Sunday, July 31, 2005

Psychogeographic Mapping

I've been kicking around the idea of the psychogeographic map, a concept that i first read about years ago in the writings of the Situationist International. My interest in the notion lies in how we experience place and interact with geography and topography of our physical reality.

Psychogeography concerns itself with how we experience and are affected by being in a place. Places and human experiences of them are never static--they are influenced by a number of factors: our mood, the weather, companions of lack thereof, and other mysterious forces that aren't as readily discernible, such as the energy fields or "vibes" of a particular space.

"Generative Psychogeography" or "algorithmic walking" is a subfield that deals with a particular way to experience a landscape. I ran across the concept in an article in the Utne Reader. Essentially, you hike in a fixed pattern starting from a random point: "first left, then second right, next right, repeat pattern." This is not meant to be strictly random wandering nor is it a wholly structued walking tour, but occupies a space between anarchy and the fixed, predictable patterns by which we typically move through our daily lives. The goal is to provide a completely fresh perspective on the landscape we encounter in our immediate realm of being.

The algorithmic logic will take you to places you may not otherwise encounter. In a typical landscap you may actively seek out obviously interesting features, markers, green space, objects of interest to the eye, but the algorithm imposes the idea that you immerse yourself in a space that could be easily overlooked, finding magic in the seemingly mundane.--a piece of stunning colored rock in a vacant lot, an old shack in a back alley that you may have overlooked for years as anything worth observing. Whatever it is, use it as a took to remake your own relationships with the geography.

From what i can glean, these experiments have mostly taken place in urban settings. My thinking would be to incorporate psychogeography, historical geography, meditative arts, history, and reflective writing into an integrated method of experiencing place. "interactive geography"

This methodology could apply to any rural landscape: fields, meadows, rivers, wooded trails, anywhere you can walk. Algorithmic walking could be instigated through a predetermined set number of steps or by a timed algorith. For example: "walk 100 paces, left turn, walk 50 paces, right 200 paces." Pacing would be at a comfortable hike so that every undulation, topographical feature, detail of flora, fauna, human marking, can be observed in detail and recorded by reflective writing, photo analysis, audio recording or simple rememberance by the experiencer of one's perception and feelings of the landscape during each segment of the algorithmic process.

Edward Abbey once wrote:

"Do not jump into your automobiles next June and rush to the country hoping to see some of that which I have evoked in these pages. First, you can't see anything from a car; you've got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees over the sandstone and through the cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark the trail, you'll see something, maybe."

This is the essence of interative geography. To scrutinize qualititatively, not just scientifically but through a qualitative response to the geography. This is where the integration comes in.

For example: I've been interested in prairie ghost towns in recent months. Near the Mackinaw River and Panther Creek confluence in rural Woodford County was located the village of Bowling Green. If one were to drive by this spot they would see a rock along the road inscribed with "Bowling Green-laid out in 1836." One may note the beauty of the trees behind this boulder, they may read the inscription and think nothing of it, or they may take a deeper interest and inquire of themselves, "What was Bowling Green?" "What happened on this spot?" "Does anything remain?" Interactive geography would incorporate a historical geographical model to these questions. Historical research indicates that Bowling Green was an early village that sprang up on a stagecoach line between Peoria and Bloomington, IL. It is mentioned and marked on several maps of the period and its location is pinpointed from the use of plats that indicate specific township coordinates. In fact, one can find a blueprint for the village's layout itself. We know there was a general store, a hotel, and several platted streets. The village ceased to exist when the railroad came through, thus rendering the stagecoach line obsolete.

Historical geography lends a deeper appreciation of a place like this and facilitates reverence for what once was.

Now, we apply the psychogeographical approach. Find the physical locale of the village, incorporate algorithmic walking over the grounds. What does this ground look like some 170 years after it was once occupied? What does it feel like? Investigate. Can any physical remnants of habitation still be found? What about energy? Meditative art or just one's psychological or emotional response to a space is just as important to me as what the eyes tell us. We use an energy pendulum to check for movement. There is a circular motion and some moderate heat that indicate an energetic presence. Would anything interesting manifest itself through audio or video investigation? Simply closing your eyes and drinking in the "feel" of the place, the sound of the wind through the trees and high grasses? What stories are there waiting to be exhumed? Were there Indians here before the white settlers of Bowling Green? What does the land say?

Free writing or flow of consciousness can, I believe, add another level of understanding of physical space. Interactive geography would seek to redefine perception, subtely remake how we view the world and celebrate the deep of place that illuminates our daily lives.

I believe it is possible to remake the landscape through perception, to alter consciousness in a way that provides understanding on many levels, to form a new bond and relationship with the spaces we occupy.

The Bowling Green example is one of starting from a fixed historical spot, but interactive geography can be practiced anywhere. Use algorithmic walking on a forested trail and see what you find. I've found gravestones, old fencelines, fossils, rusted cars, slabs where shacks or houses once stood, old bottles, animal bones, etc. Magic in the mundane. What are the stories of these physical objects? How do they inform our sense of the present? All questions i think are worthwhile.

Walking the grounds of a crop farm, I come across a 20 acre barren that an 1878 plat map indicates once was home to a "race track." I assume horse racing. The barrens are bisected by the tiny Mill Creek and are home to locust, orange osage and several large hardwood trees, a large swatch of varied grass, a large raspberry patch, and numerous wildflowers. I've found evidence of structures in the bramble. I scour the earth and love it wildly. My understanding is embellished by psychogeography.

