Category Archives: The Wilds

Pyrenees Wildflowers

Pyrenees wildflowers get their own post, from irises and lilies and roses to orchids and tiny flowers hidden among the windswept rocks, they were all extraordinary.

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A Most Beautiful Place: In search of the Dolmen of Izas

An amazing walk, starting from La Estación de Canfranc and walking up and up. We stopped first at the Coll de Ladrones, hill of thieves — we had been staring at it the day before.

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

The first fortifications were built here in the 16th century. But this incredible space is from the 18th Century, started after the war of independence and built to guard the valley against France. It sits amongst many more modern defenses built by Franco here beginning in 1944. None of them are as amazing as this. You walk up to the main gate, and it’s only then that you realise this hill is essentially moated:

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

You can’t get down there.

We continued up from there. Across rubble and through flowers.

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

Up to the fields

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

Absurdly beautiful.

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

We walked along this stream most of the way

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

This is as high as we got — we did not find the dolmen, and it seemed no one else was as keen on such things as me, so it was not seen on any of my maps nor marked after that first sign that sent us astray.

Looking up to the right

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

Back down the valley

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

More beautiful places. And cows, each with its bell.

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

Walk Almost To The Dolmen Of Izas

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De la Estación de Canfranc al Mirador del Epifanio: Pyrenees walk

We’re in Zaragoza! Mark is examining a PhD even now as I sit in relative luxury. We spent two(ish) days in the Pyrenees and they were amazing, this is our first short walk up to the casita blanca y el mirador del epifanio…I imagine these woods full of partisans, makes them as magical as they were beautiful. The Station itself has an amazing history, but more on that later…

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

La casita blanca is relatively recent, built as part of the work to reforest this hillside to control avalanaches and landslides.

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

A little higher is the ‘lookout’ over the Epifanio, a wide dam from which you can look down to La Estacion de Canfranc

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

And up to the peaks.

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

And if you look very closely you can see the group of chamois we saw drinking there. There was a whole large group of them, but almost invisible in the shade. They are almost in the photo’s center, on the rock just to the left of the stream.

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

And then back down again, to the welcome shade of the forest. It was very hot, the forest very beautiful.

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

A terrible river walk: York’s Centenary Way

Poorly marked, terribly overgrown — we battled our way through nettles, brambles and thistles. We fought an array of insects and horseflies. It was hot and the air close. It was not particularly scenic nor was it particularly beautiful. Our grand finale was a golf course and the Stagecoach bus station. This was, possibly, the most shit walk ever, but it is in close competition with the now legendary 26-mile-because-we-got-lost ramble from Haye on Wye, or our first memorable encounter with horseflies on the Mersey estuary in a terrible walk from Hale. Still, it had a ruined priory so it comes in third.

The bus timetables were all wrong online, and this was was fatal given how the service to the moors is so limited. I’m finding this to be quite common, you have to download the damn app in every city you go to, to be sure you have the right bus schedule. Our original plan to get to the moors and the Hole of Horcum had to be switched, and this is no easy feat in unfamiliar territory. We took an absurdly expensive bus to Cambreck, which was once a reformatory school and is now residential. We took our lives in our hands and crossed the motorway. We walked along a pleasant path beside the river Derwent, only to find the clearly marked footpath on our Os map is no longer in existence. We backtracked, and that always hurts. We followed the path to Kirkham Priory, with a plan to end in Malton.

This was reasonably beautiful, and the highlight of the walk beyond doubt though the strange clouded day made photography difficult. An Augustinian priory founded in the 1120s, had a fairly uneventful, though wealthy, existence until Henry VIII. Winston Churchill was here among the ruins to watch vehicles practicing for the D-Day landing. It’s hard to imagine, it is a small river, a small space. There is not a lot left.

York -- The Terrible River Walk

York -- The Terrible River Walk

York -- The Terrible River Walk

York -- The Terrible River Walk

What followed was also pretty all right for a while. We walked through fields of wheat and potatoes — quite uncertainly, it must be said, but we were indeed on the right track

York -- The Terrible River Walk

And then the true purgatory began. It was lit up for a brief moment by an incredible small patch of wetland filled, absolutely filled with dragonflies. I have never seen so many. They were beautiful.

