In the various gardens I’ve been visiting, one of the things I keep coming back to is the feminine principle in nature – generative energy and mythic perspectives that appear to be inseparable from the whole business of the human impulse to garden. Robert Pogue Harrison’s interpretation (in his wonderful book Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition) is that, far from being a curse, Eve was our first gardener and so gave us the blessing of our human responsibilities to care for each other and the land.
So I was very happy yesterday to make my first visit to see Northumberlandia – Charles Jencks’s ‘Lady of the North’ just outside Cramlington. I’ve been following her creation with interest ever since the proposal was first announced seven years ago. I admire Jencks’s contribution to the Maggie’s Centres around the UK, providing thoughtful and supportive care for cancer patients, and look forward to seeing the opening this year of the new one in Newcastle. His Garden of Cosmic Speculation, near Dumfries, is a fascinating mixture of landforms and sculptures and other interventions, all playing with ideas of time and space. Northumberlandia is very much his baby – especially his riddling, idiosyncratic signs dotted around her luxuriating body, drawing the eye in various directions. Her ‘nipples’ point 12 miles south to the Angel of the North and 41 miles north to Lindisfarne!
Interesting to read this recently from Zen practitioner David Loy:
…you know what I think the real problem with nature is? Nature is the realm of death. There are creatures, they’re born, they die. We don’t want to be part of nature because nature reminds us that we die. And that’s the problem with women, the problem with blood, the problem with sex,…we want to deny the fact that we’re animals. We want to deny the fact that we’re born and we pass away like other animals, that we procreate like other animals. We want to have a special fate because we don’t want to be subject to mortality in the same way. And there’s a whole string there, our attitude toward women and blood and childbirth and menstruation and all that. It’s all part of this same system of denigrating women, because women seem to remind us more that we’re part of the natural world that we don’t really want to accept, and too much of our religion is an attempt to escape from nature, isn’t it? “We have a higher fate, we have souls. It doesn’t matter so much what we’re doing because we have a higher destiny anyway, don’t we?”
Hard to know what was more annoying here – the intrusiveness of the sign or the fact that the capitalisation was so random…The goddess’s face is the most striking part of her and we are directed towards looking in the mirror of her face from a distant spot across one of the constructed lakes. I found myself speculating whether she is a cry for help. A symbolic way of winning back the approval of Mother Nature, looking her in the eye, after treating her so badly for so many years – specifically in the open cast mining right next door and more generally on the whole planet?
At the moment the structure is still raw and the land not quite settled – it’ll be interesting to see what it looks like in a few years’ time when the grass has had a chance to grow and some wild flowers have made their home there. Like the Angel of the North, I hope it will find a place in the local people’s hearts and minds and do its magic there.