Friday, June 14, 2013

Park benches, again


Some use rural footpaths to walk their dogs. I prefer to go alone or accompanied by an equally faithful companion, the Muse.

From a radio programme broadcast yesterday, part of a series called “Ramblings”:
Robert McFarlane: Paths run through people as they run through places. I’m fascinated by the idea that we understand ourselves and imagine our own interior landscapes in terms of the landscapes we love, inhabit, travel through, walk through, wander through.

Claire Balding: And do you think that we all have a landscape that’s personal to us ... because it exists partly in our mind as well as what’s in front of us?

R McF: ... Yes, exactly that ... A kind of heart-land, or in-land.



I went up Lodge Hill to revisit an interior landscape. It’s the remotest place I know that’s only a ten minutes’ drive away. Remote as in being the site of an ancient human settlement, and more personally as a place I first discovered with my children one September morning, when the wild meadow near its summit was fresh with dew and shining with spider silk. Butterflies and moths danced amongst the wildflowers, so we called it Butterfly Hill. It lacks the majesty of height, being little more than a pimple on the plain, a shrubby outcrop like a small desert island; but it offers views to a misty horizon several miles away. Those butterflies and the many varieties of wildflowers, fostered a fancy that it might be a microecosystem.

This fancy evokes memories of Mount Kinabalu, Borneo’s majestic peak, 14,000 feet. I’ve wandered its lower slopes with those children; and in their adulthood they’ve gone back and done the climb properly, one of them reaching the craggy summit.

Mount Kinabalu includes the Kinabalu montane alpine meadows ecoregion in the montane grasslands and shrublands biome. The mountain and its surroundings are among the most important biological sites in the world, with between 5000 and 6000 species of plants, 326 species of birds, and more than 100 mammalian species identified. Among this rich collection of wildlife are famous species such as the gigantic Rafflesia plants and the orangutan. Mount Kinabalu has been accorded UNESCO World Heritage status. (Wikipedia)


I reached the base of Lodge Hill by a random zigzag route. The public footpath I started from wanted to go a different way, so I abandoned it and improvised; thus in minutes re-enacting my life in allegory, a kind of Pilgrim’s Progress. I had to cut across a field of ripening barley. To avoid trampling it, I had to walk in the tractor-tracks. Then I found a tiny winding footpath up the hill, the ground beneath bare and compacted, the wild flowers and hawthorn branches brushing me as I passed, leaving pollen and petals on my coat. I reflected that just as the path was my servant, in providing me the way up, so was I its servant, helping save it from being swallowed up by the rest of Nature. We continuously maintain this landscape with our labours. Unless that barley-field and others like it were sown and reaped, the grain would soon go extinct. I’ve read that they can’t survive in the wild. “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin.” But we have to, if they are to be there still. So I felt that even by walking the path, I was helping keep the environment welcoming and beautiful.


I observed the plants, and how they luxuriate on the side of this Hill, coping unfazed with the late spring we’ve had this year. They’d know what to do with much bigger catastrophes, too: biding their time, adapting, or even deciding it was time to go extinct. It occurred to me that they actually embody wisdom, a quality which formerly had to explained by the One God:

And God said, “Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat.” And it was so.

Nothing was diminished of this magnificent vision of bounty and poetic utterance by our knowledge that the wisdom of the herbs bearing seed is contained within their own selves, and embodied in what we have learned to call their DNA.


Then the path opened out, and there was a bench, with a brass plate: “In loving memory of Frederick (Ted) Vockins, who loved and worked this land. 1908-1998”. On the right was a rusty enamelled sign, “Danger: Shooting” which had worried K when she first arrived from Jamaica. In her defence, it didn’t look so rusty then. But two apparent bullet-holes tell their own tale. Ahead, a view of the valley: to the left, an old-style stile.

I remembered that Bryan had commented on my last “Even William Blake had a park bench!? I gotta get one of these things.” Then I had replied that it has to be in a public park. It so happens that in England, a large proportion of all public benches have been sponsored, and it’s almost a prerequisite that you’re dead before you get one of your own.

