Every single thing I write about Team Old Ways seems to involve a pun, and it's only then that I realise how much the language of walking pervades the every day...so you'll have to believe me when I say that they are really getting into their stride with Robert Macfarlane's book now. For me, one of the really interesting aspects is that we are a group of individuals, all reading the same book but taking it into different landscapes around the UK, and around the world, and interepreting it in the light of our own journeys, in our own very personal way.
This is proving to be a really enjoyable project...here are a few more of their First Footings...
Roxane ... Reading The Old Ways, I quickly became a committed reader, "enchanted" by Robert Macfarlane's way of guiding me through his journeys into wishing that they would be mine. By bringing back to life some of his heroes, Robert Macfarlane is passing on the "flame" enlightening the chosen paths in a multitude of colors and dimensions. The images dance keeping pace with the words, steps, history, people and tradition. All find a rhythm, the rhythm of lives echoing through the landscapes, beating the foot on this Earth, our shelter, our universal connection with mankind, sending a wish to the future. I am looking forward to discovering the dormant mysteries under my local paths, a delightful way to enhance the experience of the journey ahead in the Pacific Northwest, my corner of the World.
Thank you to Robert Macfarlane for such an inspiring personal account of his experiences as a knowledgeable wanderer.
Liz...Firstly I want to record the privilege I have felt at being able to read The Old Ways ahead of publication; it somehow echoes the adventure of the book – going into the unknown, but with the knowledge and experience of a master guide.
Yet at first I felt alarmed at what I perceived to be a reckless approach to his travels. Robert seemed to just hurtle off without a care in the world, and then as I read on I realised that there is a gender issue here – as a middle aged woman I would really struggle to just up and off, and when tired, or night fell, chuck my sleeping bag on a grassy knoll under the stars. But it was the vicarious experience that I was enjoying – I could piggy back onto Robert’s adventures and yet be safe and warm.
From a psychological perspective his journeys are informed by Edward Thomas’s exhortations to train his eye to detect the disturbances and imprints on the landscape. In many ways perhaps it's the same for our own sense of well being – we need to observe the terrain of our lives so we can recognise the disturbances, and come to understand their significance to our own journey through life.
Julie...I almost always walk with my husband, who is from California and started backpacking in the Sierra Nevada mountains as a teenager. Before meeting him at age 20, I had very little experience of "nature walks" or nature in general. I'm from a suburb of New York City -- not exactly a "nature girl." So my husband's point of view about the outdoors has shaped mine. Over the years this has been challenging because our personal aesthetics are very different. I like small, complex environments -- tidal pools or vernal ponds, for example. He likes huge sweeping vistas and bare rock. He likes to go up. Steeply.
I have not read many nature narratives. I have a hard time following and mentally visualizing most writer's descriptions of landscapes. And because I think of this subject as belonging more to my husband, I'm happy to leave it to him. The two nature books I remember enjoying most are Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods (because I live near the Appalachian Trail, and because it was funny and self-deprecating), and Diane Ackerman's A Natural History of the Senses. The Old Ways is thus a departure for me as a book type. It's hard work because I am not very familiar with the English countryside -- it's something I only know (in a sketchy way) from novels and movies. But the work has been very rewarding, in particular the chapter "Silt," which I loved for its mood and descriptive powers as well as the strangeness of an ancient path -- in the water.
So far I haven't felt that I am seeing my own part of the world with special new eyes, or words, but it has been good to have the project as a spur to get out and look around.
'I lay down to sleep, placed an ear to the turf and imagined the depths of history the soil held ......'
writes Robert Macfarlane. So often when we walk through a landscape there is a tendency to appreciate it only as a visual experience; Robert Macfarlane has an awareness of its history, geology and spirituality. Not just a place to reflect, landscape can influence the way we think and more than that, draw us out beyond our thinking (to paraphrase Edward Thomas).
Shunning the more exotic locations I have visited, I will be placing my ear to the soil of my local park. Although I cannot claim to have lived "long & faithfully in a single place" I have acquired an intimate knowledge of a park I walk round most days. To date, I have been guilty of only looking skin deep and using it as a sanctuary to reflect. Under RM's influence, I will endeavour to find out more about its geological past; the historical figures such as Robert Louis Stevenson who walked its paths; its creative use as an open air theatre and my encounters with the individuals who currently use this landscape.
George ... The Old Ways has inspired me to explore a location I have often thought about. A relaxing, buzzing and colourful place - at least in Summer. Here it is...
This picture on my wall transports me to John Clare country. I remain scandalously ignorant of this naturalist and poet. The Oldways resonates with layers of history, geology, art and wildlife. Discovering the same for Swaddywell Field’s charms is my quest!