On our KSCA Regenerative Agriculture Road Trip to New England, we visited three significant agricultural landscapes: two established farms (Tim Wright and Glenn Morris) and the in-transition land of The Living Classroom.
At all three sites, our hosts walked us around, drove us about in the back of utes, and showed us detailed maps of the land. We had a great time drinking in their wisdom of “land management”, which is about intentionally designing complex systems and constantly monitoring them to see whether they are functioning as planned. It’s about oscillating between radically different scales: poring over plans and documents, and having an embodied experience out there in the field.
Eloise Lindeback visiting one of the paddocks at Tim Wright’s farm Lana.
As someone who has followed the work of PA Yeomans for several years, I’m particularly interested in topography and hydrology – the way that the surface of the earth rises and falls, and the way that this local variation in altitude affects the flows of water over the land. Careful design of Keyline systems can hold water within the soil rather than having it run off quickly to the creek, and this relies on deep understanding of topography. I’m always really impressed by the successful functioning of dams in Keyline farming systems, with their ingenius overflow channels seeping into the land down-hill.
Nevallan – a farm by PA Yeomans – Detail of offset lithographic print by Ian Milliss and Lucas Ihlein, 2011
Looking at topographical maps, 3D models, and aerial photographs it all makes sense (and it helps to have the extra annotations and diagrammatic arrows on the page). However, physically “reading” the topography of the land itself can be more difficult.
A few years ago I wrote this blog post about “seeing landscape” – and I asked how we can develop the ability to visually understand topography, following Yeomans’ example.
Since our road trip, I’ve been thinking further about this. Beyond “seeing” landscape, I’ve been wondering how we can “read” landscape … What if we imagine the paddock as a page?
When you hold a book in your hands and read the words, you can instantly see the whole laid out in front of you, and the connections between the components. Your eyes make a journey through a landscape of words on a page whose connections are clear and linear.
PA Yeomans The Challenge of Landscape and The City Forest Contour Map – Detail of Offset Lithographic print by Lucas Ihlein and Ian Milliss, 2011
However, imagine that your body is the size of a tiny comma on the page. Now you have to traipse across each letter to painstakingly piece together each word, each sentence, now a paragraph, and finally an overarching narrative. That’s a bit like how it feels to be on the land – to be reading it from within, at a 1:1 scale.
I imagine that, like any form of literacy, it takes much time and practice to develop this sort of landscape-literacy.