I’m seduced by landscapes. I’m enthralled by them.
Camping next to the Missouri River in Montana for most of the summer, Bob quietly tied fly-fishing flies while Angus slept near. A book sat on the table, a gift that arrived in our mailbox shortly before we left Idaho, given to him by a close friend. Not planning on looking at the book because I had brought along other things to read, I picked it up, thumbed through it, and immediately became obsessed with it. The beautifully written Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane is a gorgeous book on the language of landscapes and nature. It’s a collection of words drawn from dozens of languages and dialects of the British Isles to describe land, nature, and weather. It’s a passionate defense of nature as well as the importance of reflecting nature in language.
The book’s epigraph resonated with me and I’ve been unable to get it out of my head. “Scholars, I plead with you, Where are your dictionaries of the wind, the grasses? ” Norman MacCaig (1983)
There are too many definitions of words in the book to pick my favorites, but one that I like is zwer, “the whizzing noise made by a covey of partridges as they break suddenly from cover. “
Robert Macfarlane writes, “Without a name made in our mouths, an animal or a place struggles to find purchase in our minds or our hearts.”
The Oxford Junior Dictionary chopped words when reprinting its latest edition. Words like beaver, heron, minnow, dandelion and willow are now gone and they added chatroom, cut & paste, voicemail, and biodegradable instead. According to recent studies from The Nature of Americans, children are spending less time outdoors and in wild places.
We need to keep the words for the wild things. We need to make sure we never forget these words.
While out upland bird hunting up and down the steep mountains, I get easily distracted. I’ll take my gloves off to touch with my bare hands the rough surface of the basalt rocks covered in patches of lichen shaded rusty orange and bright chartreuse green. I’ll gaze up into the sky to watch the bald eagles or red-tailed hawks catching the wind currents. I’ll push my way through the wild sunflowers with their brilliant yellow and delicate petals. I’ll slalom through the sea of sage with their three-lobed silvery green leaves, grabbing them in handfuls and pressing them up to my nose to inhale the bitter and earthly fragrance. I’ll stop to look at the knee-high dry grasses in the late autumn that show signs of new life as blades of green poke up through the dirt. In the winter, I’ll stop and look down at fresh snow and examine the swirls that the grasses made on the surface on a very windy day or admire the hoarfrost on a cold morning hunt.
During these moments of admiring the wild things, sometimes I forget I’m hunting and trying to keep up with the dogs to look for birds. Maybe I’m hunting for the wrong reasons or maybe I’m hunting for the right reasons? Maybe I’m hunting something other than birds.