Cartographers and nematodes

James and I went to Snake Den Park yesterday to see what we could see. Parts of it were more like hearing what we could hear — a woodpecker every now and then, birds who stopped singing and talking when we tried to look for them. I drew plants, lichens, mosses, a couple of butterflies, a toad. I was psyched, and even more psyched when I got home and was able to find out (for example) that the toad was a Woodhouse’s toad. It was waiting for us to go away, so I was actually able to draw it while it sat there trying to look like an oak leaf.

I thought about naming and seeing, and about all the parts of the ecosystem at Snake Den that I didn’t know the names of and couldn’t see except by their results: whatever makes the trunks of deciduous trees blow out in places, the hyphae of the fungi under the leaf litter, the nematodes working their way through the soil, the bacteria breaking things down and making interfaces possible … most people don’t know what half this stuff does (I don’t) or what its relationships are, how parts interlace with, erode or boost other parts, the different ways that “needing each other” can work, invisibly, complexly, minutely, delicately, through exchange and sacrifice and destruction.

This morning I’m drawing the outline of the state of Rhode Island — all its inlets and protrusions — for the collaborative map at the booth, and being so, so impressed with anyone who does this for real, who makes maps that people could actually use. I would wish I lived in Kansas — lots of nice straight lines — except that Kansas and other plains states got hammered with record high temperatures and hail this week. As I tried to draw the outline of a bay in proportion with the outline of a peninsula, I had a vase / faces moment: I’m confining the scope of this project (or at least this phase of it) to RI because thinking about the whole world is too big and too hard, but the hyphae run through the ground, and the waters mingle; thinking of “Rhode Island” vs. “Not Rhode Island”, or “humans” vs. “not humans” can only take us so far, and can only be partly true. 


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