Saturday, November 23, 2013

let me go a-wandering

THE OLD WAYS: A JOURNEY ON FOOT By: Robert Macfarlane and Robin Sachs ISBN: 9781470816919, Reissue of:, [Ashland, OR] : Blackstone Audio,p2012 There, sometimes, books that are so beautiful that they burrow their way into me, and make a nest in my soul. This is such a book. It is, ostensibly, the story of a walk through most of Europe, into the Middle East and into Asia, and it is that. That story is fascinating in its own right, filled with delightful characters and intriguing landscapes, history and folklore. But it is different from most travel journals, because this walk was made not on roads, but on the paths made, step by step, over centuries of use. Some were intended to herd animals, some as shortcuts, but each path, in its own way, was a spontaneous reaction to the needs of the people who lived there, and took little, if any account of Governments or traffic patterns. Along the way, the authors discuss sea lanes (again, not the formal ones, but those made by the sea itself, and the imperatives of those who derived their living from it. We are also given a glimpse of skyways, primarily those used by migrating birds. This is a book of motion, and of deep introspection on a wide range of subjects. It is the story of people, each of whom offers something unique and wonderful to the reader, if not the world, and most important, it is a reverent celebration of the beauty and diversity of the Earth on which we live. The writing is so exquisite that I often felt I was reading a book length poem, and I often had to stop reading for a time to contemplate an image or a sentence. It is a slow read, or should be, with ample time taken for appreciation and thought, because one of the things this book does is encourage the reader to examine and follow his/her internal paths, those made by experience or memory, and the reader is encouraged, by the very nature of this book, to meander far and wide. I found this book so richly dense that I couldn’t just sit down and read it through, as I usually do, but had to read some, think some, read something else for a bit so that I could digest what turned out to be a banquet, then come back to it. As I said, this book will stay with me for a very long time, and I find that, in the way of truly fine books, it has changed my perspective of things in subtle ways.

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