Near where I live there passes an ancient pathway called the Semiahmoo Trail. It was first used by native peoples — the Semiahmoos — then by gold seekers, and later — not much more than a hundred years ago — by the first settlers in our area. Much of it has now been overtaken by urban sprawl. Some sections have been designated a heritage trail, bike path or nature walk. In some places it calls for a strong heart — small posts mark kilometers and encourage citizens to use it to increase their heartbeat.
Over the past weeks I’ve been attempting to cover the whole route — plotted from old maps over the new. The parts through primal forest and open bog-land are rich in pioneer sentiment and timeless nature. Occasionally there are the remains of old buildings, bridge pilings, ancient culverts. But mostly the route is pavement and traffic. There are at least fifty stop signs and a half-dozen traffic lights. I pass by the buzz of shopping-center culture. Motorists self-serving regular and premium. Pasty-faced women taking a smoke-break from Bingo. Book-laden lovers, arm in arm, bursting from high-school. I’ve got the idea of recording the route as it is these days, this year.
If, as Marshall McLuhan noted, “Art is a rear vision mirror,” does one stick to the timeless, the traditional and spiritual qualities of the path, or should one record the place for what it is? What is the artistic value of an ’86 Toyota? Are the passing jogger’s fashions relevant? Flags in windows? Ethnic yard-sale treasures? What about the multicultural denizens who step from their dwellings and into the shaky peace of 2003?
This, my pathway, is all pathways. Artists have a history of paths. Artists also have choices — they can be record keepers, they can honour, depict, select, edit, emphasize, delete or monumentalize their paths. They can choose to see and they can choose not to see. I’m giving a lot of thought to what I’m collecting on my path. I’m thinking of 2103.
PS: “Yet this will go onward the same,
Though Dynasties die.
Yonder a maid and her wight,
Come whispering by.” (Thomas Hardy, 1915, In Time of the Breaking of Nations)
Esoterica: An exercise in image and album: Assemble and photocopy maps of your path. Number your images (photos, drawings, paintings). Key your images to your maps with arrows to show the direction of view. Write up related observations.
This letter was originally published as “Timeless and timely” on April 15, 2003.
“You will have to experiment and try things out for yourself and you will not be sure of what you are doing. That’s all right, you are feeling your way into the thing.” (Emily Carr)