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(Still) White Space

Several weeks ago, was the first significant snowfall of the year. Enough precipitation fell to cover the landscape in sameness. At that time, I barely noticed, chose not to even finish skimming, a friend’s post about the landscape. Hers was a comment about the pause of winter that the whiteness brings.

This week while driving home, I scanned the fields to my right and left. The snow had melted. Much was still sameness, but not quite. Open space, but not white space. I corrected her post in my head. I remembered another post, a poem, of my own ( ) Space.

That evening my dad read aloud from an old Township map. It was an enlarged view, all names easily present, including our own. It had been a decoration of remembrance at a funeral earlier in the fall. I had encouraged him to take the paper home knowing it would likely be thrown away, its use fulfilled.

My father is a farmer, and he spends hours gazing at horizons. The spaces are never the same. Blank space, not open, not white, space. I remember reading once, To the socially trained eye, this land is underdeveloped and an endless horizon. Conservation options are on the rise that assure property owners their land is protected forever wildlife area, open space, or natural areas, among others. One farmer continued further, “If we protect rocks in Yosemite Park as national treasures, we owe the soil the same honor.”

Yet, he looks for sameness in the white spaces boxed in on the map. He still spends hours gazing over its lines and that night was no exception. He shared vignettes about the names he recognized. He wondered aloud about the names he couldn’t place in the outlined space. Here he reads and understand history differently.

This time he added something else, “Hmm. You know, I’m told that companies are given maps with no names. They just see the space, the undeveloped space. That’s why they think it’s open.”

Before colonization no names were listed on the maps either. With each push west, south, north, names were listed officially, somewhere. Names were, and are still, lines. Names were, and still are, boxes to define limits, both around who were are and what we are by extension of what belongs to us. Names given. They give him power in the faded light of winter, and in spring when the gravel trucks grumble and the factory farm equipment lumbers, the names take that power away.

In a graduate level course on the American history of education, a professor, reminded us simply by holding out a cup. “This is a cup,” she began in an Australian accent. “Cup. As soon as I name this object a cup, then I imply a means to understand it. Anything that this cup, could or has been is captured in the interpretation of that name only. There is a problem with naming. I cannot know something as a general sense,” she concluded.

And, not just a general sense, someone’s chosen sense, the someone who writes the name down. Names recorded were, and are still, meant to simplify, to bring order, to solve problems. Yet, the problem remains, because there is no guarantee powers that be, be those powers the weather or the writers, notice the space, much less understand their names.

Yesterday it snowed again. Winter stillness. Space, not blank, not open, yet (still) white, by definition.


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