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Posts Tagged ‘greenbelt’

greenbeltOne of the recurrent emotional themes in my life’s story is that of lamenting the loss of green spaces treasured since childhood and, by association, I presume a good deal of my self with them.

I was fortunate growing up in rural England, meadows and woodland on my doorstep, an ancient space I could disappear into the whole day long, a space that responded to childhood imagination and to the later private poet – the spirits of place alive and well and taking me into their confidence.

As I grew, the woods and meadows seemed an immutable fact, an anchor to a solid bedrock, holding me steady. No matter what else happened, they would be the same, their familiarity a salve for the occasional humiliations meted out by the pitiless ogre of growing up. If I felt threatened, anxious, lonely, I could simply walk those familiar ways, pick up the company of my ghosts and emerge easier in my head.

Life has not taken me away from my roots. I settled locally, settled into a career within easy commuting distance, married a local girl, bought a house, had children. I realise I have somehow existed well into my sixth decade in this small circle, in the north of England. It feels familiar, intimate, safe. But in that time those meadows have also suffered from the scourge of greenbelt erosion. There are now vast housing estates intruding upon my past, and I curse them, because I want my past to remain inviolable. I’ve watched the diggers moving into one meadow after the other and felt something akin to grief at their destruction – each bit of green a life taken, a spirit of place evicted. Precious,… irreplaceable.

The other side of this argument runs that as populations increase there is an inevitable demand for new houses. There is nothing we can do to prevent it. If it were not ‘my’ meadows disappearing, it would be someone else’s. And lately it’s made me suspicious the way I become angry at this thing I cannot possibly do anything about. So I ask myself, is it that I treasure the place, or merely the past versions of my ‘self’ I imagine it represents? Do I champion the breathing space and the freedom it affords me, or is it more I am imprisoned by it?

There is a world of beautiful, open space out there – just not on my doorstep. All I have is that bit of space I’ve got. So the question is, in my lament for its loss, am I restricting the person I might otherwise be?

I read a line in a book recently, that we are indeed whomever we allow ourselves to be, that through fear of the unknown, we risk keeping ourselves small. We choose the familiar path, keep to the places we know rather than venture abroad, try out the new, the unfamiliar, and grow. This is the mantra of the entrepreneur of course, of the big-shot businessman – nothing ventured, nothing gained. You too could be a millionaire, and all that,… and if you’re not it’s because you didn’t think big enough, that you wasted your life, that instead of lamenting the vast housing estates blanketing the once virgin green, you should be the one building them!

It depends how you measure success of course, but I take the point.

But still, I suspect the bigger point is this, that the obstacle to self growth is more the inability to let go of what must inevitably change – change into a form we no longer recognise or connect with. Everything changes, and we must change with it, and not view the change in it, or in us as being in any way important. It may cause us deep regret, but it just is.

Small circles, big circles – they’re are the all same. Live your whole life in one little town, or circle the globe. But it is the singularity at their centre that’s important, also that we take the trouble now and then to seek it out. How to find the centre of a circle? Euclid might give us a clue, something to do with bisecting chords is one method I recall, but that’s for the circles other people draw for you. The centre of our own circle is always wherever we happen to be standing at the time.

blake-newton

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greenbelt

My walk home from school was more pleasant than my walk to it. The meadows were darker on the way there, more restless and brooding, but brighter, greener, fresher on the way back. Thus the land reflects emotion, amplifies it, responds to imagination. To know the land for long enough is to have it become a part of who we are, mirror to our mood. To know buildings is not the same. It is only in the land the spirit of place can dwell, and when the land is gone, covered over with the built environment, the spirit dies.

There was a little brook by the roadside where we used to stop on the way home from school. I remember it as a dappled oasis, a stream full of little stars and reward aplenty for the indignities suffered during the school day. I remember too the faces of my pals, hear the echo of their voices, feel the mood of joyous play.

The brook has gone now. It was a nuisance to grown-ups, and is diverted through a culvert, buried beneath the entrance to a housing estate, as indeed every meadow along that mile long route to school is similarly built upon, the spirit of place expunged by “development”.

In similar vein my childhood bedroom looked out over the green of the Yarrow Valley, a place of quiet contemplation and leafy walks, to which I am still regularly drawn. To lose oneself in the quiet of a moving meditation is to envision the land with a magic others cannot see or feel. The romanticism of past ages touched me there, rendered me sensitive to dimensions beyond sight and ordinary knowing, and it’s to that place I owe my writing. But like my little stream of stars, there are rumours it too will soon be gone. Others say the rumours are false, but I’m unsettled by them all the same, grown cynical and lacking trust in my old age. Housing has encroached so much in past decades, it seems a natural progression for them to take what little remains here. 

I remember coming up from the river once, crossing a particularly lovely stretch of meadow. I was brooding on a girl I knew – or rather a girl I wanted very much to know. It was a glowering dusk, and against the skyline there was a huge, wind-blasted tree, sculpted by centuries of leaning against the prevailing wind, and there was the gentle curve of a hill, very feminine in outline, and a hint of thunder in a hot wind that rendered the leaves restless – all of this a perfect mirror for my mood. The meadow too was dewy, my footsteps forming a lone trail, lightly drawn as if upon a silvery veil, reflecting the fragility of the moment. It was such a long time ago, but whenever I return I am reminded of that night, the way my imagination connected, and how the land spoke.

Today that same perfect curve of skyline is broken by the jackknifed outline of houses, and there are these possibly pernicious rumours that speak of ripping up the meadow, as the houses move yet further south into this still glorious belt of green. I have watched the inexorable march year on year with a mixture of profound regret and puzzlement. Can it really be that, like my childhood stream of stars, it will be gone? And why do so few of us value it so much, when others value it so little they can blithely trade it on the market and dig it up.

Developers talk of greenbelt as if its preservation is an encumbrance, a distraction from the target to build and monetise an otherwise unproductive resource. But uninterrupted green is important too, its value intangible of course, at least in terms of pounds and pence, and if all we have left is a quarter mile belt around our towns, sufficient only as a place we take our dogs to defecate, we have already lost too much.

Of course there can be no permanence in the material world. All things must change; we all grow old and die, and sometimes the storms will come and fell the mighty oak, known and loved by generations. Likewise our footsteps, traced across the dewy meadow, will be gone by morning, lost to a new dawn. But let them be dissolved by sunlight, taken back into the eternal memory that is the spirit of the land, not obliterated by the ignominy of several thousand tons of brick and concrete.

 

 

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