Sunday, 29 August 2010
Sunday, 15 August 2010
So there's a paragraph in Mark Lynas's Six Degrees that disturbs me greatly & somehow makes sense of this trip for me... It's in chapter 2 oC (pp 95-96) with 'only' two degrees of warming (a level George Monbiot's Heat suggests we may already be committed to) is a response to Chris Thomas's 2004 Nature paper which revealed that, according to their models, over a third of all species would be committed to extinction by the time global temps reach 2oC including a quarter of European birds (red kite, starling 'near the top of the list'). Lynas writes:
'Consider the thought that living species, which have evolved on this planet over millions of years, could be destroyed for ever in the space of one human generation; that life, in all its fascinating exuberance, can be erased so quickly, and with such leaden finality. As the biologist Edward O. Wilson has suggested, the next century could be an 'Age of Loneliness', when humanity finds itself nearly alone on a devastated planet. In tribute to Rachel Carson, I call this our Silent Summer - a never-ending heatwave, devoid of birdsong, insect hum, and all the weird and wonderful noises that subconsciously keep us company.'
What on earth is that crashing loss set against the relatively insignificant presence of wind turbines in an already changing landscape?
I'm walking to the village of Llanddeiniol after this to 'finish' the walk, meeting Sara & kids at her friend's house there. I'm greeted with cake & congratulations (I can't quite work out what for initially, I'm still frustrated that my injury-knee nonsense has prevented me walking ALL the way), orange & vanilla tea, tremendous hospitality & best of all ice packs for my knee (which saw me walking the last few miles downhill (much worse than up) like a crab, which would be comic if it wasn't painful). Also then much conversation about the trip, our own attitudes, lifestyles & some contradictions, & the difficulties of committing to the 'frugality' of eco-living which can seem ungenerous & inhospitable (not here though; Sara & I lingered long enough to stay for dinner and Anne our generous host shared a German saying 'three were invited, five came, water down the soup, everyone is welcome') the difficulties that even environmentalists now seem to face in reaching consensus about how we really can avert runaway climate change. We also start planning the logistics of filming on Monday, Anne's daughter will babysit so we can go off on site. I'm still confused about what I want to achieve, so Sara is generous with her filming & editing expertise. I'm bad at communicating my artistic 'vision' which I find hard to articulate until it 'arrives'. I'm also a bit in awe of Sara's expertise & intellect I realise, which makes me a bit reticent to share my unsophisticated ideas. But it's an exciting process & a new exchange.
I just hope that something good will emerge & grow from here. It's not going to change the world but... Jeanette Winterson writes 'the power of art is so immense, even its dilutions are homeopathic'. I truly hope this is so...
Day 6 & Sara (my collaborator, the film maker) has told me about a family who live right below the Rheidol wind farm & are positive about the turbines. I'm keen to talk to them, because so many people who like them say 'but I don't think I'd want to *live* by them'...
We make hasty arrangements to meet at their house when they get back from town later that morning.
Meanwhile I get the bus to Bwlch Nantyrarian then take a section of the Borth-to-Devil's Bridge route up to the turbines on the common. I photograph massive pylons (oft-cited as the landscape eyesores much less appealing than turbines but to which we've all become accustomed) and an e.on sign which helpfully tells me the make, number and size of the turbines but also says 'no unauthorised access'. This worries me as the map says this is open access land, so when I'm trudging up the hill & hear a car horn behind me, I'm half expecting to be in trouble: i'm not, it's Marie & family, who then walk up the hill to be interviewed right under the turbine.
The Sustainable Development Commission wind power booklet i'd been reading the night before says 'it's possible to have a normal conversation with someone while standing underneath a turbine without either of you having to raise your voice'. This is certainly true - though perhaps not the most normal of conversations - when I ask what they'd paint on a turbine the children all respond 'a rainbow'.
Back down at Nantyrarian visitor centre I interview the Forestry Commission ranger who says on cold, still days the red kites (who are fed at the centre) are canny enough to perch on the unmoving turbine blades, but not fly near them when operational.
Stupidly, too lazy to read the map, I end up following way markers which take me down a tortuous mountain bike track winding up & down the hill. Out of the forest, I pass lakes at Pendam, along Blaenmelindwr & Syfydrin out onto the hill opposite Craig y Pistyll. Now we're in Bontgoch lead mining country, an industry which I realise (belatedly, because it's obvious) had a huge impact on these landscapes & the health of these communities, surely far more destructive than wind energy even in its least positive light.
This is confirmed by an interviewee in the village - a retired lecturer in agriculture who taught in Hampshire & north Wales but was born here in the late 1920s - who talked of the graveyard full of miners who never saw 40, 'their lungs full of dust'. The turbines he sees from his window he uses as a barometer to tell which way the wind is blowing & where the rain will come from. He tells me he'll have to trim his hedge soon so they don't become obscured from view.
It was bumping into this same man on a walk earlier this summer that had given me the inspiration for this project & we talked for a long time about differing agricultural practices, the changes in rural living, transport, school & how much knowledge of self-sufficiency has been lost. He showed me his impressive veg garden, marrows, cabbage, leeks, rhubarb, raspberries (I shared a recipe for the best ever barley & raspberry porridge with rosehip syrup but not sure he was impressed) & carrots grown among the onions for the first time to thwart the carrot fly. We talk about the benefits of companion planting (I can hear my friends laughing at this: all my gardening knowledge is purely theoretical) & he says you have to live a lifetime to find out all these things by trial & error.
A friendly chat with a mountain biker about countryside access as he cycled along at walking pace next to me for a while. Then up onto the hill to look at the turbines: I choose these for the filming site. There are mountains behind & sea in front & a Tir Gofal open access area under two of the turbines.
From here I can see Aber, Clarach where I grew up, the turbines at Rheidol where i've come from that morning & the turbines at Llangwyryfon where I'm going.
It's all starting to make some kind of sense...
A day of solitude from Llangurig to Devil's Bridge on Weds via controversial Cefn Croes...I know nearly all wind energy developments have caused controversy but somehow this one sticks in my mind because it was so publically opposed over the internet & even has its own publication emotively titled (not unlike my previous blog!) the 'Battle for Cefn Croes'. I was almost nervous to visit.
Still defeated by my trainers I walk barefoot up the road from Llangurig that ends in a bridleway over the hill to Cwmystwyth. The last time I came this way was on Merlin in 2000, the day before my birthday, rehearsing out loud my microbiology research seminar presentation I was giving the next day, in another life as a biology PhD student. (So walking along this road barefoot is somehow reconciling the perceived divide between arts & sciences on a personal level & in some intangible way.) The turbines weren't there back then but I still get the now familiar jolt of excitement as I crest the hill & they appear - last seen as a glimpse on the horizon from Bryn Titli.
This time I am singing ('Oes gafr eto?' a popular one on this trip) & genuinely hoping I don't see anyone to confirm my eccentricity as a stereotypical happy hippie. I needn't have worried, I don't see a soul (apart from the turbines - do wind turbines have a soul? Now I have been spending too long in the hills. They do have maintenance engineers though, & I leave a message spelled out with gorse & heather twigs under a turbine for their next visit) until I emerge after hours of forest tramping at the Arch, which I realise I still know nothing about (a stone arch in the middle of nowhere; part of Hafod estate or something older??) because rather than reading the information panel, I get into conversation with some lovely folks (& Toby the speaking dog) from Ilfracombe in a very cool orange VW camper.
We talk about Six Degrees & the potential for getting depressed about runaway climate change; 'doing your bit' only to learn whole governments, nations & corporations are still massively apathetic & polluting. But lots of positive talk about renewables & the sculptural quality of wind turbines, as alien & appealing as the Angel of the North... provoking the usual question when is art, art? I expect it's far too much of a leap of imagination but maybe if we reframed the intention of turbines as art objects which happen to produce energy...? This already a stimulus for another (aerial dance) project in the pipeline...
I hobble the last few miles into Devil's Bridge; compensating for my achilles has taken its toll on my knee. So frustrating & the Hafod Arms offer me ice & strapping but I make plans to take the narrow gauge steam railway back to Aber for another osteopath's appointment the next day - ridiculous but necessary, I can't take any chances with my joints (psoriatic arthritis).
This decision was good timing as the next morning it's pouring & there's even rain blowing into the open train carriage. Find myself having a nostalgic cry - my love of the landscape here was cemented by a teenage spent riding in this valley, crossing and recrossing the tracks of this little train on a mad chestnut Arab mare who once crushed my knee (same one being delivered to the osteopath) in a gateway onto the train tracks & who crashed to the ground with me on board from flat out gallop on the hill above (we were both as surprised as each other & got up, miraculously unhurt, shook ourselves & carried on). Record the sound of the train's whistle which echoes up & down the steep valley all summer & is one of my subconscious defining ambient noises of home.
Aber town is heaving, at the height of the tourist season, it feels like a metropolis, i'm weaving between more people than I've seen in a week - or than I would even see in a month if I kept repeating this walk over & over. It made me realise that it's people who disrupt my notion of tranquility far more than turbines. Their inanimate presence, making visible the power of the wind, actually heightens my sense of the spine-tingling bleakness of remote places. Certainly at Cefn Croes, with a nagging injury, I felt vulnerably far from any civilisation.
