The map is a map of Rhode Island. It’s not exactly a cartographer’s dream.
A few people who talked with me when I did the booth in Kennedy Plaza added their cherished places to an earlier incarnation of the map, but most didn’t. I wanted to make it more inviting and easier to understand, so on the second day of the fair, under “PUT YOUR WORRIES ON THE MAP” I wrote on it “IS THERE A PLACE IN RI YOU LOVE?” It turned out that there was.
People marked Ell Pond, Beach Pond, Arcadia, Pond, the Fair itself, Narragansett Salt Pond and Narragansett Beach (with a +1), Galilee. They wrote, “Protect the piping plovers at East Beach!” and “I want the birds to be safe!”
People marked Beaver Tail, the Save the Bay Exploration Center, Thibeault’s on Rose Island, their home, Newport Folk Fest, and their grandparents’ house.
They marked Prudence Island, because they loved being the only person there.
They marked Warwick (“So many people!”) and a view of the bay.
“Camping in Exeter” got a +1. Someone wrote “W.G. Maggie and Dad,” someone wrote “Greene RI.” Someone marked and drew a “beautiful tiny grove in the woods” near their home; someone circled “all of South County.”
For humans to protect a place, even out of love, is vexed, not simple. Protect what about it? Protect it from whom or what? What do you keep in, keep out? Who or what does protecting it harm or deprive? What role does money/power play in control/access? How do the visible stories tie into secret stories, and what are the different ways “value” and “use” come into play? How much do the protective ones, the ones who are up in arms, know about the place and what it needs (to survive) and wants (to thrive)?
In this excerpt from his book Don’t Even Think About It, which you can expect me to refer to again (though not always uncritically), George Marshall argues that tying discussions of global warming and climate change to the environmental movement is limiting and inaccurate: “DROP THE ECO-STUFF,” he exhorts, because “climate change does not belong to environmentalists and is not even environmental. Of course, it includes environmental concerns and impacts, but it is so much bigger than that.” The language of “saving the planet”, he says, the references to polar bears, make the work of mitigating climate change sound too distant, too noble, or too large for people to see themselves as actors for good or ill. He stresses, among other things, immediacy.
The places we live are immediate — we’re in them, they’re in us — and this is true whether they heal us or harm us or both. The Environmental Justice League of RI, where the first round of donations went, demonstrates the need for attention to place, to site, as strongly as does the South Kingstown Land Trust, where the second round of donations went.* And while I’m reluctant to draw too many large-scale conclusions from what people say and do at the booth — to put it gently, this is a low-methodology project — I think people often understand ecologies through places, their places, whether their places treat them like gold or like garbage. More about this to follow.
*You should all feel totally free to send money to either or both of those organizations, or the equivalents in your own cities or towns, and let me know about it — I will sing your praises here.