Richard Kerridge’s journey by train to Bath via London on Saturday night was made impossible when his train from King’s Lynn was cancelled. So I drove him home Sunday morning, since I was coming south to Bristol anyway. It was good to have a chance to talk to him on his own because he’s very knowledgable and very well-connected in the nature writing world. He had some interesting things to say, for example about differences in approach between Robert Macfarlane and Kathleen Jamie. In the light of my deep mapping interests I was particularly taken by his account of Jamie’s discussion of Macfarlane’s work in the context of “the lone enraptured male”, which is set out in her review of Macfarlane’s The Wild Places.
This is very well worth reading.
Personally, it helped clarify for me why I’ve always been slightly irritated when people assume that, because I am interested in deep mapping, I am going to like Macfarlane’s books. (See also my earlier post on this). By and large I don’t particularly and, on the whole, for reasons close to Jamie’s reservations. Deep mapping is precisely not about “the lone enraptured male” but about re-discovering such things as lost or marginalised communities of memory, exposing and exploring contested histories and identities, working with the intra-wovenness of the supposedly mundane and the extraordinary, and much more that, it seems to me, is largely marginal to Macfarlane’s interests.
This speaks to something very much on my mind. I have recently been pondering work by Lindsey Colbourne and Merched Chwarel(in English The Quarry Women), a group made up of Colbourne, Lisa Hudson, Marged Pendrell, and Jwls Williams. Their collective work focuses on the quarries of North Wales – Bethesda, Dinorwig, Nantperis, Llanberis, Penmaenmawr and Blaenau Ffestiniog.
This has involved Merched Chwarel (now joined by the curator Jill Piercy) walking together, experimenting both individually and collaboratively through various media, and presenting the resulting work so as to instigate dialogue within a larger community.The questions they ask themselves include: Who are the quarry women of the past, present and future, and how their own aesthetics, identity and connection to place, culture and language are mediated by the quarries? By searching out traces of women’s presence in an environment generally viewed as the domain of heroic men, they are questioning the current relevance of: “the relationship between women (Welsh, English, incomer, indigenous, holiday maker) and the quarry legacy”, together with wider connections to “relationships to identity, language, place and nationhood”
Their work has been exhibited specifically to evoke debate; among those personally connected to quarries and quarrying, artists, archaeologists and individuals involved in women’s studies. However, as personal histories of members’ walking make clear, there is also a learning-through-walking involved here that reaches back into childhood is a key factor in the project. They notice, for example, that their collective walks differed from solitary walking in being more complicated. “We were not at all like the classic ‘walker’ (male – from Caspar David Friedrich’s image of the ‘Wanderer’ to the Situationalists to Richard Long), unfettered or separate from the world. It was quite the opposite, most conversations about life complexities, relationships, stories”. Initially uncertain as to whether this difference was problematic or illuminating, Lindsey Colbourne opted for the second. Firstly, because their life entanglements speak to ‘the political potential of a walking that mobilises social relationships’, and to a ‘relational politics of the spatial (without aspiring to an idealized notion of the free man, or free-footed nomad)’. (See link above)) Secondly, because it provides a way of ‘avoiding the prioritizing or opposing of distance and dislocation over locality and rootedness; focusing on (confusions of) scale rather than the freedom of the epic task’ (See link above).