a human mountain
Location: On the slopes of Dale Head, looking out at the blue zigzag of the Honister slate mine road up Fleetwith Pike, in the Lake District
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I’m presently reading Naomi Klein on the sins of the “extractivist” mentality that frames the planet as resource to exploit and dominate. Mining in parts of Canada or Appalachia where that means mountaintop removal, vast tailings ponds, and huge ecological devastation.
Despite that, I don’t know that I see all the Lake District’s mines as “scars on the landscape”, not exactly. Mining was a hard and dangerous job, but slate quarrying doesn’t pollute in the same way as coal or heavy metals spoil. And it’s at a human scale. It changes the mountain, but does not obliterate it.
The Lake District was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status for being a landscape of cultural value, not some ecology figured as “pure” because without people, or a landscape framed as “untouched” because pretending to ignore the touristic gaze. Two thousand years of mining is part of this landscape.
Better that it is visible, to my mind, than we get swept away by dreams of ecological throwback, of “rewilding”, in fantasies of rebuilding a primal landscape in which men once again might confront wolves & wild boar; in which men might once again be men.
Frances Stonor Saunders’ review of George Monbiot’s book ‘Feral’ is astute: “Perhaps the wilderness is itself a human concept, a sentimental idea about the ultimate "authentic" landscape where nature's ethical influence is experienced as the revival of the self. Could we ever imagine a wilderness from which we are excluded, which owes us nothing? Probably not. To take humans out of nature we'd first have to take the nature out of humans.”
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