Unexplored Connections


What’s the connection between Zen Buddhism and salmon migration? Ask Rebecca Solnit, a writer and activist who spent the better part of an “intense” year working with more than 30 other writers, artists, mapmakers and researchers to create Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas ($24.95; University of California Press). Containing 22 maps and 19 essays, the book functions as a legitimate, albeit offbeat, travel guide with a window into the endless layers and connections that make up the city.

“There are many worlds in one place. It’s inexhaustible,” Solnit says via phone. “In San Francisco, people are showering in the snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada.”

Infinite City’s maps feature quirky pairings of activity intended to underscore that no place is limited to fulfilling a single cliché. “Queens and Monarchs,” for example, places a history of queer culture (exemplified by many, many gay bars) on the same cartographical plane as migration patterns of butterflies.

As part of the Headlands Center for the Arts’ Alternative Cartographies event this Sunday, Solnit discusses Infinite City with two of the book’s collaborators, naturalist Derek Hitchcock and Furyu Nancy Schroeder of the San Francisco Zen Center. Their conversation will focus on Map No. 20, which pairs the spread of Soto Zen Buddhism with Bay Area salmon migration.

In and around Zen salmon talk, the Sunday event is a mashup of artists, writers and activists showcasing works in progress centered on the connection between natural zones and the people who change them. The venue’s open studios will feature Seher Shaw’s exploration of multiple cast objects intersected by drawings to make topographic landscapes, while Richard T. Walker shares his video and performance series investigating the mountainous lands just outside the center’s backdoor. Around the building, projectors will enlarge Solnit’s maps for easy viewing pleasure. “Everyone loves maps,” says Solnit. “They make people happy in a mysterious way.”

Co-presented by the San Francisco Zen Center, “Alternative Cartographies” swings into life on Sunday, Nov. 21, at the Headlands Center for the Arts. 944 Simmonds Road, Sausalito. Noon. Free. Solnit’s presentation on Infinite City kicks off at 2pm. $10&–$30. 415.331.2787.