Sharon Blackie on the path out of our modern wasteland

9 May
Sharon Blackie

Sharon Blackie ©Calyx Picture Agency

“The world is in crisis”, says Sharon Blackie, author of If Women Rose Rooted, and possessor of one of the calmest voices I’ve ever heard.

I’m here as an unofficial representative of the Patriarchy, which quickly becomes an uncomfortable place to be as Sharon opens with a lighthearted tale of the rape and subjugation of the well maidens of ancient Celtic myth.

They used the water from the wells they guarded to nourish the land, so the legend goes, and so the land nourished us in turn. But then menfolk were invented, and we ruined everything.

Celtic women of way back had a pretty cushy time of it, apparently. They could be lawyers or judges and everyone respected their wisdom. Then things got a bit shit for women for a few thousand years as men decided they knew it all. We didn’t nourish the land or respect it, we just had our way with it and discarded it. The magical waters of the wells stopped flowing and so we created a modern wasteland.

It’s a metaphorical wasteland, really, because there’s actually more water around than ever thanks to the melting of the polar icecaps.

Sharon points out that in March this year, for the first time in our history we passed the two degrees Celsius above “normal” that had long been heralded by scientists as the ultimate red line we couldn’t afford to cross.

Basically, we’re fucked, and if we’re going to un-fuck ourselves we need to re-evaluate our relationship with the land and how we fit into it.

Sharon did that by quitting her high-flying city job with a tobacco company and moving to a remote croft in the highlands of Scotland. Then by moving to an even more remote croft, where there was nothing but her husband and some sheep for company. That’s when she really started to get back in touch with nature. She would talk to the animals and to the landscape. Who are we to say for certain than rocks are inanimate, she wonders?

Her central idea is that we should be rooted to a place. Not necessarily the countryside. As she observes, if we all moved to the countryside then the countryside would become just another urban sprawl. But we should be rooted to somewhere. If we don’t feel connected to a place then we have little incentive to take care of that place. So the world turns, and our rootless selves continue to despoil a world we feel no connection to, no kinship with.

Instead the world becomes nothing more than the background against which our personal dramas are acted out.

Writing as someone with a distaste for cities, this all sounds wonderful. I enjoy being out in nature. Just as long as I can go back inside and use the internet whenever I want. Perhaps I’m not getting it. I’m not that impressed with rocks, either. If a rock contained anything useful it would have been pounded into sand and poured into my iPhone by now.

I suspect I may be part of the problem she is outlining. The practical necessities of modern life have left me as rootless as a person can be. I rent property and move to wherever the work is. Everything I own can be transported by a large van in a single afternoon. My extensive collection of CDs and DVDs, even books, all now exist as data in the cloud. I have no connection to anywhere. This has always felt like a strength to me but I doubt Sharon would agree.

Where she advocates putting down roots and actively nourishing the land my own approach has been to try and live with a light touch, and leave behind as small a footprint as possible. Perhaps we’re both fooling ourselves. My media consumption might not require as much paper and plastic as it used to but it sure requires a ready flow of cheap electricity to keep my computer running, and it was a lot easier for the ancient population of a few million to live in harmony with nature than an exploding population of seven billion and counting.

So is Sharon right in suggesting a renewed appreciation for women’s wisdom would help? I suppose it depends of the woman. Margaret Thatcher and Hillary Clinton are/were fervent supporters of the kind of rapacious capitalism which demands endless growth, but any female politician only ascends to the top of the mountain by treading the well worn path laid down by the thousands of men who came before her. Modern politics is business, bought and paid for. There are few answers there to the pressing question of how endless growth squares with limited resources.

A lack of answers is the rather downbeat ending of the hour long talk. Sharon knows what worked for her. It’s up to the rest of us to find what works for ourselves, but perhaps the old stories can show us a way out of the wilderness.

I arrive home and consider how to get in touch with nature. I don’t have a garden or any potted plants.

I can buy a pet rock online for £9.99. It even comes with a bed of hay and a leash to walk it.

Capitalism always wins in the end.

Sharon Blackie was at Swindon Arts Centre as part of Swindon Festival of Literature, 8 May 2016.

Chronicle written by Dave McGuffog.

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