Frames of Nature

Albrecht Dürer, Great Piece of Turf - 1503

 As a human, it's very easy to look at the world through our own sense of scale.  When we take to the woods, we're typically seeking grand landscapes that capture our imagination by virtue of their immensity.  However, if we travel in the opposite direction  down the scale, we can have a similar experience when observing nature in intimate detail.  Above, Dürer's nature study Great Piece of Turf illustrates this idea.  Viewed up close, this clump of grass suddenly becomes a complex and mysterious landscape unto itself, not unlike a forest or jungle.  


I've long been fascinated by this concept of miniature, unseen worlds.  Stories like Watership Down and The Secret of NIMH have always captivated me with how they vividly imagine epics that all take place within a few square (human) miles.  The notion that great drama can be unfolding at our feet without our noticing is powerful.  And unfold it does - although without anthropomorphic characters.  An investigation into even the humblest backyard, park, or field reveals life forms of all kinds, struggling to survive and thrive.  Below, a rural scene by Robert Bateman helps visualize this.  The eponymous groundhog is placed within a pasture, with the old fencerow stretching back towards the shrunken human elements in the right hand corner.  Although humans are part of this landscape, the barn and farmhouse are scaled down, which helps us to imagine the groundhog as the protagonist in this story.  From this perspective, the pasture becomes the entire world, encompassing all the food, shelter, and danger that this particular rodent will ever know.   


Robert Bateman Grandfather's Farm & Groundhog - 1995

We encounter miniature worlds within human environments as well.  Here in New York City, the metropolis is divided by boroughs, neighborhoods and sub-neighborhoods.  Much like the turf in Dürer's painting, a city and it's people can be studied in miniature.  Worlds exist within small frames, and they are no less magnificent than sweeping views of mountains or urban skyline.