Observation and isolation.

Have we become more observant since lockdown?

That’s one of the claims I keep hearing in the media. The evidence offered is that many of us have been getting a lot closer to the natural environment. In Britain, it is said, more people are going for walks, cycling and gardening than ever before.

The sudden loss of mechanical noises certainly allowed nature’s voice to be heard more clearly, and like many people, I’ve been fascinated to see the range of creatures reclaiming spaces they are usually pushed out of by crowds of humans. Internationally, my favourite photo, so far, has been a dolphin swimming into pristine waters in Venice. True or not, that image is now embedded in my mind. But the wonder of what’s on our own doorstep is not easily dismissed.

Ah, climate change, my favourite band-wagon. ‘Surely,’ hope says, ‘now that we’ve seen how quickly the damage we cause can be turned around, we’re going to make some changes.’ That was certainly the supposition of the interviewee on a radio programme, early in the week.

Meanwhile, this talk of our improved powers of observation has set me thinking. Some of my favourite pieces of poetry and prose depend on an adept use of detail.

Take Wuthering Heights, for instance. Emily Bronte conveys setting and climate in a sentence.

Pure bracing ventilation they must have up there at all times, indeed: one may guess the power of the north wind blowing over the edge, by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house; and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun.

Later, when Cathy is raving, she pulls feathers from her pillow and identifies the birds they came from: turkeys ducks, pigeons, moorcocks and lapwings. These are what are called ‘telling’ detail. They not only demonstrate the state of Cathy’s mind, they provide a glimpse back to her childhood. They link to a specific moment when she and Heathcliff were roaming the moors together.

Emily Bronte, I feel confident in asserting, didn’t just take note of her environment, she thought about it. We know that she, too, spent a lot of time walking.

You might say that she practiced isolation. How did that work? I think it provided thinking time, and that’s the other way I read this statement about our powers of observation. Many of us have been forced to stop rushing after a busy schedule, and maybe for the first time, have given extra time to noticing our home environment.

In Emily Bronte’s case, doing this resulted in a piece of fiction that has endured for one hundred and seventy two years. No pressure, of course, but I do like to think there will be more than one positive outcome from this strange moment we’re living through.

27 thoughts on “Observation and isolation.

  1. I do hope you’re right, Cath. We did have a moment back in March-April-May when nature reasserted herself, but now I fear the pressure of reviving ailing economies will ride roughshod over those environmental gains.
    On a brighter note, you’ve created a wonderful picture of Emily Bronte striding forth across the windswept Yorkshire Moors, filling her head with big ideas and tiny details!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. My daughter and I had a similar discussion the other day. She is an artist, a potter to be specific, and for her, this has been a very creative and productive time. I do hope we find a good balance eventually.

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  3. Emily Bronte. I reread that book after my younger girl had the words, ‘ If all else perished,’ read at her wedding a year ago. it is the 3rd time and each time I’ve had very diff thoughts. On this occasion it was the nature that stood out to me, the use of it at every turn in every way. And thinking about her actual life and how young she was when she wrote this book, I was quite bowled over by what she created.

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  4. I do wonder what will the world look like after the pandemic – will there ever be any real come back to the life before? There are plenty of viruses around, after all 😉 Plus, I’m not even sure I’ like a full comeback – I do appreciate the slower pace (though I’d love to be able to travel again!)

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  5. I say more power to all the artists and storytellers in the world, we need wonderful, beautiful, impactful stories that will act as a reminder of what happened in 2020 and how every individual fought it and became a better version of herself. Fingers crossed!
    Cath I also remember that dolphin video, I loved it.
    Thanks for this amazing post! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. That’s a very descriptive rendering of the winds in “Wuthering Heights”. It makes me think of the Torrey Pines and other plants that grow along the coast here, and that are also almost always growing away from the ocean because of constant wind from the sea.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi James, sorry to be a little slow replying to your comment. I seem to have slipped up on keeping track of my notifications!

      I think EB’s descriptions are amazing. Just enough detail to sell her scene. I wonder if she was thinking of Torrey Pines. I’ve just looked them up, and once I got past the golf course, I could see how they have a very similar habit to some of the trees that I’ve seen in Cornwall.


  7. I, too, think people have been loving time outside since trips involving crowds are no longer an option. We’ll see if this outdoor love continues into winter. I do hope so–there’s no creativity like the building of a snow-world!


    (Sorry, but I do so love the Calvin and Hobbes collection of snowman comics, lol)

    Liked by 1 person

      • They really are, ESPECIALLY Calvin and Hobbes. My kids still fight over who gets to read which collection. Calvin’s imagination is boundless, especially in the snow, and it inspires my 3 B’s that there’s a world to be created outside when one takes the time to get out there. xxxxx

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