I’ve been visiting The Countryside, where I grew up. I’ve never felt very good at The Countryside. I didn’t spend hours as a kid making rope swings or unsafe rafts, and when I did climb trees or explore woods I felt self-conscious. Was I enjoying it right?
Nature was always mediated for me by texts: Tolkien and Lloyd Alexander, and Susan Cooper, and a dash of Alan Garner. Those writers encouraged me to be open to the magic in nature, which was great, except I found magic to a far greater degree in the books themselves. The enchantments of nature were, for me, the remembered enchantments of reading about it.
At University I studied the Romantics and the Postmodernists simultaneously and was reassured that the idea of a pre-social connection with Nature was actually a big social construction. I gratefully seized this scholarly excuse, and thought little more about being rubbish at resonating with the greenwood.
The recent Folk Horror revival has charmed me (see the recent Penda’s Fen re-release). This is the nearest I’ve come to writing in that genre, but again, it’s social rather than natural. I see folk weirdness and think: Shouldn’t this be ringing more bells? Couldn’t your country childhood it be a source of inspiration, rather than a big green inert slab of memory?
These days I try to put words to nature directly, rather than letting it summon up the words of other people. The words are rudimentary. This hacked path, for example, smells like earth and cut grass and honey.
I’m getting better at appreciating the bucolic. But I’m drawn to the flashy stuff: the lark distracting a hawk over a Roman hill-fort. The algae that has turned every tenth flint blood red in the river. Direct eye contact with badgers. This fellow:
I swear I’ll look at smaller things, and try to learn the names of trees. I don’t know if I never had a sense of it, or if I suppressed it, but I will try to get it back, or grow it.