The Waste Land

Bring it on... With a Walk on the Wild Side!

TS Eliot, The Waste Land; Jay Griffiths, Wild: an elemental journey. Photographs: Mike Blenkinsop and Andy Babington; with lyrics by Lou Reed

Posted by Kevin Flint on Jan 30, 2018

0800: Saturday morning. 13 January 2018. My good friend from Manchester days back in the 1970s, Mike Blenkinsop, was already making breakfast for us both. I joined in, making our coffee and toast. This was our particular focus in a hub of activity and conversation involving many different people, many of whom, we had only met for the first time. Memories of so many mountain huts throughout Europe. 

Outside the Midlands Association of Mountaineering’s [MAM’s] Glan Dana hut, a short walk beyond the bridge over the Afon Denau, at the eastern end of Lynn Ogwen, the clouds were down to about 300m; swept by strong north-westerly winds, carrying with them rain with a hint of snow and hail. This was the start of the MAM's annual 'bring it on' weekend, which is organised to encourage new possibilities in adventures, using the hut as a base.  On standing outside the hut one’s body became filled with feelings from the anticipation of an unfolding adventure involving our own short journey in the clouds, icy winds and the snow-covered rocks. A journey that would take us over wild mountain scape of Tryfan in North Wales.

TS Eliot’s notoriously difficult to interpret poem, The Waste Land, had given the world a shock, just after the end of the First World War. For the critic, Agrata Swami[i] who focuses upon the poem’s symbolism, it paints its own picture of a land ‘blighted by a curse’, which only gives release into ‘a world of sports and travel of the light superficial chatters of a rootless cosmopolitan culture’. Like all good poesy, too, Eliot’s work contains its own ‘holes and gaps’, as Dylan Thomas had once suggested, inviting the reader in.

Whether Eliot’s poem has the possibility of creating a ‘curative effect’, when faced with so much cursory, surface-level interpretations of existence by Donald Trump, much of the media and a multitude of other like-minded individuals, as suggested by Swami, is not the issue.

In watching others in our group of 11 that set off for the Heather Terrace on that cold winter morning, all appeared to remain intent upon experiencing first-hand aspects of this wild land. Here was the issue that kept coming back to me throughout the day.

In walking from the hut towards Heather Terrace, a prominent terrace with the dark and foreboding castellation of steep rocks above it and steep broken fell below, the social space we created on our walk seemed to me a long way removed from the tepid world of Trump and his many followers.  For them it would appear the world becomes re-presented as a golf course; nature conveniently neutered, the lawns laundered and cleaned of any mud, insects, brambles, nettles, and thistles.  For those with money to burn in their global Disneyland global warming has been simply ironed out of existence, it would seem.

Each of us wrapped in many layers of clothing to protect us from the winds and to keep us relatively dry could not help but see so many different grasses, brambles, mosses and lichens emerging here and there on the many twists and turns of our route. Our path found its way through a maze of different rocks, muds and gravels. As we climbed there was a sense of a huge glacier that had once carved out the steep valley, now the course of the Nant Gywern y Gof, cascading quietly down from Cwm Tryfan just to our west.  

What interests me in the poem, and in the wilderness, we were experiencing on that morning, is the play of the impossible - those ‘holes and gaps’ that distinguish brilliant poesy along with that illusion of a complete state of awareness constituting wildness, remaining ever a gift of wild earth.

In opening the possibility of rebirth, in mixing joy with the cruelty and violence of nature, and in mixing memory with desire, the language of Eliot’s Waste Land, while occasionally drawing upon binary oppositions and still speaking to us now, almost a century later, ever opens spacing for the impossible at play in the coming space of lived time, and the coming time of space in our lives.  It is that sense of wildness of the unrestrained mountain-scape through which we slowly found our way that marked the beautifully rich play of differences in that wild landscape. Here, on our walk, earth, our mother as they say in Polish, had gifted us all with the play of the im-possible.

The impossible is never something that can eventually be overcome. It remains so. It’s there in our expressions of love for this land. It’s there in the many and various possible emotions experienced from feeling the gale force icy winds on our faces, not being able to see the south ridge above us and not feeling at all certain of our footfalls over the broken rocks of the ridge. The wild viewed as unrestrained, untamed, rather than uncultivated; ever-beyond the scope of any possible conceptions, knowledges, truths, carries with it the impossible – isn’t that what brings so many back into the mountains? The possibility of adventure – where everything that might happen, during the course of the day cannot possibly be known in advance.

