Stravaig Issue 1

Page 1

Stravaig #1

Stravaig issue 1 Contents Surely Joy: image: Abigail Rorer Editorial: Stravaiging Through the Snow with Henry Thoreau: Norman Bissell; images: Douglas Robertson Poems: Ice Patterns, The Last Snow: Elizabeth Rimmer; Image: Birgit Whitmore Essay: Rambling Men: Christian McEwen; Image:Wandering: Nat Hall Poems: The Simple Man Arriving Through The Fields: David Troupes; Wild Writing, Such Thus-ness: Richard Meyers Essay: Another House in the Woods: James McCarthy; Image:The Secret World: Nat Hall Image:Water Lily: Abigail Rorer Poems: Bad Psychology, Snow Geese Solstice: Susan Richardson Essay:The American Proto-Geopoetician: Henry David Thoreau (18171862): Mohammed Hashas Poems and images: Jewelled Roof, Doorway to Heaven, Heaven and Earth: Steve Pardue Essay: Living Well and the Thoreau Legacy: Gordon Peters Poems and images: Home, Breadline Britain: Nat Hall Prose, poem and image: Observing Ice: Eric G. Wilson; Snow Heads South as Severe weather Hits Scotland: Graham Urquhart; image: Birgit Whitmore Filmpoem: Abachan: Alastair Cook



Editorial Stravaiging Through the Snow with Henry Thoreau Norman Bissell

Welcome to the first issue of Stravaig, the online journal of the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics. Henry Thoreau was one of many forerunners of geopoetics, a man who had a keen perception of the world around him and who wrote about it in his books and journals. He was a great walker to boot and so it is highly appropriate that Stravaig (a Scots word meaning to wander) should be inspired by his work and feature essays, poems and images which indicate the value of going outwards. I first heard of Henry Thoreau at the Jargon Group in Glasgow back in 1963. He and Walt Whitman were mentioned in the course of An Autopsy of the Modern, a wide-ranging talk given by Kenneth White to an informal discussion group he set up in the University area that year. In it White presented a radical critique of what he regarded as an atrophied contemporary culture and advocated the need for a cultural revolution, a stance which had instant appeal to students like me who grew up in a smog-bound, poverty-stricken city like Glasgow.


White’s recommendation that we read Henry Thoreau’s Walden and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass was readily taken up by me in between my studies in philosophy and history. Walking the Coast As Mohammed Hashas’s essay makes clear, Thoreau is a major precursor of geopoetics whose writing continues to resonate today. It was for this reason that we decided to invite contributions to this first issue of Stravaig on the theme of the significance of his work for today. I hope you will agree that the responses we received, mainly from members of the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics themselves, demonstrate his continuing relevance and an admirable quality of expression. We were particularly pleased to receive submissions from Christian McEwen, the author of the recently published World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down, and Abigail Rorer, whose splendid illustrations adorn several Folio Society books including Leaves of Grass, two of the growing number of members who live along the eastern seaboard of the North American continent. Equally welcome were the essays from James McCarthy, the prolific author of books on the geography of Scotland and its explorers and plant hunters, and Gordon Peters, who has extensive knowledge of and experience in geography and social work, two long-standing Council members of the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics whose profiles you can read on our Members’ Pages. The first provides a most enjoyable account of how he learnt his trade as a forester and the second illuminates the social and political significance of Thoreau’s work and its connections with geopoetics. Alastair Cook’s highly personal and moving filmpoem Abachan raises the bar for moving image art which takes a poem and creates something new with it. What also emerged from some of the poets and photographers who made submissions was an understandable fascination with the snowy weather we enjoyed last winter and poems and images which sparkle with the brightness of its beauty. How better then to start 2012 than a stravaig through the snow with Henry Thoreau? You can find out more about many of the contributors by clicking on our Members Pages above. Your thoughts and suggestions on any of the contents of this first issue would be greatly appreciated.


Elizabeth Rimmer The Last Snow A stealth of snowfall dizzying into the dark, leaves a boa on the boundary wall

A bead of melt-water slips like a mouse through the glittering air-space on the roof

of swans’ down and diamonds.

between slate and the draining lumps of ice crust,

Its weight makes white lava fields

like stranded jellyfish, humped and glassy.

of lawn and yard, with sink-holes where bird breasts and cats’ feet have warmed through to the stone.

Wind sweeps and scours it leaving slopes naked, fills hollows and hedge-banks with cauldrons of ice.

Frost shines and hardens it to a ruffle of bony lace, bleeding whiteness in the sun, transparent, crumbling, gone.

At Walden Thoreau watched the pond’s thick pelt carved up with axes, stripped and harvested, stacked between boards and straw to freshen dreams of June’s mint julep and iced tea.

I love the way he noticed air in ice flow in drifts of trapped bubbles and thick cells, the changing levels of water and the spring-time blooms and swells of sand in the warm currents.

Ice Patterns On the choked river shelves and reefs of ice

Earth must be less static than it seems.

cling to the worn contours of mud-banks,

It draws us. Bonded where we live like sheep,

or fall and splash into the stream. On sunny roads

hefted to the hill by observation,

the tarmac rises cracked through slush and grit.


we make our homes here and are made by them.

Christian McEwen Rambling Men There is a mass of prose-writers, on both sides of the Atlantic, for whom walking has been both subject and inspiration, among them Boswell and Johnson, Walter Scott, Dickens and Carlyle. Those most often quoted belong to the nineteenth century. I think especially of Hazlitt’s essay, “On Going a Journey,” Thoreau’s “Walking,” Emerson’s “Notes on Walking,” and Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Walking Tours.” The essayist William Hazlitt was inspired to write by meeting Wordsworth and Coleridge at the age of nineteen. He became, in many ways, the obstreperous younger brother of the Romantics, though with more energy and grit and (a favorite word) gusto, than one associates with any of them. Like Wordsworth, he preferred his own company. For him, nature was companion enough, and the entertainment of his own good brain. “Give me the clear blue sky over my head, and the green turf beneath my feet, a winding road before me, and a three hours’ march till dinner – and then to thinking!” It is clear that his thinking was both frolicksome and fertile; indeed, he describes himself as laughing and running and leaping for joy: a gorgeous picture of middleaged abandon. But unlike Coleridge, he was unable to speak easily and extemporaneously in such a state, nor did he wish to match phrases with another person. “I can make nothing on the spot,” he wrote. “I must have time to collect myself.” Thoreau’s walks were clearly undertaken in a very different spirit. Walking for him was not so much a pleasant pastime as a moral imperative. He liked to spend at least four hours of every day out of doors. He had “no walks to throw away on company,” he said. Walking for him had nothing to do with taking exercise. “[It] is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day.” “Walking,” written in 1851, is itself a “rambling” essay, and covers lots of interesting ground, beginning with the origin of the word “saunter” (whether derived from those who roamed about the country and asked charity on pretext of going to la Saint Terre, the holy land, or from those who were without a home, and therefore, sans terre). Thoreau himself preferred the first of these derivations, since for him the holy land was to be found underfoot at any time. Indeed, he cherished the fact that, “Two or three hours’ walking will carry me to as strange a country as I expect ever to see.”


