Social History

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Able to Lead

Able to Lead

Disablement, Radicalism, and the Political Life of E.T. Kingsley
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook Hardcover
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Vancouver Vice

Vancouver Vice

Crime and Spectacle in the City's West End
edition:Paperback
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White Space

White Space

Race, Privilege, and Cultural Economies of the Okanagan Valley
edition:eBook
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Field Study

Field Study

Meditations on a Year at the Herbarium
edition:eBook
also available: Hardcover
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Excerpt

 

The autumn leaves floating down over the field look like brightly coloured birds falling to earth. We have just left the pine wood and are on the path that my walking companion calls Carnage Alley, because there are often feathers, or blood, or bits of dead animal on this route. The victims of coyotes perhaps, or the owls that hunt above this field at dusk. Easier to catch something in the open than in the tangled wrack of forest trees, and even now there is a northern harrier skimming the tops of the asters and milkweed. …It seems otherworldly, an owl’s head on a hawk’s body, the elegant drift of its hunger.

This place of woods and meadow and marsh is paradise. My paradise. Where I walk every day, all through the seasons. It always seems to be teeming with wildlife and plant life, but things have changed even in the handful of years I have been coming here. Now there are deer ticks on all the forest paths and in the open fields. The toxic wild parsnip is creeping through the meadows, and an invasive feathery reed, phragmites, is choking out the wetlands. The bobolinks and meadowlarks, who used to be plentiful every summer, are now virtually non-existent.

Habitat loss, pollution, climate change, human overpopulation and encroachment — these are some of the main reasons for the decline and changes to ecosystems. Much of the damage is irreversible, and the prognosis for the future is grim. And yet, I believe there is still a profound need within human beings to connect to the natural world.

How to reconcile these two things?

…I am interested in exploring this relationship, to write from a place that doesn’t look away from the environmental changes wrought by humankind and that also celebrates the connections that still exist between people and nature.

To do this, I have chosen to concentrate on the phenomenon of the herbarium. These libraries of dried plant specimens — some hundreds of years old — seem the perfect crucible in which to examine the intersection of human beings and the natural world through time. Each herbarium specimen is mounted on a sheet of paper with a label affixed by the collector, providing details of the plant and the location where it was found, but also including information about the person who preserved the plant. In this way the herbarium becomes a place, a landscape if you will, where the experience of people connecting with nature is revealed. I cannot think of another place where it is possible to look into the past and see the moment an orchid was plucked from the forest floor or a willow frond was cut from a branch. A visit to the herbarium is an exquisite kind of time travel. And by learning more about the intersection of people and nature in the past, I hope to gain some understanding of where we can go from here.

 

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