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Mapping the Invisible Landscape

Folklore, Writing, and the Sense of Place

Kent C. Ryden

Publication Year: 1993

Any landscape has an unseen component: a subjective component of experience, memory, and narrative which people familiar with the place understand to be an integral part of its geography but which outsiders may not suspect the existence of—unless they listen and read carefully. This invisible landscape is make visible though stories, and these stories are the focus of this engrossing book.

Traveling across the invisible landscape in which we imaginatively dwell, Kent Ryden—himself a most careful listener and reader—asks the following questions. What categories of meaning do we read into our surroundings? What forms of expression serve as the most reliable maps to understanding those meanings? Our sense of any place, he argues, consists of a deeply ingrained experiential knowledge of its physical makeup; an awareness of its communal and personal history; a sense of our identity as being inextricably bound up with its events and ways of life; and an emotional reaction, positive or negative, to its meanings and memories.

Ryden demonstrates that both folk and literary narratives about place bear a striking thematic and stylistic resemblance. Accordingly, Mapping the Invisible Landscape examines both kinds of narratives. For his oral materials, Ryden provides an in-depth analysis of narratives collected in the Coeur d'Alene mining district in the Idaho panhandle; for his consideration of written works, he explores the “essay of place,” the personal essay which takes as its subject a particular place and a writer's relationship to that place.

Drawing on methods and materials from geography, folklore, and literature, Mapping the Invisible Landscape offers a broadly interdisciplinary analysis of the way we situate ourselves imaginatively in the landscape, the way we inscribe its surface with stories. Written in an extremely engaging style, this book will lead its readers to an awareness of the vital role that a sense of place plays in the formation of local cultures, to an understanding of the many-layered ways in which place interacts with individual lives, and to renewed appreciation of the places in their own lives and landscapes.

Published by: University of Iowa Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xii

There's an art to finding out where you are, an art you may not recognize--or know you lack--until you need it. Over three hundred years ago, in the spring of 1676, a young English boy made his way out of his shelter and started moving off through the forest. He had been taken prisoner by the Indians during the bloody war then being...

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pp. xiii-xvi

There is a poem by James McGowan that I like very much. Its title is "On Writing an Illinois Poem," and its speaker is a would-be Midwestern bard who wants to write honestly and well about his adopted state. He finds himself unable to put pen to paper, though, sensing that he is not equipped for the task; he is stymied by a fundamental...

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Prologue: Reading the Border

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pp. 1-18

It is a brilliant May morning, the first truly summerlike day of the year. I am walking back and forth on Route 101 at the Connecticut-Rhode IsIand border--an ordinary enough stretch of road, yet one rendered significant by my knowledge that a geographical boundary runs through here and by the insistent presence of road signs....

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1. Of Maps and Minds: The Invisible Landscape

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pp. 19-52

To experience a geographical place, it seems, is to want to communicate about it. Innumerable works in a variety of media have been produced over the years as people have attempted to tell others what certain places look like and feel like, what they mean and how they got that way--efforts ranging from travel itineraries and guidebooks to...

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2. Folklore and the Sense of Place

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pp. 53-96

Wallace Stevens's "Anecdote of the Jar" reminds us of the necessary role that artifacts of human intelligence play in organizing our surroundings and making them meaningful. His jar imposes a pattern on the wilderness chaos; things can be located in relation to the fixed center which it provides; its symmetrical, geometrical shape seems...

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3. The Folklore of Place: The Coeur d'Alene Mining District, North Idaho

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pp. 97-207

In late September of 1989, I traveled to the South Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River in northern Idaho in search of Lopez's "local geniuses of American landscape." The valley through which the river runs is a deep gash which winds sinuously through the Coeur d'Alene Mountains of the Idaho panhandle. Motorists traverse it on Interstate 90: descending from Lookout Pass on the Montana border, they drive west...

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4. A Walk in the Invisible Landscape: The Essay of Place

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pp. 208-241

In a 1978 article, geographer Edmunds V. Bunkse called on scholars interested in accurately grasping the ways in which geography interacts and combines with real human lives to step beyond the confines of conventional academic geography and travel to places like the Coeur d'Alene mining district, talking to local residents, listening...

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5. The Essay of Place: Themes in the Cartography of the Invisible Landscape

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pp. 242-287

Kim Stafford, in his poem "There Are No Names But Stories"--a poem based on anthropologist Franz Boas's Geographical Names of the Kwakiutl lndians--demonstrates his awareness of the ultimate inextricability of history, landscape, and narrative. For the Kwakiutl of the poem, a map and a sequence of stories are one and the same;...

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Epilogue: Feeling Every Bump in the Ground

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pp. 289-296

When I was nine years old, my family moved from New Milford, Connecticut, to Neenah, Wisconsin. In the house that we moved into, the driveway was slightly lower than the floor of the garage, leaving a bump of about an inch and a half where the two concrete slabs met. That unremarkable bump insinuated itself into my daily life in several...


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pp. 297-309


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pp. 311-317


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pp. 319-326

E-ISBN-13: 9781587292088

Publication Year: 1993