A brief addendum to my thoughts on joy and nostalgia in Advent, at the Solstice, and at Christmas, now nearly upon us. What follows is not my thought but from the best book I have read this year; Robert McFarlane’s Underland, a book so magisterial ( I know I use this word a lot) I keep returning to the idea of it as a new way of looking at spirituality and landscape. This quotation must therefore stand as a codicil to the posts on his book (such as this one) and to the post on the Solstice.
In this section Rob is visiting the most northerly cave paintings we know, in Norway. After a mammoth struggle to arrive at the caves he discerns the outlines of dancers:
￼￼￼￼And when I open my eyes and look again, there is – yes, there, there in the flicker of a line that is not only of the rock’s making… And there is another, and another, here, a dozen or more of them, spectral but still present now, leaping and dancing on the rock, arms outstretched and legs wide, forms shifting and tensing as I blink.…
These figures are ghosts all dancing together, and I am a ghost too, and there is a conviviality to them, to us, to the thousands of years for which they have been dancing here together.
Dancing together. In fiction, Cole and Merriman, Will and Tolly; in history people we can name, people whose names we guess, people whose names (and beliefs) we can never know dance together:
All the long echoes sing the same delight.
So thank you to the nature writers, nature activists, ecologists, historians, manuscript scholars, poets, fantasy writers who help us dance. And thank you to the ghosts that dance with us this chill Christmas.