The relationship Brian has to water is deeply connected to emotion. He found considerable significance in being able to be close to the water of Lake Winnipeg because “it’s almost like being at the sea.” At another point in our conversation, he spoke of a friend in Winnipeg who was going through an extremely difficult time. They would walk together to the Red River, stroll along the bank, and grab an ice cream on their way back. He explained that this experience of seeking out the water together was healing in many ways, and contributed to the strengthening of their friendship.
Christopher Tilley (1994), archeologist and theorist, suggests that landscape is conceptually shaped by the actions people take within it and, alternatively, our activities are shaped by the landscape we inhabit. We move through places in a certain way because of the characteristics of the land and as we seek out particular spaces for particular goals (searching out the water for peace of mind, for example) they become invested with meaning.
Tilley argues that “The human experience of encountering a new place or knowing how to act or go on in a familiar place is intimately bound up with previous experiences. Places are always ‘read’ or understood in relation to others.” (27) As Brian explains here, he has drawn on his knowledge and experience of the ocean to make sense of the vast open spaces of the prairies. He was not the only interviewee to make this comparison between the flat stretches of the prairies and the expanse of the ocean, which further demonstrates Tilley’s point. The kinds of parallels interviewees draw between the two landscapes (or, in this case, the landscape and seascape) shows how changes of space are processed and incorporated into individual’s environmental repertoire.
Brian’s comments show how environment comes to play an important role in biography and in migration. Certain kinds of places and environmental characteristics took on meaning because of the role they had played throughout his life.
Photo: The Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare.