Here’s a possibility to consider: the land is comprised of lines. What could that mean? The circles drawn by dunegrass, deer tracks in the snow, the arched turtle-back of a moraine, a wave-cut bluff, the west wind that pulls up the waves. The paths of the glacial lobes that carved out the lake and the bays, the sinuous shoreline, and the shadows of ancient shorelines further inland. An old logging road following an older valley, the fade of road back into forest, the slow growth of the forest back towards adulthood.
Say this is true; the land is comprised of lines. Each of these lines tells a story, is a story, each line is a text, and invites a reader just like a book does.
Going out line-reading, rambling among the texts in the land, is a subtle pursuit, one that favors solitude and requires quiet, that asks for sensitivity to ephemeral things, to ghosts and shadows; line-reading is a pursuit, then, for the mystic. The rambler-mystic.
Let’s say the opposite of the mystic is the historian, or the chronicler; the taxonomist. When we greet the land in this spirit, the lines harden and shrink, they become brittle like dessicated stems. So, the historian can only read the most obvious of lines, the ones that can withstand this dessication, and sometimes only brittle fragments at that. When instead we greet the land in the spirit of the mystic, the lines remain intact, supple, alive. The rambler-mystic can wander along the subtlest of lines weaving across and through the land. If we lose the way, it’s not because the line is broken, but because it lifted up into the air, or burrowed underground, or has simply camouflaged itself. Perhaps we will encounter the line again, perhaps not. Another will present itself readily. Here is the sweetness of line-reading.
But line-reading loses its sweetness when the goal is quantification. The highest attainment of the rambler-mystic is intimacy with the land, wherein the land freely shares its lines; clear ones, subtle ones, cryptic ones. In this state of intimacy, the line-reader will never lack for a text to follow. The reader offers attention, respect, wonder, and in return the land offers lines. When the goal is quantification (taxonomy, chronicling, completeness), many lines become un-traceable. Think of a line that can only be followed with the imagination, like the provenance of a lichen-covered boulder buried up to its shoulders in till and soil. Upon first encountering the boulder, the historian sees a disjointed string of questions and hypotheses, a scattering of brittle fragments (rock type, mineral composition, crystal size, etc). Only upon further research (more quantification), do the fragments begin to coalesce into a line again. This process might take months or years, if it happens at all. But the imagination does it instantly.
And so, for the mystic, lines that can only be followed with the imagination beckon. They contain questions, give rise to hypotheses, but remain intact all the while, stitched together by the lithe, tensile thread of the imagination. The rambler-mystic inhabits an infinite landscape of lines, is presented at all times with innumerable ways to follow; where the feet must stop, the imagination will continue. We inhabit a landscape of invitations.