the m john harrison blog

Tag: outdoors

Tuesday already has a waxy surface, as if they applied some very modern coating to it at about half past seven this morning. Look across the valley at Workhouse Copse, the wind and the late March sun are a kind of laminar flow around everything, a fixative made of air. It reminds me of some way of landscape painting but I can’t remember whose. I come back from a walk full of ideas but feeling rearranged in some way I can’t make use of. I’ve experienced that feeling a lot recently.

voices in the hills

Attempts to deliver outside as inside, to convert the landscape into a kind of built environment and our interactions with it into a confusion of messages and mission statements. Interest groups that deliver the outdoors to us are not the outdoors itself but by mediating the experience they turn it from an interaction with the outdoors into an interaction with them. Structural intrusions into the landscape market limiting messages about how it can be used. Loosely-associated entertainments draw a family demographic, playing into the hands of direct commercial exploitation. Landscape as backdrop, as ever. Signage & architecture intrude, multiply and move steadily towards the spectacular. 2050, the thing has become the picture of the thing, the plan for the thing: “Wind, stones, light trapped in the fast cold air along the hillside. Edwardian sunrise. We leave the bunkhouse hopeful, return tired from a day of voices in the hills, the hard winter crossing of the Interpretation Room of the Ogwen Visitor Centre.”

getting out of it

I started hillwalking in the early 1970s because as soon as I got near a hill I could relax. In fact I couldn’t relax any other way. I’m not overstating this. It was a feeling that might be lost later in the walking day for any number of reasons, but for me the venue itself–the upland outdoors–acted like a tranquiliser & an antidepressant. Later in the day–whatever had happened in the interrim: you might get soaked, you might get lost, you might get blisters, you might experience a little low-wattage sublime–tiredness took over & provided another kind of chemical cosh. This never worked for me in towns & cities, or in lowlands. The built environment offered an anxious trudge, a failed yet persistent attempt at leaving yourself–or more likely the venue–behind. Exurban lowlands I just found uninteresting–I’m not saying that’s true now, & I’d rather walk on agricultural land, which I hate with a passion because it’s so clearly owned, than not walk at all. It’s the sense of ownership/not ownership, in the end, that makes the difference to me. I know rationally that I’m not “free” on access land: but at least, for the moment, no one can stop me being there.

parsing the bedrooms of lily

Imagine this as a photograph found in the usual collapsing shoebox at the usual car boot sale, you know the score by now. The Dali family’s urge towards meaning is as mistaken as your own. Their attempt to force an arrangement on the world by composing themselves in it collides with your attempt to interpret their attempt: in the ensuing confusion, nothing can be understood. It would help just a little if you didn’t see it as a picture of the Dalis–or, especially, of Dali. Everything else in it would begin to matter. The boat, for instance, which you see as leaving rather than arriving, might suddenly become a lot more important.

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the usual clownish re-enactment

Three nights of rain and the woods are sodden again, standing water where the seeps debouch on to the old railway line. Dogs mud to the armpits, tracks under an inch of limestone slime. Jogging uphill becomes this duckfoot struggle, then cautious slithering and windmill arms on the other side, the green lane a foetid downhill slot where it isn’t polished stone like ice. I thought we were past all that. I thought the year had got going. I feel betrayed. I feel heavy. I thought the problem from now on would be drought, and metatarsalgia from the hardpack. That’s what I was looking forward to. That was to be the nature of my complaint. I expected at least to dance along between the trees. Saturday in the Burbage valley we met a runner with two very small terriers like chopped and dropped poodles with pushed-in hairy faces. They were truncated. They looked like handbag dogs–in some lights they looked like mops–but by god they could keep up with him as he ran between the boulders. They were up for it in every way, boiling into and out of the loud tea-coloured streams, giving the impression that they were an entire pack of dogs. Size was not an issue with them. That’s what I’d like. Be thirty years younger, maybe six inches taller, power round the Burbage skyline every other day with a pack of nameless, grinning little dogs and a wide grin on my face too. Instead, I struggle in the muddy woods like a clownish re-enactment of The Road Not Taken.

get out for a walk

while you still can.

“National Parks are extensive tracts of country that are protected by law for future generations because of their natural beauty and for the opportunities they offer for open air recreation.” –YouGov
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Stop the Tories using a false housing crisis to break the National Parks Act.

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the way back home

Danny MacAskill is essentially an entertainer. That’s how he earns his living. The combination of technicality, discipline & sheer joy of living he displays in this video leaves most popular fiction–100% a form of entertainment–looking sludgy & banal, even in its own terms. Why doesn’t popular fiction encourage writers as entertainingly skilful as this? Because we do not value the skillset itself, only the story it mediates. We long ago separated the skillset out and donated it to literary fiction. Danny MacAskill doesn’t tell a story. He just is. Indeed, by the look of it, he just is the skillset. As a result I cry every time I watch him perform, because the performance is so much more intense than anything I’ve ever made.

muscle memory

Nettles grow high up in the bank of the lane, leaning over to head height where the pavement is narrowest. They smell dry even when they’re wet. Shocking orange berries on a shrubby rowan tangled in the hedge. The retirement builds set back from the lane always smell of cleaning and washing. Further along, the woods lean over too. From this point, you can sense the river down there in the gorge. The bridge too, although you can’t quite see it. I turn off abruptly, contour the slope into more open land, trudge up to the Hall, and bring back three kinds of willow leaves to identify. My body, perhaps retaining muscle memories of eight years in the Holme Valley a generation ago, is adjusting quickly to this kind of morning walk, shedding its London weight, leaning enthusiastically into the sharp little hills and grim old weather.

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