Walking without conquest

We did not go to the top of the hill, and as we skirted the side, the thought came to me ‘feminist walker does not conqueror the summit’. Exploration and adventure can often involve the language of conquest. There can be something decidedly macho about the bid for the top, or for covering the distance. Look back at older explorers and adventurers, and there’s a language of penetration, as the man takes the landscape, and the landscape is female. This is something H. Rider Haggard took to a wilfully absurd extreme in King Solomon’s Mines (the mountains that are the breasts of Sheba, and the treasure cave are, when you look at the map, pretty unsubtle).

It’s easy to have even the tamest of walks turn into something that is about achievement, in a way that has a really interesting impact on our relationship with the land itself. The top of the hill is just as much about reaching the summit and looking down on everything as the top of a mountain might be. Not that there’s anything wrong with climbing things or getting to the highest point. The issue is how motives and intent affect experience. There is more to a hill than reaching the top of it, but if we’re only interested in the summit, we may miss a lot of things along the way.

This is perhaps doubly interesting  as an issue for Pagans. Many of us see land, or the Earth as a whole, in terms of goddess. Mother Earth, Gaia; if we understand this as her body, then how we walk upon it, is worth thinking about. Are we here to penetrate the forest, or the cave? Regardless of gender, we can cast ourselves in really macho roles in relation to our journeys.

It’s a different process to walk as someone who is interested in seeing how the landscape unfolds. Being someone for whom each wrinkle, each bump and curve, is important, and engaging. To be someone who seeks out not just the pretty, picturesque faces but is willing to walk through old industrial sites and new ones, along main roads, under motorways – this too is the land. The land does not always wear the face of a beautiful virgin goddess – if previous visitors have ravaged her, she may bear scars and open wounds, lines of sorrow, and she may seem hostile.

If we simply go to take, if we walk to possess and to be gratified, seeking only what is most pleasing to us, caring only for the face of the land where other humans have not bruised that face with careless treatment, we are still colonialists. Regardless of personal gender, we are still the man in the pith helmet who wants to penetrate virgin forests to bring back prizes. We don’t have to be that. We can walk in sympathy. We can walk with empathy and with a desire to know and understand, to be present rather than to conquer. Then we find that the side of the hill has its own precious qualities, different from the summit but no less worthy, and everything changes.

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 “Walking without conquest

  • sildil

    As always, spot on – thanks for this it’s very timely for me.

  • Martina Ramsauer

    The process is the goal! Thank you for this beautiful post.

  • Laurel

    I totally agree. The natural world has magic for us everywhere we look, in every fine detail, not just in the places to be “overcome.” I love the part on walking with empathy. Thanks for this post!

  • crowjudith

    Beautiful extended metaphor—– full of meaning”

  • Christopher Blackwell

    I spent several years in Los Angeles, which can have great beauty, and great ugliness side by side. But one can find beauty is surprising places, including in the midst of great ugliness. That makes the beauty even that much more precious, as you wonder how did it come to be there and how does it survive.

    I have see buildings that were far more impressive, ad beautiful as ruins than they ever were as whole and complete buildings. I suspect this may be the case for many of our larger cities, that they will make exceptional ruins once nature partly reclaims them and they provide habitat for plants and animals.

    New York City has started helping the process when it discovered that some of its abandoned elevated railways were starting to grow native plants and began to turn them into extended parks over two miles long by providing pathways and replant with natural plants that did well there already. It has become a surprisingly popular walk way because it crosses streets and keeps people away from traffic. Business has began to grow in these former warehouse and former industry areas to take care of the needs of the public that uses these new parks.

    Meanwhile in new construction we have the potential to include plant and animals habitats into our plan including farming both indoor and outdoor farming. There is no longer any need to keep city and countryside completely separate, and can bring it back into the city as well.

  • contemplativeinquiry

    Great post Nimue. I feel the same way.

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