When I was much younger, I was privileged to join a hiking expedition to Swedish Lapland for Hertfordshire teens. Before we left, our little walking team made a route-plan, spreading out the map on the floor and pointing out paths that twisted enticingly through mountain passes. When we arrived and started walking, it turned out the paths – big red dashes on the map – were “suggested” paths, rough guides for reindeer herders to find suitable passage for their herds in deep winter snow. So we scrapped the idea of nice well-worn British footpaths marked with friendly wooden signposts. Instead we had to navigate with compass and try to figure out how the contour lines, rocky outcrops and water features marked on the map translated to the ground in front of us.
As with all maps, it bore little relation to the reality, or to what our imaginations had cooked up at home. The reality was often better – that pale red glow of the midnight sun reflected on rocks and snow in a valley where the only noise was the wind and the barking of reindeer; or worse – the incessant harassment of huge stripy mosquitoes that plagued us below the snowline and banged on our tents at dusk.
And the same for A Year in Beadnell. When we sat and talked about recording sunrise and sunset, thought about the romance of light and sound changing during the seasons… it was in the abstract. The reality of waking at 4am to catch the beginning of the year’s longest days during our fortnight stay; the cold summer weather that means we are happed up with coats and boots despite it being June; the path to the estuary that is far too hard for novices like us to mountain-bike along and means that we’re not able to get there easily for sunrise or sunset as planned… All this certainly makes me reflect on the graft of farmers and those in the fishing industry who have to work the gruelling hours of summer with little of the romance.
For me, nature itself is neither romantic nor spiritual per se: it just is. We bring these elements to nature. It can light the wick of our imagination – sometimes a grass waving in the evening sun presents a perfect moment; sometimes it’s awful – to learn that the beautiful arctic terns sometimes murder the rare little terns on the nesting ground they share. And sometimes it does nothing, a cold summer wind blows along the dune path.
Life gets on above and below. Things die. And return. We are one and the same as nature – we are the monster, Caliban, of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
The map provides an outline, but doesn’t reveal the substance of our terrain. And imagination, whatever that is, weaves and dives between the map and the reality.
See Ariel, the post following this one.