There's not much the osteopath can do for my knee in one session but I buy some new footwear & meet my mother in the dentist's for a lift home where I'm touched to discover she's been marking my progress in pencil in an AA road atlas on the kitchen table. Low tech as always...
Friday, 13 August 2010
OK, let me get the stereotypically (to blogging) self-indulgent whinge out of the way first: this blog title doesn't refer to a hitherto undiscovered battle of Owain Glyndwr but to my considered decision (having walked barefoot up the hill wincing over thistles, but a trade off & better than limping due to trainers) sitting below Bryn Titli wind farm on Weds to take a scissors to my trainers, to make them wearable & stop aggravating the inflamed tendon they'd given me in the first place. There's nothing quite as satisfying as taking your revenge on an inanimate object (even an expensive all terrain trainer) that was clearly OUT TO GET YOU and walking was much easier after that.
I'd hitched & bussed from Llanidloes (after a luxurious night at Lloyds, & a very articulate interview with one of its proprietors Tom, describing turbines on the far horizon rather wonderfully as 'eyebrows of white'; this in contrast to the conversation with a monosyllabic young man in a bus stop, who had nothing to say about them - they were just part of the working landscape to him; he also touchingly admitted he was feeling 'really emotional' that day, bound on the bus to Aber to take his driving theory test because he was desperate to get away - the landscapes we romanticise & fight over not exactly economically nourishing for all) via Llangurig & realised my hitching technique may be flawed when the people who stopped for me said they'd actually thought I was a cardboard cut out I was standing so still...
So, Bryn Titli in bright sun & a great sense of relief to be back in the hills again. But I realise if this trip has encouraged any latent tub thumping on my part it's not about turbines which I continue to love (I've tried, I really have, to hate them but I can't, though it's the fact I've had to travel so exhaustingly far between them that makes them novel - landmarks that distinguish one bleak and beautiful hill from another, something on the horizon to be travelled to - it would indeed be different if they were on the next hill, the middle distance, the hills behind that *and* the far horizon) but diminishing access to old pathways, fences over gateways, wired shut gates (one so artfully done with wire and reinforced with cable ties I half expected an alarm to go off as I climbed over or a red dot to appear trained on my chest as I walked across the field). I can climb fences but Merlin can't & most of these tracks are supposed to be bridleways or RUPPS most of them so old & established that even if underused, they are still visible scored into the side of a hill, curving away. Nevermind the right to roam, what about the right to not have to turn back from blocked right of way & go miles out of your way on a dangerous main road? (an experience from a long ago long distance trek across Wales on horseback).
Back to Llangurig & the Blue Bell... The next day as I'm heading off, I talk to Mary in the village shop opposite. She talks of how the coming of the turbines nearly split the valley (in opinion) but how there was something so exciting about that 'brand spanking new' technology coming to a rural area, where 'we do sometimes feel a bit abandoned'... She also emphasised the importance of making it clearer to communities the link between their turbines and the immediate benefits of electricity generation, how the (perceived by some) disadvantage of turbines might be balanced by an awareness of what benefits are brought directly to those communities, drawing parallels with the mining communities in the south where landscapes were scarred but the money generated was all spent elsewhere.
Really great to talk to someone with so much to well considered stuff to say & not based purely in aesthetics...
I journeyed on to Cefn Croes with yet more food for thought...
Monday, 9 August 2010
Crawling up the lane I encountered & was interviewing a man in a van heading downhill when a tractor & trailer appeared & miracle of all miracles was going not only to the end of the lane but all the way up the mountain to collect lambs for fattening (my vegetarian self had no moral problem with this). Surreally, he dropped me at the nearest turbine & picked me up again as I was picking my way down the hill. (Thanks Christopher & good luck for A level results!)
Back on the road, called Maddy at Caplor for expert advice on hitching technique (it worked)... got sent to the osteopath by the lady in Llani Leisure advising me on trainers...sat on floor with the assistant in the chemists surrounded by every orthotic you could imagine to make my trainers wearable &, finally, met an articulate compost toilet installer in the wholefood shop who'd done work for CAT, which brought me back full circle
admittedly, I'm not saying much about landscape here...people seem to find it hard to articulate what it is about landscape that they love or what it is that they feel is compromised or enhanced by wind energy development... but the same arguments resurface: aesthetics, noise, inefficiency. Not sure the arguments & discussions about turbines naturally relate back to climate change & emissions stats as much as they should - turbines seem to be a talking point but not about tipping point.
