Tempera Wind

Andrew Newell Wyeth (1917 – 2009)
detail

 

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Published in: on July 23, 2017 at 1:24 am  Comments (2)  
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Boys In A Pasture

winslow homWinslow Homer (1836 – 1910)


To Ungive

A Windy Day 1850 by David Cox 1783-1859A Windy Day
David Cox (1783 – 1859) 

 


Robert Macfarlane
 —

In the coastal township of Shawbost on the Outer Hebridean island of Lewis, I was given an extraordinary document. It was entitled “Some Lewis Moorland Terms: A Peat Glossary”, and it listed Gaelic words and phrases for aspects of the tawny moorland that fills Lewis’s interior. Reading the glossary, I was amazed by the compressive elegance of its lexis, and its capacity for fine discrimination: a caochan, for instance, is “a slender moor-stream obscured by vegetation such that it is virtually hidden from sight”, while a feadan is “a small stream running from a moorland loch”, and a fèith is “a fine vein-like watercourse running through peat, often dry in the summer”. Other terms were striking for their visual poetry: rionnach maoim means “the shadows cast on the moorland by clouds moving across the sky on a bright and windy day”; èit refers to “the practice of placing quartz stones in streams so that they sparkle in moonlight and thereby attract salmon to them in the late summer and autumn”, and teine biorach is “the flame or will-o’-the-wisp that runs on top of heather when the moor burns during the summer”.

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.

It has become a habit, while travelling in Britain and Ireland, to note down place words as I encounter them: terms for particular aspects of terrain, elements, light and creaturely life, or resonant place names. I’ve scribbled these words in the backs of notebooks, or jotted them down on scraps of paper. Usually, I’ve gleaned them singly from conversations, maps or books. Now and then I’ve hit buried treasure in the form of vernacular word-lists or remarkable people – troves that have held gleaming handfuls of coinages, like the Lewisian “Peat Glossary”.

It seemed to me then that although we have fabulous compendia of flora, fauna and insects (Richard Mabey’s Flora Britannica and Mark Cocker’s Birds Britannica chief among them), we lack a Terra Britannica, as it were: a gathering of terms for the land and its weathers – terms used by crofters, fishermen, farmers, sailors, scientists, miners, climbers, soldiers, shepherds, poets, walkers and unrecorded others for whom particularised ways of describing place have been vital to everyday practice and perception. It seemed, too, that it might be worth assembling some of this terrifically fine-grained vocabulary – and releasing it back into imaginative circulation, as a way to rewild our language. I wanted to answer Norman MacCaig’s entreaty in his Luskentyre poem: “Scholars, I plead with you, / Where are your dictionaries of the wind … ?”

In the seven years after first reading the “Peat Glossary”, I sought out the users, keepers and makers of place words. In the Norfolk Fens I met Eric Wortley, a 98-year-old farmer who had worked his family farm throughout his long life, who had been twice to the East Anglian coast, once to Norwich and never to London, and whose speech was thick with Fenland dialect terms. I came to know the cartographer, artist and writer Tim Robinson, who has spent 40 years documenting the terrain of the west of Ireland: a region where, as he puts it, “the landscape … speaks Irish”. Robinson’s belief in the importance of “the language we breathe” as part of “our frontage onto the natural world” has been inspiring to me, as has his commitment to recording subtleties of usage and history in Irish place names, before they are lost forever: Scrios Buaile na bhFeadog, “the open tract of the pasture of the lapwings”; Eiscir, “a ridge of glacial deposits marking the course of a river that flowed under the ice of the last glaciation”.

Some of the terms I collected mingle oddness and familiarity in the manner that Freud calls uncanny: peculiar in their particularity, but recognisable in that they name something conceivable, if not instantly locatable. Ammil is a Devon term for the thin film of ice that lacquers all leaves, twigs and grass blades when a freeze follows a partial thaw, and that in sunlight can cause a whole landscape to glitter. It is thought to derive from the Old English ammel, meaning “enamel”, and is an exquisitely exact word for a fugitive phenomenon I have several times seen, but never before named. Shetlandic has a word, pirr, meaning “a light breath of wind, such as will make a cat’s paw on the water”. On Exmoor, zwer is the onomatopoeic term for “the sound made by a covey of partridges taking flight”. Smeuse is an English dialect noun for “the gap in the base of a hedge made by the regular passage of a small animal”; now I know the word smeuse, I notice these signs of creaturely commute more often.

