?

Log in

entries friends calendar profile AT: Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn Previous Previous Next Next
Magic, Nature, Wilderness: A Reply to Avus - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
wemyss
wemyss
Magic, Nature, Wilderness: A Reply to Avus

ARCADIAN RESOURCES: The Persistence of Pastoral

avus, grandfatherly, twinkling old Dumbledore that he is, has recently written – you will I trust have seen it, as it was featured in The daily_snitch of the 28th June – an essay: or, really, notes towards an outline of a prolegomena for an essay: on the various magics in the Potterverse. This came hard upon the heels of discussions he and I had had in comments on a post of mine, regarding the British love of the Garden as an archetype, of Arcady, as contrasted to the American profession that ‘in wildness is the saving of the world’. (That, by the way? Rubbish.) Allow me to set the stage by quoting at what is quite likely tedious length (on my part) from those exchanges:

AVUS: You’re making what, to me, is a very British point. You folks are awash in history, your history, in a way a Yank can never be. We, on the other hand, are awash in technology (gag!) or nature (my preference). In a way, by visiting your country, I saw my own more clearly (though could only, of necessity, glimpse yours). In the same way, in reading your writing on magic, I see my own more clearly, but am hanging on by my finger tips to yours.

We both treat, very seriously, the ethics & origins of magic, the responsibilities which flow from this, and the broadening of a humane approach. But you come to it from such a different – and delightfully different; I love differences – understanding.

Your England is a land of people, above and below ground – its history a history of people. We’re a wilder folk out here, taking our music less from 15th c. harmonized patriotic hymns & war, and from Handel, than from the music of wind in the pines, and thunder echoing from mountains near three miles high from sea-level, and the hummingbird’s wings, the fox’s cries. You give a wonderful description of dairy cattle (my wife was raised on a dairy farm, still horse-farmed). Our distinctive cattle, what causes my blood to stir, are the long-horns. And we try to get out to the wild horse preserve each year, which borders on wilderness – on land that stretches for dozens of miles and more, seeing nothing that couldn’t be seen 2,000 years ago and with pathways made largely by animals. [Note by WEMYSS: try Exmoor.]

Do you see? Your magic comes from people & their craft. Mine from the land and its living wildness. Let me copy a quote from the draft of my Ch 25, not quite at rough draft stage. It’s from Thoreau’s Walden:

We need the tonic of wildness, to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground. At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and titanic features, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thunder cloud, and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces freshets. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.

We’re both doing the same thing, but how I transgress our limits and how you do, I sense, are Yank & Brit.

WEMYSS: I perhaps tend to forget that ‘wildness’ and ‘wilderness’ are to many Americans something more than the Coleridge-infused effusions of Romantics and Transcendentalists, of Thoreau and John Muir. (Coleridge, of course, was from Ottery St Catchpole – I mean, Ottery St Mary. Doubtless a Weasley collateral.)

The thing is, I think, that the English tradition is the Classical pastoral, in which Arcady is not Snowdonia or the Highlands but a landscape bearing the impress of man, a place safe from wilderness or at least wild-ness. The American Romantic tradition is derived, ultimately, from the extreme Protestant immersion in the Old Testament, lions and desert prophets and Job’s confronting and questioning the whirlwind.

That said, on a more mundane level, I wanted to avoid suggesting any Peter-Pantheist bollocks about magical theory and the earth and ley-lines and all that shower, not [only] because I personally think it a load of old, well, never mind, but [also] because the all-too-common fanon motif of a ‘pagan’-ised Potterverse annoys me immeasurably as being wilfully uncanonical.

AND WEMYSS AGAIN: Robert Graves claimed that Winston, when First Lord in the 1914 War, told Graves, then a subaltern, ‘But war is the natural occupation of man! War – and gardening!’ Very Churchillian, and, I suppose, very English.

As I noted, I have never not disclosed having been a peace-time soldier of no particular attainments. (I simply don’t mention such identifying elements as what regiment, troop, battery, or other unit – you see how cagey I am – I served with, or its precedence in seniority.) I am no veteran of conflict, unlike my father and his generation (and every preceding one, I imagine), but I do stand in a family tradition that is also the national tradition in parvo. The Channel, unlike the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, has not save in poetry been a real ‘moat defensive’ in some time, after all: which may explain the English preference for manicured lawns in a very peaceful Arcady in contrast to wilderness.

To that last point, allow me to quote also some reflections I put, fanfictionally, in the mouth, or interior monologue, of a post-War, pro-Order Blaise Zabini:

When he was younger, even having from the first rejected the Dark, he had thought the English, as incarnated in Dumbledore and Potter, insular, small-minded, ingenuous, and rather primitive. He had never longed to be at Durmstrang, of course, Unplottable in its snowy fortress, variously thought to be located in the Carpathians, the Tatras, or the Jotunheim mountains. But even after his first, tentative relationship with Justin – scandalously, a Muggle-born and a Hufflepuff – had begun, he had dismissed the English and their island. They thought so highly of their small hillocks and minor mountains, their trim parklands and what they thought was wilderness. For a young man who regularly spent summer hols with family scattered from Venice to Trieste, from Monfalcone to Sankt Pölten and Vienna, who had cousinage scattered in Gemona del Friuli, Tolmezzo, Cavazzo Carnico, Udine, Pozzuolo del Friuli, Villa Opicina, Villach, Maribor, Sopron, and Stockerau – as a family, the Zabinis and their collaterals had never quite recovered from the Habsburgs’s fall – the English, and the tight and tidy, homely, little island they were so proud of, were faintly ludicrous. What were even the Cairngorms and the Pennines and Wild Wales to him, who knew the Alps and the Alto Adige, the Tyrol and the Dolomites? What was Malfoy Manor against their Venetian palazzi? The English were at one with their prized and petted land: middling and mild, incapable alike of dizzying heights and still more dizzying depths.