The difficulty now in reading Thoreau’s essay is that it has been so quoted and misquoted over the years as to seem curiously uneven, at one moment packed like pemmican with overly familiar maxims (“In Wildness is the preservation of the World,” “I believe in the forest and in the meadow, and in the night in which the corn grows.”) and at another startlingly fresh and unfamiliar. I myself was especially drawn by his reference to Gramatica parda, the “tawny grammar” of the out-of-doors, which he felt every child should have a chance to learn. But orderly as he was in his own excursions (carrying an old music-book under his arm in which to press plant specimens, and cramming his pockets with diary and pencils, spy-glass, microscope, pocket-knife and twine) Thoreau was also wary of too much conscientious accuracy. “I must walk more with free senses,” he wrote in his journal. “It is as bad to study stars and clouds as flowers and stones. I must let my senses wander as my thoughts, my eyes see without seeing… What I need is not to look at all, but a true sauntering of the eye.” Such “sauntering” shows up most lyrically in his account of the sunset lighting up the pines at Spaulding’s Farm. It was, he says, “as if some ancient and altogether admirable and shining family” had come to settle there. The joie de vivre with which he enters into that image and the ease with which he elaborates it (seeing them “recline on sunbeams,” and persuading himself that he can overhear the “sweet musical hum” of their thought) shows us a playful and imaginative Thoreau, very different from the youthful pontificator who has come down to us over the years. Thoreau’s mentor was, of course, Emerson, one of the great essayists, though even more of a preacher than Thoreau himself. It is easy to bridle at his assertions, as if one were being forcefed slabs of wholesome whole-meal bread. But it would be hard to disagree with his qualifications for a walk, which he defines as “endurance, plain clothes, old shoes, an eye for Nature” (capitalized!), along with “good speech, good silence, and nothing too much.” That his ideal companions on such a jaunt should be an artist “that is, [one] who has an eye for beauty,” and a naturalist, from whom one can learn the elements of geology, botany, ornithology etc., seems like obvious good sense, with the added pleasure of a private thumbnail portrait of Thoreau. Both the gusto and the faint taint of home-spun righteousness continue with Robert Louis Stevenson, whose essay “Walking Tours” first appeared in 1876. Like Hazlitt (whom he admired enormously), Stevenson felt that walking should be embarked


upon alone. There should, he writes, “be no cackle of voices at your elbow, to jar on the meditative silence of the morning.” Rather,“you must be open to all impressions and let your thoughts take color from what you see.” Stevenson died at the age of forty-four, having written a surprising number of books in his short life: adult novels and children’s books, poetry and essays and plays, as well as several volumes of letters. Nonetheless, one of his most heartfelt pleas was in favor of moderation (even, at times, idleness), which he saw as a woefully underrated virtue. Fiercely, he castigated what he called “your over-walker” who returns “to his inn at night, with a sort of frost on his five wits, and a starless night of darkness in his spirit.” He himself preferred a far gentler, more temperate form of exercise, in which the emphasis on clock-time fell away. It is almost as if the millennium were arrived, when we shall throw our clocks and watches over the housetop, and remember time and seasons no more…You have no idea, unless you have tried it, how endlessly long is a summer day.


David Troupes The Simple Man Arriving Through the Fields Throw myself down and here’s my camp— under the thorn, in the rolls of gruff weed, in the fingers

of a new warmth. Stars pop in the black and slowly I align myself like the needle and cork floated for a compass.

Mother! Such an endlessness— the byways and nighways which are all I need of home. Tomorrow morning,

early, when the sun is a tray of crumbs I’ll rise in the spin and wander, till I throw myself down and there’s my urn.


Richard Meyers Wild Writing Takes us there

first moments to


That initial shy glance


Fastforwarding to now

probe the soil

Grandchildren and the Ever changing

Down elm tree paths

fleeting present

etched Ogham-like


upon heartwood

A Green woodpecker

by Scolytus beetle larvae in

How wild is that!

the dead bole Wild writing speaks -


Of the Holy wind nilch’i

Light shot through the

Spiralling our fingertips

Green lens of a leaf Knowing what it is

Of open senses fully alert:

not to know

The Braille-like fissures

not knowing and being

Of an oak under my touch

happy in that vacant place having an empty head

In the fluted breath of a wren Hawthorn hedge in flower Skinny fox ravaged by mange Snow in April Hailstones clattering my cap’s peak and Hard upon parked cars Wild writing turns again to beginnings


open to everything. refusing nothing even foolishness finds a home.

Another House in the Woods James McCarthy Thoreau has been described as one of the founding fathers of American philosophy, but the most authoritative biographer of Thoreau, Jeffrey S Cramer, who has made a lifetime study of his subject, prefers to claim him in relation to his most famous work Walden not as philosopher or writer (though he was both), but as an autobiographer. ‘... we do not remember the depth of the pond; we remember the peculiar sensibility of the man who thought it worth his while to measure it.…’ That is my justification for indulging here in a piece of autobiography which has at least a few echoes of Thoreau’s experiences. It wasn’t really a house, more a hill bothy used by the keepers and shepherds in Glenisla for shelter: I had spotted it on a solitary camping trip the previous year. While Thoreau had to build his own shelter, which he described in detail, even down to the costs of every item, my residence, albeit crude, came ready made. For a long summer in 1950, it was home for a 15 year-old (some 5 years younger than Thoreau when he took up residence at Walden in 1845) keen to earn his keep and learn something of the forester’s trade. A nearby rivulet provided water and there was a crude fireplace in lieu of a stove. The less said about sanitation the better. The woods in the title are something of a misnomer, since it was protected from the gales merely by an old shelterbelt of windblown larches and firs, which provided fuel, since elsewhere was still relatively young plantation. (One of my earlier tasks was to extend this embryonic forest, planting up the higher hillsides.) ‘I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach.’ says Thoreau. By contrast, I had no such high flown motives, merely the obligations of gaining some practical experience while being self-sufficient. (As a youngster I had helped with the ‘stooking’ of oats and bringing in the harvest by cart and Clydesdale horse in the same district, in company with German prisoners-of- war, so I had some familiarity with country work.) Interestingly, Thoreau claimed that, for him, if a little money was required, the life of the day-labourer, satisfied to live simply and without the obligations of running a business, was best. Some birch twigs from the shelterbelt made a satisfactory broom to clean out the one room, which had obviously been invaded by various fauna – mice were abundant, and my first attempt at


