Where is the Wild?

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Posted on July 15, 2013

Written a month ago:

high fell Sun swept grasses on the high fell

Today is the last full day in Dentdale. Here we have been spoilt. One one side, we have access to high fells, where grouse may fly up from long grass in an instant of surprise, and the views up and down the valley carry play of shadows and change of weather. In the other direction we have been just a few strides from a river bed whose face greets the canopy above in guises determined by the weather; either bare pale and smooth, or hidden under rushing cold water. We’ve had equally easy access to woodlands, and to fields that have been smothered by snow but now are covered in buttercups, clovers, daisies and yellow rattle. All this with a constant backdrop of bird song, braying of sheep, and gentle lowing of steers and heifers.

Despite being a managed landscape, the land has felt more wild than all the other spots I have settled in. I have wondered if that is because of the way it changes so much in reflection of the weather ... maybe this is so. And then it occurred to me that because I have been equally able to find the wild in my garden, in a single plant pot on a balcony of a council flat, or in a corner of sky framed by a small window between angular buildings, that the wild dwells, in some ways at least, in the manner of seeing, the place from which the seeing comes. In the seeing, as much as the seen, we can find the ‘wild’. (And maybe you could interpret the 'wild' as the natural flow of life.) When there is a certain connection between seer and seen that's open and is happening completely in the moment, the wild is expressed.

In the next place there will be new opportunities for exploration, countless chances to look and to see, to listen and to hear, to breathe in scents, to walk a path on land that's so far unfamiliar. I have no doubt the wild-ness of simple curiosity will drive my steps and open up new revelations.

Written this weekend, after moving
I look back and see that these were my thoughts as I departed from Dent. Four weeks have sped by in a whirl of activity. And now, slowly, very slowly, I am getting to know the land around the new house. And I wonder how much the halcyon days in Dent coloured my expectations, romanticised my view of the land.

A few trees survive A few trees survive

Around me are fields. The word field has its roots in ‘felled’. It is an area of land where trees once grew - cleared for agricultural use. In the fields around me, most of them given over to cows, the absence of trees is like a nakedness – not the innocence of new life, but an emptiness, a lack of something integral. For miles, the land is almost free of trees; those that have survived the felling tend to mark field boundaries. And, because over the last four weeks the days have been sunny and still, there has been no wind to race across the grass and buffet the clouds, no rain to carry fresh smells over the hills.

Hedges on field boundaries - trees saved from felling Hedges on field boundaries - trees saved from felling

I feel as if the wild has been teased out and pushed away. It’s as if it dwells over the other side of the hillock rising to the east, in the Howgills and beyond; it dwells in the higher reaches of the Lakeland fells where gradient, rock, course grasses and weather determine the choice of man to hand it back to nature. Sure, there has been felling on the higher land over the years and there is room for much more tree growth in the fells – but at least there you may find cotton grasses, grouse, mosses, wild grasses, sky larks ...

I digress. I am impatient sometimes, in the summer. I love the heat, but the windless bright returning day after day helps to homogenise the land.

It is time to walk at dusk along the old hawthorn hedge lines and explore the fallen ash; to wander further and find meadows; and to seek out, on bike or in a car if necessary, shady riparian strips of land and open hill; to swim in rivers; quite simply, to get my fix. My kind of wild is one where nature runs amok and there is variety, diversity. I am heading to the woodlands.

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