Guest Post: Kate Farquhar hosts an open house on WetLand

On October 25th, Kate Farquhar hosted the second of two open houses on WetLand while we were docked at the Walnut Street Bridge on the Schuylkill River in Center City Philadelphia. She reflects on it in this guest  post:

Taking stock of the WetLand openhouse a month ago, our dockside conversations and experiments now seem inextricably interwoven with this year’s final season. The unseasonably warm, breezy day debuted collaborative tests among friends and introductory encounters with strangers.

Danielle Toronyi of Peak Discharge – an environmental noise group – gauged underwater sounds from the Schuylkill’s tidal banks. Local horticulturists Kylin Metler and Robin Rick hosted a plant clinic to distinguish plant specimens and answer questions brought from passersby. Artist Jacob Rivkin and I made an instructional video showing how to concoct seed bombs, to better broadcast tips for spreading native plants.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/143616010″>How To Make Seed Bombs</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user9517903″>Jacob Rivkin</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

In my work as a landscape architect and teacher, I constantly search for words to help me contextualize my actions as participatory within a larger world. Standing out from my memories of our friendly talks in the warm air, the words gauge, distinguish and broadcast resound.

Defined in the Oxford English Dictionary (my favorite source for storied vocabulary lineages), but deployed in sentences I’ve composed as follows:

GAUGE:  the measurement of the depth of a liquid content, to ascertain the capacity or content of (a cask or similar vessel)… To render conformable to a given standard of measurement or dimensions; also to gauge up, to set bounds to, to limit

Gauging is the method by which tides were measured before microwave technology and acoustics – it’s also an informal method of evaluating fluid commodities.

DISTINGUISH: to perceive distinctly or clearly (by sight, hearing, or other bodily sense); to ‘make out’ by looking, listening, etc.; to recognize… To mark…  to be a characteristic of; to characterize… honour with special attention

With the use of all five senses, a practiced observer can distinguish organisms as characters distinct from their contexts.

BROADCAST: to scatter (seed, etc.) abroad with the hand… To disseminate (a message, news… performance…) from a … transmitting station to listeners and viewers; said also of a speaker or performer

Broadcasting the year’s fruit can mean throwing seeds by hand or reaching out to an audience – or – in our case – both.

Posing the larger context for Danielle’s exercise, I’ve learned that this October was the warmest on record for our region, implying a cascade of small and large local (but globally-connected) consequences including rising tides. Prefiguring Kylin and Robin’s clinic, definitive precedents were set by the plant intelligence researchers with this year’s publication Brilliant Green: The Surprising History and Science of Plant Intelligence. Describing plant communities’ interconnected intelligence networks as more sophisticated than the internet, its authors reverse the notion that plants are specimens to be entered in a catalog. Plants are presumed to have their own drives. Grounding my workshop with Jacob, this fall yielded an extravagant harvest of fruit, nuts and berries to our region – constituting a mast year, with beneficial repercussions for wildlife that rely on those crops. Each theme I’ve called out above refers to modes of thought that transcend the science vs. humanities duality that pervades much of our culture. Relatedly, they reference pre-modern, non-specialized ways of doing things that still matter.

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