The Great Events?

55BCE, 597CE, 793CE, 1066CE, 1282CE, 1534CE, 1588CE, 1649CE, 1707CE, 1714CE, 1922CE…  pick your date for an event or series of events that define England, or Britain. There are others, and the ones I have chosen may say more about my poor historical knowledge or prejudice than anything. There are also occurrences which pass without comment at the time or which we cannot date certainly because no record exists: when really does Britain cease to be Roman? Or when did the last wolf die? Why does one date matter? Will the referendum on 23rd June 2016 be eclipsed by a final unequivocal date or will that be the one history picks as the The Date We Left Europe? The Date Things Changed?

We cannot dictate, and maybe can’t predict with certainty. Perhaps something else will intervene to take precedence – the failure of electricity, a catastrophic event such as the melting of the polar ice? What does strike me is that this simplistic history suggests that one date was important, and that the messiness before or after are somehow lesser occurrences that don’t matter. And that the massive changes were not contested, opposed, or that those who did contest were ridiculed, sacked, sidelined, imprisoned, killed. I feel as if I signed the Terms and Conditions for C21st without reading them, and I think of Tom Holland’s brilliant book on the Millennium, where in effect Western Europe did try and sign particular Ts&Cs only to find a new millennium just as complex and hard. A single date just doesn’t work. 1066 is one date: do we (and I need to exclude historians here, of course) consider the harrying of the North?

The counsellors in the decades/centuries of Christian consolidation; subjugated  Saxons after the death of Harold in 1066; recusant Catholics – all these people would attest that these great events are never simple. These “events that shaped Britain” were the cause of pain and unquiet: families divided, economic disturbance… and we are seeing the same in our time, in ways I never thought to see, never wanted to see. “Project Fear,” in which the UK suffers terrible upheaval, may not come to pass, or it may – but this evening I am wondering quite what will come. I suspect it’s going to be big, and an unpleasant change. I am gloomy, and predict a rowing back from liberties won, well-being improved. I feel the sharp tug of solastalgia.

Why is this part of this blog? Over the next few days I will have the pleasure of being outside with learners of various kinds. Some theory, lots of practice: a challenge for me, but a very welcome one. I will be making a plea – directly and indirectly – for the pleasure of being outside to be seen as a driver of a life well lived. Ecological wrongdoing in the Anthropocene will impact on people’s wellbeing; economic changes, greed and “austerity” planning may mean that parks and woodland will change. But I hope that people – maybe the young people I meet or the families they will work with – will still see the energy of plants and bugs and the movement of clouds and look for joy and delight and maybe transcendence.

Because all these things are transient, this Jeremiad included. And I think that with the little time I have, I want to help people find joy in the small things, and see our interconnectedness with bigger ones:

I want you to walk out into the fields
where the water is shining, and the rice has risen.
I want you to stand there, far from the white tablecloth.
I want you to fill your hands with the mud, like a blessing.

Yes, Mary Oliver does it again, this time in her poem Rice.

Underland Thoughts II

More selections and thoughts arising from them as I revisit Rob Macfarlane’s Underland. Again, quotations will dominate, with the uncomfortable balancing act of celebrating a great work and wanting to preserve its voice, yet not wanting simply to reproduce it. If you have got this far with me and haven’t bought the book, maybe you should. I am tempted to buy another copy and have it interleaved so I can take note after note.

To back track a little. The previous post left the author in a storm by the caves of ancient cave art, where his journey is remembered

…mostly as metals. Silver of the pass. Iron of the bay and its clouds. Rare gold of the sky. Zinc of the storm in its full fury. Bronze and copper of the sea to the south as I escape.   p254*

We are still, in ch 9, in Norway, now looking at the Maelstrom,

the underland of the sea   p291

and the complexities of the economics of oil and fishing. The pace changes, and human characters – never far from the narrative throughout most of Underland – are more important. Human geography – and our need to sanitise our use of resources:

Those industries [extracting oil] understand the market need for alienated labour, hidden infrastructure and the strategic concealment of both the slow violence of environmental degradation and the quick violence of accidents.   p311

I had not heard the term solastalgia, the “distress cause by environmental change,” so this is eye-opening:

the unhappiness of people whose landscapes were being transformed about them by forces beyond their control… We might consider John Clare a solastalgic poet, witnessing his native Northamptonshire countryside disrupted by enclosure in the 1810s… a modern uncanny, in which a familiar place is rendered unrecognizable by climate change or corporate action: the home becomes unhomely around its inhabitants.   p317

and we walk a shoreline of human detritus.

