Monday, March 22, 2010

Experienced First, Second and Third Hand.

Today we waved good bye to Cumbria and the great congregation of dry stone walls circumscribing many of the farm fields in Great Langdale.

This has been 'hands-down', the best holiday we have had in a long time. I feel very privileged.
Unless you come from this place or have visited here, you might not understand what the overwhelming attraction of dry stone walls actually is. For me, experiencing again such a diversity and density of dry stone structures 'first hand' has recharged my batteries and made me determine afresh that, one way or another, my Canada should include stone walls.

Walking is definitely the way to see the Lake District. Everyone walks. Unlike Canada, where to go for a walk in the countryside, you often have to make your way along straight, dusty concession roads with cars and trucks constantly whizzing by, the meandering British footpaths by contrast make everything more accessible and hiking so enjoyable. It helps that the whole country has been designed (as if by by some uber-landscaper) on a pleasingly human scale. Even though everything is so much closer together, people walk not just to get somewhere, but as an end in itself. I think of the lyrics to the James Taylor song which affirms, "It's enough to be on your way," and realize that it is more than enough when you are surrounded by such beauty. Yes, there is the exercise you get, and many interesting things to see and talk about along the way, and then there are all the historic points of interest to get to, but essentially it is just the 'perambulation' that is the real attraction. Perhaps Ambleside in Cumbria was actually named in recognition of its pleasing accessibility by foot.

I try to imagine this Cumbrian landscape without the walls. Yes, it would still be dramatic and beautiful, but there would be an essential ingredient missing. The walls delineate and give perspective to a vista, otherwise inaccessible to those who pass this way once or twice, and would still require a lifetime to absorb if you lived here. Walls give proportion and scale to everything. These ribbons of stone draw our eyes across the hills and allow us to cover a greater area than we could ever reach by foot. In the same way as having our dog run ahead and splash through water we would never run through ourselves and flush out the birds and sniff out things off in the distance we might never have noticed, the walls act as a kind of extension of our being. They provide a kind of OBE. (out of body experience); not just part of the scenery but a geographical extension our hands and feet.

There is a kind of 'second-hand experience' contained in this Cumbrian landscape. We don't have to touch it 'first-hand' but merely let ourselves reflect on it from a distance. For those who slowly grasp how far these walls extend and the amount of work involved, a kind of affinity is established with the landscape. We join with others who have lived and worked and walked here in a collective appreciation for the intensity of labour that went into humanizing the environment, without destroying it, as so often can happen.

Is there a 'third-hand' experience here too? Like some sort of 'all-feeling' all-seeing third eye?
I can't dismiss the feeling that my hands have been given eyes to see beyond what is here.
There is a sense of getting 'in touch' again with something important, which so often is merely interesting, or perhaps monumental at best, There is a feeling of having passed this way before and somehow having gained wisdom.

The tradition of stone has been established here which sanctifies the vernacular. We find ourselves on a continuous pilgrimage pondering again and again the lingering, almost spiritual significance of a country of walls built by common people. This flowing tapestry of stone walls perhaps will never be understood.

1 comment:

  1. John I love the way you express your delight with the Cumbrian landscape.It makes me want to revisit the area now.