On writing and wilderness: may the twain meet more often
The private, inward, isolated world of writers is a peaceful but intriguing place of dusk and shadows. From this reclusive lair – which may even be the busiest of coffee shops – we are obliged to emerge from time to time to talk about our work. For me, the exposure is like hobbling from a gentle dusk into the glare of a midday sun: it can be intimidating and exhausting. Yet that hard light is also the source, the canvas, the vast and never- to-be completed tapestry of creative endeavour. Fiction writers, writes Nadine Gordimer, are ‘unconscious eternal eavesdroppers and observers, snoopers, nothing that is human is alien to the imagination… fiction is a way of exploring possibilities present but undreamt of in the living of a single life’. What makes the writer is ‘the tension between standing apart and being fully involved’. It is from this tension that revelations emerge, and it is these revelations that validate what fiction writers do. We are a bridge across which diverse worlds merge and collide at the will of the imagination.
There is another habitat without which I, for one, could not survive, let alone create. This is the world of wild places, paradise on our planet: what I would describe as paradise now. Liberally strewn across our country, across the world, these jewels make our lives bearable, often beautiful. If we make the effort to see through and beyond our cluttered urban vision, it is wilderness that is a primary source of inspiration and joy, where the infinite is neither myth nor mystery, but as much a part of us as we are part of it. Wilderness is our parent; it is also our child. And caretaking begins in the womb.
Yet – increasingly consumed by the divide of our separate myths, our laagers of self-righteousness, our arbitrary judgments of godliness and ungodliness – we are bent on destroying the only true god that lives among us, the god that endures and forgives disloyalty and greed, that is our gift to keep and to care for. Wilderness: glorious, generous, powerful.
Many – perhaps most of us – know only too well that in destroying wilderness, we are irreparably destroying ourselves. But in a kind of narcissistic blindness to what is most precious, we deny and disdain the earth that sustains us and devour its unique places with outrageous craftiness, resourcefulness and speed, seemingly indifferent to the fact that wild places are in themselves finite; that our god is being forced to turn on us, that the offences we commit against her, already great, are fast becoming so terrible and final that we are bequeathing to our children, and to theirs, a heritage of great sorrow and regret. An emptiness that can never be filled.
The only way I know to vent my anguish is in great howling vowels and consonants, as so many writers have long before me; to spread the word in the hope that, along with millions of others who commit to doing the same, we can somehow repair a little of the pitiable abuse we have wreaked on our only home and the multitude of magical rooms it contains.
My new novel, Tsamma Season – due out in June – is set in one of these gems.