Relating to the land

There are fashions in terms of how we relate to landscape. That’s been an odd concept to wrap my head around. I’ve become a reader of landscape writing over the last few years – partly because I love landscape and want to know what other people think. Partly to learn more about what I’m seeing. Partly because I have a very low opinion of authors who write without reading in the same area of thought. It is from this reading that I’ve learned about fashions in landscape appreciation.

Of course the first thing to note is that we don’t have a complete written history of landscape appreciation. Insight into historical thinking comes from travellers and early tourists – people with money and the means and time to write letters. We have the cheerful adventurer colonialist climbing mountains no one has ever climbed before, going into unknown lands. The people who live there and knew about it all along do not count. 3rd Englishman up the Matterhorn counts, but the native assistants don’t, by this peculiar way of seeing things. Had they climbed before it was fashionable? I don’t know.

Poor people tend not to write letters about their hobbies to distant friends who keep and/or publish said letters. They don’t tend to write poetry, or memoires, or how-to books, either. There’s a glorious exception in the form of peasant poet John Clare, whose love of landscape flows through page after page of observation. Was he a lone freak? Or were other men following the plough while meditating on the curve of the soil, or making verses to honour the skylark? Or women for that matter – because most of the writing that makes up history comes from men. Teaching women to write was not always the done thing, and illiterate women leave no notes on their opinions for historians to find. There is a silence then, surrounding how most people related to landscape most of the time.

Folk tales and folk songs, legends and place names can suggest very rich cultures of landscape. Unusual landscape features tend to attract tales – how many giant stones around the country are attributed to the Devil? Barrows attract ghost stories, half remembered fragments of history become legends. The thing about the people who work the land is that they tend to stay on the land, generation after generation. Things get passed down. One of the most interesting examples of this I’ve found is in Alan Garner’s The Voice That Thunders, where a story of a farmer from Mobberly who takes his horse to sell in Macclesfield but has a strange run in with a wizard, turns out to be an aural mapping of a route through prehistoric settlements. Map making isn’t always about marks on paper – they can be narratives of key features in the landscape, as with the old Parish boundaries.

The history of landscape appreciation, as written, tends to be about rich people delighting in charming novelties and the picturesque and other such ideas – more of that later. These are the views of people for whom landscape is an object to enjoy, or to find lacking. The view exists to please. A person living closer to the land is bound to have a different perspective – valuing what can be used, valuing places with ancestral connections and yes, I expect finding aesthetic pleasure too, but not necessarily having a language to express it in, or anyone making notes who would take that expression seriously.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. 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 “Relating to the land

  • Faythe.

    Exquisitely and eloquently said. You’ve put to words the tragic lack of landscape writing from the common wo(man). Taking my daily walk up the bluff behind my current residence in Alaska, I often look at the alternating forests and houses around me, and wonder it looked like to the humans of old, who had words but not writing.
    I read every one of your posts and don’t often comment – but I just wanted to say that you have an incredible gift of insight, and the gift to find the words to evoke the same emotion in another.

  • Scott Tizzard

    Near where I live there exists the Badlands of Alberta, Canada in which the town of Drumheller is located along with the Royal Tyrrell Museum. When you enter this desert-like valley, you descend in elevation to the floor of the valley through which the Red Deer river flows. The fascinating part of the descent is that you are literally moving through millions of years of time. The floor of the valley is the same geological land upon which dinosaurs walked during the late Jurassic and early Cretaceous periods. As a result of the power of natural erosion and weathering, this land where no human originally walked is exposed. Amongst the scatterings of fossilized forest remnants, and dino bones, one can also find fully articulated skeletons of ice age bison, too. Layers upon layers of time exposed as lines int he earth. It is interesting to note that our First Nations Peoples (Aboriginal) included this place in their myths. European settlers once mined coal from this valley. Today, this land is surrounded by agriculture; mostly wheat. In this place, time and a variety of cultural stories intersect in a very unique and non-linear fashion. The song of this land is, however, mostly prehuman. To walk on the same land as dinosaurs, now reduced to stone memories of a world long gone, invokes deep thoughts of the wyrd of humanity.

  • Christopher Blackwell

    I tend to notice oddities in landscape. North of me is a raised cliff of rhyolite that I used to pass several times a year. the upper part was very thing and made you think of a stage set. My own mountains are quite different from each other, the more massive formed up and down of eroded layers of sedimentary rock some of it old enough the have sea fossils in it and and natural bridge between two peoples that makes it look like the eye of a wolf head one peak becoming the ears, and the other one becoming the snout. The other mountain laid out more level of layers of rhyolite with a section that broke loose and slid half way down the mountain which is only 39 million years old, and is the reason why the thundereggs found there will have layers of of either opal or jasper that build up slightly off kilter, having been laid down at different points of the slow slide down the mountain. The mountains are far enough away from other mountains that the animals and plants living on a given mountain may well vary noticably from the same type of animals and plants living on another, they are literally islands in the desert. At one time the deserts were grassland in the 19th century, in ancient times, huge lakes surrounded by forests, and still farther back in time, inland seas.

  • Leeby Geeby

    Well written. Thankfully the internet has blown open that socio-economic barrier to landscape appreciation. Interesting insight. Thank you for sharing!

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