Well, he knew better now. He had seen depths more dizzying than any that mere geography could show, and the worst of evils wearing the cloaks and masks of a Venetian ball, evil that clad itself in the sophistication he had thought was his birthright and beyond the plodding English. And he had learnt in a hard school to value the simple, solid, stolid strengths of the English character – the British character, he corrected himself, recalling the stern Scots virtues and the Irish willingness to charge all Hell with a bucket of water, the Welsh indomitableness and the special, something-to-prove, Test-match resolve in the descendants of Indian and West Indian alike, in the Patil twins and in Dean – he had learnt to cherish the strength and virtue that inhered in homely insularity and the fierce, the Roman, commitment to the household lars, the hearth and the home.

Having looked into the maw of Hell, he had a new appreciation for the simple virtue of the quiet, understated British. In wedding himself to Justin, he had wedded himself to the solid best of England, in all its stodgy glory. He looked up: Harry and Justin were coming back into view and hearing, Harry droning away about Easter and church music. ***

Blaise caught Justin’s eye, and melted. This, this quiet, rather thick strength, this inability to conceive of fear and treachery and disloyalty, this simple if unthinking goodness: to have found that and allied himself with it was, he now knew, the true end and crown of all his old ambitions. He had joined himself to England, incarnate in one sweet, gentle, and rather unobservant man. It was enough. He was content, at last, and free from ambition’s lash and spur.

We’ll return to that in a moment.

First, though, we want to define our terms. (Worked for Socrates, after all.)

The Augustans, through Pope, gave voice to the impulses that they and their predecessors had long laboured to impress upon the landscape, under the gimlet eyes of such as Capability Brown and Repton:

Grove nods at grove, each alley has a brother,

And half the platform just reflects the other.

Even as the Romantic fashion was a-borning, there was ambivalence about it:

Here is a wood, never yet touched by the finger of taste.

It were impossible, really, to track the whole course of British – especially English – devotion to the Arcadian ideal. Merely by taking the Victorian period, Richard Jenkyns, of LMH, got a good thick book out of it (The Victorians and Ancient Greece, which is well worth reading). JH Plumb took Victoria’s Hanoverian predecessors for his ‘hook’, and gave us Georgian Delights: The Pursuit of Happiness. Burke, the patron saint of conservatism, tradition, and anti-Romanticism avant la lettre, wrote on the Sublime well before Coleridge did, but his lasting image of a terrestrial paradise stems from a political metaphor: the cattle resting under the mighty, shading oak. And Kipling, whose imagination was notoriously shot through with gaudily silken Oriental threads (he and Disraeli gave the Empire its magic, its emotional force, pretty much single-handedly), conjured up everyone from Neolithic man to Norman knights, from Roman officers to Rom fiddlers, for Dan and Una, and in the end, it all came down to that trim and timeless county, ‘seely Sussex for everlastin’.’

The lineage of Arcadian endeavours is ageless in Britain. The creation of parkland and the country house, as showpiece rather than as fortified hold, was well in hand when Bess of Hardwick was abroad in the land, enclosing, evicting, building stately houses and putting down peasants who objected (‘but ’at wur my farm, damn yer’); and in the period afterwards, that is covered by Wallace Notestein in The English People on the Eve of Colonisation, 1603 - 1630, the most rural of country gentry were ceasing to hide their crumbling houses, built of and into their original manorial ruins, behind a screen of trees.

But this is but half the story.

Let me turn to art.

To some extent, of course, the Arcadian ideal is a Classical ideal, derived from Vergil and Columella and Horace. Agricultural pursuits, along with hunting and shooting and angling, have been the source of a considerable amount of Western poetry and some of our best prose, after all, going back to Hesiod and cropping up in Adrian Bell as in Izaak Walton. The stamp of the Classical was gentlemanly, it bespoke a good education, it showed the proprietor as something different to the mere farmer, the peasant.

Yet even the peasant and the yeoman cherished a tamed and ordered landscape, and yet do, with productive arable and fat kine. The crofter may occupy a picturesque patch of Highland ground, but he’s not admiring it, he’s trying to expand and extend it to become a substantial farmer, not a mere crofter any longer.

And let us not forget that the English, unlike the Continentals, historically construed Arcadia correctly. The Continentals had this Fragonard fairy-land idea, all satin breeches on the Corydons, and Phoebes clustered about the chastely nude nymphs and goddesses: they construed, Et in Arcadia ego, even as an epitaph, as meaning, ‘I too once knew these joys, I was in Arcady in my youth’. The English always knew that the translation was, properly, ‘Even in Arcadia, I, Death, am’. Fragonard’s mannered delicacy, the Versailles version of Vergil, was as false in one way as David’s heroic Romanticism, all nude and unadorned, was in another.

The correct representation of Et in Arcadia ego is limned, not in Poussin’s canvas of that title, but in a very specific Poussin silverpoint drawing that I am thinking of, which, as I recall, is in the private collection of HM the Queen. It depicts a rustic, Attic Arcadian scene of youths and maidens preparing to feast amidst the herms and various watchful nymphs and panisci. The central point of the composition is a lamb, with all its connotations of innocence. Well, let us blunt. In the context, its actual connotation, and denotation, too, is, mint sauce. The lamb is for the spit, and its presence at the feast is not precisely that of the guest of honour. What is more, the shepherds and maids, and indeed the nymphs and satyrs, are also ultimately destined for the spit. Golden lads and girls…. Even in Arcady, I, Death, am. Death is something from which you cannot fly, and you don’t eat Death, it – like time: tempus edax rerum – it, Death, devours you.

The appeal of horror films and horror stories, it has been said, I think rightly, is that man wants the frisson of fear: the species has still not become comfortable with being at the top (or so we fondly believe) of the food-chain. Certainly civilised man has been known to wish to sup upon horrors out of sheer boredom.

