What do we have in Common?

What really matters to most people who make decisions is categories. In the case of planners this is about zoning , but I think it is true to some degree for all of us . What we are like at work, what is our leisure time or our family time all feel different – not because of what is happening to us I think but because of what we expect.

One of the contentions which has got me here is that we have zoned the Sublime. This has been a long process starting with paintings of big mountains far away , going through the designation of National Parks – big wild bits , far away (well mostly) – and carrying onto the (p)reserve for nature .

I went to a seminar run by EcoArt Scotland recently where the artists were interested in establishing a Living Caledonian , a sense of seeing the ‘Caledonian forest ‘ as a set of social and biological practices which had, did and could happen there. They were a bit pissed off I think when I explained that the places they had been supported to work were very far away from , say, my life as an ecologically aware central Belt resident.

My comment came in a thread about the loss of language concerning the environment , which I believe is one of ur-wanderer Robert McFarlane s latest themes..

There are words that we preserve and there are words that we create . These are done by two different groups of people – I think if the second group is busy then the old words continue to be eroded and recombined like the good old geology of James Hutton implies. The processes, for example,  that have embedded Romany words in Edinburgh slang like ‘radge’.

At the seminar some of us made the point that if there are fewer people having meaningful interactions with their environment there will be less said about it, or it will be said by fewer people. I think that the Caledonian forest doesn’t feel like a Common for me. Too far away, too alien and too sacred. I think the ecological impulse needs to begin nearer home – my friends love their gardens , their pets (unfortunately, like they are people) , their walks or runs and they ask me about the things they see by text or email or take photos to show in a way which demonstrates the small personal care that changes things. This week I have been asked to identify a reed bunting, an eider duck, an oak tree , the territorial habits of robins . I have enriched people’s vocabularies and, I think, helped them look outside. Those things are Commons.

There are tricks to seeing things – you need to look in a particular way.. I grew up watching birds and now do so unconsciously – without prompting my eyes focus to furthest point and my peripheral vision grows. I pick up lateral movement and directional impulses..  I show others how to do this and give them a reason to do so..

One of my best wildlife experiences was spending a day with the Entomologists.. To hang with them you need to see your environment at a smaller scale , select the habitat within what you can see, be very aware of your calendar and recent weather history,  and look down a lot – then differentiate between the many layers,  and attune for likely places to things to alight. Watch Microcosmos if you haven’t already.

You might find a rare beetle – if you do you probably wont be able to identify it on site , but you will discover something exciting about your perceptual apparatus. You may also learn the word pooter – as in ‘I ve got a pooter and I’m going to use it.’

New countryside language will be some entomology, some birder (not twitcher) speak , a bit of off road biker bling, some poacher , wild food gatherers, a bit of dog walker and quite a lot of edgeland slang – grafito, juvenile correction, arson and eccentricity.

It’s an alliance of uneasy partnerships working to create a brownfield common, where you might find your common sandpiper shot at with an airgun, but at least the retrobates are paying attention to it.



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