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Mountains of the Mind: A History of a Fascination

Mountains of the Mind: A History of a Fascination - Robert Macfarlane I read the majority of this on the plane ride returning from Fresno, over the Sierra Nevada and Rockies. MacFarlane is a young Brit, raised in exclusive schools, exposed to mountaineering through his grandfather and the schools. He's climbed extensively, on many of the world's most challenging and obscure peaks. It's a cultural history of how societies viewed the mountains over the centuries, and how we came to understand how the mountains came to be -- some history of geologic science, interpersed with personal narratives. Of varying interest. The Romantic view in the 19th century: You could be lonely in a city crowd, but you could find solitude on a mountain-top. p.159.Mallory's obsession with Everest. "Mountains also reshape our understandings of ourselves, of our own interior landscapes. The remoteness of the mountain world -- its harshnesses and its beauties -- can provide us with a valuable perspective down on to the most familiar and best charted regions of our lives. It can subtly reorient us and readjust the points the from which we take our bearings. In their vastness and in their intricacy, mountains stretch out the individual mind and compress it simultaneously: they make it aware of its own immeasurable acreage and reach and, at the same time, of its own smallness.Ultimately and most importantly, mountains quicken our sense of wonder. The true blessing of mountains is not that they provide a challenge of a contest, something to be overcome and dominated (although this is how many people have approached them). It is that they offer something gentler and infintely more powerful: they make use ready to credit marvels -- whether it is the dark swirls which water makes beneath a plate of ice, or the feel of the soft pelts of moss which form on the lee sides of boulders and tress. Being in the mountains reignites our astonishment at the simplest transactions of the physical world: a snowflake a millionth of an ounce in weight falling in one's outstretched palm, water patiently carving a runnel in a face of granite, the apparently motiveless shift of a stone in a scree-filled gully. To put a hand down and feel the ridges and scores in a rock where a glacier has passed, to hear how a hillside comes alive with moving water after a rain shower, to see how late summer light filling miles of landscape like an inexhaustible liquid -- none of these is a trivial experience. Mountains return to us the priceless capacity for wonder which can so insensibly be leached away by modern existence, and they urge us to apply that wonder to our own everyday lives." p.274-276