Sunday July 1st was damp but spirits soared on the mountain. We were a small group installing a few more wool sausages and collecting cotton grass seed but somehow wind, wet and then a weak sun conspired to make it a really joyful day.
On my return to the computer I received an email from one of the sausage makers, Alan Bowring, a great walker and it seems, writer. With his permission here they are, enjoy!
Some thoughts on genes, expressed in two ways . . . .
Standing before the woollen lines I thought how curious it was that at one time these fine strands had wrapped around a sheep and served to keep wind and rain at bay – and now they were serving to stem those elements once again but in the service of tiny seedlings.
And curious too that these fibres, complex assemblages of protein, had originated as peat and air and mineral soil and water; simple chemical components assembled into complex forms, this transformation achieved with the coded instruction twisted inside the genes of sedges, grasses and sheep.
And still more curious that our own genes should encode for intelligence, that we should adopt pastoralism and the tending of sheep and the shearing of sheep and the collecting of wool. And amidst the myriad genes within us that code for our human be-ing, for selfishness and for conflict there should also be codes for empathy and mending.
So here we are on the mountainside, striving to understand. And here we are, working together in the wind and rain and sun to fix things. And here we are, looking at the bare peat and the flecks of green and the distant horizons. Close at hand and far away; here we are gazing into our pasts and our futures.
A line of genes expressed in primate form comes down to us through countless generations. Along the way were transformations, moments of change, knots in that chemical timeline which caused offspring to follow different paths. Eventually some of those paths gave rise to that intelligent ape, Homo which would alter its environment in previously unguessable ways. One way was pastoralism, the herding of beasts so as to harvest their productivity; meat and milk, skins and fleece.
And millennia ago sheep came to roam our hills. Perhaps we had a hand in that. In the years since they have practiced converting plant material into meat and bone and wool. Indeed how suited to our British uplands is the biological processing unit which is Ovis aries. Imperfectly so perhaps but still effective at what it does.
Here and now those lines of genes have come together and led to knotted lines pegged out across this hillside. And the life-strands of diverse people; graziers and wardens and artists and fliers and riders and soldiers, have come together; intertwined, knotted for a moment in a common cause before once again diverging.
And thoughts on lines . . . .
I first knew these hills through lines drawn on a map. Flowing curves wrapping around each spur and each recess. One upon another, chestnut-coloured patterns swirling and bending back upon themselves. Sometimes spreading with the slackening slope but at other times, in other places, crowding together, overlaid with scratches of cliff-black, where the mountain’s bones poke through its rounded carapace.
And then, more recently, I knew these hills by their upward thrust through the soles of my boots. I took in their lines with my eyes and my body. Sometimes I would follow the contours, made real by the traversing paths of sheep, offering least resistance to movement through the landscape. The earlier map-makers would hachure their way across the hills – following their lines is harder work for in their fall-line course they conspire with gravity’s flow.
And then the buzzard’s view is in my mind; they and gliders look down upon me and upon the sheep. The buzzard-eye picks out a great peat-brown scar and traces white strands across it , not hachuring but contouring. And for a moment these strands look like the nose-to-tail parades in which sheep will sometimes engage – and in a way they are an echo of that; nose-to-tail fleeces processing across the slope. But no, these are fixed, pegged – they will not process. They aim to mark time, gathering material to themselves, brown and green, eventually to melt into the ground when their job is done.
Other thoughts (not yet developed)
I think of these netted bales of wool as bolsters. Perhaps I could call them ‘woolsters’. But then I liken their reach across the slope to that of strandlines – what a fearsome tide that would have been!