Friday, December 12, 2008

Cockpit Country

“I left the shop, turned my car onto a one-lane road, headed southeast into the hills. I was in Cockpit Country now, the roads unpaved and curling along the edges of ocular pits, huge pocks, with strangely shaped hills extruding from the earth like weathered stumps rounded at the tops. The sides of the hills, almost vertical, where covered by dense, impenetrable skin of macca bushes and short, twisted trees, now and then the bone white ground showing through where a slide, like a gash, had occurred after heavy rain. Because the cockpits themselves, deep adjacent craters ridged by their linked edges, were the result of slow underground erosion of the essentially limestone surface, a process directly opposite the familiar process of uplift, the land forms seemed bizarre and even wrong to me, an unnatural landscape. Valleys aren’t supposed to be created by the land’s dropping; they’re created by rivers or when the adjacent land rises. Though topology expresses its own geologic past and can be read as text, this text was backward to me. I had always understood craters as the result of eruption or penetration, valleys as the product of uplifting, or emerging, standing slabs of earth – all male processes, somehow. Here, though, the land forms were the expression of female forces. The power of this geology was the power, by yielding, to create space, not by coming forward, to penetrate space. It was the difference between tai chi and karate. It was the difference between a Druidic stone circle and ziggurat, between Stonehenge and Sumer. And for me to perceive it as ‘natural’ required an enormous shift in what had seemed natural up to now, natural and therefore inevitable. The tourist in me took another stop backward, and the traveler came forward one.” (From The Book of Jamaica, Russell Banks, Ballentine Books, New York, 1980.)

I like the way Banks describes the dissonance he feels entering an unexpected topography, an unfamiliar place that obeys a different logic from the one he's used to. The idea that some landscapes yield while others assert struck me as correctly imagining that the landscape itself is alive, possessing personality, albeit in a longer time horizon. Also, that yielding is a power, too.

Aerial photo above of Jamaican countryside from Roots Outta Control,

No comments: