The one that I daren't mention because of the strict embargo or I would have had to kill you?
Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane now out there in the big wide world, fending for itself to wonderful reviews and I am a bit behind the curve with it...well and truly beyond the envelope or whatever it is I am, but I did manage to enlist a little Team Landmarks to read the book in proof copy and they have been busy on it so eventually our thoughts will come together.
So I have been reading Landmarks since January, and apart from being diverted for the obvious family reasons I have also been diverted by Robert Macfarlane's suggestions about other books. Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez was one and The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd was another. I had read it once but my mood was entirely different then, this time I was ready to linger.
'The inaccessibility of the loch is part of its power. Silence belongs to it...the good of the greatest number is not here relevant. It is necessary to be sometimes exclusive, not on behalf of rank or wealth but of those human qualities that can apprehend loneliness.'
Thus speaks Nan Shepherd about the beguiling Loch Coire an Lochain, invisible to the eye until the walker almost falls into it, and suddenly I was transported willingly to the Cairngorms and The Living Mountain, like Arctic Dreams became a journey that I relished each day.
It was a book to make me think...
When do I ever take time to really contemplate the colour of water...
Nan Shepherd sees a rainbow of colours in the clear translucent water of the mountain...green, metallic rather than vegetable. then aquamarine, sometimes violet, sometimes verdigris. It is a lesson in the art of microscopic looking, an intense focus on that which is so easily passed by.
And snow, surely snow is just white, or grey.
Not so, it is purplish to golden green to vivid electric blue to slate blue, and with the observation comes the sage advice
'If you can't see your own footsteps behind you in the snow, don't go on.'
And then there is the sound...
'One hears it without listening as one breathes without thinking.'
I was reminded of that silence in the mountains when you go up in a cable car. You think it is quiet, but then suddenly, the higher you go, it is really very quiet. To go up a mountain in this way is to leave all distractions behind, and reading The Living Mountain somehow created the equivalent.
'But up here no movement, no voice. Man might be a thousand years away...'
In balancing her clarity of intellect with the surge of emotion, Nan Shepherd succeeds where I suspect I often don't; in finding beauty in the drab, in seeing things that are waiting to be noticed, creating a total awareness in the moment, and whilst not wishing away the summer I will now keenly anticipate what she describes as the mid-October days ' as golden as whisky.' I don't think the Cairngorms has a monopoly on those, and The Living Mountain has become a sort of passport to noticing these things everywhere and anywhere, to look to my own powers of observation and concentration and sharpen them up considerably. And also to realise that 'our habitual vision of things is not necessarily right,' thus permission to see the familiar anew and with different eyes.
Addressing each of the senses, suggesting that there is an innocence that has been lost and revelling in them as she does, it seems eminently possible to feel the glow of Nan Shepherd's 'plain humdrum happiness' no matter the personal circumstance. This seemed to be confirmed by an awareness that the book was so utterly calming each time I picked it up.
I was impressed too by Nan Shepherd's intrepid exploring, often alone, and sleeping out on the mountain as a means of absorbing its mysterious qualities..
'Find an October night warm enough to sleep put, and dawn all mixed up with moonshine and you too will be mis-spelled...
'In September dawns I hardly breath...I am an image in a ball of glass. The world is suspended there and I in it.'
It all made me want to be there that's for sure, but if there was one thing I was less certain about it was barefoot walking...around here...maybe not.
Any other Nan Shepherd fans out there...
And what about the Cairngorms... we have only driven through, has anyone walked them...
Is it as do-able as Nan has convinced me it is...