I hadn’t thought of it as being in a public park at all. It was my place, a discovery shared with family. There’s the occasional dog-walker, and even groups of hikers sometimes in the summer. A smile and a few words of greeting is normally enough, but sometimes you meet someone more gregarious, and end up exchanging life-stories. And so I met there a man with five cocker-spaniels, who asked if I was “doing the Ridgeway”. I’d forgotten that this trail, known as the oldest road in England, runs over Lodge Hill, and we were standing on it. The Ridgeway is now a kind of national park, 88 miles long and at its widest up to twenty feet wide including hedgerows. I lost track of time but we must have stood talking for more than half an hour till the dogs got restive and we went our separate ways. Five minutes later, I realized that since the terrain was impenetrable except on footpaths, and I wasn’t planning a great detour which could have taken hours, I’d have to come back the way I’d just come; with the risk of running into the same man.



There he was again, sitting on another bench, inscribed, “In memory of Harold (Will) and Phyllis Ridgley, to whom this was a special place”. I thought we’d had enough of one another, but he insisted I sit beside him. And then came a woman with three large dogs. She hastily secured two of them on leashes but the third got away. My companion, who’s trained his as working dogs (retrievers for when he goes shooting pheasants), told them to “get lost”, and they obediently did, following one another into the dense herbage of the meadow, where we’d once seen all those butterflies. The woman took her dogs onwards, and I was thinking of getting on myself, when we were accosted by a band of five or six hikers, complete with backpacks and walking poles. One of them asked, jokingly I imagine, if we were going to be long on the bench, as they had envisaged stopping there for a rest and a mid-morning snack. I jumped up and offered to leave but my new friend held me by the arm and questioned them about their own trekking. Yes, they were “doing the Ridgeway”, and had come all the way from Sheffield for this very purpose. Soon they were a happy throng together, with much discussion about Ivinghoe Beacon, Coombe Hill, and other landmarks on the route; how many miles they planned to travel in a day and so on. The spaniels made friends with everyone.

The general gregariousness began to get irksome. This was not my space. I shook my new friend’s hand in farewell, and gracefully fled.

Out in the wilderness, a park bench may provide a halt, a rendezvous, a place to catch your breath and rest your legs. In a municipal park it may stand proxy for the entire wilderness: a place where you can merge and melt into the world, and be part of the landscape; something I’m learning to do wherever I am.

36 comments :

Bryan M. White said...

Well you need a park bench after trudging up that hill!

"I reflected that just as the path was my servant, in providing me the way up, so was I its servant, helping save it from being swallowed up by the rest of Nature."

I always think the same thing when I walk on a rough path. I'm helping to wear it in.

ZACL said...

Do you think your landscape place is in the pattern of your words in your mind, and also, is it possible that the words you write create a physical landscape for you?

Vincent said...

No to both questions, I think, ZACL. The process of thinking about the experience in order to end up with the words certainly affects the remembering of the experience.

In a comment on my last, talking of dreams, I said “every remembered dream is glued together with conscious embellishment”. All writing, too, is conscious embellishment of thought.

It has often been said (I’ve said it myself several times) that one doesn't know what one thinks until one puts it into words. Till then, there is uncertainty, a sort of fluid chaos. Till then, one might believe the very opposite of what one has said.

Vincent said...

In theory, yes, Bryan, but as hills go it's a gentle slope and a surprisingly short one. There are much steeper ascents five minutes walk from my house, since we're in the bottom of the valley.

Wearing in paths -- I've heard that architects when developing a complex of buildings wait to see what footpaths develop naturally, before paving them. Brian Spaeth commented on my last that "A park bench is a holy thing", and I'm not sure about that but in England footpaths are certainly sacred, often going back thousands of years, and protected by law. You can't block them or deny access to walkers, even if they go over your land and add risk to your flocks and herds.

