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Posts from the Human (+) Nature? Category

I started this blog wishing to explore my own sense of home. Through photography and writing, I wanted to create a quiet and comfortable place for myself, a virtual prototype of that ideal HOME, in the broadest sense, that I have never had and possibly never will have. It is time to admit that it didn’t work. For whatever reason, I haven’t been able to commit to the initial idea. Perhaps it was too private to be housed within the public space of the internet. Perhaps I simply lacked vision. After all, I began blogging as an experiment – to see where it takes me and to learn.

It was important for me to keep it free of all negativity and criticism. I am not a very optimistic person when it comes to the human nature; I stress daily about the myriad things I find unfair, hypocritical or simply stupid. I express harsh judgements and use strong language when I talk about those with my friends. I wanted to stay away from that on my blog, but I feel that a lack of character and the fear of confrontation made it mute and sterile. The truth is that I am a highly opinionated person; at times overbearingly so, I know that. I am also well aware that some of my views are not shared by a majority of any society. Even my friends and family occasionally have difficulty following my reasoning. I do have doubts about it but I hope that bringing opinion to these pages would be a fresh development.

Digging into my understanding of home, I came to a conclusion that its most important element to me is nature and the ability to connect with it in a relatively undisturbed and private manner. That is why, with all of the above in mind, I set out to take this blog in a new direction, with a focus shifted towards nature and the concept of landscape with the inherent issue of the human+nature relationship. I want to combine dream and reality and to concentrate on the beauty of nature and the delicate relations humans might develop with it, while being ready to voice my anger and discomfort at the way nature is routinely treated by humans.

Landscape is a very fitting conceptual framework for this kind of exploration because it includes nature AND humans within the same space. I have been studying landscape for two years now and find its potential as a unifying concept for talking about nature and the place of humans in it quite fascinating. I am at odds with myself about whether there is hope for a harmonious existence of humans with/in nature. To change the course of things for the better, an essential, and rapid, transformation of humans’ cultural attitudes and behaviors is necessary. Is that realistic? I certainly think not. But life is unpredictable and one never knows what cause-and-effect chain reactions it can initiate. I don’t believe I can fundamentally change anything. I also don’t believe, however, that obediently going along with the majority or not saying something when it needs to be said is the right thing to do.

last week, i defended my master’s thesis in oslo. for the first time in my academic life i wrote about something that i was really passionate about: landscape in tove jansson’s ‘moominpappa at sea’. i analyzed the role of landscape in the formation of the book’s narrative, and with it the nature+human relationship as portrayed in the story. here is a very small excerpt:

…It also seems important to the characters to be able to connect to the island in private. One of the critical and most sense-infused scenes in the book is when Moomintroll goes off to explore the island on the family’s first morning there. The scarce but colorful vegetation, the warmness of the rock, the odd- but nice-smelling soil, the smooth white sand, and the low-hanging lines of calm grey clouds step forward to relate the personality of the place to a curious Moomintroll: “Now that he was alone, [he] could begin to look at the island and smell it in the right way. He could feel it with his paws, and prick up his ears and listen to it” (Sea, p. 41). Moomintroll is attentive; he notices that the island does not have big trees and that “everything [seems] to grow so close to the ground, groping its way across the rock”, to which Moomintroll’s response is to try to “make himself as small as he [can]”, too (Sea, pp. 41-42). His reaction is remarkable in that he wants to blend in with the landscape, not impose his presence on it. Moomintroll exhibits a degree of harmonization between nature and man that suggests an intimate relationship, one that functions as a two-way street or a dialogue with both parties as active participants. There is no urge in him to conquer or inflict change. In fact, that is what his parents try to do until they, too, come to a conclusion that “perhaps one shouldn’t try to change things so much on this island. Just leave it as it is.” (Sea, p. 100)…

to set the mood for my presentation, i created a short video loosely inspired by the book:

i like going through my family photo archive. archive, of course, is a big word and is not entirely applicable in this case. it’s mostly old prints that i keep in a plastic bag in a paper box. not the most sophisticated way to treat an archive, i know.

i have looked at those photographs since i was a child. both of my parents were enthusiastic about photography and we always had a decent camera at home. my dad showed me how to develop film and make prints. as in many other families, we did it in our bathroom, oblivious to the deadly effects of the chemical soup we were releasing down the drain. it was the late eighties.

the family archive grew and i found it mystical to study in the privacy of my room. old and new together. i don’t know what it was (and is) that i enjoy so much about it. a good old mix of nostalgia, curiosity, imagination, and day-dreaming. the other day, i was looking at the few photos that i have scanned and was struck by one in particular.

it’s a picture of me hanging on a pine branch. i am four. we have just moved out of central asia to the baltic region and everything is new. especially the landscape. the smells, the trees, the light, the way the air feels when you breathe it in. the minimalistic and elegant nature of a flat forested landscape where water collects in myriad lakes or flows towards the sea. when land and sea meet, they make an impression as if they’re kept apart by a magic power because they almost form a single horizontal line. how does the sea not wash over?