Nature is no longer only a remote peak shining in the sun or a raptor hunting over birch woods – it is also tidelines thickened with drift plastic, or methane clathrates decomposing over millions of square miles of warming permafrost.   p321

Kulusk now, in Greenland, and the global melt releasing anthrax and revealing hidden military bases.

unweder – unweather  p334

and

uggianaqtuq – to behave strangely  p335

and because this section is about exploration of the underland of Greenland, Rob gives us a meditation on ice:

Ice has a memory. It remembers in detail and it remembers for a million years or more.

Ice remembers forest fires and rising sea. Ice remembers the chemical composition of the air around the start of the last Ice Age, 110,000 years ago. It remembers  how many days of sunshine fell upon it in a summer 50,000 years ago.  It remembers the temperature in the clouds at a moment of snowfall early in the Holocene… It remembers the smelting boom of the Romans…

Ice has a memory and the colour of this memory is blue.   p337-8

And then we are off into a glacial landscape where orange lichens and emerald leaves of dwarf willow stand out. The boom of breaking ice, and in the Northern Lights

The mountains shoot jade searchlights into space.     p346

Rob descends into a moulin, a meltwater shaft in a glacier,

a portal giving access to the blue underland of ice.   p369

and witnesses – with a vivid, almost Chthulhu-like horror a short quotation could not reproduce – the upsurge of a massive berg, ice broken from a glacier.

The penultimate section, ch 12, is no less shocking: our exploration of the “tomb” (RMc’s word) or deep storage facility for our nuclear waste:

The tombs that we have constructed to receive these remains are known as geological repositories, and they are the Cloaca Maxima – the Great Sewer – of our species.    p400

They are designed to outlast us, something I find appalling. And even though much of what we create will outlast the individual maker, this is legacy on an altogether different scale.  Death haunts so much of this book – echoing the human pattern of burial to preserve or to conceal – until we meet the challenge:

What legacies will we leave behind, not only for the generations that succeed us, but also for the epochs and species that will come after ours? Are we being good ancestors?     p410

How do we tell these people/these creatures of a time to come not to disturb the toxic giant we are interring?

Oh, Underland has so much more, even in my own reading, IMG_0149to highlight, to praise, to explore, to discuss, but this is a book to read slowly and then to return to. These notes are for me, really, and some of what I see or connect with seems nefas to share here.   As a final non-sharing, I will say that the last, short section, a return home like in The Wild Places, reduced me to tears.

________________

*Page references are to Macfarlane, R (2019). Underland: a deep time journey. London: Hamish Hamilton.

NB The Guardian has a resource of stuff they have produced around Robert Macfarlane, which includes his own very thoughtful illustrated essay arising out of Underland.

Underland Thoughts I

I’m not sure this isn’t really something for a Wild Spaces Wild Magic research page rather than a couple of blog posts, nor am I entirely sure what I can add to the massive work that is Rob Macfarlane’s Underland,  a moving, detailed, Bible Moralisée C66033DA-9011-4149-85C3-F6FC8F658B52that looks at landscape and souterane and human uses for and vision of the spaces we find or create.

Then don’t.

OK, instead I’m going to put together some of the images and lines that give me most to think about, whether in terms of the brilliance of their wordsmithing or because their message is worth pondering.

That’s not to say loads more isn’t wonderful: just go read it and make your mind up yourself.  I’m not copying the book out or appropriating the ideas: mine is an idiosyncratic selection (a bit of commentary may sometimes set a context), a few lines from a massive work that deserves a good slow read.  I said in my initial review on Goodreads how this could be a scripture for our time; perhaps this is my Lectio Divina.

____________

There is a lot to ponder in the opening pages:

I have often noticed how claustrophobia – much more so than vertigo – retains its disturbing power even when being experienced indirectly as narrative or description. p12*

This is the point at which Rob caught me, by moving from this into Garner’s claustrophobic description of the Alderley tunnels in Weirdstone and then into Gilgamesh.

Our ‘flat perspectives’ feel increasingly inadequate to the deep worlds we inhabit, and to the deep time legacies we are leaving. p13

then

…to think in deep time can be a means not of escaping our troubled present, but rather of re-imagining it; countermanding its quick greeds and furies with older, slower stories of making an unmaking. p15

The second chapter, Burial, is set in Britain.

