I’m with my family in Windermere, where we have come for a few days walking and reading, but so far walking has been almost impossible because of the weather, continuous heavy rain with gale force winds. We drove the short distance to Ambleside this morning which have us a chance to appreciate the utter inability of the County Council to provide adequate drainage for their major roads, so that we got lots of practice negociating massive puddles. Still, it’s the Lake District, not Scotland, and the differences are noticeable. The temperature is almost 10 degrees warmer than Dundee’s; the autumn with its colours has lingered longer here; there is a delicate knobbliness to the landscape which is unlike anything in Scotland; and the lakes themselves, which are similar to some Scottish lochs in position, extent, and history, contain their own special secrets like the Vendace, a fish which was considered extinct in the UK but continues to swim in Bassenthwaite Lake.
The landscape of the Lake District is civilised compared with that of the Scottish highlands; as its farmers insist, it has been shaped by farming over thousands of years; as walkers insist, it has been opened up by their habitual routes, the thousands of paths which traverse its hills and dales. Whereas the narratives of climbing in the highlands emphasise wildness and even heroism, Lake District walking has its classic expression in the dry and meticulous descriptions of Wainwright.
When I walk here I now automatically readjust my focus. In Scotland my eye tends to be on a more or less distant horizon, a ridge, a shoulder, a peak. Here I focus on the path and its immediate surrounndings; on the steep bulge of a fell rising from the road; on the trees, shrubs, wild flowers, sheep. Of course all these exist also in Scotland, but because the distances covered by walks are often greater, I am accustomed to a more comprehensive view. My love for disparate landscapes is expressed in different expeditions, different perspectives, different discoveries. But it is love, a kind of biophilia directed at particular emvironments.
I have been conscious or this love since early childhood, when the combination of holidays in the highlands and school terms in Glasgow produced in me a passion for the former and an ability to find and cherish bits of wilderness in the latter. It still draws me to find such places, a beach maybe, or a hillside, for a walk or a run, every day, because this contact nourishes me. I think the natural world can do this because I am its child. As one of the 8 species of great apes, humanity has developed from the biosphere’s continual interaction with the rocks and oceans of our planet, and their interaction with the universe, especially with the sun. My body, mind and spirit are made of the same stuffs as the stars and all other living things, drawing on the same sources of energy and contributing my wastes as energy for others. I am part of the web of life, except that because of my intelligence and immorality I also contribute to the pollution of the planet and the extinction of countless species from that web. All other species of life on earth, on the other hand, are perfectly obedient to the natural laws generated by the web itself because their mental and phyical processes contribute to the generation of these laws. They are wholly integrated with the web of life, whereas I am able, to some extent, to free myself from it and its laws, a freedom used for example by Leonardo da Vinci to paint the Mona Lisa and invent numerous clever ways of killing people.
Still, my love for the earth is genuine.
My tradition of faith has invited me to imagine the universe and its living beings as existing within the life of One who is not the universe, but has created it, loves it, and keeps it.
He shewed me a little thing, the quantity of an hazel-nut, in the palm of my hand; and it was as round as a ball. I looked thereupon with eye of my understanding, and thought: What may this be? And it was answered generally thus: It is all that is made. I marvelled how it might last, for methought it might suddenly have fallen to naught for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasteth, and ever shall for that God loveth it. And so All-thing hath Being by the love of God. In this Little Thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loveth it, the third, that God keepeth it. (Julian of Norwich, Showings, chapter 5)
According to Julian, the universe which is unimaginably huge to me, is small in the hand of the great God and has its true being through him/her. Like me, the One who is not the universe, loves it, and gives it house room within Godself. Out of love too God makes him/herself small enough to enter the universe, seeking a house, but experiencing rejection: “ Foxes have holes and the birds of the air their nests, but the Son of Man has nowhwere to lay his head.” Still he seeks lodging in human lives, “Behold I stand at the door and knock.”
Can I say that this creator God is like me in being afflcted with biophilia, and understands the affection with which I look at the empty picnic tables on the wet wharf?