27 May 2011

to the shelter!

If you are looking for directions to the SUBURBAN SHELTER project, you've come to the right place!  I will be stationed in Point Pleasant Park, this Saturday and Sunday, May 28 and 29th, from 2:00 - 5:00 pm in my shelter, constructed on what was designated as a private land plot in the 1700's.

The map above is your clue to finding the shelter - if you travel along Birch Road you will be able to spot me in the woods without too much trouble - have a close look at the square of satellite image in the map above.  The white dot within the blue outline above is the exact location of the shelter site.  Keep your eyes peeled for fluorescent orange flagging tape which will be used to mark the boundaries of the 1/2 acre lot.

If you have a handheld GPS unit or are a keen google mapper, my exact shelter location (in latitude/longitude measurement) is N 44° 37.597,  W 63° 34.067.  For those curious as to how I have established these boundaries accurately and in conjunction with a hand-drawn map, I will be writing a 'GPS in Point Pleasant: behind the scenes' post as to how this project was conceived and executed using satellite technology and digital inputs of latitude/longitude points and path tracking programs.  The two images below are a sneak peak at the path traces from the GPS unit I have been working with.  The red line shows where I travelled from (Gatekeeper's Lodge on the left) to establish the boundaries of the historic 1/2 acre land plot.

GPS path track 

GPS path track in Google Maps

While you are waiting with bated breath for the GPS post and documentation from the SUBURBAN SHELTER project, if you fancy a walk out in the park I would love to have some guests Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

Hope to see you in the park! 

25 May 2011

gimme shelter

The first three tenets of survival are the procurement of:
2. FOOD and 

While water and food are pretty straight forward - shelter can be many things to many people, including the Rolling Stones.  Point Pleasant Park's history is primarily shared between Mi'kmaq, Scottish, British, and French settlers, all who have occupied the park in varying ways.  To establish their presence in the area once known as Sandwich Point to early settlers, different kinds of shelters were set up according to each group's cultural needs, norms and preferences within what we now know as Point Pleasant.

One structure built for shelter by Mi'kmaq people are wigwams, written wikuom in the Mi'kmaq language.  Wigwams can have several types of architecture, but three most prevalent are the conical, v-shape, and domed.  These structures are so resilient to weather (including wind, rain, sleet, and snow) that survival guides recommend making similar structures in an emergency (as above).

Stereograph card of North American Wigwam, circa 1880

Traditionally built from flexible branches for a domed structure (such as willow or evergreen saplings), a domed framework would be established by driving the 'poles' into the ground.  The frame would then be lashed together using soaked roots or leather as tethering material.  In the case of a conical or v-shape frame, larger sturdy branches were employed, as seen below.

Recreation of v-shape wigwam, style estimated to be in use circa 1400

Once the domed structure was stable, sides and roofing would be laid using sheets of bark, overlapped rushes or grasses and interwoven reeds.  Trappers and Voyageurs were so impressed by the portability and versatility of material that wigwams and tipis could be constructed with that many European traders abandoned canvas tenting which was heavy to portage and easily water-logged.  I was a camp counsellor in Kananaskis Alberta, and often made lean-tos from brush and support branches with my campers; those who chose to spend the night in nylon tents often woke up damp from moisture that had crept in, while the folks who slept in the lean-to would be dry as a bone in the morning.

Conical wigwams near Chester, Nova Scotia, circa 1920

It is important to note that wigwams differ from tipis and wikiups, among other structures developed by first nations who held varying degrees of nomadic lifestyles.  Mary Rowlandson, a colonial American woman born in England, used the term wigwam in her captivity account of King Philip's War in 1675, to describe First Nations dwellings.  The term has remained in common use within English language archives and libraries to present date, despite differences in structure and use of unique dwellings to each nation. 

Intaglio print by Edward Hicks, circa 1780

Among the first settlers of Halifax there were only a few millwrights and bricklayers compared to the legions of mariners and soldiers.  As Point Pleasant was deemed too windy and rocky to establish a settlement upon, the Point was established as a military stronghold and lookout when fears of a French invasion of Halifax grew in the early 1760's.  The intaglio print above, by Lieutenant Colonel Edward Hicks, depicts a scene from Point Pleasant looking North (citadel hill is the high point in the distance) through a military camp.  Given the details of the print, we can deduce that the shelters for the encampment appear to be made of wood or clapboard, and have established roofing and windows.  Troops at this time in history would have slept and ate in a type of tent called a  wedge, a simple tripod tent made from canvas or cotton duck.