That is the context, I submit, in which we place the Romantic impulse: a self-conscious seeking of some earthing in the natural world, by those deracinated by progress and overmuch urbanisation. You may, as Horace noted, drive out Nature with a pitchfork, but she will find her way back in: Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque revenit.

CS Lewis once wrote, in a letter to Arthur Greeves, that, ‘Tolkien once remarked to me that the feeling about home must have been quite different in the days when a family had fed on the produce of the same few miles of country for six generations (...). We (...) who live on a standardised international diet (you may have had Canadian flour, English meat, Scotch oatmeal, African oranges, & Australian wine today) are really artificial beings and have no connection (save in sentiment) with any place on earth. We are synthetic men, uprooted.’

One reaction to that sense of deracination is to seek out the putative wilderness. I note that Americans tend, subconsciously, to consider an area wilderness – specifically, ‘untouched by man’ – if the area in question has been untouched by white men in the historical epoch. In the taming of the American West, and in the cherishing of its ‘virgin’ wilderness now, Americans, including the most conscientiously ‘liberal’ of them, seem (and the liberal will be horrified to recognise this) to regard the Red Indian as simply a force of nature, on the same level as other natural forces, natural disasters, and ‘Acts of God’, just like flooded rivers, tornadoes, prairie fires, stampeding herds of thousands of bison, smallpox epidemics, and politicians.

It appears to me that the two necessary conditions that lead to a self-conscious prizing of ‘wilderness’ quâ ‘wilderness’ are, firstly, a sense of deracination and alienation from the natural world – from what the Augustans in their gardens called the Great Chain of Being – and, secondly, a lack of countervailing anxieties, as, for example, of the next invasion.

Thus Thoreau – who, like any other conscientiously liberal intellectual gasbag, was an appalling grand fraud, pretending to a hermit’s life in the wild whilst being able at any given hour to go, as he quite often did, into Cambridge, put on clean linen, and dine with friends.

The fact is that sometimes, differences in scale, magnitude, degree, are so great as to be differences in kind. The fire on the hearth is different in kind and quality to the raging wildfire that consumes thousands of acres of forest in the American West: far more different than is the housecat to the wild-cat, the dog to the wolf, the bullock to the auroch. So for wilderness and the created order of Nature.

Yet in most cases, of course, difference in degree is not difference in kind. The pride of the suburban householder in his trim garden is no different to the fierce protectiveness of the farmer for his land (‘they zity volk be a-leavin’ gates op’n, damn they!’). And, in a sense that I’m not quite sure Avus has considered, surely the rancher has the same sense of place, or the planter, or the large farmer in the Middle West, in looking over vast acreage (however ‘wild’ it may, in the Western States, be), as, say, does any Herbert at Wilton House, any Thynne at Longleat, any Seymour at Bradley House (grumble, grumble. Bloody Cousin Ludlow, losing the damned property at Maiden Bradley. Idiot Roundhead), or the Devonshires at Chatsworth. (A quick look at the Cavendish crest will reveal that they have been Slytherins, time out of mind.)

This cult of wilderness, I would suggest, is a response to a certain strain of boredom in the urban and suburban bourgeoisie, occurring in relatively settled times. It is different to the impulse, in unsettled times, to ‘go back to the land’, simply because the latter implicates ideas of ownership and defensibility, of affirmatively taking on a place to hold as well as of, negatively, casting off deracination. That impulse, the back-to-the-land impulse, has motives not much different to those that animated Tennyson’s Northern Farmer (‘proputty, proputty’) and Scawen Blunt’s Old Squire (‘Nor has the world a better thing, / Though one should search it round, / Than thus to live one’s own sole king, / Upon one’s own sole ground’). I note that whatever may have been in John Muir’s mind (and he was a Scot, mind you), his nephew’s son David Love of the US Geological Survey has, according to John McPhee’s Pulitzer-winning work Annals of the Former World, a more … nuanced … view. (In fact, I would suggest that the early American conservationists, the original Sierra Club, felt the requisite pride of ownership in their ‘wilderness’: certainly Theodore Roosevelt did, and I think Muir and Ansel Adams and that lot did also: they felt that The American People owned it jointly and that they were The People’s estate managers, with a share in the property.)

But as for the cult of wilderness, it is born of a need for challenge in a world too peaceable. Country folk haven’t any use for it; even in peacetime, they are at daily war with Nature-red-in-tooth-and-claw. It is not only relative sophisticates such as Vergil or even hamlet-dwellers such as Hesiod who have exalted the park over the wild; Anglo-Saxon poetry shows a clear preference for the tamed over the feral. Country folk are near enough to the land to know that ‘wilderness’ may be a nice place to visit, but you don’t want to live there: it’s full of things that munch on you. Langland’s Piers doesn’t see a wood in visions, but a fair field full of folk; the Scots makers lamented the loss of the flowers of the forest, not the loss of its wildness.

I remind you of the day that Dan and Una walked with Puck and Sir Harry Dawe to Little Lindens farm:

The old farmhouse, weather-tiled to the ground, took almost the colour of a blood-ruby in the afternoon light. The pigeons pecked at the mortar in the chimneystacks; the bees that had lived under the tiles since it was built filled the hot August air with their booming; and the smell of the box-tree by the dairy-window mixed with the smell of earth after rain, bread after baking, and a tickle of wood-smoke.

The farmer’s wife came to the door, baby on arm, shaded her brows against the sun, stooped to pluck a sprig of rosemary, and turned down the orchard. The old spaniel in his barrel barked once or twice to show he was in charge of the empty house. Puck clicked back the garden-gate.

‘D’you marvel that I love it?’ said Hal, in a whisper. ‘What can town folk know of the nature of housen – or land?’

