The Lie of the Land

Whenever I travel somewhere new I always want to get a feel for the place, to know the lie of the land. I start by poring over maps - a habit acquired from my father - and I'm reasonably good at picking out likely walks. Then it's just a matter of footwork. This is my new neck of the woods. There's much to explore.

Every crossroad creates tantalising choices...

...though every choice yields exquisite rewards.

The map takes you to interesting places that you might otherwise miss, standing stones, dreaming pools, medieval doorways.

But it's good just to wander, to see what rocks, trees and features draw you.

Quite why certain places exert such a powerful pull remains mysterious to me. It's more than aesthetics. With its foundations in Marxism and Freud, psychogeography has become the popular explanation for the relationship between people and place (at least within literary circles). I'm not a fan. By emphasizing  psyche it privileges the self, such that the environment just happens to be the thing out there impinging upon us. Nor do I particularly like the idea of the genius loci, the spirit of place, simply because the idea was bequeathed to us by the Romans and I'm struggling to think of anything those straight-line thinkers did for us.

It could be leys or currents of earth energy, but for now I prefer the New Animism. While it's very tempting to animate the environment...

...that's not what this is about. The New Animism states simply that the world is full of persons, not all of whom are human. We are necessarily in relationship with these other-than-human-persons, and just as with humans, we are drawn to some and not others.

That said, in the end the explanation doesn't really matter. Some places are pokey and that's that.

Often when I'm walking tunes occur to me. I can feel my creative cogs just starting to turn again after quite a long fallow period, but here's a tune I wrote a few years back while stomping around Gloucestershire. It's called, naturally enough, The Lie of the Land.

But irrespective of whether or not I come home with something, I walk because the land leads me onwards. I can't resist its pull.

It's how I feel at home.


  1. Very lovely.
    What's the difference between the New Animism and the Old Animism, though? Do I need to upgrade my subscription? ;)

    We are so delighted to have you and Nomi as neighbours. It's blessed land here and twice-blessed for having more good friends close.

    1. Tom, you are an old smoothy, but yes, straight back at ya!

      The old animism stems from Victorian anthropologist E.B.Tylor and states basically that all indigenous people are stupid because they mistakenly attributed aliveness to things that patently aren't alive, like trees and stones. The new animism drastically revises this - it begins with Irving Hallowell's groundbreaking study of the Ojibway - he gave us the 'other-than-human-person' concept.

      Though perhaps that was more thorough than you wanted! I've a book, if you're interested...



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