I responded quite emotionally to this piece partly because it raises questions about what it means to be a human observer in a landscape we’ve at once idealized and damaged. Although I’ve never been to Exmoor, the place feels simultaneously familiar and remote. It’s as though I am teased with access to a place that refuses to cohere for my gaze.
Oh no. My favorite season is becoming something else. I want to protest. I want to squeeze these verdant days until they submit to my possessive grip, but “Kissing Gate at Exmoor” won’t let me hold on. The author makes me look. She squeezes my chin and points my face in the direction of the setting sun, the waning season, and I’ve no choice but to feel lucky I’ve seen it.
She doesn’t paint a panorama. She paints particulars. The subject isn’t the lapwing or gorse or the moor… it is all these characters, all these pieces of English summer. But what about me? Where do I figure in this picture? I am bearing witness, I suppose, to my own insignificance or redundancy. The kissing gate has been designed, after all, for the human point of view; but it’s such a prescribed and limiting point of access. The truth is, this season I’ve loved could care less about me, will go on whether or not I am here to watch it.
The m’s, l’s and s’s (“A partial sun suffuses slender weeds/”) lull me into this golden picture of August and ask me to hear it, watch it, feel it slip away. And lest I think I am the sole surveyor, I am swept “beneath a merlin wing” and must concede that my vantage isn’t even the best one.