[Revellers at Wilderness Festival, via wildernessfestival.com]
As the London 2012 Olympics arrive in my ‘hood of Hackney, I’m reminded of something the British-born author Jonathan Raban once wrote in Granta: The English are “born into a casual phlegmatic acceptance of astounding alterations to the landscape.” It was what he described as second nature, kind of like nature 2.0, where the old growth forests are long gone and what we think of as nature is deeded, divided and landscaped. We are not talking about, say, northern British Columbia or the wilds of Alaska, where a tree could fall in the forest and no one would hear.
There’s some nostalgia for “wilderness” right now, and I’m not talking about the foxes who follow me down the streets of London as I walk my dog. Consider Wilderness Festival, one of many (sure to be rain-soaked) festival weekends in the UK. Sharon Jones is playing. Lianne la Havas is playing.
The visual branding for the festival hints at the kind of boutiquing of wilderness that seems trendy now. Case in point: the festival comes with its own beach-side “spa” with everything from “hand-built luxurious oak hot tubs to soak and relax in to wooden saunas and a champagne bar…” I suspect that Raban would dispute the festival’s claim that it is in the “wilds of England.” There is no such thing, I can hear him argue.
But why put words in his mouth? Here’s his definition of wilderness in an interview with Granta:
"A wilderness that’s truly wild is beyond human rule, which is something I’ve always loved about the idea of the wilderness of the sea, at least before we fucked it up and made it wild no more, just one more critically endangered habitat."
[The hyper-saturated lake at Wilderness Festival, via wildernessfestival.com]
When it comes to the Wilderness Festival, I’m only partly cynical about such branding . If I wasn’t oppressed by what seems like relentless, endless rain and put off by the hefty ticket price, I’d probably go. (See, a true outdoors person would not be deterred by weather.)
And just to link it back to The Modern Nomad and notions of community, I wonder if true wilderness is a rejection of community. The Wilderness Festival is less a way to approximate the outdoors and more of an excuse to throw a party. And who can complain about that?
+ I am getting somewhat off topic, because this is a blog first about communities shaped by mobility, but I’ve just started reading Robert Macfarlane’s The Wild Places, so all definitions of wilderness are coming up. I like Macfarlane’s estimation:
"…this was the vision of a wild place that had stayed with me: somewhere boreal, wintry, vast, isolated, elemental, demanding of the traveller in its asperities. To reach a wild place was, for me, to step outside human history."