Wednesday, 4 November 2009

A Second Look

In today's Wild East seminar, we looked over photos that Julie had taken during our Orford Ness field trip last week. I was surprised that my response to many of the photos was to laugh and smile. How bizarre, how absurd, is it to see a sign stating "unexploded ordnance"? I suppose absurd is a fitting term for a place where, in taking a break from your job at the lighthouse to stretch your legs, you just might be blown up by a landmine. I laughed at the picture of the sign that reads "Information Building". It's on the side of a building which I know to contain information about the island but, as a sign alone, it made me think of building not as a noun but rather a verb and how that structure upon which the sign is posted is attempting to undertake that very act: pulling bits and pieces, facts and fiction, to build a coherent body of information. Since much of what was done on the island in the 20th century was done under a shroud of secrecy, any information about that time period has been built, and, due to lack of facts and documentation, is likely to have been built out of best guesses, made up and imagined bits of information. Then there are pictures of some of the structures on the island that remind me of the mid-west of America. They look like farm houses and silos in the middle of the planes, the structures rising out of a flatness and standing at a distance from one another or grouped together based on functionality. We passed a tumbleweed made of rusted wire. I wouldn't have guessed there would be anything in the whole of England that would remind me of that part of the world.

It surprised me to have this response to the images because that's almost opposite of the response I had while to the island while on the island. There was an eeriness to it, a confusion to it, it's a place in transition, a place that's being left to "continuous ruination" (Duncan's phrase) but selectively being maintained or altered based on "need" and "value". It's a place where decommissioned labs (stripped of valuables) are left to nature's will, the light fixtures inside with their peeling glass are victims of gravity, and a place where roofs are repaired, information is collected and displays are dusted, where sheep are imported annually to keep the grass a certain (or varied) length to entice birds to visit. It's military. It's nature. It's disciplined. It's wild. It's land. It's sea. It's plant and animal. It's part of but disconnected. It's fertile. It's barren. It's bird and hare. It's creation and(/for) destruction. It's delicate. It's hardy. It's going to ruin. It's being conserved. It's always changing but a footprint lasts until something else come along to displace the rocks that hold it. It's left to nature. It's rearranged to suit people. It's erosion. It's deposition. It's recharing. It's rock. It's plant. It's bold and subtle. It's flat. It's ridged. It's rare yet it's like so many other places.

Erosion is happening all around the east coast of England and coasts all around the world. It's happening in Nigeria, in Bangladesh, in France. Where I come from it's mainly an issue because rich people have built their houses on cliffs, which came to be because of erosion, a process that doesn't stop once you've shelled out a few million for the land and cake-topper house. It's happening around the arctic. In Shishmaref, Alaska, erosion is occurring at an increasing rate because declining sea ice allows for higher storm surge and the thawing permafrost makes it more vulnerable to erosion. (The people of Shishmaref, much like the millionaires in their cliff houses, are now debating whether to stay where they've been for who knows how long or move their community somewhere else.) Some glaciers are eroding (calving) at record speeds. By erosion doesn't just happen on the coast and it's not always seen as a negative. Erosion is how the Hoodoo of Bryce Canyon, the 12 Apostles of Victoria, Australia and the Pinnacles of Western Australia developed. It's Victoria Falls. It's the story of the grand canyon and all canyons. Erosion is the great mission of water and wind.

I'm curious to see the oak tree Duncan spoke of that's been there for ages but not grown very tall, battered by the wind. It's miracle enough that a seed can find something to grow in on that pebble beach, but then to get to grow, to establish roots, that's pure luck.

My favorite place on the island was lab 2(?). The one in which we climbed down into the pit lined with metal elongated crosses and a ruler on the wall and listened to unseen birds. The quality of the sound was incredible. If you closed your eyes and followed the sound of their chirping, you could imagine yourself some place completely different . . . with really awesome acoustics.

I remember Rob pointing out the hag stones adorning a wire fence. I remember finding hag stones on the beach. I had never heard of or seen a hag stone before. I just did a quick search to see if I could find the process by which stones become hagged. I haven't come up with the answer to that question yet, but I've stumbled some interesting sites. (I'm by no means endorsing these sites or the information they contain. Just sharing for amusement.)

