I have been fascinated by the connection between my own experience of place and John Brinkerhoff Jackson’s notion of odology, the study of roads or pathways. I have long developed my sense of place in relation to pathways. As a child I would understand my location in relation to pathways that were my markers of space, my way of navigation and the cross-hatching that revealed to me a picture of the territory as I experienced it and a hint of what had yet to be experienced. Finding the pathways of a place has been my way of coming to know a place.

In the essay “A pair of ideal landscapes,” Jackson, in addition to talking about odology, articulates a distinction between political and vernacular, or inhabited, landscapes. According to Jackson, the distinction must be made that the term landscape implies a place that has been changed by humans, a collection of “improved” lands. Once this distinction has been made, then the landscape can be further understood to be comprised of both those shared spaces that are political and those that are vernacular, or inhabited.

“… the political landscape is deliberately created in order to make it possible for men [sic] to live in a just society, the inhabited [vernacular] landscape merely evolves in the course opf our trying to live on harmonious terms with the natural world surrounding us.” (Jackson, 1984, p42)

I suggest further that there is also an imaginal landscape. Indeed Jackson appears to recognize not only the existence of the imaginal landscape but also the possible need for this landscape to inform and enrich a sustainable human relationship with the more than human. Jackson explains the way in which the imaginal informs the human relationship with the landscape:

“Any firmly held belief in the invisible, it seems to me, must somehow affect our attitude toward the visible world, and that might have been little more than a random plundering and destruction of the nearby wilderness became an exchange of benefits: those things which men took from the forest for their daily needs were repaid by our helping and protecting and loving the small, invisible creatures who lived there. They served as intermediaries, they reassured us that we were taking part in the natural order and were not entirely alien to it.” (Jackson, 1984, p53)

So, it is with through the lens of odology, through a study of pathways, that I chose to examine the various landscapes of my experience.

Posted by John Bell on May 11, 2006
Tags: Sigils of Imagination

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