Comparative Reflection

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In the final pages of Farley and Robert’s Edgelands: Journey’s into England’s True Wilderness, questions are asked of, “So where do the edgelands end? How far can this idea take us?”

This project was an attempt to identify my own edgelands.   And by doing so I think I have a better understanding of how far this idea can be taken as I have experimented with the end.  I think this work has introduced me to an idea that I had not previously thought about.  The idea that not all places are defined as conventional wilderness, but many that are not still act as spaces in which we can escape from the normative.  If the process of spending time in the wilderness is truly this than the realm of the edgeland is wild.  Nature is unconventional, a step away from the mainstream, everyday world.  Trying to define such a free thing seems ironic and putting the word conventional before wilderness seems wrong.  I enjoy the idea that the edgelands as ‘ignored’ because for me this makes these spaces the wildest places of them all.

After the second campout, I began to think a lot about ‘green space’ and as I shared in my reflection this idea of ‘green space’ being a way that humans define the outdoors as something we are giving back to the land because of what we original took away from it.  This seems to be what Farley and Robert’s observe also as they say, “…when we landscape something these days, what we are in effect trying to do most often is disguise the physical facts of raw human activity, to cover our tracks, to conceal by camouflaging the terrain according to some orderly idea of ‘the natural.'”  I was using these spaces as temporary campsites.  Can I even define them as campsites? And also, what is the purpose of green space as ‘the natural’ if we contradict ourselves by putting restrictions on how we can interact with that space?   Farley and Robert’s continue by shared, “[w]e know that a long and complex interaction between constant natural processes and more recent human activity has largely formed all the landscapes we can see today, and that landscape is indivisible from the human world.”  This is fascinating to think about and the more I thought about it I realized that this is true of both of the temporary campsites I used for this project. Maybe the stout fire pits seems less influenced by human activity as it is secluded from main campus, but when you break it all down you see that the space is a landscape formed by the human world.  There is a place for a contained fire pit put there by humans and there is the ability to reserve the space for human activity.  The Heart in its visibility is a space that is given meaning both in its name and the activities that take place there.  This place is inseparable from landscape because the meaning of the space is defined by humans interaction with it.  In David A. Gruenewald’s Foundations of Place: A multidisciplinary Framework for Place-Conscious Education, there is talk of the The Sociological Dimension of Place.  Gruenewald says two things that I find valuable in understanding our interaction with a place like the Heart.  First, “…Not only is our experience of places mediated by culture, education, and personal experience, but places themselves are products of culture.” And second, “[a]cknowledging that places are social constructions does not negate the idea that places such as ecosystems, oak trees, and wilderness have other qualities that transcend the often place destructive proposes of human beings.  It simply allows that human beings are responsible for place making.”  The Heart is a product of Earlham culture.  Everyone knows were the heart is located.  The Heart is the center of campus.  In this example, we as humans (students, teachers, faculty) are responsible for ‘place making.’

To continue with this idea of place making, I was interesting to observe students comments on how the space transformed as it become a sleeping space.  One student said, “I have slept on the heart before, but sleeping through the night and an afternoon nap in the sun had very different sensations.”  I found this interested as I too shared in my reflection how these locations seemed to be redefined when they became not just places to hang out, but  places to sleep.  I believe that students noticed this idea of space as they shared:

“This place offered momentary solitude from the commotion of the everyday college student while being extremely accessible.”

“While I still knew where campus was, and how close it was, it seemed infinitely further away than it had been just a few minutes prior.”

“I really felt like I was in the middle of the woods, far away from any civilization…”

And I too observed how these spaces became edgelands as their definitions became ambiguous in there use as sleeping spaces.

I am still grappling with the idea of calling this spaces ‘non-place’ as Auge would say.  I do think that using these spaces as temporary campsites could categorize them under this definition, but I think it is hard to use the word ‘non’ as these places are so much more in their existence. This definition is only in connection to using the space as a sleeping environment.  They are places on the Earlham College campus and would never be a non-places under any other circumstance.  All and all this project has made me think a lot about how we look at place in terms of wilderness, country, developed space and open space.  How we define place based on context and therefore how humans give meaning to place are concepts I will continue to explore in the future.

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