Walking there, at the edge I can see I am entering a managed ecosystem; some stems have been thinned and the woody debris cleared away, and evidence of a logging history and crisscross of humans and their litter is written on the ground. It is perhaps too close to campus to be called wild, but just a few metres into the stand, the sounds of the university recede and older sounds come through the firs and the willow shrubs. Here, the stand is looking more familiar, with bunchberries and wintergreen and pipsissewa poking through the red featherstem moss that carpets the forest floor. Here, a mushroom brings word of the underground network of fungal mycelium, threads that connect root to root, cycle nutrients and biochemical advice from tree to tree. The mycelial network is likely thriving after whatever setback it faced when this stand was first logged -- the trees are sharing secrets in the soil (Wohlleben, 2015). Some of the earliest work that established how trees talk to each other through mycorrhizal associations was done amongst Doug-firs (Toomey, 2016); they have been since, perhaps always, sharing some of their secrets with humans who have been willing to listen. Knowing this for some time, when I walk here, I am aware that a community is at work, sending signals about kin, climate, and food from fir to fir.
From a lifelong fascination with maps, stories, and local geography, I begin to see this as a landscape. In the etymological sense, a landscape is a construct, a land-based representation or portrayal – the ship part (OE scype) refers to an appointment, ordination, or creation (as in a fellowship) rather than a ship (OE scipian) that sails on the seas (Little, et al, 1955, pp. 1874–1875). A ship – an appointment, ordination, or creation. What is being represented here? What layers in the physical and cultural landscape are seen and heard now, and what layers are hidden in this portrayal? What stories are held in place by the humus, stored in the submesic soil in wait for a telling, or being told right now in language I cannot understand? Here, the sightlines of academia are still present, with the sound of a building’s HVAC system coming through the trees like water over rocks, and here is evidence of recent silviculture and what appears to be the remnants of a bike jump; but not long gone are signs of industrial forestry and previous land uses. Here, perhaps, was a hunting trail or berry patch visited by the Lheidli Tenneh; maybe they will be here again when the berries come back. Here, I walk on moss and fir needles. Below the litter is podzolic soil, and deeper still, glacial till, sculpted into spoon-shaped drumlins by the slow violence of ancient ice, and then softened by cold waves in a glacial lake 10,000 years ago. These layers have contributed to the identity of people, place, and land on this campus, this community, this region. These stories, happening many times, are how places are formed (Stafford, 1987), and are all part of what surfaces when the geographer in me asks “what is where, why there, and why care?” (Gritzner, 2002).
But at this moment, this geographer’s mind almost misses what the Doug-firs are asking of me, carried up from the great fungal threads in the podzol and shipped through the understory by the smell of earth on the small breeze: “what appointment are you seeking here, to what work are you ordained, and what do you hope to create?” This possibility of place, this question from the landscape itself -- a call to ordination from the firs -- is at the root my research. It is also a question that new teachers encounter as they begin their work with students and sort out the kind of pedagogy they wish to establish and what value they hope to find in it. In turn, their students ask similar questions, a wandering about through educational landscapes in search of a path, in search of a horizon. For many educators, a teaching practice that is drawn to place as site and source of learning is an intentional act to engage the questions of their landscapes, to situate and establish their own identity as people who are called to teach, create, and make sense of the paths they walk and the “horizons of significance” they envision (Taylor, 1991), to know who they are in this space.
My own path here, to the Natural Resources and Environmental Studies (NRES) PhD program at the UNBC, began in September 2019 after a 23-year career in K-12 public education as a Social Studies teacher. The first year in this interdisciplinary program featured coursework on the philosophy of science, frameworks and critical considerations for conducting and communication research, and interdisciplinarity. Since the 2004 completion of my Master’s degree in Education from Simon Fraser University and throughout my teaching career, I have been interested in research into Geography education in K-12 schools, decolonizing schools and pedagogy, place-responsive teaching and learning, and the role of student and teacher storytelling in Social Studies. This interest has been expressed in my teaching, most notably in student inquiry projects that explored self and the world in the context of history, geography, heritage, and culture. That was not always the work that I was appointed and paid to do, but it was certainly the work for which I was ordained by the path I followed. I have used the first year of the doctoral program and employment in UNBC’s teacher education program to synthesize these research ideas and develop a new pathway towards expanded horizons of significance for myself and other place-responsive educators who seek authenticity, to be "people who are perceived as 'authoring' their own words, their own actions, their own lives, rather than playing a scripted role at great remove from their own hearts" (Palmer, 2007, p. 117).
Gritzner, C. F. (2002). What is where, why there, and why care? Journal of Geography, 101(1), 38–40.
Little, W., Fowler, H. W., & Coulson, J. (1955). The Oxford universal dictionary on historical principles(3rd ed.; C. T. Onions, Ed.). London, UK: Oxford University Press.
Palmer, P. J. (2007). The courage to teach guide for reflection and renewal. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Stafford, K. (1987). There are no names but stories. In Places and stories. Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University Press.
Taylor, C. (1991). The malaise of modernity. Concord, ON: House of Anansi Press.
Toomey, D. (2016). Exploring how and why trees ‘talk’ to each other. Retrieved October 1, 2020, from Yale Environment 260 website: https://e360.yale.edu/features/exploring_how_and_why_trees_talk_to_each_other
Wohlleben, P. (2015). The hidden life of trees: What they feel, how they communicate - discoveries from a secret world. Vancouver, BC: Greystone Books.