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I have the unique ability to smell matsutake mushrooms. Not everyone can smell them. They do not smell like any other mushroom with that heady sense of humus and hearty earth. Instead, they smell like the cinnamon disk candies that my mother used to consume rather than cough in church. Matsutake have such a distinctly inorganic, red hot, seemingly synthetic scent that it stops me mid stride, and I suddenly hunch over, peering into the piles of pine needles and forest detritus. 

I wish I was sending this to you by mail, a handwritten surprise that by showing up in your hands might startle you from all the grim realities that we are living through. 

I have a pen pal. When Frank’s letters arrive it is as though the world has paused until I can rip into the envelope and let his words enter my mind after their long journey. We write to one another about the flight of baby birds, the wild seasons of weather and creativity and our souls, about wind and weirdness and hope. Our letters are often caught in strange cycles of syncopation, the dialog tumbling and non-linear. It is one of the best things in my life.

I just spent several days with the ocean. I watched it turn from jade green to hot orange in the afternoon sun. I saw it agitated and monochrome under storming night skies. The ocean was gentle against my skin, and I also sensed it's pulling boundless might. I felt cleansed by the salty water, yet I know the oceans are treated as sewers and rubbish bins. While a hurricane brewed across the planet, I counted on the peaceful tides.
An ocean is many things.   

What endures? What needs saving? Are you an archive of the past? How are you creating the future? When are you? What will you be? Why are you going to be?

Throughout the last several months, with hundreds of brilliant students, I sought new connections between past, present, and potential futures, exploring time as a language, a measure, an art medium, a social context, a scientific principle, a spiritual space, and a cultural expression.

I was alone and attentive. Across the lake, I watched two wolves accelerate from a walk to a carnivorously linear sprint. Practiced predation, nimble legs, a moving target, and need pulled them over the horizon in the midnight dusk. I wondered if each hunt feels like a singular event, or if wolf life is a fluid cycle of hunger and hunt and satiation and hunger again. We three had witnessed each other, each motivated by unique hunger and distinct metabolisms. 

“Let curiosity lead.” These three words are my most offered advice and my emboldening ethos. In the past year, thanks to terrific opportunities and residencies, and the financial support of the Pollock Krasner Foundation, curiosity has been my map, terrain, and motivation. I calibrated my compass to a migrating northern star, one that has led me to the end of dirt roads, into astonishing wildernesses and industrial wastelands. 

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©2020 Nina Elder