We are often more tender to the dead than to the living, though it is the living who need our tenderness most. p27

It concerns cave-repository of the dead, but also the tragic death of Neil Moss, an early autumn descent in the Mendips to where

Language is crushed p49

Ch 3 moves to the intense research hidden from the noise of particles in Yorkshire, linked in the book to the network of (nearby and further afield, now ruined) Cistercian Abbeys

in which prayers were offered to a presence disinclined to disclose itself to the usual beseechings p67.

R S Thomas’s voice echoing quite literally de profundis, as Rob moves us past the Komodo Dragon-like mining machinery to a discussion of the term Anthropocene, and how we have reached here. This is one of my favourite passages, and will have to stand for so many:

We all carry trace fossils within us – the marks that the dead and the missed leave behind. Handwriting on an envelope; the wear on a wooden step left by footfall; the memory of a familiar gesture by someone gone, repeated so often it has worn its own groove in both air and mind: these are trace fossils too. Sometimes, in fact, all that is left behind by loss is trace – and sometimes empty volume can be easier to hold in the heart than presence itself.  p 79

If someone finds this blog and is wondering what to read at my funeral, that’s the passage.

The wood-wide web, discussed as we explore Epping Forest in Ch 4 is an idea so powerful I am still digesting it. Some beautiful, tender images and amazing ideas. The wonderfully named Merlin Sheldrake, and Rob’s own meditation on roots and language where

The real underland of language is not the roots of single words, but rather the soil of grammar and syntax, where habits of speech and therefore also habits of thought settle and interact over long periods of time. p112

And so on to Paris and the catacombs, for me the most terrifying and claustrophobic exploration in the book. The cataphiles and Hell Well. The Salle du Drapeau. London, and in a slate mine in Wales

a carchive, a slewing slope of wrecks p166

cars dumped to save scrappage.

Death is never far away, and we travel past a not-quite deserted Mithraeum to swimming deep in a submerged system, where a tunnel beckons the author:

The pull of the mouth through that eerily clear water was huge. Just as standing on the edge of a tower one feels drawn to fall, so I experienced a powerful longing to swim into the mouth until my air ran beautifully out. p200

Beautifully. The challenge to find beauty is not always about death and danger: Ch 6 ends with a lyrical description of an Adriatic beach at night where a chill current recalls the snow-fed starless rivers Rob has visited; in ch 7 a near-naked Macfarlane negotiates

the snowmelt bite of the water  p232

But the travelogue is not always beautiful, either: there are executions commemorated in Slovenian valleys, and much later there are warnings of the waste storage the  Anthropocene demands…

Even in the most overtly spiritual section, where we travel to visit the cave paintings of Lofoten, we are not far from a curious sense of disaster and mystical experience. He ties together the discoveries of Lascaux with the emergence of the news of the Nazi Death Camps, and on leaving the red-painted dancers Rob has

a strong sense of being watched…

What did I see in the dark? A shadow-play of pasts, events refusing sequence, the fingertip drawing its lines through time far from the well-lit world, there in the unfathomable cave. This was a place that absorbed those visitors who crossed its threshold – as it had me, another in the long history of meaning-seekers and meaning-makers in its shadows.  p284

What happens next is so deep, and it feels to me so important, I can’t write it out: we see Rob in mourning, and the tutelary genius loci is at best an ambiguous figure. That “strong sense of being watched,” the sentient landscape, brings me from the northerly storms to the Peak District, to Thursbitch and Ludchurch, and since this post started with Garner, I thnk it right to end it here.


*page references are to the Hamish Hamilton hardback, London 2019

More Dragons: St George’s Day

Ignoring the debates about how much the Church has baptized pagan celebrations, part of me wants to ask people to back off the appropriation of Christian festivals for secular ends, from the feast of All Uncomfortable Family Obligations (25th December) to Chocolate Bunny Day (which this year fell earlier this month).    It is perverse of me, I expect, to push the fact that today is celebrated by many/most Western Christian Churches as St George’s Day, the solemnity that remembers the martyrdom of a saint from the Middle East whose cultus spread during the crusades as a sort of military demi-god. The feast has moved because the week (“octave”) after Easter is deemed to be so special it clears the calendar of other celebrations. I shall not comment on the crusader link, and for now I’ll skirt round those other ways in which tales of George and his emblems and cross have supported or excused violence against the enemies of England or Western Christendom.  It is my fervent hope that, as I said earlier this year, those dragons are in the end going to burn themselves out, but today I find myself in some doubt.59610823_10161841658920341_2877297955658792960_n

