Mosgiel and Dunedin, Otago
“I close my eyes and see a flock of birds. The vision lasts a second or perhaps less; I don’t know how many birds I saw. Were they a definite or an indefinite number? This problem involves the question of the existence of God. If God exists, the number is definite, because how many birds I saw is known to God. If God does not exist, the number is indefinite, because nobody was able to take count. In this case, I saw fewer than ten birds (let’s say) and more than one; but I did not see nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, or two birds. I saw a number between ten and one, but not nine, eight, seven, six, five, etc. That number, as a whole number, is inconceivable; ergo, God exists.”
Argumentum Ornithologicum, Jorge Luis Borges
I spent years staring at maps. At my previous job, roughly half of any of given day was devoted to working with ink and pixel landscapes. I remember mapping skinks in Sinbad Gully, soils of the Wairau Valley, possum habitats in the Tararua Ranges, Māori freehold land suitability in the Wairarapa and hydrological networks in the Canterbury Plains. All those hours spent creating and poring over cartographic representations of New Zealand honed and deepened my understanding of this country’s physical landscapes and urban forms. They may even have changed the way I think.
(Some nights I dream in shaded relief.)
Places where I once lived are deeply etched in my mind. Given a blank sheet of paper, and a little lenience, I can draw a respectable map of Murrays Bay, Mount Eden, Kingsland, Longburn, Summer Hill or Mana from memory. Yet most New Zealand localities are at once familiar and largely unknown to me. When presented with an unlabelled map depicting a random part of the country, I can identify most places purely on the basis of their shape. But, when I close my eyes, their forms fade away and I’m left with a cartographic analogue to Borges’s birds. Elusive assemblages flicker, squiggle and shimmer, slipping out of reach when my mind’s eye tries to focus on them directly.