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Daniel Bowman, Jr.

Living Maps

Into the heart of the heartland.

"For each home ground, we need new maps, living maps, stories and poems, photographs and paintings, essays and songs. We need to know where we are, so that we may dwell in our place with a full heart."

—Scott Russell Sanders, from "Buckeye"

I sit on my porch swing at 600 North High Street in Hartford City, Indiana, waiting out a lazy shower on the end of a storm. I'm learning that a midwestern spring thunderstorm—the quality of light across the sky, the texture of saturated clouds, the sound the rain makes on the sidewalk—is different from how it happens where I come from. In my native Mohawk Valley of upstate New York, the sky seems to climb into the hills; it has corners, or pockets. Rain runs down steep slopes into gorges, creates mud, and swells the Barge Canal, the Mohawk River, and dozens of streams and creeks whose names have been forgotten. My adult hometown, the city of Rochester, abides by its own natural rhythms as well; one is never unaware of living on the shore of the great lake, Ontario, whether in the persistent breezes of July or the lake effect snow squalls of, well, most other months. The summer sky gets hazy as you look toward the shore.

Those are conditions I understand, and I've learned to express what they do and how they feel, the movement and the atmosphere. I'm a proponent of García Lorca's poetics, in which he claims that creating art depends in part on a "connection with soil." For him, it was Granada, Andalusia; for me, upstate New York. I developed a specific language to account for the place, a register of images that emerged from a combination of instinct and lifelong observation.

But I'm not there anymore. As a northeasterner in the heartland, it's difficult to know how to reconcile myself to the soil or the sky. Take tornado warnings, for example. They feel like a game to me. I discovered that before coming here, deep down I didn't actually believe that tornadoes existed. Each time a funnel touches Indiana ground, ...

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