Bryan M. White said...

Growing up here in Painesville, I travelled all around town on foot and I knew every little nook and cranny, secret and shortcut. I think I wrote once about the whole convoluted route I took from my house to the library, all the shortcuts I would take. But really, I knew the whole town like that. It was like this big fascinating playground with all kinds of things to discover. Sometimes it was something simple like a hole in a fence where I could crawl through, but there were other discoveries that were really amazing. Once I found this narrow channel that was like a tunnel open to the sky - I think it might have been an old railroad passage - and it cut almost entirely through the town, but the entrance and exit to it were almost entirely hidden by some shrubs.

I still walk, of course, and I still go to the park where there are plenty of dirt trails (although I doubt they're protected by law.), but I miss that old feeling of exploring. People don't pay much mind to a kid slipping in and out of holes in fences, but an adult pulling that sort of thing around here is liable to get shot or arrested.

ellie said...

When Larry first retired we purchased a house with 14 acres of land in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in South Carolina. Some was open, some wooded. There were trails through the woods which crossed over to neighbors' property. Paths or trails on private property are not for public use in the US although you can legally cross another's property without trespassing. We enjoyed our woodland; in fact it kept us from hiking elsewhere as much as we might have.

But the point of this comment is that I decided to put a bench overlooking our tiny creek so that I could sit and read and enjoy the solitude in peace. As it turned out the bench never had anyone sitting on it. Since the woods were our own woods we looked after them, harvested firewood from them, and improved them. If I sat down they immediately began calling to me to clip, or pull down, or clear away, or tract down something I hadn't seen in a few days. Anyway I wanted to interact with out little ecosystem; there was no pleasure in passively observing.

Larry called our place Beulah after Blake's state where the contraries as equally true. I called it Shadowlight but it never really caught on.

Brian Spaeth said...

Your encounters with various people (and animals) along The Ridgeway seemed to reveal an ambivalence or antipathy on your part, as if they were ultimately distracting you from your mission and meditation. This is interesting to me because it mirrors my own attitudes—in fact, my next post (now in draft) deals with this same question: Is solitude preferred or necessary for the type of trek that you undertake in this post?

Davoh said...

" It has often been said (I’ve said it myself several times) that one doesn't know what one thinks until one puts it into words. Till then, there is uncertainty" .. yep.

However, in all of the 'philosophies' and 'attitudes' here - it remains "northern hemisphere".

There is another half of this planet.

Vincent said...

Thanks, Davoh, I'll be grateful for your expressions of antipodean philosophy, or links to same. I'm a fervent though ignorant admirer of Aborigine culture, an avid re-reader of Joseph Furphy's Such is Life - but never mind all that, any philosophy I express of my own is ipso facto Australian. I'm merely an expat pretending to be English!

Vincent said...

Brian, you have nailed it precisely and your new post confirms it even more. My feeling is that solitude can penetrate deep beneath the surface. Gregariousness tends to limit itself to skiing across effortlessly shareable surfaces. We are grateful for both but incline to our own predilections.

Vincent said...

Ellie, I have a bench in our tiny backyard here, and observe the same phenomenon. Sometimes I read, sometimes I lie on it and doze, but my favourite is to look at the lawn and border alongside. Then invariably I'll see something that needs to be done; but fortunately I'm able to keep on top of it all and pluck out weeds before they get big ideas of taking over.

Fourteen acres could be daunting, but as you say, your aim was to get pleasure from interacting with the ecosystem, & resisted being overwhelmed.

Davoh said...

"I'm a fervent though ignorant admirer of Aborigine culture,"..

yep.

Vest said...

Solomon in all his glory and so on, wasn't it reap not spin?

Will be heading for the sceptered Isle July 16 my 87th B/D on earth,with my 60 yrs wed English Rosemary 79 but for only a brief month,. Itinery Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Kent and Norfolk.
Also will visit the Red lion White lion The Crown , Hare and Hounds, Six Bells,Rose of England and a few more maybe, now busy packing.