Just briefly, however, to reflect on whose saint George is. Not in terms of whose patron saint he might be, if that means who he might support in a battle or a football match, or whatever (all of which seem pretty empty to me, although I recognise the power of Shakespeare both at the time of his writing Henry V and of Laurence Olivier’s stirring speech in his film version), but in terms of tradition.   Tradition is  powerful thing, of course, and the St George tradition renews itself through the institutions of English monarchy, flags on church buildings – and more recently by appropriation of a mythic, medieval past by right-wingers that reminds me uncomfortably of Romanita in Mussolini’s celebration of Vergil. Mind you, Vergil’s own plea to a mythic past is also open to exploration…

What are we left with?  Lots of English images of churches, flags, the rolling countryside of the story of a land fit for heroes that has given rise, indirectly, to the powerful love of landscape and nature that might yet save our environment? Shall I wind up the gramophone and start the Vaughan Williams or Holst … and go on a search for a Land of Hope and Glory of 1220, 1420 or 1950 that never really existed?  It is not to be denied that imagery, music, tradition are key to understanding identity, and these myths are important. Above is a nod, in some form, to the traditional iconography in the red(ish) rose in my back garden this morning, out early, out in time for St George’s day (the white Yorkshire rose is hanging back, I note). So when is St George’s Day? Does the tradition of 23rd April stand, and if we get a new national holiday, that will be it? Or is it something for Christians, with our own calendars, celebrating a saint from such uncertain past histories we are unsure who we are celebrating, or for people looking for an identity?  Do Christians cede St George to people in search of a mascot, a symbol of a (xenophobic, possibly violent and unthinking) nationalism? What did I celebrate when I opened my breviary today?

I have to wonder if what I celebrated was not St George, and certainly not Englishness, but a curmudgeon’s hankering after a faith identity that separates itself – or has been separated – from a nationalist identity, and this is born, in part, from the Reformation script that meant Catholics were seen as in some way foreign. Here we are at the us-and-them of identity: we are us because we are not them. Perhaps this is why a combative dragon-slayer fits so well.  Perhaps we are all looking at mythic pasts for identity guides.  Uncomfortable thoughts on a fine spring morning.

Omens

It’s a spring day as March comes to its “out like a lamb” ending. The sun is shining and I’m out on Warneford Meadow, treading through tufty grass, and along paths worn by commuters. It is our local Green and a valuable space, with a rich and (I suspect) growing biodiversity.   I am one of a number of visitors, human and non-human – and as I trot down one of the paths I see a bunch of magpies. The Opies record the rhyme as:

One for sorrow
Two for mirth
Three for a wedding
Four for a death.

Lots of other versions are on record, testimony to the respect  people (maybe) had for these striking birds as messengers.  The Boke of Saint Albans has, in its lists of the Compaynys of beestys and fowlys has a tiding of [mag]pies (but beware: I’m not sure I trust a list with  Superfluyte of Nonnys or Noonpacience of Wyves)…

One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret,
Never to be told.
Eight for a wish
Nine for a kiss
Ten a surprise you must not to miss.

(It received a boost by being the theme tune for the Thames TV production of Magpie, ITV’s Blue Peter Rival, when perhaps other customs and rhymes have fallen by the wayside – but that began when  I was the key audience: a long time ago, now.)

Back to Warneford Meadow as I slog over a possible Roman settlement and try not to think about the Quis Est Iste Qui Venit of such a run.   Nine magpies, then as I approach it’s four then seven and then just one. What do we make of portents whose mobility makes the I Ching look solid?  Well, of course, we don’t, in general; it’s a bit of mind play while I run.

I remember that as I qualified as a teacher, the National Curriculum was just coming in, and the course leader was ending his goodbye speech to the PGCE with “May you live in interesting times.”  He did not foresee where we might be today: if we were only contending with conflicting views about curriculum that would be enough, but we have Schoolsweek announcing scandal upon scandal, Unionist bands and racists openly on the streets in London vying for publicity (and no, they don’t get links) with crowds and crowds of people with more politeness and less threatened violence, a Parliamentary struggle the likes of which I have never seen before… These are interesting times, but not in a good way. There are no signs or portents to match all of this rubbish.

And while I trundle my sixty-something way and wonder about what the list of magpie numbers might portend (I really did get the one above the other week), part of my mind is wondering: instead of nines and sevens am I just seeing magpie after magpie after magpie? Sorrow and sorrow and sorrow?  I don’t think I have ever felt gloomier about the state of my country and my profession.

So instead of corvid fortune telling, I will end with part of my play list for running:

Nina Simone whose version of Billy Taylor’s anthem to Freedom has been a lifesaver this winter.

