the Lorax, and, like some strong human pride, it cannot ask for help when it has been burned.

Often, even when it is felt that there is nothing left to burn, the actions of one match, lit under ill-advised emotion, poor consideration, or both, can billow into a form immediately requiring the care and devotion of many others to heal what has been damaged, and in many cases, to completely rebuild all prior establishments — even those most inherent to our humanity.The smallest inconsideration can result in great abuse of that which is good in the world. Each human action, no matter how small, bears consequence, and must be treated as such: we must, with the mercenary dedication of soldiers, realize this and task ourselves with the vigilance required for commitment to this effort.

It is the responsibility of humanity not only to consider one another, but to never lose sight of this even in the face of personal challenge just as it is the responsibility of humanity to care for the environment we possess… Because, in truth and actuality, eventually that environment will deliver well-timed, forceful, and poignant reminders of the fact that we do not possess it at all: it possesses us, and there is always more to burn.

At The Edge Of The World: Socioeconomic Disparity Between Davis, California and Outlying Farming Communities

The farmlands of the flat, sun-crisped central valley region provide both the amusing illusion of a flat earth and the ethereally haunting, surreal feeling that beyond those plains, perhaps the world really does just… stop.

Falling off the edge of the world, Brooks, California, June 2016
Falling off the edge of the world, Brooks, California, June 2016

For many residents of these outlying farming regions, this is the end of the world: micro-communities thrive here around the agricultural industry and, as many are so intimately tied to tending fields and maintaining machines in order to make a living, breaking away from this life is next to impossible. Crop management, maintenance of irrigation systems, employment and management of labor resources, and land stewardship are demanding tasks with the severity of California’s drought, and just as in the days of government-incentivized, manifest destiny farming, agricultural responsibilities resound their timelessness: someone has to feed ol’ Betsy.

"Ol' Betsy" grazing peacefully in the fields outside of Davis, Yolo County, California, May 2016
“Ol’ Betsy” grazing peacefully in the fields outside of Davis, Yolo County, California, May 2016

While contemporary situations certainly mirror the agelessness of responsibility within farming communities, the differences in today’s agricultural situation in California’s Central Valley are most noticeable by virtue of the startling and very visual disparity of wealth and privilege between the glittering University towns where resources abound and the outlying farmland.

By virtue of the great distance between residential dwellings due to the sheer pasture and field size, homes are often offset at great distance to one another, isolating members of these communities even further from assembling for gatherings and events. Grouped in small clusters, or standing solitarily amidst a great expanse of crops which serve as constant reminder of trade responsibility, these homes offer variation in style, but a vast majority are in some state of decrepitude. In fact, they often present a state of grave disrepair, and all too often, the schools and public works facilities which serve these homes appear to be in similar condition.

Farming equipment, dying trees, and old barn, Just Outside Davis, California, May 2016
Farming equipment, dying trees, and old barn, Just Outside Davis, California, May 2016

Photographic documentation of these outlying regions is of utmost importance in conveying these differences — improving visibility through artistic interpretation of culture, education, and social dynamic promotes a visibility which seeks to define the significance of every cracking board of every barn and present it in contrast to the idea of seamless, gleaming structures which so often surround University communities.

California’s economy rests not unsubstantially on the backs of those who contribute to the agricultural industry: in 2014, the state exported $50 billion in agricultural revenue. With over 75,000 farms and ranches registered with the government in this time frame, state economic dependence on California’s agricultural culture is understandably well-founded. On paper, business is booming — crops are selling, providing goods to export and upping California’s status on the international business spectrum. But in reality, while agriculture is in the black, the state of many of the Californian farming communities remain effectively in the symbolic red — a difference which remains at stark contrast to another of the state’s major cultural identifiers — the University of California system.

Window to the world: an open barn provides a framed view of the minimalist landscape, Brooks, California, June 2016
Window to the world: an open barn provides a framed view of the minimalist landscape, Brooks, California, June 2016

With a $14 billion dollar endowment, the state’s University system is also booming, drawing talented professionals, academics, and researchers from all corners of the globe to contribute to the production of some of the most elite research, cutting-edge technologies, and most novel theories in the modern world. The towns which surround these Universities — especially the larger ones like UC Davis — are thriving, athenian visions of socially-conscious, epicurean ideals centered around community and family.

Davis is a wonderful (if strange and very expensive) town to live in from the perspective of an East Coast native, featuring a bustling farmer’s market complete with accordion players covering Cyndi Lauper, Bryan Adams, and ABBA; art galleries; and small businesses thriving as permanent fixtures of the community here. It is the West Coast equivalent of an East Coast University town (with a deficit in overall majority of the telephone poles given the West Coast tendency to bury the power in affluent communities).

The University’s success provides economic ground to stand on for the ‘immediate family’ of the town; shops, businesses, and cultural centers. Most residents ride bikes, carry cloth grocery bags, and are generally very ‘crunchy granola’ — but occasionally, a beat-up truck with mud caked onto tire walls, windshield, and mirrors, Cummins Diesel Engine roaring and dual exhaust humming, will roll through with a “Hillbilly Dream” sticker and put things in perspective.

A local emblem of patronage to the arts and an icon of University power, the Mondavi Center in Davis, California, stands as a multi-million dollar, glimmering beacon of humanism and economic might with carefully crafted, slick sandstone tile coating the exterior of the building almost entirely — it is the University equivalent of the Statue of Liberty, situated directly next to the welcome center, beckoning all to the best the town has to offer, and itself partly a gift from a wealthy donor. It is, by multi-million dollar design, insurmountably beautiful, and the crown jewel of the Davis campus; but its slick, pricey walls are perfect architectural metaphor for a glass ceiling for the outlying towns.

Side of building in Esparto painted with fading letters, Esparto, California, July 2016, Caroline C. Evans Abbott
Side of building in Esparto painted with fading letters, Esparto, California, July 2016, Caroline C. Evans Abbott

Higher education is often much more easily accessible for these students through local community colleges, from which many students transfer to the ‘UC’s’, as they are colloquially, affectionately called, but getting there is a longer — and more daunting — journey. With many local students’ families intimately tied to the pursuit of agriculture as a way of life, the temptation to stay and contribute to this community through similar lines of work is often reinforced sociologically, and when the difficulty factor is accounted for, students may be less likely to end up with a quality, well-rounded education: less likely to see any more of the world than what they have been given.

"Dinner and a Movie", Esparto, California, July 2016, Caroline C. Evans Abbott
“Dinner and a Movie”, Esparto, California, July 2016, Caroline C. Evans Abbott

The University system makes vested, well-intentioned efforts to attract students from farming communities in the hopes of their contribution to academics fields related to agriculture, but the ability of those students to cross over to other areas– specifically in the arts, humanities, and sciences — is more difficult purely by virtue of University focus on this ‘like attracts like’ idea.

While there is no shortage of agricultural tourism, an industry dependent on the need of urban-dwelling professionals to escape the pressures of city life, there is an apparent deficit in data collected which reflects travel destinations of those within agricultural communities. Given that any social question is a complexly multifaceted issue, it cannot be blindly assumed that education alone is a distinguishing factor for this discrepancy. There is, however, basis to hypothesize that the pursuit of quality higher education may contribute to the accessibility of international and domestic leisure travel significantly. Whether by increased income due to qualification, expected norms within educated communities, or countless other multidimensional factors, travel is undoubtedly more accessible to those with a traditional nine-to-five position.

The entrance to the 505 near Esparto, California, July 2016, Caroline C. Evans Abbott
The entrance to the 505 near Esparto, California, July 2016, Caroline C. Evans Abbott

The traveling process exposes the human mind to cultural stimuli which serve to expand the thought process and to cerebrally stimulate the creative and academic development of the mind– doing so is instrumentally important in managing a well-rounded education, a luxury not afforded to these farming communities due to aforementioned social construct and educational inaccessibility.

This concept, illustrated by such poignant examples of cultural detritus reflects regression to near fiefdom levels of social construct: extensive resources are pooled within privileged communities, upper class members have better access to more intricate, liberal arts or research-based educations, and lower class members often pursuing trade-based education or labor, supporting the economy throughout with their contributions to the agricultural industry but with lessened access to the resources available to the privileged as a result of their commitment. The Athenian values of Davis, California are contrasted by the Spartan imagery of surrounding farmland.

