Towards a New Cartography 8: Mapping Time

A map is a grid of power.

You could map the whole valley out into that grid, and you’d have a pretty good idea where things were really happening in modern industrial society. You might have a poor idea about other stuff, though. That’s a reason for a different kind of map. Like this, maybe?

If the valley was mapped by cottonwoods, we would know where the flickers were, where the insects were, where we were in relation to exposure, slope and altitude. Those are also good things. We could map much of the valley that way, and much of modern industrial society would show up as, well, the spaces between those branches. Another model is red osier dogwood.

If we mapped the land according to its lines, we would know where the water was, where moose were, where shade was, and would grow up with an understanding that everything came with its twin, as this bush always divides into pairs.  How we understood that twinning would lead to many other kinds of maps. It could even introduce us to the map of the bunchgrass:

This is a map of islands, but islands around central blind spaces, much like the branches of the dogwood above. Pairing these two maps would help us map the land as a series of rivers, of snow and wind, perhaps, but rivers still. When we looked at rivers of water, we would understand them in a much broader map. And if we mapped according to sumac?

Well, we would have a map of light across many years. If we merged it with the maps above, we would grow up understanding the way the rivers and branches and twinning in all the other maps are expressions of time. If we wanted to map time, we could do it easily.Then, when spring came early, we would know where it came from and where it’s going. We would also understand, as the poplar below shows …

… that the first part of life, drawing on the life of a past generation, is reproduction; then come leaves, in preparation for the next generation. We would see time come into focus, as something physical, and would no longer have to use terms like “the time-space continuum” to try to describe it. We might see the robin below not as a bird sitting on a ruined plum tree, but four generations of Japanese culture here, with families that escaped internment during the Second World War, which is pretty darned remarkable.


And thank our ancestors for their wisdom. We call this kind of thinking “poetry,” but it’s really a kind of mapping.


2 replies »

  1. Not to science up your beautiful words, however I actually do map similarly to your description when I do tree surveys.
    I wish more folks could understand the awesomeness of nature and what you can find if you just used a different map 😉😁


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