I recently returned from two weeks’ writing at the Mesa Refuge, a non-profit retreat that hosts three writers at a time, offering an inspired landscape and supportive environment for focused work. From my room I could look across the Tomales Bay estuary toward the Point Reyes peninsula. Each morning as soon as I woke, I checked the estuary conditions, took a few photos and began my day.
While tides and weather reworked the scenery outside, I was shaping a poetic essay about water and landscapes in the Sierra. Encouraged and perhaps even paced in my work by Tomales Bay, the different rhythms of coastal and mountain water held intriguing contrasts.
Another generative influence at the Mesa Refuge was the intelligence and enthusiasm of the two other resident writers, Sarah Browning and McKenzie Long. We each worked on very different projects, but our reflective walks and dinners together added immeasurably to my writing.
The project I worked on is meant for sidewalks and curbs along the Truckee River in Reno as a temporary installation of a year or two. The texts will be cursive lettering cut from sticky-backed vinyl, strung almost continuously along a mile of urban pathways - an essay of about five thousand words in twenty sections. A text extended in space is read differently than with the sedentary conveniences of screen and book. Knowing my words will be read in the midst of the landscapes they describe, I struggled with how to write for a situation so different from the quiet desk at which I worked.
We do a lot of reading in public, mainly short directional and advertising signs. The kind of writing I am proposing is closer to monuments where words, wrapping the surfaces of steles and old buildings, are intended to evoke reflections on time and fate. (See two earlier posts on Roman, and Greek examples.)
To test the experience of reading in space, I did an experiment along the quiet street approaching the Mesa Refuge. Drawing with kid's chalk on a very rough asphalt curb, I edited one of the sections for Reno to fit the four-hundred feet of roadway from the Refuge to the next street. The text I worked from is formatted below, with three narrow columns approximating the deceleration of reading in motion. Although project completion may be a few years off, I hope to publish some of the sections in advance of the installation.