I was in Fredericton over Easter, for the usual egg-related festivities, and got a little time with my partner in its endless second-hand bookstore, Owl’s Nest. On and on we hunted, picking things up and putting them down. I had Feyerabend in my hand for awhile, and decided I’d never read it. Finally, way upstairs in a corner on natural history I found architect Paul Shepheard‘s (1997) volume The Cultivated Wilderness. Or, What is Landscape? I was not familiar with his name, but the title suggested it might be useful for my new project on climax landscape thinking. Another serendipitous discovery.
Shepheard writes conversationally but with great insight, and thankfully little tragedy, about “the ways in which we humans tussle with the wilderness and change it to suit ourselves” (p. 1). Like many scholars he sees all landscapes as ‘cultivated’ to greater or lesser degress: as reviewer Christine Bucher observed, even the natural largely survives today “because of zoning, government regulation, and temporary and benign neglect”.
Unapologetically utilitarian, Shepheard reminds us that it is “easy to forget how beautiful utility can be” (p. 127). He reads in landscape – and describes for us – a patchwork of shifting strategies at large scales: e.g. survival, reason, defense, economic exploitation, restoration. His epilogue is worth quoting at length (p. 233):
Cultivation—the work of humans—has a different sort of beauty [than Wilderness]. There is nothing else under the sun than what there has always been. Cultivation is the human reordering of the material of the wilderness. If it is successful, the beauty of it lies in the warmth of your empathy for another human’s effort.
Landscape is a huge subject, as big as the earth and its atmosphere and reaching out to the edge of the universe. The big moves in landscape happen very rarely. You will be lucky to see one during your lifetime and even luckier to be in the right place at the right time to be involved in the making of it. Incremental changes happen all the time, however. They gradually accrue to big changes in what there is in the world, and whatever you are up to, you will be involved in these already. My epilogue is: be aware of the strategy that governs what you do.