Walking the Territory
The aim of this project was to connect with the world around me – the history and geography, the ecology and community, as I believed that nothing wise compassionate or effective could be done without a deep understanding of what was here already.
Where I live now is a river valley. The Forth flows through it, still tidal at this point, meandering crazily at the foot of the Ochils. It’s milder here than places even a short distance away, because it’s low-lying and sheltered, and sometimes we have mists and sometimes floods. It’s very close to the city centre, but, as it is isolated by the river, it is secluded, and there are skies dark enough to see stars. One day we will be on an island in the middle of an ox-bow lake, but for now we are a semi-detached suburb, playing at being farming country. It’s good land, over devonian sandstone, a mixture of silt and clay – there were orchards here for centuries – and it’s a good place for wild-life, with a variety of habitats, woodland, hill, field, river and bog.
There is also my own smaller territory, the garden, which is about 1800 square feet, level, south-facing. It is bounded by a tall privet hedge on the west side, a lower hazel one on the south, and suburban larch fencing on the east. There are currently two trees, a rowan and a birch, lawn, borders and a pond. It has been gardened organically since we came, and is productive, but also over-run with ground elder, buttercups and bindweed.
Then, you can’t connect meaningfully with the earth, or with the wild, unless you can connect with the human community. I feel very strongly the importance of connecting with the past – my own family heritage in Ireland, but also with the history and traditions of where I live now, with the miners and artists and monks who used to live here and with the farmers, university students, the shop-workers and people who run B&Bs who live here now. The village used to play an important part in the history of Scotland, and it has buildings and memories to cherish.