One site says, helpfully and I'd guess somewhat accurately as similar things are said in other sites:

"Hag Stone is a stone with a hole through it, which is believed to ward off the dead. In European, this stone keeps the "evil hag" spirit away in order to prevent her from stealing horses and children. (see Hag) The hag stone is especially used as a favorite talisman by Cunning Folk to dispel the evil eye. Other people hang this stone in bedrooms to prevent the succubus-hag from ridding on people's chests during nightmares.

In Italian Witchcraft the holed stone is associated with fairies, and often referred as the holy stone. It is considered a doorway, or key to the doorway, into the fairy kingdom. It Italian folk magic, it is believed these stones have the power to bind a fairy to one's service for a length of time. A.G.H."

And then there's this one:

"Hag stones are . . . gifts from the goddess Gaia, our Earth Mother, to remind us of the divine feminine, and the magic and wonderment of creation. . . . During the 'Middle Ages' the Christian church told people that by wearing such a stone they were protected from witche. However the truth has always remained the same- witches since the dawn of time have used these stones as protection from negativity, using them as portable amulets that epitomize the strength and protection of the circle; one element surounding another, in the case of a hag stone earth surrounds air; another natural example is an island, earth surrounded by water, hence islands were sacred places."

Yeah. To lean back in the direction of credibility, ladies and gentlemen, the OED.

"1787 GROSE Provinc. Gloss. Superstitions 57 A stone with a hole in it, hung at the bed's head, will prevent the night-mare; it is therefore called a *hag-stone."

Then there's my personal challenge of being able to rethink the whole 'take only photographs, leave on footprints' approach to nature. What do I think about taking a stone as a memory aid? What do I think about taking one as a treasure? Certainly I've collected stones. I had a whole bag of rocks -- so heavy it tore through the plastic. I'd been weeding out the ones that no longer seemed significant, but recently set the remainder of them free. Sure, some of them only got as far as my backyard, but they're outside.

It's said that the rocks used in hot stone massage should be returned to the earth every so often so that they can recharge.

I did a lot of work in my mom's backyard this summer. One project I did (with the help of my boyfriend) was build a retaining wall. It wasn't one of my pre-planned projects but rather it came about because of a misunderstanding--I asked if the gardeners who tend to the mostly dirt backyard could cut back a plant and they ripped it out. So my boyfriend and I spent a few hours one Saturday building a retaining wall to keep the dirt slope that was left where the plant used to be from washing onto the patio just in case it should rain. When we started digging to create a line where the wall should be and also to even out the distribution of dirt behind the wall, we found that the dirt was full of stones. Whether this was used as a (largely unsuccessful) drainage technique or just as filler I'm not sure. But we pulled the rocks out and there are at least three good-sized buckets of rocks in the backyard now. I guess my point is that the rocks I collected aren't alone either in terms of having no company or in having been relocated.

Rob does talk about taking the stones back to the places they're from after he's had for a while. A catch and release program for rocks. I can romanticize that. Taking and giving back. You take a little some from the rock and give it back with a little something -- an energy, an oil, a warmth.

This reminds me of the "text work" by Richard Long that was introduced the first week of class. Crossing Stones, it's called. He walks a stone from Aldeburgh on the east coast of England to Aberystwyth on the west coast of Wales and then picks a stone from Aberystwyth and walks it to Aldeburgh. The image of the journey for me is stunning. We joked at the time that we'd quite like to try and find those stones. Maybe they'd be easy to spot. Where they the same type of rock?

My block against taking the rocks is because, while the argument has been made to me that taking a few rocks wouldn't make a difference on the beach, surely it would make a difference if enough people with that thinking were to come take rocks. I think it aids the erosion. It's anthropogenic erosion. So was talking along the beach, each step displacing the rocks and sending many rolling down the slope towards the sea. And in place, too, where our footprints last, our every move makes that place different. It may not matter in the greater sense as this beach is moving and the rocks we take won't stop that process, the process by which water and tides redistribute materials. But, really, I should let it go. It's not a matter of right and wrong and I'm being repetitive. The good thing to come of my all-too-frequently thinking on the issue is that I've had to reconsider it, take a closer look and appreciate a different perspective and approach to nature (say British vs. American). One that doesn't regard it as pristine or sacred, but rather as something you can pick up, hold in your hand and take home with you. I've enjoyed theorizing the reasons for that difference.

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