The interactive approach can be applied to any random spot. Integrative investigation confers a meaning to places and geographies that may have previously seemed meaningless or devoid of significance. It reworks our conditioned responses to "place" and all of its' connotations. These ideas have real meaning to me, and in my view have great potential for casual change in how deeply we absorb our world.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Jah Give The Rainbow

The rest of the trip was relaxing. Drove back through the desert artist colony of Jerome, AZ., a definite must-stop if you're in the neighborhood, and really why wouldn't you be? Excellent brew pub amidst the shanties perched on the side of Mingus Mtn. Spent two more days in Laughlin with a side trip to the old mining town of Oatman, AZ. before flying home to (oh sweet joy) the humidity of the midwest. As much as the desert has its' beauty, to see hardwoods, greenery, and feel the sweat on your skin is an amazingly underrated feeling.

My soul brother Jake and his wife Tupa arrived last week from London. We took Jake out fishing last weekend at our old haunt on the mighty Mackinaw R. This summer's drought has left the river at a perilously low level. Despite the lack of accessible pools, we were able to catch a few nice smallies in the riffles on just a worm weighted with a couple slip shot. To my son's delight we also reeled in a few suckers and the exotically colorful, if not sizable, pumpkinseed.

Got back into training last weekend with a 2:26 run at Forest Park. Felt good to get back on the hills. I was humbled by just how much strength I lost from my legs during my time off for injury and how blessed it is to be allowed to get back out there. The journey continues. I felt some swelling in the right tibia area but aggressive post-run icing has so-far staved off anything serious. Yesterday I took Jake and Tupa out for their first trip to McNaughton Park. We did one loop of the Potawatomi in 2:10 or so, nice slow pace. I kept up a good rythm on the hills, the trail is in good shape, other than some overgrowth on the narrow single track in the creek bottom area. Great view of giant barn owl.

Books. Hmm, been reading a bit. Slogged through Jared Diamond's new one, "Collapse." Not as engrossing as "Guns, Germs and Steel" but still worth the investment. The highlight is where he details the societal collapses of civilizations such as Easter Island, Pitcairn and Henderson Islands, the Anasazi, the Maya, Greenland colonies, etc. If you have any interest in any of these from a historical, environmental, or archaelogical perspective, then the first 300 pages or so is well worth it. I think he bogs down a bit for my tastes when he gets into contemporary policy and modern societal analysis, but overall Diamond lays out a very structured and well-thought out thesis and argument. Worth the time despite the density.

I've also been reading "Road to Heaven: Encounters with Chinese Hermits" about a westerner's journey to the Chingnan Mountains to find Taoist and Buddhist monks still living the ancient hermit lifestyle. Awesome book.

Soundtrack: "King Django Meets the Scrutialists." Reggae, Dancehall, Dub, original.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Desert Solitaire

Returned from the trip out west last night. Went a little something like this:

Flew into Vegas spent one hour at Ceasar's, fled the city in horror.
South across the desert through Searchlight, over the mountain pass and into the blast furnace valley and Laughlin. Spent the night at the condo on Thursday night. Did a 30 minute night run at Mountain View Park, overlooking the Colorado River. The dryness of the air really affected me, but it was a beautiful night so I made it work.

Friday morning drove east on I-40 to Flagstaff. Love Flagstaff!! Hip little mountain town surronded by forest and has a great bohemian downtown district. Awesome vibe. Drove south on the stunning rt. 89 into and through Oak Creek Canyon, probably the most scenic drive I've ever taken other than the million dollar highway between ouray and silverton, co. You're enveloped by the sheer cliffs covered with stands of pine, dropping along the canyon walls to the floor and Oak Creek. Stopped at Slide Rock State Park and dipped into the creek. Crazy kids doing cannonballs off the slippery rock cliffs (hence the name). Did the Sedona thing. Spires of iron- tinged red rock eroded by millions of years of water and wind into a spectrum of craggy shapes and table top mesas. Took a jeep into the desert on rough roads southwest of Sedona. Juniper, agave, scrub oak, even saw a colored lizard. Unfortunately, no rattlers (heat of day) or javelina. Stark and brutal, yet inviting.

Back to Flag. Saturday morning I was up at 5:30, 6 miles up bumpy Schulz Creek Road and into the mountains of the Cococino National Forest above the city for a run. Did the Sunset Trail loop along Brookbank. Views of the San Fransicso Peaks off in the near distance. The first mile and a half gains 900 feet, a pretty good climb for a flatlander not in peak condition such as myself. Brookband turns into runnable, pine needle covered single track. Being a midwesterner, I'm always ecstatic to get in a run in the mountains. Ended up doing two hours and could have easily spent all day running in the clean air and ponderosa pine forest.

Drove to Grand Canyon. Touristy but worth it just for the sheer awe value. My first trip to the canyon, and i can safely say its' scale cannot be put into words. Reduces you to an insignificant speck in this vast universe.

Sunday morning was one of the highlights. I had seen an advertisement for a 5k near Flagstaff, so i got up early and went. The Nuratukya'ori 5k run was on the trails around the Museum of Northern Arizona. About 80 percent of the runners were Hopi Indians. At the starting line an elder gave a Hopi prayer and sprinkled the ground of the line with dust. The prayer didn't help my speed, but it did ensure a transecendent run. Chatted with several runners along the way and one guy kept letting out these awesome, guttural war whoops. Altitude, hills, hurting leg--still finished in 29 minutes. Slow, yes, but not considering it was me running the course and we were at 7500 ft. One of the highlights of the trip.

To be continued...