Thursday, August 30, 2007

The wildness of the gryke

Following on from my previous posting, I see the new Robert Macfarlane book is now out: there was a review by Andrew Motion in The Guardian last weekend. I was interested in what he has to say about one episode in Macfarlane’s search for wild landscapes, accompanied by the late Roger Deakin. ‘As they lie face down on the limestone Burren, peering into a gryke (a fissure) in the surface, Deakin points out that what they can see below them is just as "beautiful and complex ... as any glen or bay or peak. Miniature, yes, but fabulously wild". As Macfarlane broods on this, he recovers some of the optimism about his subject that had been challenged on the high peaks. "Down in the gryke ... I had seen another wildness at work: an exuberant vegetable life, lusty, chaotic and vigorous. There was a difference of time-scheme between these kinds of wildness, too. My sense of a landscape's wildness had always been affected by the gravitational pull of its geological past - by the unstillable reverberations of its earlier makings by ice and fire. The wildness of the gryke, though, was to do with nowness, with process. It existed in a constant and fecund present."

Coincidentally, the very next day I was myself looking into grykes on the limestone pavement at Malham Cove. We had the place almost to ourselves in the early evening as the sun cast long shadows (see my photograph below). It’s true that there are miniature worlds in these fissures, although you can’t help noticing the odd bottle or sweet wrapper too.

Limestone pavement, Malham Cove

Back in Skipton I discussed with my friend who the ideal poet of limestone landscapes would be and he suggested Auden, thinking of ‘In Praise of Limestone’ (1948) which talks about ‘the one landscape that we, the inconstant ones, are consistently homesick for.’ Peter Davidson, in his book The Idea of North starts his list of features that make up the Audenesque landscape: ‘Limestone moors, high fields enclosed by stone walls, lonely pubs, upland farms, isolated junction stations...’ The poet Blake Morrison, reminiscing about his childhood, has written of Malham Cove and the Dales: ‘What I love is the dry stone walls, the sheep, the limestone that inspired WH Auden's poems. It's not a straightforward love. I've made my life elsewhere, but the Dales will always be the source of my imagination.’

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