Tag Archives: Wilderness

Metaphorical Enclosure

Since I might as well be hung for a horse as a lamb, and I’m clearly intent on making myself unpopular just in time for Christmas, I decided to clarify a couple of things relating to my last post.

I did not mean to imply that wild places should be left unvisited by humankind so that people such as myself can go and ‘twiddle our thumbs in mighty solitude’ and not be bothered by awkward facts of life such as climate change.

I’m saying that using images of wild places as part of a branding campaign for individuals or companies sends the wrong message. It implies that nature has a price on its head and that only the cool people are allowed in.

There is a growing body of evidence that proves conservation efforts are much more likely to be successful if intrinsic values (community, compassion, empathy) are engaged, rather than extrinsic values (money, status, image). In fact, studies show that exercising extrinsic values with the aim of protecting the environment is counter-productive, as WWF’s Tom Crompton explains in a back issue of Resurgance Magazine.

To my eyes, stamping a logo on a wild place that actually belongs to everybody is the virtual equivalent of putting a fence around common land.


metaphorical enclosure







I have chosen this image not because this company is particularly bad, but because it is on my radar and cold water surfing is close to my heart. They represent the tip of an iceberg. The problem is precisely that this kind of assault on psychological space is accepted as ordinary and aped on social media.

Advertising works on the subconscious, often without either our awareness or our permission. This is not a new observation. The negative cultural effects of mass corporate branding are discussed at length by Naomi Klein in No Logo.

But No Logo was written before social media made it possible for individuals to behave like corporations. The territory just got a whole lot bigger and more complex.

That they have a brand value reflects the importance of wild places to us. They represent a space where we can escape from the overwhelming tyranny of the marketplace and spend some quiet time with our own truths.

And I’m not saying we should keep these truths to ourselves. There is a wealth of art, music and literature that reveals a genuine love for the natural world that can only be a positive force for change. Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain, Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Mickey Smith’s Dark Side of the Lens, and the Finisterre crew’s own recent film Edges of Sanity, are just a few of the millions of examples. I am personally devoted to the cause of fostering connection via books and songs.

The line between art and advertising can be a very thin one. But it is crucial. Promoting consumerism is not likely to encourage the kind of lifestyle choices necessary to avoid mass extinction.

One Wednesday morning in November I went surfing. It was a normal day, not a weekend or a holiday, but there were fifty people in the water. Although I love surfing uncrowded waves, a part of me rejoiced that so many people had made the choice to bunk off work and go surfing.

These are the kind of value judgements that could change the course of natural history.

Luckily you don’t need expensive, branded clothing to bunk off work and go surfing. In fact, refraining from taking part in brand culture should allow you to do it a lot more often.

Which is, I think, a message worth promoting.

Comments are very much open if you want to have a crack at changing my mind.

Happy holidays. I’m off to drink some Champagne.







Listening among the Constellations

wilderness 3 webI’ve been reading Cormac McCarthy. I could sit here all day and type lines I love, but if I was going to type just one, it would probably be this one:

‘The horse raised its head above the skyline to listen among the constellations.’

I like to raise my head above the skyline to listen among the constellations also. I have found numerous ways: sleeping out, dawn surfing, night walking, solitary hiking, mountain climbing, psychadelics, meditation.

There are times when I ask myself why I seek altered states of consciousness with such dedication. When I’m stuck halfway up a mountain, for example, frozen with fear. Or when I’m paddling out in December under a darkening sky, hailstones hammering my face. Or when I can’t remember how many more drops of acid I took because I thought it wasn’t working.

It’s partly to wake myself up. There’s no FOMO that hits me harder than lying in bed through a midsummer dawn. The relief of being awake is worth every ounce of hardship. The acceptance of things as they are – bigger, wider, deeper. The chance to give up the ghost of control over the unfathomable mystery of life.

‘We still and always want waking’ wrote Annie Dillard. ‘We should amass half dressed in long lines like tribesmen and shake gourds at each other, to wake up; instead we watch television and miss the show.’

Wild places are crucial as spaces where waking up can take place. The concept of untrammeled, unsponsored land, even if it exists only in our heads, is a healthy retort to the sleepy hubris of humanity. Personally, I find the knowledge that there are places in this world that do not conform to the laws of mankind immensely comforting.

This is why I am worried about something. There seems to be a growing trend for cashing in on the cool capital of nature in order to sell oneself on social media.

Some environmentalists argue that by applying market values to the natural world we are likely to have more success in protecting it. George Monbiot called this the Natural Capital Agenda, and if you think it’s a good idea (as I used to) then take a look at the transcript of a lecture he gave at the University of Sheffield in July 2014. He neatly sums up the root of my disquiet:

‘…in the majority of cases, efforts to price the natural world are complete and utter gobbledygook. And the reason why they are complete and utter gobbledygook is that they are dealing with values which are non-commensurable.’

This is why I get anxious when I see another trendy film of a far-flung surf spot being used by a ‘cold water surf company’ to hawk T-shirts. It’s why I worry when I see images of ‘nature’ and ‘wilderness’ exploited by London-based digital self-marketeers as the latest aspirational tool in the hateful culture of envy that is Facecrack. I worry even more because I don’t think the perpetrators know what they’re doing. Tricky to express the whispering of the constellations in 140 characters. And taking selfies of yourself being by yourself surely defeats the purpose. I think they’re missing the point.

‘True solitude is found in the wild places’ wrote Wendell Berry, ‘where one is without human obligation. One’s inner voices become audible. One feels the attraction of one’s most intimate sources.’

Cashing in on the cool capital of nature is not harmless, still less a positive way to protect the environment. It desecrates it. The wild places, by definition, cannot be marketed. Things that end up in the market have been trapped, tamed, claimed and branded. They are for sale. No longer free.

Tread carefully. Take nothing. Wilderness is for life, not just for capital.