Tag Archives: psychogeography





I’ve been off away the past few days – first on Sunday to Lake Louise. I’d like to have one of those old Canadian Pacific  Railway paintings of the lake – it being a kind of arena of magnitude and textures and all kinds of whites and blues. I suspect that each image would include the Chateau Lake Louise, a thing not exactly to my taste. To me it looks a little like a cross between a prison and a yellowed wedding cake left out by some giant Miss Haversham. But beyond that, the landscape is something else.




It seems to me in the face of things like this – a wall so high that it stuns you, makes you pause – that art will never be sufficient. I suppose that’s why I try to focus my attentions on the smaller, fragmented, unlikeable, un-magestic. Or when I try to write of place, I do it with an acknowledgment that my perspective is limited to the limitlessness. Two little blue-green eyes squinting through white to rock that is older than humanity. Silence. Or taking what you can and stretching them until they break, break down. And in the space you hope others will find what you could not or could not bring yourself to write.

Up beyond the wall and the lake is the plain of the six glaciers.




I like the sky best here – though it made me dizzy. Always while I’m here in Banff I’m struggling with the task of making – how to make when I am struggling even to be. To exist without a sense of vulnerability, incorrect response. English is a language where ‘to be’ is writ into everything. There is a mountain. There is a glacier. Without another verb, the thing cannot. Be. ‘There, mountain’ is not possible without being a sentence fragment. But I’m always on the verge of fragments with this – white, ancient, and myself – small, shaky, falling over in the deep snow. So how can I settle myself long enough to make. Writing is. Writing escapes. I take a picture. It is insufficient. It just about is, and that’s all.






Perhaps my perspective is more limited than others. Perhaps my approach is through the deep snow, where others see a path (or make it themselves). Sometimes I laugh and dust myself off. Sometimes this is not a metaphor and at other times there is no is, just pages of failing, and shaking my head at my foolish self.



But for now I think, for me, it is a necessary imprecise process. that there is no make, only try – whether I knock myself for six doing it or not, that is all. I’ll fail and fail to make. I’ll make myself a missionary of my own failure and bittyness, weird takes.



Tomorrow I’ll be back again, perhaps in a lighter mood, with photos of the second trip I took. Off to be uncertainly still, for now.



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Jasper and the mountain

At the end of day one of our trip, we got into Jasper at dusk.

Jasper is a little train-track town with a number of houses, a number of amenities, a number of bars, and the dark pines, and the mountains a way back further than they are in Banff, but still lending their feel to the place.







So we picked the first motel in town, or what might have been the first one with the best name. Room 101. And went out for dinner and saw how much the train takes up of the town. I didn’t take a good picture of it it, because of those pines in the way, and the length of freight in the dim light not making a good shot at my skill level.



The morning came and it was something else.










After eating at Coco’s – good coffee, vegan and gluten-free friendly, which was good for our party – we decided on heading to Mount Robson, the tallest of the Canadian Rocky mountains.


There was a genuine moment of confusion where we all mistook another mountain for Mount Robson, only to turn our heads and behold the beast.





It’s tall enough to have its own weather system, and only 1 in 10 make it the three or four days to the summit, because of the technical difficulties in the climb.






After marveling at all that mountain, it was time to move on to Medicine Lake (above) and then Maligne lake, for a spot of lunch. Perched above the first lake was this handsome lad:





A Bighorn ram. He wanted the salt off our tyres, and we had to be very gentle in driving off. In the lake behind him you can see streams of water – these, we guessed, show where the underground aquifers come up. The lake drops 20 feet at certain points in the year, and then these bubble out to feed it back up.







Maligne lake was frozen, with words scratched in to the surface snow, and everything all shut up, and animal tracks leading into likely dens.






And something that seemed to be bear – though I don’t know exactly







Let me know if you can tell what sort of animal made this.


From Lake Maligne it was four hours back to Banff, which had the previous day taken us nine with all our stops. The mountains, dressed differently stood as they will stand throughout all our lives. Epics of rock, ground at by glaciers and wind and sun. Lapped by water turned bright blue with their eroded silts. But the whole thing made fleeting by the car, less imperious, by the weightlessness a car journey gives a landscape at times. Another kind of narrative, and one that those on foot and horse coming through all those years ago would not have had at all. They’d have lived months with these mountains, and there they go in an instant, and there they stay, and it is us who are pretending to zap them into the past –





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The accidental ramble

Yesterday, I set off on a walk that seemed from my map to be short. Just a loop up around a road and down to a lake. Unfortunately, the map was not to scale. So it was a three-hour round journey for me, and in coldish weather. Minus 7 Celsius, with windchill taking that down a few degrees more. Bright sunshine, which added windburn to the mix. But – a few good things came of it too.





