Land tweeting

I’ve been time-travelling back to my undergrad years and re-reading Basso’s (1996) Wisdom Sits in Places. In his reflection on the Apache view of the landscape, he states that it is seen as:

a repository of distilled wisdom, a stern but benevolent keeper of tradition, an ever-vigilant ally… features of the landscape have become symbols of and for this way of living, the symbols of a culture and the enduring moral character of its people. (Basso, 1996; p.63)

Basso proceeds to discuss how the role of landscape in shaping social activity, and the way in which the Apache “constitute their surroundings and invest them with value and significance” (p.66). He proposes that this “moral relationship”, the cultural ecology, is often ignored in research.

Reading this brought to mind The Irish Border (@BorderIrish) Twitter account. With the current unease and uncertainty about the Brexit outcome, someone has set up an account to give the Border a voice in the negotiations.

In its own way, this account provides a symbolic, cultural representation of the land. It is a way of acknowledging the myriad difficulties woven into the negotiations. The person who set up the account tweeted recently that they sometimes think they are the Border. It is done so well that others who follows the account may also get a stronger sense of the impact of the negotiations through the voice of the border. I’m sure @BorderIrish would be quite happy to be viewed as an ever-vigilant keeper of wisdom!

This caused me to wonder if there were similar Twitter accounts, other ways in which Landscape or Place was being voiced, albeit by a human (as far as I know!). I could see @BorderIrish has a friend in @Malin_Head. This brought a smile to my face. Notwithstanding that it may be the same author masterminding the two accounts, having two Irish Places building an online relationship is really a very Irish thing to do. Which I believe I can safely say as an Irish person myself 🙂

I searched for other examples; all of the national parks that I came across in the US and UK had the same event-style timeline. Come to this event on this date, here’s a photo of a view, what temperature is it today, don’t forget to take your litter home. No sense of the places themselves communicating except perhaps through the captured image or video. The moderators of these accounts have taken the view, and rightly so, that people should visit the locations to develop their personal relationships with those places. All good. Still, it feels impersonal, hollow and a bit absent. Maybe it’s just me.

Widening my search to a broader sense of location, I realised that the libraries are particularly good at this. Granted, libraries are all marvelous at everything they do, but they have really captured the spirit of this approach. I’ve embedded a couple of classics from @ShetlandLibrary and @natlibscot below as examples. Scottish examples, so maybe this is a Celtic thing, to acknowledge that there is no reason why Places can’t have and be friends. I love the ongoing banter between @ShetlandLibrary and @OrkneyLibrary. Again, there is something more meaningful for me in having a sense of the libraries talking to each other, developing their friendship in an online space. And yes, I have read their tweets; I know that, deep down, they really love each other 🙂

The significance and presence of landscape that Basso (1996) outlines is the personhood of places which is finally being legally recognised, as for the Whanganui River. I am not suggesting Twitter accounts carry the same value. They are not Places speaking, but people speaking for Places. Maybe more Places need us to speak for them or reflect on what they might say if we could hear them. Either way, I am curious if these types of accounts are an indication that this is something we are reaching out for, a need that has been denied for too long in my culture, and that we are seeking a way to articulate.

If you know of any other accounts, let me know!

Reference

Basso, K. H. (1996). Wisdom sits in places: Landscape and language among the Western Apache. University of New Mexico Press. https://unmpress.com/books/wisdom-sits-places/9780826317247

Coming home

I’ve been quiet on the blog over the summer. I had the best of intentions, but it was too hot and too sunny. My brain decided that writing and thinking were really too much to ask. Now the weather is cooling and the nights are getting darker again, I’m feeling a lot more cheerful. Time to roll up my sleeves and get back to writing.

I’ve rolled up my sleeves for another reason; my mum is moving back to Ireland, after a stay in Scotland of 18 years, so there are plenty of tasks to tackle. We moved here when my dad was offered a job; his dad was born in Scotland and his paternal grandmothers were Scottish women as far back as we can trace. He was excited at the thought of living near the place his father was born.

I hadn’t expected the impact that move would have on me. My first sight of Scotland was out a plane window as we circled Edinburgh airport. When the announcement came that we were coming in to land, I felt something I only knew from book and movie descriptions – a sense of coming home. My heart was full of joy and something like a sense of puzzled absence, as if I couldn’t understand why I had been away so long. This was the place I was meant to be – this land was my home. I hadn’t even stepped off the plane.

I get the same feeling when I see Traprain Law, the featured image for this blog, heave into view. As she rises, or in good Celtic tradition, as the road rises to meet her, I smile and send a greeting. My heart is full, I breathe deep, and I am home.

This feeling of being in the right place has come to the forefront once more now that my mum is moving back to Ireland. Her choice is right for her, as it is for me to stay here, and as it was for Sharon Blackie. In her book, If Women Rose Rooted, she talks about moving to Ireland and her words resonate.

Why is it that some of us come to so deeply identify with one place and not with another? I have no easy answers, only the knowledge that for all my wanderings and switherings, this the place I have always wanted to run back to when things grew difficult, the only place which makes me feel healthy and whole and full of joyful heart. (Blackie, 2016; p.329)

This question, this wonder about our identification with places, is woven into my PhD research. I have no easy answers either, about my place or those of the participants in my study. One thing that is certain for me is that I can do what I do because I am here. This echoes David Abram (2017) when he talks about “recalibrating” by walking, seeing, scenting and sensing the land that has chosen us. He emphasises the importance of a particular place in helping us know and connect with others, in a different take on Margaret Somerville’s research on connections to place-at-distance which I mentioned in a previous post.

Only by being deeply here, in and of this place, am I palpably connected to every other place. (Abram, 2017; p.284)

I like the idea that my place in East Lothian is an anchor point helping me to connect with others. Commuting home a few weeks ago, a song came on the radio. I had initially thought it a standard pop love song, until the lyrics caught my attention.

Maybe what I miss most
It wasn’t made of steel and stone
And maybe what I miss most
It wasn’t born of skin and bone (Scott, 2018)

I realised this was a love song to a place, the place the musician, Calum Scott, called home. He sang about his sense of his place from a distance, the realisation that it was something he couldn’t define – “maybe you’ll never know” – that he was missing. And yet, however far he travelled, part of him was “under three crowns” in Hull. I also like his jealousy of the black bird flying free outside the window, but that is food for a different post! You can listen to the song here.

Me, I’m off out into the garden 🙂

References

Abram, D. (2017). The spell of the sensuous: Perception and language in a more-than-human world, Twentieth Anniversary EditionVintage. https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/319/the-spell-of-the-sensuous-by-david-abram/

Blackie, S. (2016). If women rose rooted: The journey to authenticity and belonging. September Publishing. http://sharonblackie.net/purchase-if-women-rose-rooted/

Scott, S, (2018). What I Miss Most lyrics: https://genius.com/Calum-scott-what-i-miss-most-lyrics

Traprain Law image by james denham, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13498271