I also relished synonyms – especially those that bring new energy to familiar entities. The variant English terms for icicle – aquabob (Kent), clinkerbell and daggler (Hampshire), cancervell (Exmoor), ickle (Yorkshire), tankle (Durham) and shuckle (Cumbria) – form a tinkling poem of their own. In Northamptonshire and East Anglia “to thaw” is to ungive. The beauty of this variant surely has to do with the paradox of thaw figured as restraint or retention, and the wintry notion that cold, frost and snow might themselves be a form of gift – an addition to the landscape that will in time be subtracted by warmth.

Many of the glossary words are, like ungive, memorably vivid. They function as topograms – tiny landscape poems, folded up inside verbs and nouns. I think of the Northamptonshire dialect verb to crizzle, for instance, a verb for the freezing of water that evokes the sound of a natural activity too slow for human hearing to detect (“And the white frost ’gins crizzle pond and brook”, wrote John Clare in 1821). When Gerard Manley Hopkins didn’t have a word for a natural phenomenon, he would simply – wonderfully – make one up: shivelight, for “the lances of sunshine that pierce the canopy of a wood”, or goldfoil for a sky lit by lightning in “zigzag dints and creasings”. Hopkins, like Clare, sought to forge a language that could register the participatory dramas of our relations with nature and landscape.

Not all place words are poetic or innocent, of course. Our familiar word forest designates not only a wooded region, but also an area of land set aside for hunting – as those who have walked through the treeless “forests” of Fisherfield and Corrour in Scotland will know. Forest – like many wood-words – is complicatedly tangled up in political histories of access and landownership. We inhabit a post-pastoral terrain, full of modification and compromise, and for this reason my glossaries began to fill up with “unnatural” language: terms from coastal sea defences (pillbox, bulwark, rock-armour), or soft estate, the Highways Agency term for those natural habitats that have developed along the verges of motorways and trunk roads.

I organised my growing word-hoard into nine glossaries, divided according to terrain-type: Flatlands, Uplands, Waterlands, Coastlands, Underlands, Northlands, Edgelands, Earthlands and Woodlands. The words came from dozens of languages, dialects, sub-dialects and specialist vocabularies: from Unst to the Lizard, from Pembrokeshire to Norfolk; from Norn and Old English, Anglo-Romani, Cornish, Welsh, Irish, Gaelic, Orcadian, Shetlandic and Doric, and numerous regional versions of English, through to Jérriais, the dialect of Norman still spoken on the island of Jersey.

It is clear that we increasingly make do with an impoverished language for landscape. A place literacy is leaving us. A language in common, a language of the commons, is declining. Nuance is evaporating from everyday usage, burned off by capital and apathy. The substitutions made in the Oxford Junior Dictionary – the outdoor and the natural being displaced by the indoor and the virtual – are a small but significant symptom of the simulated screen life many of us live. The terrain beyond the city fringe is chiefly understood in terms of large generic units (“field”, “hill”, “valley”, “wood”). It has become a blandscape. We are blasé, in the sense that Georg Simmel used that word in 1903, meaning “indifferent to the distinction between things”.

It matters because language deficit leads to attention deficit. As we deplete our ability to denote and figure particular aspects of our places, so our competence for understanding and imagining possible relationships with non-human nature is correspondingly depleted.
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/feb/27/robert-macfarlane-word-hoard-rewilding-landscape


Swearing Allegiance to The Particulars of the World

https://secretgardening.wordpress.com/2011/06/22/1154/

 

“Just as language has no longer anything in common with the thing it names, so the movements of most of the people who live in cities have lost their connexion with the earth; they hang, as it were, in the air, hover in all directions, and find no place where they can settle.”

