Saysutshun is an island only accessible by small boats. It is a small island, but rich in history. It is the traditional land of the Snuneymuxw nation. I feel honoured that I was able to visit this island and learn about its history.
Elliot White-Hill, a fellow Emily Carr student, and his brother, Ethan, were guest speakers. We were guests on their ancestral land. Their family lived on this island and the surrounding area for generations.
Elliot knew so much history of the island and it was captivating to hear his stories. He said that in the location where we were, people came to be healed from the grief caused by different challenges, such as the loss of family. When I heard about this, I felt as though I was meant to be on this trip – since I lost my brother just over a month ago.
Since our first field trip, each class has been visually, auditorily, tactility, and olfactorily, very stimulating for me. I also wanted to see how others in our class were observing the outdoor environments we were exposed to and interacted with.
First, I asked everyone to write down what they heard, saw, smelled and felt.
In the next activity, I wanted my classmates to focus on their tactile senses. I asked my classmates to make a frottage from something around us on the island.
I then wanted them to think about how they can protect what they just frottaged.
Free exploration time on Saysutshun
During my free time on the Island, with my sketchpad and recorder in hand, I decided to walk aimlessly along the shoreline, letting my senses take me where they pleased.
After a while, I saw a group of geese on the edge of the rocks by the ocean. Although I was worried that they might not like my presence and leave, I decided to sit closer to them.
Feeling the sea breeze on my face, smelling the ocean, listening to the geese conversing with each other and looking at the moving clouds changing shapes, I noticed that I was there in the present moment. Time had become muddled over the last several weeks since my brother’s death as my mind kept travelling to the past.
As I stood up and started to walk, I heard “crunch, crunch”; I had to step on the barnacles to walk and strange as it may sound, for the first time in a while, I felt alive.
The campsite after everyone was gone
Our field studies were all about experiential and participatory design in the best sense possible. I am so appreciative of this experience!
I started with a focus on living things in my immediate neighbourhood. This was expanded with our Trout Lake field trip in my city, expanded again with our Lynn Canyon field trip within my region, and then further again to unfamiliar territories with our Vancouver Island trip.
I feel interconnectivity with everything around us, regardless of the area of focus (close, near, or far). Now the question is how can we re-realize and re-learn and re-honour our environment?
Soon into the hike, I realized that I was focusing on the vast amounts of foliage around me and not on my anxiety about being in the woods (which centre on an extreme worry about ticks). Thinking about Shinrinyoku 森林浴 (Tree Bathing) – the immense number of trees, many different types of flowers, and many different mosses – captured my attention. The air felt and smelled fresh. I studied mosses a few months ago and was excited to see so many examples of how mosses were growing in an environment less interrupted by civilization. Zack encouraged us to talk less so we could observe our surroundings better and appreciate the experience more. That did help!
Video: Aamir’s prompt was for us to observe a naturally occurring phenomenon and then tell a story about it. I chose moss(es) to observe, created a message that humans could learn how mosses adapt and made a short video clip. How can we survive the climate changes like these mosses did for many millions of years?
Sinrinyoku is a Japanese phrase that was created only a few decades ago and means “forest bathing”. While I have known of this concept and understood it, the meaning sank deeply into me throughout my field school experience.
Being in the woods or amidst trees is said to be very beneficial to our health and can help us reduce stress. This practice can help individuals find peace, hope, and new meaning (Miyazaki).
Being physically close to nature for five days – being near large trees and being able to touch them throughout the day – helped me contemplate and experience a deeper connection with everything non-human around me.
Three locations that we visited
Interacting with Nature: Close, Near, Far
The field school class room started in our direct neigbhouhood in Vancouver in the park, then a little further to North Vancouver for hiking. Finally, we went to outside of Greater Vancouver for three day camping trip.
CLOSE: Trout Lake Park, Vancouver, BC
At the base on the trout lake
View from our base
A Northwestern Crow on a tree at Trout Lake Park
Example of a bird nest built with dog hair. Photo: reddit
We had workshops throughout the day. Zach encouraged us to think of design that could benefit the natural environment. In a city park like this, it is hard for the natural habitat to avoid human presence and interference. What can humans do to help while they visit the park for the local natural habitat? I noticed that the majority of people at the park had a dog companion with them. I thought “dog hair” ! I’ve heard of how birds make nest with animal hair. If we build a dog brushing station where the humans can sit and chat while they brush their dog companions, wouldn’t that be great for all parties involved (humans, birds, and doggies)?
Just by staying in the local park for a day, there is so much that you can discover. I did not know there were so many different birds here in the city. If I was just walking through the park with my earpods on as I normally do when I’m alone, my experience at the park would have been completely different. I even sat on the grass (well, kind of) among geese and dog droppings – this was a challenge if you know how much of a germaphobe I am!
When Zack told us about a new plan that was recently approved for this park, I was disappointed to hear about all the new supposedly exciting beautification of the park – much of it was human-centric designed with more benches, more bike and walking paths, etc. I thought about how I can have a stronger voice for the local habitat when it comes to park plans for city parks like this one.