York -- The Terrible River Walk

But most of our track looked like this:

York -- The Terrible River Walk

We were both bleeding. Mark had great red welts across his calves from the cleggs — my bites didn’t come up until I was back at work annoying everyone else, and myself most of all, by scratching them. Splendid river view? Not so much:

York -- The Terrible River Walk

Irises though, we did also get to see irises close up.

York -- The Terrible River Walk

Oh look, the footpath continues:

York -- The Terrible River Walk

Finally we emerged all too briefly into some woodland, that faded all too quickly into gold course.

York -- The Terrible River Walk

We chose not to take this ‘footpath’ and walked down the fairly busy lane instead

York -- The Terrible River Walk

I know councils have limited funds and have made hard choices and I do blame the Tory government first and Stagecoach second but…damn it. What a terrible plan B.

Ice

Ice. I’ve lived in cold places, but never this cold I suppose. Frozen sand, iced ponds, incredible shards and circles and forms, as beautiful on incredible beaches as within the pocked asphalt alongside an industrial estate. I know these have nothing on what can be seen all along the East Coast today, the frozen wonder of Niagra Falls, but then I suppose you should never compare wonders.

Moray Firth

Moray Firth

Moray Firth

Moray Firth

Inverness

Inverness

Invergordon to Alnes

Invergordon to Alnes

Invergordon to Alnes

Invergordon to Alnes

Invergordon to Alnes

Invergordon to Alnes

Invergordon to Alnes

The wondrous Moray Firth, down Nairn way

Moray Firth

Moray Firth

An unexpected reminder of the transitory nature of life and flight

Moray Firth

An immensity of space

Moray Firth

Moray Firth

Moray Firth

Moray Firth

And into the woods

Moray Firth

and out again

Moray Firth

Moray Firth

I have never walked across frozen sand before

Moray Firth

through a watercolour world

Moray Firth

of frozen waters

Moray Firth

Moray Firth

Moray Firth

Moray Firth

Moray Firth

The only thing missing, a great flock of salmon pink flamingos glowing against the dark cliffs and snowy peaks, being herded by Tilda Swinton back into her exotic aviary. It did start raining by the time we got back to Nairn to wait for our train.

Still.

Nairn

Moray Firth

Nairn

Ophelia

I missed the orange sky. Missed hurricane winds scooping up and flinging a warm filter across our autumn sun, a whispering of earth from a far desert. I left work early to come home. To work. The world had only some welcome gold to it. I tuned in, but only briefly — this procession of friends and family acknowledging #metoo. The ones who can. I can. I unwillingly sifted my own memories the way I know we are all doing. Must we? Alongside gendered pain I stared at pictures from Somalia, Santa Rosa, Puerto Rico, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Yemen. As helpless facing these other displays of power, exploitation, indifference. If only I had known, I could have gone to stand outside face upturned to receive these visiting desert sands.

My lord, he hath importun’d me with love

There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love,
remember.

Essential Writings from Winona LaDuke

Winona LaDuke…damn. This collection is so due to be updated (hold on a second, it has been! A new collection, The Winona LaDuke Chronicles, came out this year). Published in 2002 this reader already represents decades of struggle and wisdom, imagine what that must look like now? She is still fighting at Standing Rock, still going strong to defend lands and peoples, still writing and speaking. It is humbling to read these words.

From ‘Building with Reservations’, speaking to architects and educators she described this:

If I were to describe the architecture of my community, I would describe it both as an architecture of poverty and an architecture of what is sacred. … But there is this sorrow–I have to say sorrow–that exists when you are stripped of the cultural integrity of your house, of your architecture, and given something that does not resonate. Sure, it provides a shelter, but as you all know, a house is more than a shelter: it is a home, it is something that reflects you. So that is the architecture of poverty in my community.

And then you have the architecture that is sacred. Next to some of these houses, you’ll see a sweat lodge, or you’ll see a miichwaap, which is like a tepee, but it is used for smoking meat. The most beautiful thing to me is when I consider the fact that a lodge that is used for one of our ceremonies is based on the mirror of a star constellation; it reflects where the poles are located. That, in its essence, is sacred architecture. I think that that is the most beautiful thing in our community. (46-47)

I’m pretty obsessed with with ideas of home, of architecture, I love this redefinition of poverty in architecture which we are in fact seeing in gleaming steel and concrete across all of our cities in the form of luxury apartments built for the global market. So different than pieces of shit HUD homes on the reservation, I don’t mean to compare them in any other sense beyond their bankruptcy of creativity or human feeling.