Rainer Maria Rilke

 

Landscape with Dog

Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins (July 25, 1844 – June 25, 1916)

Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins (July 25,  1844 – June 25, 1916)

Paradise Valley

John La Farge, Paradise Valley

John La Farge (1835 – 1910)

http://intergenerational.wordpress.com/  –This is a link to the blog of the very kind person who nominated the Secret Gardener for the Versatile Blogger Award.
I don’t fully understand what it is, but I was incredibly encouraged and sort of proud to be mentioned in lists made by other nominees whose blogs are wonderful, so it’s exciting to be included in such a worthy group. Also a bit excruciating because–as the form my blog takes probably makes clear–I avoid using my own words whenever possible. I have put off responding publicly as long as I could by entreating my correspondent to lay out the rules, the requirements, the whys & wherefores, the intentions, the history–and whatever else I could think might guide me narrowly & directly into the correct approach to my responsibilities as a nominee—but was left to the basics I’d already come across, and the common sense that I ought to have tucked away somewhere. I’ll reveal to ‘intergenerational’  seven probably pretty unamusing things about my unremarkable self – but what I really wish I knew how to do effectively is present 15 deserving blogs to SG readers, and I’m afraid I will simply emphasize the circular nature of this process, because the blogs I read are the ones which have appeared somewhere along the line (my links, for instance) already;  because we have interests in common, because I admire them, and because they have been recognized more widely. However:

I have to begin with one -having to do with gardening only if you want to get mired in metaphors about cultivating the soul, and I am not accustomed to discussing the soul. But if I believed I had one–I’d want to learn to cultivate it so that it bloomed like hers:
http://roolily.wordpress.com/

For the beauty I need, but here applied in service of the scholarship I envy (but am too undisciplined to acquire)– a really exhilarating combination– and for their ability to clarify & put into context the accumulated information; enormously edifying & satisfying:
http://bibliodyssey.blogspot.com/
http://streetsofsalem.com/
http://gardenhistorygirl.blogspot.com/

For the thrilling sense of somehow being in the midst of the art-creation process:
http://paintlater.wordpress.com/

To tell the truth -it isn’t the blog at all, but the radio show that I love. But as a doorway:
http://being.publicradio.org/index.shtml

Interiors–the paintings I always want to enter. And the books I found by chance in libraries and reveled in all alone–wondering why I’d never heard the authors’ names.
Turns out there’s someone in London who’s been putting them together for years now:
http://thepersephonepost.blogspot.com/

Pictures. Color: Delicious. – Lovely talk about it: More delicious:
http://venetianred.net/about/

How to really, truly get things done in the garden–the right way.
http://www.rootsimple.com/p/about.html

And what bliss is this? Thanks to Streets of Salem blogroll I was introduced to someone whose studies encompass current passions– the 17th century, early science, philosophy–and the original and enduring love- literature:
http://airswatersplaces.wordpress.com/about/

The miracle &  marvels of the brain:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/neurophilosophy

A geologist/ environmental scientist/ teacher, and someone clever enough to live in a spectacularly beautiful spot on this earth,
unpacks, unfolds, and spreads in front of us each day of the voyage of The Beagle as recorded by Darwin–in real time:
http://beagleproject.wordpress.com/

And, because if you are a woman –or even a half-decent human being– she is on your side:
http://lispeerysview.blogspot.com/

This has been hard. And I’m not much out and about–not even virtually.
So I am going to reserve one spot for another discovery; perhaps it will prompt one.

Thanks to all of you for existing – in such a realm as this might be,
and for acknowledging the existence of the Secret Gardener–such as it is.

Darker Spaces

WhistlerJames Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834 – 1903)

Far Out

Beyond the dark cartoons
Are darker spaces where
Small cloudy nests of stars
Seem to float on air.

These have no proper names:
Men out alone at night
Never look up at them
For guidance or delight,

For such evasive dust
Can make so little clear:
Much less is known than not,
More far than near.

Philip Larkin