Posted 20 hours ago

The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot

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This was my first book by Macfarlane, and my first book of this decade, and a good start on both fronts. I really enjoyed his style of writing, which felt immersive, though the pace of the book was sedate. I love walking myself, it is, for me, one of the most meditative things I can think to do, and The Old ways is a sort of ode to the practice. Definitely curious to read Macfarlane's much-praised newest book Underland soon!' I guess this book is all about the human in the land, about history, traces of other people, ancient and now. And maybe thinking into the land this way is awesome and helpful. In nature is excitement and sustenance and restoration, half a way out of the deadness and disaffection of our culture. The concept that “the earliest stories are told not in print but footprint” is brought home by a walk on a beach where erosion of each tide uncovers prehistoric footprints preserved in the mud. He walks in the path of a hunter and spies prints left by playing children. He makes a wonderful digression on the anatomy of feet:

Robert Macfarlane - Penguin Books UK Robert Macfarlane - Penguin Books UK

What I like about this is that it helps me to see the land and the biosphere, feel the land and its life in my body, to relate myself to the land, even in memory, and in the future. As Naomi Klein puts it in This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, love will save this place. And for many of Robert's fellow British, who have been (what Klein, again, calls) rootless consumers for most of our lives, feeling connected to the land (other than in a proprietorial or nationalistic way I guess) might be something we can't even remember, something we have to learn like a new language... A wonderful book: Macfarlane has a rare physical intelligence, and his writing affords total immersion in place, elements and the passage of time Antony Gormley He refers to books which he 'appeared to open, but which actually opened me' (p242). This book has opened me to new ways of thinking about journeys, and the two way connections between us and the places we inhabit - we influence them, they influence us. some thoughts and some perceptions are only possible in particular places at particular times.a flap of Gore-tex showing beneath the stones. He understood straight away what had happened. The glacier had shifted, and the cairn had shifted with it, but- in the surprisingly tender way of glaciers- Jonathan’s frozen body had been pushed to the surface.’ I have long been fascinated by how people understand themselves using landscape, by the topographies of self we carry within us and by the maps we make with which to navigate these interior terrains. We think in metaphors drawn from place and sometimes those metaphors do not only adorn our thought, but actively produce it. Landscape, to borrow George Eliot's phrase, can 'enlarge the imagined range for self to move in'. Macfarlane explores the meditative aspects of being a pedestrian…not so much a travelogue as a travel meditation, it favors lush prose, colorful digressions…if you’ve ever had the experience, while walking, of an elusive thought finally coming clear or an inspiration surfacing after a long struggle, The Old Ways will speak to you – eloquently and persuasively.”— The Seattle Times

The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane - Penguin Books Australia The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane - Penguin Books Australia

From my heel to my toe is a measured space of 29.7 centimetres or 11.7 inches. This is a unit of progress and it is also a unit of thought. 'I can only meditate when I am walking,' wrote Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the fourth book of his 'Confessions', 'when I stop I cease to think; my mind only works with my legs.' Søren Kierkegaard speculated that the mind might function optimally at the pedestrian pace of three miles per hour, and in a journal entry describes going out for a wander and finding himself 'so overwhelmed with ideas' that he 'could scarcely walk'. Christopher Morley wrote of Wordsworth as 'employ[ing] his legs as an instrument of philosophy' and Wordsworth of his own 'feeling intellect'. Nietzsche was typically absolute on the subject - 'Only those thoughts which come from 'walking' have a value' - and Wallace Stevens typically tentative: 'Perhaps / The truth depends on a walk around the lake.' In all of these accounts, walking is not the action by which one arrives at knowledge; it is itself the means of knowing.”Macfarlane seems to know and have read everything his every sentence rewrites the landscape in language crunchy and freshly minted and deeply textured. Surely the most accomplished (and erudite) writer on place to have come along in years." Pico Iyer

The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane: 9780147509796

He suggested that we might call such "lands that are found beyond our frontiers," as "xenotopias," which means "foreign places" or "out-of-place places." This book took me so long to read because McFarland took me to places I knew nothing about, so I “had to” do a lot of side-reading, a leading indicator on how much I am going to love a book. His sensibilities about place and our interaction with it, being in and passing through a place, putting our being there, were wonderful to share. I highlighted many passages that are quite moving and here is one. “Paths connect. This is their first duty and their chief reason for being. They relate places in a literal sense, and by extension they relate people.” Walking a path connects us to others who came before and those who come after us.

In this intricate, sensuous, haunted book, each journey is part of other journeys and there are no clear divisions to be made…the walking of paths is, to [Macfarlane], an education, and symbolic, too, of the very process by which we learn things:testing, wandering about a bit, hitting our stride, looking ahead and behind.”—Alexandra Harris, The Guardian

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