From the vaults: Things of value (06/09/2010)

“The prejudice we exercise against such landscapes, imagining them to be primitive, stark and pagan, became sharply apparent. It is in a place like this that we would unthinkingly store poisons or test weapons …” – Barry Lopez

I’m reading ‘Arctic Dreams’ at the moment; it’s by the American writer Barry Lopez and was first published almost 25 years ago. It’s a hard read: not in terms of the writing, which is fluent and eloquent, but in the intricacy of its subject matter – a complex mix of the tangible and the conceptual. I’m frequently finding myself re-reading entire paragraphs; sometimes for the enjoyment of reprising the language, at others simply for better understanding of the content.

There are many recurring themes throughout the book, not least among them the value of landscape and our continuing responsibilities as the most exploitative of species. The passage at the head of this blog entry had a particular resonance for me; the abuse of wild land and the proliferation of man-made intrusions into wilderness being a frequent cause of both concern and exasperation. The siting of a wind-farm or hydro project might not seem to stand direct comparison with that of a plutonium dump or missile silo, but there are often elements of the same strands of dismissive thinking underpinning the decision making processes.

Politicians, planners, corporations, all seem to be informed by the notion that empty land is somehow wasted land; that our wild and sparsely populated areas are expendable and until a place has exploitable commercial value then it has no value at all. This is why we find our mountains disfigured by ironmomgery, our moorlands increasingly defaced with communications hardware, power-lines and clusters of turbines.
Barry Lopez again …
“What every culture must eventually decide is what, of all that surrounds it, tangible and intangible, it will dismantle and turn into material wealth. And what of its cultural wealth, from the tradition of finding peace in the vision of an undisturbed hillside to a knowledge of how to finance a corporate merger, it will fight to preserve”



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