by Eileen Weber
Sometimes, inspiration can happen when you least expect it. And if you’re Michelina Docimo, a writer who has been previous contributor to this site and a certified sustainable building advisor, that Eureka! moment took place at the Bartlett Arboretum & Gardens in 2009.
That year, there was an exhibit of artist Kathy Hirshon’s hand-painted panels of wood in diptychs and triptychs called Spirited Trees. It was a one-woman show that Hirshon created specifically for the Bartlett. Initially, she was thinking of working with other mediums like silk or leather. Then, she said she had her own Eureka! moment.
“I literally slapped my forehead,” she said. “I’m at an arboretum. I should be working with wood!”
And when she did, she felt like a channel for what was produced. She used watercolors and ink as well as a wood burning tool. One line led to another and another. A nose in one piece became an eye or an ear in another. It all just flowed together.
That’s exactly what captured Docimo’s attention. While she was covering the exhibit for an article in ARTES Magazine, she found it spiritually moving in a surprising way. Because of Hirshon’s work, she came to the realization not only are these trees a part of nature but so are we. We are all one. We are all connected.
That is one of the key elements in Hirshon’s core beliefs. She said that all life is connected and we are all one mind. Docimo clearly got the message, but she took it one step further.
She wrote a book of stories and poems, Echoes: Listening to the Voices in Spirited Trees, based on Hirshon’s work that included interviews of some of the regions spiritual heroes: a rabbi, a jewelry designer, a childbirth educator, a vegetarian chef and author, and many more.
“It sounds like it has nothing to do with sustainability,” Docimo said of the connection between the book and her profession. “It’s a mindset. It’s about living in a kind and spiritual way. It’s about respect.”
That sentiment echoes with another regional hero in Docimo’s book. Moses Boone, a self-proclaimed eco-preneur and founder of Colored Planet, a non-profit organization bringing renewable energy solutions for better urban development in the New Haven region, has been promoting sustainable communities and ultimately trying to make a difference one project at a time.
He portrays it as “bridging the gap between the eco-haves and the eco-have nots.”
“Nothing prohibits people with lots of money putting solar panels up on their roofs,” he said. “But those that need it and can truly benefit from it, can’t get it.”
Docimo, who lives in Stamford, met Boone at a class for sustainable building they were both taking at Gateway Community College in North Haven. Through her interviews with him, she learned about his solid Southern Pentecostal upbringing and the discrimination he experienced being Black in the south. Then, moving to Bedford Stuyvesant in New York City and basking in the diversity. Volunteering to help medical evacuations in Vietnam. Suffering from spinal meningitis. Meeting his Swedish wife and moving to her homeland to raise a family. Discovering the joys of Japanese philosophy.
But one of the most significant experiences for Boone was working on his grandparents’ Virginia farm as a boy. He remembers the summers of fishing in the nearby river. But the summer of 1961 saw no fish. No matter what bait or tackle he used, he never got a bite.
“I caught nothing… Day after day, the same thing. Fishing, and there were no fish,” Boone was quoted as saying in Docimo’s Echoes. “It wasn’t until several years later, after I read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, that I realized the relationship between the farm runoff and how it adversely affected the ecosystem. We ruined the rivers. There was no more life in those muddy waters.”
That realization sparked his drive for sustainable communities. Renewable energy in; fossil fuels out. Community gardens in; pesticides and chemical fertilizers out.
More than a common ideology, Docimo, Hirshon, and Boone all have one thing that ties them together: a connection to the Earth. They each talk about how nature affects them in one way or the other. And, they each have their own tree stories—Hirshon planting a tree with her grandmother and Docimo picking blackberries from a tree in front of her childhood home. And for Boone, his tree story may not happen for a while. When it comes time to leave this life, he wants his ashes buried beneath a Sequoia tree, one of the oldest living tree species on the planet.
From dust, we return to dust. It is a cycle. We are all one. Isn’t that the true meaning of sustainability?