Experts, poets and artists are working together to create a literary field guide for the Cascadia region of B.C., Washington State and Oregon, organized by “kinship clusters” rather than western taxonomy.
Writer and naturalist Elizabeth Bradfield, who says her “origins and heart home are in the Pacific Northwest,” told the Observer she is working part-time with Terrain.org poetry editor Derek Sheffield and former Alaska State Writer Laureate Ernestine Hayes on the labour of love.
Bradfield said they are working to send a book proposal to several presses and hope the project will find a home soon.
Hayes, who is a Tlingit writer and professor in Juneau, suggested using an Indigenous way of organizing the field guide rather than a typical western taxonomy — classifications such as insects, birds and so on. The trio settled on creating “kinship clusters” to organize the guide — sets of seven to 10 endemic or iconic beings that share a relationship with each other in some way. One of the kinship clusters will be the Salish Sea.
For each cluster, Bradfield said classical natural history information, such as range and distribution, is planned for publication alongside special poems that speak to the species therein and unique imagery created by a variety of artists, from sketches to possibly including graffiti.
“Because what field guides can’t really do is speak to the heart, so we want this field guide to do that as well,” Bradfield said.
The end product is meant to be useable and affordable, “something that you might take with you as you go out wandering.”
Several species planned for inclusion are iconic to Haida Gwaii, she added, naming cedar, salmonberry, raven, giant Pacific octopus and orca, among others.
Bradfield said it was important to credit David McCloskey, the Seattle University sociology professor who popularized the idea of “Cascadia” as a bioregion.
She also said their literary field guide is modeled after two others that have been published by different presses, one for the Sonoran desert and another for southern Appalachia.
“We hope to be the third in the non-series series,” she said.
One of Bradfield’s favourite entries in the “Sonoran Desert: A Literary Field Guide” book is for the broad-billed hummingbird.
She said the poem by Alberto Álvaro Ríos “is only one sentence long and shimmers in the air like the bird itself,” and the accompanying illustration “points to the bird’s amazing ability to manipulate the movement of its wings.”
She also noted the humor in the natural history description for the bird, which in the “Life History” section begins, “Talk about target heart rates. A hummingbird’s heart may beat up to 1.200-1,400 times per minute when it’s active.”
“What I love is the humor, wonder, and accuracy that this entry encapsulates,” she said.
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