Friday, June 12, Petra Kuppers and I kicked off our first event in the Practices of Hope Reading Series. I was a little nervous about it, being the technical guru without really knowing what I was doing. Petra, consummate moderator and host, took us on a real journey. The night began with the poet and Anishinaabemowin language teacher Margaret Noodin reading her poem in both Anishinaabemowin and English. We ended with Jennifer Sinor’s thoughts on how “speculative,” commonly used to describe science fiction, is a tool for nonfiction writers, too.
Megan Kaminski and L. Ann Wheeler’s piece from our Practices of Hope issue of About Place Journal reads:
“The practice of divination has been and continues to be used by cultures throughout the world to help people navigate difficult futures. The Prairie Divination Deck turns to the plants and animals of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem as a source for knowledge and inspiration as to how to live in the world (and to re-align thinking towards kinship and sustainability). How might thinking with plants and animals allow us a different lens through which to see our present world and histories–and help to imagine futures?”
The divination deck manifests local knowledge in wonderful ways.
Collaboration, Community, & Local Knowledge
After I hiked the East Coast Trail in Newfoundland several years ago, I landed in St. John’s, and there, at their wonderful museum The Rooms, I stumbled upon (in that serendipitous way one does) Pam Hall’s An Encyclopedia of Local Knowledge, a collaborative art-science-local knowledge book and art exhibit about the people from the north coast of Newfoundland.
1) Twine and rope, both important for these fishing people. A lot of her knowledge sources knew about twine and rope and nets – and these were also metaphors for stories—the thread—so this one is on splicing.
2) But there were also important local and more “objective” or scientific collaborations. In one, local knowledge experts collaborated with Department of Fisheries and Ocean about fish species, marine mammals, historic sites, waterfowl, and ecological reserves. LEK is Local Knowledge Experts and FEK is Fisheries Ecological Knowledge.
3) In another display, a local woman, Elva Spence, kept intricate track of the weather for forty years morning, and afternoon. Her records are now part of Environment Canada.
4) Many are quirky and intimate, like “What Fred Cave knows about Vamps,” a certain kind of sock. The same idea of weaving stories runs through Fred Cave’s unravelling, making, and remaking. But his is also very practical, handed down, a way to keep the feet dry in the mud, rain, and snow, and to make some money.
“[My project] is a view of knowledge that, while respectful of disciplinary traditions, calls urgently for the abandonment of binaries, whether based on philosophical foundations or economic ones. It calls also for more trans-disciplinary dialogues, partnerships, and research initiatives and for inclusive and experimental forms of collective decision-making about our communities, environments, and ecosystems.”
The goals of local knowledge is to expand how we think about what knowledge is and who is invited to participate in its production. Like Hall, I believe that new forms, means, or modes for making, moving, and representing knowledge are urgently needed for us to forge knew, hopeful, energizing, and playful ways of being together for the future.
Predictions, telling the future, fortunes, art, randomness and synchronicity (of drawing a card or finding a book), magic, local knowledge, who has power to know what. These are inherent in the Prairie Divination Deck and the Encyclopedia of Local Knowledge.
What kind of local knowledge do you have? Will you share?
When you walk into the wilderness, you’re supposed to collect things. You should notice plants and even pluck a few for your journal. You should jot down the names of trees. Should write your observations of the blue jay and the black bear. Should chronicle your trail stories of getting lost, choosing a campsite, and appreciating grand vistas.
I knew all this in 2004, when I walked into the Selway-Bitterroot and Frank Church wilderness for the first time. But the area held two things against me. 1) This was where my great-grandfather and my grandfather came in the late nineteenth-century. And what they left behind was a dark past I didn’t want to confront. 2) This area was now the largest wilderness area in the lower 48, and, for that reason, important to American identity and political policy, a geographical and socio-political giant I couldn’t grasp.
So instead of exploring those more difficult private and public issues by collecting memories, plants, and political polemics, I started collecting fire. Whenever I went out in the woods with friends, family, or students, I snapped photos of flames, eye white or buttery yellow, and coals, meaty red or cloud gray.
I consider myself a collector of fire. What happens around a fire during a backpacking trip–intimacy with earth and other people. A campsite has no spirit until it has fire. Once I watched my sister-in-law braid my daughter’s hair in dozens of strands around a fire while camped in the bosom of a Canadian glacier. Once I spent a week with fire fighters in the backcountry and sat on the sleeping bag of a dark-eyed smoke jumper during a heavy rainstorm, listening to him talk about fire in Alaska. Fire is irony. It purifies and destroys. It is heat, it is passion, it is ashes, it is ruin. To stay alive, it consumes itself.
Unlike memories and plants, fire, like snow, is impossible to collect.
Moments of Snow
Nothing but silent snow falling, snow not making a sound, like a hand that writes to cover everything up. Snow falls right on the window, falls white on the piers, it lies down a moment, then disappears to another world–and you miss it a lot.
from “Snowflakes” by Jiri Orten, July 1940 Translated by Lyn Coffin and Leda Pugh