Language & Landscape #30DaysWild – Day 23

#StayWild Tip: Read a wild book. Find a book about wild creatures & read outside.

“Books , like landscapes, leave their marks in us. Certain books, though, like certain landscapes, stay with us even when we left them, changing not just our weathers but our climates.”
― Robert Macfarlane, Landmarks

I don’t get much time to read for fun these days due to my Psychology studies, but during my summer hiatus I am afforded the opportunity to catch up on some reading. I stopped reading fiction a few years ago after deciding that, if I’m going to devote leisure time to a pursuit then I may as well be learning something at the same time.

One of the books I am reading at the moment is Landmarks, by Robert McFarlane, and it has already become one of my most-loved; I had already been captivated by the audio book version.

Landmarks is one of those books that – quite literally- changes your outlook on life, especially if you are curious, imaginative, and already enjoy outdoor pursuits. The book examines the links between language and the land, how they have evolved together, and provides a lexicon of language, from the lost to the local. It delves into the history and traditions of dialect as they relate to location, and uncovers a wealth of words, some of which offer such precise and apt descriptions of places, phenomena and features that it is difficult to believe that such vocabulary could ever have fallen out of fashion.

“Such words: migrant birds, arriving from distant places with story and metaphor caught in their feather”.

― Robert Macfarlane, Landmarks

Some of my favorite words that McFarlane has uncovered (or rediscovered) include smeuse – the holes in vegetation at the base of hedgerows caused by the passage of small animals, and bleb – bubbles of air trapped in the frozen icy surface of a pond. Both of these I have seen, yet never had a satisfactory word or definition beyond mere description. By naming them I notice them, and the world becomes a rich and more detailed place as a consequence.

It is an uplifting book which mines deeply into the past for mithril-like words. Gems of language pour from McFarlane’s poetic, rhythmic prose like jewels from a silken bag. The audio version, exceptionally well narrated by Roy McMillan, inspires a desire to deploy these new definitions at every turn, to share them and treasure them.

It is however, also subtly melancholic. Our national trove of language is diminishing in the face of modernity, and McFarlane laments it’s passing. As it does so our ability to connect with nature and the wild is weakened.

The same summer I was on Lewis, a new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary was published. A sharp-eyed reader noticed that there had been a culling of words concerning nature. Under pressure, Oxford University Press revealed a list of the entries it no longer felt to be relevant to a modern-day childhood. The deletions included acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip,cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe,nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow. The words taking their places in the new edition included attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity,chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player and voice-mail. As I had been entranced by the language preserved in the prose‑poem of the “Peat Glossary”, so I was dismayed by the language that had fallen (been pushed) from the dictionary. For blackberry, read Blackberry.

― Robert Macfarlane, Landmarks

The extract above saddens me tremendously, and should serve to caution to us all against “unwilding” and the loss of further words, for words serve to keep nature and landscape alive and connected to our thoughts. We must do all we can to engage younger generations, and sustain the  deep connection between the words and the wilds.

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