lighting a fire filled the place with smoke from a chimney blocked by a jackdaw’s nest, while bats had taken up residence in the worm-eaten rafters; cobwebs occupied every corner, but the empty whisky bottles provided useful candle holders. I stuffed the cracks in the walls with old pine bark. Heather provided a bed on the floor, filling the room with its fragrance, and a cut log sufficed for a chair. Although Thoreau’s hut dimensions, at about ten feet wide by fifteen feet long, were similar to mine, he had the advantage of a table and no less than three chairs – but he is particularly scornful of those who accumulate excess furniture. Various visitors had left behind some tattered books – no doubt the torn-out pages provided a source of toilet paper: I had to make up from my imagination the missing sections of Huckleberry Finn and Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans together with other American classics. Climbers had obviously overnighted in the bothy, using the adjacent drove road – now merely an overgrown track – heading for the grey crags above and the heights of adjacent Glen Clova, where George Don, the 18th century botanist had discovered a treasure house of arctic-alpine plants. The nearby corrie, still green from the droppings of the small black cattle or kyloe, had been a convenient resting place for the herds coming south through the glen in previous centuries. From this corrie came the burn which flowed past the house, its banks bright with yellow tormentil and dotted with mauve water avens. It ended up in a small lochan frequented by a few mallard duck and hordes of ravenous midges: I ignored these for my weekly bath treating it as the pond at Thoreau’s Walden, although at the time I knew nothing of either. Unlike him, I had no means of growing my own food, and I did not have his productive beanfield: the first week, waiting for my £3.10 shillings pay, was problematic. I had borrowed a florin (about 20 pence in today’s money) from my grandmother and blew it on several pound of oatmeal. (By the end of the week, I was not only distinctly thinner, but put off by the thought of yet another bowl of porridge). It was augmented by some turnips found in the lower fields, and the wild raspberries growing by the side of the track: leaving my porridge pot outside to be washed out by the rain, I found a shepherd’s collie had got there first, and saved me the bother of cleaning it. During that first week, the forestry gang, tucking in to man-sized sandwiches, were curious that I had no lunch-time ‘piece’ and I had to make some unconvincing excuse.


Around the nearby loch, there was an older plantation, which was used as a windbreak: I was astonished when the men dragged down a five-foot pile of dead spruce branches, to be set alight for the boiling of a billy-can of tea, the idea being that once brewed, they would not have to arise from their resting place to feed the glowing fire for the whole of their break. Then a well-thumbed pack of cards would be bought out, using a tree-stump as a table. These stumps did not project more than an inch above the soil, since it was a matter of professional pride that the feller wasted no useable timber. The large felling axes were kept constantly razor sharp using a carborundum stone and a test was whether a matchstick laid on a stump could be split lengthwise with a single one-handed full swing of the axe. One who did not attempt this was ‘Auld Boab’, a one-armed survivor of the World War I trenches, whose face was grossly disfigured by shrapnel wounds, distorting his eye, mouth and speech, his hair turned prematurely white in a single devastating shelling. He was the horseman who was not slow to note when a ‘stick’ (as they called the trees) had fallen into a bed of stinging nettles before asking me to wrap the heavy metal chain around it for pulling out by Jock, our ever-patient horse. (Later, I used my limited experience with this intelligent animal to get a temporary job breaking in Highland ‘garrons’ for the first pony-trekking stables in Scotland) The felling of the lochside trees was impressive. Before the days of chain saws, the axe was brought into play to ‘lay in’, or cut a shallow kerf, with the axeman bent virtually double to get as close to the earth as possible – just as Thoreau’s FrenchCanadian woodchopper did to avoid snagging his winter sled on the stumps. It was wise to keep well clear while plate-sized slices came whistling out of the cut at speed, followed by the 8-foot cross-cut saw, used in the same doubled-up position. And yet the saw sang rhythmically and sweetly between the two men, the steady rasping noise resounding through the woods. My job was to use the lighter snedding axe to remove the branches and woe betide you if the axe bit into the timber, or if a cut branch was left even fractionally proud of the trunk. I could never emulate the double handed action of the veteran ‘snedders’ who could clean a ‘stick’ in a few minutes, flicking the axe easily on either side of the tree, from the butt to the tip. In his diatribe against the mores of Concord, Thoreau said ‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation’ referring to their