British Military Tent, 18th century

Peeking through the trees below, we can see the first large earthwork fortification in Point Pleasant Park - Fort Ogilvie.  While hasty batteries had been constructed at either side of the Northwest arm, initially to hold cannons within shot of the harbour mouth and later to stretch chain across the arm in an effort to strangle ships that might attempt to enter the waterway, Fort Ogilvie was an engineering feat and a shelter faced with sod and six 24-pounder cannons.  The shelter held a guardhouse and a dedicated furnace for heating shot used in cannons and rifles.  All photos below are from Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management.

Fort Ogilvie interior, 1879, canon shells in the foreground

Fort Ogilvie exterior, 1879

Fort Ogilvie exterior, 1879
Earthwork shelters were often constructed in areas where raw material for large buildings was not abundant.  Piles of soil would be strategically massed into hills and then shaped into fortifications, to be reinforced with stone and brickwork as it became available through quarrying and brick kilnwork.  My two favourite parts of these photos documenting the fort exterior are the dark woolen military great-coats (big enough to be a shelter of their own!) and the measuring sticks to prove just how tall the fortification was.

If you visit Point Pleasant Park today, Fort Ogilvie is not open to the public as it is under Fortification Stabilization, in order to preserve the site and its structures.  I am working on the final preparations for my Suburban Shelter project this coming weekend - I will be posting again with specific details on how to find the shelter I will be occupying within the park from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm both Saturday May 28 and Sunday May 29.  If you are able to locate my shelter in the park and its petite domestic setting (don't worry - it's pretty hard to miss the emergency orange) your reward will be a hot cup of traditional English tea, served by yours truly!

19 May 2011

suburban shelter

Join me Saturday May 28 and/or Sunday May 29, from 2:00 - 5:00 pm for my last park project as part of the Gatekeeper's Lodge Residency, called SUBURBAN SHELTER.  I will be exploring Point Pleasant Park's brush with suburban destiny by installing a domestic survival scene within a 1/2 acre lot of land at the North end of Point Pleasant Park.  The site of this lot is based on a historic map of Point Pleasant Park where park land was subdivided into privately owned sections.  After establishing the boundaries of the 1/2 acre lot using GPS and field marking techniques, a shelter will be set up within the lot and I will be conducting a tea service from within the shelter both Saturday and Sunday afternoons.


I'll be posting more about this final performance project in the next few days, but I wanted to send out a little teaser... so check out the google map above for where the 1/2 acre lot will be located, the orange markers are corner posts for the lot and the purple lines indicate the lot boundaries.  For a look at the original drawing that this project is based on, visit one of my first posts in January of this year, called 'It could have been the burbs', linked here.

Hope to see you in the Park on the 28th or 29th of May!

18 May 2011

architectural palimpsest

Archimedes Palimpsest, Middle Ages

'So what is a palimpsest?' you might ask.  The image above of Archimedes' Palimpsest is a great example of this historical phenomenon.  Before paper became the ubiquitous (and disposable) writing surface that it is today, communications were scribed onto palettes of stone, wood, wax and eventually vellum.  These palettes or tablets would then be delivered by hand from one (usually wealthy) person to another.  When a person wished to correspond and write back - the tablet would be scraped down to reveal a relatively fresh writing surface.  Here's where the tablet gets interesting though... often residue of previous texts remained on the surface.  Over time, those residues would become deeper and more entangled, forcing scribes to switch directions of writing to maintain as much clarity as possible.

The notion of a palimpsest as it applies to architecture refers to the phenomenon when older structures are either torn down or they are in a state of decay and a ghost or shadow of a previous building informs the present facade of what remains.  This can happen in horizontal archeological layers through time (think of a core sample of blueprints on one site) and this can also happen vertically when one building is torn away from the facade of another, as seen below.

If you are interested in seeing more examples of what can be considered architectural palimpsests, I found a fantastic flickr group that is open to the public (meaning you can view photos and contribute your own photos as well) which you can access by clicking the link above.  For me, the exciting thing about the palimpsest is that it is a historical reveal, a kind of pulling back of the time curtain, allowing a sense of transparency to what we hold as very permanent - the buildings, bricks and mortar we occupy.  While the image below is fairly abstract, it is fascinating to realize that each band of texture or colour could be an entire floor from a large building!

stvk5: flickr contributor

How does this architectural designation relate to our beloved Gatekeeper's Lodge?  Well there are two incidences of architectural palimpsest on the Lodge grounds that I'm excited to share with you.  The idea of the Lodge holding a deep history is not new, and I've had several visitors ask me if there are ghosts in the building... suffice to say, there have been times where I'm working by myself, and yet I don't feel alone!

