wilderness : self-willed flora, fauna & minera in the community of Earth
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No one knows how many mounds exist in the American Midwest and South, but various sources claim there are thousands, some visible, some destroyed, some hidden so they remain protected. Last summer, I visited mounds in Ohio and Illinois, attributed in guidebooks to "ancient peoples." But Allison Adelle Hedge Coke makes a good point in her book Blood Run: Indigenous people were living around mound locations when Europeans arrived in the 17th-century--not that long ago, and they probably helped build these sites. I also made a pilgrimage to Effigy Tumuli, the mound-like earthwork created in the 1980s by artist Michael Heizer.
What do you think of counter-mapping? Though today we rely so heavily on GIS technology, it uses inscriptive methods that can erase all kinds of place knowledges. Artist maps and Indigenous cartography instead use incorporative methods, extending maps into community, story, dance, and relationships.
Copy of a map said to be made by a Delaware man on a blazed tree around 1782. The blazed tree was next to the Muskingum River in southeastern Ohio. The turtle (1) could be an earthwork or mound, while the symbol (2) could be a personal mark, and the smily face (3) may be the sun. From Cartography in Traditional African, American, Arctic, Australian, and Pacific Societies.
Map of Effigy Tumuli, an earthwork made by Michael Heizer in 1983-1985 as a mining reclamation project and homage to Indigenous mounds. The earthwork includes five animals: turtle, catfish, frog, snake, and water strider, all native to the nearby Illinois River. The figures are so enormous it's impossible to comprehend them on foot. They can be seen with GIS technology on Google Earth. The site has fallen into disrepair with interpretive signs faded or gone altogether. The mounds are overgrown and feel natural.
What would a cartography made by more-than-human beings look like? How would the natural world represent its own orientations and sites? This map (above) was created on the shore of Lake Michigan by moss from a nearby bank and stones and lake grass left when the ice melted a few weeks ago. A topography resembling an arial view of Midwestern mounds emerged as the water curled onto the sand.
Monthly celebration of makers who are teaching / re-teaching us how to connect with the natural world and with one another.
Artist andrea haenggi
andrea haenggi (she/they), Swiss-born, is breathing and working in Lenapehoking / New York City. Calling on plants as her guides, teachers, mentors, and performers, her body-based artist work creates a form of theater called Ethnochoreobotanography using choreographies, gatherings, performances, art installations, and soft activist actions in response to decolonization, migration, feminism, labor, care and (re)-building multispecies futures. She co-founded the collective the Environmental Performance Agency in 2017.
Vikram Ramakrishnan is a writer and computer programmer. He’s an alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania and member of Odyssey Writing Workshop’s class of 2020. He won the 17th Annual Gival Press Short Story prize. His work is in SAND Journal, Newfound, F(r)iction, and About Place Journal.
In this posture we've seen the rise and leaving of nations. We've seen ten-thousands wearing soft-skinned formalities, harmoniously live in prosody with Water, Earth, Sun, Moon, Stellae, Cosmos with all their essences gleaming for most brilliant millennia, or so.
"The Mounds," Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, from Blood Run
andrea haenggi relates her experience of sitting in one place and noticing what speaks to her and draws her in. The instructor of a mindfulness and botanical drawing class I took recently urged us to draw or paint our connections to the natural world without looking at our papers or our tools, which pushed us away from realism.
1. Following andrea's advice, say hello! to your natural space.
2. Lightly interact with the natural element that catches your attention--dip your fingers in water, softly brush a plant or grass, or bathe in the sun or wind/water sounds. If you choose sound, allow it to anchor your awareness in the present moment without rejecting anything you hear. Let your listening, touching, feeling, be open rather than goal-oriented.
3. Using whatever tools you have (drawing, writing, painting, music, dance, etc.), respond to the natural element, resisting the urge to imitate or reach toward literal rendering.
4. If you're so moved, translate your experience into another medium.
In my case (above), I had a brush and a few pigments I'd shoved in my pocket on a walk to a nearby park. I focused on the water music and, without looking at paper or brush, I painted with the sound.
October 2, 2009. A tan, windowless Holiday Inn meeting room in Spearfish, South Dakota. I slipped in, feeling unsteady, and sat in the back. The topic was “Witnessing: A Workshop,” one of a dozen simultaneous panels at the Western Literature Association Conference.
Witness. Our country had witnessed some hard things that year. The H1N1 pandemic, also known as swine flu, had infected almost a billion people worldwide and killed many. On my flight into Spearfish, signs at airport security warned: “Travelers should be aware of an outbreak of influenza which has been identified in Mexico, the United States, and other parts of the world.”
The workshop leader, a woman with long dark hair, stood at a podium talking about effigies and burial mounds. I’d never seen a mound myself, having spent my entire life on the west coast. She talked about the bones and spirits of her ancestors buried in embankments, enclosures, and other earthworks across the Midwest.
Hello SPRING! The sun crossed the equator on March 20, launching spring in the Northern Hemisphere. The arrival of this happy season is behind the Hindu festival of Holi. Traditionally, Holi was celebrated with colors made from hibiscus, turmeric, and other natural dyes, a practice still used by some artists. I’m fascinated by Joyce Conlon’s new Mapworks. They complement the Portland Art Museum podcasts from the recent exhibition, “the map is not the territory.” We should be more like trees: Suzanne Simard, the forest ecologist, talks eloquently about how trees collaborate, throwing a kink in the assumption that nature advances through competition not connection. From Wilderness Connect: Drones are prohibited in designated Wilderness areas. As much as I admire some drone footage, I applaud this guideline. Canada’s Quetico Foundation offers some creative, virtual ways to support wild lands this spring. Great news for the future of Utah’s stunning national monuments Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, both of which I visited in early 2016. Finally, big thank you (!) to Melissa L. Sevigny for interviewing me about wilderness and haunting.
For more art, writing & reading about all kinds of things, visit my blog.