Mapping the Bay Area

navigates Rebecca Solnit’s Infinite City as it charts
the overlapping worlds of San Francisco.

Phrenological San Francisco
Concept Paul LaFarge, in collaboration with artist Paz de la Calzada

Rebecca Solnit
Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas

University of California Press, 2010. 167 pp.

Affection for place runs like a red thread through Rebecca Solnit’s work. Solnit is a writer without portfolio who has already produced histories, bestiaries, catalogs, travelogues, and field guides; her formal ambition is tempered only by her interest in exploration, in introducing herself and her readers to unknown territories. In her latest work, a gorgeously produced collection of maps and essays called Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas, she turns to another locality-determined genre, adding “cartographer” to her CV. “The atlas you have in your hands,” Solnit writes in her introduction, “is a small, modest, and deeply arbitrary rendering of one citizen’s sense of her place in conversation and collaboration with others.”

“Modest” and “infinite” might seem like strange bedfellows, but Solnit uses both adjectives to acknowledge that her title’s reach must necessarily exceed its grasp, since it “aspires to suggest something of the inexhaustibility of even a small city but is itself finite and even capricious in its mappings.” On the journey that led to the creation of Infinite City, Solnit discovered how many invisible San Franciscos lie mapped within the minds of her fellow citizens: geographies she may have been vaguely aware of but never really knew, as if their streets and landmarks lay shrouded in the city’s perennial fog.

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Bianca Stone & Ben Pease

February 2013

from Likestarlings

Tree Interview with Ben Pease   photo: Northampton, MA


Do you ever think about trees?

 I think trees are always in the back of my mind. That is, I don’t have pictures of trees plastered above the bed or anything, but I was just in Vermont for a week, and god bless ‘em! At this time of year,  you can just throw me under a tree, and I’ll happily watch the leaves rustle around in the wind. I helped Guy Pettit plant some trees outside Flying Object, and besides how satisfying that whole process is, you can’t argue with the positive action of planting a tree. On the other hand, at Bianca’s grandmother’s house in Goshen we are renovating ), this guy just came by and re-appraised the house. He pointed out a few trees that were touching the house and needed to be cut back if not taken out entirely. In those cases, I can’t cut those trees down fast enough—to protect something that is so important to someone I love.

What is a vivid/significant memory you have involving a tree or trees?

The backyard of my parents’ house rolled down into what became the woods. It was for the most part unimpeded forest up until whoever owned it sold the land, and a developer turned it into a horseshoe street of new houses with only about 200 yards of trees separating the new houses from my street. That in and of itself was a personal Princess Mononoke lesson: some people will bulldoze anything in their path to get what they want, you understand why they do it, but you still can’t completely forgive them for all that destruction. 

When I was somewhere around the end of elementary school/the beginning of middle school, I was given a pair of leather moccasin slippers. I loved wearing them around the house, and sometimes I would wear them to take the dog out. I was saving up my money to buy a bow my uncle had for sale at his gun shop. It was a decent Browning compound that he was selling to me for a good price, like $150 or so, but it took me a long time to save up that much money. I probably spent more time looking at bows in catalogs than anything, and at some point I decided I was going to make my own traditional bow and arrow. I didn’t read up on how to make one or anything; I figured I could just sort of wing it, and it would all work out. My first step was to take one of the laces from my moccasin slippers, which were about two feet in length, and tie it to a tree in the woods behind my parents’ house. My tween brain was convinced this would loosen and stretch out the leather shoelace and turn it into a perfect bowstring. I tied it to the branch of a tree no less than five feet from the property line and waited exactly one month before retrieving it. I never found it.


Are trees involved at all in your writing or worldview?

In the opening section of Chateau Wichman, trees play a pretty big part. It’s been a couple years since I wrote that, and while I remember I had a very specific idea of what I meant by the leaves being “twice stilled […] since the last gust of wind,” it takes me a minute to figure it out again. In my new long poem, the psychic has a dream where he walks through a forest of sorts.

Ben Pease is the editor of Monk Books and a member of The Ruth Stone Foundation. He has degrees from Emerson College and Columbia University. A selection from CHATEAU WICHMAN appeared in chapbook form under the title WICHMAN COMETH. His work can be found online here.


“Chateau Wichman Overture” by Ben Pease


this! this! this!
these three (b)ianca & (b)en & (g)uy
+ sweet (p)aul putting it on the record
nothing could be better


Chateau Wichman Overture