the old photograph spoke to me with newly-discovered significance. perhaps it is my presently heightened awareness of how childhood experiences can help form attachment to or detachment from a certain environment later in life. i have spent the last two years studying human attitudes to nature and landscape and it most certainly prompted me to look at that photo with new eyes. it suddenly dawned on me that this is it, that is where and when it all started – my aesthetic attachment to moderately northern, baltic landscapes. i saw it very clearly.

i remembered feeling exhilarated as my dad picked me up so i could reach the branch. he did that a lot, probably encouraged by seeing how happy it made me. i was intoxicated by the new atmosphere. there was a small pond deeper into the woods where it was quite dark and where we went to feed the ducks. there were mushrooms and berries to pick. there was a thousand things to explore. late summer to early autumn as they unravel around the gulf of finland is still my favorite time of the year. i wish i could define what it is exactly that makes my heart clench in joy but i can’t. i can only try to record glimpses of it – natural details and human-made artifacts. i can find them anywhere, in thicker or thinner concentration. but sometimes nothing can replace the real thing…

childhood month in martyshkino

Nature in all its manifestations has always been very special to me. I grew up in semi-urban and rural places with immediate access to forests, meadows, and lakes. Nature was where I spent all my free time; unguarded, alone, or with friends. I am convinced that my respect for nature stems from my childhood years and the way I could interact with the natural environment.

I remember being fascinated by all things natural from the time I was aware of my own existence. Birds outside my window, plants and trees, ants, lizards, bumblebees, dragonflies, hedgehogs, rain, snow, hail… the list of wonders can go on and on. I remember spending most of my time outdoors with my sister, other children, or by myself. I would play hide-and-seek in a wheat field with friends, collect mushrooms and berries in a forest with my family, or just climb trees wishing to be a Tarzan. I could sit in tall grass under my favorite oak tree at the edge of the woods for hours waiting for a moose to come out or hoping to spot a hare. The outdoor environment was full of magic and meaning and charged with everyday revelations about nature and about myself.

Another important element of my childhood was the fact that my parents encouraged my interest by giving me geography atlases and nature encyclopaedias. They were far from being naturalists themselves – just regular people sharing a caring sentiment about the natural world.

[ m e m o r y:
…I come home from school. I eat cookies with milk and go to my room. My parrot is greeting me with a trill and starts flying around in the room. I take my current favorite book from the shelf, full of anticipation – I am going to read about the ocean – AGAIN. The encyclopaedia is on marine life. It is a voluminous tome with vivid photographs and rich texts. I open it at random and study a photo of a derelict monster fish – it looks horrifyingly sad. I flip through the book,  lost in my imaginary world.  I am hoping that someday I will see some of these creatures but at the moment I don’t even know what a real sea looks and feels like, let alone an ocean… ]

A place of particular awe for me was a smelly stream that ran near our apartment building. Its banks were overgrown with various grasses and its muddy waters were full of life – insect larvae, polliwogs, and an occasional fish. It was my own little wildlife observatory.

During the teenage years, nature was my refuge. When I was in eighth grade, I went through a truancy period when I was regularly skipping school for no easily understood reason. I would take my schoolbag with me in the morning, leave the apartment, and go into the forest. I would spend up to six hours there, alone. Often I would climb a tall tree and sit in it for a long time just observing what went on down there – not much usually: a bird skipping on the ground or a stray human passing by with a dog. I was alert to sounds. The perceived silence was in fact filled with aural stimuli. The wind made trees talk. I listened…

[ m e m o r y:
I am probably six years old. I am spending winter at my grandmother’s in Estonia. We live in a small private house with a big garden. The two bird cherry trees are my favorites. It is early March and I feel that nature is preparing to wake up. I break off a small twig from one of the bird cherry trees and put it in a glass with water inside the house. A week or ten days later I discover that the twig has grown roots and is about to bloom. I am the happiest person ever.]

Being in a forest is a very comforting feeling. I feel sheltered by trees. I believe they connect with the cosmos in a very special way – graceful, bizarre transmitters of energy. They grow straight towards the sky. They have managed to harness the solar energy in a manner no other living organism has. TREES are magnificent. They are NATURE to me in the purest form.

DSC_0053 trees2 DSC_0178 DSC_9133 DSC_9138 DSC_9146 trees trees1

my friends know that moominvalley is my ultimate happy place. it is where i mentally retreat in times of distress. it is also what i try to make my own immediate environment look and feel like. moomins live in a landscape that is alive. it is a character in its own right. you are never fully alone in a forest or on a tiny rocky island in the baltic sea. you may be sad or angry at times but there is always a magical chance to interact with the landscape and not let dullness take over. landscape always has in store adventure and thrill. it also offers solitude for those who seek it. it is your friend and a stranger at the same time and you need to be patient, attentive, and self-aware to make the relationship work.

these are my crude thoughts on a thesis topic. there is one moomin book that is particularly important to me: ‘moominpappa at sea’. i reread it every summer: it always manages to put me back into a child’s state of wonder about the seemingly trivial things around you and to help me re-imagine my dream world as a necessary reference in real life. what better way to write a research paper than choosing a subject that represents your own self?!

(the photographs are from an exhibition by roger gustafsson called “hommage à… trollish adventures in contemporary art” organized by the finnish-norwegian cultural institute in oslo. i was lucky enough to attend its opening in march 2012.)