West Side Park Map - 1998-99I've been thinking a lot of my path from art student to professional geographer.  It doesn't seem like a straight forward path but there were a few key things that helped to direct my path:

  • Miracle Under the Oaks: The Revival of Nature in America by William K. Stevens
  • A homesickness for trees that led me to identify and map the trees in city park closest to my apartment
  • The digital/computer skills that I had started to build through learning about and minoring in 'cyber' art for my BFA
  • Encouragement from a brother who knew it would be a good fit for me

After finishing my BFA in photography, I moved from NW Ohio to central Illinois to pursue a MFA in photography. I was incredibly homesick while living in central Illinois.  The academic program was not a good fit for me and the foreign (to me) landscape of the region was every bit the metaphor for the misplaced feel I had in most aspects of my existence that year.  One of the photographic works that I made that year was a small, claustrophobic room where I tiled the walls with images of farm fields and sky to create a large, enclosed landscape showing the expanse of endless row-crop fields.  I missed the tree rows and forests of NW Ohio and especially the oak savannas of the Oak Openings region.  At the time, however, I didn't really know that oak savannas are a fairly unique ecosystem.  I learned more about oak savannas by reading Miracle Under the Oaks.  It is a book about the discovery and restoration of this type of ecosystem in the greater Chicago area.  In reading the book, I drew connections to the Oak Openings of NW Ohio (and SE Michigan) - my home.  Ultimately, reading this book encouraged me to pursue a Master degree in Geography and Planning - focusing my studies on GIS (geographic information systems), remote sensing, and environmental planning.  The geographic focus of my thesis was the Oak Openings of NW Ohio and SE Michigan.

Growing up in a yard with a lot of trees, I could differentiate some trees easily in my early adult years (maples, oaks, crabapples, elm, etc.) but I had never really studied tree identification.  Armed with a couple of dichotomous keys to try to determine what trees were growing there, I headed to the closest city park.  At home, I had a computer, scanner, and graphics software.  Ultimately, I ended up scanning sample leaves from new-to-me trees, plotting the tree locations on a map of the park borrowed from an art fair layout in the local paper (base map), and making my very first digital map by drawing and coding the tree locations in Adobe PageMaker.  I kept a digital and print version of the leaf book and map that I was building.

The tree identification, map making, and documentation were my way of learning about my surroundings and finding my place in them.  Without that experience, I may not have found my way into a geography program nor into a geographic career.

This week, I attended the first 2 of 4 sessions to become a 'certified' tree steward with the Land Conservancy's Reforest Our City program, and I was reminded of how important urban trees are to me.

Joomla templates by a4joomla