Paths

 

Autumn break. I find a copy of The Poetics of Space in an empty house. Its enchanting – I know this is not a novel response, but it comes from my own perpetual struggle to find somewhere to live so that I can’t see houses in the same way and wonder if I can transfer his attitude to somewhere else in my world..

Briefly Bachelard says that houses are a place to dream , a refuge, and so retain enchantment. For me about to leave my twenty forth adult residence,  never really been able to domesticate a space, houses are sites of disillusion.

Bachelard’s writing feels comfortable – he is at home with himself .

The house we were born in has engraved within us the hierarchy of the varous functions of inhabiting. We are the diagram of the functions of inhabiting that particular house, and all the other houses are but variations on a fundamental theme. The word habit is too worn a word to express the passionate liaison of our bodies , which do not forget, with an unforgettable house

I envy him his sense of continuity.

 

The next day, off into the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty  we walked through the woods of Silverdale, along the coffin road from Arnside to Beecham, over smoothed limestone slabs, between hazel stools and yew clumps, along an old straight road. What you would need if you were carrying your dead friend in a heavy wooden box. Gallumping up the Fairy Steps, hopping from clint to clint on moss feathered toaster pavements, while nuthatches blow for time. I love this place.

I can never get quite this cosy in the Scottish hills and rarely in the woods. They do not contain so.

My daughter is more aware of the cows. She has been programmed to fear , and I have worsened this by lightly touching on the story of a tragic stampede. Bullocks. What do you do to take away a teenagers fear?

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Unfortunately the footpath we are to follow tracks off indiscriminately over grassy (and sometimes croppy) fields traced only by prior footprints (or according to Richard Jeffries,’the very track of a rook through the grass leaves a different shade each side’),  until it makes an assignation with a more modern boundary marked only by a missing brick in a distant wall.

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Yeah well , the bovine menace lurks there. Indisputably these are large beasts with a certain truculence – docile and sluggish in my view, territorially terrifying in hers. She believes that Scottish paths range through areas where there are no cows – I am not so sure.

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We take to the woods, hop and scramble with GPS and map, and I hope I can turn this into a sense of independent overcoming that can get her out there again. I am consciously getting lost – in the sense of not knowing where I am , and hoping that this will engender in her, an ongoing sense of confidence that you can always find your way out. These are tight little woods of coppiced trees and you have to go where they tell you.. She takes on the posture of adapted teen – an adult has brought her here and she has to put up with it. The adult should be expected to release her from this , and as soon as possible.

When I am not wrestling with this expectation , I am aware that I am answering my question about Bachelard . Not in scrambling around amongst the pavement and briars, but in seeking and finding  paths.

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I feel a sense of belonging on a path . My favourite of Robert McFarlane’s book is Old Ways. I read it like a journey (so much so it felt transgressive to scan it to find these quotes)..

the eye is enticed by a path and the minds eye also. The imagination cant help but pursue a line in the land – onwards into space, but also backwards in time to the histories of a route and it s previous follower

Paths connect . This is their first duty and their chief reason for being . They relate places in a literal sense, and by extension they relate people

Paths are consensual too , because without common care and common practice they dissapear.. paths need walking

My own sense of time alters on a path.  There is not really any need for time..Instead we only need distance- how far to the point of our destination.. This can press us into a route march , or remove us into a meditative state, a bit like the ones Bachelard and his authors find at home.. And more prosaically  you dont have to look where you are going – which gives your senses space for other matters.

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Many people are fiercely protective of their paths. I remember an episode of Weirs Way where cuddly little Tom turns into a whirling dervish when confronted with a blocked right of way, and, if memory serves, tears the gate down.

Scotland’s right to roam may have removed some of the symbolism here , but in England the green right of way sign is still a call to arms , and a symbol of the commons..’ Paths need walking’.

And that right is still subtly contested. In Dorset recently I noticed at least four signs on right of ways warning to BEWARE OF THE BULL.   So I was , and it was BULL -there not being any..But I walked with a certain wariness (scared of cattle, me?), and am aware there will have been many people who will not have crossed that path.  Once the wariness reduced I became angry at the deception ..

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Walking then becomes something different. The consensus is broken , the relationship becomes one of deceit, and potentially of dispossession, and we are then on a kind of protest march against the enclosure of our space..(I did try to knock the gate down, Tom,  but i would have needed to come back with a set of power tools..)

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the long white roads .. are a temptation. What quests they propose! They take us away to the thin air of the future or the underworld of the past’ (Edward Thomas, The South Country)

Let’s keep it that way – and challenge the bovine menace..

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