Among The Dead Dunes Some Trees Glow Like The Sun…

 

Among Dead Dunes

Primordial Arboreal Gold

Washes Upon Baltic Geographies.

Millennial Boundaries Shift

With Faint Traces

Of Ancient Rites,

Through Weaving Light & Shadow

We Can Glow Like The Sun.


I was privileged to stay nearly three weeks in Lithuania spending much of the time exploring aspects of its heritage and landscapes.  The first week was spent at the wonderful Nida Art Colony, a creative center from which I explored the landscape of the Curonnian Spit.   Located on the Baltic coast, the spit is about 98 km long, the northern part of which is within Lithuania and the southern part in the Kaliningrad region of the Russian Federation.  I was drawn back to the Curonnian Spit, in part due to my interest in a Neolithic amber hoard, within which are a range of unusual figurative forms, that had been discovered in the 19th century at Juodkrantė.

However I very quickly became more interested in a series of tensions and entanglements that the forested nature of the landscape and the elemental nature of amber began to reveal.  The Curonnian Spit has a remarkable natural and cultural significance in part recognised with its inscription as a World Heritage Site in 2000 and its status as Kuršių Nerija National Park and as the Kurshskaya National Park of the Russian Federation.  So interesting tensions can be encountered between geo-morphological forms, climatic processes and the movements of other species which do not recognise political boundaries and the management of designated landscapes.

The landscape of the Curonnian Spit has been subject to major changes in character, sea level, deforestations, erosion and drifting of sands, and then reforestation and management. People have responded for millennia, and in part caused, some of these changes. For millennia they have encountered timeless gifts cast up from the sea. At times they reworked these gifts, and sent them back, perhaps in an attempt to make sense of or intervene in the world of change around them.

While there I worked on a piece through researching the history of the landscape and those who have dwelled within it for nearly 5000 years and by creating a series of small temporary installations in the landscape. This resulted in the development of a piece Among The Dead Dunes Some Trees Glow Like The Sun which was performed the following week in Vilnius.  The 12 minute performance explored the ongoing inter-relationships between people and landscape, and invited us to re-imagine the way we interact in the future.   Rather than try to reproduce that performance here I show some of the elements which I responded too.

Scent to Landscape

ContrastsA propensity for visual dominance can be found in many aspects of Western culture, to the extent sounds and smells of landscapes can often be overlooked.  It frequently requires, therefore, different forms of attentiveness to rediscover these other sensory elements of our landscapes.  However even so attuned, we may journey through a landscape with certain preconceptions, levels of knowledge from our broader experiences, which act as sensory filters.  For example, when we travel to the Highlands of Scotland we may in part anticipate the heather covered mountainous vistas, the stag silhouetted on a distant hill top.  Perhaps we will expect to hear the haunting tones of the bagpipe, or in certain locations the swoosh of wind turbines.

But what is it we anticipate smelling ?

ScentsIn part this perhaps depends on the season of our visit, damp autumn leaves, blossoms in spring, … … .

Some landscapes have been given special status, perhaps due to their outstanding scenic values or their ecological importance.  Of these, it is perhaps the National Parks which most people are aware of (as opposed to Ramsars, AONB, SSSIs).  Many National Parks sit in our historical consciousness, are culturally potent (often landscapes which have long been a source of inspiration of poets and artists) and attract huge numbers of visitors who wish to experience their distinctive characters.  Do they have sensory qualities which are distinct from the landscape beyond the boundaries?

SoundsWe may expect that the aural qualities of some National Parks are different, perhaps quieter, and there may be an association with an anticipation of fresh clean air, …. but are there other ways in which we might be preconditioned to anticipate other scents of landscape?

Could a range of domestic scent modification products, the ‘National Parks Fragrance Collection’, from ‘a leading home fragrance brand’ in any way change our olafactory relationships with certain landscapes?

Smell Our National ParksAvailable in a range of products (such as candle, premium reed diffuser and fragrance gel), you can fill your house with scents inspired by fifteen National Parks.  For each National Park there is an emblematic scent combination with a brief explanation about how it is inspired by the character of the landscapes.

National Park Scent For  example the Lake District – Midnight Berry & Shimmering Mist – ‘Delight your senses with the scent of juicy berries and the crisp freshness inspired by the misty Lake District.’

