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Original title page of Walden featuring a pict...

Original title page of Walden featuring a picture drawn by Thoreau’s sister Sophia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

14th November, 2010

It is in vain to dream of a wilderness distant from ourselves. There is none such. It is the bog in our brains and bowels, the primitive vigour of Nature in us, that inspires that dream.” Henry David Thoreau, Journal, August 30th 1856.

We had no less than eight vultures circling above us this afternoon. They left their perch on the craggy mountain top to come and survey our general state of health. We surveyed them back, from our rocky seats under an old oak. As no weak stragglers or young sitting vulnerably alone were to be seen, they left us for better pickings. Further down the valley, some dogs guarding chickens and detritus of the local villagers barked in chorus. They were two, but they sounded like five because the rocky mountain range of Grazalema bounced their petitions back and forth. We pressed on up the mountain side, clambering over rocks and rubble, the track well worn by centuries of shepherds and donkeys.

There is nothing like a little outdoor excursion to justify a good feed. In fact the Spanish “Rural House” weekend is pretty much about the food, with the odd excursion to see some “Nature” to split up the near constant eating and drinking. The excursions take place in pastoral scenes of small stone walled paddocks, Oaks and Encinas, chickens, pigs and donkeys, kittens, sheep, goats and flee-bitten hounds. And for the adventurous, a detour up the mountainside as far as your legs will carry your children.

And when that is enough, a stop in the village for a beer or red wine and a pre-dinner tapa (to sample local fare), before heading back to the house to stoke the fire, and get the main meal on the way. And of course the after lunch siesta…and so on.

I escape later in the evening, waxing scholarly with my notebook, claiming I’ve missed a deadline and need to get some writing done. I leave the house occupants focused on an evening football match and sit outside in the gathering dusk, pulling my woolly jumper in tighter (Taihape made) and contemplate the beauty of the wild from this village perched on the rocks. Clouds are gathering deep and purple. Tomorrow it is going to rain.

“The wilderness after all does not locate itself. It does not name itself…Nor [can] the wilderness venerate itself.” Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory, 1996.

The wilderness, so named by us, needs a visitor, a memory, because, like any monument (and it is), it can not remember itself. So that’s me, I am providing the memory, returning as I constantly do in my art making to frame landscapes of the wilderness/garden of my infancy, the Eden from which we were cast.

As I contemplate the purple darkness, my art contemplates it too. We live together, my art and me, in the same body and mind. Yet somehow my art has recently separated itself, and now I find myself like a rural weekend visitor, trying to remember on behalf of my art.

An epitaph: “Here stands the sacred mountain, the primeval forest and the river of life, where once there was an art maker who showed promise, but then she left.”

I am in a moment where it is hard to dedicate a lot of time to arts practice. There are spuds to peel, spills to mop up, nappies to change, midnight disturbances, classes to teach to pay the bills, websites that need fixing, clothes that need washing, arguments and laughing, growing and loving, giving and tears and life!

Somehow, in all of this, there is an arts practice I know. But now and then, when I hear that “x” artist, having just finished “y” residency” and won “z” arts award, is making fantastic work, I get anxious, and wonder where my own work is heading, or where it has gone, my lost garden, my lost wilderness. To counteract this gnawing, I have embarked on a deep reflection of my art making, in order to re-envelope it in my life and find it’s new place. It’s something I can do as I sit on the bus or push the pram. It’s something I can wonder about as I make my pilgrimage to behold the “Natural” world.

Red sky in the morning, shepherds warning. Mist has come down over the small mountain village. Clouds envelop us with the smell of promised rain. The view out the window has blurred and all but disappeared. It is late morning and I am hiding upstairs, trying to write.

The ancient Hebrews made no linguistic distinction between the natural and supernatural world, nor had they ideas of “nature” versus man per say. The whole cosmos was a single working temple. So when was it that we started to separate ourselves in thought and deed from the world around us? Many scholars argue that is was at the invention of the plough. Thoreau believed that humans were not apart from the natural world at all, it was in in our heads. He held that there was never a separation, that nature was us, in us, part of the very places we lived. To add to the quote which I have opened with, he went on to say: “I shall never find in the wilds of Labrador any greater wildness than in some recess of Concord , i.e. than I import into it”. Just as art is imbued with our lives, our lives entwined with it, in an eternal coil like the branches of some ancient tree. If it was never separate or lost, it begs the question, what am I looking for?

Emma! Someone is calling me from downstairs. Come down! We’re opening the Lambrusco! Magic words. I put on my slippers and head downstairs, hmmm, time to eat. Faces look up at me from around the table. The kids are scattered everywhere. The discussion about the King, Fernando Alonso and Formula One turn to me. You’re going to read this thing to us aren’t you? They chorus. Are we in it? Then later I’m sure, we’ll venture out for coffee and a glass of Anis to finish our very tiring day and head back to the city overfed and content.

 

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