Powerlines overshadow a residential piece of property and collection of bovine friends, Brooks, California, June 2016
Powerlines overshadow a residential piece of property and collection of bovine friends, Brooks, California, June 2016

The socioeconomic disparity represented by a simple drive through this part of the country potently illustrates certain discrepancy between two worlds — imagery which is effectively captured through artistic, photographic accounts of this region. This breadth of photography seeks to demonstrate both an intimate account of California farm and farming community life, suggesting a sharp cultural disparity between two worlds which are unique in their incredibly close geographic proximity to one another, seeking overall to echo the necessity for reallocation of resources to benefit members of these communities at a level which is as academically beneficial as it is monetarily remunerative.

In order to improve community; education, not industry; must be considered and doctored with appropriate accessibility for farming community members to liberal arts courses if for no other reason than to allow those members to visualize and comprehend the benefit their trade (and contributions therein) brings to the increasingly globalized world economy. Higher education must be moderated with cultural sensitivity in order to truly educate, and an approach which both values the contributions of these local farming communities and prompts those within them to pursue academic areas of interest outside of their expected community career norms is critical to student — and University — success.

Powerless reflected off of rice paddies, Yolo County, California, May 2016
Powerless reflected off of rice paddies, Yolo County, California, May 2016

Many residents of these intensely agriculturally-focused communities will never depart from the farming lifestyle: for many of them, powerlines will be their Eifel Towers, granaries their skyscrapers, the reflection of trees on rice paddies, flood and irrigation plains their Taj Mahal, and blood-red sunsets catching the bare translucency of softly-quivering grain their African savannah… and, until educational accessibility is improved within the University of California system through application of University resources towards community education endeavors in outlying agricultural communities, The Mondavi Center, their palace of Versailles.

 

Dear Artists: On Hipster Hunting And Artistic McCarthyism

Stop calling each other hipsters. Please.

The entirety of this idea rings in my head in McCarthy-era accusations — “are you now or have you ever been a hipster?” Giles Corey’s voice from Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’ stoically encourages “more weight”, and relieving him his fate is more important than you getting your intellectual rocks off (pun shamelessly intended).

The more effort our community invests in deciding who is hipster, or what is hipster, or how or why or when a hipster is truly a hipster — the less effort you invest into your interests, your future, and your education, and most importantly, your art.

Theoretically, it stands to reason that this makes you less adept at your own artistry, simply due to the fact that, the less time you expend on expanding and exercising your personal repertoire of skill, the weaker your artistic reflexes become. If you happen to be an artist studying at any academic level, you can see the folly here given the usually-high program costs.

Now, if you are willing to replace those hard-won reflexes with the ability to identify (per individually-developed requirements and ideologies) hipsters in their natural habitat, bully for you. Or, if this happens to be part of your personal artistry, or a profoundly important socioeconomically-based installation project pertaining to this concept, please continue being you. I encourage your art and would thoroughly support the existence of your project. But if this does not sound like you, I have a piece of unfortunate news.

You are buying into the witch hunt-inspired, hipster-hunting, Mean-Girls-esque culture which Gen X, Gen Y, and the Millennials have built an order of magnitude more than the person you feel you are qualified to be judging.

I would be lying if I claimed to have never fallen victim to this culture of accusation-encouraging, classification-driven, disingenuous art people: we are each capable of great and terrible things. And so, to speak from the experience which comes from living the ignorance of youth to its fullest potential, accusation is the cousin of confrontation and is generally a really, really bad and altogether forever-regrettable idea (particularly if you have no marketable skill for real-life confrontation).

As a community, it stands to reason that we can make more headway promoting the importance and value of art to society if we don’t attack one another internally (our friend Abraham Lincoln touched upon this widely-applicable concept quite some time ago). We exist in a time where there is great need for artists who will accurately address the world’s changing problems (and solutions) where there are boundless resources for many, and next to none for others. As a community, the time has come to see art for art without disparaging one another on the basis of our personal choices. As a community, we must leave behind all antecedent expectations: and exceed them limitlessly. We cannot continue with these artless attacks on one another in any capacity. Criticism has its place, but let not that criticism take the hand of cattiness, for no one will benefit.

Now that I, too, have expended valuable time, brain chemicals, and caffeine resources discussing concept this with my ever-receptive computer screen, perhaps those who discuss this freely and willingly have, in fact, accomplished their goal by drawing another party into the melee. If this be the case, please accept my congratulations for a job well done… You hipster.