The Matter of Place

Where will you be in the future? You can read that as a question about your state of being, and as a question about a place. It’s not meant to invite a clean prediction – that’s close to impossible, if you are facing the future with all your faculties wide open – but to wonder whether the place where you might find yourself, the actual, physical location within this Earth, will matter to you.

Matter. It sounds like several languages for mother, but let’s leave that as a coincidence. It is actual, physical, material, ground; the dirt around your carrots and the rock against which you stub your idealism. It is also whatever you designate as important, where you place your concern.

Two spectres travelling in opposite directions. In future, some among us humans will be constrained to stay put where we are, to ‘adapt in place'. In future, some among us humans will be forced out of our places and become refugees.

Will you regard the place where you find yourself as a blank slate, awaiting a rewrite of human needs and concerns? Will the place itself matter to you, matter through you? Meaning, how far might you be willing to go in co-operation with your locality’s rocks, trees, soil, meadows, microbes, water sources, genius loci, climate, animals, plants, their devas, pavements, buildings, thoroughfares and ghosts? As far as asking a native tree for advice, or a food crop where it would like to be planted? As far as believing that it’s the high street which travels you, as far as accepting the gestalt of all inhabitants which creates an environment – that of Brixton, say, or Skye or the Scottish / English borderlands – as your mentor and guide, your ultimate government?

I don’t grant these questions any power to persuade you; I ask myself the same ones. They are an invitation to measure your resistance, to see if they push you up against a limit in your understanding of what a place, an environment, might be, who it’s for, who the ‘we’ in The Future We Deserve might include, and on whose terms. To find out whether being thus pushed has value for you, or if it’s merely an annoyance.

If in future the two spectres run headlong and hard into one another, that’s one way of getting to measure how deeply a sense of place might matter to human beings, how deeply a place in its entirety might make the matter of a human being. Xenophobic nationalisms root themselves in the fallacy that only people of a chosen race who are born in a place should belong there. Yet ours is a world history of incomers. Some adapt and become a part of places, sensitised to their rhythms and etiquette. Some experience a change in surroundings as the replacement of one painless abstraction by another. Some bear such change as an unhealing trauma, to be endlessly re-inflicted upon those to whom belonging appears to belong.

Place, in the deep, reciprocal sense I’m evoking here, might come not to matter. Our human concerns may for good reason be directed elsewhere. If that becomes the case, where will you be in the future?


Alistair McIntosh, Soil & Soul (2001/2004) ; Jay Griffiths, Wild (2007); Jay Griffiths, ‘This England’, Dark Mountain #1, 2010

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