What Is It We’re Not Seeing?

The title of this post comes from Kathleen Jamie’s book Sightlines, which is one of the best reading experiences I’ve had lately. The others are Rachel Boast’s Sidereal Which I’m reading very slowly so I don’t finish it too soon, and the new magazine Earthlines which is published by Two Ravens Press, and which is probably the most interesting and certainly the classiest magazine to be published this year. It is very beautifully produced with some great artwork (and word is that the next issue is going to be even better), and there is a wide range of earth-based writing in it, from the political to the anecdotal, the lyrical and evocative to the philosophical.

I don’t want to do a proper review here – though I can haertily recommend it, if you’re swithering. What I want to do is to muse a little about something that has gradually crept up on me during the time I’ve been thinking green thoughts.

It’s about wildness. There seems to be a kind of Gothic craving for derelict ravaged and uncharted country, a demand for a world that is comfortless, if not savage, that defies hope and sentimentality, that likes to disappoint. And this brings to a head something I first thought back in the nineties, when there were people chained to trees to prevent motorways from being built. I’m not entirely sure that the green thing is about nature at all. There is something else going on.

Actually, there are quite a lot of things going on. Sometimes women turn to a caring mother nature because they are neglected in their personal lives. Sometimes men turn to nature so as to stick it to the man (back in the day, it was often, quite literally, their fathers). And of course, vice versa, because there are men who feel unfulfilled emotionally and women who need to take control of an appressive situation. Please note that I don’t think that these are self-indulgent fantasies. People are addressing real and urgent needs in their political as well as their personal lives.

Then there are some people who look for experiences of wildness because it makes them feel privileged and special. It’s a kind of gnosis, an initiation. It doesn’t always follow that these people despise the barbarian hordes who don’t have the same good luck, but sometimes they do – and sometimes they back it with the trappings of professionalism and expertise. Sometimes people are looking for peace and harmony, a sense of balance that is missing from industrial or urban life. And sometimes it is freedom to express a part of one’s personality that civilised society doesn’t accommodate very easily.

What we’re not seeing, in all our rush to be green and eco-centric, is the long shadow we cast over what we are looking at. I really don’t have a problem with said shadow. We cast it because we need to see it. We need to know it’s there. But it’s our shadow. We find it because we’ve brought it, as Sam says in The Lord of the Rings. We should probably be cautious about how we ascribe this stuff to nature.

I remain an eco-poet. I write about nature all the time, and I don’t intend to stop any time soon. Perhaps I need to ask myself what I am projecting. What is it that I’m not seeing?

4 Comments

  • Floss says:

    I read a review of this book today – Amazon sent it to me, interestingly! I like the questions you are asking here. Your conclusions so far make sense. Doesn’t Hardy talk about dreadful wildernesses, describing places we now find beautiful? Does he even discuss the change in the way people were beginning to see them? I can see I need to re-read… The point there is that 18th century rural farmers hated wilderness but industrialised city-dwellers a century later idealised it. You have given me a lot to think about.

  • Wow! It was Hardy I was thinking about when I wrote this post. he reckoned that as we all became more urbanised and life got gentler, we would crave greater desolation and harshness in the landscape, and reckoned that Iceland would become really trendy – which it has. Also a writer called Anne Scott who pointed out that many women die of isloation and overwork in the wild places their menfolk find so irresistible.

  • Floss says:

    Ah – how interesting! Alarmed by the idolation and overwork thing, though… I can tell you Ben would move to an uninhabited Scottish isle given half the chance.

  • So would Paul! One of the interesting thing about the women’s dimension of geopoetics is that they are bringing in all the missing factors – relationships, emotions, history, and community – without getting too folksy or sociological or fantasy-bound. It’s still earth-centered, but much more human.

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