Growing up in a human made landscape

It takes somebody who’s strange to your part of the world to truly see what makes it special. Here’s Abi Sutherland on what makes Noord Holland’s polder landscape so different from everything else she’s used to:

The more I go out into the polder, the more I see how that narrow, dark line is the focus of the whole landscape. It gives everything else scale and context. The sky is vaster and emptier against its peaks and curves; the clouds are fluffier for its sharpness. It frames and defines the fields around me. And it surrounds my journeys as well, lying at the beginning and the end of every path. Everywhere I go, I’m heading toward it—though, like a mirage, it dissolves into individual trees, houses and villages as I draw near. But then the ever-varied unified silhouette reappears, reformed, when I leave the settlement and reach the next set of fields.

I grew up on the not quite an island anymore of Walcheren, living in Middelburg, on the mid-east side of it. Growing up we did everything — going to school, the beach, visiting family elsewhere on the island — by bike, which nine out of ten times meant heading out from town into the polder landscapes in the heart of it. Largely flat, with Middelburg one of the oldest and therefore highest settlements, with the rest of Walcheren built polder by polder around it, whichever direction you looked, you’d see a human build line on the horizon. To the east, we’d see the same narrow, dark line of towns and villages Abi talks about; every other direction there would be the dunes. Which look natural, but are of course as artificial as the towns themselves.


picture of dunes near Oostkappele, by Henk Kosters

As a kid, you don’t really question the landscape you grow up in, or think it anything other than natural, in both senses of the world. Sometimes it’s seeing the old and familiar to new eyes to make you realise how unnatural the land you grew up on is.

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