Before the col, Bwlch Tryfan, between Tryfan and Glyder Fach to the south, our path presented us with a short little problem: a 4m descent down slippery rocks with the screes falling away below our feet. In Scotland, in the 1920s and ‘30s, the writings of W.H. Murray, W.B. Bell and others, based ontheir adventures in the Highlands, frequently bring attention to the ways in which groups work together in finding their ways through difficult passages of rock. 

In supporting each other, similarly we found our way down onto the screes. Once more we made our own path among another maze of fallen boulders, mud, gullies and ridges just below Bwlch Tryfan

In these conditions a bond of friendship and trust is soon formed. I had only met with Chris and Clive for the first time the evening before in the hut. The others from our initial group had decided to descend back down to the path that parallels the line of the Nant Gwern y Gof back to the hut.  With Mike, Andy, Chris and Clive we had made our way over the rocks from the col between Tryfan and Glyder Fach up to the summit of Tryfan. Its two prominent rocks, Adam and Eve, were wet, icy and slippery. Certainly, they didn't invite any play, jumping from one to other, as one might on a warm summer’s day.

Our visibility had been reduced to about 5 – 10 meters as we descended. Climbing and scrambling down over iced rocks. We had convinced ourselves that we were following the South ridge back to the Bwlch. 

In fact, it had become obvious that we’d moved too far to the West, and we had missed the landmark completely. Finding ourselves perched about 50 metres above the screes below, Andy confidently traversed leftwards to find a steep gully that we could all descend, supporting each other on the difficult ground. As we came out of the clouds we could see the Bochlwyd Buttress to the north of us and its neighbouring eponymous Lyn just below.

Memories of many days in the hills where every possible way is found of staying up as high as possible came flooding into my mind. A day on Crib Goch, back in the 1980s, when a group of us had completed all the major peaks in Snowdonia in a couple of days. There had been an inversion and after climbing up on to the summit ridge we came out of the clouds and were blessed with sun and a view above the clouds as if we were in flight. The memory flashed back with such intensity it could have been just a couple of days before.

Instead of walking down to Lyn Ogwen, we elected to follow a steep path from the lower end of Y Gribin down to Lyn Idwal. Memories of climbing the Idwal Slabs as one of my early excursions into climbing and of climbing Suicide Wall, higher up on the East side of the slabs, when I had become more experienced. They carried with them the desire, as Eliot’s poesy suggests, of exploring things in different ways. For example, we’re just setting up a Hope Valley Fringe, scheduled for 28 April, that we’re hoping will encourage people to explore and to give expression to their own particular experiences with aspects of earth in one place – the Hope Valley in Derbyshire.

Conversations had stilled a little by this point. We were all concentrating on keeping our footing over the rough paths. Nevertheless, on arrival at Ogwen Cottage, still with sufficient reserves of energy, it would seem, we all agreed to walk around the north side of Lyn Ogwen, following a very rough path and some scrambling on the rocks until we arrived back at Glan Dana.

Whether the day had been an adventure for each of us, and precisely what adventure and the wild means for each of us remains impossible to say. Upon dining-together with members of the MAM at a formal dinner in the hut later that evening I couldn’t help reflecting upon the wild earth we had been gifted to experience during day. 

Like Eliot’s poesy, for me it had confronted each of us, albeit unconsciously, with finding ways of exploring and handling the play of differences, of différance,[ii] of the impossible[iii], on wild unrestrained earth throughout the day. In so doing, in being-with others, this wild earth had helped us to create a strong bond of friendship. 

It was such play in our everyday practice of mountaineering and walking, it seemed, that ever opens the im-possibility of renewal in our lives, without which there could be no possibilities for us.

Thanks for reading my blog. I hope you’ve enjoyed our adventure. Any thoughts, suggestions, ideas etc., would be most welcome.

I look forward to hearing from you.


[i] Agrata Swami [2016] T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land: A critical analysis, International Journal of Applied Research, 2[6]: 954-956

[ii] Nicholas Royle’s [2003] Jacques Derrida [London and New York: Routledge] provides a very readable excellent introduction to Derrida’s work. It is very ably complemented by another angle on Derrida’s writings by Mark Dooley and Liam Kavanagh [2007] in The Philosophy of Derrida [Stocksfield: Acumen Publishing].

[iii] John D Caputo [2000] gives a much more detailed exploration of the impossible in More Radical Hermeneutics: On not knowing who we are [Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press]. 

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