Kate Sherren

Landscapes - People - Global change

Tag: landscape (page 2 of 5)

ISSRM 2016 adieu

Early arrivals at the Friday ISSRM BBQ beside Lake Superior marvel at what seems like the end of the world.

Early arrivals at the Friday ISSRM BBQ beside Lake Superior marvel at what seems like the end of the world.

I have been back from ISSRM for a week, but haven’t had time to reflect on the final day of the conference, or the day of energy team meetings that followed. The second day concluded with a great beachside picnic on Lake Superior, on one of that lake’s few very still days. The horizon was just a haze, without even the typical mirage of something beyond. I enjoyed numerous pasties (in honour of the Cornish miners who settled the copper-rich area), some frisbee with Jim Robson, new appointment at USask, and great covers by scholar Paul van Auken’s band up from Oshkosh, WI.

Saturday at ISSRM began with a keynote by Riley Dunlap on climate change denial, after which I enjoyed a diverse session on risks and hazards. At lunch a dramatic storm rolled in, keeping me from Allan Curtis‘ session on farmer identity, though I did make (damply) the rest of his well-chaired session on agricultural adoption and transitions. The final session I attended featured Dylan Bugden‘s new thinking about power and justice in energy siting, which developed into a great discussion, though I had to miss Tom Beckley’s follow-up on the NB citizen jury as a result.

The energy team meeting at Michigan Tech, with two on speakerphone.

The energy team meeting at Michigan Tech, with two on speakerphone.

Sunday the energy group met for breakfast at local Finnish diner Suomi for some of the local speciality, pannekakku (a custardy pancake) and some more ‘distinctive’ Michigan table service. Then back to Michigan Tech and various spots for meetings and meals, as well as attempting to remedy my then dramatic caffeine deficiency (so sad I discovered 5th and Elm so late in the trip!), culminating in a nice pizza meal at the Ambassador. The shuttle came early, which was good since I discovered upon getting to the airport that my return ticket had been mysteriously cancelled. They found me a route home, though longer than planned, but I was glad to take it.

Dalhousie plus one: Yan, Simon, Taylor, John and Kate at the Ambassador, Houghton, MI.

Dalhousie plus one: Yan, Simon, Taylor, John and Kate at the Ambassador, Houghton, MI.

Day one of ISSRM 2016

Kate and Yan in front of Kates poster at ISSRM 2016.

Kate and Yan in front of Kate’s poster at ISSRM 2016.

A great first day at ISSRM in Houghton, MI, with most of our affiliated folks presenting. Yan Chen, Taylor Cudney and John Parkins all did a great job launching off the Energy Landscapes mini-conference (as organizers have called it), in the session I chaired in the morning. Simon Greenland-Smith presented his analysis of our Nova Scotia marginal land survey data in the afternoon, and Kate Goodale and I both presented posters in the evening. Afterwards, the generous folks at the University of Saskatchewan School of Environment and Sustainability organized a get-together for Canadians on the Keweenaw Waterway, a semi-natural channel cut between the peninsula’s lakes in the 1860s to expedite boat traffic. It was a beautiful drawn-out sunset in another long day.

SRES folks Taylor, Kate, Yan and Simon at the Canadian event hosted by USask at ISSRM.

SRES folks Taylor, Kate, Yan and Simon at the Canadian event hosted by USask at ISSRM.

Dr. Sherren’s Day Off

I’m enjoying a stopover in Chicago on the way to the ISSRM in Michigan. The city has always been of interest to me, as a once-aspiring architect and child of the 80s, but this has been my first chance to visit. I re-watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off on the flight here (happy 30th birthday), and headed straight for Frank Lloyd Wright sites in Oak Park upon arrival. A real highlight of my visit has been the Art Institute of Chicago special exhibition America After the Fall: Painting in the 1930s. This expertly curated and described exhibition explores the response of artists to the ‘fall from grace’ that America felt after the stock market crash of 1929: some looking backward to pastoral ideals and others conveying dust bowl realities; showing stoic tradition or grotesque modern life; and documenting the dominance of industry in landscape and economic life conveyed as utopias (in some work sponsored by corporations) or the opposite by socialists. The industrial (Charles Sheeler, Charles Demuth) and agricultural (Grant Wood, Alexander Hogue, Marvin Cone) landscapes were particularly compelling to me: telling of fears and hopes, as well as ambivalence. Functional landscapes were in eye as well as in mind as I travelled Chicago by L-train (elevated), which provides a great view of the working parts of the city, as well as its unique features such as the dominance of brick construction, steel bridges (including old drawbridges) over its many rivers, and water towers (which may have something to do with the Great Fire of Chicago, ca. 1871). I was also reminded of urban/nature juxtapositions at the wonderful Garfield Park Conservatory, where the marvelous fern room brought relief on a very hot day, in how the City Garden meadow beautifully framed industrial buildings. I look forward to returning to Chicago, maybe in a cooler season.

