BAR HARBOR — Artist Jennifer Booher plans to walk the entire coastline of Mount Desert Island in the next two years as part of an art and citizen science project called The Coast Walk.
The project will include still life photographs of objects she finds, a narrative and photo blog and mapping species of interest or other data using a citizen science website and app.
Booher expects the full circuit of the island to take about two years. “As best I can calculate, the journey will cover roughly 120 miles, including Somes Sound” she said. “From May to October I expect to walk for four hours at a time, and two hours for the rest of the year. The point is not so much to cover a lot of ground as it is to pay very close attention to it.”
The project evolved out of her curiosity about the objects she finds while beachcombing and a sense that many people share her curiosity. “A lot of people love the coast, but just don’t have the time to kneel on a rock watching barnacles feed or fishermen scrape and paint a boat hull, so they only get to see a little bit of what goes on there,” she said. “This is the best way I can think of to share all that amazing complexity.”
The resulting still life photographs are a project she’s already been working on for years, her “Beachcombing Series.”
“It was sort of a sideways thing,” she said of how she got started taking these photos. “I’ve been beachcombing since I was a kid. A few years ago, I decided to sell off my sea glass collection to finance a trip with a friend. I started taking pictures of pieces to post for sale online, and I realized it’s not easy to take good pictures of something on a white background.”
Soon she was more interested in the photos with collections of items than the process of selling them. “The title of every photo is the date and place where I gathered the objects,” she said, “and I identify everything in as much detail as I can. It’s not just a shell, it’s a common periwinkle. It’s not just trash, it’s polypropylene rope off a lobster trap.”
With this level of detail, the items form a “transect” across her walking path, she said, not too different from the way a scientist would survey an area for flora and fauna.
Booher also plans to map some of the data she gathers using a web-based system called Anecdata. She joined the Frenchman Bay Partners, a collaborative group of scientists, shellfish harvesters, municipal groups, businesses and others working on planning for the bay and surrounding communities. She’ll work with other partners to determine which data would be most useful in their work.
Beginning with staff of the Abbe Museum on a January walk, Booher plans to invite people to walk with her to provide other perspectives and knowledge. “Teachers, biologists, geologists, park rangers, tour guides, lobstermen, historians, boat builders, elver fishermen, clammers, property owners – anyone with a tie to the shore and a story to share, come tell me!” she said. “My interest is in the layers of usage of the shoreline: the geology and in animals and plants that colonize it and in the way that people use it.”