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Nature and Nurture

Gender imprints on the land

Photographs and text by Rachel Barrett

Published in the September/October 2011 issue of Orion magazine

ABOUT FIVE YEARS AGO, my friend Josiah, a young man raised by a Mennonite minister, along with his best friend Ezekiel and other childhood friends, started cultivating land and their own versions of masculinity on a large property in the rural Catskill Mountains of upstate New York. This place quickly became their domain, as Josiah and his friends began reconciling themselves with manhood.

Two years later, a close childhood friend of mine started sharing a home with seven other women in Bolinas, a reclusive and unconventional beachside community in northern California. Their desire was to live an intrinsically shared existence with one another and the land. There are no longer any true communes in Bolinas, but that same mentality, with its gentle and near-religious connection to the landscape, persists.

There were clear differences between these two groups—one on the East Coast, one on the West; one an old farmhouse of young men who came together to work the land, the other a bungalow of young women who came together inspired by one another and the beauty of the earth. But I was interested in the similarities, the myths manifested, the way reality and fantasy converged in both these places, the fictions these young men and women created for themselves. As these two groups connected to the land and matured in their own ways, I found that the landscapes themselves began to take on a gender-specific appearance.

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Rachel Barrett is a fine art and editorial photographer living in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has been exhibited nationwide and has appeared in the New York Times, Next American City, and other publications.

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