enslavement to their farms and shops. While I knew little if anything about their private lives, I found these men of Angus quite admirable in their honesty and simplicity, their quiet good humour and their amused tolerance of a ‘townie’ youth in their midst, ribbing me in their almost impenetrable local accents: ‘Hoo is it up at the big hoose, then, Jeemie?’ (My quarters being at the opposite end of the spectrum from the laird’s residence, usually referred to as the ‘big hoose.’) But much of my work was solitary, which suited me fine. The forestry truck would drop me at a road end, from where I would walk in – sometimes several miles – to the hills where planting had been done in the spring. I was armed with a sharpening stone and a ‘heuk’, a curved blade attached to a 5-foot pole used to cut the grass around the young trees to prevent them being smothered by the summer growth. It was all too easy, attempting to get as close as possible to the young plant, to slice through it and it took some time to develop the action which could completely clear the tree with two swipes, quickly reversing the blade. Several thousand trees would be weeded in a day. Sometimes, it was ‘beating up’, or replanting, where there had been failures, slapping the roots into the T-cut made with the spade, or on stony ground, the mattock or miniature pick. (I see the same trees I planted now felled and the same hillsides replanted 60 years later.) The long days were enhanced by the surroundings. To the north, the southern rim of the blue Cairngorms, even at this date, was pock-marked with late snow and the august purple of the heather on the lower Braes of Angus was as fine as anywhere in Scotland. Every so often the silence was broken by the churr -churr of fast flying grouse and the occasional blackcock at the woodland edge – their white-feathered ‘leggings’ and scarlet hood gave them a comical look. Far down in the bottom of the glen, the River Isla twisted and turned around the haughlands, where the oyster catchers’ piping competed with the curlew’s long trilling call as it descended. Much further down, the river tumbled over the great foaming cataract of the Reekie Linn, marking the Highland Boundary Fault with its roar of water and smoking spray. (Below these great falls I once deprived an otter of its dinner – a half-eaten salmon on a projecting rock: I reckoned my need was as great as his.) From time to time, a mottled mountain hare, having sat tight for as long as it dared, bolted out of its scrape in the deergrass in front of my heuk. Climbing a hillock near to the bothy, the Vale of Strathmore,


bounded by the Sidlaw Hills to the far south, was a long vista of fertile farmland stretching to the North Sea. With a paid time allowance, I was left to make my own way home to my ‘Walden’ on the hillside, usually too tired at first to do anything but flop onto my heather ‘couch’ for the first half-hour. Then it was time to gather up some dry fir-cones to start the fire, which gave off the most pleasant woody aroma, especially when combined with pieces of the salmon-pink bark of the Scots Pine from the shelter-belt. It was the most relaxing time of the day and after my first pay, I was able to look forward to a more mixed diet. I had made the round trip of about 30 miles to the nearest town of Kirriemuir on my elderly bicycle and very carefully chosen the cheapest provisions which could be cooked together in my one and only pot – a small square ex-Army ‘dixie’, complemented by a spoon and a boy scout knife.


Poems: Susan Richardson BAD PSYCHOLOGY In wildness is the preservation of the world – from Thoreau’s ‘Walking’ Don’t think of a white bear. Don’t let the tundra of your head become encumbered. My sea ice recedes. Leads bleed and gush like the gash from a walrus tusk. Don’t think of a white bear. In your mind-zoo try to linger with the flamingoes or dwell with wise elephants there. The Great Bear in the sky from whom I seek insight has shifted. I’ve been gifted a home range that keeps me caged as the liver of a seal. Don’t think of a barely-white bear. Don’t stare at the algae that’s turned her fur green. Pretend you’ve never seen this slur of heat and concrete. I follow ancient snowprints of those who roamed the north – woolly mammoths, unipeds, the three-toed horse – as I lumber over the border from normal to fable. Don’t think of a white bear, a snared-in-a-recurring-nightmare bear. Don’t despair at her pauseless pacing from bored wall to bored wall. Memory hides in a snow lair. I want to stalk, snatch, claw it open – force these paws to remember more than forward back forward back Don’t think of a white hermaphrodite bear. Don’t care about arctic-blown pollutants, spewed from the flame-retardant clothes you wear. Between my grieving thighs, an ice floe lies. By sun and moon, all I do is gawp, disbelieving, at both breathing hole and harpoon.


SNOW GEESE SOLSTICE a rumour of plumage a mutter of us as the sky finds its tongue and stutters the first few syllables of spring then starts to sing

yet you must wonder at our numbers while there’s time for summer soon begins to moult and a shiver in the sky implies the raven’s close behind

a chorus of us a John Rutter mass of wings and light and a dazzle of down as we swoosh to the ground a ruched arctic circle curtain of us

the gush of us becomes a hush of us the horizon’s guilty blush of us from the bliss of an alltogether honk of us to the hiss

an epic distance travelled yet again of us

of a single

an eighteen-hundred-mile unravelled skein of us


that knits a nest of air and space to embrace the golden egg we’ve laid a thrill of us a shrill of us a million billion quills of us have written a script forbidding sleep so we peck it to death on the tundra at our feet


These poems are also to be found in Susan Richardson’s new poetry collection Where the Air is Rarefied, with prints by visual artist Pat Gregory, Cinnamon Press, 2011.


The American Proto-Geopoetician: Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)* Mohammed Hashas Kenneth White: The Euramerasian Kenneth White is interested in America and some of its heritage that nourishes his geopoetics. He is a ‘Euramerasian’: ‘I am a Eurasm,’ he says in an interview with Fréderic de Towarnicki.[1] His interest in the American land does not, however, mean that he is ‘Americanist,’ unless this word is understood in its original sense.That is, he is interested in the American civilization and not in the U.S. civilization.[2] In the same interview,White says that the America that haunts him is limited in time; it did not last much; it is the America of the 1810-1960, the age of the triad: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Henry David Thoreau – the most influential and the closest to White in thought. Apart from that, there are other writers that emerged on the scene some time later, and their weight is due to the fact that their contribution is contextualized within world concern,[3] or ‘world literature,’ using Goethe’s word. Such later American friends or ‘Gang of the Kosmos’ include Herman Melville, Hart Crane, Jack Kerouac, and Charles Olson, to limit the list to these. Besides these American companions,White is keen on the Amerindian and Eskimo life,‘the Amerindian culture, one of the most powerful in what concerns contact with earth,’[4] an admiration he developed when still young and which he came to realize later in his life as La Route bleue (1982) recounts. Travel in the American tradition is associated with being in the world, with vision, and poetics. Michel Leguenne affirms in a recent Journal de bord that ‘voyage’ (‘travelling’), which is a poem according to White,[5] ‘requires ‘hardiness so as to plunge in the void,’ with the possibility of finding ‘an unknown’ universe.’’[6] Such a finding cannot be realized unless it is accompanied and supported by both thought and vision, for ‘‘voyage-voyance’ (travel and vision) go together, none can go without the other,’ White writes in Le Plateau de l’albatros.[7] The travel, ‘voyage,’ should be both mental and physical so that the mindscape corresponds to the landscape, and vice versa, which would in turn be expressed in a particular wordscape that is fraught with whiteness and desire for the white world.[8] In the briefest terms, ‘voyage’ for White should be accompanied with ‘voyance’; i.e. the know-how, ‘savoir voir,’ in movement, henceforth the term


‘voyage-voyance’[9] – a term approximately synonymous with ‘intellectual nomadism.’ This ‘voyage-voyance’ is exemplified by White’s keenness on Thoreau’s solitude and walkings.

