In his book The Peregrine, J.A. Baker writes in the opening chapter that it is futile to spend too much time describing the landscape. Because, he rightly says, what makes the difference between one valley and another is what we, the observer, imbue it with. He talks of different shades of love but whichever emotion is at the surface of our imagination at the time is what is projected onto the landscape; the landscape that then becomes ‘ours’.
What’s so powerful about this notion is the questions it creates in my mind as to how this happens. Is there a tipping point at which we suddenly become involved? Is there a system of feedback in which we feel part of the natural world because it involves us? Or are we influenced by other people’s experience of the same landscape?
As I drive home each night I pass over the same familiar chalk downs and, like any familiar route, even the trees become friends which you recognise in profile and stature regardless of the time of day and the principality of the sky. The scots pines that huddle together on the rises are also recognisable as small families in silhouette in which the imperceptible growth of the smaller trees over the years will leave me, like the children of good friends, in no doubt about who they are despite their changing appearance. But this has only been my home for ten years. When did this landscape become mine?
I was born in the fens of Norfolk but you’ll have to decide whether I’m Welsh or not. My parents are both Welsh, three of my Grandparents are Welsh and their parents etc etc. Let’s say, at the very least, that Wales is a place that is to a larger extent in my veins. The Welsh landscapes that are most recognisable to me (the Radnorshire black mountains, Herefordshire border country, the vale of Clwyd, the Pembrokeshire coast) are the ones where my parents, grandparents and endless antecedents have lived and, in many cases, farmed.
The pictures I have of these people, taken over 100 years ago, and my own experience of the world in which they toiled means, to a certain extent, that the landscape was already mine without me having to live there. The faces that look straight at me from their positions in front of the hay barn and my being able to stand in front of that same barn links me to them; common ground of both blood and earth. The fields, hills and streams that we have both looked on may have been more familiar to them than to me but it is the fact that they were there that triggers my imagination and therefore I gift the landscape my emotion and I’m suddenly involved.