I’m sure I’ve heard it said more than once that walking is a kind of narrative. A step, a word, a turn in the road, a paragraph. So for that reason, my walk alone was good. I had the silence around me. Space, and a sense of linear motion to order my thoughts. Such as they can be ordered while overwhelmed by everything there is to take in here.





I should add again, this is all by the side of the road. I wasn’t about to get lost anywhere. Nothing but tiredness and the chill were a problem. I suppose I keep being afflicted with restlessness because I know there is all of this out here, and that later, when I’ve returned home, I’ll have to rely on photographs to flesh out my memory. I’m trying to decide what I’ll do today – dive into writing, or watch an interview with an elderly woman who was a homesteader in the backcountry, or go out to the Cave and Basin, where I went with some others before.





What will I be able to make from this? What can I do with this landscape, the culture of the Rockies? Feel a little bit thin in comparison, right now. And in need of a better, more simple method of absorbing everything. Or just settling on one method – documentary-watching, sitting still in the archives, or really committing to a trail – and seeing it through. But I can’t – dazzled, inadequate.


I have to allow myself the time, but time is a snowflake or a leaf blowing away. Perhaps I’ve decided. Another walk. Because a walk is a story that a place can tell me, and that I in befuddlement, might be able to understand a little more, another day.

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Silent post: The Banff Springs Hotel




























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I hardly have the art down, but sometimes the light’s like this, and it makes the canal softened, the path and rooftops metallic, the grass and hedge something from a painting by 19th century artist forgotten in a loft by her family for decades and then unfolded in winter. But here in person, it’s Edinburgh, October. 



In ten days I leave to be in the mountains and research flash fictional narratives and write the third novel, which is of beauty and of desolation. Edinburgh in white, explosive mountain light. Or what lights the mountains have, and I shall find out. 



I wish sometimes I could be better than I am. Cooler, sharper, smarter, more direct. But I can only reflect the places that made me. Like a book of photographs. Moors and hills, and the cities and towns of Scotland. Even New York couldn’t spit polish me, or Sydney buff away the mist. 


Ten days before I go. I’m not sure I’ll post before then. Maybe one last rallying shout. The explorer to her home-rooted crew.





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The empty grounds



Not a factory except one for the mind – or a holding pen, maybe. D and I went wandering around the abandoned Tynecastle High School grounds. Note – we didn’t open anything, just went where the empty space allowed us.


tynecastle 1



I don’t know how long it’s been empty. You can see how high the hedge has grown. A decade maybe? The school stands wide on its grounds at the back of Tynecastle stadium, where, if you don’t know, Hearts of Midlothian play. Things are starting to break down the tarmac. Water, plants. Pushing towards colonisation.







Tynecastle 2






The buildings have a strange harmony together, which seems not entirely a product of design – age and concomitant softening have given their edges a good fit. Like slots of wood meant to be used together, and often used, and now found in a drawer some time later, worn but still clinging to their sense of purpose.






Tynecastle 4




The place was neither desolate nor unpleasant (schools sometimes are – that air of bleach-tinged misery). I looked in the windows –





But the only ghost I could see –


author photo



Was my own.




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‘Times Like Places’ by Sheenagh Pugh

A poem for the weather, for how it links us to our own memories. Forceably, at times. Wherever, whenever you are, there the world is. Sleeting at you. Rustling under you. Looming its mountains over you bracken brown, or ice-white or black. We live in the weather, in a way we do not live in the moment. Poem in a post by Tamar Yoseloff on the lovely Invective Against Swans

Times Like Places


There are times like places: there is weather
the shape of moments. Dark afternoons
by a fire are Craster in the rain
and a pub they happened on, unlooked-for
and welcoming, while a North Sea gale
spat spume at the rattling windows.

And most August middays can take him
to the village in Sachsen-Anhalt,
its windows shuttered against the sun
and a hen sleeping in the dusty road,
the day they picked cherries in a garden
so quiet, they could hear each other breathe.

Nor can he ever be on a ferry,
looking back at a boat’s wake, and not think
of the still, glassy morning off the Hook,
when it dawned on him they didn’t talk
in sentences any more: didn’t need to,
each knowing what the other would say.

The worst was Aberdeen, when they walked
the length of Union Street not speaking,
choking up, glancing sideways at each other,
but never at the same time. Black cats
and windy bridges bring it all back,
eyes stinging. Yet even this memory

is dear to him, now that no place or weather
or time of day can happen to them both.
On clear winter nights, he scans the sky
for Orion’s three-starred belt, remembering
whose arms warmed him, the cold night
he first saw it, who told him its name.


– Sheenagh Pugh



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