Photos by the author
“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
there are no birds
only the wind
and the howl of wolves
beyond the silence
we are alone
there are no clouds
only the wind
the crag of Lady Hill
we are alone
there is no sun
only the wind burns
the air is thin
within these walls
we are alone
we build brick upon brick
and watch the flickering walls
waiting for the storm
the Tower stands alone
in this Border land
we dance upon the battlements and hope
A spider has spun a web outside my kitchen window. Suspended by a silken thread she survives gales and heavy rain. I check for her every evening and breathe a sigh of relief that she’s still hanging on, waiting for her next meal and proving that small and delicate doesn’t mean weak.
“Just because you think you can do something doesn’t mean you can actually do it.” This was a comment I often heard from a nurse at a local hospital where I experienced disability discrimination. That is so wrong. Believing in yourself is eighty percent of the path to success. Strength begins in the mind. The subtle and not so subtle negative messages disabled people receive from society every day creates low self-esteem, weakens them so that many don’t even attempt to live full independent lives. And the same thing applies to women, even in this supposedly post-feminist age they are presumed to be the weaker sex.
Although there have been improvements in attitudes towards both disabled people and women in the last fifty years, both groups are still constrained by old stereotypes. Disabled people are supposed to be helpless, sad and stupid; women are supposed to be caring, domestic creatures mainly defined by their relationships. Men are celebrated for their achievements, women for their appearance and how much they are loved. Bold, successful women who take risks and defy the norms of marriage and motherhood are viewed as an aberration. Their main role in life is still caregiver, not adventurer or pleasure-seeker. Their domain is the home and not the wilderness.
I’ve previously written about the image of the loner in film. The old Westerns and wilderness survival movies such as Into the Wild, The Grey, All is Lost and The Revenant all have male protagonists. I’ve struggled to find many female equivalents. Loner women are not shown as mysterious heroines battling nature but as loveless misfits, bitter like Miss Havisham from Great Expectations, or victims of abuse like Carrie in Brian de Palma’s classic horror. How much do these negative messages influence the aspirations of girls growing up today? Why can’t women run wild with the wind?
Its strange that even though we speak of ‘Mother Nature’ and ‘Mother Earth’ there are so few films exploring women, solitude and the natural world. Here is my list so far. Please leave a comment if you can think of any others.
‘Here Alone’ is a recent offbeat film about a young woman named Ann (Lucy Walters) who struggles to survive after a weird epidemic decimates society. She leads an isolated life and battles the threat of bloodthirsty survivors who were infected and lurk outside the forest. Although her life is hard she is clever and successful at living off the land with limited resources. She has experienced loss and trauma but still exists in harmony with the beautiful landscape. Later in the story she meets up with other survivors but is ambivalent about joining them. The shock ending shows the real threat is from an unexpected source.
‘Wild’ features Reese Witherspoon in a brilliant performance as Cheryl Strayed, a young woman driven to a crisis by the loss of her beloved mother (Laura Dern) and the break-up of her marriage. She decides to halt her self-destructive behaviour and put her life back together again. With no outdoors experience or training Cheryl sets out alone to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, a distance of over one thousand miles. This film is a female equivalent of Into the Wild, Sean Penn’s moving film about Christopher McCandless. It’s also based on a true story and has an episodic structure with flashbacks revealing the backstory. However, Wild is an astounding film in its own right and has an upbeat ending.
‘Alien’, directed by Ridley Scott and ‘Aliens’, directed by James Cameron are sci-fi horror movies but could also be described as woman battling against a hostile environment. Sigourney Weaver as Ripley is the ultimate female survivor, tough and intelligent. Although she is at heart a loner she doesn’t avoid relationships and takes on a mothering role towards an abandoned child in Aliens. She also loves her cat Jonesie!
The 1994 film Nell is about a female hermit played by Jodie Foster who has lived her entire life in an isolated mountain cabin in North Carolina where she has developed her own language. She eventually becomes a curious object to be studied by psychologists who try to integrate her into society.
The Hunger Games film series consists of four science fiction dystopian adventure films based on the novels by the American author Suzanne Collins. It stars Jennifer Lawrence as the reluctant but fearless survivor of a man-made hostile wilderness. Contestants are forced to kill each other in a televised game designed to distract the masses from the injustices of real life. (So a bit like the reality TV shows that clog up our screens today! The Hunger Games films are popular with teenage girls who will, hopefully, grow up less afraid than earlier generations to embrace life and venture freely into the Wild.
I’m not sure when my attraction to the idea of The North first began. It was a strange fascination for a mythical wilderness on the margins of the world untainted by the corruption of civilisation. It felt like a pure place where I could truly be free. Of course I knew deep down this was nonsense but my dreams of The North maintained a hold on me I could not break. It felt like my destiny. Edgar Allan Poe wrote:-
“I have reached these lands but newly
From an ultimate dim Thule –
From a wild weird clime that lieth, sublime,
Out of space – Out of time.”
I love that phrase, “wild weird clime”. It reminds me of David Lynch’s brilliant film Wild At Heart. A land where anything is possible. A land where our pains are healed by the wind. A place where a troubled person could reinvent herself.
My first experience of The Highlands of Scotland was a four day car tour with my parents when I was twelve years old. We camped in a little orange tent. We lost our way somewhere near Glen Coe, ended up sleeping in the old Humber Sceptre as my father was too exhausted to drive any further. At dawn I woke up stiff and cold and was astounded. There was a magnificent water fall just a few yards from where we’d pulled over, obliviously in the dark. The air was fresh and clean in my lungs and I felt more alive, a thrill like electricity when I climbed out of the car and heard the rush of the falling water.
My father, however, was not impressed. I remember him saying over and over, ‘what’s the point of all this empty green space? Why don’t they build something useful here?” My mother did not react much at all. She always lived in her own head and could have been anywhere most of the time.
At the age of sixteen I had a boyfriend in Glasgow. I visited his family one summer. It was hardly a romantic wilderness but a tough council estate. We ate fish and chips and toast with marmalade for most meals. The people were lovely and welcoming. I discovered sex on the banks of the Clyde, whisky and the poems of Leonard Cohen (but not all at the same time). I enjoyed being free from the demands of my parents. This experience reinforced my positive associations with Scotland. I suppose it was inevitable I would move there one day.
Check out this interesting article for more about our cultural fascination with the north:-
In Sean Penn’s amazing film, Into The Wild, the free spirit Christopher McCandless realises just before his tragic death alone in the wilderness of Alaska that “Happiness is only real when shared”. Do you agree? Discuss in 500 words or less.
Was McCandless an inspiring figure who pursued his dream to the bitter end gaining precious moments of intensity and wisdom or was he a misguided, selfish young man who threw away his life and hurt his family in a self-destruct? I’m inclined to the first point of view. It is better to live a shorter life to the full rather than a long life trapped in a meaningless consumerist rat race. Quality not quantity is what counts. In modern life we seem to be obsessed with trying to live forever, avoiding risks, preferring the well-trodden path of safe conformity and a predictable end in a rancid nursing home where no-one gives a damn when you die in your own despairing piss. What makes life meaningful? Is it proving your own worth by collecting thousands of ‘likes’ and so-called ‘friends’ on Facebook? Do we need love and acceptance to survive? Humans are programmed to live in groups. We are supposedly a social animal. But a city can be a far lonelier place than a cold mountainside.
Why am I writing this blog if not in an attempt to share my life and happiness?
Click on this link for a film review of Into the Wild:-