“Too much importance cannot be given to drawing, as it is not only an excellent device for securing close observation, but it is also a rapid method of making valuable notes.”
Inspired by Louis Agassiz, the Harvard Committee of Ten insisted that drawing be an essential part of science education at their institution. While this curricular edict was issued in 1894, it is a learning and research recommendation whose value I rediscover every time I work on the “Ecologically True Story of the Tortoise and the Hare.”
“There’s so much of everything! All of it inextricably tangled together […] To describe is to select – and to select only a microscopic sample from this overwhelming profusion.”
So wrote travel journalist Michael Frayan in Travels with a Typewriter, one of several books I read during my month-long research trip to East Africa. Frayan distills into two sentences the opportunity, challenges, and complexity of traveling to conduct research, particularly in a new field site.
As I mentioned in my previous update, this was my first trip to Africa. In addition to a mélange of language, landscapes, and villages/cities, the region struck me with its boggling biodiversity, and a host of socio-political situations that resist categorization or outsider resolution. I spent much of the trip mulling over my own reactions to what is ordinary life there, and pondering how to honestly incorporate it in my project without oversimplifying, romanticizing, or otherwise inadvertently appropriating.
This is my first trip to Kenya, and to Africa more generally. So far, it has been a fascinating blend of rural and urban, English and Swahili (and with it a reminder that learning a language isn’t a one-month project), and wildlife, plants, and landscapes utterly unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
As part of my MFA thesis, I’m working on an art-science project about tortoises and hares and the ecosystems where the two coexist: “The Ecologically True Story of the Tortoise and the Hare.” One of those places just happens to be the Sonoran Desert, just south of where my husband grew up. So, while we were in Arizona over the holidays, I headed to that tortoise-and-hare desert.