And while we’re at it, her singing of Randy Newman’s great hymn to compassion.

Sod the magpies, stuff the omens: this is what we need.

Persisting Fairy Tales

Once (of course) upon a time, there lived three disciplines, and they lived in a cottage in the woods or possibly on separate parts of a campus. The Big one was called Anthropology, the Middle-sized one was called Folklore and the Teeny-tiny one was called Children’s Literature…

And one day Alan Garner and a whole load of other people threw open to all of them (rather more than three!)  the question

Where are your stories?

That question, which he asks in story-form as well as lectures, might be seen as being as disruptive as the breaking-and-entering “delinquent little tot” Goldilocks’ intrusion into the bears’ cottage. In Boneland – not Children’s Literature, I know – Garner asks his storytelling ancestor this massive question about the roles of story and culture. The Man says he “dreams in Ludcruck…the cave of the world” and in response to the question about stories, begins with an origin tale about Crane. The Man’s stories (which are, after all, Garner’s stories) continue to ring true for the human newcomers to what we now might call the Peak District, and so his dancing and singing are not in vain: the stories are handed on. Garner talks about this relationship of place and story passionately, eloquently. They become origin stories, spirit stories, and mix with concerns through the ages to give Garner his alfar and his Morrigan. This kind of reconstruction and continuity gives a lot of power to the way Garner (and Townsend and Rowling and Pullman and Lewis….) themselves tell stories, drawing some of their authority (if that’s the word) from storytelling of past times. If there is continuity here it is because folklore scholarship has enabled a sort of  continuity of sources. Leafield’s Cure-all Water, its Black Dog, all the Black Dogs maybe, and the standing stones at Rollright and elsewhere are examined by writers such as Katherine Briggs and Neil Phillip and often re-presented by Briggs, Lively, Rowling et al. One form of continuity.

We see another in the engaged and detailed work exploring landscape and language in Rob Macfarlane’s Landmarks which, as he writes of Richard Jeffries, is

fascinated by the strange braidings of the human and the natural.

Here, language is seen to contain elements of older land use, beliefs and practices. Sparrow-beaks explain fossilised sharks teeth and a tuft of grass looking like a bull’s forehead is bull-pated in Northamptonshire.

I have written before about folk tales that explain places, and how these “fairy” tales do provide a sort of continuity, although I think that possibly the syncretism of European story and British folk tales brings its own obscurity: Garner is on his own ground by Seven Firs and Goldenstone, but he is not suggesting that le Petit Chaperon Rouge lived in Congleton.

Where we get into trickier areas is when folklore is pulled into service elsewhere. Gargoyles and grotesques become evidence of a continuing belief in goblins; stories of boggarts become somehow real. I have looked behind me in darkening woods, been impatient to leave a lonely valley, and must acknowledge the pull of this argument, just as Garner steps (nimbly) between his own writing and rural practices and traditions in discussing the roots of his great novel Thursbitch. This talk is chilling, enlightening, inspirational – so that Big Bad Wolves, the Green Knight, Garner’s vision of story and space walking together pepper this blog:  turn but a stone and start a þurs. 

But can this is universalised?   I suppose my problem comes down to how much is understood but not spoken and certainly not (until recently) written. Can we see a Jack-in-The-Green and know for certainty this is the same as the carving on that roof boss, and that this is a continuing belief?  Can we really link Star Carr and Abbots Bromley? Did my great-grandma know quite who she might be warding off by crossing the fire-irons at night?

I would love to see those links clearly. We have tantalising hints, shadows, half-stories (Katherine Briggs’ doctoral work documenting the continuing traditions in literature in folklore across the Interregnum is fascinating) that might lead us in all sorts of directions, and Garner’s defence of place and story should not be overlooked. Rob Macfarlane’s “strange braidings” go between town and country but also between present and past, and how far back they link and join we can speculate  – but we cannot know. Briggs puts it well when she comments on the recurring concerns in Arthurian stories:

A remarkable thing about the Arthurian stories is the way in which primitive themes reappear amongst the most sophisticated embroideries. It seems as if the matter of Britain had a magnetic quality which attracted every type of myth towards it

This “magnetic quality,” it seems to me, is a good image of how Children’s Literature, especially when it explores themes that themselves arise from traditional tales, draws to itself fears and triumphs from former times. Piers Torday’s There May be A Castle is a good example, where quests and knights and woods and danger are explored: Abi Elphinstone, too, works magic here. Perhaps our best bet is to see that similar concerns – fears of the outside as well as celebrating its joys, the worrying menace of wolfish men, women placed outside the Christian context by their (sometimes useful) cunning, half-seen wanderers in a twilight wood –   continue to be represented in cult and place and story.