North facing wall of Lodge

This appears to be a VERY normal door, placed in a flagstone wall, with average stone steps.  The reality of this door is that it goes no where.  When standing on the inside of the lodge, this same wall is entirely smooth drywall with no indication of what lies on the exterior of the Lodge.  This door brings to mind fantastic tales like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe where a simple door operates as a portal to other places, times and worlds.  While I assume that the door was an entryway to the Lodge prior to its structural extension in 1950, when stone was taken from Cambridge Battery to build an addition, I find the choice to keep the door, rather than block in the doorframe very mysterious.

South facing Lodge lawn

At the South Lodge lawn, where the flagpole resides, there sits a set of two lovely, lonely stone steps.  The lawn does indeed slope gently upwards to the flagpole landing, but the steps to me are a remainder from something structural that once existed on the site.  Thomas Fripps was superintendent to the lodge from 1930 to 1959.  During his tenure, the lawn pictured above was used as a tree nursery where a significant gardener's shed was also located.  

Fripps lived with his wife and daughter not only in the Lodge, but also in Point Pleasant Battery in 1919 after returning from overseas service during World War 1, and then he and his family also lived in Fort Ogilvie.  Had these stone steps not remained, I'm not sure if Thomas Fripps' history and relationship with the park would have revealed itself through my research.  And whether the steps are just plain old stone steps, or a gateway to broader imaginings of the park and its history - I like these ghosts and they are welcome to join me at the Gatekeeper's Lodge anytime.

15 May 2011

field guide

Oh dear and faithful reader... it's been a while since my last post, and so much has happened!  Blogger shut down for a while - making posting an impossibility, and the RAIN... don't get me started about the rain and the GREY!  If you are in Halifax, Nova Scotia, you know precisely what I'm going on about, and if you are elsewhere - well, celebrate.  We have had ridiculous stretch of cloudy, overcast, rainy days:

This is survival of another kind all together.  For this post, to rally the troops a bit and set myself up for the last month of the Gatekeeper's Lodge residency, I want to share some of the most beautiful changes that have been happening on the Lodge grounds - change that gives me hope even on the dreariest of days: THINGS ARE GROWING.

My friend Barbara Sutherland, an artist and educator who lives in Halifax, recently told me about a great assignment she gave one of her classes.  She asked them to create field guides to their environments, based on an idea from the Learning to Love You More website, but adapted to suit students who may not have access to a backyard.

There are field guides for everything (even launching a Mission Church Community!) and are often included in survival manuals as a way of distinguishing between edible and poisonous plants that can be used for emergency food or first aid.  I also needed an excuse to document the gorgeous blooms at this time of year - I have been known to sing FOR-SY-THI-Ahhhh! out loud to invoke this lovely yellow harbinger of spring.  The field guide assignment seemed to be the perfect way to drive away the grey blahs of this month, so what follows is a guide of plants and shrubs at the Lodge grounds, all photos were taken on site at the Gatekeeper's Lodge within the last week.

Common name: Forsythia
Genus: Forsythia
Species: x intermedia
Forsythia is named after William Forsyth, a Scottish horticulturalist who lived from 1737-1804, and was one of the founders of the Horticultural Society of London.  Forsythia, also known as Golden Bells, is actually part of the olive tree family, and is considered one of 50 essential herbs in Chinese herbology.  The branch of the forsythia shrub is often used to make bows for the ajaeng - a Korean string instrument.

Common name: Azalea
Genus: Rhododendron Pentanthera (deciduous)

At the lodge there is a gorgeous bank of Azaleas in bloom, with three slightly different shades of pink or fuchsia (as seen above).  Historically, azaleas were given their own genus, or classification, but it was recognized by horticulturalists that they are actually part of the rhododendron family.  Over 10 000 different cultivars (or varieties) of azalea are now propagated across North America, and have been cultivated for hundreds of years.  There is a traditional Korean beverage made from azalea blossoms called dugyeonju and also azalea cakes which call for azalea blossoms to be kneaded into a rice flour dough. 

Azaleas budding: each flower grouping has its own stem

'Early Pink' Species
Just as the blooming of the cherry blossom is celebrated in Japan, so too is the blossoming of the azalea (early bloomers are called Tsutsuji in Japanese, while late blooming varietals are called Satsuki) honoured with its own festival in Motoyama, Kochi, and deservedly so!  These shrubs were originally cultivated by monks in Buddhist monasteries, and the azalea is the national flower of Nepal.  According to a Chinese folktale, "a long-ago king was assassinated and turned into a cuckoo. Because of the king's violent death, the cuckoo sang so bitterly that blood came from his bill. April is the time of the cuckoo's cries and brilliant red azalea blooms, thus the legend says the cuckoo dyed the flowers red."

