Art · Environmental Issues · Sustainability · Water

Nature’s Delicate Balance

Artwork by: Michael Grab
Artwork by: Michael Grab

 Recently I came across the art of Stone Balancing. I’ve seen this practice before along nature trails, but nothing as brilliant as the work of Michael Grab. Watching him put these structures together is fascinating, and you can see that it takes an extreme amount of patience and intuition to balance the rocks perfectly. It got me thinking about the vulnerability of nature, and how our actions on earth play into the cause and effect.

We learned in school about Newton’s Law of Motion, where all forces in nature have equal and opposite reaction. In other words, the forces of nature are working to find balance. When land is moved, wetlands are drained, minerals are mined, or any other major change to the landscape happens, the earth reacts accordingly.

Lately it’s been hard not to notice that the weather has been a little out of the ordinary. Whether or not humans have the ultimate ability to throw Mother Nature off course, it’s important to remember, like all things in life, our environment reflects its need to return to balance.

Think about what happens when it rains in a city. If the land is unable to absorb the precipitation slowly as it is supposed to, the rain causes flooding and the stormwater rushes into nearest stream. The stream then becomes overwhelmed and the outer edges erode, causing dirt and sediment to dump into the water. Not only that, but flooding also carries all other kinds of pollutants into the water. This is not how a watershed is supposed to operate, but obviously most of us living in the modern world do not want the earth to return to the way it was before humans settled it.

Alternatively, we could plan our development better to bring more harmony between  man and nature. Increasing the use of green infrastructure in cities, restoring wetlands and floodplains when possible, and applying best management practices to farming operations are a few ways help nature and development to coexist with fewer issues.

Storms like Hurricane Sandy have proven that the standards we once built cities from are no longer useable as the norm. As populations grow, development expands, and infrastructure degrades, we cannot afford to sit back and wait to see what will happen and deal with it then. Droughts and storms continue to cost this country a lot of money and the solution cannot be business as usual.

The earth will continue to ebb and flow, as it has since the earth began. Trying to find the culprit to today’s drastic weather patterns is one way to go, but I prefer to find ways to better adapt to what will come. Balance will always be a part of nature, and just like in the art of Stone Balancing, one small adjustment can have a major effect.

Want to know more about how Climate Change will affect water utilities? The US EPA is hosting a series of webinars on the subject starting January 23rd

Art · Environmental Issues · Local Issues · Sustainability

Trash to Treasure

Recycling enthusiast Nancy Judd has a unique way of spreading the word about conservation through public art and couture fashion.

“Waste does not exist, only wasted resources,” said Judd.

Judd was one of over 1500 artists featured at this year’s ArtPrize in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich. ArtPrize is public art contest where the winning pieces are not chosen by professional art critics but instead through a public voting process.

Throughout the past three weeks, when you walked into the large open room of the annex in the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts you might have found Judd sewing away at a red dress (pictured right). On the table surrounding the dress were hundreds of small red circles, cut out from recycled cardboard and painted red with recycled paint.

Anyone who walked by her table was encouraged to write out an “eco pledge” on the front or back of one of the circles. The idea of the “eco pledge” was for a person to make a commitment to change an aspect of their daily routine in order to decrease their environmental impact.

Some of Judd’s favorite pledges were “showering together”, “shop locally”, and “use less water bottles”.

When people came by Judd was happy when she heard them talking about their conservation efforts, especially when it was a parent talking to a child.

“When people make a commitment with a pledge, even if they don’t do it right away, every time they do that thing a little ping will go off in their head,” said Judd. “Maybe that’s what it’s all about.”

In order to reach out to millions of people about sustainability, her collection has appeared on fashion show runways, airports, malls, museums, and other public venues, as well as at hands-on workshops and presentations.

Judd said she likes to show how trash can be used in ways people wouldn’t expect.

“I like to inspire people to look at trash a different way,” said Judd. “Trash is resources, designated as garbage.”

Like many of her other pieces, the dress she made for ArtPrize was specific and unique to this particular event. The ArtPrize dress was titled Eco-Flamenco, and was made from parachute and canvas scraps, recycled cardboard, and recycled paint from Battle Creek, Mich.

Judd doesn’t refer to herself as a fashion designer or as an artist per say, her idea of creating unique clothing items out of recycled material mostly derived from her 20 year career in recycling and solid waste management.

When Judd was in college she saw how the trash near the vending machine would fill up with pop cans. Judd asked to gather up the cans for recycling, and that is how her recycling career began.

Since then Judd feels we have come a long way as a country.

“At this point most people have integrated recycling into their life,” said Judd. “It’s time for this country to dig deeper and starting thinking about how to live lighter on earth,” said Judd.


To learn more about Nancy Judd and her work as a public artist and environmental advocate, visit her website: