Writing a view of the land

You’d think, that as a lover of landscape and a fiction enthusiast, I’d appreciate nothing more than a long, descriptive sections about a place, in a novel. Often I find the reverse is true, and these passages make me unhappy. For a long time, I’d not poked into that to make sense of the mechanics, but a recent reading juxtaposition has made it all make sense.

I’ve been reading David Abram’s Becoming Animal, and a great deal of work by Kevan Manwaring. I noticed over the winter that I greatly enjoy Kevan’s landscape writing, and that this is unusual for me. David Abram talks about how we treat landscape as scenery, and this helped me realise how much I struggle when descriptions of a landscape are largely, or purely visual. Often what happens when a writer describes a scene, is that you the reader are positioned as an observer. You’re stood outside, looking in, and the landscape is scenery. It’s the backdrop for the action.

Where Kevan Manwaring noticeably differs, is that his writing of landscape is immersive. He doesn’t position the reader as an outsider, but as someone actively engaged in the process of being in that landscape. The landscape is not scenery. It impacts of the experiences, thoughts, feelings and inner landscapes of characters. The human is permeated by the bigger picture. As a reader, I experience this much more intensely. I have a feeling experience of what it’s like to be in a place, even in the kinds of places I have no personal experience to bring to bear.

As a walker, I’ve long been interested in what happens to bodies in a landscape. How we experience the land varies, and depends in no small part on our expectation. The person who is waiting for the view is not immersed in the same way as the person who is excited by every turn of the path. The person who goes out to be in the landscape has a different experience from the person who is just going somewhere specific. How a person is in the landscape must therefore inform how they write about it. Too often we’re consumers and observers of the land, not participants in it. It’s a self-propagating cycle, because if we only read about scenery, we’re in a mindset that won’t help us appreciate being present, and if we’re not present, we’ll only ever notice scenery, we won’t immerse. It is possible to break out, but you have to think breaking out might be possible.

You can find Kevan Manwaring here – https://thebardicacademic.wordpress.com

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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

5 responses to “Writing a view of the land

  • John Davis

    Nimue….I also think, actually I know having done it myself, that if you go somewhere simply to experience a particular place…you often end up disappointed. Probably it’s because we go with a pre-conceived idea of what a place might be. This isn’t restricted just to landscapes either.
    In a similar vein, I can still vividly remember nearly 40 years ago sitting on a beach in the early morning in N.Wales….long long before I had any acknowledged sense of the druid path, it was just one of those wow times. A few months later I took my wife to this same place…and you know what, I had no sense of the awe of the moment that I’d had on my previous visit. The same feeling of being let down has happened when I’ve tried to relive a perfect meal in a perfect pub. Each occasion is unique and it is the interaction at that particular moment that makes it special….and repeatable.
    As you say, the full experience of a present moment is an immersive one.
    John/I\

  • John Davis

    Sorry…it should have been UNREPEATABLE at the end….drat prescriptive text! John /I\

  • Christopher Blackwell

    I watch the changes in my land and its critters. Last week it was the birds getting louder, signaling the mating season. Then it was,the ant holes starting to open up, and small crickets showing up in my sanctuary building.

    The bees have come out to the water dishes again, ending their winter hibernation. New grass shoots showing up and now the ants are doing spring cleaning and recreating the anthills.

    Still to come the buds swelling and opening up into flowers and leaves unfolding.

    Finally, the final sign of Spring, will be the return of the vultures from their Winter in Mexico. While not a pretty bird, and with horrible smelling breath from eating rotting carrion, they are nevertheless the most incredible gliders in the air, going for hours without moving a wing, and circling in up drafts to gain height. Now that is sheer beauty to see.

    That is the desert land that I live in.

    • Nimue Brown

      How amazing it is that so far away, in such a distant landscape, I’ve also noticed the birds are louder, I’ve seen ants and bees out and about, and while we don’t have vultures, we do have buzzards rising on the thermals, barely moving a feather to ride the wind…

      • Christopher Blackwell

        They just finished the local rock and gem show period, though I may still see sales for another week as a result, now that the dealers have made some money.

        As I was putting out the bird seed after opening my shop for the day, I noticed the first of the new leaves opening up.

        The early crops are up at the nearby farms. So the wheels of the year keeps moving on.

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