Nature & nurture

December 6, 2020

DSC 7430 copyOne of my favorite walks in the Black Mountains is the ascent of the Cat’s Back followed by transit over Hay Bluff and Twmpa then down the long ridge of Darren Lwyd to Capel-y-Ffin.  From there the path heads down the Vale of Ewyas before striking up an initially muddy slope before ascending over the Hatterall Ridge into the Olchon Valley and thence a short ascent from the starting point.  It was the route of choice for our return to the hills after a month of lockdown.  I should really call it Crib Y Garth rather than The Cat’s Back but I find the English name more evocative in this case and it provides a symmetry with the Dragon’s Back on the Western Edge of the same range.  Equally Twmpa is infinitely preferable to the English name of Lord Hereford’s Knob!

This was our first walk in a month. Lockdown having broken out weekly trips west, and sometimes north and I realised just how much four weeks without the hills had impacted on me.  OK, I had managed a brief 12 miles on the Wilshire Downs which was so misty I had to use the Sat Nav and the sudden encounter with barrows and other forms of neolithic burial chambers triggered thoughts of chapter eight of Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring.  Living near Avebury you are very aware that the land around you is strewn with the remnants of five thousand years of human habitation.  Walking or cycling at dusk on The Ridgeway there is always a sense of a more ancient presence that could easily be disturbed.  And in the twelve miles, I went from the Devils Den over the Downs to Avebury Circle and then home via Silbury Hill and the West Kennet Long Barrow.  To be able to do that from my back door is a privilege.

The wider issue of our interaction with the physical world for mental health and health for society as a whole is getting more attention.  I’ve always said that if you believe in the Singularity that your disconnection from the physical and mental degeneration may make it possible for you.  Check the literature and you will case of commas being broken by a chase of physical environment; nature heals is not some new-age fluffy bunny platitude but something we know is the case.  I freely confess that I don’t understand why people in towns adjacent to the hills were banned from walking on those hills during the lockdown.  Reducing fitness, restricting people’s environmental stimulation is an issue and the risk of infection low.  Managing car parks is not difficult after all.  In part, and this is always an issue with crisis management people tend to focus on one problem at a time rather than getting the granularity right and distributing the situational assessment and localised decision making.  I’ll announce as soon as possible a publication on this and how we handle it.  Long term crises create different tensions with consequences for resilience.  I’m dropping a hint here but will publish more shortly.

There is an old adage, namely that nature deals the cards but nurture plays them.  It’s a way of rethinking the balance between the capabilities that were latent when you were born with how they develop over time.  I’m extending that a bit here taking into account that consciousness is embodied, enacted, and extended.  Physicality matters …



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