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An artful meditation on our landscape

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/8/2013 (1613 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Part poetry, part journal and part essay, Winnipeg poet Katherine Bitney's first book of prose challenges the reader to ask some hard-hitting and important questions about the current relationship we have with our environment.

The Boreal Dragon comes from Bitney's experiences and involvement in the Boreality Project, an interdisciplinary collaboration between local literary quarterly Prairie Fire Press, the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra and a handful of Winnipeg-based artists celebrating the spirit of the boreal forest.

Canada's boreal region, by the way, covers about 60 per cent of our land mass and is dominated by such coniferous trees as spruce, fir and pine.

Bitney's slim book is divided into sections that represent each of the seasons. She first takes us into her home garden during the spring. Pieces titled March, April and May (there's one for each month of the calendar year) offer poetic depictions of the observational relationship she has with her garden and its surrounding creatures.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/8/2013 (1613 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Part poetry, part journal and part essay, Winnipeg poet Katherine Bitney's first book of prose challenges the reader to ask some hard-hitting and important questions about the current relationship we have with our environment.

The Boreal Dragon comes from Bitney's experiences and involvement in the Boreality Project, an interdisciplinary collaboration between local literary quarterly Prairie Fire Press, the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra and a handful of Winnipeg-based artists celebrating the spirit of the boreal forest.

Canada's boreal region, by the way, covers about 60 per cent of our land mass and is dominated by such coniferous trees as spruce, fir and pine.

Bitney's slim book is divided into sections that represent each of the seasons. She first takes us into her home garden during the spring. Pieces titled March, April and May (there's one for each month of the calendar year) offer poetic depictions of the observational relationship she has with her garden and its surrounding creatures.

"Now there is a garden bunny, colour of earth, colour of last year's leaves," she writes. "Colour of old wood. Colour of dry grass, of tree bark. Of wintered cabbage stalks. Of paving stones. Hunting for a place to hide a baby, come the new green leaves."

The result is poems that are rich in imagery and pop with colour, turning Bitney's lines into stunning visual landscapes for the mind's eye.

Each chapter continues with a series of journal entries from Bitney's time with the Boreality Project. We follow her as she journeys to Hollow Water, Fisher River, Wallace Lake, Pinawa and Falcon Lake and we read largely about the effort she makes to spiritually connect (or reconnect) to the land of the boreal.

"When you go to harvest, it is your intent that is paramount. The plants need to know why you are harvesting them. Tell them it is to heal," she writes in one section.

"We leave our blood here in the forest, thank you, and our DNA goes into it. Ticks, skeeters, whatever bites and takes blood. We become part of it," she writes in another.

The writing is chock full of punchy, raw and unfiltered lines and the poet's natural phrasing seeps into her entries, making them more abstract than concrete at times.

Unfortunately, it is parts like these that can sometimes weaken the work. It makes it difficult to follow along with the path the author's thoughts have travelled and sometimes makes these particular pieces feel unconnected and confusing to the reader.

Finally, each chapter ends with one of Bitney's essays, and it's these that are the pillars of the collection. From Does Nature Have Rights? to Questions Towards an Ethics of Violence, Bitney wants us to view everything in nature (i.e. plants and fungi, life cycles and even the weather) with all of the same rights and considerations given to other species — mainly ourselves as human beings — and to see nature as a living entity and not "mechanic."

More important, it seems Bitney challenges us to strongly rethink the language we use when it comes to how we look at our environment. She poses the idea that little changes in perspective (and language) can ripple into bigger (and better) changes for us as a whole; that only when we respectfully reconnect ourselves back to the spirit and the land of the boreal that only then will we be able to consider a greener future.

 

Adam Petrash is a Winnipeg writer who spends his summers in the Whiteshell.

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History

Updated on Saturday, August 17, 2013 at 10:22 PM CDT: Tweaks formatting.

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