Loving Orphaned Space: The Art and Science of Belonging to Earth by Mrill Ingram | wisconsinacademy.org
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Loving Orphaned Space: The Art and Science of Belonging to Earth by Mrill Ingram

In Loving Orphaned Space: The Art and Science of Belonging to Earth, Mrill Ingram explores the forgotten spaces of both urban and rural landscapes, and finds grace in neglected pockets of human landscapes. Often accompanied by a friend, Ingram documents and ruminates on the quiet and understated beauty and peace that can be found in abandoned lots, overgrown medians, and the ruins of buildings being reclaimed by nature and the elements. In places often dismissed as eyesores or evidence of societal failure, Ingram manages to find both joy and solemnity.

The brevity of the text paired with abundant full-color photographs add to the impact of the book. Ingram’s writing is evocative, spare, and efficient—appropriate for a meditation on the significance of these forgotten pockets of humanity’s infrastructure and industry, like a cornfield after harvest.

I am following my friend John once again. He is walking rapidly, as he does, moving up a gently curving slope. I can easily see the flow of the land around me, as it’s blanketed only by corn stubble. [...] Listening to him talk about monocropping, moldboard ploughing, hardpans, and dead soil, I begin to see this field as another orphan, a space disciplined for maximum production of corn and beans, its purpose maintained with agricultural chemicals and heavy machinery.
     But as I continue to listen to John, my way of seeing shifts again. He describes a landscape in conversation with glaciers. We are walking in the Kettle Moraine area of eastern Wisconsin, a yiyang undulation. I watch his hands as he talks [...] He is especially captivated by the kettles nestled into the landscape; each one is unique, he points out. Similar types of plants, insects, and birds exist in each kettle but in different relationships.

As much as I enjoyed and appreciated this book, it’s not a page-turner. It’s not the sort of book that compels you to consume it in a rush or in a single-sitting. It’s best appreciated in small, quiet moments, just before dropping off to sleep or in a short break during the work day. I picked it up and put it back down frequently for short periods for days at a time, and I’m glad I read it that way.

This is a book that will appeal to those who enjoy finding beauty in the unexpected, and to urban explorers and adventurers. Since reading it, I see decaying human structures differently. For readers looking for something quiet and contemplative to break up their busy day, Loving Orphaned Space is a good choice. I recommend taking your time with it, returning to it whenever you’re in the mood for something thoughtful or meditative…and then passing it along to the next person who will.


Emily Park grew up in the Mountain West but has lived in various parts of the Midwest for her entire adult life. She works for the grassroots climate action group 350 Wisconsin, where she handles communications and organizes to end fossil fuel financing in the U. S. She lives in Madison.

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