In The Wild Places (2007), Robert MacFarlane ponders the importance of our encounters with place. Those often unromantic but intensely meaningful places we all hold a store of.
“Most of these places, however, were not marked as special on any map. But they became special by personal acquaintance. A bend in the river, a junction of four fields, a climbing tree, a stretch of old hedgerow or a fragment of woodland glimpsed from a road regularly driven along – these might be enough. Or fleeting experiences, transitory, but still site-specific: a sparrow hawk sculling low over a garden or street, or the fall of evening light on a stone, or a pigeon feather caught on a strand of spider’s silk, and twirling in mid-air like a magic trick…
“Little is said publicly about these encounters. This is partly because it is hard to put language to such experiences. And partly, I guessed, because those who experience them feel no strong need to broadcast their feelings…They would return to people as memories, recalled while standing on a station platform packed tightly as a football crowd, or lying in bed in a city, unable to sleep, while the headlights of cars pan round the room.
“It seemed to me that these nameless places might in fact be more important than the grander, wild lands that for so many years had gripped my imagination. Taken together, the little places would make a map that could never be drawn by anyone, but which nevertheless existed in the experience of countless people.”
It’s a passing consideration for MacFarlane, a small part of his efforts to make sense of what constitutes the ‘wild’ in modern Britain, what it’s value might be. For JCP, of course, these issues are an obsession. Our relationships with places, and the moments of heightened consciousness they evoke, are full of secrets, and secrets that are fundamental to everything that is most affecting, even somehow magical, in human culture.
But as MacFarlane points out, experiences of the little places aren’t talked about. Best not. It’s all too vague and odd-sounding, particularly when it comes to attributing actual significance to attitudes and how lives are lived.