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.
Imagine if Brexit day came next March, despite all my warnings, and I unleashed an ancient curse that had been entrusted to my geological strata by the druids, and the skies did darken and moan, and clamour was rampant, and strife did reign amongst the nations. I’m just saying
— The Irish Border (@BorderIrish) August 15, 2018
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 🙂
We have the NHS behind us 👍 https://t.co/STKX79qIMB
— Shetland Library (@ShetlandLibrary) August 22, 2018
*Must be onions in the room or something*
*Dreamily stares* https://t.co/BGgvuOEpFl
— National Library of Scotland (@natlibscot) August 23, 2018
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!
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