If I had to conclude at this halfway point, it seems that it all boils down to fear and change and fear of change - and how we reconcile & relate these in different hierarchies: do we fear noise & aesthetic intrusion more than climate chaos & disruption? are we embracing the right kind of change with large scale wind energy?
and yet it's impossible to grade fears unless you can directly compare them...the precipice to jump in front of you or the monster that's chasing you.
food for thought & dreams or nightmares
all photos at:
Many wonderful, fascinating, articulate, helpful people all along the journey. Restoring my faith in human nature (in light of reading about political treachery & climate change denial) & realise people are just inherently fascinating. Some brilliant words & strange sites:
Tipis (teepees?) nestling in the hills above Carno
Offshore turbines like 'seagulls flying'
Barn owl chicks on a Sunday morning (not for breakfast!)
The Carno turbines: 'magic...they bring the hillside alive'
As for the silent (?) partners in this journey... Turbines... hm, being up close to them I've gone from a kind of awe-&-fear inspired spine-tingling reverence (dizzyingly huge & somehow animate creatures) to indifference ('they're just there and they work' - CAT) in space of two days. Useful navigation aids & fantastic landmarks but just one component of a working landscape.
Still had fun playing with the long shadow of the blades turning in the sunset @ Mynydd Clogau last night though.
So totally gutted I may not make it up to Llandinam today. But just done a lovely interview with a spritely 86 year old gentleman. Bus stops seem to be fruitful meeting places for conversation...
Mark Lynas writes about 2 British climbers who had to be rescued after a climate-related (as it turns out) major rock fall in the alps. They had experienced a minor rock fall hours before 'but mountains have strange effects on people's minds and [they] pressed on'... Thinking I may do the same & hope for the best....
Saturday, 7 August 2010
“What we call the beginning is often the end/and to make an end is to make a beginning/the end is where we start from…”
T. S. Eliot hangover from little bird, listening (see blogs list) notwithstanding, set off from home (mum’s) this morning, down Penglais Hill to catch the train to Mach, but via Sara’s (film-maker) where I’m posting this and as always, having inspiring discussions.
Met some lovely CAT people (hello Cara if you’re reading this, having deciphered the whole snappy blog title wind-dash-mill thing!) on the train here last night, so hoping to catch them there again this morning.
I’ve been reading John Etherington (articulate anti-wind campaigner but fortunately also a climate change denier it seems, so easily dismissed) and George Monbiot and zerocarbonbritain interspersed chaper for chapter, attempting to get a balanced view (and to stop myself getting too demoralised). Of course some of the NIMBY arguments hold up and I’d be being wilfully ignorant if I thought onshore wind energy in itself was an uber-efficient panacea. The wind doesn’t blow all the time and it requires that we maintain at least some fossil fuel power plant (albeit with carbon capture) to ensure continuity of supply. But offshore turbines, high voltage DC power cables combined with other forms of renewables (tidal, solar) both here and elsewhere are still a substantial and laudable contributer to cutting our emissions.
But I’m trying not to get too caught up in the statistics. I wanted to get this all into my head then let it sit there while I walk it through/out of my system. I really want to be open to the fluctuations of opinion (my own and other people’s) I encounter en route. It’s as much a meditation on the changes (lifestyle, landscape) we might be prepared to make and accept as on the changes we might well encounter as a result of climate change. My intention is to carry a copy of Mark Lynas’s Six Degrees http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2007/apr/23/scienceandnature.climatechange and read one chapter each night. A degree’s change for each day walking, then a day to reflect.
Excited and nervous….
Friday, 6 August 2010
Feeling exhilarated by the task ahead though I'm a bit disappointed that I can't just pick up my rucksack and go - I'd like to sling my pack on my back, step out the door and put one foot in front of the other rather than all this planning but (i) it's in my nature (observe numbered list) and (ii) I'm not sure I have quite enough faith in modern human nature to just turn up hopefully on someone's doorstep asking for a bed for the night.
(This just confirmed by a girl I was chatting to in wholefood shop (natch), who told the story of a priest who decided to see if it was possible to travel and live without money a la St Francis, and found he could only stay with fellow clerics en route, the rest of us being too suspicious to house him. I'm not sure where or when that was (Ireland/England?) but I'm pretty sure rural mid-Wales is not quite equipped for impromptu sofa-surfing just yet... which is sad, as surely the drovers (in some of whose footsteps I'll inevitably tread) were the Original and Best sofa-surfers. I'll look out for Scots pines nonetheless (see Godwin, F. and Toulson, S. (1987) The Drovers’ Roads of Wales London: Whittet Books - God, can't believe I'm referencing a blog.... dyed-in-the-wool academic I)
Of course for ultimate freedom, I could just camp, but I really don't want to be laden. This may be a pilgrimage of sorts, but I don't see the need to carry a cross or wear a hair shirt. Merino and Goretex is where it's at.