Apologies for the weak ending here: I think what it means for me is that, studying Children’s Literature I have to pay due attention to Anthropology and Folklore as fundamental to my understanding of so many works I want to study. You can see it clear as day in Garner’s Elidor or Weirdstone – but what about other books – younger children’s books, for example –  I am trying to look at, where the outdoors is a challenging place?

 

 

 

Wolf Moon

I missed the superbloodwolfmoon thing this week: cloud hid it in Oxford, although lots of amazing pictures emerged around the place. I tried, in compensation, to write a blog post linking back to my earlier explorations of Wolves and Red Riding Hood (my “Jack Zipes schitck” as someone described it) and the stuff I mull over a lot around outdoors and storytelling and wolves, and maybe (although this is where I stumbled and tripped) on the Black Dog of depression, nipping my heels nearly all this Christmas.

However, the death of Mary Oliver prompted me to buy a collection of her poems and comment on them. Social Media had all sorts going on – as is the way, some friendly and some not-so-friendly – but with today’s cold weather in England, I thought I would cite one of her bleaker pieces as apt for the weather and the moon:

Wolf Moon

Now in the season
of hungry mice,
cold rabbits
lean owls
hunkering with their lamp-eyes
in the leafless lanes
in the needled dark;
now is the season
when the kittle fox
comes to town
in the blue valley
or early morning;
now is the season
of iron rivers,
bloody crossings,
flaring winds,
birds frozen
in their tent of weeds,
their music spent
and blown like smoke
to the blue of the sky;
now is the season
of the hunter Death;
with his belt of knives,
his black snowshoes,
he means to cleanse
the earth of fat;
his gray shadows
are out and running – under
the moon, the pines,
down snow-filled trails they carry
the red whips of their music,
their footfalls quick as hammers,
from cabin to cabin,
from bed to bed,
from dreamer to dreamer.

Superb, and as bleak as the landscape and weather she is writing about.  It’s over ten years since I began to explore children’s literature as means to look at the outdoors, and literature continues to be a lens I use to look at how we react to landscape. My brother, I note (as I type), is in the snow at the Cat and Fiddle – close to Thursbitch in the snow. I think of Jack Turner, and the car off the road we saw in the fog by there:  worlds collide.

In Wolf Moon Oliver picks up the themes of Death and cold –  “his belt of knives,” “his gray shadows” –  in an almost Grendel (ettin or þurs)-like way; this is a Big Thing to terrify, with the wolves’ howling as the “red whips of their music” disturb the night. Because it is (perhaps) a simple point to make, but I feel it needs making: Mary Oliver is a good poet, not always writing comfortable nature poetry about childhood or inspirational lines about

I was thinking
so this is how you swim inward,
so this is how you flow outward,
so this is how you pray.

Five A.M. in the Pinewoods

and her sharp eye and the writing that comes from it is able to look at the aspects of nature that humanity finds inimical – and has, in some ways dedicated a lot of its evolutionary history to conquering.  She is able to write about the “roaring flamboyance” of the sea and the “hallowed lime” of owl pellets: the memento mori we can gain outdoors  that I mentioned in my earlier post.

The response of literature to the winter is itself interesting, and writers such as J R R Tolkien (think Caradhras the cruel) and Kenneth Grahame give vivid pictures of its dangers: although snow in The Wind in the Willows is softening, almost redemptive, the creepiness of Mole’s wintry experiences in the Wild Wood are very expressive “Then the faces began…Then the whistling began…Then the pattering began.” The winter wood; the dark wood; img_1355the wild wood as evening closes in. More modern writers have given us some great examples of snowy landscapes and confronting death: Philip Pullman works the theme extremely well in Northern Lights; Michelle Paver is terrifying in her adult book Dark Matter but also richly descrtiptive as Torak  battles the limits of human (and animal) endurance in the snow, and (again for adults – I wonder if this is significant) Garner deals with death and loss in the ice in Boneland, a death that stalks both strands of the book in different ways.

It seems to me that the immediate reaction is to see “outdoors” as somewhere positive, just in the same way as Mary Oliver is seen as uplifting – but we take on these broad judgments without thinking at our peril: literature does well to remind us that the outdoors is not always friendly, as sudden blizzards by Cat’s Tor can show.

Hope you’re OK, Mark.