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The Wild Places (Penguin Original)

The Wild Places (Penguin Original) - Robert Macfarlane Beautifully written, meditative. Several quotes to follow below. I look forward to reading more of his work. I also am amazed at his vocabulary! For the last couple of chapters, I wrote down all the words I did not know. Many of them as very precise descriptions of the natural world or landscape. “The writing Murray did there [German POW camp] was a kind of dreamwork : a casting back and a summoning up of the open spaces of Scotland …. As his stamina waned, his imagination grew stronger. He thrived on recollections of openness and freedom. The book that Murray began in Cheiti, Mountaineering in Scotland, ‘a book written from the heart of a holocaust’, in his phrase – must stand as one of the finest expressions of the power of the wild to act, even in retrospect, even remotely, upon the mind.” P.71“The tree [painted by John Constable] is an English elm: we know this, for its bark has cracked into polygonal patterns, where the bark of the wych-elm and the Huntingdon elm would have fractured more linearly, into long crevasses and furrows, and the bark of the smooth-leaved elm would have formed a regular meshwork of angled ridges and valleys. Bark is a subtle, supple substance, easily overlooked. It can be thought of as the tree’s skin: like skin, it carries the marks of a folding and of expansion, a stretching which snaps it into flakes or plates or lenticles. If you were to take slow-motion footage of elm bark over a year, you would be able to see it moving, working, living: crevasses gaping, calluses forming, the constant springing open and closing over of fissures. As Constable knew, a world can reveal itself in a tree’s bark” p.102On the north-western coasts of Britain and Ireland, the air has a remarkable transparency, for it is almost free of particulate matter. Little loose dust rises from the wet land, and the winds blow prevailingly off the sea. Through such air, photons can proceed without obstacle. The light moves, unscattered, and falls upon the forms and objects of those regions with candour. P. 134Ben Hope, a mountain in the Munro range in northern Scotland: “This was one of the least accommodating places to which I had ever come. The sea, the stone, the night and the weather all pursued their processes and kept their habits, as they had done for millennia, and would do for millennia to follow. The fall of moonlight on to water, the lateral motion of blown snow through air, these were of the place’s making only. This was a terrain that had been thrown up by fire and survived ice. There was nothing, save the wall of rocks I had made and the summit cairn, to suggest history. Nothing human. I turned east and south, straining to see if there was some flicker of light in the hundreds of miles of darkness around me. Even a glimpse of something lit, however distant and unreachable, would have been reassurance of a sort. Nothing. No glimmer.There could have been nowhere that conformed more purely to the vision of wildness with which I had begun my journeys. I had been drawn here by a spatial logic, a desire to reach this coincident point of high altitude and high latitude. But now I could not wait to leave it. It was an amplified version of the discomfort I had unexpectedly felt at the Inaccessible Pinnacle in Coruisk. If I could have safely descended from the summit of Hope in the darkness, I would have done so. The comfortless snow-shires, the frozen rocks: this place was not hostile to my presence, far from it. Just entirely, gradelessly indifferent. Up there, I felt no companionship with the land, no epiphany of relation like I had experienced in the Black Wood. Here, there was no question of relation. This place refused any imputation of meaning.” P. 157The landscape of the Burren. “The solubility of limestone, its acquiescence to water, means that the Burren – like its sister limestone lands in the Peak District and the Yorkshire Dales – is rich with clandestine places: runnels, crevasses, dens, caves, hollows, gullies. It is a landscape that has the vast, involuted surfaced area of a coastline, or a lung’s interior. Things pool and hide in limestone, including meaning: it forms a lateral landscape, but not a shallow one. P. 166Connecting to the physical environment. “In so many ways there has been a prising of life from place, an abstraction of experience into different kinds of touchlessness. We experience, as no historical period has before, disembodiment and dematerialization. The almost infinite connectivity of the technological world, for all the benefits it has brought, has exacted a toll in the coin of contact. We have in many ways forgotten what the world feels like. And so new maladies of the soul have emerged, unhappinesses which are complicated products of the distance we have set between ourselves and the world. … The feel of a hot dry wind on the face, the smell of distant rain carried as a scent stream in the air, the touch of a bird’s sharp foot on one’s outstretched palm: such encounters shape our beings and our imaginations in ways which are beyond analysis, but also beyond doubt. There is something uncomplicatedly true in the sensation of laying hands upon sun-warmed rock, or watching a dense mutating flock of birds, or seeing snow fall irrefutably upon one’s upturned palm.” P. 203Holloways. “from the Anglo-Saxon hola weg, meaning a ‘harrowed path’, a ‘sunken road.’ … In the soft-stone counties of Southern England – in the chalk of Kent, Wiltshire, and East Anglia, in the yellow sandstone of Dorset and Somerset, in the greensand of Surrey and in the malmstone of Hampshire and Sussex – many holloways are to be found, some of them twenty feet deep : more ravine than road. They go by different names in different regions – bostels, grundles, shutes – but they are most usually known as holloways. “ p. 216“An artistic tradition has long existed in England concerning the idea of the ‘unseen landscape’, the small-scale wild place. … William Blake perceived the world in a grain of sand. John Ruskin was captivated by the growth of lichens and mosses on trunks and rocks. Dorothy Wadsworth kept a series of elegantly attentive journals…” p. 227“My own map was filling out, moving towards a state not of completion – it would never achieve that – but of coherence. I did not want it to be definitive, only to have caught and absorbed something of the places I had passed through, and something of how they had changed me, brought me to think differently. Reading the French philosopher of space and matter Gaston Bachelard, I had come across a paragraph that summed up my hope for the journeys. ‘Each one of us should make a surveyor’s map of his lost fields and meadows,’ Bachelard had written. ‘In this way we cover the universe with drawing we have lived. These drawings need not be exact. But they need to be written according to the shapes of our inner landscapes.” P. 232“I had begun to think that the history of Britain and Ireland could well be comprehended through the history of its six great rock types – granite, sandstone, slate, chalk, limestone and flint. There were others of course: basalt, shale, the clays. But these six rocks, it seemed to me, formed the strong mineral skeleton of the archipelago. Whatever we did to the skin of the country, the skeleton would remain.” P. 242-243Just a great phrase: “finger-walking the shelves of a library one morning.” P. 248On the infinite possibilities of what people can do with their lives: “When Bagnold returned to England from North Africa in 1935, he retired from the army, built a wind tunnel for himself, and began a decade’s worth of intricate experiments into the physics of blown sand. …. In 1941, Bagnold published his findings as The Physics of Blown Sand and Desert Dunes. William Langewiesche rightly describes the book as ‘a small masterpiece of scientific exploration’, the consequence of Bagnold’s love-affair with sand. “ p.260On the early death of his friend, Roger Deakins. “I still could not rid myself of a sense of waste. I had wanted to know Roger as he aged into his seventies and eighties, for he would have old, properly old, so superbly. He was an expert in age: in its charisma and its worth. Everything he owned was worn, used, re-used. If anyone would have known how to age well, it would have been Roger.” P. 266-267