Vincent said...

Vest, I'm beginning to suspect that your photo alongside may not be a recent one.

As for these pub names, there are thousands of each. Since you are coming to Oxfordshire, and I am in neighbouring Buckinghamshire, you might consider the possibility of a rendezvous at the Fox and Hounds in Christmas Common? Drinks on us - let us younger ones thus pay homage to you slightly less young, and share tales of our mutual birthplace.

Bryan M. White said...

Where you been, Vincent? Hope all is well.

Vincent said...

Hi Bryan! All is well and have been preparing a new post. But it's going to be one which heralds a new phase of the blog and therefore takes time.

Essentially (gosh, it's so much easier to express things in an impromptu comment!) I've decided that "A Wayfarer's Notes" is in a certain fashion a completed work, a seven-year live performance. It needs overhaul otherwise it will simply decline pathetically.

So preparations are in progress to bring it new life and even immortality. This requires a huge effort, one which I've been making daily - am in fact doing at this moment, going through to create or update 2000 hyperlinks in an omnibus e-book, which is arranged and indexed in such a way that you can read it in many different ways, and in which you can link back to the original blog and append new comments to otherwise hard-to-find posts.

The whole thing in printed book terms would come to 1780 pages. Unless someone else produces an anthology, it will never appear in print. I'm just preserving the whole thing for posterity. Like Fernando Pessoa and his wooden box, but electronic.

But why is it that blogging generally seems to be in decline? I find little to read of all the wonderful blogs that used to greet me with new stuff each morning.

Bryan M. White said...

Yes, blogging does seem to be in a bit of a decline. And sadly, I'm probably as guilty as anyone. I've been keeping a toe in the blogging world with my Sheep Blog, but I have to admit that I've been neglecting my Sunny blog. Partly because I haven't found myself in a frame of mind as conducive to inspiring those kinds of posts since taking my security job and I figured I needed a bit of a break to gather more nuts (or at least more nuttiness), partly because I've been dealing with some personal issues that my doctor suggests are indicative of obsessive compulsive disorder, and partly because I've been been trying to use the extra time allotted to me by my new job to finally try to tackle a novel (I've had quite a struggle with that as well, coming up with ideas, but I think I might finally be making some progress with that -- I've been coming up with a couple of story ideas a week and writing out a brief breakdown of the plots as kind of practice and hopefully as something that will lead me to the right project.) But I do hope to return to the Sunny blog. I had tremendous fun writing those posts, and I think some of them were pretty good (some of them kind of sucked too.)

In the meantime, I've been putting together a Kindle collection of fourteen of my old stories (most of which I've believe you've read.) I have it all put together already. Mostly, I just need to sit down and proofread it. I hope to have it up within a week or so.

ashok said...

Absolutely enchanting description of countryside paths and benches Vincent.

ashok said...

How delightful to have your own woods to enjoy and nurture Ellie!

ghetufool said...

This is such a cute post Ian! I totally loved it. Thank you!

Vincent said...

I notice your Kindle book is now on sale, Bryan - quite pricey for 66 pages. I'm planning to put on sale my entire works as mentioned above for a dollar to the first 25 purchasers, then gradually increase. This way I can acknowledge the input & encouragement of those who have commented over the years. Some world-wide best-sellers (e.g. 50 shades of Gray) were initially sold as an e-book, pretty cheap, I believe.

I notice that some of your Sheep stories have recently been reissued on your blog. Is this a publicity stunt or have you updated them. If the former, it has worked because I re-read some of them till I found them eerily familiar.

In any case, good luck!

Vincent said...

Your comments are most gracious, Ashok. I note that your e-book has been now issued free, and downloaded it!

Vincent said...

Thanks, Ghetu. Whenever you praise my work, I think better of it thereafter.

Bryan M. White said...

Yeah, I wasn't sure what would be a good price. I'll see what happens.

