Editorial: Root Mapping

Jussi Kivi


There is no map to the place we are going. We will be lost for a good, long time.

— Eva Saulitis, Becoming Earth (2016)


Between Vermont’s Green Mountains and river valleys, an estimated 1,500 migrant farmworkers milk the cows and run machinery that help keep the state’s landscape open and its pastoral image intact. Proximity to the U.S. northern border means undocumented farmworkers risk detainment and eventual deportation each time they travel from hill or valley farm. Migrant Justice organises in Vermont for human rights and economic justice. The group notes that farmworkers, thousands of miles from their homeground, typically live in extreme isolation, “often without a clear sense of where they are”.

Vermont is my homeground – where I was born and raised, a tiny state where I’ve lived most of my life. Where I can return to my childhood village and run my hands along dozens of my ancestors’ gravestones. The shapes of their etched-granite names press into my fingers and I pass through centuries. Stories rise from the grave markers like the mountains that ring the cemetery. If my father is with me at the gravesites, the stories multiply and reach far beyond anyone else’s memory. Each carved stone a story, contour lines on a map of belonging.

But I lay no more claim to this place than those more recently arrived. The land was home to a living, complex world long before my ancestors arrived with their books and measures. The names of my forebears are inked across countless land deeds that speak the language of conveyance and dollars. Deeds dependent on surveyors’ maps bounding feet, rods, acres. Place names bear my male ancestors’ surnames. Neither paper nor carved stone nor a shared last name make this place mine, makes me fit this place, even as maps confer otherwise.

Different maps of belonging are needed in these times we share. We might employ tools of the present to re-envision what it means to know a place. Or we might return to an older form of mapping, rendered from labour and living, respect, and mystery – way-finding maps of story and song and change.

The Root Mapping section opened for submissions by asking: What happens when we turn our energies to mapping place rather than space? What does mapping look like when it engages with love, fear, wonder, threat, and curiosity? What is sparked when today’s mapping is guided by a desire for beauty instead of power, when maps are living creations, arising – like beauty itself – from our relations and attention?

The ground that holds us also holds depths of understanding, of reciprocity, of the truths of our present moment.

Among the contributions, poet Anne Haven McDonnell traces the hunger that courses through our animal bodies. When the American black bear speaks through a Todd Davis poem, the myth of division between humans and the larger-than-human world collapses. Phil Owen honors the commingling of past and present through a Welsh wander. A poet and a writer each bear witness to injustice that lines on a map have ingrained and deepened, and from which neither can turn away: Yves Berger visiting Palestine, and Rick Bass in Montana.

The ground that holds us – be it rural, city-scape, suburban, edgeland, forest, desert, or beneath the sea – also holds depths of understanding, of reciprocity, of the truths of our present moment. Mapping these depths allows us to see and be seen in radical, necessary ways. Like the deep maps Robert Macfarlane describes in The Wild Places, we can create maps “that register history, and that acknowledge the way memory and landscape layer and interleave”.

From the American Southwest, Hailey Suina reminds us that ancient forms of knowing place are alive and essential. Innovative, vital mapmakers abound: Lehua Taitano offers kaleidoscopic encounters with wild birds. Anna Garrett studies strata of entanglements with drawing pencils and a grid. Tom Jeffreys meets the salt-air and guano weathered recent work of artist Giancarlo Scaglia and frankly considers the landscape of art. I look forward to sharing more of this new cartography over the coming months: writers and artists creating atlases of the imagination and ecologies of resistance through foraging, sculpture, exploring cultural and gender identity, listening to edgelands, and caring for a young boy’s last season.

As this section of The Learned Pig continues into the new year, you’re also encouraged to take us on a journey of root mapping. Where notions of power, domination and human-centrality make way for cartography as art, as resistance, as journey and guide to the present with an eye to the future we face together.

Explore how words of measure move aside for images of belonging. Consider which patterns of living in these times to map while baselines of biodiversity and even hope diminish. Allow a graph like the Keeling curve’s jagged teeth – rising ever upward before our eyes, like the accumulated atmospheric CO2 levels they represent – to inspire mapping that grows from your hands and muscles, your heart, your day-to-day existence, attentiveness, and imagination.

What maps will help us live with a clear sense of where we are – in our homeground or displaced from our ancestors’ interleaving of memory and landscape? Offering your words, visual art, experience, and attention, your mapping and your maps, show us how you would mark the way.


Image credit: Jussi Kivi, Cross-section of natural cave, Korppivuori, Pesolansaari, Finland, scraped on photographic paper (1996) www.jussikivi.com


Click here to explore ROOT MAPPING.

For more information on submitting your work please see Open call: Root Mapping.


The Learned Pig


Melanie Viets

Melanie Viets is a writer and shepherd from Vermont. Her essays and stories have appeared in Narrative Magazine, Whitefish Review, About Place Journal, and The Clearing from Little Toller Books, among others. She is a graduate of the Stonecoast MFA Program at the University of Southern Maine. She teaches community writing classes and tends her family’s Landskein Farm in Vermont.