Making Sense


Hailey Brazier, Stephanie LeMenager, Marsha Weisiger

Photo caption: Professors Stephanie LeMenager and Marsha Weisiger examine arborglyphs in a secluded aspen grove in the Steens mountain wilderness area in Eastern Oregon. Photo credit: Nate Otjen

The arborglyphs shown in this photograph may record the history of Basque herders in southwestern Oregon, a history largely unwritten except for the names, dates, and often erotic drawings found in secluded stands of aspen trees throughout southwest Oregon and in parts of Nevada and California. We present this digital object as a key to our project because it exemplifies how data are not always aligned for our consumption and use, as standing reserve (we nod to Heidegger) for our interpretation. Data are written into the land itself, through centuries and indeed millennia of ecological management practices, through intimate interspecies encounters, from the traditional ecological knowledges of indigenous nations and immigrant herders to the Euro-western sciences of US federal agencies. The data storytelling about our public lands that we engage at the University of Oregon begins in explorations of regional landscapes and oral histories. Typically, what is collected is narrative and accidental poetry, the inadvertent data of experts whose expertise often goes unrecognized or under-appreciated, as “tradition.” The scientific knowledges of federal and state managers make an exception to this characterization, although in some cases these managers are deeply embedded in local communities to the extent of repurposing the data of university science through the eyes of ranchers and agricultural practitioners, both settler and Indigenous. To answer “What Are Oregon’s Public Lands”?–Most of our oral history subjects respond by showing us, in words and in photographs, in walks and tours, that data are most importantly relationships.