The American Proto-Geopoetician: Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) Henry David Thoreau, ‘the intellectual nomad of Walden,’[10] the ‘American proto-geopoetician’[11] of his time, and ‘the poet of the world,’[12] is another significant contributor to the American transcendental poetics, and to the project of geopoetics, like his mentor and friend Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882). It should be noted at this stage that Kenneth White has delivered a series of talks on Thoreau’s essays, excursions, poetry, and Walden, at the Sorbonne University in 1991-92.[13] In these paragraphs devoted to Thoreau, reference is principally made to his masterpiece Walden, or Life in the Woods, published in 1854, his Journal and to his essay ‘Walking,’ published in 1862 in the Atlantic Monthly, after his death. It is with Walden that White first introduces his readers to Thoreau in La Figure du dehors, a book in which he tries to go beyond the frontiers, and speaks to people that are beyond these frontiers.[14] Walden recounts his sojourn in a cabin near Walden Pond, amidst woodland owned by his friend and ‘teacher’ Emerson, near Concord, Massachusetts. Thoreau lived at Walden for two years, two months, and two days, to give more time to the study of the self, in solitude, and also to live his mythic childhood days and his dreams as a child. Regarding this point, White says that what Thoreau wanted was a return to his mythical boyhood, as he narrates it in his Journal (9 June 1850), and simultaneously to the ‘childhood of the world.’[15] In other words, Thoreau went to Walden to ‘mythicize’ a natural life he never encountered in literary books. He resorted to mythology that trespasses any socio-personal portrayal of Nature.[16] Life in the Woods is part of that mythical world he built in his mind; it details his daily life activities, his aspirations, and his meditations over what he does, and what the world around him does; he touches upon the human aspects of life and the titles of the sections of the essaybook illustrate this: Economy, Where I lived, and What I lived For, Reading, Solitude, The Village,Visitors, Higher Laws, etc.


Thoreau went to the woods to ‘suck the marrow of life’ and to ‘live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach.’ With his ‘extra-vagance,’ his unusual way of life, he tried to explore the self, ‘Explore Thyself,’ and to look inside it, thus putting the words of William Habbington whom he quotes into execution: Direct your eye right inward, and You’ll find A thousand regions in your mind Yet undiscovered. Travel them, And be Expert in home-cosmology.[17] The call for doing the primordial ‘home-cosmology’ and mental travelling originates from the poet’s belief that those who practice this exercise are not numerous. The self for Thoreau is a continent that behoves exploration and intellectual nomadism: ‘be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought.’[18] White says that Thoreau went in his thought so far as to delve into the farthest and most silent corners in the mind, corners that appear to have gone beyond Chinese and Sanskrit depths.[19] Thoreau seems sure of where his world leads, a path that is not charted yet by any daring nomad or reader: ‘there is not one of my readers who has yet lived a whole human life.’[20] Thoreau’s world is not explored yet, and his road resembles Heidegger’s, the nulle part, the nowhere, that is why it received applause from White. Nonetheless, Thoreau does not say that his world is impossible to reach. By the end of his Walden (like golden!) experience, he gives clues of the world he likes: ‘I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher


order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.’[21] [The italics are mine] The simplicity Thoreau had always chanted came to realization in Walden. He had a ‘dream’ and he walked out for it to ‘put foundations’ under it. His Journal is also part of that dream, the dream of an original life and ‘real world’: ‘So think of our life in nature – the daily show of the substance, the contact with it – the rocks, the trees, the wind on our cheek! [...] The real world! The common sense! Contact! Contact! Who are we? Where are we?’[22] Until the desired contact is carried out, man is still unable to locate nor to identify himself on earth. It is contact with the earth that develops the common sense in man and leads him to recognize himself. If the Chinese Lin Yutang called him ‘the American most Chinese,’[23] White steps further to say that the inhabitant of Walden ventures towards a world that is neither Puritan, nor Indian, nor even Chinese. His target is a world beyond that: Under the American Puritan of the 19th century there was an Indian, under the Indian a Chinese, under the Chinese a being that had no name. It is the latter that Thoreau, in his extravagant walk, wanted to realize.[24] That world, is the ‘real,’ ‘new,’[25] and ‘savage’ world[26] to which he likes to travel especially at night, ‘those who travel at night interest me,’ as he writes in Journal (2 July 1851).[27] The turn is to this idiosyncrasy. Travelling and walking are primordial aspects of the ‘real’ world. They are what make of Thoreau an ‘extravagant’ wanderer, extravagant in its original sense, stresses White, which comes from the Latin extra vagare, i.e. to wander out.[28] Outdoors tempts him. He is ‘the man of outdoors par excellence.’ Against the habits of his society, he would, for example, wander out on Sundays with Walden Pond Association members, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott, Frank Sanborn, and Ellery Channing, instead of being in the Church.[29] His walks were ‘intelligent,’ ‘mythological’:’ ‘he practised the intelligent walking,’ ‘the ambulatory yoga,’ to ‘live the original life’ – la vie originelle, la vie principielle.[30] Below is a visit to the original text of Thoreau,


‘Walking,’ to do with it what he did in and with Walden: to suck its marrow. Walking for Thoreau ‘is an art,’ and the walkers are the vagabonds that inhabit the earth without possessing it, a fact which gives them more freedom, more sensation, and more trajectories to space out.Thoreau equates it with sauntering which ‘is beautifully derived from ‘idle people who roved about the country, in the middle ages, and asked charity, under pretence of going à la Sainte Terre’—to the holy land.’ The practitioner of sauntering is called ’a saunterer—a holy-lander.’[31] Thoreau takes the word seriously; he does not mean it is for idlers; the saunterers for him are those who really walked to the Holy Land. Such an enterprise is akin to ‘a crusade,’ ‘every walk is a crusade,’ waged against the ‘infidels’ [to the earth], an enterprise to recover the lost dimensions of space and being on earth which ‘we hug.’ One of the conditions of being involved in the enterprise of walking is to dissociate the self from the humdrum of society: ‘If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again; if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man; then you are ready for a walk.’[32] This condition is followed by physical hardiness, like the one Rimbaud had, so as to saunter with pleasure and ease in mind, for the time devoted to that is not short: ‘I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits unless I spend four hours a day at least —and it is commonly more than that—sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields absolutely free from all worldly engagements.’[33] Once outdoors, Thoreau hardly thinks of a destination, since his ‘heavenly’ intuition guides his steps ‘into a nature such as the old prophets and poets Menu, Moses, Homer, Chaucer, walked in.’ He trusts where nature, with its wilderness and wildness, leads: ‘I believe in the forest.’ Nature leads to goodness, ‘how near to good is what is wild!’, to the preservation of the genuine traits of life: ‘In Wildness is the preservation of the world.’ The wildness, Wildness with a capital ‘w’,Thoreau is haunted with is (in) Nature, and more precisely (in) the West where ‘the future’ and ‘a right way’ lie. As to the West, its presence in Thoreau’s peregrinations refer to the Wild – ‘the West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild’[34]– but also alludes to his gaze over the East, Asia, from America, as would do his compatriot Walt Whitman in


