In an e mail correspondence with Robert Macfarlane last year (and how thrilled I am that he is to chair the Man Booker Prize) we joked about the fact that you might all be saying 'Oh not him again,' each time I posted about The Old Ways. I did warn Robert that there was to be more of the same now that I have finished The Wild Places, so I hope you can cope. It was one of my highlights of 2012 to meet and talk with Robert at Port Eliot Festival , a memorable conversation that I will always treasure, as I hope will those who were there to hear it on that hot summer's day in the dovegreyreader tent...
and by his own admission Robert doesn't expect to be yarn-bombed again any time soon.
But nor did I expect a book or its author to transform and re-enthuse my walking quite so radically. I have now read The Old Ways twice, and alongside it, and since that spirit-enhancing holiday in Orkney, I have
been meandering my way through The Wild Places... probably years after you have all read it, but all coinciding with a decision to do some proper job walking again through last year and into this one.
On reflection I can see that Bookhound and I had perhaps let our serious walking dwindle once the children had grown and flown, and once our dear old border collie had trotted off to round up heavenly sheep...in fact I think we missed them all. Years ago we would tramp for miles up on Dartmoor together and come home muddy and tired but happy, or we would drag thechildren off to Switzerland for summer walking holidays (sorry kids) ...
None of which seemed to put them off, perhaps the opposite because they all took to the Great Outdoors in their own ways, it becoming for each of them an intrinsic part of their lives, and we would now be hard-pushed to keep up with their pace. Gradually, and without those companions, Bookhound and I chose to do different things together leaving it all to be rediscovered again now, but in a new and different way.
Divided into chapter headings that equate to place...Beechwood, Island, Valley, Moor, Forest, River Mouth, Cape, Summit, Grave, Ridge, Holloway, Storm Beach, Saltmarsh, Tor and returning in conclusion to its starting point Beechwood, I can now see The Wild Places as a circular route that mirrors so many of the different places that many of us have probably known and walked.
To start and come back to that place we know with a different understanding has been one of the many experiences for me of reading the book, and for that place to be a Beechwood has special resonance. This is the Green Lane or Holloway, a few yards from our front door, that we scuffle up with the dogs most days to get to 'our' Beechwood. It is not exactly 'our' Beechwood, but if loving and visiting a place day in day out counts, then it is certainly 'ours' in spirit, a Wild Place we know well and through every season and I will be taking you up there every so often through this year.
But The Wild Places is also a book to take the mind back to pre-infinity and establish a sense of the vastness of time that has sculpted what I am seeing...
'Wildness... is an expression of independence from human direction, and wild land can be said to be self-willed land. Land that proceeds according to its own laws and principles, land whose habits - the growth of its trees, the movements of its creatures, the free descent of its streams through its rocks - are of its own devising and own execution.'
'Like our garden then' I now see I have cheekily scribbled in the margin.
If I could see the American hardwood forest I think I would be completely overawed at the idea that it has waited seventy million years for people to come and live in it.
I will never look at an ancient oak in the same way again knowing that they take 300 years to grow, 300 to live and another 300 to die. Nor to take lightly the scourge of the plague which decimated 30 million elm trees back in the 1960s, and the new one that may do likewsie with our ash trees right now. Robert Macfarlane gave currency, context and perspective to what I was seeing as I travelled through this book, and doubtless will see as I walk, with care and attention, my own versions of his chapter headings which will start with our Beechwood.
Robert notes a quote from a source he has long forgotten which echoes in my mind still...
'Landscape was here long before we were even dreamed. It watched us arrive.'
And I guess, being realistic without being maudlin, it will watch us depart eventually.
Robert draws his own map of his Wild Places, a 'prose map' he calls it, and every reader could likewise draw their own. It is one of the merits of a book like this, a book that fires the imagination of the reader to explore their own territory with the compass set in the direction of mindful-ness (well, best use a proper one and a map too maybe) It is the close observation and that joined-up thinking that I love, those random echoes, the memories and associations that place can ignite.
Books like The Wild Places are not for reading in a weekend and blogging about on the Monday for the sake of having something to say... not that I ever do. I have been reading it for six months, my thoughts on it are so elongated and stretched out that it is hard to rein them all back in under the banner of a single post, and I am not sure a single post does books like this any justice whatsoever.
So please accept this as an introduction to a book of permanence around here, and one I will be writing about heading by heading as I explore and consider my own Wild Places. through next year.
I am sure you all have Wild Places too...