I have an ambivalent attitude towards nature writing. Yet when I had a message from Joanna Walsh yesterday morning – as the full impact of the Conservative victory in the British general election began to sink in – asking me if I wanted to contribute to a series of fictional and creative responses to the news in 3am Magazine, it was landscape that suggested itself to me. This is how it started:
The fields are blue, the woods are blue, the hills are blue, the meadows and fens and floodplains are blue. Open your window and the chances are that what lies before you, as far as the eye can see, is blue. The grass is blue, the trees are blue, the lanes and motorway verges are blue, the hedges and edgelands blue, the greenbelt and brownfield blue. The view is blue. Click here to read the whole thing (it’s not long!)
It was the political map that did it. So blue, and such an ugly, saturated, inexorable blue at that. At the time of writing the piece, the very tip of Cornwall (the St Ives constituency) hadn’t declared, as it has to wait for votes to be flown in from the Scilly Isles before it can start counting. But still it occurred to me that you could start in Cornwall and walk a long, long way through the country before you saw any red, or yellow, or green. I voted Green, in the city, and of course we think of England as green – the hedges and fields, the full-to-bursting meadows and cool rolling hills, when in fact much of that blue map, that should be the countryside – should be green, if not Green – is nothing of the sort, is an arable wasteland.
It was that disjunction that set me writing, my revulsion at the blue of the country I should love, and the fact that, truly, the countryside is being de-greened, de-countryfied, de-natured, year on year. The tight little bursts of red on the political map of England are alive, vivid, angry; the vast swathes of blue are empty, dead, sprayed with the pesticide of conformity, industrialisation and conservatism. So I wrote an angry piece of nature writing, coating everything that should be vivid, individual, dappled and various with a thick slick of monotone blue. And this got me wondering about what it is about nature writing that I find problematic. Continue reading