his poem ‘Facing West from California’s Shores.’ *This is an excerpt from my MA thesis entitled ‘Kenneth White’s Geopoetics: A New World Opening,’ (June 2008), under the supervision of Dr Omar Bsaithi, English Department, at Mohamed I University in Oujda, Morocco. [1] Michèle Duclos, ed. Le Poète cosmographe: vers un nouvel espace culturel. Bordeaux : Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux, 1987. 79; 196. [2] Tony McManus.The Radical Field: Kenneth White and Geopoetics. Dingwall: Sandstone Press, 2007: 104. [3] Op., cit., 196. [4] Kenneth White, L’Esprit nomade, Paris: Grasset, 1987. 259. [5] Ibid., 161. [6] Ibid., 160. [7] Ibid., 262. [8] Kenneth White, La Figure du dehors, Paris: Grasset, 1982. 146. [9] Duclos, Le Poète cosmographe, 53. [10] Kenneth White, The Wanderer and His Charts, The Wanderer and His Charts – Exploring the Fields of Vagrant Thought and Vagabond Beauty. Edinburgh: Polygon, 2004. 16. [11] Ibid., 241. [12] Kenneth White, Le Plateau de l’albatros: introduction à la géopoetique. Paris: Grasset, 1994. 210. [13] Kenneth White, Carnet de bord, ‘Carnet de Bord.’ International Institute for Geopoetics. Issue 3, Spring 2005. 10-11. [14] La Figure du dehors, 18. [15] Le Plateau de l’albatros, 199. [16] Ibid., 198-9. [17] Henry David Thoreau,Walden, ed. Owen Thomas (New York: Norton and Company, 1966) 211. The poem is a quote from William Habbington’s (16051664). Thoreau modernized the spelling and changed ‘eye-sight’ to ‘eye-right.’ See the note to the same page. [18] Ibid., 212. [19] Le Plateau de l’albatros, 203. [20] Thoreau, Walden, 218. [21] Ibid., 214. [22] Le Plateau de l’albatros, 210. [23] Ibid., 182. [24] La Figure du dehors, 83. [25] Op, cit., 209. [26] La Figure du dehors, 78. [27] L’Esprit nomade, 25. [28] The Wanderer and His Charts, 241. [29] La Figure du dehors, 78. [30] Ibid., 80-81. [31] Henry David Thoreau, ‘Walking,’ in Bradford Torrey, The Writings of Henry David Thoreau (New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1906) 205. [32] Ibid., 206. [33] Ibid., 207. [34] Ibid., 214-224. Note: The use of the indefinite article ‘a’ in ‘There is a way’ shows how Thoreau is open to other possible ways.


Steve Pardue

Jewelled Roof

Heaven and Earth

Droplets like Jewels await under branches

Scouring the ground Captured earth

I stand and marvel at their patience

Geological litter Frozen out of time

Rain waits above the canopy

The tiniest shell Encapsulates life

Trees collect my thoughts and they hang

Before time

Like leaves waiting for action

The whole hill A fossil tale

Doorway to heaven

The spectacular Out of reach

Carved leaves form the corners An old door waits

The marvellous So small it might be missed

The lock a new invention Look at stones Look at rock

A Chubb Spirits locked in

See the story In the small

Life locked out Feet drenched in Ancient seas


Essay: Living Well and the Thoreau Legacy Gordon Peters This article is an attempt to consider whether the de-growth and indigenous knowledge movements of the current period resonate with Thoreau’s philosophy and practice of living. For some time I have been engaged with the literature, and to some extent with the practice, of the perspectives on life coming out of Latin America and its indigenous movements in particular. These have emerged in the last ten years or so as significant challengers to the orthodoxies of development across the whole gamut of environment, society, politics and culture. Perhaps their best known manifestation is in the Bolivian government’s endorsement of an alternative approach to the abortive Copenhagen summit on climate change [Living Well as a response to the Global Crisis, 2010]. The concept of ‘Living well, but not better’ [‘buen vivir’ and ‘sumak kawsay’ in Spanish and in Quechua] has also been rendered as ‘pachakuti’ meaning the creation of a revolution in organizing time and space in the world. [Bob Thomson has written a useful summary of these currents for the Transnational Institute]*1. The essence of living well does not translate easily in English since as soon as it is mentioned it more or less inevitably conjures up images of privileged consumption which is in fact the opposite of its intent: to live well [as envisaged in the indigenous Latin American literature] is to live harmoniously in interaction with other people and with the planet, in a kind of dynamic equilibrium which values respect for each other and for the living earth and counteracts the exploitation of many for the wealth accumulation of a few. There is however a huge gap between the vision [to which many now in the western world might sign up as a laudable aim] and the practice or ways of transforming daily life [which runs a large risk of being characterized as a romantic return to unattainable Elysian fields]. Perhaps invoking Thoreau here can help. My reading of Thoreau suggests that he was very much concerned with what it would be like to ‘live well’. He famously undertook what later 20th/21st century management and organization theorists would have called a ‘pilot project’, by creating his lived environment at Walden. The idea of a pilot project of course immediately sounds reductionist. That’s the point: modern and western developmental thinking will tend to reduce alternative conceptions and practices to manageable


