transect is defined as :

1. (verb) to cut or divide crossways 

2. (noun) a sample strip of land used to monitor plant distribution, animal populations, etc, within a given area

In biology, a transect is a path along which one counts and records occurrences of the phenomena of study (e.g. plants). 

In 1998, conservationist and endurance junkie Michael Fay undertook the MegaTransect, an epic walk across the densely forested interior of Africa. He undertook a comprehensive recording of the uninhabited lands, eventually leveraging that information to a create a string of 13 protected national parks. The effort damn near killed him. He has now taken his National Geographic salary on up to Alaska, contemplating a similar project that will cover the temperate rainforests of Alaska and British Columbia.


A strange spray of a powder-like substance that left an amazing feather pattern on the ground.


Hooked railroad tie bolt.


Square nut.



Yesterday, I undertook a 2-mile ramble under the elevated train tracks between Wellington Avenue and North Avenue, tracing a portion of the Red, Brown, and Purple lines. 

The train lines criss-crossing Chicago are ready-made transects, cutting through the urban condition and exposing the ragged infrastructural underbelly of the city. All sorts of organic architectural phenomena can be observed and documented along such a walk. This cross-sectional effect on the city, created by the slicing rails, is what makes a project like the High Line so compelling. 

Google, as I've discussed before, is busy recording an automated, interactive, endless transect of the whole world, using existing paths. As drones turn from weapons of war into boring commercial vehicles, I have no doubt that Google will attempt to transect the world in three dimensions. The tools already exist, they just have yet to be aggregated.

The rise of smartphones (one of which I recently acquired for the first time) has put all the recording tools of a professional transecter into the hands of amateurs. Besides photos and videos, there are now a number of measuring apps that allow for the generation of fairly accurate maps. I used a GPS-enabled tracking app that recorded a map of the walk. Ground-level obstacles intervene in several places as the El continues above, requiring several alley detours. 


R is for rails.


Right-of-way dead end at ground level.


Maintenance shack with spray-painted plywood welcome mat.


The machinery of your commute.


Where the El turns underground.

Instead of documenting flora and fauna along the transect, I discovered urban artifacts, photographed architectural phenomena, and recorded the rhythm of the passing trains. Unlike my alley walks, which are meandering and formless, I found myself making a deliberate line with my footsteps, cutting through the urban chaos. In the words of Paul Klee: "A drawing is just a line going for a walk."

And so I could imagine a series of walks, fitted to the landscapes in which they are executed, documented, saved, and presented. The focus would be on qualitative aesthetic objectives and the mental free-association that tends to occur when the mind is unshackled by curious forward motion.

Walking meditation has been practiced for centuries, and remains one route of access to the unconscious, interrupted only by the passing clatter of the train. 

And, in the words of Fay himself: "Thoreau wrote about ‘the genius of sauntering,’ of developing a talent for walking, of being persistent in walking, and completely disconnecting from the world,” Fay said by way of introduction. “He wrote, ‘He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all.’ He had the right idea, but he never reached nirvana, that heightened sense of awareness, which isn’t spiritual but physical and mental. It takes months to get there, but once you’re there, it’s a steady state."


Under-El elevations.








Some lines going for a walk (with regards to Paul Klee).


Urban artifacts.