An Introduction

An Introduction

This is a website of traces and tracing, of finding voice. Welcome.

Edges and hybridity shape my identity as an African American woman of mixed ancestry. Tracing memory threads my work and life: unearthing what is buried, remembering—piecing together—what is fragmented, shattered, eroded. For me this work is as necessary as breath.

Perhaps having older parents contributed to my feeling so drawn to the past. I was born to a man and woman whose earliest memories preceded the Depression, before sound in moving pictures was the norm, before teamsters drove only horseless vehicles, before the ice man had to find a new profession. And they had lived with elders who could recall life before the Civil War, their memories lit by lantern light. Yet my parents spoke little of them or their lives.

As an educator and Earth historian, I’ve tracked the continent’s past from the relics of deep time; but the paths of ancestors toward me—paths of free and enslaved Africans, colonists from Europe, and peoples indigenous to this land—lie largely eroded and lost. Their unvoiced lives cut a sharp-felt absence all my life, and neither school lessons nor images surging around the child-me could offer salve or substitute. My greatest fear as a young girl was that I wasn’t meant to exist.

One idea stood firm: Whether a river named Potomac or a canyon called Grand, the American land did not hate. My child-sense of its antiquity became as much a refuge as any place. I reached toward deep time, trying to bypass shame, escape racist ugliness, and replace a pervasive family silence. Once traveling in the realm of geology, I saw how the land’s past could be entered, its pieces read in the language of science. Sand and stone are memory.

Yet, each of us, too, is a landscape inscribed by memory as well as loss. I am both a collector and an arrangement. I might gather stones or books or mementos on purpose, but my own experiences and memories are gathered up and swept along by currents of America’s still unfolding history on this vast continent. To live here is to be marked by the land, by the presence of the past, and by residues of silence and displacement across generations.

My writings and work offer my search for and discovery of these marks. Explore with me. Together we might understand our own stories as part of the American experience.

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