Reading Matters

Looking through my blog’s admin pages I see that I’ve written several posts in the last few months – but always left them unpublished. Reading through them, I can see why I was unhappy with each one – but I’m curious as to how this state of affairs has come about. I’m reminded of a condition said to affect darts players. You pick up a dart, aim it at the board, you flick your wrist but, when the moment comes to let go your fingers just won’t do it.

Another reason for the inactivity is that I’ve simply spent time doing other things, one of the more pleasant of which has been reading more books. Two stand out in my mind: Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks and Roger Deakin’s Wildwood.

I’m not sure what to make of “new nature writing”. Part of me shrugs, and thinks, aren’t these just books that might otherwise have been slightly anodyne (if environmentally edgy) TV documentaries? Am I just reading about humankind tearing the planet apart the way, when I was a kid, one could turn on BBC2 and watch lions tearing up wildebeest? Entertainment with it’s consciousness raised is still just entertainment. Another part of me is drawn in, impressed by writing that makes anyone who reads it more aware of the world around them. Who can fail to be disturbed, for example, by Robert Macfarlane’s comparison (in Landmarks) of Victorian London’s edgelands with their plethora of wildlife with the situation nearly two hundred years later? He quotes the Victorian nature-writer Richard Jeffries, who paints a picture of a world burgeoning with wildflowers, birds and animals that seems chillingly unfamiliar to anyone living in similar settings today.

I found myself thinking of this passage when I went for a walk over the hill in front of our house yesterday with my daughter. You get a great view over the dale from there. I found myself, as a thought experiment,  making an imaginary film of that view that started 10,000 years ago and which ran right up to the present day. If the film could be speeded up to last, say, two minutes, would the final frame seem quite so idyllic as it looked as we stood there? Or would it appear as a wasted shadow of what it once was?


A short poem – from one of those posts I mentioned at the start that I never got round to posting:


In Summer you can just make out the course of the track
through the long grass. In Winter it’s far simpler:
a brown line winds across the field.

Many people must pass this way
(enough, at least, to wear it down)
but, when I walk it, I rarely meet anyone.

Finally, a couple of photos. I dressed the scarecrow in some of my old clothes. When I reflected how scruffy he looked I was disturbed by the thought that I’d worn the outfit myself not so long ago:




8 thoughts on “Reading Matters

  1. Interesting post Dom – I really think it is lmost imposssible to imagine what the view would have been like all that time ago. It must have changed many times over the centuries. The fact that we found that 3000BC axe head on our land (which would have been within your view)tells us that people have inhabited the area for a long, long time – but how have they worked the land? We know that for a long time the monks of the nearby abbeys had sheep on all the land round here and many of the footpaths we still use were originally made by them as they walked the sheep between pastures. But we do still use intensive farming methods on our fields now and they are mainly grass – the fields are too small to leave field margins for the wild flowers and many of them have sadly disappeared – then Dutch elm took out all the elm trees – now ash die back threatens to do the same for the ash. The land evolves – I think we can do little to halt that change.

    1. Thank you for reminding me about the axe-head. Interesting, I think that even the vast (to us) periods of time we’re talking about are mere blinks of the eye for “geological time”.

  2. Good to hear from you again. Thank you for that poem and for giving me more to think about. I haven’t posted much recently because I’ve been spending time looking into genealogy as well as looking for employment that can sustain me for the rest of my life. Now I’m wondering in what ways people have changed along with the landscape that has been altered so drastically by people. I have a photo of my great great grandfather who came from Norway in the 1850s and farmed in Minnesota, but there are no photos of the land he farmed. Picturing Minnesota when he arrived and Minnesota today is a sobering. He farmed on land that had been the home of the Sioux for centuries and centuries.

    1. Thanks for that, The idea that the Sioux lived on the land is -among other things- fascinating. My step-father found a neolithic stone axe on his farm. I wonder what artifacts people come across on lands once inhabited by the Sioux and other tribes?

  3. Lovely poem, Dominic. “Many people must pass this way” – you could almost miss it, so deceptively simple, but there it is, worthy of a re-read, I think.

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