“People like you find it easy”

Now, I know I am getting into deep water here, or maybe that should read ‘thick air’ but in talking about breath, wind, air, and so on thought must be given to atmosphere. We all know what the atmosph…Wait. Do we? Can you point at it? Can we see it? Can you measure it? Ah, yes we can apparently.

The word ‘atmosphere’ is of 17th century origin and has come into English via the Latin atmosphaera which is derived from the Greek atmos (vapour) and sphaira (globe). Technically the atmosphere is the gaseous layer that envelopes a planet. The earth’s atmosphere consists of a number of sub-layers: the troposphere is nearest to the ground (and has the planetary boundary layer at its base) and has a ‘depth’ of between 7 and 17km (shallower at the poles); next is the stratosphere taking us up/down to about 50km (and contains the ozone layer from about 15 to 35km); then the mesosphere (extending to 85km); the thermosphere (which includes the ionosphere) all the way out to 690km where the exosphere takes us out to about 1,000km above the earth’s surface. Here the exosphere meets the magnetosphere.

Of course, our personal compasses will already be confused by the vast scales described here before we even consider the language to describe these scales. Is it height, or depth, or thickness, is it out, above? Whilst the upper portions are evidently vital to life on this planet in terms of this research it is the troposphere which is most relevant. Troposphere derives from the Greek tropos (change or turn) and sphaira (globe). The change name-checked in the etymology is the shifting forces and pressures which lead to our everyday weather.


The planetary boundary layer constitutes the first few hundred metres to 2 kilometres of the troposphere up from the earth’s surface. This is the section which concerns the day-to-day experience of most mere mortals. This is where most flight takes place (although jumbo jets and some birds fly higher up in the troposphere at around 7 to 10km above the planet’s surface) and so is the limit of our lived experience on this planet. As mentioned above these layers vary in thickness depending upon their relation to the earth’s poles and also, as can be seen in the adjacent image (and the Planetary Boundary Layer limit), the shape and depth of the layers are effected by landform, weather and so on.

So far, so good. But in this introduction to atmosphere we have not even mentioned Ingold’s “weather-world” or Böhme’s take on atmosphere as “the fundamental concept of a new aesthetics.”1 Anon.

1. Tim Ingold, Being Alive (London: Routledge, 2011), 96-97 and Gernot Böhme, “Atmosphere as the Fundamental Concept of a New Aesthetics,” Thesis Eleven 36; (1993): 113-126, doi: 10.1177/072551369303600107.
Image credit: Earth Systems Research Laboratory, NOAAhttp://www.esrl.noaa.gov/research/themes/pbl/img/fig1.jpg

re. view

Malvern_sun(For administrative purposes) It is just over one calendar year since I started out on this PhD and so it would seem a suitably traditional time to reflect a little and see if anything has been achieved. On the 22nd September last year I went for a walk along the Malverns (and if it wasn’t for a stinking cold I’d probably be out walking now rather than sitting here typing this). I declared that with the walk I was starting as I meant to go on.

Well, the walking has remained core to my research (but the cycling and boating will not feature). I’ve only clocked up twelve ‘official’ walks and some of these have been run – a poor strike rate but the principal is there. In fact, the running rather than the walking has become more the focus as the extra exertion required has an important rôle to play in my thinking it seems.

Much of the year has been manillafied (BS 381c) – institutional homogenisation is just not my thing: I’m more than capable of homogenising myself thank you very much! So, manilla has been the broad-brush background wash and the mid- and fore-ground have been liberally punctuated with the vermillion of life’s little complexities which has all lent the year a disorientating, grindingly slow/low, high staccato effect. Not conducive to forward propulsion if, indeed, forward is where I’m intending to go. Forward is progress and ‘progress’ (probably more correctly now Progress™) has been hijacked in recent years…it’s on a pedestal with Impact™.

One thing is certain, the Romantic element of my research title is too misleading and open to misreading which takes what I am trying to do in completely the wrong direction. I’m not on a date with the landscape! Although that thought does have an appeal it is too dualistic. Action: Romantic spirit will be retained but it will not be declared on the ingredient list. ‘Landscape’ is very much still there however, the fact that landscape is generally ‘nature’ framed by culture is challenged by an embrace of the Ingoldian reading of the word’s etymology where shaping rather than looking becomes the driving force. (2011, 126) Having apparently cut the ties I am though interested in the fact that incorporating the word ‘landscape’ into my research plugs it into a certain cultural tradition (one that includes the Romantics).

Ok, ok, the ‘British’ bit is a problem too…apparently. But look, there’s a f•••ing hashtag in front of it! Can’t you see what it is doing? The hashtagging process (for surely # is a verb/gerund) is fluid – a form of identity is retained while constituent elements may come and go. British landscape IS different to French landscape for instance but a) the landscape we are discussing is not just to be looked at – it is an active thing; and b) this landscape can be drilled down into with micro definitions (#Wealdlandscape, #Scottishlandscape, etc.). The #Britishlandscape has fractal qualities.

Hmmmm. Nature, that’s right, even when it is not at the start of a sentence it is still Nature. Nature can also become nature too as it moves deeper into the sentence. Both have given me sleepless nights. Nature is a Problem. A big part of me wants to dismiss the whole idea as it so easily sets up an ‘us and them’ barrier. In a move reminiscent of Kathleen Jamie it would be so much more healthy to declare that we are all nature. (2012) If we do remove nature as an oppositional force it then seemingly becomes necessary to install it as Nature, a thing that grounds and becomes a surrogate God. This ontological slow dance doesn’t even begin to recognise the polyvalence that n/Nature has achieved. Is n/Nature something we conquer? Something we live in harmony with? Something we reserve or conserve? And what about our ‘inner nature’?

Arthur Rackham, 'Little Red Riding Hood,' 1909.

Arthur Rackham, ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’ 1909.

That brings me on to an aside. Wild. Rewilding. Commendable. Worrying. Potentially. There is something to applaud in the move but there is also meddling afoot. Humans have buggered things up so let’s put a big sticking plaster on the weeping sore. Care required. I’m concerned that a barrier is strengthened between us (culture) and them (wild). We will know where we are (here, safe) and they (wild) are over the big fence (there, dangerous). It seems to ignore the wild in the human. This doesn’t mean wild as in degenerate behaviour (whatever that is) where we have tabloid scaremongering about swarms of migrants and packs of hooligans. Doubly wrong as swarm and pack become synonymous with bad we offend both the humans and the non-humans. What I intend in the wildhuman is creativity, life force, unpredictability (Nietzsche territory). All things that are forbade in Britain™…but not in #Britain? Rewilding is definitely a positive in its challenge to homogenisation…just don’t start carrying out an Impact™ analysis of the process (7 out of 10 Daily Mail readers say that they have been scared by a wolf in the last six months).

So, we are getting rid of nature. Well, the easy sort of nature at least. And while we are at it lets throw out anthropocentrism too. And the subjective I. So what is this thing running in the landscape and if it does need to run then why does it then have to report that run? There is something happening here around machinic assemblages (Deleuze and Guattari) that it is filtered through some remnant phenomenology (late Merleau-Ponty via Abram). Somewhere amongst the peaks and troughs of the HRM and PS read-outs there is a wealth of geology, weather, sounds, flora and fauna to be discovered. To become.

Downland_swardThanks to our guest poster this month: a section of South Downland sward. Normal service will