Robert Dash explores what’s ‘On an Acre Shy of Eternity’

On a parcel of land north of Deer Harbor, a little less than one acre, Robert Dash found inspiration for his 108-page book of poetry and photography, “On an Acre Shy of Eternity.”

“There’s this whole locavore eating movement, about eating close to home and growing food and not going really far out of your sphere. I like to think of this [book] almost as locavore art and ecology,” said Dash. “Right where you are, you can find tremendous satisfaction and adventure and depth of art and learning.”

The self-published, first-time author will be presenting his work of art to the public at the Orcas Center on May 24 at 6:30 p.m. as a part of the Orcas Currents lecture series. Dash, who has taught for OASIS for five years, along with his partner Ranna McNeil, bought their property on the western shore of Orcas three years ago and he immediately began his project.

“You can travel around the world – I’ve been on five different continents and spent a lot of time overseas – but the challenge of trying to understand all these layers of beauty and complexity in one small space is a wonderful one, artistic one, a scientific one and a metaphoric one … I’m really trying to tell the story of one half-acre, basically, with as many layers as possible,” said Dash. “You think of gardeners knowing an acre shy of eternity. They’re on a small space, they know this is phenomenal layers of metaphor and science and beauty in a small space. This is kind of like a wild garden in trying to explore all these layers of a wild garden.”

The book’s pages are an array of color, filled with photographs and images captured utilizing a scanning electron microscope. Dash contacted Friday Harbor Labs, which had a microscope they allowed him to use to take pictures of organic materials he found on his property.

“I’ve loved looking at microscopes and small things all my life. So, the idea of exploring that and trying to find out what there is and also comparing that with the life-size version, to me, is both poetic and scientifically and artistically challenging and engaging,” said Dash. “I love photography, love working with a camera, love exploring day and night in different light and water and all kinds of things that appear in the book, but to also offset that, and have that contrast with these things that are many times smaller than a pinhead was really, really astonishing to me.”

Within its pages, the book is science, meets poetry meets art.

“I am particularly interested in blending the poetry and science, so that’s something that sometimes I just have to go off on my own and do because others might not have that same interest. To me, they’re inseparable,” said Dash. “So combining my poetry in the book with photographs was risky in one sense, because blending those two interests can sometimes be difficult. Sometimes people only want to see pictures or only want to see words. And so, putting them together is a design choice and an editorial choice that’s going to work for some and not for others.”

From start to finish, the book took Dash three years to complete. A year and a half into the process, he found a collaborator to design the pages. His partner, suggested by local publisher Marilyn McGuire, was Robert Lanphear from Bellingham.

“I’ve been working on one (a book) in the back of my mind for many, many years; this just gave me the excuse to do what was already on my mind. What I had really been intrigued by,” said Dash. “I can’t tell you how many times I thought ‘I’m wrapping up now’ then there’d be a delay for one reason or another and I’d add something else. In fact, I added a couple things in February with the snow. So that was a happy accident.”