Another Green World
Human history is a story of severance. We are cut off from the world. And in our mastery and ruination of it even more. The cave paintings say this, J.A. Baker says it, the proceedings of the Royal Society do too. There is no document of civilization that is not also a document of loss. We have been making elegies for ourselves as long as we have known ourselves as long as ourselves.
Photograph taken November 2017. The location was Nepshaw Lane in Morley, Leeds, a little-known short-cut that “in our day” was notorious as a ‘Lover’s Lane’. With the M621 roaring away on one side, and what used to be mostly empty fields and woodlands on the other, it was a secluded spot for doggers, fly-tippers and all manner of ne’er do wells, but that’s all changing. Every time I go back up north, I see the evidence of Leeds’ economic revival (a revival that started just as I moved away in the 1990’s) with every available scrap of land being built upon. Industrial units, housing estates, shops, car parks – a vast fungal sprawl of concrete that is burying much of what I used to know. I’m in danger of sounding like the George Bowling, the protagonist in Orwell’s Coming Up For Air, but it’s not just about a sense of personal loss but a reaction to the spectacle of rats, trapped in a maze, but instead of trying to get out of the maze, they try to make the maze bigger. There isn’t another green world out there somewhere. There’s only this one, and by turning it into something that severs us from it – which modern Western culture absolutely does – we’re stricken with a sense of loss that’s hard to articulate, but, as Tim Dee says in the above quote, in certain writings and art traces of that expression can be found, and they tell us something important.
An austere place, perhaps, withdrawn, some might say desolate. But the silence compels. It is very old silence. It seems to have been sinking slowly down through the sky for numberless centuries, like the slow fall of chalk through the clear Cretaceous sea. It has settled deep. We are under it now, we are possessed by it. When strangers come here, many will say, ‘It’s flat. There is nothing here.’ And they will go away again. But there is something here, something more than the thousands of birds and insects, than the millions of marine creatures. The wilderness is here. To me the wilderness is not a place. It is the indefinable essence or spirit that lives in a place, as shadowy as the archetype of a dream, but real and recognisable. It lives where it can find refuge, fugitive, fearful as a deer. It is rare now. Man is killing the wilderness, hunting it down.