Wednesday, 16 November 2011

River locale

I have been reading an article by Michael Bonnett ("Environmental Concern, Moral Education and Our Place in Nature" - see Philosophy of Education Research Seminars programme).

He begins by talking about our relationship with nature, and that there are two ways that it can be thought of:  nature as something separate from ourselves which presents us with a problem (limited resources) that we have to intelligently deal with in order to continue living the way we want to; or, nature is something that now demands that we fundamentally change how we think about how we live and even question what is a good way to live.
hawthorn berries

As the article develops, he begins to talk about walking, my own favourite mode of transport and current fascination!  Here it is again, that idea that many other writers have spoken about, and I have been experiencing, that walking makes you more aware of your surroundings, begins to attune you to natural phenomena around you and gives you a deeper sense of connection with your environment.  Bonnett talks about "our felt sense of place", that nature's presence is something we feel, our sense of our own place in nature is not just an abstract idea about eco-systems, but something that we have a relationship with because it exists in the very location that we exist in.  He calls it a sense of emplacement. 

I like this.  He talks about the walker being open to sensory experience, setting off with a "keen attentiveness" to anything that he might encounter.  This has been my experience when walking along the River Nene.  I have started making pen and ink drawings of some of the details that catch my attention as I walk.  The flora that is specific to the locale of the river.  I have started to become fascinated by the structure of natural things, or architecture as I like to think of it.  But I want to think more about the sense of nature as a system against this more localised idea of experiencing things as you are in them...

... you see my other fascination is maps and maps are a way of trying to create a system, linking things together, making sense of and creating a coherent network of elements.  So maps are a lot like trying to identify an eco-system.  Some people are of the opinion that eco-systems are an entirely invented notion by humans who obsessively try to find order in chaos.  Yes, we do, but we also recognise certain types of order or structure (or architecture) in nature when we observe it.

When I am on the river, it is the sense of the locale, or the immediate and present place, that I feel, not the sense of the map or structure within which the river also exists.  When boating, you are aware that the river is navigable and that there are points of navigation that link one place to another.  However, in a narrow boat anyway, you are travelling around about walking pace, and that slowness allows you to exist located in the present moment, the present locale.  So you do have a sense of both things at the same time.

So the map of the river that I will create will need to do both -  a number of specific, localised points (or sketches) that have that sense of immediate locale, but also the overarching linear network within which they are all joined.  And in this way the river journey is different from other journeys, because it is linear.  It could work as a narrative.  There are no criss-crossing waterways on this stretch of river that you can decide to turn off on or route somewhere else.  You either go up river or down.  You have to pass each point in turn, no skipping, each locale demands its time from you.  Just go with the flow...

The river map is part of a project with three Jos, see an update from the other two Jo's about "Riverlands" here.

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