She talks later on about the importance of culture, the way that in universities it is treated as anthropology and folklore rather than literature and something vibrant and lived. She writes

In my life and in the life of my family, many of us in our community find that those teachings are not about the process of going back, but that’s kind of the mythology that surrounds the view of native people… It’s not about that at all. It’s about recovering that which the Creator gave us as instructions, and then walking that path… (173)

It provides an alternative — not to be appropriated but to be learned from — of systems that value balance and ‘a good life’ over profit. Like this:

There should be beauty in “process,” whether it is harvesting with intelligence, whether it is the use of recycled materials, or whether it is observing energy efficiency. (53)

It is particularly explicit in the essay on ‘Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Environmental Futures’, a term I know has been problematised, but which lays out a different basis and a better source of expertise for our thinking about how we relate to the world around us:

Traditional Ecological knowledge is the culturally and spiritually based way in which indigenous peoples relate to their ecosystems. This knowledge is founded on spiritual-cultural instructions from “time immemorial” and on generations of observation within an ecosystem of continuous residence. I believe that this knowledge also represents the clearest empirically based system for resource management and ecosystem protection in North America, and I will argue that native societies’ knowledge surpasses the scientific and social knowledge of the dominant society in its ability to provide information and a management style for environmental planning.  (78)

It is based around a very different idea of success, of life’s meaning.

“Minobimaatisiiwin,” or the “good life,” is the basic objective of the Anishinaabeg and Cree people who have historically, and to this day, occupied a great portion of the north-central region of the North American continent. An alternative interpretation of the word is “continuous rebirth.” This is how we traditionally understand the world and how indigenous societies have come to live within natural law. Two tenets are essential to this paradigm: cyclical thinking and reciprocal relations and responsibilities to the Earth and creation. Cyclical thinking, common to most indigenous or land-based cultures and value systems, is an understanding that the world (time, and all parts of the natural order-including the moon, the tides, women, lives, seasons, or age) flows in cycles. Within this understanding is a clear sense of birth and rebirth and a knowledge that what one does today will affect one in the future, on the return. A second concept, reciprocal relations, defines responsibilities and ways of relating between humans and the ecosystem. (79)

I don’t know how different, in fact, Minobimaatisiiwin actually is from what most people outside of these traditions would term a fulfilling life, but we have still bowed before money and power as measures of success and as enough justification for any number of terrible things. She describes a very different understanding of development, light years removed from that which now prevails but without question one way, perhaps the only way, to step back from the precipice of ecological disaster:

By its very nature, “development”–or, concomitantly, an “economic system” based on these ascribed Indigenous values-must be decentralized, self-reliant, and very closely based on the carrying capacity of that ecosystem. (80)

And this is, indeed, a very good question:

I believe there is a more substantial question meriting discussion: Can North American society craft the social fabric to secure a traditional management practice, based on consensual understanding and a collective process? (82)

I am taking these out of order here, thinking about how this all connects to our relationship to the earth, that perhaps many of our problems emerge because we have been so divorced from place:

Implicit in the concept of Minobimaatisiiwin is a continuous inhabitation of place, an intimate understanding of the relationship between humans and the ecosystem, and the need to maintain that balance. These values and basic tenets of culture made it possible for the Cree, Ojibway, and many other indigenous peoples to maintain economic, political, religious, and other institutions for generations in a manner that would today be characterized as sustainable.4 (80)

She returns later to this topic:

Native environmental groups have a commitment and tenacity that springs from place. “This is where my grandmother’s and children’s umbilical cords are buried … That is where the great giant lay down to sleep … That is the last place our people stopped in our migration here to this village.” Our relationships to land and water is continuously reaffirmed through prayer, deed, and our way of life. Our identity as human beings is founded on creation stories tying us to the earth, and to a way of being, minobimaatisiiwin, “the good life.” (57-58)

It is not just positionality and the structural oppression faced by indigenous communities, but this connection to place that drives experience, meaning and struggle.

All this to say that Native communities are not in a position to compromise, because who we are is our land, our trees, and our lakes. This is central to our local and collective work. (62)

There is a lot about land in here, and what has destroyed traditional connections to it:

The governance of this land by traditional ecological knowledge has been adversely affected by genocide, colonialism, and subsequent circumstances that need to be considered in the current dialogue on North American resource management, the role of the environmental movement, and indigenous peoples. (82)

She describes the two worldviews at play:

The conflict between two paradigms-industrial thinking and indigenous thinking-becomes central to the North American and, indeed to the worldwide, environmental and economic crisis. … For many indigenous peoples, the reality is as sociologist Ivan Illich has suggested: development practices are in fact a war on subsistence. (86-87)

Capitalism, industrialism…can the two be separated? But it is definitely a war and this seems to be exactly the idea that we might belong to the earth that is being decimated. The clearances and enclosures in Europe were to the same end.

Akiing is the word for land in our language, and in the indigenous concept of land ownership or the Anishinaabeg concept of land ownership, it is much more a concept that we belong to that land than the land belongs to us. … land tenure itself and concepts of land ownership are of course a concept of culture–they are a concept of your teachings, a construct of how you are raised and how you live in your community. (138)

Important to always remember that these things are not natural or self-evident but constructed. And the creation of the US is definitely one of predator…I am pondering how this might help us think about the political economy of land.

Indigenous people traditionally have been the people who have lived on the land, but the predator/prey relationship that exists between America and the land is one that has caused the constant erosion and taking of the indigenous land base in the Americas. And it has caused the constant erosion and the taking of other people’s land outside of that context as well. (143)

Again mobility, predation, frontiers, all those things that capital needs, as opposed to connection, balance, care…

One of the challenges that we have in America is that America is built on conquest, not on survival. It is a society, by and large, based on the concept that there is always a West, always a frontier. There will always be someplace to go. We don’t necessarily have to give thanks for where we are because we’re moving.

That is the challenge..This conceptual framework between one worldview and another worldview, indigenous and industrial, or land-based and predator….the predator world-view. It is, in fact, manifest in how we live here. And every ecological crisis we have today is a direct consequence of that… (180)

From the land to rights as Native women, I loved her speech ‘I fight like a woman’ from the UN Conference on Women in China, 1995.

Positionality:

As one woman, Corrine Kumar from the Asian Women’s Human Rights Association explained simply, “From the periphery of power human rights looks different.” (205)

A challenge to mobile, global power to look those it is destroying in the eye:

Vicki Corpuz is an Igarok woman from the Philippines, head of the Cordinera Women’s Association. … “We found that a lot of our problems were related to trans-national corporations and institutions. And we thought it was time to get more accountability from them. We can do basic empowerment work here – but all the decisions are actually made elsewhere. They should have to look at us in the face when they make those decisions.” (208)

The need for indigenous peoples (as true of other struggles) to operate at a global level…

It was several years ago Mililani Trask, Kia Aina or Head of State of the Native Hawaiian Nation changed her mind about work. “The real reason why all Indigenous people have to be apprised of, or involved in the international arena is because their individual land-based struggles will be impacted by these nation states and international interests.” (209)

More on militarism — I love this quote, hate what the US and others are doing on other people’s lands…

Militarism is a form of colonization which takes away from our lives. That future is without hope for us. But, we will fight for our rights. I believe in nonviolence and civil disobedience. I am ready to go to jail, to take blows or die for our cause, because I believe in the struggle for the freedom of my people. I don’t want your sympathy, I want your support, your strong and collective support against the oppression of your government. What are need is your resistance.” Penote Ben Michel made this plea at a 31 January 1987 conference in Montreal on militarism in Labrador/Nitassinan. (230)

I am furious with Geroge Dubya all over again. I volunteered to do precinct walking for Kerry in Vegas I was so furious with that man. Might have campaigned for her, though, if I’d been a little more woke, though I still might have bowed to the dual party system.

This is from her acceptance speech for the nomination for Vice Presidential candidate, running with Nader.

I am not inclined toward electoral politics. Yet I am impacted by public policy. I am interested in reframing the debate on the issues of this society — the distribution of power and wealth, the abuse of power and the rights of the natural world, the environment and the need to consider an amendment to the U.S. Constitution in which all decisions made today will be considered in light of their impact on the seventh generation from now. That is, I believe, what sustainability is all about. These are vital subjects which are all too often neglected by the rhetoric of “major party” candidates and the media.

I believe that decision making should not be the exclusive right of the privileged. (267)

All of that. We need all of that.

This is only a sampling of some of what I loved most/have been thinking about most recently. There is so much more here, and of course so much more written since this was published.

[LaDuke, Winona (2002) The Winona LaDuke Reader: A Collection of Essential Writings. Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press.]

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