Into the landscape

The combination of car use and ever more urban living means that most people have no sense of their place within the landscape they inhabit. Cities are as much in landscapes as anything else, but they tend not to invite people to think of themselves in relation to the soil. Car use takes our encounter with the land up to a pace where it is meaningless. There’s just too much that cannot be experienced and absorbed when you’re moving at speed, and the insulating effect of the small box doesn’t help much either. On this front, public transport is equally useless; also too fast and too distancing.

If you have no relationship with the land, then you get the disorientating effect of not really knowing where you are. This is me on the London Underground, unable to connect the map to anything happening in the street, and when on the street, disorientated by the sheer number of people, cars, streets and so forth. Put me in an unfamiliar forest and I have some tools to make sense and find my way around. Put me in an unfamiliar town and I can apply those same tools to often workable effect, but the bigger and busier the city, the less able I am to orientate myself within it, and part of that is due to the sheer amount of information coming at me every second.

To know an area on foot, starting from your own front door is to know it with your body. Any other body-paced mode of transport will have a similar effect, and even knowing a small area is of considerable value. This is a different kind of knowing, informed by the shape of the land, and the key features within it, a knowing that builds an inner map, and an understanding of how one focal point connects to another. Walking between the places where you do things places your life within a mapped landscape, and provides a kind of sense that is felt rather than intellectual. It is not just the space that makes more sense this way, but also the life, and that which is done in each place.

There is nothing stopping any of us from returning to the land. If the land is under tarmac, it is still the land. If you are not so mobile then just being still outside when and where you can helps you return to the land. The modern life we are so relentlessly sold, is a fast paced, rootless flurry; urgent, frantic and disconnected. To move slowly is to change that. To be on the ground, in whatever way you can be, is to be grounded. To move at a human pace is to become real to yourself and to bring coherence to your life.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

6 responses to “Into the landscape

  • Christopher Blackwell

    In a strange city it helps at each turning to look back the way you have come to see the land marks for the return trip. That was my method when I traveled in the UK all those years ago.

  • inanna

    i love this, nimue. i am fascinated by felt sense, embodied knowledge.

    i would add that while you’re right, of course, that public transport, like cars, speeds us through and past the land, my experience of being dependent upon it is that standing at bus stops in all weathers increases my intimacy with where i live. it would take a certain level of commitment to this way of knowing that you describe so eloquently to stand around in horrific english winter weather (and frequently equally awful spring and autumn weather!), but one has no choice if waiting for a bus. i know certain small patches of land as well as i know my own garden because of this, particularly because i am almost always accompanied by small children who require me to look at a snail, or a cloud. this in turn requires that i don’t just stand and wait. i’m often squatting, or balancing, and so my body really inhabits these odd, liminal spaces. thanks for calling the magic forth from my mundane life by making me think about all this! x

  • Naomi Jacobs

    I get incredibly frustrated by people who tell me they wish they lived in the country, where the real land is, because the city has no green spaces. That’s absolute rubbish. When I go out with my camera, people can’t believe I live in London – just because I look a bit more carefully. Most people are keeping their eyes shut and not seeing the wealth of life around them, including in the cities. This is also why I’m keen on embodied spirituality. We have to connect to the land with our *selves* – in whatever way those selves connect with the land. As a disabled person I do need to use a car and other transport, but I also have my electric scooter and I spend a lot of time wandering around the city on it. Just metres from my house is a huge park on a hill filled with wild meadows, and a short walk away there are canals and brooks, a river with more meadows around it, various ‘green walks’ that not many people seem to know about, heaths and commons, and many wonderful wild places to explore from graveyards to woods. And this is London. The wealth of life that some people have in their towns and cities is even more vast. We just need to open our eyes!

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