Daily Archives: July 15, 2009

A language of lines

I wanted to write about maps. To write about the language of lines – the literacy skills I practiced while in Devon on our honeymoon. There is something splendid about finding your way on a map, carefully navigating along the lines of a wall, or track, or path. It is not straight country over there (I suppose it never is!) and the boundaries of fields, the hedges, walls and ways are all wobbly with history.


This affinity I had with my map…… partly, I know, it’s due to the joy of walking. With each walk, I become more familiar with the map and feel the land spreading out in my head. I have this notion that in walking I am stitching together the country in my memory and allowing areas to attach to other areas and fill in the blanks spaces. The notion of public rights of way and walking is very different in England than in Canada, which I’m sure is no surprise. We have so much more wild space – which is beautiful in its own way, of course, and wonderful to walk in. But in England (or I should say Devon, since that is my only real experience) the Ordnance Survey map is peppered with little green dotted lines that are the public footpaths. They join together villages and towns, or ramble over the moor land from tor to tor. In some cases the paths wend their way right through a farm yard, and feel so private that at first it takes a bit of nerve to continue through. What is so fascinating about these rights of way is that they exist simply because people have used them, and have always used them. (not the public fitness initiative kind of thing we sometimes have!) It’s all tied up in history. I read somewhere that if a landowner blocks a path and the blockage remains uncontested, the right of way can be lost after a period of time. So in a sense, walking is a statement, an assertion of the right. For me it is also about maintaining a relationship my “ancestral country”. In the future, when my grandmother is gone and I have no other ties to the region, I feel as though knowing the area intimately, in the way you do through walking, will still allow me to feel that connection.

But back to the “literacy of lines”  I mentioned. It occurred to me that this fascination should not surprise me. It’s an interest I find time and time again in different areas, especially creatively. Always, for me, it is about “leaning the language”. In art I suppose we say “vernacular”. Take knitting for example. Knitting has it’s own set of techniques, it’s traditions and histories. The way you create in knitting is my exploring it’s systems.  It really is as though you are leaning a language, and as you learn you try and “say” something and see how eloquently you can express yourself! I seem to thrive creatively within this kind of system, and delight in learning the grammatical rules! Think origami. It may seem like a stretch, but to me map reading is like this – leaning the language of the map  and then “saying”  something, voicing something, when I walk it in real life.

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