Photoblog: 14 May 2009
You need to view it large on black. It's badly stiched, I know...
On the iPlayer on Thursday I stumbled upon In Search of England's Green and Pleasant Land. I guess it's another one of those BBC formats where somebody draws up a list and then D-list â€śTV personalitiesâ€ť are drafted in to compete in another demoralising popularity contest which is supposed to somehow reflect something about the list and the items on it. There'd be votes involved, if the BBC were still allowed to do them. You know the type of programme I mean. Perhaps there'll be a book at the end of it.
Anyway, this time the subject is the English regions, and the episode I watched was Stuart Maconie campaigning on behalf of the Lake District. He claimed that â€śthe Victoriansâ€ť (probably that same species of Victorian that thought piano legs were too sexually suggestive) had to view the landscapes of the Cumbrian Fells via a small circular mirror, because the uncropped vistas of untamable moors would have been just too massive and wild for them to handle.
What a thoroughly appallingly depressing idea: that somebody might willfully throw away the opportunity to truly know and enjoy England's greatest spectacle just because the sight might initially lie outside of their comfort zone. They would prefer to see the fells, pikes, crags, spies, heads, riggs, moors, and jaws with a neat man-made frame around them. We can not conquer them, so we will turn our backs and pretend that they are just a painted picture.
One of the many quotable facts from the great classic of factual broadcasting, Cosmos â€“ written and presented by the genuine personality and genuine expert Carl Sagan â€“ is that â€śwe are made of star stuff.â€ť The heavy elements that make the formation of planets and the evolution of life possible are produced by nuclear fusion reactions inside stars. For the incomprehensibly long period of 15 billion years, since it was â€ścreatedâ€ť by an initial expansion of energy condensing into matter, our universe â€“ â€śtheâ€ť universe â€“ has fostered the evolution of heavy elements in its seventy sextillian nuclear reactors. At 4.57 billion years ago, our sun â€“ â€śtheâ€ť sun â€“ formed from the great gaseous remnants of previous suns â€“ countless ancestral yet alien solar systems that had already lived out their full lives. A few tens of millions of years later, our Earth â€“ â€śtheâ€ť Earth â€“ was in place orbiting that sun, and somewhen, perhaps half a billion or a billion years after that, life â€“ life that, by cycling through natural laws and processes, has since evolved and diversified into many millions of fantastically exquisite different species â€“ had arisen on that earth.
A mere four or five million years ago â€“ one one-thousandth of the duration of that earth's existence â€“ a particular branch of that earth's tree of life, a branch that considers itself special, separated from what is now its nearest extant neighbour. During those four million years, the traits that this species thinks set it apart â€“ above â€“ its neighbours were stumbled upon by evolution. That species found itself in possession of a large brain and intellect, and created a culture and shared memory, recording the species' own unique perspective on the most recent one one-millionth of the history of its tiny speck of the universe. Its history of developments in technology, philosophy, and civilisation. Of petty feuds and passing love affairs, kings and peasants, heroes and villains. Of coming to see and to know and to begin to enjoy its cosmic landscape.
Individuals of that species alive today â€“ at least, the affluent ones â€“ are privileged to experience around six one-billionths of their universe's history so far. Their lungs will take one billion breaths, exchanging a million molecules of star stuff each time. They will breath the same dust of the stars that before them was breathed by their tree-dwelling ancestors and great reptilian monsters on ancient continents; by their friends and their enemies, and by their own personal heroes. They will drink star stuff that rained from acid skies on an infant planet, and lapped at the shores of lakes of primordial soup; that carried great voyages of discovery, and was blessed by countless priests. In the blink of an eye they get to learn, to love, and to see the mountains, on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.
And if them mountains look frightening at first, they just better get used to them. The view from the top is more beautiful than anything a man could ever hope to paint and mount in a frame.