10 Dec
Posted in: Books
By    Comments Off on Traveling


In preparation for walking the Camino de Santiago, I naturally started….reading! (And, OK, I’ve been walking a bit, too.) It was the title of the article in yesterday’s New York Times that got me going: Paths of Enlightenment. The article turned out to be a book review of The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, by Robert Macfarlane, which I immediately downloaded and started to read. It was not a mistake. The writing is gorgeous. The walks he describes are inspirations. And the reflections that are the result of those walks are their own special of journey.

Here’s a sample:

“I followed the field path east-south-east towards a long chalk hilltop, visible as a whaleback in the darkness. Northwards was the glow of the city, and the red blip of aircraft warning lights from towers and cranes. Dry snow squeaked underfoot. A fox crossed the field to my west at a trot. The moonlight was so bright that everything cast a crisp moon-shadow: black on white, stark as woodcut. Wands of dogwood made zebra-hide of the path; hawthorn threw a lattice. The trees were frilled with snow, which lay to the depth of an inch or more on branches and twigs. The snow caused everything to exceed itself and the moonlight caused everything to double itself.”

But even more than the beautiful use of language and the evocative descriptions, I am drawn his thoughts on the profound effect of place:

“As I envision it, landscape projects into us not like a jetty or peninsula, finite and bounded in its volume and reach, but instead as a kind of sunlight, flickering un-mappable in its plays yet often quickening and illuminating….For some time now it has seemed to me that the two questions we should ask of any strong landscape are these: firstly, what do I know when I am in this place that I can know nowhere else? And then, vainly, what does this place know of me that I cannot know of myself?

(image from The Maddonni Tarot)

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