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A Word a Day: Invisible

June 12, 2014

Each day that I write this blog (which I cannot promise will be every day), I will select a word encountered in the last 24 hours and see where it takes me.

Today’s word is “invisible”, as in “The use of invisible fencing to allow the grazing of the area will be demonstrated.” This comes from the programme for yesterday’s Epping Forest Ladies’ Day, described as
“the high point of the Epping Forest annual social calendar”. It is when the Epping Forest and Commons Committee, of which I am a member, gets to celebrate what has been achieved in the management of the Forest over the preceding year and, more importantly, to thank all those who have contributed to that achievement. The day involves lunch, preceded by a walk to look at some of what has been going on, & yesterday the invisible fencing was on the menu.

I have always enjoyed the concept of going to “see” the invisible fencing. It’s normally buried in the ground – which is the point, and why it is invisible – but yesterday a bit of it had been unearthed and made visible to curious Committee members and their guests (not to mention the cows whom it is designed to protect).

20140612-104926-38966104.jpgThe invisible fencing is that bit of blue wire, just visible on the grass.

 

20140612-105047-39047902.jpgHere are some of the Forest’s English Longhorn Cattle, happily grazing. They wear collars to which the invisible fencing transmits warning messages not to cross the line.

20140612-105134-39094857.jpgAnd here is the Forest’s herdsman introducing the cattle to Lord Mayor Fiona Woolf and the Chairman of the Epping Forest and Commons Committee, Alderman Gordon Haines.

One of the most potent uses of the word ‘invisible’ is in the definition of a sacrament as the ‘outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace’ – potent not only because of the concise and elegant nature of this definition but because of all the arguments it has spawned over the centuries. It is worth remembering when we are tempted to view religious extremism as something alien to Western culture that people in 16th-century England were prepared both to kill and to be killed over the precise meaning of the ‘sacrament of the altar’: whether the bread and wine consecrated by a priest became the body and blood of Christ in substance or only in symbol. We are hard-pressed to understand the argument now, let alone to care enough to die for a particular interpretation of a few words.

Thinking of what’s visible and what isn’t also reminds me of the half-empty (half-full?) glass of water declaring itself to be an oak tree. I first encountered An Oak Tree in an exhibition at the newly opened Tate Liverpool. The Liverpudlian audience was at best bemused and mainly – and enjoyably – downright scornful. If this glass of water was an oak tree, it was definitely an invisible one.

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