One of the greatest things about my MA course was being introduced to the joys of sublime non-fiction writing. For me, Macfarlane is at the top of an illustrious list. I came across Landmarks when researching the notion of an ‘untranslateable’ word for my poetry manuscript and fell in love with his poetic turns of phrase and the unfettered passion for the natural world shining through his language. Also, I’ve always loved the connection between language, landscape and our shared heritage, so the book was kind of pushing on an open door with me!
The Wild Places is his second book after 2003 Guardian first book award-winning Mountains of the Mind and details his mission to find little spots of wildness in Britain and Ireland. The chapters of the book are divided by natural landscape features rather than by geography, which instantly draws the reader closer to nature. The book begins in woodland, with the opening page reading more like poetry in the pastoral style of Robert Frost. Macfarlane’s prose style is precise and lyrical in its descriptions, delighting with phrases such as “The sky was a bright cold blue, fading to milk at its edges.”
Macfarlane’s journey through the wilderness is a joyous one, even in seemingly harsh conditions. His description of the moonlight shimmering on ice while sleeping on a mountain ridge even inspired this creature-comfort-lover to consider a nightwalk in the wilds somewhere (maybe when the weather improves!).
However, this is much more than a nature book with pretty descriptions – what makes the book so bewitching is how Macfarlane explores the relationship between man and landscape over time. Filled with joyous observations of how seemingly nondescript places are embedded on our own personal topographies of experience, Macfarlane observes “a process that was continuously at work throughout these islands, and presumably throughout the world: the drawing of happiness from landscapes both large and small.”
As his exploration draws to a close, Macfarlane comments that it “these nameless places might in fact be more important than the grander wild lands that for so many years had gripped my imagination.” What I’ll take from this is that I don’t need to be taking myself off on grand walks over rugged landscapes in extreme conditions – instead, I can simply observe the beauty of nature on a quiet sunrise walk in the local park, where the autumn leaves have carpeted the pathways a vivid flame of colours.
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