Listen Hard, Walk Softly. A Work in Bronze by Ellen Woodbury July 22 2014
Written by Ellen Woodbury, Stone Sculptor.
I have been carving stone for 8 years. It has happened during those years that I am struck with an idea for a sculpture that cannot be safely sculpted in stone because the possibility of breakage is too high. Until now, I have simply abandoned those ideas and moved on. However, the inspiration for “Listen Hard, Walk Softly” was too powerful for me to ignore.
Last year I read a book entitled What the Robin Knows, by Jon Young. This little book is a fascinating manual for understanding what birds are communicating to one another and to other inhabitants of the forest through their songs and actions. I discovered in my reading that I am what Young calls a “bird plow.” I am unable to stifle my exuberance when out hiking and, consequently, disturb all the birds in the area. The birds sing alarm calls to other forest dwellers, and all the wildlife is gone 5 minutes before I arrive at any given location. My husband, Brian, has suggested often that I be quiet and subdued. I try, but never really succeed in containing my joy at being out in Nature. My behavior has a name. This is an embarrassment, a revelation, and a turning point, I hope.
I began to think of the larger context of our culture. Most of the land where I live is paved over with streets and houses and parking lots. Cars travel by my house and studio everyday and make a lot of noise. We are plugged in to our own personal soundtracks with radio and iPods. Our culture is intent on the opposite: we have a tremendous impact on the earth, and do not listen at all.
When I was in Elementary School, my Dad bought land in the woods and had a house built, which we lived in for many years. The woods were home to many white-tailed deer. I often had deer encounters where the deer and I would share eye contact for a couple of seconds until the deer walked or ran away. Those were memorable moments for me. “Listen Hard, Walk Softly” is an amalgam of experiences colliding and mixing together: my shame in being a bird plow, my sadness at the loss of Nature where I live, and the quiet magic of a wild creature. These meditations struck a responsive chord so strong I had to make this sculpture in bronze. The ears would never have survived in stone, and they are the integral element. If I don’t listen, I will never hear.