Landscape and Memory
Visiting my parents this Christmas, I was able to wander around the area I grew up in and one thing that struck me quite forcefully was how potent the landscape was with personal meaning. For instance, the lane close to my parents house was not just a lane leading from A to B but a place of countless childhood adventures (imagined and otherwise). The oak tree halfway along this lane was not merely a tree but something slightly sinister due to it’s frequent appearances in the ghost stories we village kids used to scare each other with. Similarly the fallen tree at the end of the lane was more than a fallen tree – it was our den and, in later years, when I was more interested in boys than making dens, it became the place where I had my first kiss.
The lane runs along a slight ridgeway and halfway along there is a break in the hedgerow from which you can see much of the surrounding area. I stopped here and allowed the landscape to evoke memory after memory – some joyful and some unhappy, some special and some mundane. From my vantage point I could see the bus stop where I spent hours as a teenager waiting for the bus to take me to college. I could see the steep field which my sister and I once decided to do roly-polys down just after the corn had been cut – we looked like we had measles by the time we reached the bottom, as we were so badly prickled by the stubble! I noticed another field where I had spent night after night watching for meteorites or ‘UFOs’ as I used to think they were. To put in simply, so many aspects of my childhood seemed to be inscribed on to the landscape and this got me thinking that it must have been the same for people and communities in the past – probably more so as people moved about less so would have occupied the same landscape for their entire lives.
I grew up in a very rural area so my personal landscape is one of fields, trees and hills. However, I imagine people who have dwelt in the same town or city for a considerable time will feel the same about certain aspects of the urban landscape. Just as each tree, hedge, field, hollow, track or hill would have meant something to someone at some point, I guess each street corner or park does too.
So, something to think about when you’re out and about….. 🙂