Does the Sublime have a sense of humour?
Irreverence seems to have dropped out of our idea of nature with the arrival of the sublime. All those awesome views and stuff..
One of my regular journeys is up the West coast mainline crossing the Border and up past Beattock , where just before Crawford, on the hills to the east is a shelter plantation shaped like an inverted penis.. or at least the standard teenage representation of one..
This can readily be tested when you point it out to to a representative teen , as they will begin sniggering- if they have not already clocked it.. I believe groups off them enliven interminable school bus trips by trying to get the first spot in. ( so to speak)..
After I had passed by a few times myself I moved from my initial belief that this was obviously a random accident – shelter belts often being long and pointy (for obvious reasons), with a couple of knobbly bits at the end ( for less obvious ones- any ideas out there?) – to the sense that we may be looking at some gigantic silvicultural piece of graffiti which in years to come we may wish to preserve like the Cerne Abbas giant..
If you spend your winter living in a damp caravan in the middle of nowhere planting trees for minimum wage I think you earn the right to inscribe a giant coniferous penis on the Southern Uplands for posterity.
Do the Hills look less sublime with knob gags drawn on them?
Probably ..Faced with this question on a visit to Cerne Giant and a glorious vista of the Paps of Jura I can remember a real dilemna over whether it was ok to snigger or not..
Irreverence is also inhibited by other considerations – one it might somehow damage Nature, and that it might reduce my normal watchfulness and let it damage me. Both of These could be folky superstition or traces of the Awe of the Sublime. Or of the decay of practical connection to the Land (or Nature, as I nearly said).
Irreverence is kind of engagement , albeit a rather twisted one. It is about demonstrating that we don’t want to take things too seriously , that we are a bit oppressed by what is expected of us , and we are trying to subvert that.
I saw some Airt in the Ingleby Gallery that seemed to fit this ( fittingly given its links to sly monumental joker Ian Hamilton Findlay) . Now, I confess to knowing nada about this guy, but he goes out into scenic places and creates explosions ,or puts incongruously shaped park benches in=won and has his wee-gee pals sit on them. Then takes high definition photos of them , very reminiscent of po-faced retro-sublimicist Thomas Joshua Cooper.. and then sells them at six hundred quid a pop.. Youve go to admire that chutzpah.. and yes LOL !
So onto my own walk of shame- acts of environmental irreverence (and I notice all of these involved a sense of agency in a social situation, and a sense of playfulness towards the formula)
1/ I ate many of the specimens I was supposed to identify on ecology field trips – leading to gaps in my knowledge of British vegetational communities. I saw it as an early protest against phytosociology..
2/ I removed all of the poems of the Haddingtonshire Rhymer from the trees of Butterdean Wood and placed them in the dog poop bin. And then wrote a poem about it.
3, I used a hollow oak tree in Butterdean Wood as a secret romantic post box – which worked less well as a romantic device because my intended amour couldnt find it and spent her afternoon wandering despondently in the mud.. Ardour dampening..
4.I leave small pointy piles of pebbles along boundary walls and pretend they are Andy Goldworthy installations ( but he may well do the same thing)
5. I make up exagerrated stories about our wildlife
The problem with irreverence though is when it leaves a permanent trace.. I suppose if I lived in Crawford I might get fed up opening my curtains each morning to a view of a 300m long penis..
But if did I suppose I could get some mates and a chainsaw and do something about it..