The land and the landscape

I know, it looks great from up here.

It has been a quiet autumn, and a fairly quiet start of the year. Mostly because I have been parked in one spot, and spent my time on alterations and repairs, but also on trying to get to know the landscape I’m in. For me, this rolling farmland in the southern parts of France is quite different from where I grew up and also from most places that I lived for any longer periods of time. To get acquainted with a new type of land, the weather, soil, animals and plants has been an interesting time.

One thing that differs greatly from both colder climates and urban life, is how much faster the cycle of life and death is in the warmer and more humid climate. It’s good to see that so little goes to waste, that what dies gets picked up again in the cycle. It has had an impact on my understanding of ‘waste’ also. While I for some time had the notion that ‘waste’ is what the flora and fauna of a place can’t make use of to grow, I see it more clearly and on a day to day basis here.

On the downside, the maintenance of the house also requires more attention. Nothing can be left for very long before something else moves in, or before the mold starts to appear. It might seem like a placid sort of place, but in a way it’s even more hectic than any city I’ve lived in in terms of constant movement and the need to pay attention.

The difference between land and landscape is also increasingly clear. The landscape is farmland, the land, is a forest. I use, of course, the term land here to describe the formation of the rocks and earth and the general climate, and the term landscape to describe how humans use it. The formation of the land is soft, gently sloping acidic soil. It rains a great deal here, and there is a river running down in the valley that defines the area. Trees wants to grow here, particularly chestnut and oak. And it only takes a few weeks for the first saplings to start covering the ground if left alone.

It may seem obvious, the impact humans have had in forming their habitat for the last millenniums. But it’s always different to literary see things happening before your eyes than to read of them. And so many places have been altered to such a degree that you can’t even see what they were meant to be. It’s a pretty well known how humans alter their surroundings to suit them. Fortunately, the belief that this is both necessary and good is dwindling.

There is little doubt that the land would be healthier if left alone. Most of the farms have cows as their main operation. And while it should seem obvious that large amounts of huge, hoofed animals is not what you want on soft, wet land, it’s easy to think so if you only look at the surface, the open meadows, the apparently friendly surrounding. But the sheer amount of mud, the insects, the increasingly either scorched or drenched earth practically screams for more trees with deep roots, and less plondering flatfeet.

It was much more obvious, when I stayed in betonbois where the ground was all covered in giant hogweed, that the land pretty much said ‘sod off, I’m healing’. Here, it takes more time to discover that the kind looking land really isn’t very fond of visitors at all. The more ground I cover, the more I travel and the slower I move, the more explicit it becomes that humans really need to take several steps back and look at where they really are instead of striving so hard to push a fantasy onto their surroundings. And tomorrow, I’ll be on the road again.