A Landscape of Patterns

The Art of the Field

story and photos by Derek Doeffinger

Spring presents both nature and farmer a fresh canvas to create new works of field art. The farmer prefers to start with a blank brown canvas of dirt. And a giant canvas it is. Upon it he plows furrows in geometric patterns. They are precisely stroked by a computer-controlled tractor directed by GPS satellites. Nature, in the form of hills, swamps, and boulders, sometimes intervenes to add a dash of serendipitous but enlivening swirls and curves.

Freshly planted, the geometric grid soon erupts with circles, arcs, ovals, cylinders in assorted colors and ever changing forms as seeds sprout and grow. Daily they add to their creative designs with leaves and blossoms and fresh hues mixing under the urge of sun to become a quilt of colors and shapes.

The efficiency and precise spacing required to cultivate crops like corn, cabbage, grains, grapes, and tree fruits produces giant geometric patterns. Topography and rambunctious nature (weeds) often add their own creative touches to the tapestry.

The Randomness of Nature

Nature’s style may lack the parallel lines of GPS but is no less precise. Driven by DNA, it paints with a randomness whose precision is hidden in the details. Already enmeshed in a dormant canvas tangled with vines, saplings, roots, and fallen seeds, nature’s works arise in organized chaos. Responding opportunistically to the available moisture, sunlight, temperature, and their own schedules, plants spring forth and bloom. The canvases they present tend to appeal to those favoring artists who throw and splash paints about. The canvases are smaller and rarely approach the size of the gigantic murals of a farmer’s field. What they lack in size they make up with originality and insight.

Nature’s art is more an act of improvisation. And like improv her works are short-lived. Wherever she finds space, she goes to work. With a palette of bluets, forget-me-nots, phlox, dandelions, and assorted grasses, she can please the eye with smaller, impressionistic works that last but a few days.