Industrial buildings for the Garfield Park Conservatory behind the natural meadow of its City Park

Industrial buildings for the Garfield Park Conservatory behind the natural meadow of its City Park

Uncharted

Aiden and Michel's (2013) book reveals how big data can help us understand how culture has changed.

Aiden and Michel’s (2013) book reveals how big data can help us understand how culture has changed.

I pulled this book, Uncharted (2013), by Erez Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel, out of a bargain bin at Chapters a few weeks ago, and it is another example of serendipity. These Harvard PhDs collaborated with Google’s book digitization project to develop the Google Ngram tool. They liken their project to a tool to a microscope or telescope, which were tools that brought new dimensions to view for scientists. Their culture-scope is able to track uses of terms or phrases over time within Google Books’ enormous and growing database of digitized literature. They coined the term ‘culturomics‘, which is too awkward to stick, but the value is clear. Watch the holistic idea of ‘landscape’ overtake the aesthetically driven ‘scenery’ around the turn of the last century (below). Lots of food for thought in a world of Big Data.

Google Ngram View of landscape versus scenery in English text corpus, 1800 to 2000.

Google Ngram View of landscape versus scenery in English text corpus, 1800 to 2000.

Akenfield

My 1978 Penguin edition of Akenfield.

My 1978 Penguin edition of Akenfield.

Another second-hand bookstore treasure from someone who knows me well, Akenfield (1969) is a remarkably engrossing (and surprisingly undated) study of an anonymized rural Suffolk village, in the voice of fifty or so local residents. It tells the story of post-war England, agricultural modernization, social liberalization but also lingering fealty and class boundaries. The author, Ronald Blythe, interviewed and synthesized each voice, sometimes adding a sympathetic preamble of description and context. Surprises abound, such the description of WWII as a boon: conditions were so mean pre-war, that young men worked to the bone on farms found war service easy (with more food), and even bad farmers grew rich to supply that food. Some of the most compelling parts for me related to the farm landscape and how it was perceived and used. For instance, in the Introduction:

“…its hedges – now being slaughtered – were planted in the eighteenth century and, where they remain, shelter all the wild life of the particular fields they surround. Earlier field boundaries can be easily traced by ridges and ditches, and here and there a great tree spreads itself out in Time, making no sense at all. The clay acres themselves are the only tablets on which generations of village men have written … I am, but nothing remains of these sharp straight signatures.” (p. 14)

About the taciturn field workers, the last holdout of peasantry, working over generations for the same farmer, for compensations that keep him bound – a farm cottage, etc – Blythe writes: “Science is a footnote to what he really believes. And what he knows is often incommunicable “ (p. 15) . That younger generations continue to look to farming is described such: “perhaps, they have inherited the small residual static quality in all village life, that thing which is either condemned as apathy or praised and envied as contentment, but yet which is really neither of these. The attitude contains something determined and enduring, and also incorporates some kind of duty or loyalty to the village fields” (p. 91). For instance, a young ploughman bemoans the loss of the hedges, being undertaken to expand farms and enable increased mechanization, which make it difficult for a ploughman to keep his bearings:

“A well-kept hedge is a good sight and tells you where you are. The hedges belong to the village. You get used to seeing them standing there – they are like buildings and you miss them when they are knocked down. Some hedges are important and when they go you feel as bad as if a wood had been taken away. I think that there are certain hedges which the farmer’s shouldn’t touch without asking the people – although I can’t see this happening.” (p. 279).

An older farmer, an emigrant from Scotland, gives an outsider’s perspective on the impact of landscape on long-time residents, reminiscent of Swift’s observations in Waterland of what flat fenlands make of fenlanders: “The big skies leave the East Anglians empty. The skies are nothing. The horizons are too wide. There is nothing for a man to measure himself by here. In Scotland you have the hills, the mountains. They diminish a man. They make him think. … they last and he doesn’t.” (p. 320)

Blythe’s anthropology is thorough and generous, but does not shrink from difficulty. I do not know how he negotiated access and approval within such a small village given the blunt assessments many interviewees make of one another, individually and collectively, but it is a true gift that he made this record. It was made into an eponymous film in 1974 and is still in print – I just saw a new edition in Bookmark last week. This book is of a piece with early and modern tales of shepherding by Hardy and Rebanks discussed last year, as well as Robert Macfarlane’s Old Ways. A recording of Blythe and Macfarlane on the dais together at the Charleston Festival in 2013 for a celebration of rural life and sense of place is worth a listen.

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