by Johnny Lyons

I give you my word
my next piece will be about 
the English Fenlands. 

The wetlands of my mind

My first encounter with wetlands was via the opening chapter of Great Expectations. Pip’s haunting account of ‘the marsh country’ left an indelible imprint. But it was Graham Swift’s Waterland that defined my broader picture of this strange and precarious landscape. Swift’s novel brought the world of East Anglia’s Fenlands to vivid, detailed life: its ‘uniform levelness’, silt and sluices, dykes and peat smoke, eels and eel traps, pumps and lock-gates became part of the enduring furniture of my mind. 

It was much later that I discovered Swift was not a ‘Fenny’ but a city boy from South London and that his novel was based largely on his imagination. 

Another related discovery happened shortly afterwards when I paid a long-promised visit to the actual Fenlands of Cambridgeshire. While the sheer breadth of the uninterrupted flatness of the landscape impressed me, it couldn’t quite compete with those more entrenched waterlands in my mind. 

And yet no matter how profound an effect Dickens’s and Swift’s accounts had on my perception, there is no substitute for having and experiencing the actual place itself. The philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) may have been right to declare that our apprehension of the world is always and inescapably filtered through the prism of our human perspective, but he was careful not to deny that the real, mind-independent world exists. 

Kant was fortunate to live at a time when the natural world did not face the very real and increasingly deadly threat it does today. We humans face a situation of our own making that looks destined to destroy the infinitely precious yet fragile world of nature. The unthinkable is fast becoming the inevitable. 

What to do? One is to make a trip to the Fens yourself and behold their vast and calming magnificence. Another is to visit a local wetland and then imagine a world without such a habitat. And another is to remind ourselves that everything we hold dear in our lives will perish, soon and forever, without the endangered gifts of Mother Nature. 

Let’s not end up with a world where we can no longer say, ‘It’s never too late’. 

Read Caroline Kohl’s 26 Habitats wetland centena and essay.

Read Miranda Dickinson’s 26 Habitats wetland centena and essay.

6 thoughts on “Wetlands

  1. Wonderful Johnny and yet another piece of writing that demonstrates the infinite source of inspiration that nature offers the writer/artist – where would we be without it? So yes, let’s never arrive at the point of no return.

  2. That’s a lovely reflection Johnny. You paint a vivid picture of the precariousness we have forced on nature by choosing wetlands and fens as your subject – surely the first to suffer from the smallest measure of rising sea levels.

  3. The meditation and the sketches accompanying it are altogether profound and moving. Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Theme: Overlay by Kaira