Day 126.

The gyms are opening. Don’t feel confident it’s the right thing to do… new cases are still going up so I’m staying put. With a crazy dog and my books (and a pile or ironing… but we don’t talk about such matters here), and a weekly walk with the husband exploring the local countryside.

And talking of books and walking: The Old Ways is a wonderful book.

I first heard of Robert Macfarlane when, a few months ago we watched the movie ‘Mountains‘ (more a documentary/love story of mountains), stunning words and photography and Willem Dafoe is the voiceover, what’s not to like? Anyway, if you love mountains like me check it out, it’s such a lyrical ode to the mountains that it’ll make you want to pack your boots and go. (Blasted Covid19… Mr M and I were going to spend the long weekend of my birthday on the Dolomites – the best mountains in world, don’t even try to argue with me on this one -.. but obviously it wasn’t possible).

I’m digressing, I knew I wanted to read more of his words and given it was a little painful to read about mountains when unable to go, I chose his 2012 book The Old Ways because it’s all about walking mostly in England, and THAT we can most certainly do (and have been doing).

The book it’s all about paths, what they mean, how they’ve been made. It’s about the connection between walking/the land and people.

Paths are the habits of a landscape. They are acts of consensual making. It’s hard to create a footpath on your own…Paths connect. This is their first duty and their chief reason for being. They relate places in a literal sense, and by extension they relate people

I love how it references the poet Edward Thomas as his inspiration because that it exactly how I re-discovered walking, through Thomas’s writing and poems after studying his work last year at College and discovering that he lived around here for a while (near Robert Frost, another one of my favourite poets). Thomas walked everywhere, he walked to get out of himself and his depression but also to find himself, he wrote beautifully about nature and what it meant for him. I love how Macfarlane writes that paths not only connect places to each other, but people too, and the past to the present.

I find it fascinating and must have underlined hundreds of quotes (and checked the dictionary hundreds of time… and there’s me thinking I’ve mastered the English language… ahem)..

“We tend to think of landscapes as affecting us most strongly when we are in them or on them, when they offer us the primary sensations of touch and sight. But there are also the landscapes we bear with us in absentia, those places that live on in memory long after they have withdrawn in actuality, and such places — retreated to most often when we are most remote from them — are among the most important landscapes we possess.” 

I am always intrigued by how people perceived the sense of the place they inhabit, why some people ‘feel at home’, and more and more by how people interact with the place they live in. I’ve discovered so much about my town, and my area since being unable travel to far away places, since I’ve been forced to slow down. Walking has done that so if you do like the slow, one step at a time, experience you would like this book.

I’ve also realised how utterly ignorant I am about trees and flowers and birds and clouds… you name it… (I’m like ‘oh what a nice… pink flower! what a big tree… sigh…) .. and I bought myself a couple of books on trees and wild flowers!

Thought, like memory, inhabits external things as much as the inner regions of the human brain. When the physical correspondents of thought disappear, then thought, or its possibility, is also lost. When woods and trees are destroyed — incidentally, deliberately — imagination and memory go with them. W.H. Auden knew this. ‘A culture,’ he wrote warningly in 1953, ‘is no better than its woods.

And it really made me want to go walking more and more, further and further.

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