Terrain.org – Fall/Winter 2010

-Reviewed by Juliet Wilson

Terrain.org: A Journal of the Built & Natural Environments is a twice yearly online journal interested in finding the soul of place. It encompasses human culture, ecology, natural landscapes and artificial ones and explores the symbiosis between the built and natural environments. It is full of fascinating, well written, thought provoking articles, poetry, stories and other pieces of writing, often with photos too. There’s a huge amount to explore on the website and this review can only begin to scratch the surface.

Terrain.org contains two main types of work:

  • Technical and journalistic works in the ArticlesUnSprawl (case studies of reducing urban sprawl), ReviewsInterview, and Columns sections are aimed at professionals and other interested individuals and groups. These contributions can help communities develop and redevelop in a more sustainable manner.
  • Literary and artistic works in the PoetryEssaysFiction, and ARTerrain ( a focus article on an artist working in an area such as ecology or urban environments)  sections are to be enjoyed for what they are.

Here are some of the highlights of the Fall/Winter 2010 issue of Terrain.

Signal: Notes on the Desert ~ A Photo Essay’ written by Gregory McNamee and containing photography by Stephen Strom – is a wonderful meditation on deserts and an attempt to define what exactly makes a desert. The question remains unanswered but the journey is more than worth the while.

Notable for the way it ranges over several topics bringing them beautifully together is ‘The Bards Bird, or the The Slings and Arrows of Avicultural Hegemony: A TragiComedy in Five Acts’ by Charles Mitchell. This fascinating article starts out by tracing the changing public attitudes to Shakespeare in the USA then moves on to look at the introduction of the European starling to New York as part of the 19th Century project to introduce all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare into the USA. Mitchell then outlines the issues around starlings in the USA, their nuisance value, the damage they cause to agriculture and aviation but ends with a plea to accept them and to appreciate their beauty. Along the way he draws parallels with our attitudes to invasive species and to human immigration. I found it a particularly interesting article, given that in the UK we are concerned about the declines in starling populations across the country.

Also notable for bringing together diverse themes is ‘Goya’s Dog’ by Laura-Gray Street, a wonderful 15 part poem, alternating stanzas of poetry and prose poetry which ranges over a variety of topics including visual art, dogs, nuclear power, family relationships, cancer and the colour yellow. This issue contains a lot of other poems; many of them are very impressive.

Right of Way’ by Andrew Wingfield is an engrossing story about a loner teenager and missing cats. Set in a new community built near an area of wilderness, it is an insightful story about friendship, family, community and not judging teenagers just because they don’t fit in. And just what is happening to the cats? You’ll need to read the story to find out!

Add to this articles that range over issues including permaculture, walkable neighbourhoods and forest fires; a case study of the Metro Green Greenway system in Kansas City and a focus article on Andrea Polli, a digital media artist who uses sound technology to understand storm and climate and you have a rich diversity of content. This is one of the things I like best about Terrain, the fact that it has so much to offer readers whatever their particular interests in terms of both topic and format, but also that it approaches the issues around ecology, urban design and environment from so many different angles, which gives it a real three dimensional feel. It’s also a very good read!