And as for reissuing stories, I have to confess that I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about, although I am very tired. I did repost one story over on NH but that was months ago. I don't know. Maybe you're being sarcastic and telling me that my dreams are becoming repetitive or something. I don't know. You've really got me wondering what the hell you're talking about though.

Vincent said...

OK Bryan, I'll explain. I used to be notified of new posts by Igoogle, but that has been withdrawn, so I use something called Feedly instead, because it has been designed with the same functionality.

If you take an old post, save it as draft for a bit and then reissue it, I get notified again by Feedly. This has happened with three of your older posts, one of them dated from March this year, as well as a very recent one which I haven't yet read.

Bryan M. White said...

But I haven't reverted any of my posts to drafts and then reissued them, as far as I can remember. I may have fixed minor typos or something. I notice things from time to time. Maybe you got notifications for that. Maybe this Feedly thing has glitches in that I'm getting blamed for. I really have no idea. Sorry if that caused you any aggravation.

Vincent said...

It doesn't surprise me if Feedly has glitches. & when I mentioned Igoogle above, I meant Google Reader. It wasn't at all aggravating, I was just curious.

parlance said...

Hi, Vincent.
I've swapped over to Feedly also, since the demise (or is it the soon-to-occur demise?) of GoogelReader. I quite like it. I must add your blog back to my list now that you've reminded me of your existence. It's some years since we spoke to each other via our blogs.

As I said in my reply to you on my blog, I've certainly noticed a steep decline in numbers of visitors to my blogs. I do wonder if blogging is losing out to Twitter and to Facebook. I visited a blog recently and commented on it, only to discover it was an offshoot of Facebook and my details appeared appended to my comment. I didn't like that.

Brian Spaeth said...

Vincent, do you (or anyone else here) use Google+ to help drive traffic to your blog?

Vincent said...

No, do you? Or do you know how it works? The expression "drive traffic to your blog" carries little appeal to me, evoking as it does someone driving cattle into a corral. But perhaps the thing itself might be good, to tell potential readers about it.

Brian Spaeth said...

Agreed—it's not the most felicitous expression! (lol). I lapse into the lingo in my desperate efforts to conform and to keep up with the technology.
I was recently informed (by a marketing guru) that Google+ was absolutely essential in promoting my blog. I'm still trying to figure it out. What I do know is that it works in tandem with Blogger, and the first thing you need to do is to create a Google+ page with your bio and link it up with Blogger. This may pique the interest of sensitive and like-minded souls and alert them to the existence of your blog (how's that? lol)
I'll keep you posted on my progress. How's your big project coming along?

Vincent said...

It's coming on very well. I'm putting some concentrated work in, at the visible expense of no new post here.

Then the blog will be become a marketplace for the e-book, appropriately because each will have the same content, just on different and complementary media, forever in a conjugal embrace, whilst able to survive separately. The blog will hold the pictures and comments. the e-book will have greater convenience, portability and browsability.

Having assembled the infrastructure, I'll devote my time to marketing. And that is where I'll be ready to follow in your footsteps, as will other readers, perhaps.

Brian Spaeth said...

Looking forward to seeing it.
Myself, I'm on the brink of publishing my first e-book on smashwords—and I've included about a dozen fotos—and keeping my fingers crossed as to whether my formatting is up to snuff.
I'm a bit overwhelmed by all of the marketing, linking, cross-referencing, etc. My head is spinning and I barely know where to start! Heading to the library—it's 95 degrees here today...

Davoh said...

Interesting,=do? random 90-q3 images defi'10 =-amw perso 883290 nage. how can four random letters actcttractdrtcctagr definer humanoids.

Dunno yet, still randomly wondering and wandering.

zalandeau said...

You go between reality and wandering in the mind and the imagination. This happens to me sometimes. but it's still disorienting in others than for himself ...

Vincent said...

You are quite correct in this, Zalandeau. Your own writing is free from such flaws, and that is part of why I like it. But what can I do? This has become my habit and style.

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