Some thoughts prompted by EAFS,
I am sure that pages have and will be been written about EAFS, about the numerous and wonderful projects and the atmosphere that made it an extraordinary weekend. I gladly add my voice to that but would rather take up this space exploring an idea that has been bothering me since. It is a bit complicated and I am not sure I understand it myself.
But first, deep and sincere thanks to everyone who made it happen. At its heart EAFS allowed selfless acts of giving of time, energy and creativity, towards a collective idea. It is something of a paradox that even though most of the elements were dispersed, separated by miles of moorland and composed of widely differing activities either in the process of coming towards, or requiring a journey away from the centre, it was there, at Morton, that the idea was most powerfully realised. Perhaps a paradox would describe the event very well. Our attention, our participation, was not directed inward towards a kind of festival hedonism but was outward into the surroundings and most important, towards each other.
I hesitated to use the term, landscape, above because after listening to a confusing half hour of a guided campfire conversation one evening, I woke in the night with an uncomfortable feeling of impatience for ideas of landscape, and countryside, and even for the hallowed idea of Environment. The first two because of the implication of separation; landscape, I thought in my somnolence, is a conceit of those whose hands are clean in their pockets, those who like a nice view. Countryside, is meaningless, a confection. And, Environment? Environmentalism, as an orthodoxy, has created a typically labyrinthine web of political correctness, half-understood terms, contradictory information, alarmist ultimatums, lobbying strategies, and is frankly incomprehensible, even if you care. You can tell it was a restless night.
But I do care, instinctively. I bite my tongue to say this but having shed a few layers of my carapace, thanks to EAFS, I think I should say it anyway. Instinctively, I care more for where and how I live than I do for most other things but I am not an optimist. I do not believe there is ‘a solution.’ That’s what I mean by orthodoxy – we will not, by observance, be delivered unto everlasting life, we will not return to paradise, we will not halt climate change. In short: change, death, is inevitable – our own, and the Environment’s if we understand it as immutable and somehow sacred in something approximating its present state, or even if we believe it is in need of saving. There is a huge minefield between caring and acceptance which I do not pretend to understand or intend to investigate here. Neither do I think this view is any more realistic than any other. Nor, emphatically, that one should remain passive.
EAFS brought together some essentials: people, thought, a little understanding and, more importantly, the will to act. These are essential to maintaining any humanity in our existence and, I propose, to the making of a community. Further, only through community can these essentials be focussed and amplified into an intention which, whatever our individual feelings about the overwhelming scale and complexity of the Environment question, is large enough to address it meaningfully. And this, for me, is one of the great achievements of EAFS; it has created the space for this community to realise itself.
The most extraordinary moment at EAFS was a demonstration of just this. On Saturday evening a mounted squadron of Cornets from the region’s Common and March Ridings, dressed in full regalia, galloped into the encampment and delivered water from a well at Moffat. Leaving aside the earth symbolism of this journey and the shocking power of the beautiful animals they rode, the meeting of these two communities represented by the Cornets and, let’s call them, the Dowsers, for want of a better description, was perhaps the most significant moment of the weekend. Nothing needs to be done about this except to remember and consider it, and I hope I am doing that here. These are two communities that may never have met before and, one can imagine, may have little time for each other yet here they were standing together on the same ground, on common ground. What could be more significant? This action has made a new community possible.
This brings me back to the idea of landscape. The word has two main roots. Land, old German, meaning an area which is described by those who live on it; the tribe or group whose identity is associated with the place. Scotland, the place of the Scots, England, the place of the Angles. And the suffix, -scape, which derives from two connected roots, in old German again: the verb, to shape, and –ship, which means the condition or state of being the thing expressed in the substantive, land. Landscape, therefore, can mean an area shaped by its inhabitants, or more precisely, the condition or state of being the area described by its inhabitants. This is markedly different from the way the actual word arrived in English. It came from Holland in the 16th century invented by a school of painters to describe the content of their work, perhaps simply to distinguish themselves from portrait painters.
My wakeful impatience is rewarded for here, it seems to me, is a way of gently nudging one landscape meaning out of its frame, and considering the idea of landscape-landship; the state or condition of being the land shaped by this community. The land of the Scots remains accessible to its people and this interpretation of the landscape word seems to reinforce that right. My landscape, in its new meaning, the Queensberries, Nithsdale, the Keir Hills, now includes me within it rather than me looking at it remotely through a frame, or even through the prism of Environmentalism, and the state or condition of being me, my me-ship, includes this land. This is so glaringly obvious I am considering abandoning this piece in embarrassment.
It is not ownership, a fashionably misused word, it does not belong to me neither have I ‘bought into’ it, nevertheless I am affected by it and it by me. We are inextricable and my capacity to affect it is real whether I choose to care about it or not. And I do care, instinctively, as I have said, but have not considered it in this light till now, till EAFS.
Another word which arose in that fireside chat was narrative; is the landscape a narrative? Yes, of course it is, and narrativization, apart from being a mouthful, is the last word to consider here. It describes a process of remembering, of editing and ordering essential elements of an experience to make sense of them in the context of their re-telling. All history is a narrative and, like all narratives, it is constantly being rewritten. The horses coming to EAFS is a narrative to make the point about community and the next time I tell it, it will inevitably be different. I may want to make a different point.
Landscape, as a narrative, carries in its geology the story of the beginning of the universe, and it continues through every other aspect of its existence down to our feeble scratchings in its surface. Like every good narrative, every day is a retelling, an overlaying of what went before with what is happening now; a process of erosion, forgetting and discarding as much as of depositing, adding and, growth. All are part of its shape and apparent condition, its landship. Making the walk from Dumfries to Morton we passed under new roads, through long abandoned mill leats, gorges cut through sandstone over millennia, new plantations and ancient woodlands, all constantly changing, constantly dying, being eroded, overgrown and evolving. They are all elements of the landscape’s narrative, from the Queensberry Hill to the teeming protozoa in the cleats of my boot; a layered narrative of a layered landscape inhabited by layered communities.
Bearing in mind the meandering thoughts above, by temporarily inhabiting the area, in effect, EAFS created the Morton landscape for the duration of the festival. We, the EAFS community, affected it and were affected by it; we stood, swam, walked, talked, performed and journeyed in it, babies may even have been conceived in it, and from now on a layer of the greater Morton Castle narrative will contain EAFS, in the way it contains the Birdman. And the EAFS narrative and community will be a layer of the Morton landscape.
And Environmentalism? It seems to me that a characteristic of this all-encompassing subject is that it cuts vertically through the layering. All layers of the landscape, and therefore of narrative and community are included in this term and are implicated in its condition. If we, the EAFS community that is, wish to affect the Environment, all layers of landscape, community and narrative have to be engaged.
How? EAFS began a narrative of inclusion with the Cornets and the Dowsers, the like of which is rarely seen and in which great potential exists because it also cuts vertically through the layers of community. It may come to nothing but I will never forget it, it is now part of my narrative and, although it does not make me an optimist, it is the first sentence of a new narrative and a point on which it is possible to stand and to act. It is very difficult to set out to achieve this, that’s politics and a great big turn-off, so was it by design or accident that all the elements of EAFS, all extraordinary in their own right, also conspired to bring it about? No, I think it’s some other thing deeply connected to creativity and to the unconscious will of a community which, given the opportunity, will express itself. It might be called humanity.