I'm getting to know the place where I live one tree at a time. And one boulder, one wildflower, one clump of moss . . . .
While abroad for a month, I reflected on the six acres of boreal forest where I've been living for six years. I tried to remember as many details as I could by consciously visualizing what it was like to walk around the place. When something I remembered in one spot reminded me of something in another, I would mentally walk myself around in that area for a while. As I summoned details to my mind's eye, I wrote them down; at the end of the month, the list numbered 243.
When I think about the myriad phenomena present in just one square foot of ground, remembering 243 in six acres doesn't seem all that many. What I remembered, though, illustrates the scale at which I apprehend the terrain that surrounds me every day: I remembered things like prominent landforms, discrete clearings, rock outcroppings, particular trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and boulders. However, separate leaves and spruce needles are outside the range of my normal perception, though I know generally, rather than individually, that they're present. As I've said, "I'll never live long enough to take it all in."
Things had registered on my mind because of some interaction between me and this terrain, even if it was only my noticing them. Other interactions were more palpable because of my physical engagement with the place, such as certain footfalls I know well from carrying out blowdowns for firewood; or because of events that have happened, such as things other people have done or said in certain spots, or the coming and going of moose.
When I made my way around the place in my memory, I didn't picture it as it is in the winter when everything is covered in snow. And I only remembered some kind of essence of each thing, not the teeming multitude of other details that are captured in the photographs. Many of my recollections had more to do with the location of certain phenomena. For example, I could remember where several boulders are situated and their approximate size, though I only remembered their shapes vaguely.
I took many of the photographs on my return, and even more over the following year in order to match the season of my memory: to capture, for example, certain wildflowers which bloom in the same spot each year. Other photographs had to be retrieved from my record of the place because some things disappeared. For example, in July I checked the wild roses by the river each day in order to photograph them when the flowers opened. But just before they did, suddenly they were gone: a moose had come along and bitten the rosebuds right off the stems.
In the video you hear me reading the list I made while I was away, identifying the things I remembered. Several make use of Newfoundland vernacular—I don't experience the place without local names for things like plants and trees sounding in my head. And when I first moved here, I used vernacular terms to name some of the main landforms: the Tolt is the dominant height of land, the Droke is the steep wooded valley, the Scrape is a bare steep place, and the Bawn is the old overgrown meadow.
The large accompanying drawing is a 'memory map' that shows my sense of where the things I remembered are located. It shows the areas of greatest recall, which are the areas where I have the most familiarity. Conversely, the blank areas on the map are places largely unknown to me. There are still several areas of dense brush within these six acres where I have not yet set foot.
This work encompasses spots on this site that I cherish—spots where I have experienced delight and astonishment, beauty and poetry. The place I dwell in, dwells in me. This project strengthened my perceptions of and connections to the place, while reminding me of its infinite details and their transience. Perhaps if I'd lived there longer, or had been away longer, I might have remembered more. When I returned home and walked around on the paths, I saw things that caused me to say, "Oh, how could I have forgotten that?"