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Borderlands: Between Places and Landscapes

[P]laces are neither completely material nor completely mental; they are combinations of the material and the mental and cannot be reduced to either.1

Timothy Cresswell.

Seasons turn.

I am sitting here in winter

In the sun, in the winter sun.

 

My hands are moving across my keyboard

My hands are cold

My hands can feel the cold winter sun.

 

It seems like forever ago – last summer

That I stood knee-deep with my mother in the cold North Sea

In the North, North of here, in the North-East.

 

Mother-land.

 

Salt licked our legs

Her hand in mine

We felt the undertow and the sand shifting from under our feet

 

We were sinking

We were laughing

We were together.

 

In-place.

 

Lyotard mused on place.

The walls between place and landscape; the falling of the walls

I am West. I was East.

 

I was South since, and there again with salt-licked legs I thought of my mother.

I was with another and the sand shifted from beneath our feet,

We were sinking, we were laughing, we were South.

 

It was not winter and my hands were warm.

Dépaysement, says Lyotard – dépaysé; like a fish out of water.2

The unknown room is a floundering fish, habitable because it is UNINHABITABLE.3

 

A non-place.4

 

The walls fall from these landscapes – PLACE is left.

One place

leveled.

 

I can hear a fire crackling in this cold sun

How is that possible?

It doesn’t belong.

 

It sounds like the parrots we saw last week

Snapping nuts

In the bushes of South America

 

“It sounds like a crackling fire,” said my companion

“a bush on fire,” a fire of birds

Far from here, far from this winter ice.

 

Temporary life.

A temporal landscape changing second by second

Tick–tock, click–snap.

 

Somewhere else (in this memory-box without a lid)

Swims a resistant fish

The defiance of cool skin pushing viciously forward

 

Away from the feathered fishermen and canoe hulls and lower limbs

Tree limbs, fallen, a sunken timber yard

Drifting towards and away, and back to “now.”

 

But where is it destined, this object in space

The object of “place,” the right place, the in-place

This; the traveling storm

 

That wall made of rain

That runs down the lakes

An internal growl in the rocks?

 

I am in-place.

[But so far out]

I am returned [home], but this is my first visit.

 

I am the fish, traveling through water that thickens.

Becomes glass.

A time capsule.

 

Becomes my own exhibit.

I swim forever in this stilled aquarium.

It becomes a musty dry-store.

 

My skin is brittle.

As paper.

I am the fish in water [and out].

 

Tuan talks of land and sky.

The modes through which most of us think of SPACE [he says].

Curious, I used to think, that people spoke of “big skies” in the place where I grew up.

 

Sure, they were big, and deep and timeless

Of all times at once

I would lose myself for hours… but different from other skies?

 

Yes.

 

I understand better now that I am no longer there.

Now that I have watched vultures in the high spaces of the Hudson Valley

Seen the sunsets and thundering walls in the borderlands

 

Seen the wide arc of the blue Balkan skies welcoming home the spoonbill

Seen the night fall over Western and Southeast Asia

Scattering its lights and cats and stray dogs.

 

Those skies and lands are pasted apart (heavens above!)

Like an immaculate bird

Coasting gracefully on the oceans up-lift.

 

They wink at each other in solidarity

Casting down feathers and sending up fishes.

But they are separate entities.

 

Yes.

 

Those East Anglian skies are different.

They are of the earth (or the earth is of them).

Sky and land and sea are fused, stitched into a single sheet

 

A wrap-around landscape pulled out and unfolded

Like a precious letter

Becoming more familiar

 

Each tear, each yellowing crease known.

It exists always and endlessly

In a perpetual ‘now’ (and forever).

 

Time is explicit in movement

Says Tuan

Distance… implies time.5

 

Is this why, as I stare out at that ocean

Overwhelmed with a sense of perpetual presence

A glorious, painfully unbreakable now-ness

 

That I am struck with such unfathomable bereftness

And simultaneous knowing that everything – every single thing

Is utter and absolute in its completeness?

 

Not everyone experiences time in distance, says Tuan.

But he is not talking about me.

I run towards those horizons

 

Whether I know it or not

In my sense of perpetual “now-ness”

There is still so much space.

 

But there are those, he says

For whom objects are not distant (far away)

But simply smaller.

 

TIME between the watcher and the watched

Is collapsed.

Non-existent.

 

They are not used to land and sky

But live in such dense forests

That everything ahead is immediate.

 

Space, to the rain forest dwellers,

is a dense net of places

with no overall structure.

 

The same is apparently true of time…

Time, like perceived distance,

is shallow:

 

neither the genealogical past

nor the future

holds much interest. 6

 

Always here.

Always now.

Always this.

 

Others, says Whorf, experience a merging

Of the objective and subjective

In their (far more open) landscapes

 

As distance

And therefore time

Increases

 

a point is reached

at which details

cease to be knowable.

 

This is the borderland

between the objective

and the subjective realms;

 

it is the timeless past,

a country told about

in myths. 7

 

SPACE and TIME meet

At the sewn seam of the sheet

At that yellowed fold

 

And they slide right through the stitch holes

Into history

Mythology and folklore.

 

Object and subject

Material and mental

A dance between worlds

 

the sky is so watery blue

and the sea so cloudy grey

that just to look at it makes him feel upside down 8

 

Me, too!

 

During those lost hours of my teens

Staring up into East Anglian skies

I felt I could walk right into them.

 

Just one big stride

And I would be up there

In another world.

 

the capacity

to create such an entire inverted landscape

mirroring our own, filled with the dunes,

 

creeks, fields and seas of its mystery,

its enormity

and its complete-ness… 9

 

A secret landscape

That no one else had noticed.

I saw landscapes everywhere

 

In the grain of wood

In mirrors,

In the ceilings of our house

 

Between the sheets of rain

That fell in the summer heat

And yes, oh yes, in those clouds!

 

Featured Image: “We felt the undertow” photograph taken in Norfolk, 2014 by the author.

Helen J. Bullard is a research-based storyteller currently working towards an Interdisciplinary Special Committee PhD at UW-Madison. Her practice tells stories about animals, cultures and industries, with a particular focus on animal “out-of-placeness.” Her stories bridge science, mythology, anecdote and biography. Current PhD research is focused on the significance of the horseshoe crab to human cultures, especially their use in biomedicine. Email.

End
  1. Timothy Cresswell, In Place/Out of Place: Geography, Ideology, and Transgression (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), 13. 

  2. Jean-François Lyotard, “Scapeland,” The Inhuman: Reflections on Time (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991). Translation of ‘dépaysé’ as “like a fish out of water,” Robert & Collins French dictionary, 1987 (as observed by Steve Baker). 

  3. Lyotard, “Scapeland.” 

  4. Lyotard, “Scapeland.” 

  5. Yi-Fu Tuan, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience (Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press, 1977). 

  6. Tuan 1977. 

  7. Benjamin Whorf, as quoted in Tuan, Space and Place, 119. 

  8. Jeremy Page, Salt (New York: Penguin Books, 2008). 

  9. Page describing the cloud formation ‘Cirrus’ over Blakeney Point, Norfolk in Salt, 1. 

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