Writing the landscape

How the landscape is written about is something I’m exploring at the moment. That which we do not talk about, we tend not to value. If we don’t have words, or a language for something, then often we don’t pay as much attention to it anyway. With our landscapes threatened by all manner of ill conceived development, with rising urbanisation and a generation of children who are more familiar with Daleks than magpies, it seems important to me not only to talk about the land, but to make sure I’m doing that well.

My natural default when I don’t know an answer to something large, is to read books. At the moment I’m reading as much Gloucestershire orientated material as I can, because it helps to know the place being described. I started the conscious leg of this journey with Robert McFarlane’s Landmarks (even though he’s not from round here!) and I have a growing ‘to read’ list.

Adam Horovitz’s “A Thousand Laurie Lees” follows in the footsteps of “Cider with Rosie” to tell of a childhood in beautiful Slad valley, and growing up there. It goes beyond the first book not only for being later (published on the centenary of Lee’s birth) but for being much more conscious of the relationship between the writing and the land. Cider with Rosie changed Slad. It brought tourists, second home owners and an array of arty people – Adam’s parents included – until the celebrity arts thing going on in Slad became an attraction in its own right and even lured the press out.

Alongside this, Laurie Lee used his status and the power of his book to protect his valley from development. Since his death, people have continued to evoke him; a protective spirit whose written vision of glorious childhood paints a glow over the valley that even hard nosed developers are a bit awed by. Slad is not uniquely beautiful, it has the same kind of charm, heritage and loveliness of all the valleys carved into the Cotswolds around here, only this one has a book to protect it, and others do not.

When a person sets out to write a book, there is no way of knowing what impact that book will have. It’s worth thinking about, anyway. What will be the impact of Adam Horovitz’s lyrical revisiting of this iconic place? I will have to go and look for the lost village he mentions. Who else will be moved to do what, there is no knowing, but like Cider with Rosie before it, this is a book with the potential to both record and change how people relate to a place.

It’s important, I think, that both “A Thousand Laurie Lees” and “Cider with Rosie” are as much autobiographies as they are books of place. Land and life are inextricably linked. Our formal history is surprisingly uninterested in where things happened, and treats geography as separate from history. And yet the geography here shapes the history – the steep sided valleys with their streams allow certain things and thwart others, and always have. The marks of historical mining and agriculture are in the land – life lived alters the landscape, and landscape shapes the life.

The relationship between who we are, and where we are, is something I want to consider further.

Find out more about “A Thousand Laurie Lees” here – http://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/index.php/a-thousand-laurie-lees-23975.html/

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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

7 responses to “Writing the landscape

  • sylvaingrandcerf

    “It’s important, I think, that both “A Thousand Laurie Lees” and “Cider with Rosie” are as much autobiographies as they are books of place. Land and life are inextricably linked.”

    Interesting thought and one that, from a scientific and environmental perspective, is completely contrary to much contemporary thinking. I believe that this is where much of the environmental protection process has gone wrong – this goal of eliminating the human from the environment (ie. nature will thrive when the human impact is gone). A Canadian aborignal friend changed my perspective on conservation when she said that indigenous cultures cannot perceive of the forest without people in it. The forest is the place of the people.

    This is not to say that it is false to believe that humans have a tremendous impact on nature and that removing the impact allows healing but really the healing must occur on the land and within us as well. The separation we have imposed is a false and imaginary one. We are inextricably linked.

    • Nimue Brown

      Very much with you on this – the idea that nature is something we are not – I don’t think we can win, starting from there. that and the idea that the only proper nature is the pristine, human free landscape…. which fails to recognise that nature has evolved alongside us over enormous time frames. And then of course the ‘not pristine’ landscape seems fair game for further exploitation because it’s ‘not real nature’.

  • landisvance

    I am also interested in the ways in which landscape shapes us. I choose to live in the mountains because mountain people are different from others. While they tend to breed a fierce independence they also foster, in most, an awareness of interdependence as well as the knowledge of one’s place. You can’t be prideful in the mountains for any length of time because one is too small and survival is hard work.

  • Faythe.

    Yes yes yes! I love this. So well put. Land and life are inextricably linked. Who we are is built upon our relationship to the land – not to other people, or to our stuff, but to where we grew from the ground up. Is a tree rooted in other trees, or in the ground?
    Learning to write about the landscape is something I’m very interested in right now. Thank you for this.

  • lornasmithers

    The notion of writers becoming ancestral presences in some sense invoked as custodians of the landscape has struck me in visits to Wordsworth’s old homes at Rydal Mount and Dove Cottage and to his grave, and also something I’ve thought about in connection to Ted Hughes and the Yorkshire landscape. They’re kind of guardian presences, but also bring in tourists…

    When I went with my local poetry society to Rydal Mount it was almost like a pilgrimage and felt very much worship of a spiritual ancestor (although they wouldn’t have admitted it!). Some interesting thoughts raised here.

    Also, more depressingly, the notion one needs to be famous and powerful for their words to protect their locality…

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