proportions and rules which allow them to absorb the idea and practice into the predominant paradigm. Thoreau was clearly after a change in the paradigm. One of the concepts he espoused was hybridity. He talks about his half-wild and half-cultivated bean field [*2] which remains open to nature and where the edges are not even but allow the influx of plants and animals, and a view across the wider earth and air while he diligently grows and tends, and weeds, and is equally attentive to what is going on round about and above.Yet hybridity is an elusive concept: is it just all manner of mixings? Or does it take us along evolutionary or ‘development pathways’ of either mutation or super-breeding? That’s the kind of question they would ask on Newsnight, missing the point. The point of Thoreau was to resist any such reductionism, or hegemonic thinking. He talks about his labour ‘yielding an instant and immeasurable crop’ while stating ‘it was no longer beans that I hoed, or I that hoed beans’ while ‘the nighthawk circled overhead in the sunny afternoons – for I sometimes made a day of it –like a mote in the eye, or in the heaven’s eye, falling from time to time with a swoop and a sound as if the heavens were rent, torn at last to very rags and tatters, and yet a seamless cope remained: small imps that fill the air and lay their eggs on the ground on barer sand or rocks on the tops of hills, where few have found them; graceful and slender like ripples caught up from the pond, as leaves are raised by the wind to float in the heavens; such kindredship in nature. The hawk is aerial brother of the wave which he sails over and surveys, those his perfect air-inflated wings answering to the elemental unfledged pinions of the sea. Or sometimes I watched a pair of hen-hawks circling high in the sky, alternately soaring and descending, approaching, and leaving one another, as if they were the embodiment of my own thoughts……or from under a rotten stumpy hoe turned up a sluggish portentous and outlandish salamander, a trace of Egypt and the Nile, yet our contemporary. When I paused to lean on my hoe, these sounds and sights I heard and saw anywhere in the row, a part of the inexhaustible entertainment which the country offers’. I would suggest that the kindredship in nature, and the kindredship with nature, of which Thoreau writes is an openness to the mixture of work and enjoyment, along with harsh intrusions, which mirrors that of indigenous communities, and arguably any


culture or way of living which has to, and decides to, resist the corporate maw. One of the emerging concepts from the indigenous movements is that of interculturality. By this is understood a conscious striving to meet with other cultures on mutually respectful terms and to allow the natural and human values of each to mix and flourish, but to interrogate the demeaning, the discriminatory or the exploitative. This is quite different from the notion of multiculturalism which has been for awhile prevalent in much western thinking. It is more about hybridity and learning, not objectivising and tolerating. Interculturality is not ‘turning back the clock’ but recovering ‘the good’, the living well which may be embedded, or which may be lost or in danger of being lost, in any of the cultures which meet. This then can include both the ethical and the technical knowledge of advanced modern culture, but demand an alternative humility from it and challenge its incessant demand for growth and its consuming reproduction. Interculturality suggests a capacity to ask and reflect on the other, and the other asking and interacting or reflecting back. It would meet ‘head on’ the long preserved capacity in cultures and the strong tendency of hierarchies in control to preserve and perpetuate ‘otherness’. And if there is one notion which comes across well from Thoreau’s writings it is that otherness is not something to be fenced off, to be so guarded against, to be put in line; but rather it is a mindful, open and attentive sense of being in nature, and with people as part of nature, which is the requisite foil to the fear of otherness, and if brought to bear on practical life will induce harmony. Harmony, like community, is a much-abused ‘apple pie’ notion.Yet it is evident from Thoreau that his harmony was not woolly or misty-eyed alone, but more all embracing of the differences and unexpectedness, including harsh realities of life and death, of trial and error which can mean sacrifice, of learning requiring humility. Thoreau’s practice was of demonstrating a way of living well and of being open to people coming and going, and encouraging a human balance with nature, which could be productive, not exploitative or degenerative of nature. The intercultural aspirations of Latin American writers, and some academics and political activists who are rooted in the indigenous movements, do seem to echo Thoreau, and perhaps Emerson and Patrick Geddes too, in their fearlessness of failure and determination to seek harmony in a holistic nature composed


together of people, work and place. There is an important difference in that they have unambiguously emerged in social and political challenges to the ruling orthodoxies of western development and to the elites in Latin America reproducing these characteristics [which it may be said they tended to do in even more exaggerated and exploitative ways than their European and north American counterparts]. And some of their proponents have influenced or become part of the alternatives to multinational power and big capital and big states now being played out in South America [notably Morales in Bolivia, but also Monica Chuji and Pablo Davalos in Ecuador as examples]*3. That this generates new conflicts of power within states is a result with many repercussions which are not for pursuing here. What I think is most interesting, in the context of geopoetics, is that ideas of living in harmony with nature and refusing to go for growth with all the attendant despoliation, uneven development and inequalities of wealth [what economists call ‘externalities’] which accompany that growth as intrinsic to it, are now at the core of thinking and acting of significant groups of people. The living well movement does not seek a direct lineage with Thoreau as such, but it is there nonetheless.There are precursors within critiques of western civilization and of the exploitations within modernism which say strongly that we get trapped within our ‘development paradigm’, that the real choice is to recover what is lost, be open to the other, and learn from the flux of things and people, not seek to direct them only one way. Social and political movements of course tend, or have tended, to be taken up within their own dimensions, and opposing neoliberal and Marxist approaches are no exception to this. What is embryonically significant about living well is that it does cut across these distinctions and ready made approaches, and asks for a sensibility which encapsulates the employment of the mind, the body [as the site of what action happens and what is produced] and imagination of the natural, producing and replenishing world around. How the political and social implications are pursued will not be settled – may be unsettling often, or may be put to one side, but insofar as a geopoetic sensibility is there to develop mindfulness and awareness of the human in nature then it cannot only stay a matter for individuals. I think Thoreau would have agreed. A connected aspect of Thoreau I want to incorporate here is his attention to technical know-how. Richard Sennet has in this


