Nature Boy Queer

Joe on the Atlantic edge In Truro MA on 30 October 2022.

On Sunday, Joe and I met for what was ostensibly a 90-minute walk, but it turned into the best kind of 8-hour, meandering hike through magic places in Truro, Wellfleet and Provincetown. Joe’s from Upstate New York and an accomplished hiker. Nevertheless, I periodically checked-in with him to see if my suggestion to take a trail digression or to drive out to another place was reasonable. Somewhere along the trail it became clear that we share a predilection for being outside and exploring, and that the day’s wandering was exactly what both of us craved after two days of intense sociability in town. After that, my reflex to check-in became something of a joke.

It’s rare that I meet someone who understands my method of entering the landscape and who shares my interest in looking for the sake of both visual pleasure and the joy of witnessing nature’s mystery. Joe’s eyesight is sharp and he helped me see a Black Racer and a Praying Mantis on the Pamet Trail, and later an awaiting tick on a blade of grass. We both found a woolly bear on the road near the site of the old Ball Estate. Joe predicted the winter weather based on its stripes. 

The landscape as we encountered it on 30 October 2022.

Joe and I are both painters and our hike’s initial intention was to show him some of the places I paint. We started by heading out to the Atlantic edge in Truro. Cape Cod never has the dramatic foliage display of inland New England, but those few deciduous plants that turn from green to red or gold were on display. Because we were at a place I depicted in a recent painting, but using the colors of spring, the place felt unexpected and new. A contradiction in my life as a painter is that my clients know this place in high summer, when a flat green dominates the landscape. I subsequently tend to make and sell more paintings with a feel of summer when the fall and winter landscape reveals magnificent possibility.

The same landscape as I painted it earlier in the season (from a slightly different angle).

Our hike punctuated the events of Spooky Bear Weekend in Provincetown. Although I participated in a lot of events, I find themed events to be a bit alienating. My beard aside, I don’t necessarily identify with the Bear community, and when faced with the ongoing urbanization of Provincetown I recognize that I came here to escape the urban gay landscape and the identities it projects on people. As Joe and I talked about these points of discomfort, I blurted out that I’m much more of a “Nature Boy Queer” than anything else. It was a jarring, if completely apt, moment of self-reflection. I really don’t see myself through the lens of the public sphere, but rather through forces of nature. And while I’m against gendering nature, I understand that Western culture has very often attributed Nature with ideas of the Divine Feminine — and that the connection I’m making ties my experience of homophobia with the complexities of misogyny (which by extension explains why climate change is so forcefully denied by Patriarchal power). And, boy oh boy, isn’t that a digression to be unpacked elsewhere!

Joking aside, I know the connections I’ve made in the previous paragraph (no matter how tenuously I’ve rendered them) emerge from experience and from the reading I’m currently doing on Queer Ecology and Queer Phenomenology. Even more, they track back to my childhood when neighbors referred to me as ‘nature boy’ in a thinly veiled assertion that they thought me to be gay. But my experience of nature, and why I crave immersion in it, comes from my understanding of it as queer — especially if you understand queerness as a process of subverting socially constructed ideas of normality. There is nothing more surprising and subversive than the non-human ecology that surrounds us.  

My next few posts will explore the various places Joe and I visited, as well as another excursion I took with my friends Phil and George. The posts will focus both on place and the method of entering a landscape. After a few weeks of feeling like I might have nothing more to say about this place I love, I’m delighted to discover how seeing my place through friends’ eyes is revitalizing this project and is propelling me forward. 

Field Guide: Walking & Painting on Cape Cod 
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