wilderness : self-willed flora, fauna & minera in the community of Earth
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Newfoundland, Canada, teams with lichen, grass, bogs, fens, meshes, frog ponds, barasways, peatlands, boreal forests, and barrens--berry grounds, blackberry turf, tuckamore. A complex landscape home to the Inuit, Innu, Mi'kmaq, Southern Inuit, and waves of European immigrants. The province's winding east coast, a line alive with fjords, heads, bluffs, and coves, is a beautiful example of fractal geometry. Fractals were first described by Benoit Mandelbrot in 1967 in direct response to the coastline paradox, but fractals are everywhere in nature, shapes made of infinitely smaller and smaller copies of themselves.
Traditionally, Newfoundland's Aboriginal peoples navigated using memory and a deep knowledge of place names and landmarks, the positions of the stars, sun, and moon, the flow of rivers, and the directions of winds. What does it mean, asks John Pickles in his book A History of Spaces, to dwell within a place of memory but also within the lines and maps of the cartographic imagination?
The above map made around 1691 by Italy's well-known cartographer Vincenzo Maria Coronelli is unique insofar as he depicts the Grand Banks, a series of underwater plateaus falling like liquid stairs off the shore of Newfoundland. Apparently it was unusual to map underwater formations in such detail. But Newfoundland has always been celebrated for its aquatic wildlife: swordfish, cod, haddock, scallop, gannets, gyrfalcons, shearwaters, seals, whales, and dolphins. Grand Banks is also the foggiest place in the world.
In the 18th-century, Sir Joseph Banks initiated a massive colonial enterprise mapping coastlines and collecting and (re)naming animal and plant species the world over, helping catapult Britain to an imperial power. Banks's travels started with his 1766 trip to Newfoundland and Labrador. There, he and his team made hundreds of cartographic and species sketches. The coast had already been visited by Moravian missionaries, who enlisted the help of the Inuk translator and diplomat, Mikak. Mikak later made a trip to London, where Banks had her set for a portrait.
Photo credit: Joseph Banks in Newfoundland and Labrador, 1766 by A.M. Lysaght.
In my "Newfoundland Journal" of August 2017, I made paper maps, moss maps, and birch maps (like the one pictured above) of the fractal east coastline, a way to blend my own memory as well as the local and specific with cartographic lines, a way to embody how I experienced the place or maybe how the place experienced my presence. Back at home in the US, I used Pam Hall's Encyclopaedia of Local Knowledge to write small sketches of Newfoundland's weavers, jam makers, boat crafters, berry pickers, and more. I encourage you to map a place that reflects how you dwell on the Earth!
Monthly celebration of makers who are teaching / re-teaching us how to connect with the natural world and with one another.
Artist Jonathan Marquis
Jonathan Marquis is a multi-media artist, writer, and mountaineer, seeking immersive experiences within mountainous terrain to consider posthuman geographies. His investigations of the landscape began as an endeavor to draw all the remaining glaciers in the state of Montana. He has since covered thousands of miles on foot in isolated locations, translating his more-than-human encounters through drawing, painting, alternative photographic processes, and video.
Suzanne Roberts is the author of the travel essay collection Bad Tourist: Misadventures in Love and Travel, the memoir Almost Somewhere: Twenty-Eight Days on the John Muir Trail (winner of the National Outdoor Book Award), and four collections of poetry. Named "The Next Great Travel Writer" by National Geographic's Traveler, Suzanne's work has been listed as notable in Best American Essays and included twice in The Best Women's Travel Writing. She teaches for the low residency MFA program at Sierra Nevada University.
“Our land is memory. Barrens, black spruce forests, snow-covered mountains, ancient caribou trails and portages. Our land is sound--chainsaws, camp radios, grey jays scolding, geese honking on crisp spring mornings, and Elder's storytelling. . . We are the Innu and our homeland is Nitassinan--Our Land." --Innu inscription, The Rooms, St. John's, Newfoundland
Fractal engagement. I ran out to the garden at first snowfall in Chicago to sculpt the fractal substance into a snowy owl with golden beach stones for eyes. Using eBird, I have been following the owl, a species sometimes spotted in northern Illinois during the cold months. Several times I drove to Illinois Beach State Park with my binocs in hopes of encountering one of the stunning white raptors. I found nature had made its own sculptures, a thousand times more intricate and beautiful than my clumsy attempt. Fractals were everywhere, in the snowflakes and ice crystals, the tree branches and root systems pulled over by the waves of Lake Michigan, the wispy clouds and the shoreline itself.
On a walk:
1. FIND a fractal form in your natural environment: ferns, trees, roots, shrubs, leaves, clouds, snail shells, coastlines, or, if you're in a cold place, snow and ice crystals. The list is literally endless.
2. CONNECT with the form in some way: sketch, photograph, sculpt, or describe in your journal through free association.
3. Later, APPLY the fractal principle to a piece of writing, as Jane Alison explains in her mind-blowing book Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative. Take a seed of writing and use it to generate more through self-similarity, with each self-replication slightly changed.
Here is my attempt, below!
STORY | A Line Alive
August 24. 2017.
Today is coastline.
Is bunchberries in bloom and green. Is no rain and mud puddles and bogs and windswept barrens. Is jellyfish and kelp and tiny black fish. Is slick rock and a man falling. A father falling and another breaking his hiking stick and another almost falling and jamming his fingers against a many-eyed birch.