century written in related manner on craftsmanship[*4]. The particular connection I am making is the problem many people have with de-growth [or the French decroissance, as the concept is more elaborated in that language][*5]. It sounds like romantic reversal and a going away from clever modern technology. But a refusal of incessant growth fuelled by technical capability — no matter what preponderance you give to the power of money — does not have to mean ‘de-teching’, to coin an ugly word. It can mean re-fashioning available technology to harmonious pursuits [Tim Berners Lee when he invented the world wide web did not want it to be a monetized vehicle at all, but a free for all to use creator and disseminator of information and knowledge]. What is really required is a re-enchantment with work and nature –[where the social radical Illich comes to mind [*6] — so that craft knowledge, including advanced IT, is put to re-balancing people, work and the place where they are. I find this sits well enough with Thoreau’s attention to his tools and their application, just as it sits with a sustainable matrix of land uses for a whole country or region [as the Bolivians are attempting]. The values of respect across boundaries, shared responsibility, working for a dynamic balance with nature, and the inchoate human value of fairness [the one which undeniably appears in almost all desired systems] are universals which I believe Thoreau espoused, and they are certainly at the core of the Latin American indigenous movements. Crafts from dry stone dyking to geographic information systems for small farmers are there for re-designing, re-constituting and restoring to the using people, and interestingly the web resource introduces a potential new universal of non-hierarchic ways of relating to work and life which might encourage ‘better’ organization of communities and ‘better’ interaction with earth and water. References and notes: 1. Bob Thomson on Climate and Capitalism in his article for the Transnational Institute: This paper is a very useful resume of the different discourses which have emerged as challengers to the predominant western thinking on development and climate over the last few decades. The work of post-colonialists, the New Economics Foundation, ecosocialists, entropy theorists, Jeremy Rifkin, James Lovelock, and Herman Daly on the Steady State Economy, and others are considered by Thomson as challenging the modern development paradigm, and neoliberalism in particular, but living well is credited more to the work of the indigenous movement, and the Bolivian peasant research and education centre, CIPCA, where its founder, Xavier Albo,


a Catalan-Bolivian Jesuit, has interrogated the notion of decroissance [degrowth] –which has come from Europeans– and how it relates to living well. The text of Living well as a Response to the Global Crisis, mentioned above, is a policy statement in Spanish issued by the Bolivian Government Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in 2010, relating to its sponsorship of the post-Copenhagen world conference on climate change and the global crisis and is sub-titled: a manual for building the good life of our communities in the face of global crisis and probable collapse of western development models. There is an English address by the President, Evo Morales: ‘The Earth does not belong to us, we belong to the earth’. 2. Henry Thoreau: Walden [Dover Thrift], 1995 3. Monica Chuji: Presentation to the International Forum on Interculturality and Development, Uribia, Colombia, May 2009 and Pablo Davalos : Reflections on Sumak Kawsay [good living] and Theories of Development, ALAI, August, 2008 4. Richard Sennet: The Craftsman [Allen Lane], 2008 5. Decroissance is discussed in LATOUCHE and in English more briefly in New Internationalist, July/ August 2010 by Serge Latouche and Julio Godoy on Zero Growth [vive la decroissance] 6. Ivan Illich: Tools for Conviviality – Social Questions [Marion Boyars] and Celebration of Awareness – A Call for Institutional Revolution [Penguin]


Nat Hall Home Colourful world.

 On either side of the mountain,
 ice melts, rock hangs,
 dam, water falls.
 Deep in the U of the valley,
 a porch, a key,
white plume of smoke.
 A blended scent of peat & salt
 so close & far from the ocean,
 spiders tip-toe on varnished boards...
 Piled up books sleep under thin dust -
 cold ashes fill your coal bucket.
 Wood chips tangled in sheepskin rugs,
 like secret love in a locket;
 your fingerprints
 on every switch, tap,
 bannister, pot and handles.
 Your favourite painting on the wall...
 Palette of petals in a vase,
 everlasting dripping
 of wax beyond our Moon & Orion -
 caught in a net framed for our dreams,
 your universe through one keyhole.


Breadline Britain 
 Let’s share our scraps with the real world.

 Ruby sunrise on silver tray;
 layers of crystals on grass blades,
 yoghurt pots filled with lard and seeds
 to help starlings sing at breakfast.

 Robin, blackbird & jenny wren,
 the must-have toys as Christmas gifts!

 Miles of heather,
 frozen crowberries, black gemstones,
 soon find their way in your pockets;

 an afternoon sky filled with gold,
 a sea of diamonds at sunset...
 Coal pyramid lit inside hearth after crimson,
 glowing ambers in treasure chest.

 To hell with rats trapped inside race!

 Your avian friends feast on oatmeal
 whilst magpies behave like bankers...
 Just watch turnstones in the splash zone,
 castaways without credit cards -
 who said plastic was a treasure?

 Être et avoir,
 codified as strange statistics in someone’s artificial world let’s pin his list on the shoreline.


Observing Crystals of Ice Eric G Wilson “Observing crystals of ice - as Thoreau does on cold Concord mornings - one sees geometrical patterns and wonders if such patterns exist in more complex, less apparent modes in clouds or eagles. Staring through the translucent symmetries, one further suspects that things are essentially transparent, that primal monads are windows. One moreover speculates - still looking at the ice - on how these crystals combine to form a uniform surface. He guesses that there is a central power that unifies while differentiating, which is attractive and repulsive. He looks up at the frost-covered leaves. He finds in their green reticulations patterns similar to those in the ice. He marvels: Maybe in the stars are further homologies to these earthly analogues. He returns to the ice. He sees through it to the bottom of the pond. He sees in it his own face. He is in the ice; he is above and below the freeze. It dawns on him. He, too, is similar in kind to the ice, different only in degree. He also is a window to and reflection of the whole.� Quotation from The Spiritual History of Ice: Romanticism, Science and the Imagination Eric G. Wilson Palgrave Macmillan, 2003


Graham Urquhart Snow Heads South as Severe Weather Cripples Scotland* They say that each and every snowflake is unique. A fleeting existence of transmuted form, that can be returned to the ether, by an outstretched hand or a child’s tongue. And yet... this mute landscape, of impotent planes, cars and trains, reminds us: We are only part of Nature. Not apart in our cocooned, wired, high-tech world, that can only curl up and whimper unable to comprehend the collective force of this beautiful whiteness.

January 2011. * Channel 4 News headline, Tuesday 7th December, 2010.


A filmpoem by Alastair Cook Abachen Abachan is a landscape incantation, written in Lybster, Caithness, at a time of crisis; it is unlikely that I will make another film with a poem of my own. Abachan was premiered at the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics meet at Brantwood, John Ruskin’s house, on Coniston in the Lake District, March 26th 2011. Additional sounds from David Fyans and Victoria MacRae. Abachan was shot entirely on Kodachrome Super 8 in 1977 by my father.


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