Voltaire could be snarkily ambivalent about ‘cultivating one’s own garden’, and could play paper-dollies with Rousseau (both following Montaigne) in praising the Amazonian wilderness and the Noble Savage, from the safety of their bourgeois houses with servants at call. But the smirk of superiority and sweet reason that Voltaire sports in Houdon’s sculpture, like the vapourings about Savage Nobility that animated Rousseau, could never have survived the French Revolution, Robespierre, the Terror, and the rise of that nasty little Corsican sod. (Nor were they required to do: Voltaire and Rousseau both had the good sense to die in 1778.)

Fragonard and Watteau painted delicate lies about Arcady. After the lights of the soi-disant Enlightenment winked out, and the Bonapartist darkness descended, Romanticism, unchecked by the Reason that was so incessantly invoked and so incessantly disregarded by Bonaparte’s contemporaries, painted a new set of lies, strenuously if insincerely heroic lies, using Classical imagery to put tyranny and irrationalism in fancy dress, and to create a bastard pantheism that could not and did not last: David, Ingres, Géricault, Delacroix. Romantic ‘wilderness’-worship became as it has remained, a substitute religion, or sub-religion, evoking a Worsdworthian frisson of awe and delicious fear; but by the time Géricault came to paint The Wreck of the Medusa, the Continent had seen quite enough of the real face of total war to realise that, if Nature were a goddess, she was not a kindly one, but rather one of terrible aspect.

And all during this period, the English-speaking nations had been at war with one another and with France, and with others as well (the aboriginal possessors of the land, in the American States, and half Europe in the British case), and had come to cherish – precisely because they realised it was fragile and tenuous – peace and the arts of peace. Wordsworth went from feeling it ‘bliss to be alive’ in the first bloody days of the French convulsion, to cherishing country walks, landscapes with figures, and the Established Church. The Anglo-Saxon response to this century of convulsions was Arcadian, all right: Jefferson’s architecture, Wren’s architecture, Robert Adam’s architecture; in painting, Peale and Gainsborough and Reynolds and, especially, Constable. Even Turner, for that matter.

If magic emanates from ‘Nature’, it emanates from nature cultivated. Outside the polis, Aristotle maintained, man – Muggle and Wizard alike – is either a beast or a god, but not a man.

This past week, I saw on one of the many conservative blogs that I frequent a telling observation: ‘the American cannot conceive of living in a house that is 900 years old; the Englishman cannot imagine driving 900 miles on holiday’. That is a difference of degree, at least. Yet the Americans whom I know do have a sense of place and history and (often obsessively) of their own roots and lineage; and if an American ‘drives 900 miles on holiday’, he still feels, I believe, that he is in ‘his country’. It may be a pleasingly uncultivated corner of his fair field full of folk, but it is not ‘some corner of a foreign field’.

Were the Englishman to travel 900 miles, he would find himself very definitely in ‘some corner of a foreign field’, and a field held by traditional enemies at that.

And that I think is part of the fundamental difference. If, as I believe, one of the two requisite conditions for a Romantic view of Nature is a sense that one is otherwise ‘safe’, indeed, too much safe, then it is not surprising that America should be home to it. In the past week, the following exemplary (in every sense) obituaries have appeared in the Telegraph and in The Times:

Lieutenant-Commander Richard Prendergast Raikes, RN. Commanded the sub that launched the ‘Cockleshell heroes’. Per the obit in the Telegraph, ‘Until his parents came home [from India] when he was 10, he was brought up in Wales and London by his grandparents and by three aunts, who hero-worshipped their seven brothers for having earned eight DSOs and four MCs in the First World War: two of them had died, one became a general, another an admiral.’

Flight Lieutenant Ray Holmes, RAF. Shot down the Dornier that bombed Buck House in the Blitz.

Allan Beckett, MBE. Designed the Mulberry harbours for D-Day.

And in The Times, Brigadier Leslie Marsh, MC, Royal Marines. Second World War commando, won the MC in Korea, served in Kuwait and Malaysia.

Major-General David Price, CB, OBE. Changi and the Burma Railway.

America celebrates, and rightly, its ‘greatest generation’; but I believe I am correct in saying that American veterans of that war do not, eo ipso, have their obituaries in the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The fact is, Britain has gone to war quite often, and it has gone to war in self-defence; and that self-defence has been localised. Until the ministry of John Bloody Major, it was the touchstone of British policy, and English policy prior to the Union of Crowns, never to allow a Continental power to achieve European hegemony, and especially never to have the Low Country ports. In pursuit of that policy, successive governments have allied themselves with the French against Spain, with Spain and the German statelets against France, and with France and Russia against the Germans, even at the risk of having today’s allies become tomorrow’s threats.

Well, the Americans have also gone to war only reluctantly and in their own self-interest, but they have gone out to war, gone forth to war (‘Onward, Christian soldiers’), and self-interest has never been sufficient for them. The Zimmerman Telegram and Pearl Harbour respectively caused them finally to join in the World Wars, but Wilson cast the struggle in Messianic terms, FD Roosevelt brandished the Four Freedoms and the Atlantic Charter, and his commander and eventual successor Eisenhower entitled his war memoirs, if memory serves, Crusade in Europe.

The point is, Americans do not expect attack until it happens. The inhabitants of the British Isles are well aware of a series of past invasions and threats to invade. Americans are therefore more in want of the frisson of sublime fear in their otherwise too-secure lives, and find it in huge canyons, towering trees, vast deserts, and mighty waterfalls. As for the British, well: a nice peaceful garden, thank you, preferably walled, makes a tranquil oasis of peace in a world that is never that damned secure, now, is it. We’ve quite enough of Death even in safe, ploughed, hedged Arcadia, thank you, we needn’t go looking for it. (We’d an Empire for that, and the fit is now passed and done.)

Besides. Who wants to have a picnic tea in a howling wilderness? Much nicer here amongst the roses, with a greengage shading the garden.

