NATURE AS SCENERY, NATURE AS PROTAGONIST
There are various ways of living in a space and interacting with it. Anyone who has been to New York will tell you that walking in Central Park is like suddenly finding yourself immersed in another world, completely different from the street grid and skyscrapers of the metropolis. They’ll tell you about the lakes, the paths through the trees, spacious lawns and the fresh air that you breathe. What they’ll probably forget to tell you is that Central Park is a perfect rectangle, artificially created in the urban space that is the Big Apple. The greenery of New York as we know it was created "after" the city yet it’s so at ease with its geometric shape that it fits perfectly.
Anyone who has been to County Mayo, on the other hand, will tell you about a place where nature, culture and society are in perfect harmony with each other. They will tell you about a majestic sky, so majestic that the houses seem to lower their roofs to make way for it out of respect. They will tell of the ancient abbeys that no longer have their roofs because of their yearning to be connected to the sky, thus enabling the prayers to reach their destination more quickly. They will tell you of how fishermen wait for the tide to refloat their boats from the dry sandbanks and then take the tourists out on a day trip, and how all of this is normal for them. Of how there is no need for it to rain to be able to hear the sound of running water, because there is always a stream somewhere, a lake, an inlet where the gulls gather for a chat, maybe behind a house.
They’ll tell you that the sheep graze freely, and they really do mean freely, without a fence, above a cliff, or even in the middle of the road, without concern as to whether they’re on the right side of the road or in a limited zone, the only connection between them being the same spot of colour on their coat. They will talk of how riding a bike on a path so long and unpolluted you’ll lose touch with what you believe and discover what really is. They’ll say that it is useless to use a GPS smartphone and instead much better to use the summit of Croagh Patrick, the holy mountain. They’ll conjure up images of landscapes as far as the eye can see without a house or tree in sight, seemingly lifeless yet covered in vast expanses of peat, a precious fuel and complex ecosystem as well as acting as a thousand year old soft blanket covering one of the world’s most important archaeological sites. They’ll talk of the sea, of how it demands huge beaches on which to unfurl itself, or how it crashes onto the steep cliffs, and of how there are no fences that edge the cliffs, of how nature in Mayo is allergic to borders and how the Irish are nature themselves without need for distinction.
They will explain that you can choose to consider the body as being distinct from the mind and nature distinct from man or you can simply live in Mayo and no longer relegate the elements to just scenic design - because nothing is stronger than a wave, than fire, than the wind or the mountain that rises up to the sky - and by beginning to blend in with them, in a way that side by side with the air, water, earth and fire, there connects the fifth and lasting element to them: people.
After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, and so on - have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear - what remains? Nature remains.