So, route planned and mapped, rucksack contents lists written and re-written (exactly how many pairs of pants can I justifiably carry? They're not THAT big), books read (demoralising wind NIMBY rant by ecologist John Etherington; inspiring and amazing Rebecca Solnit) and re-read (George Monbiot, Alain de Botton), Rolfing session on efficient walking attended, and people talked to. Already had a fairly mixed bag of responses to The Question ('so, what do you think about wind turbines?' - I'm trying to think of an ingenious way of asking this more subtly and indirectly) and am guaranteed a '100% NIMBY' response from my hosts in Llanidloes. Bring it on!
Tuesday, 3 August 2010
Just then they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that rise from that plain. And no sooner did Don Quixote see them that he said to his squire, “Fortune is guiding our affairs better than we ourselves could have wished. Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them. With their spoils we shall begin to be rich for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless."
“What giants?” asked Sancho Panza.
“Those you see over there,” replied his master, “with their long arms. Some of them have arms well nigh two leagues in length.”
“Take care, sir,” cried Sancho. “Those over there are not giants but windmills.”
Miguel de Cervantes (1615) Don Quixote
Part 1, Chapter VIII. Of the valourous Don Quixote's success in the dreadful and never before imagined Adventure of the Windmills, with other events worthy of happy record.
This piece takes as its starting point one of the most famous images from literature – so embedded in etymology that it has come to define futile or unrealistic behaviour towards wrongly perceived enemies. Quixote is the epitome of the foolish hero or heroic fool. So too then, the NIMBYs who, seemingly unaware of the unfortunate analogy, protest against the conveniently physical presence of wind turbines in the landscape on aesthetic or noise-pollution grounds, when the real enemy is the less visible but equally tangible and much more destructive force that is climate change. A force which may play a significant role in modifying landscapes (or how we use them) in its own way. Climate scientists talk about the need for mitigation and adaptation so what is landscape if not a playground (or battleground) for our ingenuity? It was certainly this – humans responding to challenges of survival and efficiency – that has shaped many landscapes into what they are now, landscapes some people are seeking to mummify even in the face of a pressing need for change.
This is one perspective. (Mine.) There are many others. While they broadly fall into the over-zealous-macho Don Quixote or rational-placatory Sancho Panza camps, both sides have a point and a passion. Technology is an intrinsic part of our lives but are we attempting to counteract this increasing dependency with a desire to keep it and its traces out of our rural spaces? Are wind turbines really destructive, inefficient monsters; a tokenistic attempt to assuage a guilty carbon conscience? Or is sentimentality for landscape the convenient cloud shrouding uncomfortable (inconvenient) truths?
Art has a long history of engagement with landscape and environmentalism (Andrews 1999) and my interest here is in using movement practice to present an alternative arena for these conflicting views (Etherington 2009, Monbiot 2008) to be seen and heard; a fresh perspective for debate that moves it away from the charged environment of the village hall or the political chamber. Through using a long-distance walk (walking is itself an artform and a means of protest (Solnit 2001)) as a way in to an embodied engagement with land and people, I will collect sound and image from/of people and landscape. These recordings will then be edited to form a score that will direct the making of a film. I will revisit one or more sites identified as significant during the walk with my collaborator, the film-maker. Responding to the sound score with camera we will attempt to either reinforce or counterpoint the spoken text with image. The sound score or other recollections from the walk may invite a performative response to the vocal or visual stimuli on site; these will also be filmed. Other notes, observations and detritus from the walk will be collected and (re)presented in an artist’s book.
Monday, 2 August 2010
tilting@windmills is a land-based performance research project which seeks to explore communities’ response to change in the landscape, specifically wind energy development in rural Wales. Through recordings and interviews collected on a long-distance walk between the wind clusters that lie along the spine of mid-Wales, it intends to offer an embodied perspective on changing values in changing landscapes in a changing climate. It also opens a forum for debate on these challenging issues outside of the charged environment of the village hall or political chamber. A short film, produced as a visual response to an edited soundscore of these recordings, and artist’s book will form the basis of a participative installation which invites viewers/participants to make their own contribution to the landscape of discussion. But fundamentally, it also represents a personal journey for the artists, through unknown yet familiar and difficult territory – geographical, emotional and political – allowing for the possibility of change in their own landscape of ‘informed’ opinion.