The Old Ways – R. Macfarlane

As I’ve mentioned, I don’t really like fiction; well this can’t particularly be categorized as fiction… This book is a work of art; words that do no more than paint the loveliest of portraits in the mind. I absolutely loved it.

“…subtle ways in which we are shaped by the landscapes through which we move”

“There’s night and day, brother, both sweet things; sun, moon and stars, brother, all sweet things; there’s likewise a wind on the heath. Life is very sweet, brother; who would wish to die?”

“John Clare was fond of footpaths because they were ‘rich & joyfull to the mind’: ways of walking that were also ways of thinking… William Hazlitt walked radically… acclaiming foopaths as lines of communication… by which the flame of civil and religious liberty is kept alive.”

I’ve never thought of footpaths so richly before.

“…she found herself not walking ‘up’ but ‘into’ the mountains. These are the consequences of the old ways with which I feel easiest: walking as enabling sight and thought rather than encouraging retreat and escape; paths as offering not only means of traversing space, but also ways of feeling, being and knowing”

“Walking was a means of personal myth-making, but it also shaped his everyday longings: he not only thought on paths and of them, but also with them.”

“I have long been fascinated by how people understand themselves using landscape, by the topographies of self we carry with us and by the maps we make with which to navigate these interior terrains. We think in metaphors drawn from place and sometimes those metaphors do not only adorn our thought, but actively produce it. Landscape, to borrow George Eliot’s phrase, can ‘enlarge the imagined range for self to move in’. As I envisage it, landscape projects into us not like a jetty or peninsula, finite and bounded in its volume and reach, but instead as a kind of sunlight, flickeringly unmappable in its plays yet often quickening and illuminating. We are adept, if occasionally embarrassed, at saying what we make of places – but we are far less good at saying what places make of us. For some time now it has seemed to me that the two questions we should ask of any strong landscape are these: firstly, what do I know when I am in this place that I can know nowhere else? And then, vainly, what does this place know of me that I cannot know of myself?”

This book is full of the loveliest of passages 🙂

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