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This post documents the connecting thru grasses participatory project via fragments from emails sent to participants each week through October 2020. Full project archives are online. The project will continue in Spring 2021 - if you'd like to be part of it you can read more and sign up online.

Thanks for being part of this project! I'm hoping you will plant your prairie grass seeds on 4 different occasions and locate them on our collective map - starting October 5th.

Each week throughout October, I'll send an email with a table noting the times when TERRA will be above Brandon, Edmonton and Regina across the week. [With data compiled from In-the-sky.org]. Consider planting your grasses during the times when TERRA is passing overhead: generally, this lasts for about 6 to 10 minutes a number of times a day.

If you’re not able to plant your seeds when TERRA is directly above, take a second to think about what other satellites might be passing when you do – you can do a search based on your specific location using the In-the-sky.org website.

I'm writing this to you from Amiskwaciwâskahikan (ᐊᒥᐢᑿᒌᐚᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ), in Treaty 6 territory. The area that this project connects and looks closer to, is bound by a number of Treaties including:
Treaties 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, and 10. 

This project begins by looking closer to the colonial provincial borders imposed upon the prairie region and how they differ from and are often at odds with the historical and ecological realities of the region. These borders, shaped within the confines of colonialism and white supremacy, are new when you consider the history of the land and the people's who have been here for time immemorial. 

I'm hoping that, together, we can consider how grasses might help us to think about these borders otherwise. If you haven't already, please locate yourself with the help of native-land.ca and learn more about the land where your grass seeds will be planted.

Make sure to take a look at the ideal growing conditions for each grass as you consider planting locations. Each seed pack has a mix of all three seed types. Take a small pinch of seeds so that you can plant in multiple locations. 

Grass seed is easy to sow - just scatter on top of the ground (you can cover with soil if you like, but it's not necessary). One thing to consider, though, is the amount of traffic that might interfere with your growing grass - avoid locations you suspect might be mowed in the spring/summer. You could also just let the wind take them!

It might not seem like you have a large quantity of seeds to plant, but -- each seed is full of potential -- consider the spread that each can have. Think about their value in these terms.

#1 [VERTICAL PERSPECTIVES] Think about how you might gain TERRA's attention while standing on the ground (how might you differentiate yourself from the rest of the image TERAA captures?).

When TERRA passes overhead, it is visible above us for approximately 6 to 9 minutes, monitoring air quality, vegetation, natural disasters, and the atmosphere. TERRA was launched December 18, 1999, with a life expectancy of 6 years. It was expected to die in 2005 - its years overdue. Surpassing expectations, it has been orbiting 705 kilometers above the earth for 21 years.

One imaging instrument aboard TERRA - ASTER - doesn’t collect data continuously; rather at an average of 8 minutes of data per orbit. A lot can happen in 8 minutes. I wonder about what ASTER misses when it measures changes on the planet. When you're outside and about to plant your seeds, consider what 8 minutes feels like.

Many prairie grasses have roots that reach 2 meters (6.6 ft) or more into the soil. They help to stabilize the earth, retain moisture for times of drought, and will continue to propagate over years. I wonder how we might shift our vertical alignments to include and consider the vast root system of the grasses hidden from view. 

#2 [DISTANCE] The Measurements of Pollution in the Troposphere instrument [MOPITT] aboard the TERRA satellite has a spatial resolution of 22 km - it ‘sees’ the Earth in swaths that are 640 km wide. Spend some time considering how far 640 km is from where you are (try mapping it on google maps).

Plot a circle with 640 km as the radius around your location and imagine your way across it - how does the land change and shift across that distance? How different is it from where you are now?

The resolution of images captured by TERRA range between 15 and 90 metres (or, 49 and 295 ft). That means: one pixel of image represents a square of about 15m x 15m (up to 90m x 90m) on the earth.

Put another way, the satellite can only differentiate between things on the ground that are at least 15m apart (or, if less resolution, 90m apart). That's not a lot of detail.

Imagine you're within a 15m x 15m square -- what in your surroundings might blend into your own image from TERRA's perspective as you plant your seeds? What around you might TERRA miss by collapsing such a distance? 

#3 [COLOUR] We tend to think about prairie grasses based on their leaves, either green or brown (over winter). But grasses bloom flowers (in the form of  inflorescences) whose colours span the spectrum. Later in the summer, when you revisit your planted grass, you're sure to see a variety of colours if you look closely.

TERRA can see a lot. But it doesn’t account for the discrepancy as to who breathes what air. It records the impacts of climate change on a global level, but doesn’t monitor the unequal impacts imposed on communities when governments refuse to act against it.

TERRA doesn’t register disparity, it can’t see the complexity of conditions. I wonder about the angle that TERRA looks at things and how, when angles shift, meaning can also change.

The ASTER instrument onboard TERRA collects data to help create detailed maps of land surface temperature, reflectance, and elevation. ASTER doesn’t "see" in colour, instead capturing data in 14 bands, from the visible to thermal infrared wavelengths (That is, it collects 14 different images for each "scene"). Every image is obtained in a grey scale from black to white based on brightness of radiation at a precise wavelength. Colour is assigned to each band and the image later translated after data collection.

If you are used to seeing in colour, imagine for a minute how that around you might look different from ASTER's perspective: 


Live vegetation appears red, the more healthy the vegetation, the brighter the red; 

Man-made materials (like concrete and buildings) tend to be a light blue or grey;
 
Water is very dark.

More than 70 per cent of Canada’s prairie grasslands have been converted. Spend some time with the map above and consider what 70% loss looks like from the perspective of being on the ground. The map shows roughly what the size of this region would look like if we accounted for that 70% loss. That is, the bright area in the centre of the image represents 30% of the overall image.

#4 [BOUNDARIES] When you're next outside, imagine the view in front of you is replaced by nothing but grassland. Now imagine if 70% of that imagined view was missing. What does 70% loss look like?

I wonder how our perspective might change if instead of recognizing the borders between provinces, we were bound by the shrinking grassland instead.  

While TERRA monitors and records the loss of prairie grassland over time, it doesn’t consider that that land was stolen. It doesn’t reference the genocide perpetuated across the West in order to hand land over to farmers and industries. It doesn’t describe how we got here.

I wonder about what TERRA misses, about the angle that it looks at things and how, when angles shift, meaning can also change.

The MISR instrument aboard TERRA views the Earth with cameras pointed at nine different angles: directly below itself (toward nadir), forward, behind itself (aftward), and at angles of: 26.1°, 45.6°, 60.0°, and 70.5° to the Earth's surface.

How might planting grass seed at the ground level help to shift our angles of perspective? I like to think that doing so can encourage thinking otherwise about boundaries and borders.

Across October 2020, 43 individuals started to plant seeds across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba as part of the connecting thru grasses project - you can view the locations where seeds were planted on our collective map.
Disrupted by winter, the project will continue in Spring 2021 - if you'd like to be part of the project, sign up online.
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