without end

A path climbs a rocky mount through the low brown brush. Over the other side, behing the smooth grey rocks, a blue-grey gently rippled ocean is visible.
the underside of a soaring raptor against a cloudy sky

This FEELed Note is the fifth in a series written by Natalie Rice, the FEELed Lab Researcher in/of/on Place this year.

“I want the forest before the book, the abundance of leaves before the pages, I love the creation as much as the created, no, more,” writes Hélène Cixous.

I recently spent a week close to where the LaHave River meets the Atlantic. It was a place where fresh and salt water merged. I brought my erosion texts to Nova Scotia thinking I would further erode them with sunlight by plotting the changing light over the page using a tree or branch as a sundial. I had experimented with this with Juliana Spahr’s poem, “Gentle now, Don’t Add to Heartache” using a sapling and three o’clock sunlight at Woodhaven. With Alice Oswald’s “The Art of Erosion” lecture still humming in the background, I was curious about the more subtle ways that land could enter a text. Oswald notes, “To pay attention to time passing like a moon dial or a water clock, by means to which time is visible but not arrested is not just great artistry but a giving up…so that wind and sunlight can fall on the poem without obstruction.”

A book of poetry lies open on a bed of dry brown leaves. Two tree trunks reach up in front and behind the book, and a pile of grey boulders nestle in the background. Some green pine needles are just visible in the foreground, too.

At Woodhaven, I had placed the text on the ground in the shadow of a pine sapling and plotted the shadow line across the page as a form of erasure. I returned an hour later to see that the shadow had moved down the page, creating a new gap in the text. This process could have continued beyond the book and without end into the redaction of pine needles, dry lichen, rock. The sundial shadow would have eventually intersected with other shadows.

But when I got to Nova Scotia, I realized I wanted “the forest before the book.” I wanted the writing before time and without beginning or end which meant I didn’t work with the text at all. Rather, I wanted to read the presence and absence of ash trees, their peeling bark, the wind under hemlocks. The forest was one big sundial. Between red ironstone and thick rivers jammed with ice I found a humming betweenity. “Drawing, writing, what expeditions, what wanderings, and at end, no end, we won’t finish, rather time will put an end to it,” writes Cixous. In the forest, I found nature and culture side by side; time was visible but still moving slowly as it does across the cove, the creek fluxing a little with spring thaw, sap running towards the sky.

Meanwhile, Norah Bowman’s book, “Breath, like Water” is still in the soil. In “Toward a Queer Ecofeminism” Greta Gaard writes, “Colonialism becomes an act of the nationalist self-asserting identity and definition over and against the other—culture over and against nature, masculine over feminine, reason over and against the erotic” (131.) The Woodhaven ecosystem is offering a different kind of reading of the text which we will uncover in mid-April as part of our Earth Reading workshop. How will time made itself visible to the text, how spring thaw will read stanzas, and how might the text rewrite itself?


Gaard, G. (1997), ‘Toward a Queer Ecofeminism’, Hypatia: a journal of feminist philosophy, 12: 1, pp. 114–37.

Cixous, Helen and Catherine A. F. MacGillivray (1993), “Without End No State of Drawingness No, Rather: The Executioner’s Taking Off,” New Literary History, 24:1, pp. 91-103.

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