Fragments

“I love ruins because they are always doing what everything really wants to do all the time: returning themselves to the earth, melting back into the landscape.” Roger Deakin – Wildwood

I live in a land of ruins.  A land where the shades of ancient monks, warriors and queens still walk among the remnants of their former homes.  Coasts littered with fragments of castles; valleys and cliffs strewn with the wreckage of abbeys.  Where crenelated towers and skeletal arches rise out of the earth.  Time, weather, neglect and the dramas of history have scattered this land with relics.  Traces on the landscape of a world long gone yet still with us.  The ruins are more than a pile of stones, they are a story in the landscape.  They are the things they were and the things they are now, sometimes forgotten, sometimes legendary.  They are a slice of time as it was then and will never be again.

Nature is quick to reclaim ruins and we indulge it, in a way we don’t with the buildings that we use.  We allow it to ramble through glassless windows, blanket fallen stones, ooze through cracks.  The spirits that dwell in the ruined places are kept company by the birds and the weeds.  Though nature itself is destroying them, breaking them down, cracking stones, forcing itself through mortar, taking the ruins back to itself.  Ruins soar out of the land but they have also become part of it.  It is easy to imagine that they have always been there.  They have become organic, so that they no longer quite seem man-made, but are like trees of stone, sprouted into symmetry.  A reminder that nothing is permanent, but that we leave a trace of what we were behind us forever.

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Our built history is relatively young, yet I often suspect its best is over.  The ruins we live with now were born of a slower age, when the time and effort it took to build them seems unimaginable.  When to build something of substance and beauty was considered a worthy endeavour.  I suspect the ruins of the future won’t be as enduring or evocative.  I suspect that many of the things we build now will fade away quickly without fanfare or regret.  And a landscape stripped of its history would be a poorer place.  Easy to forget all that has come before without those reminders in the earth.  They are here among us, pulling our attention whether we recognise it or not.  Yet if they had a choice, I wonder if the ruins would want to remain, decayed and divested of their former purpose, or would rather retire into the landscape and be no more.

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Ruins are a gift to writers.  They are a spur to the imagination, with their stark beauty and layers of stories.  They hold the traces of those who passed through and the possibility of those to come.  A crumbling canvas on which we can scribe tales not yet written.  They stir wonder or dread, influencing us whether we know it or not.  Through them, I have walked alongside those who walked the land before me.  I have absorbed the stories imprinted in stone.   And though eventually the earth will claim them they will live on in the stories yet to be told.

125 thoughts on “Fragments

  1. I love ruins, too, Andrea, just as I treasure memories almost as much as I enjoy the actual events and experiences. There’s something that resonates so deeply, the dreams and hard work and building… and then what is left in the ruins. It never dies, not all of it.

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  2. I posted this on my Facebook page. What a fascinating post (again), Andrea. I am always craving ruins. I always want to photograph them and when I see photos of them (not to mention in real life), I get all excited. Yet where I live I rarely see ruins in person. We don’t let that happen. Tear it down and build over it. Ugh.

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  3. I love the photos, the ideas, and the words you use to express those ideas. It’s a very European way of looking at landscape and nature, which is also my way of looking. For example, the sentence — “a landscape stripped of its history would be a poorer place,” is one I agree with. But I’ve been conversing with Native Americans for the past few years, listening to their very different, sometimes contradictory views of landscape, nature, and humanity’s place within it.

    That sort of discussion quickly becomes political, and that’s not where I intend to, or want to, go with it. Perhaps it’s because of my European heritage and sensibility, but I see ruins as beautiful.

    I’ve just finished reading Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins, a novel of ideas that explores exactly what you’ve brought up here. Thanks for sharing your insights.

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