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  • Writer's pictureRitchard Allaway

20/03/22 - Osmotherly

20th March 2022

Reflecting on Wilderness

Location: Osmotherly – North Yorkshire Moors

Collecting visuals and sounds

It [had] never occurred to me ... that trees are travellers, in the ordinary sense. They make many journeys, not extensive ones, it is true; but our own little journeys, away and back again, are only little more than tree-waving’s—many of them not so much.’ (Muir, J 1874)

These ‘little’ journeys of mine are what they are, but they are a collective of how I find pockets of my own landscape. They are ‘private’ to me and fulfilling in the sense that they offer me refuge from all else. I do not become attached that I want more and all of the time no, but my ‘little’ Muir journeys are those personal commitments I make to feel my way through myself.

I want to state that a year has about passed within my PhD and within that I have consistently been finding myself within many different landscapes. Maybe these landscapes are not too different from one and other, but they are different in their own formations. This been said, I have been collecting and collating imagery and sound into folders that can be reflected upon at a later date. I have some idea of what I will do with these folders but for now I will allow for this collection of environmental ‘data’ to build and slowly inform my practice.

On Sunday the 20th March (yes, I am writing in the past tense for this blog post), I found myself driving to Osmotherly on the fringes of the North Yorkshire Moors. The Moors being a location quite close to my house, around a twenty-minute drive, depending on which part you intend to enter. Visiting Osmotherly on a sunny Sunday is always going to attract visitors and I was aware of that but on the off chance I thought I might just try my luck and see if I could escape away from the day tourists (does this mean I am escaping from myself?) and delve a little deeper into the open Moors.

My intention for this walk/journey (not to rid my hangover) was to go and explore a landscape that is a mix of open planes and dense forestry once again. I was aware of a walking trail just past Codbeck and Sheepwash where I could park my car, put on my hiking boots, and set off. I do want to make a note here that, I really enjoy that moment of opening the boot of my car and sitting on and in it and just seeing the landscape before me, whilst I put my boots on. There is something quite relaxing about it that is difficult to explain. I brought along the Tascam and an eternal microphone. In the past I have had issues with wind spoiling the sound as it peaks into the mic, I therefor brought along the deadcat to mute the wind as well as set the Tascam to peak at only -12db.

I found myself walking along a man-made stone path that climbed up a slow inclined hill, with a mixture of light shrubbery and grass. It was a bit tiresome (not the hangover) but the being within a landscape gives you that sense of enthusiasm to keep going, to reward oneself at the end. I passed a couple of walkers and said hello along the way and with that I decided to immediately turn left and head into the open field and off the man-made path. I do not know why, but I cannot help and think that I am breaking the law by stepping off the path. I always wonder if I am allowed to just openly walk in a field, I mean there is a path after all to keep us on ‘track’, we cannot have every walker being this rebellious or the whole of the countryside will go to sh*t. It is though, an excitable feeling to remove oneself from the path and venture into what would be the open unknown. The ground is unknowable, the space is a form of viewable otherness that has not been experienced by oneself. By engaging in that ideal of freeing myself from the designated path opens the possibilities to discover and encounter a form of remoteness that is not shared. This experience becomes personal and owned by oneself, that nobody can be involved in. It is a privilege but a privilege that is not grand or overwhelming (if I am to discuss dynamical Kantian sublime theories) but a small token of our ability to recognise the freedom we have to remove cognitive intellect and instead enjoy the pleasantries of emotional connection to nature.

I want to discuss myself being on the top of the Moors and sat on the rock taking the environment in, but for once, I am not going to share that experience and keep it to myself…

Back down the trail and up the opposite hillside, I came across the complete contrast of the landscape and that was the small forest. From open planes to a small dense forest is somewhat a switch. Thinking back on such an environmental switch it is quite a dramatic turn of compositional forms, we have openness, a landscape that is bare and leaves us almost vulnerable in a sense and then I am confronted with skyscraper trees that invite me between their structural pylons not knowing whether I will be suffocated as I delve deeper into their ecology.

A forest is always a love of mine, it has muted sound, one which I have spoken about before (see blog post Sutton Bank), and there is much to talk about around the experience of the forest; the mysticism, the romance, the dept and fear and I will in future have a conversation on this, but for now I will leave it at just what I experienced in Osmotherly. Once again, I found a path and once again, I left that path. To engage with nature and remove the human is to have that willingness to step outside your own comfort zone, and for me, turning off the path is a sign of courage as I open myself to discovering unknowns. I encourage this willingness within past installations of mine. I have always stated that to explore a form of otherness one needs to accept that the body and mind must open itself up and although fear comes with this, that feeling is that moment of sublime quality… the not knowing and the anticipation of what is to come. Being within that forest away from the man-made allowed me to be within and live through that forest without distraction. My time was spent taking in statues of nature and listening in to unpredictable sounds of movement or birdsongs, natural occurrences that are not staged or scripted but are what they are and left to be a part of natural and environmental ecology.

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