Hamilton Arts and Letters just released a lovely new issue called The World Out There including, as described by the guest editors, Alec Follet and Matt Zantingh, an “eclectic grouping of written and visual texts” that address how “art can help us see our world for what it is or even imagine better alternatives.” I’m honoured that my piece, “Carrying Capacity,” is included (click on the link above to see the Table of Contents with hyperlinks for each piece). Initially written just after our stalwart dog, Shasta, passed away, “Carrying Capacity” considers how what we carry–the companionship of a dog, art supplies–might change how we care for the world. As I have struggled to make sense of life in the midst of a global pandemic where so much I took for granted has been upended, I’ve been returning again and again to the question of how best to cultivate care. It is no small comfort to see the works of others who have also been closely considering the complicated relationship we have with each other and with the more-than-human world.
Two months and one week ago, like so many, I woke to a new way of living: working without leaving the house. Notes that I made as my normal 8:30 am lecture time came and went–me still at home; the four walls of my normal lecture hall stubbornly empty–reveal a mix of emotions: wonder and worry circling around one like awkward dance partners. Wonder that such an event could come to pass (even though I had read David Quammen’s Spillover and knew the events that were unfolding have long been possible). Worry about those in my community particularly vulnerable to what we understood–back then in what seems a lifetime ago–about the biology of this novel virus. I might have also been a tiny bit relieved. All of a sudden my normal spring list of obligations was thinned, pared down to only that could be completed without venturing too far outside the house. It’s hard now to even remember everything that got cancelled: presentations in local schools, a workshop at a nearby university, helping to organize an undergraduate student research conference, reviewing student presentations for the conference, attending our annual end-of-year faculty-student roast, arranging my botany class ‘local-food’ potluck, coordinating our university’s ‘Bee Happy Garden’ clean-up. I do remember thinking that maybe my secret relief about the occurrence of a global pandemic might be a sign that I needed to reconsider my time-management choices.
In the weeks since, I have ventured outside the city limits of Kamloops three times: the first two happened early on, when I was still in denial. I didn’t go far–only thirty minutes away to capture images from a middle-elevation lake still caught in the grip of winter. And then weeks later, out with Marc and Maggie, to sit for a few hours in the glory of our spring bloom.
Multiple lessons have reverberated through this strange time. As spring came slowly, but surely, back, it felt odd that our species was so afflicted when others–the chickadees and the juncos and varied thrush (!first time ever in our yard) and the snowdrops and dwarf daffodils–went blithely about their business. But then I realized this is what the last 500 years must have felt like for so many of the more-than-human species of this world. What it must be like to lose your kin, to worry about your elders and your neighbours, while another species profits with little apparent concern for your well-being. My ornithologist colleagues say that this past winter must have been good for bird recruitment. For the last 10 weeks my neighbourhood has swelled with birds and for the first time in 15 years, I have been home to see it. All day, every day.
On a cloudy Saturday afternoon, I’m out in Tranquille, along the trail to Pine Park, with field journal students. In between side-stepping the ever-changing pattern of water seeping from broken irrigation pipes, four exercises lead us into this place.
In middle September, the first scattering of brown leaves lie beneath a canopy of still cottonwood green. As the next step into place, we make a sound tapestry, doing our best to translate the sounds we hear into images in our field journals.
The next step is an illuminated contour drawing. When I tell workshop participants, the point of this exercise is to draw an object WITHOUT looking at the page, I get some raised eyebrows, but it takes only a few minutes for our group to fall into sustained concentration.
And then, before we have to pack up and go, we use our used CD cases and erasable pens to trace the landscape surrounding the beaver pond. Once our tracings help us find the relative size, location and proportion of the landscape elements, we transfer our drawings into our field journals and use our water brushes and water-colour sets to finish our landscape drawings.
Together, the four exercises fill a double page-spread. All too soon, it’s time to pack up and return down the Pine Park trail. Driving away, I’m grateful for the good company that brought me out today.
Each fall, in my academic calendar, I take students into a landscape I hold dear. Earlier this winter, Terrain.org published my account of the lessons I’ve learned while visiting.
Take a look:
Sometimes the best gifts come as requests. In June 2016, I was asked to give a keynote field journal workshop for a group of tourism educators gathering to think broadly about care–care for their students, for themselves and the land that we walk, whether as residents or tourists.
Being asked to give this keynote gave me permission to explore the history of field journals for what is known about the links between creative practices such as field journaling and care. The paper that I wrote describing these links (as well as the directions for a page spread in five exercises) recently came out and the publisher has provided a link for 50 free downloads. You can find the article here: http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/TXih7dc9eU2xpEUf6asF/full
And the unpublished version (with colour images) can be found here (scroll down to where it says PDF)
I’ve always valued my field journal as a tool for paying attention, but writing this paper help me understand why field journals can be so much more. Tourism educators (and others) talk about worldmaking or the processes by which what we do in the world shapes how we see the world. Goodman (1978) originally defined worldmaking as arising from the internal referencing inherent in any human activity whether it be science, art or craft. Much of it is unconscious, but every once in a while, something jars us out of the normal flow of our lives into “noticing.” Such interpretive encounters, suggests Kellee Caton (2013, p. 345, quoting Schwandt 2000) “always risk our previous ways of seeing the world.” Many have argued that what most needs jolting is our perception of the boundary between nature/culture as this artificial boundary (unsupported by empirical evidence) limits our ability to to connect to and care for the natural world.
Here’s where I get excited. By mixing science and art, drawing and text, outward and inward attention, I think illustrated field journals invite the interpretive encounters that can help challenge this nature/culture dualism. As a practice, illustrated journaling is not just embodied, skilled, and creative (all attributes that have been linked with care), it’s also inherently place-based. Thus, my thesis is that illustrated journaling predisposes our worldmaking so as to recognize existing connections between people and place. In doing so, illustrated journaling facilitates the deep attending to the world that I believe is an important, and necessary, first step toward care.
Finally, speaking of not just care, but gratitude too. This paper is dedicated to my “litter-mates”—the extraordinary group of field journalers who gather each summer to carry this tradition forward. I am grateful to journal within your midst and I have learned from you all.
Caton, K. (2013). The risky business of understanding: philosophical hermeneutics and the knowing subject in worldmaking. Tourism Analysis, 18, 341–351.
Goodman, N. (1978). Ways of worldmaking. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing.
More than a year ago now, writer and naturalist John Tallmadge and his family came from their home in Ohio to visit, giving me the excuse to relish Wells Gray above the treeline. Today as the snow falls–small and white and insistent–these pages give a glimpse into the other side of our yearly orbit.
I came home from our visit brimming with the smells and colours and sounds and textures of an ecosystem at its floral peak, straining and blooming to do what’s necessary before the cold returns. Of the many gifts good visitors bring, the one I value most is their fresh eyes. The landscape of Wells Gray is not one I inhabit, but over the last twelve years, it has become part of my yearly round and it’s good to be reminded of the splendour that awaits.
From a snug fisherman’s cottage in Mousehole, we explore southwest along the trail, curving our way through shrub fields of bracken and honeysuckle and Apiaceae species. Where the hard granite is exposed, sea thrift and Lotus and a beautiful purple blue flower I can’t identify, soften the hard crystals. On our first full day in Cornwall, the reality of this trail exceeds any expectation I had from my snooping last winter with Google Maps. By the time Marc and I return along the footpath through farmers’ fields (the footpath gated and stoned between dairy barns!), my leg muscles are comfortably sore and I feel the rhythm of this landscape beginning, ever so slightly, to imprint.