Kate Sherren

Landscapes - People - Global change

Tag: cultural landscapes (page 1 of 7)

The Cultivated Wilderness (1997)

Architect Paul Shepheard's (1997) volume, The Cultivated Wilderness.

Architect Paul Shepheard’s (1997) volume, The Cultivated Wilderness.

I was in Fredericton over Easter, for the usual egg-related festivities, and got a little time with my partner in its endless second-hand bookstore, Owl’s Nest. On and on we hunted, picking things up and putting them down. I had Feyerabend in my hand for awhile, and decided I’d never read it. Finally, way upstairs in a corner on natural history I found architect Paul Shepheard‘s (1997) volume The Cultivated Wilderness. Or, What is Landscape? I was not familiar with his name, but the title suggested it might be useful for my new project on climax landscape thinking. Another serendipitous discovery.

Shepheard writes conversationally but with great insight, and thankfully little tragedy, about “the ways in which we humans tussle with the wilderness and change it to suit ourselves” (p. 1).  Like many scholars he sees all landscapes as ‘cultivated’ to greater or lesser degress: as reviewer Christine Bucher observed, even the natural largely survives today “because of zoning, government regulation, and temporary and benign neglect”.

Unapologetically utilitarian, Shepheard reminds us that it is “easy to forget how beautiful utility can be” (p. 127). He reads in landscape – and describes for us –  a patchwork of shifting strategies at large scales: e.g. survival, reason, defense, economic exploitation, restoration. His epilogue is worth quoting at length (p. 233):

Cultivation—the work of humans—has a different sort of beauty [than Wilderness]. There is nothing else under the sun than what there has always been. Cultivation is the human reordering of the material of the wilderness. If it is successful, the beauty of it lies in the warmth of your empathy for another human’s effort.

Landscape is a huge subject, as big as the earth and its atmosphere and reaching out to the edge of the universe. The big moves in landscape happen very rarely. You will be lucky to see one during your lifetime and even luckier to be in the right place at the right time to be involved in the making of it. Incremental changes happen all the time, however. They gradually accrue to big changes in what there is in the world, and whatever you are up to, you will be involved in these already. My epilogue is: be aware of the strategy that governs what you do.

Weekend wetlands

Thaddeus Holownia's series of a small wetland near his home, with my girl near her favourite.

A subset of Thaddeus Holownia’s series of a small wetland near his home.

In between storms, my family and I got out on the weekend for some wetland adventures. The Shubenacadie Wildlife Park is always popular with our small ones, though the wind chill sped it up more than usual. It was great to see the new(ish) developments and interpretations that connect the park more closely with the Greenwing Wetland Centre. They had snowshoes available to borrow, and we all gave them a go, though the smallest member of the family struggled at their size. In the afternoon, after a warm-up, came a visit to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, for their excellent show of Thaddeus Holownia‘s photography. Holownia is based around the Tantramar marsh, and while his photographs vary more widely in their geography, it was the local stuff I loved most. For instance, particularly intimate and moving was the above longitudinal series of photographs of a little manmade pond on his property near Jolicure, NB, over time and in different conditions. It was also wonderful to see his series on the erstwhile Radio Canada International shortwave towers near Sackville, NB, a missed landmark for me. My cellphone reproductions do not do the work justice: AGNS says on their website that there is an “attendant publication” for this show, but it was not available in the shop. Hopefully soon.

The faint sketches of the shortwave radio towers of CBC Radio Canada, captured by Thaddeus Holownia before their removal in the early 2010s.

The faint sketches of the shortwave radio towers of Radio Canada International, captured by Thaddeus Holownia before their removal in the early 2010s.

Congratulations Yan Chen

Yan Chen, MES 2016

Yan Chen, MES 2016

Yan Chen defended her innovative SSHRC- and NSGS-funded MES thesis masterfully on Friday. She gleaned youth landscape values from a year’s worth of Instagram images from a 5-km radius of the actual and proposed headponds, respectively, of the Mactaquac and Site C dams. Being the first defense since a large new class of MES students started in the fall, the room was packed with supporters. Committee member John Parkins skyped in from the University of Alberta, and Faculty of Management colleague Jennifer Grek-Martin examined the thesis, which included wide-ranging discussions on landscape, sense of place, aesthetics, digitalism (our new religion as described by Yuval Harari), and virtual/augmented reality. It was everything you hope a defense can be: Yan spoke strongly in support of her work, and creatively about its potential implications and improvements. I look forward to getting her papers out in the literature, and building on it with a SSHRC Insight Grant that went in on Monday, led by colleague and expert in making Big Data matter, Mike Smit.

 

MES Scholarship opportunity: How can we learn to love the renewable energy landscapes of the Anthropocene?

Wind turbines near Amherst, Nova Scotia, with train passing

Wind turbines near Amherst, Nova Scotia, with a train passing.

I have a new Legacy scholarship opportunity open for very high-GPA domestic students aiming for MES entry in September 2017.  Please get in touch if you think you might be a good fit, or to discuss other opportunities that close this fall such as Nova Scotia Graduate Scholarships (also open to international students) and SSHRC (domestic only).

Landscape impacts are oft-cited barriers to changes that are otherwise agreed to be necessary, such as those implied by a transition to renewable energy sources. Many examples exist, however, of deep attachment to man-made and otherwise purely functional landscape features such as lighthouses, factories, hydroelectric dam headponds, that in some cases extend far beyond their utility. The landscape of the Tantramar Marshes, the low-lying area that links New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, presents a unique opportunity to explore how people attach meaning and form attachments to large, utilitarian infrastructure. A natural experiment is occurring in the region, by the overlap of the 2014 dismantling of the Radio Canada International (RCI) shortwave transmission towers (constructed in 1944) and the construction of 15 2.1 MW wind turbines in Amherst in 2012 by the Sprott Power Corp. Prospective students might use interviews, archival data, social media and/or spatial analysis to:

  • Understand the process by which attachment is formed to man-made, functional landscape infrastructure, over time;
  • Understand what drives the acceptance of and attachment to functional landscape features by locals; or,
  • Build insights about how to facilitate functional landscape change without sacrificing sense of place.

Mactaquac commentary abounds

In the months leading up to the Mactaquac decision, the editorial pages of the Telegraph Journal is filling up with opinion pieces. Early in May, Keith Helmuth of the Woodstock Sustainable Energy Research group (who was an expert at our citizen jury) spoke out for dam removal, looking towards more efficient, greener energy options for the same investment and a boon for agricultural production. LarryJewett of Lakeway Houseboat Rental on the headpond (who rented us the houseboats we used for floating focus groups in 2013), and Friends of Mactaquac Lake, responded to support the rebuilding of the dam and generating station, for the local amenity it has become. Since then, Peter Cronin of the Atlantic Salmon Federation has responded to both in a two part commentary (1 and 2), supporting dam removal to foster a healthy river and restore fish stocks, among other things. While TJ has a firewall, as a subscriber the commentaries are just as interesting. A recent blog post on the NiCHE website by once-NB now-Maine environmental historian, Mark McLaughlin, uses our Before the Mactaquac Dam storymap to illustrate the need for academics to avoid focusing on stories of environmental decline: dams dramatically change landscapes and ecosystems, but are the exception among infrastructure in creating new amenity. I’m heading next week to the ISSRM meeting in Michigan, where I am co-convening a five-session stream on energy landscapes and transitions, which will examine just such trade-offs.

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