In 2013, I completed the feature film From Sea To Shining Sea – a contemporary portrait of the United States of America experienced via a cross-county time-lapse video and audio collage. This incredible landscape diversity – through twenty-two eco-regions, from the Atlantic, over the Rockies, and to the Pacific – is united by a common visual element: the Interstate Highway System.
By watching the film, one essentially takes the journey itself, and gains a greater appreciation for the sheer beauty of the American landscape. My co-pilot on the journey was the Australian journalist Matthew Clayfield (“The Caucasian Semi-Circle: A Journey Along Russia’s Exposed Nerve”), who documented the filming in his Kindle single “Hauling Ass”.
While shooting the film, Matt and I visited many places along the interstate that were oriented exclusively toward serving those making the same journey. These towns and truck stops such as Beckley, West Virginia, Haubstadt, Indiana, and Radiator Springs, Utah are places to stop to get gas, grab food, take a shower, etc. These towns exist only within the context of driving along the interstate, and are virtually unknown within the greater day-to-day American experience. These places represent a cultural landscape – an ecology – that only exists because of the framework of the interstate.
The Anthropocene is a proposed term for the present geological epoch during which humanity has begun to have a significant impact on the environment. I believe the United States Interstate Highway System – due to its impacts on geology, habitat, and microclimate – is clearly an example of the Anthropocene.
This month, the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA) will host the 2016 International Festival of Landscape Architecture in Canberra. Part of the program is a short film competition about the Anthropocene. I submitted a video for consideration revolving around a theory that the Interstate is a cultural ecology and a natural evolution of an ancient biomigratory ecology – a physical manifestation of the Anthropocene. The piece has been shortlisted and will screen during the anthropoScene event during the festival.
In my video Sic Erat Scriptum – as personified by this character of instructor (preacher?) Melvin McNally – the development of the interstate highway can be traced back to its precursors: the United States Numbered Highway System followed the routes of the railroads, which in turn were built over the routes of the pioneer wagon trails that originally followed the paths established by of Native American footpaths made over generations following the migratory paths of buffalo and big game – and presumptuously – back to the era of the dinosaurs, where the clusters within the fossil record of these thunder lizards correlates with the towns along the interstate.
So, the next time you are driving across the country playing the license plate game, say a little prayer of thanks to the dinosaurs who made this all possible.