There’s been a resurgence of old skills in this time of quarantine and isolation.
For some it’s clearly bread-making or cooking. You still can’t find yeast in shops here. Or knitting. Jigsaw puzzles seem ubiquitous, if that can be called a skill.
For other, including myself, it’s some of the old habits of trying to get into nature that are sustaining and even more necessary than usual.
Not necessarily wild nature either; the sandy path along the edge of Port Phillip Bay near my house has enough variety and interest to make it fulfilling and refreshing every time. It needn’t be birds of creatures you see. Often, for me, it’s the shape of the sea: its crinkled or fretted surfaces, the wind swirling across it in dark knots. Sometimes its the clouds and the light behind them. And often is just the light and what it does to transform and sustain.
So, it was nice to find a new podcast from English nature writer Melissa Harrison, aptly called The Stubborn Light of Things which is an attempt to chronicle some of her walks in the nature around her English cottage. As she says, ‘I am lucky enough to be able to walk out of my cottage straight into Suffolk’s beautiful open countryside. As spring breaks over the British Isles, and summer settles in, I’ll be taking a recorder out with me on my daily walks to document the wonder and richness of the natural world and bring it into as many homes as I can.’
I’ve listened to one episode, and it made me think about getting better at documenting the changes in my local landscape through the seasonal changes. She actually had me at her referencing of Gilbert White and the seminal Natural History of Selborne, (1789) a long time favourite of mine, so much so that a visit to the village and White’s house but her guest on the first episode made a point about noticing that I took to heart. When did the summer finally shift away? When do the tomatoes no longer ripen? What is the light doing. I’m going to try to take even more notice.
Top: the light of things through the grapevine in Autumn. Bottom: Gilbert White’s house in Selbourne Photos: Warrick
I read about this book on Laurie Duggan’s Graveny Marsh blog so I’m more than happy to admit that I hadn’t heard of R.F. Langley or his work before. And, it was Duggan’s comparison of Langley to one of my favourite books, Gilbert White’s The Natural History of Selborne that piqued my interest. Duggan writes:
On Saturday afternoon the Swedenborg Hall hosted a memorial reading for Roger Langley who died in January. I had the pleasure of hearing him read a couple of years back with Peter Riley at Dulwich College. His slim Collected Poems came out with Carcanet in 2000, and a further volume, The Face of It, appeared from the same publisher in 2007. Shearsman published a selection from his Journals in 2006. These in themselves are extraordinary and apparently only a fraction of the whole. The writing is as good as Gilbert White’s. The reading was evidence enough of the regard in which Langley’s work is held.
So, I ordered it and it duly arrived and I’ve enjoyed the bit that I’ve read so far. I like the idea of a journal, and especially a journal that is focused on the natural world and alive and alert to the local and the weather and the rain and the birds. Langley’s journal is like that. I also like the way it leads to poetry, and that Langley is a poet. I bought a copy of some of his poems, The Face of It too.
I also like that Langley was a high school teacher all his life and his journals and his writing life don’t shirk from that. His December 1 1970 entry begins:
An hour earlier today, thanks to a two period afternoon. Children in the garden at Ivy Cottage, hidden behind hedges, talking, the rank smoke from the chimney smelling like it did last night, fanning, turning down into the road, puffing through chinks below the chimney coping…
and from 11 December 1970:
Friday. Detention duty. Late back. All the walk in the dark …
See, it says. You can be a teacher all your life and have an inner life too. That one doesn’t preclude the other. That the world is still out there, after detention duty.
I was interested in an article by Paul Cliff in the most recent THYLAZINE, about Les Murray’s relationship with the land, and introducing (for me) the concept of Bioregionalism, a term I found connected with some of my own thinking about art and landscape and earlier reading I’d done such as WALDEN and NATURAL HISTORY OF SELBORNE. Bioregionalism is defined as:
The bioregional perspective has political, economic and social dimensions which value: regional and communal scale; conservation, self — sufficiency and cooperation; decentralisation and complementarity; and symbiosis and organic evolution. A bioregional approach can be viewed under four heads: Scale (endorsing life at the level of region and community — as opposed to the ‘Industrial Scientific’ paradigm of state and nation/world); Economy (valuing conservation, stability, self-sufficiency, and cooperation — as opposed to exploitation, change/progress, the world economy and competition); Polity (favouring decentralisation, complementarity and diversity — as opposed to centralisation, hierarchy and uniformity); and Society (working via symbiosis, evolution, division — as opposed to polarisation, growth/violence and monoculture) 3.
Another, simpler definition of the bioregionalist approach comes from a current American web site 4. This defines bioregionalism as:
a fancy name for living a rooted life. Sometimes called ‘living in place’, bioregionalism means you are aware of the ecology, economy and culture of the place where you live, and are committed to making choices that enhance them.