Thursday, 29 October 2009

Exhaustion of the exhilirating kind

I had the best time today being guided around Orford Ness, having interesting conversations, getting to ask Robert Macfarlane about his book, sharing ideas, walking (maybe best of all the walking), being outside in the sun and in the wind, near water.

(For photos: http://

Orford Ness is a weird place. The built environment of the ness is so different from that of the town. I argued in last week's seminar that it might be possible for someone to experience the ness without being influenced by its military history but I think that's less likely now. Even if you don't know the specifics of it, the debris left around the island and the buildings might give it away. Until you could safely remove all of the signs saying there's danger of unexploded ordnance, please stay on the path, that'd always be a tip off.

We were told a story about a lighthouse keeper during one of the two world wars who went out for a walk and stepped on a landmine. That's a hell of a way to go. Who knows how many people have died on that piece of land.

The presence of a now decommissioned nuclear weapon in the learning center was surprising and unsettling to me. I didn't think of it this morning, but I did think of it standing in front of that bomb, that the t-shirt I was wearing had an artist's depiction of a tree in Japan--either Hiroshima or Nagasaki--that was damaged by the bomb but was able to regrow, albeit in a bit of a warped fashion. Duncan, the National Trust guide, said that there was a dial on this bomb that could be used to ramp up the degree of power and it could be ramped up to 100 times the destructive force of the bombs dropped on Japan. What insane games we play. All this research on nuclear weapons was being carried out after WWII, after we'd seen the destruction that these bombs could produce. Having visited Hiroshima and learned something of the power of a nuclear bomb it was unsettling to be in the same room with one, even if it was only the shell of one.

I thought a bit about ethics with the relation to the environment. What are the ethics of nuclear warfare? What are ethics of land management and conservation? Of environmental governance?

In the National Resources lecture last week about agriculture and conservation, the two major aims of conversation were listed to be (1) to safeguard a high level of richness of flora and fauna i.e. biodiversity and (2) to manage wildlife resources wisely for the benefit and rational use by man. For the benefit and rational use by man.

I'm not really a fan of when people talk about something for its own sake, but I think I am increasingly becoming a fan of the idea of Nature for Nature's sake. I think it's an ethical issue. Yes, we can take and we can utilize nature. But I don't think it's right, morally speaking, to deplete, to take without putting back or to see it only as it might be of use to us.

I came back to this idea today when learning about the ness. Duncan was talking about how they're trying not to mess with it, with natural processes, but prior to that he mentioned how they're taking shingle from one end of the spit to bring up to the neck which is thinning and weakening. So they're not messing with it, they're letting nature run its course except when and where the changes or lack of change are unattractive to people. They're not messing with it, but they're managing it. Selective interference. It's interesting.

And then I started thinking about erosion. It's an issue on the spit. It's formed by the moving of material and the material doesn't stop moving. The spit is being dragged south and also it's being eaten away at. They predict that the lighthouse will fall into the sea in about 5 years. And as we ate lunch on the pebble beach in front of the lighthouse and with move I made the pebbles shifted and depressions were formed and pebbles slid down the slops, I thought about how I was contributing to that erosion. I guess it's only a worry if you're trying to prevent it from occurring. The lighthouse is not an area that they're concerned with preserving or maybe the hope of preserving it didn't survive a cost-benefit analysis. What was it that Duncan said about managing the buildings -- they're treating them as ruins, just allowing them to decay.

Rob encouraged us to find hag stones or any stones and to take them with us. My training in nature says leave no trace, take out with you only what you bring in and leave nothing behind. There's a sense of downplaying our role in nature, I think. I'll take a stone and that's okay because it's just one stone and it won't change anything. But if everyone thinks that way, it can have a dramatic effect. I think littering is the same--oh, it's one piece of paper. And maybe it's not a big deal here because this land is in some ways like the pebbles on the beach, it's been turned over and worked for centuries. The impact of man on the landscape is obvious. Certainly there's a different attitude toward the land. Maybe it's less reverent. Maybe it's more accessible. But what are the ethics here?

I chose not to take a stone. I quite like to leave things where they lay--hard to do on a beach whether it's pebble or sand as those are surfaces that shift quite a bit under one's weight. The thought of taking a rock home with me seemed so heavy. I don't want to carry that around. I'd wonder about whether I should have taken it. I have picture. I have a memory of it. Are they as good as having something that I can hold in my hand? I don't know, but I personally feel better about it.

Uncertainty about the ethics of rock picking aside, I had a fantastic time today. The weather was great. The sun came out for most of the day. Lunch on the beach. Talk about literature. The presence of Duncan and Rob. The bits and pieces of knowledge which make up the history of the place. The strangeness of the buildings, the art of decay, the magic of plants growing within rock, or the little specks of dirt allow for the growth of plants--the embodiment of possibility and will of something to grow. The adaptive qualities of plants to their surroundings. The power of the ocean. The incredible sound while standing in a pagoda, a concrete test lab that's coming apart, or birds. The acoustics were fantastic. The old centrifuge building in lab 6 and thinking about if it were a pool . . . well then it would have the grandest entrance of any pool I've ever seen -- a staircase descending into the water and then an arch that you must pass under to get to the pool. The lighthouse. Jokes about coincidence and Thomas Hardy being buried there, in multiple graves. The colors of the rocks: orange, blue, black, burnt orange, purple, pink, white. The sheep with their diabolic horns. And being outside and walking all day. It feels wonderful to be this tired, this thoroughly worked, expended, physically and mentally and want to do it all over again. That's a good day. I long to feel like this at the end of every day.

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