July 15, 2010

Ours was the marsh country: On Waterland

Negate the ellipsis. Every story is not about the characters, nor are they about the plot. Oftentimes the story is the story of the landscape, the story of the oppressive home. Our history teacher tells us many things, but most of all, I focus on the landscape. He speaks of the flat, oppressive flatness of the country that surrounds the fens, he speaks of the east wind, biting into his soul, and tearing his family apart as the bitter cold eats away at what the young child knows.

Ours is the hill country. The visitor notices the majesty of the explosion of the colors in the fall. They know the rolling hills and the kindly people who wear the badge of "mountaineer" with pride. The native knows how the hills crush around you, breaking up the sky. The mountaineer knows no concept of the horizon. The horizon is the succession of hills receding in the background. It is the distances that one must pass.

The landscape of home is often the landscape of bad memories. It is the land of dead parents, broken hearts, and forgotten friendships. The landscape reminds us of all of the regrets that we have, and the hope that in some way of eternity, that we might do things differently. The homeland is the land of failure.

No one wants failure. We seek out the differences, the lands that might hold some everlasting promise. This is the root of colonialism, the root of manifest destiny. It is the root of space travel. Humans have curiosity; they look to lands that people might not remember them. They yearn for unfamiliar territory to lay down their claim, and thus proclaim, "Hello, I am different, I have succeeded." The problem is that we keep encounter natives of these lands. You roll forth into a new place, and proclaim that all that you can see is taken in the name of the king. Then the natives come forth and proclaim their own right, and represent their own malaise.

For even if the place that we live is repressive, and full of bad memories, they are still our memories. No man can take these from our possession, and they are intrinsically ours. Natives will defend a barren land with their lives if only to prove that their existence is not in vain. The futility of such things is shocking, but men have amazed us for millennia in their course of actions.