Common name: Old Man's Beard
Genus: Usnea
This lichen is a beauty, and can actually grow to lengths of over 15 cm, free falling from barks and twigs.  Lichens are not a single plant, they are actually a quite complex group of organisms that have a symbiotic relationship with fungus and algae.  The anatomy of a lichen is that the upper, densely interwoven fibres relate to a fungus, while the looser structure (the 'beard' in this case) works with algae to carry out photosynthesis and feed the fungi.  In return, the fungi uses the lichen structure to keep the algae from drying out.  Despite this clearly social relationship, lichen represents dejection and solitude in the flower world.
Historically, the genus Usnea has been used because of its first-aid abilities as gauze and wound compresses, it has also been used to prevent infection and gangrene and has highly antibiotic properties.  In herbal medicine, Usnea lichens are used to treat lung and respiratory tract infections, and is high in vitamin C.

Common name: Waxpaper lichen or Hammered Shield lichen
Genus: Parmelia sulcata
The growth patter of this lichen is referred to as 'lobes', similar to the lobes of a human ear, but in great quantity.  This lichen is used by hummingbirds as a nesting material and also as a camouflage for habitats to hide nests from predators.  The lichen is often used in natural dye pots to achieve hues ranging from deep browns, tans, and gold when wools are submerged.  A great note about the latin name is that sulcata is derrived from the Latin sulcatus - to furrow - which is how the lichen grows and progresses across bark surfaces.

Common name: Ribbed Bog moss
Genus: Aulacomnium palustre
Mosses, different than lichens, have a stem which is covered with microscopic leaves.  While they do not have roots or circulate sap like many other stemmed plant species, mosses absorb water through their leaves and stem as a sponge does.  This moss is also known commonly as 'Glow moss' due to its nearly incandescent yellow hue, and while it is certainly at home on the ground, doesn't actually need a substrate to grow from - which makes it incredibly hearty, even in areas where severe logging has occurred, making this moss an incredible survivor.

Common name: Daffodil
Genus: Narcissus
Species: Narcissus 'Tahiti'

Greek mythology attributes the daffodil or narcissus to the young, vain Narcissus, who became so obsessed with his own reflection that he drowned in his own image.  The gods were said to have turned his remains into the flower, and so the daffodil is a symbol of unrequited love.  Outside of Greek culture, the daffodil is the national Kurdish flower which beckons the arrival of the new calendar year, whereas in Whales, where it is also the national flower, it is traditional to wear a daffodil (or leek) in your lapel on Saint David's Day: March 1 (if it were me, I would definitely wear the daffodil!).  William Wordsworth wrote a lovely poem called "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" which also features the daffodil prominently in the first stanza:

Common name: Heartsease, Johnny Jump Up, Wild Pansy
Genus: Viola
Species: Viola tricolor
This pansy or violet is a trooper - this particular species has been employed for so many treatments and remedies throughout history that it's tough to summarize all its attributes, but here we go: As the name 'Heartsease' would suggest, the petals from this flower have been used to ease seizures, asthma, skin disorders and chest ailments such as whooping cough and bronchitis.  The real healing power of pansies lie in the presence of cyclotides - stable peptides that are used regularly in cancer treatments.  In fashion, violas have been used to create rich yellow, green and turquoise dyes, despite their indigo petal.  From a literary perspective, violas were featured in two of Shakespeare's works: Hamlet and A Midsummer Night's Dream.  Since the word "pansy" is derived from the french word "pensée", which means thought, Shakespeare uses the pansy to symbolize moments of reflection and focus for Ophelia.  In Midsummer, he employs the juice of Heartsease on sleeping eyelids to make characters fall in love with the first person they see.

Common name: Star Magnolia
Genus: magnolia
Species: Magnolia Stellata
The show-stopper of all the flowering trees at this time of year, magnolia is by far the last-but-not-least of the Gatekeeper's Lodge Field Guide.  Magnolia trees pre-date history, in that horticulturalists believe that magnolias are so ancient that they existed before bees, and were pollinated by roaming beetles.  Fossilized specimens of early magnolia species have been dated to 20 million years ago!  We're talking dinosaurs AND magnolias, which really makes this flowering plant a stunner.  One of the most interesting facts about magnolias that I've found is that it does not actually have individual petals, but that the flowers of this tree grow as a single unit incorporating all the flower anatomy, called a tepal.  The state tree of Mississippi, magnolias grace all kinds of pop culture references, including The Grateful Dead's song: Sugar Magnolia, PT Anderson's movie Magnolia, and of course the haunting lyrics of Billy Holiday and Nina Simone's version of the song, Strange Fruit.

I hope this post encourages everyone to explore and record their surrounds while all this beautiful change is happening out of doors.  Stay tuned this week as I attempt to catch up on my tardy posts and ready for the last weeks of my residency in Point Pleasant park - thank you patient readers!