Looking mosses in the backyard through a microscopeThe Japanese character for moss
In Japanese culture, “moss” can mean “eternal time”, which is an expression born from the fact that it takes a long time for mosses to grow. In the Middle Ages, due to the influence of Zen and the tea ceremony, the aesthetic sense of Japanese culture known as “Wabi-Sabi” was born; “Wabi-Sabi” finds beauty in sparseness and tranquillity rather than a gorgeous luxury. The plant that embodies this is moss. The combination of mosses growing quietly without blooming, and still maintaining clear freshness with its vibrant or deep green colours gives the feeling of Wabi-Sabi. The existence of mosses have become an indispensable part of the Japanese garden (Y. Oishi, 2020).
The Japanese National anthem includes moss as a symbol of eternity showing perfectly how intertwined mosses are with the Japanese psyche (H. Akiyama)
Photos from my brother from his trip to Yakushima Island
There are many well-known beautiful old moss gardens in Japan, but one place that I am hoping someday to go to is Yakushima Island. It is registered as a World Natural Heritage Site. It is said that about 1,600 species of mosses grow in Japan, and about 600 species of them exist on the island of Yakushima. Yakushima is truly a treasure trove of mosses. The reason why such a variety of mosses grow here is the unique environment of Yakushima. High mountains such as Mt. Miyanoura (elevation 1,936m) rise in the center of Yakushima, and when moist air warmed by the warm current of the ocean surrounding the island hits the mountains, clouds are created, which then brings a large amount of rain (Japan National Tourism Organization).
Mosses Around Me
Mosses for Other Beings
Birdhouse in my back porch
Chickadee birds started to nest in the wooden birdhouse on our back porch last year. After several weeks, I started to hear the chirping of baby birds from the house. After another several weeks, the birdhouse became quiet. When I opened the birdhouse, there was an empty nest made of moss. I remembered seeing a bird carrying about an inch and a half of moss-a tiny shred- and marvelled as I realized the parents must have made several thousand trips to make this nest for their family! I read that chickadees do not return to old nests and so I decided to clean the house out this year, in hopes that it would again create a safe place for a new family. When I took out the old nest, I carefully took out the nest and examined it; as far as I can tell, I could only see mosses as material for the nest. The nest was dry but very soft to the touch. It seemed like a perfect place for tiny eggs and little baby birds to be born and raised.
Big (actually very small) spider appeared while examining moss with a microscope. Ferns growing from mosses on the tree in my neighbourhood
Mosses make perfect places for little critters to hide. While I was examining the mosses in the mossarium I built, I was surprised to see a huge spider appear. Taking a closer look with a digital magnifier, it seemed like the spider was carefully and intently examining every tiny blade of what looked like a lawn but was actually magnified moss.
Mosses provide a place for plant seeds to grow. One study proved a symbiotic relationship across three organisms: a plant (Mitella) is helped by its pollinator (small fly), and the pollinators’ larvae are helped by mosses as a place to live and for its food source (Okuyama et al., 2018).
Sketches of collected mosses
Struggle with the names
I struggled with the exact scientific names of the mosses that I collected. So many of them looked similar! I decided to ask a moss expert in Japan, Hisako Fujii. She is a well-published author, who writes about mosses. I was able to exchange several communications via DM with her! She told me that it is good to record the size and environment that mosses are growing in, etc., to help determine their names. She gave me her guesses for which group of mosses the mosses I had would be in. I was grateful that she was so friendly and generous with her time.
However, with thousands of species of mosses, I could not 100% positively distinguish names for the mosses that I gathered. This was frustrating and I felt I was stuck. Eventually, I knew I had to move on but did not feel good about not being able to call each of them by their scientific names… however, after receiving kind advice and encouragement from some of my professors, I was more easily able to move on. Thank you!
Mosses from my neighbourhood
From my research, I knew it is environmentally unethical to transplant mosses and therefore, I knew I wanted to gather mosses from around my neighbourhood (instead of ordering them from a different place). On my neighbourhood walks, I started viewing where mosses were growing, noticing different types of moss, and how they grew on different surfaces. I wanted to see how mosses grew and wanted to make something I could observe more often, so I decided to make a mossarium.
I built my mossarium and placed it in a position to get natural light. I covered it- thinking that it could survive with its own ecosystem (I read that mosses could build their own ecosystem) and I added LED light to help on cloudy days. I sprayed water on its surface several times per week; simultaneously, I placed some of the mosses I had gathered in a few places around my backyard so I could observe and compare the mosses I gathered and placed outdoors versus what I gathered and placed in the mossarium I built.
I observed and interacted with my mosses indoors and outdoors, hoping that I could see them grow and flourish. This did not occur the way I anticipated and I started feeling bad for them. My appreciation was growing for them and because I wanted to help them be happy; it almost felt like I was watching over my children as I checked on them and fussed over them numerous times per day.
Although the mosses in my mossarium continued to grow smaller, I feel that I learned from this experience and now have a profound appreciation not only for the mosses but the non-human beings that are around me that are thriving on their own.