That’s magic, as Puck would be the first to point out.

A tree is not a wand. Nev and Snape would tell you with a single voice that the wild rose is a countryside nuisance and the tea-rose an adornment, but the apothecary rose is in the garden, not the wild. Herbs of Mercury and the Sun, the old simples of the doctors, are cultivars, not weeds of the waste. Magic that is fit to use, if magic emanates from ‘Nature’, emanates from nature cultivated. Outside the polis, man – Muggle and Wizard alike – is either a beast or a god, but not a man.

Just ask Tom Riddle.

Tags: , ,

23 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
(Deleted comment)
wemyss From: wemyss Date: July 2nd, 2005 09:07 pm (UTC) (Link)

However You Got Here, I'm Glad You Did Do.

And grateful that you took the time to comment so kindly. I'm vy glad to have provoked thought, as you in turn have provoked mine.

To which point ... I shd think that at least until quite recently, Canadians other than First Nations Canadians wd perhaps have seen (as the builders of the railway that kept Canada together did see) 'wild Nature' as an obstacle to be mastered: sublime views, yes, magnificent, surely, but a hell of a damned nuisance in some ways. But I'm simply speculating from abroad.
(Deleted comment)
wemyss From: wemyss Date: July 2nd, 2005 09:53 pm (UTC) (Link)

It Makes Perfect Sense.

And has much, I suspect, to do with the Scots and Ulster strains in the population, as well.

Of course, in the end, as Lewis wd insist, even the mastery of one's own nature, if only by adapting to an environment, is a mastery of nature, and perhaps the most important sort.

Hmm. Much, here, to ponder. I assure you, I shall be thinking on this. Thank you for forcing me to do so.
(Deleted comment)
wemyss From: wemyss Date: July 2nd, 2005 10:13 pm (UTC) (Link)

Friends It Is.

And I'm honoured.

Did someone mention dinner? Late, I know, but I'm still peckish myself.... (I was too upset by England's play in the Series Final to enjoy my dinner. A tie. Honestly. That was a humiliation.)
(Deleted comment)
magic_at_mungos From: magic_at_mungos Date: July 2nd, 2005 08:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
Who wants to have a picnic tea in a howling wilderness? Much nicer here amongst the roses, with a greengage shading the garden.

Exactly. All this dramatic scenery is just beastly showing off really.

And he had learnt in a hard school to value the simple, solid, stolid strengths of the English character – the British character, he corrected himself, recalling the stern Scots virtues and the Irish willingness to charge all Hell with a bucket of water, the Welsh indomitableness and the special, something-to-prove, Test-match resolve in the descendants of Indian and West Indian alike, in the Patil twins and in Dean
Huzzah! Bring on the Ashes I say.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: July 2nd, 2005 09:09 pm (UTC) (Link)

Amen.

Floreat cricket!

Glad you, particularly, called by. I hope you got my latest email abt the bases?
magic_at_mungos From: magic_at_mungos Date: July 2nd, 2005 09:29 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Amen.

Yes I did and I will be talking to Fran about them in the next couple of days :D
wemyss From: wemyss Date: July 2nd, 2005 09:35 pm (UTC) (Link)

Oh, Super.

Any time I can help paddle the canoe, tell me so.
avus From: avus Date: July 2nd, 2005 11:31 pm (UTC) (Link)

Bravo! Part I

You make so many excellent points, and you bring so much culture & experience to bear, I hardly know where to start in complimenting you. Will you forgive me if I just nibble, nibble? It's a delight to see passions well-thought out & well-expressed. I can't feel even a bit guilty about having expressed myself so poorly that I prompted such a response. The result is my edification and, hopefully, others.

Let me start by supporting several points which, obviously, I seemed to oppose, and so, please excuse my clumsiness & unclarity. In fact, I can hardly think of a positive point you have made that I would disagree with.

1. There is truly magic in the garden, and in the great creations of mankind. I yield to no one my passion for choral music, particularly from Renaissance & Baroque, which it has been my privilege to perform, to hear, to study & contemplate.

My people were country folk. They always had gardens -- food & flowers -- and they taught me to find magic in that as well. I can't claim to have six generations of feeding from within six miles. But I can claim 4 generations on the same land (since my ancestors followed up on the displacement of the native Americans. We ate mostly out of our garden, we drank milk, often, from a local dairy farmer. As I grew older, that changed, and now it's gone.

2. A Brit's safety was & still is more tentative than a Yanks. As we've discussed, my family has a military background -- we trace our wounded & killed from WWII back to the King Phillip's war in mid-17th c. New England. But it's not the same as what you Brits face. Our oceans have been, for a long time, our security. (Though my grandmother's father was at Shiloh in the Civil War, and was multiply wounded charging a battery at a latter battle in Corinth, Mississippi.) I have nothing but admiration for those you mentioned, as getting medlals in WWI & WWII, and if I said anything which implied disprespect of that, please accept my apologies, and I instantly retract that.

After WWII, my father & his brothers had a deep-seated yearning for peace & quiet & family & well-tilled earth & building a home. From what I can tell, my great uncles, after having been gassed in WWI, had the same. (One tried homesteading in Canada for a time.) I have carefully collected my "Greatest Generation" relatives -- my father & uncles -- their stories, and written them down: Iwo Jima, liberating an Allied POW camp in the Philippines, and others. I treasure their stories, and have written them down for others to treasure.

3. I suspect Romanticism may, indeed, spring in part from the sources you mention. I am wary of stating that any movement, as complex as Romanticism, stems from only those sources, and I would also be wary of stating that the sources from which them stem dictate the worth of what is expressed. But my knowledge of Romanticism is much better in music than in literature or art, where yours is clearly superior.

