7 Nov 2012
UK appreciation month: Janet Edwards - Guest post
For UK Appreciation Month, I felt I had to write about the UK countryside, specifically the area of English countryside where I go walking. For the last couple of years, these walks have been an especial delight to me on two levels. Firstly, as a person who hadn’t been able to get out in the countryside for several years and is deeply glad to be back there. Secondly, as a writer thinking about the world of her novel.
My Earth Girl series is set in the 28th century, in a future where people can portal between hundreds of inhabited worlds. The only ones still living on Earth are the one in a thousand born with a faulty immune system that can’t cope with any other planet, so large areas of the Earth have been abandoned for centuries. When I go walking, I’m imagining that future world, looking at the scenery around me and thinking how it would change without us.
The English countryside may look wild in places, but is very much nature managed by people. The signs of our control are everywhere. Houses, paths, roads, and bridges. Fields of crops bordered by neatly trimmed hedges or fences. Even the meadows would look very different, and have very different plants and wildlife, if they weren’t mown each autumn. The world of my series would be a much wilder place, where the sprawling cities are in ruins and nature is back in command.
There’s a path I’ve walked regularly through the different seasons of the year. Along the river, crossing a shallow stream with a wooden bridge that would have rotted to dust in my future Earth. Today is a damp autumn day with a fine mist in the air. There’s mud underfoot, scattered with the yellow of the first fallen leaves.
I pass areas of trees on my walk. Well managed trees, where broken branches are removed and excess trees are thinned to leave space for the others to grow properly. There’d be far more trees in my future Earth, as saplings spread out from our current hedges and small woods, starting to recreate the ancient forests. They’d be tangled forests, with trees fighting for space, and fallen trees left to rot.
There’s the intrusive hum of cars and lorries when I near a major road. There’d be little traffic in my future Earth. If people travel by portal, the few vehicles they have would make only short journeys. This road would be overgrown by grass, the signposts rusted away, and the elevated section would have fallen. The isolated house by the side of it would be just empty, roofless, crumbling walls. The elements and vegetation unite to wage a relentless war on empty dwellings.
There’s a rabbit running for cover in the bushes, and a formation of geese, necks outstretched, gliding down to land on the nearby lake. In my future Earth, some birds and animals would have benefited from the return of old habitats, but others, the ones whose lives are closely entwined with ours, would have suffered. There’d be no more fields of grazing cattle or sheep, but the deer would have flourished.
It was a wet summer this year, with floodwater sprawling across the countryside. I think there’d be many scenes like that in my future Earth. All the drainage systems that people have carved into the landscape for centuries would gradually silt up, be blocked by fallen branches, and fail. The lake I’m looking at now would be much bigger and the river would often break its bounds.
The tamed countryside around me is beautiful, but I have to admit I find my imaginary version of it appealing as well. I think it’s because that future, mostly deserted landscape is very like a comfortingly familiar one from the past. It’s the landscape of the bronze and iron ages, of the days of fortified hilltops and Stonehenge.