Author Archives: ErinJoelle

Mental Maps

DSC00301.JPGI am interesting in how people come to know a place. This is something that I have been thinking about for a long time, but has been on the forefront of my mind since reading Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams (1986) at the turn of the year. Arctic Dreams is a cross-genre work centered on exploration of the Arctic landscape. In the seventh chapter, The Country of the Mind, Lopez talks about the cartography and the affect of maps on people’s perceptions of a place. He convincingly argues that geography is a subjective science, influenced by preconceived notions and personal interpretations and defines mental maps as “…landscapes that exist in the human mind.” Lopez says that mental maps are personal. “The mental maps of urban dwellers and Eskimo may correspond poorly in spatial terms with maps of the same areas prepared with survey tools and cartographic instruments. But they are proven, accurate guides of the landscape. They are living conceptions, idiosyncratically created, stripped of the superfluous, instantly adaptable. Their validity is not susceptible of contradiction.”

G and I have very different mental maps of the same places. I navigate by overall view, by feeling, by general sense of where I am in relation to where I need to go. In my own neighborhood, I still get confused about the which street name belongs to which street, but I know the color the each house and the types of trees in each yard and I don’t get lost. If I have been somewhere before, I often trust that I will be able to find my way again. G’s mental maps seem to be very quantitative. He focuses on street names and compass directions. He finds my sense of direction confusing and sometimes infuriating.

Over the past month, I am have spent a lot of time looking at Google map’s images of Nova Scotia. The peninsula and Cape Breton Island are situated at a specific angle, and I see Nova Scotia in this position in my mind. When we are riding, I will picture our location as a moving dot on this specific map even though I have also looked at others where Nova Scotia sits at different angle on my screen. As G will also be studying Google maps and Map My Ride, I hope that our mental maps will align. But before our ride begins, I am also trying to fill my mind with other landscape stories. How is the bedrock laid down, what is the range of red spruce, which directions do the winds blow, where are the Mi’kmaw canoe routes, what are the colors of each region?

As I consider how to map a landscape in my mind, I continually return to posts by Lori Graham (@loritimesfive), who shares her place-specific journals. I am also grateful for this specific post by Kate Davies.


The photo above was taken on Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks in 2015. A place I never tire of exploring. 

The Edge of the Sea

As part of my preparations for our trip around the edge of Nova Scotia, I have been learning about intertidal zones. Growing up on the “Mid-west Coast”, my experiences in intertidal zones are few, but they are memorable. In 2007, I spent two weeks at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology taking a course in Coastal Biology.


On our day off, one of the professors let me join him for a poke around a rocky shore near Coos Bay. This professor is a specialist in nudibranchs, which are mollusks without shells, sometimes called “sea slugs”. Nudibranchs are often very small but beautifully colored. I recall him scooping a small orange blob from the salty water and placing it in my hand. And then there was this gumboot chiton with its little white wormy buddy (look near my left thumb):


My next memorable visit to an intertidal zone was in 2013. I traveled to Cape Cod for a company meeting, and had the opportunity to visit the Cape Cod National Seashore with a friend. Walking the beach, we came across mysterious clear capsules strewn about the sand like marbles. They were translucent with bright blue pigment in the digestive system.



In the Visitors Center, we learned that they were sea salps – a type of zooplankton. (Check out this National Geographic article to learn more.) How many other lifeforms exist in the ocean that I have never even imagined?

The shoreline of Nova Scotia is very different from that of Oregon or of Cape Cod and has its own wonders. Nova Scotia’s rocky coast is bordered to the north by the Bay of Fundy. Rachel Carson wrote about the bay in the Edge of the Sea. She said, “…the physical forces of the American Atlantic coast are such that the observer of its life has spread before him almost with the clarity of a well-conceived scientific experiment, a demonstration of the modifying effect of tides, surf, and currents. It happens that the northern rocks, where life is lived openly, lie in the region of some of the strongest tides, of the world, those within the area of the Bay of Fundy. Here the zones of life created by the tides have the simple graphic force of a diagram.”

This “graphic force of a diagram” appeals to me, and I have already spent hours with my graph-paper, sketching knitting motifs inspired by intertidal zonation.

Canada Warbler

G and I are preparing for a trip to Nova Scotia. We are planning to ride The Leonid Meteor Shower (aka our tandem bicycle), the length of the Nova Scotia peninsula and the rough circumference of Cape Breton Island. We have been looking at maps, making lists of potential destinations, locating knitting shops (me), and gathering essential components for Leonid (G).

Our upcoming travels are already influencing my knitting, and last week I knitted a hat inspired by the plumage of the Canada Warbler. This little bird will soon be arriving in Nova Scotia to breed in the moist deciduous-coniferous forests. This hat, however, is staying here in Buffalo with a friend.


On Ravelry here.

Snow Geese

Each March, our families and a few good friends make a pilgrimage to the Adirondacks. Last Friday, G and I got on the I-90 in the late afternoon. The wind was blowing fiercely across the open landscape, but the sky was blue and the sun was shining.

After two hours, we were north of New York’s Finger Lakes. G was asleep in the passenger seat and I was in a typical highway trance when a small flock of high flying birds caught my eye. Something subtly different in the shape of their silhouettes made me pay attention. As my eyes shifted across the sky, I spotted more birds until suddenly there were hundreds, moving swiftly west and north in loose Vs.

“Wake up! Snow Geese!”

There are few things that lift my heart like seeing snow geese flying overhead on a clear winter day. It feels like something magical and timeless is occurring. How fortunate we were to be in just the right place at just the right time to see their migration.

The rest of the weekend was spent on cold mountains and by warm fireplaces. Of course, knitting was present at all time, and near the summit of Mount Baker, my sister posed for a few project photos. These hat and mittens are for a generous family friend.


On Ravelry here.

Hunter’s Creek

A few weeks ago, G and I drove down to Hunter’s Creek in Wales, NY. We have spent most of our time inside this winter, and we were in need of a good walk in the woods. Hunter’s Creek is owned by Erie County and has hiking and biking trails that are maintained by volunteers (thank you!). It is also a Wilderness Weekends in Western New York location.

My ulterior motive for this walk was to capture G modelling my latest knit sweater.


This cardigan is for my cousin who escaped from project photos because he lives in a different state. In exchange, he sewed a beautiful quilt for us. My cousin chose the yarn, which is from Nanne Kennedy’s flock, but is undyed. Though simple in construction, this sweater was a work-in-progress for almost a year. It included a lot of re-knitting, especially above the armholes. I am pleased with how the final result has come together, and hope it sees plenty of wear in the winters to come.

Knitting the Isle of Arran

Months ago, I wrote a bit about M and my travels in Scotland, and our time on the West Highland Way. Following our hike, we also visited the Isle of Arran, one of Scotland’s larger islands, located to the southeast.

To reach the island, we took the ferry from Adrossan to Brodick. It was a cloudy, misty day, and our views were minimal, but we could sense the ocean around us and the islands in the distance.DSC_0098

We set up our camp behind a hedge of gorse outside of Lochranza, the picturesque village situated on Loch Ranza…P1020042…and spent the day exploring a section of the Coastal Way.

The island was beautiful and made me say to myself in an Anne of Green Gables sort of way, “Oh! I wish I could capture this beauty and keep it with me always!” The colors of the coastal seaweeds, lichens, and plants were incredibly bright, yet relaxing to the eye at the same time.
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The ocean was calm, yet full of potential energy, and I was able to forget for a while that we would ever have to leave.DSC_0127DSC_0121DSC_0124

On our second day, the skies cleared, and the neighboring islands were visible across the sea. At the town of Blackwaterfoot, the ocean took on deep shade of green and blues, contrasting with the white houses, the brown seaweed, and the green grasses.DSC_0161P1020086P1020091The world felt perfect.

When we did returned to the mainland, I wanted to knit myself a tangible memory of our time by the coast. I had already purchased two skeins of Jamieson and Smith Shetland wool at Yarn Cakes in Glasgow, but I need a few more shades to capture the blues of the ocean and the sky. On my last rainy day in Edinburgh, I walked across town to Kathy’s Knits, and the proprietress helped me choose four additional colors to use in my Memory Piece. I began knitting on my flight back to the States, and completed my hat a week later. I wanted my hat to reflect the spontaneity of the coast, so I did not draw out a pattern or even think more than a few rows ahead. Just this week, as the mornings have to feel chilly, I sewed in a thin fleece lining. I am looking forward to wearing it this winter, and remembering our few, gorgeous days in the Scottish Isles.