A stream runs past the end of our drive. It's an interesting stream. For a start, it's a strong candidate for the stream that inspired the river in Wind in the Willows, but that's another story. If I walk down to the stream and turn right, I come, in a few yards, to the end of the village. An unmetalled track crosses the stream at this point, and winds away uphill between drystone walls. The crossing point -a flat, concrete bridge- is surrounded by trees. I often walk down to it, and every time I do, I wonder why it has a magical feel to it.
There are many places like this, and I remember reading years ago about possible reasons for it, the kind of geographical features most likely to command our attention and evoke a state of wonderment. The writer pointed out that many stone circles were constructed on hilltops that were spurs, subsidiary summits to larger hills. Interestingly, hill walkers often say that the best views are to be seen from minor summits.
There must be more to it than this, though. For a start, the bridge over our local stream is in a dip. It may simply be the fact that this is the edge of the village and all of a sudden one's surroundings are mostly natural instead of mostly man-made. But this doesn't quite hold up: there are walls on all sides and several huge concrete pipes have been dumped there. Also, when you live in the country it very much comes home to you that farmland is a man-made environment!
The factor I found myself considering this morning as I walked up the road from the bridge is this: one reason we may feel this sense of wonderment in a particular landscape is that we “feel a metaphor coming on”. We may not put it into words, but we know intuitively that there's something latent there, something to be worked out. It's not (in this case, anyway) that we sense wonder and then look for a metaphor. The presence of the "latent metaphor" may possibly give rise to the sense of wonder. We sense that there is something interesting about the mental map we impose on our surroundings. In this case, a road crosses a stream. They are together for a moment, before and after which they diverge. The surrounding trees focus one's attention on this, and add a certain architectural grandeur to the moment. There's a poem -possibly a very bad poem- in it somewhere. As soon as I thought of this, it occurred to me, that people often imbue crossroads with significance of one kind or another and the use of the word “crossroads” as a metaphor is commonplace. (This is a slightly weak argument, I know, as people often erected gibbets at crossroads). Another almost-too-obvious example would be mountain summits. There must be loads more, some less obvious...
5 years ago