I have been investigating the geology of East Galway and the so called boring part of Ireland’s landscape, the central lowlands. Some 300 to 340 million years ago this area was a shallow tropical sea, i.e. it was located in the tropics and only much later drifted north. The carboniferous limestone that forms its core is composed of the skeletons of small sea creatures, mostly plankton, from that time. Now that it not so boring is it? In the course of my thinking about the influence this has on us, particularly if we are sitting in the middle of it all, I came across the following quote about the influence of landscape on culture etc:
The Landscape in Arts and Culture
“The landscape also has a more subtle, if at times difficult to define, influence on the psyche. That influence is evident across a wide cultural spectrum. In song, the impact of such places is celebrated, as in the Mountains of Mourne, the Hills of Clare, the Meeting of the Waters, and Slievenamon. In the works of painters such as Paul Henry’s In Connemara, Derek Hill’s Tory Island. Poets, like W.B. Yeats and Patrick Kavanagh, who were inspired by the landscape of Sligo and many modern writers like John McGahern or John Broderick, both using settings in midland Ireland. The film-maker Sam Hanna Bell demonstrates the influence of Strangford Lough in his work. Landscape affects all of us in some way. Even if it is sometimes a subconscious response, we acknowledge its beauty, its changing colours, its moods.”
This is all very true and to most of us rather obvious. I want to call it the surface view of the natural world, even the superficial view, if that isn’t seen as too judgemental. It has to be said though that some of the artists mentioned above, Yeats for example, would certainly be aware of a deeper significance to Nature. I want to contrast this view with a deep ecological view as expressed by Stephan Harding in his wonderful book “Animate Earth”. This view connects our deep psychological response to “the landscape” and to what lies beneath landscape and suggests that the “subconscious response” mentioned above is crucial to our health and well being and reciprocally to the health and well being of the Earth. This is how Stephan puts it:
“….the human organism is inherently predisposed to seeing nature as alive and full of soul, and that we repress this fundamental mode of perception at the expense of our own health, and that of the natural world.” page 27.
This “deep” ecological view (deep ecology is a concept of Arne Naess 2005) when seen as influencing our psychological, emotional and spiritual states is close to what I understand by ecopsychology.
Here is Yeats:
I have walked among the seven woods of Coole:
Shan-walla, where a willow-bordered pond
Gathers the wild duck from the winter dawn;
Shady Kyle-dortha; sunnier Kyle-na-no,
Where many hundred squirrels are as happy
As though they had been bidden by green boughs
Where old age cannot find them; Pairc-na-lee,
Where hazel and ash and privet blind the paths;
Dim Pairc-na-carraig, where the wild bees fling
Their sudden fragrances on the green air;
Dim Pairc-na-tarav, where enchanted eyes
Have seen immortal, mild, proud shadows walk;
Dim Inchy wood, that hides badger and fox
Do our woods
And winds and ponds cover more quiet woods,
More shining winds, more star-glimmering ponds?
Is Eden out of time and out of space?
And do you gather about us when pale light
Shining on water and fallen among leaves,
And winds blowing from flowers, and whirr of feathers
And the green quiet, have uplifted the heart?
(The Shadowy Waters, 1906)