In the place of my birth, and where I also spent my formative years in questionable pursuits, landscapes are a big deal. While I can’t remember seeing any actual documentaries about the vistas of my homeland, I’m sure there are some. Perhaps many. But even if there aren’t any beautifully shot panoramas of snow capped mountains and vast rolling plains (with narration from Sir David Attenborough), it wouldn’t matter. The reason for this, is that any film shot there – no matter how fictional – becomes about the landscape of my home country. Especially for the people that live there. That’s how much my people like landscapes: stories are appropriated to its geography, rather than having it work in the other direction.
I need to be clear here. I have no problem with the willful and collective forgetting that allows us to erase the fact that ‘our’ mountains are representing other ones, somewhere else. Moreover, I heartily approve of issuing stamps to help supplant the fictional other place as the setting for the story, and substituting our ‘real’ place instead. For one thing, the mobilization of collective and creative resources needed to achieve this, fills me with something like pride. (Something like it, mind you, not exactly ‘it’.) For another, like my compatriots, I too have a deep and abiding love for landscapes. Naturally, this is not my fault, it’s just cultural.
My love of landscapes has real, and unintentional, consequences. It’s not just that I like looking at them – as with classic paintings, or photographs – I really like being in them too. There’s just something about hanging out in a really nice one that cooks my socks right onto my feet (I grant you, this is a fairly odd reaction, even if it is only figurative). As I look back on the trajectory of my life, I can see that there has been a steady movement away from more urban environs, to surrounds where landscape access is easier. It makes sense, the cooking of one’s sock isn’t as unpleasant as it sounds. It becomes a little addictive, actually.
On the surface, this probably doesn’t seem like it should have caused me any trouble at all. What could be more wholesome than wanting to be near impressive expanses of rainforest, or wetland, or rocky hillsides that have large frog shaped boulders in them? Seems fine in principle, right? And in principle it is fine. But principles, like utopias, have a way of not being quite what one expects when they collide, nose first, with reality.
I can hear you saying: “Come now Arthur, surely you are just being a little dramatic.” Am I, dear anonymous reader who probably never said that? Am I really? Please allow me to outline a couple of these difficulties; at least, as I see them.
The first, is people. They just don’t get it, even when they share my enthusiasm for sweeping wilderness views. It’s not that these people are being derisive, or trying to undermine my sense of self-worth. (As opposed to life-trolls, who really are trying to make you feel like the worst human being ever.) It is just that my proclivity towards being in marginal places, or places over the margin, is genuinely baffling for them.
This general bafflement has resulted in many an awkward conversation. These conversations always start in the conventional way: with the polite “what is it you do?” Followed by the standard round of “it’s quite interesting, actually”, and the “can I get you something to drink?” Where these conversations generally take a turn towards the uncomfortable, is when I mention that I lived in Australia’s capital city, or the time I spent on a tropical island. At this point, due to general looks of puzzlement on my interlocutor’s face, I elaborate by outlining my perspective on landscapes. I do this, foolishly, in the hope of clearing some of this confusion up. This, however, just tends to make matters worse.
Many and sundry objections have been raised to my landscape orientation; especially, as a result of my elaborations. More often than not, these objections hinge on the observation that my adoration of the natural world is, somehow, unnatural. For example, I was once lectured, by a certain (nameless) individual, about how I was completely missing the point of going to see wilderness spaces. Actually, I was missing several of the points that connect to them. Chief among these, was this basic truth: when we go to see a landscape, we are supposed to return from it. Not progressively move closer. Wilds are meant to be seen before they disappear, as they must if we are to conquer and civilize them. Besides, you can almost never get a decent coffee or solid internet connection in those places, which is proof that civilization is just that much better. To reinforce this point, I was provided with an extensive reading list on precisely this subject.
But these conversations are becoming rarer, partly because the closer I move towards the jungle, the less people I find living there. Mostly, though, it is because the people that I come into contact with now, find me so weird they try to avoid me at all costs. (There are, of course, some exceptions, as there always are.) You see, they can’t understand why I would move from where I was, to where they are living. Their hearts’ desire is to make a journey moving the other way. For this reason, they tend to give me a wide berth, just in case my perspective is contagious. That’s right, I am now starting to feel the effects of what well schooled anthropologists call ‘social death’.
Which brings me to the second difficulty I feel I should draw your attention to. While wild spaces produce spectacular views, they are also spectacularly dangerous. They are not, as certain calendars or postcards would have you believe, without a population. I don’t mean a population of the human variety, I mean one constituted by what we normally call fauna. (Well, what we could call fauna, if we wanted to … which I do.) This fauna, while quite nice at a distance, is often also quite hungry. This means that I can never guarantee that some constricting, or stalking, type animal might not avail itself of an Arthur Wingsmith sized meal. Given the chance, I’m sure they would find it the most tasty dish on the menu.
Even in places where no such fauna exists, you’re not necessarily safe, either. (There are such places, I’ve been there.) My own grandfather once commented that, “the thing about the bush, is that you get the sense it’s just waiting for an opportunity to kill you.” He also had similar views about the ocean. [Blogger’s note: ‘bush’ is a colloquial term for ‘forest’ where I come from.] There is always the possibility of getting lost, falling in a crevasse, or of becoming exposed in way where being arrested for it is not a major concern.
Yet, I still really love landscapes, and derive a fulfillment from them that cannot be reasonably, or rationally, explained. Perhaps, it is more of a compulsion. However, it’s consequences have now reached a level that I am presented with something of a dilemma. Do I continue my outward movement towards the edges of the map, continue to put myself in harm’s way, and accept the accompanying attrition of social connections? Or, do I start to make the journey back towards good coffee and stable internet, never again to enjoy the feeling of a sock cooked just right?
Honestly, I’m not sanguine about committing to either course of action. And this is why I have formulated a plan I hope represents a good compromise. Rather than move in either of the directions my landscape dilemma presents, I have resolved to stay pretty much where I am. I am now close enough to the wilds that I regularly get large monitor lizards and snakes in my garden. (Not allegorical snakes in the garden, actual real non-allegorical snakes.) In addition, I am not so ‘far out’ that I can’t get at least mostly-stable internet, and coffee that is fully delicious. So, where I am right now seems pretty decent.
To fully implement the compromise will take work, though. It is, as you can imagine, fairly difficult to break the habit of a semi-lifetime. (I’m not counting the parts where I was a baby, child, or teenager. Most of my twenties are pretty much out as well.) This is why, of my own accord, I have developed a course of treatment. A course of treatment, moreover, based on my superficial knowledge of ‘cognitive’ or ‘exposure’ therapies.
Essentially, the treatment involves looking at old paintings for extended periods. The paintings must contain more than one element, they can’t just be a landscape painting. For instance, they must contain a building, technology (like transport), two different environments, and people. In this way, I hope to convince myself that being in one place, a place containing such elements, is really not so bad after all. Over time, I hope to dissolve my landscape dilemma by seeing landscapes differently.
Towards this end, I’ve spent twenty-five hours this week looking at this painting:
|Source: Wikimedia Commons.|