Introducing: The Excursions

Humans have been mapping North America for at least 15,000 years. Everywhere Buki and I wander, we map our excursions in our minds. Buki’s mind holds a large vocabulary in terms we humans express to her vocally. And her mind holds an even larger vocabulary of scent terms, scents that we can scarcely communicate about because we’re human and we’re olfactorally stupid. I’m human, so I map out the results of excursions in photos, specimens, and words. I enjoy doing that. It’s what I was made for.

The Story Teller

If you’re a dog’s good co-explorer friend, you’ll have seen this: after exploring a thrilling place for a while, a dog rolls joyfully in the grass, the moss, the dust, or the river-shore rotten fish. When wild wolves return from exciting excursions their fur carries an olfactory record of good places–that’s what the rolling about is all about. Dogs are friendly wolves, and we are their pack. Buki returns home from our excursions to her pack (Trevor, and any guests), excited to share the scent of the wonderful places she explored. Her joyful post-excursion facial expressions and body language reinforce the story about “the good place”. If the recipient of the dog’s story ever wanders there on their own, they (according to the dog ways) will know they are in a good place because they will remember the scent Buki “told” them about. It’s not so different from the honey bee returning to the hive to dance out the record of where they found good flowery forage (go this way, this distance, and you’ll find the good stuff). It’s their system of cartography. For dogs, the lines of cartography are all about evocative scent gradients and the record of joyful moods. I wonder what a visualized scent map of the Clearwater Valley might look like if translated into the visual.

North America’s contemporary human cartography tells stories of the dazzling diversity of indigenous cultures and languages. It tells of what we have learned about the geology of this most ancient of continents. Climatic maps of North America are fascinating to review when all the relevant variables are considered (timing of precipitation, seasonal changes in precipitable water, recent changes in annual temperature extremes, etc.). Biological maps are no less exciting: the distributions of individual species, the patterns of distribution of multiple species, the concentrations of endemic or disjunctly distributed species. And the maps of ecosystems: where species do remarkable things in their environments.

The Biogeoclimatic (BEC) system is British Columbia’s official mapping of ecosystems. BEC tells stories of the mixes of dominant trees, shrubs, and understory plants. Mixes segregated by climate, region, or by the local soil’s capacity to grow merchantable timber. Each mapped unit in the BEC system comes with published details of its productivity. BEC leaves out the remarkable, though. BEC maps omit the vernal pools, marl fens, limestone cliffs, the whitewater shores, the windblown ridgetops, the talus and its Bausch ventilation, the coastal aerohaline band, the pinnacles of metalliferous rock, the serpentine slopes, the lava flow and its lichens, the nearby birch forest that has a Sphagnum understory–the places with the richest stories of biodiversity and most elaborate and specific ecology get no mention. BEC is not the sort of mapping done by people who are thrilled with the beauty of landscapes and the diversity of life.

BEC, as cartography, reminds me of those anatomical diagrams of the butcher’s cuts of pigs and cows. British Columbia chopped up into the tasty and tender, or the stew pieces, the parts for hamburger, the sinewy parts thrown to the dogs. It’s government telling industry all about where the good stuff is. BEC (like all such public-private communion in land management) is current-time colonialism, a map of how to use the land and then keep going on and on using it all up. It’s government bureaucracy working hard to prove that the world is unremarkable. Do you see the point? There’s no need to advocate for conservation of the unremarkable.

In my work in British Columbia, I am often expected to use BEC for the context of my findings. No thank you. It is not a system appropriate for mapping biodiversity patterns or species autecology. For my own cartography, I’d rather return from excursions like the thrilled canine with a scent record rubbed into my fur. Here, sniff this, if you smell that out in the wilds, you’ll know you’re in the good place. The world, at least what remains of it, is remarkable!

You can see the butchering of British Columbia on satellite imagery. The wonder places are fewer and fewer thanks to the butchery (butchery that the bureaucrats call forest health). But we humans still have some room to explore, and we still have much left to map. I hope to return from my future excursions with stories of the remarkable that I hope you will find exciting. Some of my excursion blogs will be current-time, others dug up from the past. There’s a lot to tell. 15,000 years of exploration, and we still don’t know all the stories out there. We’re scarcely getting started. While government and industry use their cartography to prove that the world is unremarkable, I hope to tell something truer than that, and I hope you will, too. The wild world is dazzling!

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