Landmarks

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.

The swirls in the snow made by grasses blown by wind: anemographia.

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.

Magical point. Hoarfrost: deposits of ice crystals on objects exposed to the free air, such as grass blades, trees, or leaves
Advertisements

13 Replies to “Landmarks”

    1. Sam, thanks for your comment, it helps that I have my own personal English teacher.

      Yes, Susie and Peat would be heartbroken if they knew.

  1. Enjoy reading your posts. Was just on the phone with my cousin who is also a chukar hunting nut. (We only hunt chukars. That’s it. Nothing else) Told him that I’m looking at Leslie’s picture, shotgun in hand, hiking through those (that) brush. Any moment them birds can give you a heart attack Flushhhhhhh Boom Bang! The adrenaline rush. Hearth coming out of your chest. We do some of our living through your posts. You never know what effect you can have on your readers. Like movie stars who create these characters, these personas who travel with you for all your life. You go and pull parts, scripts, scenes out of your memory bank and chew on them and put them back and go about your daily business.
    Writing to an English Teacher makes me nervous. Oh, screw it. Just fire away. There is neither an award nor a punishment.
    Just feeling the sage brush through Bob and Leslie.
    Keep up the good work.
    Bahman

    1. Bahman,
      I just LOVE your comment! Thank you so much for reading our blog.
      We do this blog for people like you. Cheers, Leslie

    1. April,
      I glad you liked it.
      You also have the love of the little things in nature that most people overlook. Your love shows in your jewelry creations.

  2. Thanks for the new word, anemographia. I won’t remember it next time I see one, but I’ll at least remember there is a word for them. But I often see them on rivers in the sand, or in the desert. Some word for the ones in the snow?

    1. Yeah, anemographia is a cool word, often cited in rhetoric as something showing the effects of wind. It’s been a theme for us here, where we’re in the vortex of Hell’s huffing and puffing (canyon, that is, at least for now).

  3. I’m sitting here on a rainy Wednesday decided against work in the city of boise outdside. It can wait. I have somewhat internationally seeded a sage brush garden west of the cabin, while reading your explanation of collecting sage to smell while hunting the sweet ancient smells fills my nostrils. The purpose of life is to slow down and smell the roses, you have found it out there in your own way. Thank you for the reminder of someone who is impatient and needs to reflect on what is important in life….I love the picture of Angus content with Bob’s fly tying!

    1. Gabe,
      Bird hunting with offspring of your dogs has definitely opened up a whole new world for me. Getting off trail makes me feel more vulnerable to the elements and terrain. Feeling vulnerable makes me think differently about things and makes me appreciate them on a whole new beautiful level. Thank you.

  4. This is incredibly beautiful and necessary, Leslie. “Beaver and dandelion…willow”…really? Something’s is very wrong here.
    Susan

Chirp away

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.