We have moved from the flat, flint and clay lands of East Anglia to the hilly stone lands of the Peak District. It is lovely to see the difference in the buildings as they respond to what’s abundant in the land. Today we are in Castleton, there are no ancestors to hunt down and visit here (as far as I know) and it is something of a relief. No expectation, no stories, just me and the land.
Mum dropped me off near Mam Tor and I wandered down into the valley and got to approach our lodging on foot. Yesterday morning I purchased some waterproof pants and shoes so when it started raining cats and dogs I was fully prepared. There were lots of highlights to the walk – wildflowers, springs, new birds, a butterfly. I love how things that seem familiar like bracken or hawthorn appear entirely different in this landscape, old friends in new forms.
I also love the convention and history of public footpaths. The fact that private land is laced with thoroughfares, pierced and permeated by deeper laws of free movement. A historical marker informed me that the path I took down from the ridge is/was used to travel between Castleton and Edale in the neighbouring valley.
I did get a bit lost at the end though, it seems not all the landholders are equally respectful of the footpaths. I went down one that petered out and ended at an impressive, modern fence. I found a place to jump the fence, feeling conspicuous in my bright red raincoat, and gingerly crossed a paddock full of sheep to the path on the other side. Before long I came across a local who assured me that my destination was a mere 500 metres away.
The questions that arose in my last post are still very much alive but the feeling of grief has eased. I spent some time playing uke and singing to the Earth, which always eases my heart. I could’t play outside because of the rain and the only room with no one in it had frosted glass windows. I was disappointed I couldn’t sing to the birds or animals or trees but in the end the man from reception came in and thanked me for my performance so I was reassured that the Earth was listening either way.
On the road we have continued listening to the Hedge School podcast. I have enjoyed Sharon’s romantic tales about living in the land of her ancestors, surrounded by ancient myth and cocreating stories with the Earth but I really appreciated witnessing them overturned by Stephen Jenkinson. He interrupted her line of questioning to ask “How do you view us?” meaning settler/colonialists (he’s from Canada). Then asked “Do you think we have anything new to share after 400 years?”
Sharon was put on the spot and fluffed the response but the question landed deeply in me. Letting go of my romantic ideals about ‘coming home to the land of my ancestors’ gives rise to new possibilities. What have I and my ancestors learned from the experience of immigration? What might I have to offer this place and these people?
His question and Sharon’s response made ‘the land of our ancestors’ look like another kind of colonial project – imposing a narrative. Reminds me of Charles Eisenstein mentioning the danger of ‘appropriating our ancestral heritage.’ Sharon wants to invite all us settlers to suckle from the breast of our motherland but I was raised in the bosom of a different country and the milk was no less nourishing.