by meg elliot ~
When in the city, my friend Em misses the edges of home; the contours of mountains against sky, the way the rippling sea levels out into a perfect line at the horizon. Having moved back to the Welsh Marches full time, it’s easy to forget that these edges brought me back here too, time and time again in my writing whilst at University. My new status of ‘Unemployed Graduate’ has brought with it a thorough appreciation of long walks and gulps of juicy, fresh air – welcome breaks from the slog of endless job applications.
Em and I walk a lot together when we are back in North Shropshire, where Wales meets England in a heap of undulating earth along Offa’s Dyke, the medieval land border that weaves its way around our home. A particular favourite of ours involves a short climb from a small village close to our town, apexing at the top of the Moelydd. At the top, the landscape opens up, wide and glorious. To the front, England splays flat, with the mountains of Wales rumbling behind. This is still one of the most spectacular places I have found to witness the dramatic geographical change, to understand that with relentless power, the English pushed the Welsh into the highlands, taking the fertile lowlands and staking national belonging to the landscape as they did so.
It has been interesting to grow up in such a place. On family holidays, we would bat our sleepy eyes awake to see the Breiddon rise up beyond the road, signalling our arrival home. Still it provides a marker of place, pivoting in the locality, binding us home. At the top of my family home, the hill stands beyond the rooftops of the adjoining town houses, pale and grand in the distance. I began writing this piece from my boyfriend’s garage, alive with the drumming of rain against metal. He lives at the base of the Breiddon, where the landscape is flat and often flooded, with the dramatic change between hill and lowland stark. Now, the Breiddon means also him, and my association with the place changes again, a new addition to my personal narrative invested in the landscape of home.
Bell Hooks refers to Kentucky as her ‘native place’. ‘Native’ has taken on new fortitude in our modern vocabulary, synonymous with the fight for indigenous rights, and the continued colonisation of indigenous culture and place. It is a word that is charged and powerful, and one I am perhaps unqualified to apply to my sleepy, uncontested landscape. However, Shropshire is, as Kentucky is for Hooks, a place fundamentally intertwined in my identity. After this mass-return home during COVID, I wonder how pertinent this idea of radical belonging, of native lands and identity-places, has been to those returning home. I wonder, too, if the contours of spaces will take on a new significance, as we emerge into the changing world with a new sense of place and its importance.
I am still trying to understand landscapes of importance – my meandering writing a testament to my unfinished thoughts. Yet, I think that our current global uncertainty offers an important opportunity to reconnect with our communities and the landscapes that hold them. COVID has shown a tear in the world we know, and in this window-world we move slower, and more consciously. As our world begins to undulate between the locality and the possibility of the beyond, I believe that our desire for community, and for real belonging in a community, will become more urgent than ever. And so, I wonder if the future will be slower, and whether we will walk through this future with the strength of a community not fractured by digitalisation, but strengthened by proximity, and by care. I wonder if Em’s – and indeed my own – pull to the contours of home, is more than a desire for familiarity. I wonder if it is a call from deep within for community and for belonging in a world that has outpaced itself.