4. Yanks are reluctant war-makers. This one may be slipping, but I think in general you're right. This can also lead, easily, to isolationism & over-reluctance, which can put us and others at needless & deadly risk.

5. Thoreau, indeed, remained a near-denizen of Concord during his year out at the pond. He had regular & genteel visitors.

6. We Yanks too easily forget that our land has been inhabited by other men for many thousands of years. (By the way, I delight in hiking into the backcountry to see, say, Native American sculptures, rock art, old dwellings & religious shrines.

7. Noble Savage has a lot to be desired as a concept -- both the Noble & the Savage part. (A study done on some Amazonian Native Americans came to the conclusion that their current culture was impoverished compared with their state before the arrival of the Spaniards.)

8. I'm sure Exmoor is as trackless as places in my Rocky Mountains.

Will this be enough to start with? If you wish more agreement, please let me know, and I shall be happy to provide.

To go on in the next posting....
avus From: avus Date: July 3rd, 2005 12:04 am (UTC) (Link)

Bravo! Part II

Again, there's so much, I hope you won't think me carping if I select a few points to comment on more extensively. If you see that I'm missing your larger or more important points, please feel free to point that out, and I will respond directly to them.

Let me cluster a few, and then respond. First, let me address your comments on wildness or wilderness. After that, I'll talk about "sources of magic."

A. Thoreau's quote: "In wildness is the saving of the world."
B. "...the two necessary conditions that lead to a self-conscious prizing of 'wilderness' qua 'wilderness' are, firstly, a sense of racinations and alienation from teh natural world... and, secondly, a lack of countervailing anxieties, as, for example, of the next invasion."
C. Aristotle's (modified by you): "Outside the polis, man -- Muggle and Wizard alike -- is either a beast or a god, but not a man."

A. I apologize, but I misquoted poor Thoreau. I should have written, "In wildness is the preservation of the world." I would comment, briefly, on both "wildness" & "preservation". Here, I don't presume to be talking Thoreau, just talking avus, maybe Thoreau. "Wildness" -- as with any important word, it has many meanings, and these meanings grow as the word gets taken into new situations, new problems, new opportunities. Wildness, in my midwestern home -- where my great grandfather, my grandfather, my father & I grew up -- in earliest times, my great great grandmother sat on one end of a wolf den while her father & friends dug out the wolf cubs. The wolves were wild, and the prairie grass grew tall enough to hide a man on horseback. By my time, the wolves, even the deer were gone, as were most of the marshes, and the wild was limited to a few patches of prairie along old railroad beds, as well as in patches of land too poor or to hard to get to w/o farming. My father -- now 80, and still going to work daily -- has spent much of his life preserving these elements there, even teaching people how to restore native prairie, not to mention curb pollution & unrestricted development. (I can remember being able to swim in the river in back of my house. Before I entered school, this was gone, this was stolen from me -- the river too polluted. (My grandfather had complained of this 20 years before it happened -- this in print.) It's better now, and my father & other relatives are fairly proud of that. The river clams, the fish, the plants and some of the wildlife are coming back. Not swimming yet, but that will come. Restoring the wetlands, especially using native plants, turns out to be a very effective -- cost & time & space -- way to curb pollution, especially long term. It turns out, too, that when median strips on interstates are expanded & planted, are "wilded", so to speak, that driver stress, car speeds, and severity of accidents go down. So preserving wildness appears to preserve other things, too. Wildness & wilderness have other meanings out in my adopted west, even in the upper midwest. But let's be sure we're not opposing civilization to wildness. I don't believe in that. My father doesn't, my grandfather didn't, etc. I think it's a false dichotomy. Both are needed, both are magical, both merit preserving. (Though I slip into the next section. My apologies.)
avus From: avus Date: July 3rd, 2005 12:28 am (UTC) (Link)

Bravo! Part III

Obviously, we come to preserving. I really delight in my father's having helped preserve the wild orchids as well as the obscure & ignored flowers. This brings up preservation. Much of the world isn't cultivated, and it has an importance not limited to either its economic or its aesthetic values, though both of those are undoubtedly there, too. Life is not limited to economy or aesthetics, and that includes "wild" life.

There's a practical side to this. My people were handymen, blacksmiths & builders, less often farmers. A good rule when tinkering: it's usually a good idea to save all the parts. And, I confess, another rule, one that doesn't come out of any paganism or pantheism -- none in my family for quite a ways back -- but out of my Christian values -- the concept of stewardship. I am wary about having dominion over anything. I was never taught about "having dominion" or lordship, and I was taught a lot about being suspicious of dominion. I was taught, and taught carefully, about respect for rights of others, including the land, and responsibilities of stewardship. My wife's father, who horsefarmed a dairy farm, wasn't into dominion, either. He was taking stewardship of the land, its horses, and its wild patches, including its swamps, not only for the maple trees (he'd call them -- the collection -- a sugar bush) there, but for the spring wildflowers.

You see, my wife & I really are country people, with values quite unsurprising for country people. Actually, the name of the Greens, when I was growing up, was "conservationists". Conservatives, in the old & valued tradition -- not against progress, but seeking, as well, to conserve or preserve.

With me so far?

B (a). "...the two necessary conditions that lead to a self-conscious parizing of 'wilderness' qua 'wilderness' are, firstly, a sense of deracination and alientation from the natural world..." I think you're right in many cases, and you point to some important truths. May I reiterate what I stated earlier? I'm not sure that these are the only two necessary conditions, i.e., I'm not sure that these are sufficient as well as necessary conditions. And I'm not sure that the conditioning circumstances of a particular viewpoint dictate the truth or importance or even just the usefulness of an argument or position, though they are, indeed, something good to be aware of.

avus From: avus Date: July 3rd, 2005 12:29 am (UTC) (Link)

Bravo... uh, oh, damn, I'm losing track....

