The fundamental grammar of our relationships with trees changed. Before, 'growing' had been an intransitive verb in the language of woods. Trees grew, and we, in a kind of subordinate clause, took things from them. In the forest-speak of the Enlightenment, 'growing' was a transitive verb. We were the subject and trees the object. We were the cause of their existence in particular places on the earth.Mabey thinks that somewhere around the second half of the 17th century the way we refer to trees, the way we speak about trees and woodland, and therefore the way we think about trees, began to change. And that has changed the way we behave towards trees and how we value them.
I love my garden and the careful trimming and pruning of this and that. I love the joy that I get from a plant that rewards my efforts. But this is a very different experience to being somewhere like on the River Nene.
In our River Nene project Three Jos in a Boat, we have very much had the sense that we are in another world. A world of Nature. A place that we are not of. A place that has its own rules, rhythms and lives that continue regardless of and indifferent to our existence. A place where we have little influence.
Man's relationship to Nature (in our Western culture, anyway) has become separated - it is in the grammar we use, the way we speak about things. Man and Nature. Two different, separate, opposite nouns. In gardening and in agricultural practices we spend our time battling with Nature's way to make it work to our own rules.
Perhaps we need to change our use of language again.
(All the images in this post are a gift from the River Nene.)