Lake District ScentOthers examples of combinations and how they evoke the landscape of a National Park include:

Brecon Beacons – Wild Blossom & Fresh Mountain Dew – ‘Let the scent of fresh mountain dew and white floral blossoms transport you to the striking hills of the Brecon Beacons.’

Cairngorms – Spiced Apple & Snowy Mountains – ‘Indulge yourself with spirited and wild aromas inspired by the evocative Cairngorms mountains.’

Exmoor – Sea Spray & Ocean Minerals – ‘Inspired by the fresh ocean breeze sweeping across the dramatic sea cliffs of Exmoor.’

New Forest – Golden Woodlands & Sweet Nectar – ‘Let the sweet warming scents take you back to walks in the sunshine in the New Forest woodlands.’

Snowdonia – Mountain Sunset & Vibrant Zest – ‘Create a glowing ambiance in your home with the invigorating scents inspired by the Snowdonian Peaks.’

Yorkshire Dales – White Rose & Pink Sweet Pea – ‘Bask in the playful scent of the hay meadows and gardens inspired by the Yorkshire Dales in full bloom.’

The UK National Parks (‘Britain’s Breathing Spaces’) explain that these fragrances

‘help re-ignite memories of the experiences you’ve had with family and friends in one of the National Parks, as well as inspire you to get out and explore even more’

It is further explained:

‘In addition to raising awareness of the National Parks family, our partnership with Air Wick will help generate funds for vital projects to conserve heritage and improve facilities for the National Parks and the communities within them.’

‘We hope that this partnership will help raise our profile and the diversity of the UK National Parks with a new audience that might be unfamiliar with what we do.  We are looking forward to working with Air Wick to bring the delights of Britain’s breathing spaces into people’s homes.’

The producer explains:

‘Our scents reflect the changing seasons and intense variety of the British outdoors, evoking the beautiful landscapes the National Parks represent.’

I wonder if in any small way such scents will provide a precondition for sensory perceptions of our National Parks,

when you visit the Lake District will you always anticipate the smell of:

Landscapes

Midnight Berry & Shimmering Mist

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All images above, not of scent modification products, are of the landscapes of the Lake District National Park.  For more info on the establishment of the UK National Parks.

Creating Natural Wetlands

Landscapes can appear natural but when you understand their history it is clear appearances can be deceptive.

Lake Kirkini PelicanOne such landscape can be found at the center of Lake Kerkini National Park, Greece.  Here there is a striking example of the complex unintended consequences of a major infra-structure project.  In 1932 a dam was built on the River Strymonas to create a massive reservoir for irrigation and flood protection, which also resulted in the creation of a dynamic landscape from the marshlands along the riverside.

Lake Kirkini PelicanThe seasonal water level of the reservoir dropped three meters in depth between spring and autumn-winter, which resulted in a 5000 hectare lake being reduced to almost nothing by winter.  These seasonal changes in water level created riparian forests, with trees being flooded, depending on altitude for between 50 and 190 days of the year.  This dynamic habitat meant Lake Kirkini became an increasing focus of a remarkable range and number of bird life (including pelicans and flamingos) and as such was recognized in 1975 as an internationally important RAMSAR site for migratory birds.

A new dam was built in 1982, which increased the seasonal fluctuation to about a 5 m change in water level, and resulted in the surface of the lake varying from between 5000 to 7,300 hectares.  The larger level and size of the lake meant that the shallow parts of the lake were more limited, many of the seasonal breeding locations for the birds were permanently flooded and the riparian forest underwater for longer and dying out.

Lake Kirkini Pelican PlatformLake Kirkini has also been an important focus for economic activity (including fisheries and tourism) in the region.  It was also the host of the largest population of water buffalo in Greece, and other mammals, which were causing problems with over grazing (reducing habitat for nesting) and trampling of nests.

In 2006 Lake Kerkini was established as a National Park.  The management authority of the National Park has been taking measures to gradually reduce the water levels and to re-balance the dynamics required for riparian forest and the associated breeding birds.  This long term vision to re-balance the wetland, is being supported by shorter term interim measures such as creating artificial platforms for the pelicans to breed on while water levels are changed more gradually.

A landscape which is such an important hub of biodiversity, but also important in economic terms to local communities, is clearly dependent on its sensitive integrated management for a balanced future.