The Fieldbook Project: traces

movement drawing walk 2 Fieldbook projectFreer Point was extremely wet. The still-frozen ground couldn’t absorb the melted snow from the suddenly warm weather. ‘Broken snowshoe month’, the Anishinaabe call this month. Indeed, the punky snow and water pockets would have made snowshoeing nigh impossible, and certainly unpleasant. We moved our walk to the village of Little Current. A smaller group this week, we gathered at the public library in the main room. The knitters had been moved to the lunchroom due to their rowdiness.

Our readings this week had taken us to Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: a history of walking and Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, among others. If, I asked, we follow Bailly’s claim that the city is “a collection of stories, of memories of itself made by walkers of the streets,” what can we learn about the village of Little Current? What ways, and tracks, and traces can tell us the stories of walkers? How can we witness, via walking, what Solnit describes as the “traces of the walking body, the acting out of imagination and desire”? What traces of other walks and walkers, are in our bodies and in our walk?

Like all slowly melting streetscapes, winter’s detritus dotted the sidewalks and were gathered in the plowed banks of snow and sand at the end of streets. A candy wrapper, melting dog shit, boot print reliefs, a trail of prints to the top of a snow bank, sliding tracks down the other side, fir tree branch remnant from a late winter storm.

We walked in the middle of the street, fieldbooks opened, walking randomly, meandering, stopping. Looking at the houses we’ve walked past many times. One street, divided east and west; on the west are houses with a private property sign slightly faded, a barking dog, closed blinds. On the other, a welcome sign pinned to a door, a bench close to the sidewalk.

At the juncture of the ends of two streets – Robinson and Red Mill Road – we look out over Low Island Park and the North Channel, Picnic Island, and the La Cloche mountains. One of us remarks on the uncanny feeling of looking out over the old snowshoe tracks of her previous walks, of seeing one’s own traces of the past. I can never look out at the Channel without thinking of Anna Jameson, the 19th century subject of my dissertation. The Channel has erased her trace, but her imaginative traces of the Channel continue to reproduce, channel our seeing.

These streets are relatively new; how we walk through these streets is also new. We are not following deer tracks or trading routes, but rather, each step on these streets follows the map that dreamed a settler village. The grid of streets, ordered for property, travel, public works, is defined by street names – Robinson, Haywood, Meredith – toponyms of settler dreaming. We gather a multitude of signs within two blocks: no exit, dead end, enter only, please drive slowly, no idling, not responsible for injuries or accidents, stop.

While we can no longer see the bateaux, the voyageurs, the explorers and surveyors that imagined, claimed and carved out the spaces, their traces are ever present in our geographical imagination, in the collective western dream of property, green lawns and civilized neighbours; the ontological dreaming of order and property rights.

We return to the Library, several of us holding a pen above our pages to track the movement of our walking bodies over the paved and frost-heaved streets.

  • sophie anne edwards