There are few things as anxiety-producing for me as my friends’ Art Nights, where everybody shows up with all assortment of paints and papers and pastels and pencils and print-making materials, and proceed to play. Stories and ideas and impulses take shape into quirky or dark, fanciful or beautiful forms. If I (somehow or other) get talked or (more likely) tricked into attending, I stare nervously around the room, making demonstrations of testing out colors to disguise my lack of productivity. I bide my time, waiting for everyone else’s work to accumulate so I can fall into my groove of seeing ideas and patterns emerge in their work, asking questions about their pieces – rather than creating something of my own (unless, of course, I’m given free range of a kitchen, where I can ignore most of a recipe to the end of keeping my artsier friends well-fuelled – cookies, anyone?).
I think you get the picture. In the visual realm, I’m not much of a creator. But I do have one or two theoretical pieces of art that exist only in my imagination. Here’s one:
Imagine a map. A trail map of a park, say, Knox Mountain (a local favorite; it could be substituted with Okanagan Mountain Park, Rose Valley, or Myra-Bellevue).
As an aside: I love maps. This is something I get from my dad, who would get so distracted reading maps at gas stations (maps I was certain, as a child, were identical to those we had already scrutinized prior to heading out on the road) that my sister and I could sneak extra bags of Hickory Sticks and Nibs into his purchase while he distractedly route-planned through the backwoods of Montana. Now, much to my chagrin, I buy maps – and Google them – and imagine my own routes, deeper into BC, up-and-over mountains. Only for me, I’m usually checking out where I might explore on foot, while my dad loved to hit the road.
Anyhow, back to the trail map of Knox. This map, preferably topographical, traces all the routes I’ve ever taken on Knox, thicker lines appearing in places I have traced and retraced, thinner lines where I've gone off trail only once, whether to scramble somewhere new or because I’ve lost my way. I imagine pulling from my Suunto data, overlaying every route I’ve taken over the past few years, 45-minute jaunts to five-hour endurance runs. Over the map of Knox, I imagine a web will emerge of all the spaces I’ve traced and found and made, a lattice of routines and explorations, the familiar and the one-offs.
Then, somehow – and please, don’t ask me how, I have no idea how – I would layer images on the map that are representative of moments I’ve had along each of these trails. Because, for all the times I’ve run these trails, no two times have been the same.
Some images could be signposts, like the cairns near Kathleen Lake. I’ve hammered up past these cairns on hard workouts, mouth stuffed with Okanagan dust. I’ve stopped still in the middle of a run and stared at my stone friends after months of work-travel and felt from them a silent welcome home!, as they pointed my way with their off-kilter arms along my most comfortable solo trail. Another time, alone on a five-hour run, I cried among the cairns, when, after months of training, it was uncertain whether my running partner would be able to race in the Alps. The stones hold these moments for me – sometimes reminding me from where I’ve come and other times keeping their peace (thank goodness – I’m not a big public crier, and I wouldn’t want it regularly thrown in my face).
Other images would be signals of the changing seasons, the phases of life passed on the same trails. A ridiculous Instagram of my friend throwing snowballs in the air, goofy smile spread on his face, during his first wintertime run. The balsamroot that signaled my #firstkelownaspring: after five years of regular travel, I took my first April spin on Knox and asked my friends – did the city plant these yellow flowers? Where did they come from? – only to find out they are regulars after the snow melts. Selfies with friends during midsummer runs, when Knox is decorated in dogs and dog-walkers in colored tank-tops. Images of glowing green eyes from autumn nighttime runs when the deer herd up, and we slip by as silently as we can, crossing our fingers that they are (in fact) deer, and not coyotes or lynx or bears.
Not all images need be particular to me. I couldn’t help but pop into my piece of art the view from the gazebo at the top of Apex trail or the bench high above Paul’s Tomb. Runner after runner has taken photo after photo of these locations, but who can blame them? A couple of weeks ago, I took out a new trail runner for his first spin on Knox, and he apologized for taking so many photos of what (he assumed) must be (to me) mundane vistas. I don’t think he believed me when I told him that I have dozens of photos of the same spaces – in different lights, with different people, from silly selfies and artsy snaps, most accompanied (at the time) with some version of: I can’t believe I live here.
There are more – but suffice it to say that this map could have layers and loads of images that snapshot my inhabitance of Knox. An artist could make it look striking, these layers and lines, but for now it is just my own imagining of how my random and resolute ramblings on Knox have rooted me in this place – and how I, somehow, have made Knox: well, Knox – a place to be found and run and explored. Fancier philosophers than I (aka: Certeau) have said before that “space is a practiced place,” and “like cartographers translating physical places into graphic spaces [for my dad to peruse at gas stations], we participate in the human mapping of territories by transforming places into experiences (cred: Busque). Don’t ask me how to do the graphic work of capturing this experience through pastels or paints – I’ll leave that up to my Art Night friends, with all of their ease in the visual territory – but I will continue to build in my imagination the web of my wanderings on Knox as I run and run again.