Personal Projects : 1. People and Landscape – Leaving Traces

 Personal Projects :

People and Landscape : 1. Leaving Traces

O where is it, the wilderness’

 O where is it, the wilderness

The wildness of the wilderness?

Where is it, the wilderness?


And wander in the wilderness;

In the weedy wilderness,

Wander in the wilderness

(Gerard Manley Hopkins)

There are times I go on the Common when it seems as if it’s all mine and no other people are there.  I am surrounded by greenness and tall pines sky-reaching. All is still and quiet. It comes as a surprise to suddenly see someone else amongst the trees .

People leave signs and traces of themselves though even when they’re not there and I’ve noticed this more during the past few months. A small pile of pebbles suddenly appeared by the path one day that now keeps being added to as if it’s a shrine – yet it isn’t. My grandsons were very interested in them, firstly wanting to take one away as a souvenir and then wanting to add one instead. “Is someone dead under there?” they wanted to know. I doubt it though. I’m not talking of litter, but I wonder what it is within us that wants to leave some kind of mark on the landscape which somehow means we take possession of it. When I had this notion of ‘leaving traces” I noticed more. The Common is left in as much of a natural state as possible but there is some tidying going on.

Some trees (seeds blown in by the wind as years go by) have been chopped down to allow the natural heathland to spread. The wind whistling through the pines often blows down the more fragile branches (or even whole trees).  I’ve often seen children playing with the branches to make teepees – temporary installations. However, this year there has been a change.  The structures have become more elaborate and I’ve imagined adults joining in, even taking over maybe.  It got to the stage where I almost decided to start awarding prizes and leave rosettes!  One of the stronger trees has been used as a temporary swing for years  with a strong twig and old bits of rope. This summer a more sophisticated swing appeared – it’s now disappeared.

I decided to make a series of these temporary installations which continue to fascinate me and here are some of them.
























I’m going to continue with this theme on how we interact with the landscape and nature.

28th October 2012


Phillips, C (Ed) (1986), Gerard Manley Hopkins : The Major Works , Oxford University Press (2002)

13 thoughts on “Personal Projects : 1. People and Landscape – Leaving Traces

  1. There’s a common close to where I live, where my wife and I take our grandchildren, and when they come to the ‘swing’ they always seem to get me to have a go, do you do the same? That’s getting interactive with the installations!

  2. A fascinating post. I confess I misread it at first and thought you’d made all the installations – perhaps that’s your next project! They are so interesting – the ones that suggest shelter, or a shrine of some kind, or just a way to pass the time. Much of human existence and our interaction with nature mapped out in just a small space.

    • Apologies for the misreading Eileen – it was a clumsy sentence of mine. Every ‘installation’ was different in style and that’s what I found the most fascinating. There was an innocence about them too – just people using their hands to fashion something out of wood. Over time I watched as some of the structures begin to collapse and return to being branches on the ground, although some of them were re-built. It was their growth in numbers as well – it’s as if once one person built one then another did (unless it was the same person/s, although that’s probably unlikely). The same happened with the pebbles also.

      • It will be interesting to know. I always have this feeling that by leaving your mark, you have somewhere you can return to. You can go back and look for some physical evidence that you were really there, done that, but not dreaming about it. I wonder if tourist photographs work the same way.

  3. Pingback: People and Landscapes… leaving traces |

  4. I think it might be act of looking that has enabled you to find these installations? Maybe they’ve been there, in some form or another for some time and only now when you’ve you’ve decided to “find” something that they have “appeared”? I’ve always subscribed to the “seek and ye shall find” philosophy and maybe, just maybe, you’ll find a character from a story in there as well…

  5. They remind of bivouacs that we built as scouts (looong time ago) and then had to spend a night under. These haven’t been finished so maybe they’ll continue to be built.
    Alternatively I understand that planning laws are being abolished for a year so maybe this is a demonstration site prepared by Mr Cameron’s people. 🙂

  6. I guess tourists’ photographs are the evidence for them Siegfried. Maybe the people who built the structures have taken their own photographs of them.

    The one thing I haven’t noticed John is evidence that anyone has actually slept in one of them. There was only one where I noticed signs of more active use (some empty beer cans and food wrappers) which I think is good really. It seems that it’s the creation rather than occupation which is important. I’ve always noticed when one has been built and they’ve definitely increased in number and complexity.

    I hadn’t thought about the planning laws. That’s a good point Brian.

  7. Interesting post and development of ideas Catherine! Johns comment about you finding them because you are looking was also interesting. For one, I’d love to know more about the stones—because the rest could have been built by singles or small groups—but the stones seem something of a communal coming together—each person feeling they had to add. Sort of primeval feeling? Okay, maybe I’ve been drinking too much coffee as I try and catch up with all the blog posts!! The hell that was the week before!

  8. I find the stones really interesting as well – that feels like it might be developing a life of its own. It makes me think of those cairns of pebbles on the top of hills – there must be a point when the first people carry a pepple to the top and then it becomes a thing to do, as with your grandsons.

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