Early onset Alzheimer's.

t
avus From: avus Date: July 3rd, 2005 12:45 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Bravo... uh, oh, damn, I'm losing track....

I'm also losing track of the computer and need to get home to my good wife soon.

To continue:

If I may use myself as an example? I grew up in a house my father built. It was next to a house my grandfather built, where my father grew up, and where my grandmother still lived while I was growing up. The lot next to that had a house my great grandfather built, where my grandfather grew up. Now this is piddly compared to many Brits. But by Yank standards, I doubt I can be accused of deracination. (Rootlessness -- don't worry, dear readers, I had to look it up. As you may have guessed, I come from peasant stock. Slow, but educable.) The same would be true of my father. Our interests grew out of a love for a land nearby, including a land that had not be ploughed up, and which we found to be precious, and a part of our heritage, our birthright, so to speak, and a birthright which was (and my grandfather) saw disappearing before our eyes. (I was over 30 before I came to a patch of prairie which grew high enough to hide horses, something my great great grandmother saw when she arrived c. 1840, as a young girl. We have a few of her stories preserved. She used to bust up saloons with an ax, this as a temperance crusader. Beware of pushing me too far; those genes are still within me. *grins ferally*) I learned, from my grandmother, a love not only of gardens, but of things growing wild. After the manner of children, something to eat was important. She showed me the wild plants to eat -- wild plants with which she had fed her family during the hard times of the Great Depression. That love led to other outdoor loves. The river -- my father built my first boat and gave it to me when I was 6 y/o -- served as a greater and wilder stear. I followed my father's interests (which were my granfather's) in native plants, and wilder areas. This grew, in me, naturally, to wilder & wilder areas. It wasn't alienation, but bonding -- family & land -- that produced it. When I spent 20 years in Chicago, I found myself seeking out those same spots in Chicago's southside. I knew where the wild ginger, and the wild grapes & plums & chokecherries grew, the sour grass and sheep's sorrel, the chamomile & wild grasses. When I was an impoverished grad student, I could forage vacant lots, open spaces along railroads, and nibble on my way to school. Just like my grandmother had taught me, and as I had expanded on my own.

So while I think you have an important point -- the more alienated we grow from nature & other "roots", perhaps in many, the more we come to crave it in its less diluted forms -- that wasn't my path. Mine was rootedness & nature. Let's leave that pathway open, too, shall we?

avus From: avus Date: July 3rd, 2005 12:46 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Bravo... uh, oh, damn, I'm losing track.... II

"...and a lack of countervailing anxieties."

Here, again, while I suspect you may be right, it may not be entirely a sufficient truth, at least in all cases. Certainly, when I see a mama bear & her cub, I don't spend a lot of time birding or looking for wildflowers until I'm sure they're a safe distance away. The same could be said for war. But I remember very much the 1960's & the Viet Nam War. I protested that, though never those who actually did the fighting. I still help them in my profession, and it is my honor to do so, just as I help the children & spouses of those now in Iraq & Afganistan But I also demonstrated and worked for the environment, and in support of the first environmental laws in the States.

All these are important. Priorities sometimes demand many focuses, of course. Abe Maslow wasn't the only psychologist to develop the notion that survival is, indeed, the most basic need. And we didn't need psychologists, or even that perceptive Brit, Darwin, to tell us that in the first place. (Though you know, as a military man, that personal survival isn't always the main point, and is rarely the highest point. By the way, one of my father's cousins was a CO during WWII -- not very popular, then, and he paid for it for the rest of his life. I've collected his stories as well. They're all important & valued parts of my family.)

So please, can we also agree that relief from "anxieties" are no more necessary, here, than enjoying good music, deep thought or a fine meal. Or, for that matter, playing with grandchildren. I'm not sure this point distinguishes love of wilderness from love of anything else. And we still haven't gotten to central points, have we? Just clearing away the underbrush, widening the space to make room for all good points.

But, then, I may be missing something? I probably am. I often do.

I really do need to go home, now. I'll respond to you an Aristotle later. That's more central, and I got distracted. But then, after all my clients, I'm somewhat distracted, too. Perhaps tomorrow. And I won't forget your comments on magic, which I believe is your main point.

With affection & respect, but also with tiredness, having spent too much time at the office in a long week....

avus
avus From: avus Date: July 3rd, 2005 03:54 am (UTC) (Link)
Let me conclude an over-long reply, and I'll trust to respond to your questions, after this response to wemyss-Aristotle: "Outside the polis, man -- Muggle and Wizard alike -- is either a beast or a god, but not a man."

Now, really, dear wemyss. We are both more-than-leery, actually way past bristly and well on our way to downright hostile when anyone suggests that, in any condition, a human -- Muggle or Wizard -- is not still human. We resist degrading humans to beasts or elevating them to gods, not to deny that, within us and as part of our humanity is both something beastly (and not necessarily bad) and something divine. (YOu certainly don't need instruction from me on those points.) Not that we cannot degrade or elevate ourselves, just not that way. And elevate or degrade, we're still human, w/ all the rights & responsibilities pertaining thereto. Not that I support, for example, slavery. But that's what makes slavery a horror, b/c the slaves are human.

I do vaguely recall that the Greeks were quite ready to call all "barbaraians", i.e., non-Greeks, subhuman. And I believe that polis didn't even mean town, it meant city-state, literally, the central point. But my Greek is non-existent, and I beg you to educate me on this.

There is, as we both know, a special glory that comes from the accomplishments found largely in cities, and certainly dependent on cities. I have no illusion about my wife & I attending the symphony in a small town. I've done that, but not for pleasure. Many, if not most of the great accomplishments of humankind have come from cities, and still come from the cities -- both at least indirectly.

