Our print of Darren Almond's Sandwalk Wood (2014)
Each day I pass on our stairs this print by the photographer Darren Almond. It is one of his long-exposure images taken at night, which I mentioned here previously in 'Moons of the Iapetus Ocean'. This print came with an accompanying limited edition book, To Leave a Light Impression, which includes a short essay by T. J. Demos that uses Almond's photographs to discuss denaturalised nature, hyperobjects and the anthropocene. Fullmoon@Cerro Chaltén (2013) for example 'shows a nature estranged'; its uncanny appearance suggests the impression it must have made on Charles Darwin, who stopped in this remote landscape during his voyage on The Beagle, and the disorientating effect his work had on Victorian ideas of nature. Our print feels, by contrast, quiet and mysterious: the dark tree's leaves are lit with a weak golden light and a silvery mist covers the field beyond the gate. Visitors to our house have asked what the significance of this place is. A world away from the rivers and mountains of Patagonia, it is Sandwalk Wood near Bromley, a landscape just as important to Charles Darwin, as it contained his thinking path. His son Francis describes it in The life and letters of Charles Darwin (1887):
'My father's midday walk generally began by a call at the greenhouse, where he looked at any germinating seeds or experimental plants which required a casual examination, but he hardly ever did any serious observing at this time. Then he went on for his constitutional—either round the "Sand-walk," or outside his own grounds in the immediate neighbourhood of the house. The "Sand-walk" was a narrow strip of land 1½ acres in extent, with a gravel-walk round it. On one side of it was a broad old shaw with fair-sized oaks in it, which made a sheltered shady walk; the other side was separated from a neighbouring grass field by a low quickset hedge, over which you could look at what view there was, a quiet little valley losing itself in the upland country towards the edge of the Westerham hill, with hazel coppice and larch wood, the remnants of what was once a large wood, stretching away to the Westerham road. I have heard my father say that the charm of this simple little valley helped to make him settle at Down.
'The Sand-walk was planted by my father with a variety of trees, such as hazel, alder, lime, hornbeam, birch, privet, and dogwood, and with a long line of hollies all down the exposed side. In earlier times he took a certain number of turns every day, and used to count them by means of a heap of flints, one of which he kicked out on the path each time he passed. Of late years I think he did not keep to any fixed number of turns, but took as many as he felt strength for.'