This is her little bit of heaven. She’s worked hard for it, sacrificed years of living to making the money that would pay for it. Or maybe she’s found it by chance, and it cost nothing at all. What she wants to do now is put a fence round it. A big fence, strong enough to keep anyone out who wants a piece of her lovely place. Perhaps it’s her sacred space. She is afraid that someone will take it from her, or ruin it. She knows that if other people come here, it will be ruined because that’s what people do.
Maybe you’re nodding your head just now. Maybe you have a special place too. One that needs loving and protecting. One you ache to build walls around.
Ownership of the land is all about putting fences around it and dictating who has access, and who does not. 60 odd years ago walkers protested about land owners keeping them off mountains. Public rights of way matter. No one, powerful person or corporation should own natural beauty and deny it to others. Here’s another story that may invite a few nods.
You’ve seen it – perhaps it’s a field, or a hill. A bit of woodland sloping down to the river. No paths go there. The road doesn’t even come close. From a distance, it calls to you, whispering that there is magic. Perhaps there’s an ancient site hidden amongst the leaves, an exquisite view, a hidden grotto. But there is no public right of way, so either you trespass, or you move on, because you do not have the right to be here.
Now where are we? Torn between a range of impulses, some to protect and nurture, some to keep private and secret. We also hanker after the secrets, the magic we are not supposed to have. And then there’s the fear, of what other people are like, and what they will do.
In my own life, the canal has become my home. When I first started boating, more than a year ago, the canal was my refuge, my sanctuary. And then a couple of weeks on, the sun came out and suddenly there were hordes of people, with dogs, children, bicycles, noise and banality all over ‘my’ space. And there were boaters, the sort who have hobby boats and a lot of money. ‘My’ canal wasn’t mine any more. I will confess that I was not best pleased about this. I felt that something precious had been snatched away from me.
But I do not own the canal, or the towpath, or the sun. Everyone else needs these things too. After a while I realised that these other people only come by day. In the evening, the space is mostly mine again, quiet, with only the more peaceful, less intrusive visitors. I came to terms with that. I also spend a lot of time hauling other people’s rubbish out of the water, and the undergrowth. There are people who do all the things you fear having happen to your space. When people bring their noise and the ugliness of their lives onto the towpath, leave their litter and dog mess, I hate it. But at the same time I have to ask, what happens if this space touches them, just a little bit? How much better is their life for being in this lovely space? Are they doing this because they simply do not know how to do anything else? What right have I to want them elsewhere? Am I in fact one of those people who, having found a good thing, wants to build a high fence around it?
Fences are human inventions. Nature does like thick, impenetrable undergrowth, challenging rock formations, swamps, and other things that prevent easy access and a direct route from point A to point B. Humans like fences, and not just around our property, but also around our communities, our beliefs, our relationships. Sometimes we’re so busy keeping the bad stuff out that we fail to notice mostly what we’ve done, is to lock ourselves in.
There are no druid temples, we have to go outside, to where there is no fence, or we feel safe climbing over one. But that desire to own sacred space, to control important sites is also with us. It’s worth pondering what we want to keep in and what we want to exclude, and why, and whether there’s any reality or consistency in the mix at all.