A few weeks ago, we took the canoes out to Loch Striven, round the other side of the Cowal peninsular. We paddled for a while out along the loch, until we found a landing spot next to a raised beach of soft stones. A perfect spot for a picnic.
As with all our coast line, the tide had left its usual selection of plastic, old rope and broken fish boxes on the beach- but I do not think anyone had been there for years.
William and I saw what looked like some old walls in the distance, and went off exploring.
what we found used to be someone’s house. A crofter perhaps, or a fisherman- now long gone.
Much of our small crowded planet can no longer be regarded as true wilderness. As you walk to the hills, you will almost certainly walk over a landscape marked everywhere by man.
Fields and field boundaries – some new, some ancient, shaping the subsequent developments.
Hedgerows and dry stone walls.
Old signs of settlement, perhaps still in use, perhaps now redundant, abandoned, remaining only as a growth of bracken and nettles, rising in ground fertilised by the nitrates left behind in the passing.
The very paths we walk upon have been made by the passing of other feet walking their own walk, into their own unknown uncertain futures, now past and gone.
We humans have transformed the planet in the last few thousand years of our ascendancy. Forests gone, rivers diverted. Roads made straight across mountain and valley. Many of these marks are irreversible, at least in the foreseeable future. The land may clothe them in green, but the marks will remain for thousands of years to come.
As I write, the debate about how our patterns of living might have contributed to accelerating climate change continues to rage.
Humans have been of significant influence on my islands for a mere 5000 years or so. In some parts of the world, they can trace the mark of man further, in many, much less. What a legacy we inherit from our forebears – both great, and fearful.
Our lives have been shaped by this legacy too. We stand on the shoulders of those who gave the land its present shape.
Others will stand on ours.