At the edge of a field in West Flanders is a strange construction. A box of sorts, a brown, corrugated iron cabin with a steeply sloping roof that faces across fields towards a narrow channel of river. The construction has but a single window, vertical, two fists wide, that runs up the entire front face of it. From the field the box seems to rest lightly on the land. From across the river it seems to blend darkly into a grove of trees. From behind, it has double doors that are reached by a flagstone path that winds through birch trees and ivy. There is something otherworldly about this cabin, perched at the edge of this field.
Inside is an oval table with green leather inlay and a carver chair with an emerald green cushion. The walls and ceiling are upholstered in calico, unbleached, stretched as tightly as a prepared canvas. The floor is carpeted in piercing purple. There is insulation and heating and a desk light. Early each morning the cabin is occupied. Dark outside, warm inside. Sixty stories are slowly taking shape as dark turns to dawn and the willows by the river come slowly into view through that narrow strip of window.
Sixty stories, stories within stories. It can’t be less, for there is such a muchness of material. Three years of investigating, imagining, composing, collecting and collaborating, borrowing language and lending voice, making exhibitions and expeditions, planting gardens and preparing herbaria, have filled twelve cloth-covered notebooks, twelve red diaries, the radiobook, audiobook, Muriel-Emissary-to-the-Past-book, the botanical notebooks, herbarium logbook, and the expedition journal. Not to mention boxes of typewritings. Notes towards a Work, all of them. But the Work, as written narrative, as a circling of stories, has yet to unfold.
The sixty stories will make up a set of Volumes, twelve in all. Lost Volumes, scattered pages, loosely bound, never having had any prior wholeness. Most titles had settled into the notebooks moons ago: A Tale of Eleven Births and One Invocation, A Library of Books Withdrawn, Chronicles of Air, The Tongue is a Witch, A Dictionary for Travelling Women (and Migratory Birds), The Book of Blessings in Disguise, A Compendium of Irregularities and Obstructions. Others emerged in the cabin: The Company Letters, A Tale of Ships, Fieldguide of a Preternaturalist.
It is to be a work of the Company.
It is to be a Travelogue.