Essaying Self, Wilderness, and Place: a response to issues raised by George Monbiot’s Feral. (Part Three)

In leu of a conclusion

As already indicated, I am personally involved in the experiences this exposition addresses. As someone involved for many years in ecosophical education I see Feral as deeply counterproductive; a negation of the value of care as mutual accompaniment and of place as taskscape. I write as someone who, as a child and adolescent, spent time alongside working people who cared deeply for a taskscape. Alongside Lea McNally, gamekeeper, author, stalker and naturalist, when trying to cull hinds in the almost impossible conditions of high winds and eddying snow. I have helping to gather some nine hundred ewes and their lambs, an exhausting twelve-hour walk to sweep nine thousand rough acres in early summer heat. Times spent in a place that, even as a teenager, I knew to be the consequence of a long and often deeply troubled history of human intervention, ownership, and displacement; and of infinitely longer biological and geological processes. A sense of place later articulated by Barbara Bender’s observation that:

Landscapes refuse to be disciplined. They make a mockery of the oppositions that we create between time [History] and space [Geography], or between nature [Science] and culture [Social Anthropology]; (Bender in Massey 2006: 33)

To which list I would add: ‘or between open and undisciplined attending’ (Art) and ‘careful observation of the natural world’ (the Environmental Sciences).  

So what has my personal experience to do with Feral’s argument? Simply this. Between late childhood and late teens I gained first-hand experience of the work that constitutes and is constituted by a Scottish Highland taskscape. Work that communicated qualities of attention to that taskscape and of the skills inseparable from making a living in a particular physical place that was also a simultaneity of stories-so-far. Work by people who, like Dafydd Morris-Jones, his mother, and our neighbours in upper Weardale, know their place in the senses I have indicated here. My admiration and respect for such people is unchanged, although I now also understand the degree to which their taskscapes are caught up in larger, deeply problematic, economic and ecological narratives. What has changed, however, is that I now know that many of the people with those qualities of attention and skills today are also, as cultural bilingualists at-home in rural communities as polylocals. As persons living complex lives that don’t match traditional categories and who are helping co-create with particular taskscapes forms of post-rural community that both respect and re-inflect those qualities of attention and skill in full awareness of those larger economic and ecological narratives. 

As a utopian fantasy Feral allows no place for such people. Yet an ecosophically-aware future requires a politics that enables human and more-than-human beings to live and thrive in upland taskscapes; to be able to register, maintain, and cherish a maximum number of alternative ways of belonging to a world desperately in need of ecological understanding, empathetic imagination, and the political subtlety to enable them. Monbiot’s promoting of blanket rewilding discounts such people, seeks to reduce complex taskscapes to a wilderness monoculture in service to his own obsession with solitary adventures that align with the corporate interests of the Adventure industry. Polylocal bilingualists are vital to the mediation of ecological projects, including reforestation, so that these respect both more-than-human and human needs. Needs best identified by selves as constituted by an ecosophical sense of community and respectful of the simultaneity of stories-so-far that help constitute taskscapes, and do so in accord with the principles of the Earth Charter.  

Iain Biggs, Bristol, March 2022


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