Now, that said, there's another point here. Not just who we are, but how we are. We are our interacting, including our living in our environment. And not just our living, but our dwelling. We are an active, and specially responsible part of our environment. We aren't separate from all that's around us. And I've known that since I was able to know anything -- first by my interacting with the people around me, who, fortunately, loved me, some of them loving me extravagantly. And later, with my world. I grew up with the river & the islands. They called me as my family called me. And in the same way, I've been called to the mountains, the deserts & their wildnesses, their wilderness; I'm a part of them.

You mentioned the inferiority of wild vs cultured roses. We had a pure spring coming out of our backyard and into the river. It was a joy, on a hot summer's day, to drink from its cold waters and to splash our faces with it. As it flowed into the river, some European forget-me-nots -- you know them? -- bloomed. A lovely pale blue, and in clumps that I still, with my poor visual memory (I'm a musician), treasure. They were escaped cultivars (sp?), but were no less grateful for that. I was always sad to see them die each Winter, glad to see them reappear in the Spring.

Continued, with apologies....
avus From: avus Date: July 3rd, 2005 03:59 am (UTC) (Link)
There's a wonderful story told by an old Jewish friend of my -- a psychologist. A temple was making a transition from Yiddish to English. This had been tolerated by the older folks, until it got to the high holidays, and the rabbi began speaking in English.

From the back, came a rumble, "sprache yiddish, sprache yiddish, sprache yiddish". As the rabbi increased his volume, the volume of the rumbles increased proportionately. Finally, in complete frustration, the rabbi yelled, "Shaddup already."

And one edler turned to another and said, "Entlich, ein Yiddische worte."

I know, "Shaddup already."

After this, I promise. I probably should feel like Job after he calls God to question, but I fearlessly (or is it brainless or merely inconsiderately?) continue:

Each father's day, I go above treeline, c. 12,000 ft, to Windy Ridge Bristlecone Pine area -- wondrously twisted trees more ancient than any other living tree. My wife & I admire the tundra there -- and we never have company -- just us and wildflowers, generally a 1/2 inch tall. There's an alpine forget-me-not -- deep blue, in contrast to the cultivar's light blue (light blue, the Colorado blue of the high altitude sky). There's also a creamy white version of the Alpine forget-me-not (if you want to Latin, let me know; I'll look it up.) These are both flowers of great beauty, in so many, many ways. We always feel well-rewarded for our time spent with them, with the other tundra flowers, with the gnarled, life-hugging bristlecones, with the sky, and the vistas. This is, certainly wild, perhaps even, in its way, wilderness. It's clear that we, as humans, are guests there. We should be down before the afternoon or evening thunderstorms arrive, though the forget-me-nots always stay.

Why would I choose a superiority of forget-me-nots? It would be like choosing a favorite grandchild -- not only impossible, but obscene, deeply wrong. As my wife & I get older, we find ourselves drawn, more & more, into the wild. We're more at home there, in not being at home, in being guests -- if that makes any sense. Sorry, it's not meant to be mystic. It's more complex than anything I might say, but it does remind me at least that I belong to something larger, that there's beauty and that I'm a guest. For us, the wild, even the wilderness -- there are several relatively nearby -- call us. Or maybe something larger now calls us through the wilderness. But I know we're really not called by the city, at this stage in our lives, though we've both lived in major cities for decades.

And we're teaching our children & grandchildren to love wild & wilderness -- some do more than others. My stepdaughter is pretty strictly urban, though not above camping and the quick trip into the wild. The city, where she was born & raised, that's her greatest truth, at least for now, her calling, the whole where she most-connects, whatever....

We, however, often picnic in the wildnerness, and occasionally in quite inclimate weather -- which we enjoy. Not was a backdrop, but as being with, being in, belonging, and an important belonging. Not our only belonging, but one that restores us to more than ourselves and to more than ourselves -- with no clever paradox intended, merely an accurate description. It functions, not just in the creation of mere feeling, but in the deep & historical belonging, the same way that my fortunate hours spent in Salisbury Cathedral function. And "function" reduces the experience to a sense of utility, which it most definitely is not. Much closer are those fine Latin terms: gloria & majestas, share w/ us, that we share, that we belong to.... Not only in the grand vistas, but in the little forget-me-nots. "Consider the lilies of the field" and all that.

Yipe! Damn thing still won't let my writing stand. Sorry.
avus From: avus Date: July 3rd, 2005 04:01 am (UTC) (Link)

Entlich....

That, at least to me, isn't weak Romanticism. Unless, of course, you mean the Romanticism of, say, Brahms's 4th Symphony or his Double Concerto or his "Four Serious Songs". (Forgive me, I cannot refer to the romantic poets or novelists -- I know them much less well.)

Our truth -- my wife's & mine -- is now more in the wild, the wildnerness -- its grown there. Certainly you wouldn't deny us that, would you? Or cheapen it? Why should it be any less than your truth of the well-cultivated countryside, which we share, or my daughter's truth of the city, which we also share, but more at-a-distance? That would mean there was only one truth. Why would anybody want that? To be English is, indeed, to be a precious & wonderful thing. I love your descriptions. That shouldn't mean that to be an American or an Afghani or Iraqi is any less precious?

With great affection, and holding you dear & in high esteem,

avus

Lord, teach me to know mine end. It's often been suggested that I didn't know mine end, or couldn't find mine end with both hands, or something like that.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: July 3rd, 2005 04:05 pm (UTC) (Link)

Grandfather, What Great Themes You Have!

So much so that I have made my reply a new post.

(This is jolly good fun, isn't it.)
avus From: avus Date: July 3rd, 2005 05:42 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Grandfather, What Great Themes You Have!

Yes. Jolly good fun -- great phrase, that. Sadly more your side of the pond than mine. My wife is a bit ill, today. And while I will respond, I can't promise promptness.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: July 3rd, 2005 05:47 pm (UTC) (Link)

My Dear Fellow!

At yr convenience.

I trust yr good lady is well, and on the mend.
23 comments or Leave a comment