For a number of reasons, too long to discuss here, I’ve been thinking about a book I read some twenty-odd years ago.
And for a change, I can’t find it in my boxes.
It is called PrairyErth (A Deep Map), and was written by William Least Heat-Moon.
I mentioned Heath-Moon in the past, because he is the author of Blue Highways, one of the best travel books I ever read – a book that actually caused me to start again reading travel books after a decade spent away from that genre.
Now, in retrospective, while at the time it left me perplexed (also due to the translation, I think) PrairyErth is sort of growing on me.
In particular I like the idea of deep map that’s at the core of the book.
According to the description of the learned Deep Maps and Spatial Narratives, published by the University of Indiana…
Deep maps are finely detailed, multimedia depictions of a place and the people, buildings, objects, flora, and fauna that exist within it and which are inseparable from the activities of everyday life. These depictions may encompass the beliefs, desires, hopes, and fears of residents and help show what ties one place to another. A deep map is a way to engage evidence within its spatio-temporal context and to provide a platform for a spatially-embedded argument.
And no kidding.
To put it in a rougher, more direct way, a deep map works like this: you choose a place, a space on the map, and of that space, you start putting together everything: history, ecology, society, topography, art, culture, the people on the street…
And by putting together I don’t mean just collect all these data, but truly find the connections, the internal relationships, the co-evolution, the feedback cycles.
The common history.
Because no matter how nondescript, boring and dead a place may look from a distance, if you start really observing it, it will reveal a number of interesting details.
PrairyErth is growing on me, I realize, because now that I no longer have my father to take care of, I have some time to look around, and see the boring and dead place, peopled by hopeless bumpkins, where I have ended up living.
And I wonder if, looking closer at the details, I might not find something interesting, after all, even in this hole of a town in the hills of Astigianistan.
After all, Wikipedia points out that…
A deep map work most often takes the form of engaged documentary writing of literary quality; although it can equally well be done in long-form on radio. It does not preclude the combination of writing with photography and illustration. Its subject is a particular place, usually quite small and limited, and usually rural.
Maybe I’ve found a new idea for a book – even if I’d love to do it as long-form radio.
Ora maybe, who knows, a podcast?
After all, I am a writer, a natural scientist, and a history buff… and for sure, I am stranded in a rural area – might as well try and make it pay.
It might be worth a try, what do you say?