Mountain Maxims: Tumamoc Hill Art Installation Asks the Community to Create New Weather Proverbs

“When the sun burns, we remember these tales about the light...”

A new art installation on Tumamoc Hill invites the community to create weather proverbs as a meditation on the changing climate. The project, “Future Climate Proverbs,” is hosted by the University of Arizona’s Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill and is collaborating with the UA Poetry Center. 

According to Ben Wilder, the Desert Laboratory director, the project encourages people to slow down and make observations of the world around them. 

“Long held understandings of weather and climate have been preserved in sayings and proverbs, like ‘red sky at night, sailors delight’, that in the English language has centuries of background, but in other cultures is very prominent as well,” Wilder said.

The goal of the project is to recognize that these long-held understandings of weather are changing along with the climate, according to Wilder. The art installation includes four slates along the hike on Tumamoc Hill for walkers to respond to a proverb prompt using chalk. 

The slates have prompts written in English, Spanish and O’odham languages. One prompt in O’odham translates to, “when the moon is half full and stands upright it will…” A prompt in Spanish translates to “when the light heals we remember this on behalf of the sun…”

“We can have a proactive role in the change around us and try to inflict positivity in what can be an overriding fear-based response to the climatic change,” Wilder said.

Arts philosopher Jonathon Keats led the project, and also composed the prompts along with local poets Raquel Gutiérrez and Ofelia Zepeda. 

Keats was interested in thinking about rhyme and repetition and also about weather signs that are indicative of Tucson and the Sonoran Desert. 

“I was particularly interested in looking at the differences of the summer and winter rain, and the conditions that tend to foretell those,” Keats said. 

Keats wrote the two English prompts: “When the heat of summer is struck with thunder”… and “if winter storm clouds coolly gather…”

The slates can be found at the bottom of Tumamoc Hill near the boathouse, midway up the hill in front of the agave garden, near the middle gate and at the top of the hill. 

Wilder related the responses on the slates to the New Yorker, which has a cartoon section where captions are left blank to prompt readers around the world to fill in their own responses. 

“People’s creativity is incredible and that is what we are seeing here,” Wilder said.

Another goal with the project is to help people who visit Tumamoc Hill see the intersecting cultures and geographies that exist around the location.

“There are so many things that coexist in space and time at this location, thousands of years of cultural history, the longest continuously studied desert site, a site where people come for their first date, a site where there are antennas on top of the hill transmitting across the city on top of archeological ruins,” Wilder said. “There are so many things that call us here.”

The project held its kickoff event on Jan. 29. During the kickoff event there was a live silkscreen printing of t-shirts which included sayings such as, “the weather has habits remembered in the rhythms of proverbs.” The t-shirts were printed in the same three languages featured on the proverb prompts. 

The event also included a weather proverb drop-in workshop hosted by Keats. During the workshop, participants created their own log books to take home and continue to write down their observations, according to Wilder. 

“We don’t have a huge staff here, we don’t have a huge capacity to do this, but when we do open up these spaces and allow people to go into these buildings that they have been walking past for years and not known what they are or what they look like inside or what we do here, it is so great to be able to connect with the community that way,” Wilder said.

The kickoff event was originally intended to be in November when they had their first workshop. However, they decided to do the slates three weeks before the workshop so they had pushed it back to January, according to Wilder.

One of Wilder’s goals is to expand the project into other regions and eventually gain momentum to expand on a global level. 

The other element of the art installation is through social media. Using #FutureClimateProverbs, people can take pictures of responses that inspired them or create their own using social media.

“The idea is that we are creating an archive of the community’s responses that we can all engage with,” Wilder said.  

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